Friday, June 15, 2007

Robins and Bumblebees

It took quite a bit of time to train our lady robin to come into our garden shed to eat morsels of Cheddar cheese from my knee. It became her habit to do so – so much so that when we put cheese on Margreet’s knee she declined it. But she did sometimes just sit on Margreet’s knee for a few minutes, so that they could look at each other in friendship.
When her mate re-appeared at the breeding season, having spent the latter part of the summer and the whole of the winter away, they built a nest in the camouflaged robin box that is screwed to the back of our house in London.
When the young had hatched out and were hungry, he would join her in taking cheese from my knee and crumbled oatcake from the floor beneath. With a bit of gout or something in one leg she would sometimes need a rest, and perch somewhere in the shed next to us, on some books or the back of a chair.
We never, ever, get tired of seeing or feeling these charming little creatures taking our presence for granted.
Two days ago we either saw a new robin appear or one of our old friends acting very strangely. It was the former.
This new robin looked and acted quite differently from the others, He was leaner, faster, stood more upright, stretched and moved his head around quicker.
He had clearly watched the resident pair of birds come into the shed for food. So why not him? Why be slowly trained like the others? Grab the opportunity. Grab the food.
He flew to the doorway and hovered there, like a hummingbird. Then he retreated, and came again to hover. After several attempts he dashed in from his hovering approach and grabbed cheese. This he took away, presumably to feed young. We rather took to him.
Unlike our regulars, who had learned to eat from my knee, the new one would take cheese from Margreet’s knee just as readily – after the hovering and deciding.
Today our Mr. Robin re-appeared, and the newcomer was chased away in no uncertain terms, though they never came to blows.
But even having been chased away, the interloper is back – dashing in after his hovering trick to smash and grab.
What will happen next?
What did happen next took us quite by surprise. And it took us a little time to realise what was happening. Hoverbird, though still chased off on occasion, started to take cheese bits from us in the shed to feed them to the second brood of robin chicks in our nest box. So our new young were being fed by both parents - and hoverbird.

I was writing in the garden shed when a very big bumblebee flew in, making that lovely loud noise that large bumblebees do in flight.
I wondered if I shouldn’t chase him out, so that he could find real bumblebee food outside among nectar-producing flowers. But I didn’t.
This fellow (or plump lady) stayed for a few minutes, buzzing around beneath the two chairs and around a trug of garden twine and labels, etc. Eventually he left. And all was silent once more.
Then he came back again. What could he possibly find to eat in a dry old garden shed?
So I moved, and bent down to watch. And he was running around – running, and quickly.
Who ever heard of a running bumblebee? Usually we see them gathering nectar from flowers, such as the trumpets of foxgloves (where they fall out backwards like drunken sailors). What he was after was anyone’s guess – but running?
Whatever next? Running bumblebee races?