Bullied by the birds


It’s two months since I wrote a blog about the drought called Summer days and thirsty hedgehogs, and since that time we have had no rain.

The country is split between those who live in towns- and so many NZ towns and cities are on the coast – and those who live in the country. The townies, as country dwellers call them, are loving every moment of the long hot summer, revelling in long days at the beach, splashing in swimming pools, lolling around in their gardens, and sitting outside at cafes and restaurants enjoying leisurely meals in the soft twilit evenings.

Families take off at weekends with their tents and boats and kayaks for old fashioned summer camping days by the sea, in the certain knowledge that there will be no rain. At the same time country folk are measuring how many inches of water are left in their water-tanks, or joining the two or three week long queues to have water delivered. I see trees and hedges dying, and my heart aches.

Farmers are selling their stock since they can’t afford to feed them, for there is no growth in the dry brown paddocks: drying off their milking herds, and worrying about hay for the winter. Gardeners like me, are carting buckets of water from their baths to moisten around trees, watering roses and hydrangeas and salvias all struggling to stay alive in the baking heat, and trying to coax dahlias and Japanese anenomes, usually the splendour of the garden at this time of year, to open their stunted blossoms.

I fill the bowls of water around the garden regularly throughout the day, and anyone foolish enough to knock on my door with census papers, Jehovah’s Witness leaflets, or to fix the faulty electric plug for me, all get their ears bashed to put out water for birds and thirsty creatures. I’ve rung the local rag, and got my daughter to Twitter, and hope the SPCA will remember my message about ringing radio stations to remind their listeners.

But one person cannot defeat climate change! This is our third drought in four years, and in the worst one four years ago, we lost so many birds and creatures. The native pigeon population was decimated, as young birds had no water, and people talked of seeing pigeons drop from the sky, dead from de-hydration. The kiwis who dig their long sharp beaks into the ground for bugs and worms starved because the ground was so hard they couldn’t break into it, and when they did, the worms and other food had retreated deep down to damper layers of soil.

This year, another native bird, the kokako, is not breeding at all – for fascinating reasons – the females can see that there are none of the berries on the rimu trees which they normally eat, and are therefore refusing to mate, knowing there’s no sustenance for their offspring. And hedgehogs are dying of thirst.

I’m thinking I’m going to have to start feeding the birds again. I used to feed the handful of sparrows and a chaffinch couple who lived around here – under a tree a little way from the house, and where I could see from the sitting room window.I also fed the dozen or so mynahs, a little way down from the tree so they wouldn’t frighten off the smaller birds. Moist wholemeal bread for the mynahs, wheat and birdseed, and when I ran out, porridge flakes for the others. They loved it all. They told their friends. Within a couple of weeks I had at least a hundred sparrows, four or five doves, some itinerant blackbirds,  chaffinches and an occasional thrush.

They had also worked out from whence this largesse came . They waited in the plum tree outside the kitchen window and watched me until I came out with their breakfast. And for a couple of hours they sat and barracked me from the plum tree and the garage roof in the afternoon, until I sallied forth with afternoon tea – theirs.

A great whoosh of wings accompanied me to the tree. Then I had to make sure that the neighbour’s ancient lonely dog was not hovering in hope of a dog biscuit. If she was, I had to return with the bird food, and dig out a biscuit and walk her down the road with it, away from the bird food which she would have gobbled up. Dog distracted, back to the birds.

If I was out, they would be waiting for me at the bottom of the road. They recognised my white car, and swooped from telegraph pole to telegraph pole all the way down the road with the car. They’d then hover round the garage yelling “she’s back, she’s back” till I came out. If I went for a walk, they’d fly down the road with me, and wait on the corner.

Finally the worm turned. There were so many birds I couldn’t keep up with them, and was buying a large sack of wheat from the farmers shop each week, as well as extra bread for the big greedy mynahs – money I could ill-afford. The garden was becoming white with droppings, and I was back to the chaos of when I’d had a bird table. The sparrows could probably have made a pot of tea themselves, they’d watched me so intently through the kitchen window for so long.

A short holiday in Melbourne solved the problem. They gave up waiting. I felt guilty but relieved. They didn’t need the food out here in the country. It was just my hobby which had got out of hand. But now, with a hearty respect for the intelligence of bird brains, I think I’m going to have to soften my heart and help them out in this emergency.

That heart sinks at the thought of being bullied by them all again. I’ve done a lot of inner work over the years about letting go of being victim, and preserving myself from being bullied any more, but I’m not sure I can handle being bullied by the birds. It may be a step too far for my fragile self esteem, and feeding the birds may be my last big challenge!


Food for Threadbare Gourmets

We had some lovely summer pears from a neighbour which cried out to be transformed into pear and almond tart. I used the wonderful recipe for pastry which doesn’t involve rubbing the flour into the butter. Instead I melt and cool the butter and just stir it into the other ingredients. The resulting dough doesn’t need rolling, but is just pressed gently into a shallow greased tart dish. It doesn’t need pricking or weighting. Just pre-cook for ten minutes in a moderate oven. You then add the frangipane and the sliced pears and cook for three quarters of an hour or more until the frangipane is just firm.

The pastry takes 125 gm butter, melted and cooled, a generous 100 gms of sugar, pinch of salt, half a teasp each of almond essence, and vanilla essence, two generous tablesp of ground almonds and 180 gms of flour. I love frangipane, and will give the recipe in the next post. It’s the perfect base for pears, plums, apricots, peaches, and I love the sound of the word… it sounds…fragrant!


Food for Thought

An old pond  –  a frog tumbles in  –  the splash of water

One of the most famous haiku  by the most famous haiku master, Matsuo Basha  1644 -1694 He spent much of his life wandering through Japan, like the medieval troubadours and minnesingers of Europe, three hundred years earlier.









Filed under birds, cookery/recipes, environment, food, great days, humour, life/style, poetry, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life, wild life

65 responses to “Bullied by the birds

  1. It’s heartbreaking to hear about the suffering of the creatures in the wild through the drought, and humbling to read about the wisdom of the kokako who refuses to bring off-spring into such wretched conditions. Would that humans were as wise! xoxoM

  2. Is it a coincidence that the haiku you chose was about water — so sorry about your drought – how awful – we are still in the midst of winter here with winter storm warnings for tomorrow afternoon

  3. I’ve been feeding a family of crows for the last 12 years.
    They will miss me!
    More about them later.

  4. Lucky frog and fortunate birds, I do hope the Rimu berries return next year.
    Good luck with your birding venture. Your experience the first time round with the birds reminds me a little of Elizabeth’s Garden, I think you could very well write a wonderful book about Valerie and her Kiwi Garden :)

  5. You’re concern for animals is just lovely Valerie. Not everybody takes such notice of the creatures we share the earth with.

    • Thank you Michele… I’m always hoping that more and more people will start to care about all animals… humanity’s record with animals, birds, fishes and all other life has been so heartless up till now…

  6. I’m so sorry about your awful drought. The climate is certainly changing … all weather seems to be becoming more severe. Storms, droughts, temps … the “unusual” is becoming the new normal. I hope you get a welcome rain, soon.

  7. We have been experiencing an on and off again drought over the past several years, and like you, I get anxious when weeks turn into months that go by without a raindrop. Recently we’ve been blessed with buckets of rain, so much rain that it has almost erased the drought. The charts have changed from “extremely severe” to “abnormally dry,” but I worry still. I think I’ll go out and feed the birds.

  8. We’ve had good precipitation here for the last couple years but had a big drought in the early 2000s. It was awful. I always have water out for the birds, summer and winter and we also have a pond. When it gets very dry, I see all sorts of critters in my pond from groundhogs and chipmunks to deer. I am always glad I can help them. Hope your weather changes.

  9. I had not had news of the drought in NZ in a bit and was hoping it had rained recently. I’m so sorry to hear that it is not the case! Your endeavors to take care of the birds are so sweet (and frighteningly Hitchcockian at times!). During the hot summer days, I do my best to refill my bird bath as often as possible but we’ve never had such severe droughts as you have had. Wishing you, and the birds, well!

    • Hello Letizia, Lovely to hear from you… I’d forgotten about the Hitchcock connection! I remember reading Daphne du Maurier’s short story as a teenager, and found it so appalling that I never went to see the Hitchcock version! However I’m giving my strategy a lot of thought this time….!

  10. I am so sorry to read this Valerie. You are a lovely soul and I’m sorry you have to make such a decision. xoxox

    • Hello Maggie, Lovely to hear from you… and thank you for your concern… I think the birds and I will come to a mutual arrangement to suit us both this time… I’m putting a lot of thought into it!!! XXX

  11. Amy

    The drought is very worrisome, but the townies don’t share the burden at all (?)…

    • I don’t blame them… it’s quite beyond their imagination when you think that some children don’t even know that milk comes out of cows!!!!

      • Amy

        We are in the 4th year drought in TX. One neighbor hand water (only allow hand water during the level 2 and 3) his lawn at least one hour every single day. many people at work let water run in the kitchen and bathroom 10 times longer than they need to. Here I’m recycle kitchen water to water plants and lawn…

      • That must be so tough… how do things stay alive? Yes, people are n’t very aware are they, around water. An American student I spoke to told me how amazed he was to discover in other parts of the world cisterns like ours, with two buttons, one for an economy flush and one for a bigger flush… And yes, I’m always bucketing water to the garden….

      • I found just what I was needed, and it was entertaining!

  12. Sigh! It is so heartbreaking to read about your horrible drought. I so understand what you say about ‘townies’ they really don’t get it, and they really never will until they live like you or I do and can ‘see and hear and watch”. You are one of the saints of the earth, of which I THANK YOU, so very few people even see the other life all around them, let alone be willing to take care of them.

    I am very humbled and thankful to call you friend!

    *♥´¨) ¸.-´¸.-♥´¨) ¸.-♥¨) (¸.-´ (¸.-` ♥♥´¨

    • Dear Linda, what a sweet and generous comment… but you know you are the one who cares for so many creatures, including the dogs at the shelter, as well as your own.rescued darlings. And I love it that you are my friend.
      As for the poor old townies.. I think they miss a lot,not seeing the stars and hearing the silence, and watching the creatures around us. The sea is pounding on the rocks below at the moment, and I Iove that incessant roaring of the water… Hope the rain comes for you too XXXX

  13. Valerie, such a sweet yet sad post. So sorry about the drought! We just had our first day of sunshine in about five days. Downpours everyday! Part of the road just below our house is washed out and a detour provided. Sure wish I could send you some of the rain…would do it in a heartbeat! You may feel bullied but I wager a bet you will not let those little birdies go hungry or thirsty!

    • Hello Sharla.. oh dear, your road washed out… it’s feast or famine all around the world isn’t it? And I know there are parts of the States that are desperate for rain for the third year running. Loved your comments, dear friend, and yes, I’m working on a strategy that will work for us all this time! – I think!

  14. How sad…will humans ever learn? It breaks my heart to see what is happening to our beautiful world. I hope it rains soon for all of you.

    • Thank you Patty, yes, the planet really needs our love and our prayers these days, doesn’t it, and I think that those who do send love to our beautiful earth will make a difference… Thank you for your good wishes…

      • I keep praying that more and more people work together, because I do believe we can change things around. We sometimes forget (me included) that we are the care takers, God created us for His glory and to care for His creation. we are not doing a good job, I’m afraid.

      • Yes, you’re right, we are the caretakers… but I think the trap for us who care is that we start feeling responsible for more than we can do. And then life becomes a worry and a burden. All we can do is keep our own little world bright!

  15. What could we do to enhance the consciousness of such creature sufferings? And what could we do after that?


    • Thank you so much for reading my blog and commenting… I feel that the consciousness of other creatures is different to ours, and no less valuable, that they have abilities often more finely tuned than ours, and I’m not convinced that they don’t have souls. I feel that humanity has never valued them or respected them as they deserve, That they give us so much service which goes unacknowledged most of the time. Love is the answer, as it is the answer to everything….

  16. We have had the warnings of many before us. Margaret Mead once said, “We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.”

    • She was so horribly right of course…I read something by US Mr Justice Holmes last night, written in 1913, in which he said ” I fear we are running through the world’s resources at a pace we cannot keep”… and after many other prognostications he ends by saying” beyond the vision of battling races and an impoverished world I catch a dreaming glimpse of peace”.. a vision which I cling to !!!

  17. 3 out of 4 years without the right rainfall is tough stuff valerie, for us all. It’s a dilemma I understand about feeding the birds, but water makes a lot of sense. Hope you get the rain you need and soon!

    • Hello Claire. apologies for delay in replying to you… I’ve been having problems with my wireless connection…
      Yes, it’s a funny old world weather-wise isn’t it… I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many pictures of snow from everywhere,as this year… mean-while we pray for rain! None on the horizon as yet…

  18. Lovely to read your post. You give a better account of the drought situation than the news does. I overheard someone say today, that this is how summers used to be; very dry and hot. That certainly rings true with my childhood memories and those of my parents. What do you think?

    • Thank you for commenting, good to hear from you… the difference between my account of the drought and the news, is that I care about different things to those chaps on TV!!! As to those summer childhoods… I only have 43 years experience of NZ summers – I came here in 1970, and I remember one terrible drought in 1974 that lasted until the middle of June ( I know because we’d taken the roof off the house that day, and it poured that night!) But mostly we’d have plenty of rain until Christmas, lots of sun and summer, but also rain when we needed it! Back then we also had frosts in Auckland in winter, and I nearly died of cold having come from Hong Kong….maybe this is too much information!!!!

  19. This was heartbreaking, Valerie, and I loved that haiku at the end. Praying for rain ;-)

  20. I love that you put water out for the birds and little animals. Next year maybe you could plant rows of sunflowers and water those from the bath, then they can feed themselves after you have had the pleasure of the blooms. I let all my flowers go to seed in the garden too as they eat these all winter. Maybe you could plant a crab apple tree, and never pick the apples, these are all munched during the winter by the birds too. But all this is for next summer. Hope they are not too bullish this year.. c

    • Hello celi… lovely to hear from you… I’d forgotten about sunflowers – of course…I have the perfect place for them. yes, everything else is seeding, but it’s such a tiny garden… two crab -apples for them yes – and the pigeons love the guavas… I just wish they were interested in the hips on the endlessly sprawling albertine rose and the plentiful seeds on the agapanthus!!

      • have you ever made crab apple jelly? or rose hip wine? I am sure i read about rose hip wine somewhere.. and if everyone had a tiny generous garden like yours the birds would be thrilled to bits.. I love sprawling roses.. there is something so rubinesque about them.. c

      • Hello Celi…
        I made crab apple jelly years ago, but my trees are still learning to produce, so I leave their offerings to the birds here… rose hip wine… sounds divine… I used to give the children rose hip syrup in England when they were tiny, mixed with water and sipped from their bottles for the vit C… I bet it makes lovely wine… I love all those homely wines made from garden gifts…
        When we went to talk to the local vicar before we got married hundreds of years ago, he offered us parsnip wine – his own vintage… it was so delicious, and afterwards I was so sloshed I could hardly drive home…
        Yes, the garden is full of chattering birds again!
        This time I have a hanging bowl under the trees which I keep re-filling during the day so they don’t gather in their hundreds all at the same time waiting for meal-times… it seems to be working, and I love watching them swinging on the chains and perched on the branches waiting their turn, and diving in and out of the bird bath…
        Thinking about you keeping warm after using up all your wood, and also thinking of home-made wines… do you ever have Stone’s Ginger Wine in your cupboard… it warms the cockles of your heart… and mixed with hot water, juice of an orange and honey is also warming and good for a cough…
        This is ridiculous… as I’ve been writing about the sparrows, two have flown in and out of the room!!!!
        Roses – yes… my whole garden sprawls – no tidiness here!

      • I love a garden that follows its own lines.. I make ginger beer sometimes, I must investigate ginger wine.. everyone I know here has a cough .. except me and the kiwi builder: the swine herd and the junk yard man, john, the teenager all of them, i should have a cough mixture wine on hand! love that the birds are flying in.. i am a little chilly writing here, but i have my wooly hat on! it will warm up soon.. c

  21. I always learn something new your posts, Valerie. I’m sorry to hear about the drought – I had no idea that was still going on. Ours broke, of course, but there are fears of it returning. Though our government decided to abolish water restrictions the first chance it got. A touch prematurely, I feel. We could learn a lot from those kokako…

    • Yes, aren’t they clever! I wish it was catching!
      I’ve been reading about Australian rain, and have been green with envy! Nothing on the horizon here… thank you for the lovely things you say XXX

  22. Hello Valerie, I know what you mean but I’m sure your birds will appreciate the seed you provide for them. I have just spent a shocking amount of money on various types of bird food. But this morning, as I type, I’ve counted 15 bird species and the blackbirds are collecting moss from the lawn for their nests and they’re all getting ready for this years young to arrive. So I just can’t help myself!

    • Hello Finn,
      I know what you mean about not being able to help yourself!!! Yes, I’m back to driving half an hour to the farmers supplies to get bags of wheat etc for the little darlings. I envy you all the varieties you see at your bird table… apart from the tuis and pigeons, the native birds here hide in the forests, while the other birds were imported by the settlers in colonial days.. so we don’t have the wonderful variety of indigenous species that you enjoy…but I still love what we have!!!

  23. I loaded this post to read on the train but was unable to reply as the train had no signal. It’s lovely that you feed the birds! So do we but yes, it is pricey! Sorry about your Hitchcock moment!
    Thanks for that amazing pastry recipe and for the frangipani in the next post which I replied to before this one.
    All the best. :)

  24. Hello Sally, lovely to hear from you…Several people have mentioned the expense – and also the joy… but It really matters for the birds in hard times, doesn’t it.
    Hope you enjoy the pastry and the frangipane!

  25. Hello again, I was reminded of this post this morning when we heard, even on our news, about your extended drought. We were also in official drought this time last year but it did end, in fact it hasn’t really stopped raining since, so I do hope you get some rain before too long.
    All the best to you :)
    Just going along to catch up on your posts; it’s been a while since I was here :)

    • Thank you Sally, telling me about your drought and now its raining, raised my spirits… sometimes it feels as though we’ll never be normal again. Our little village was named yesterday as being one of the worst affected, and I’ve lost a favourite tree in a line of them…
      IF you came through – so can we!!!!!

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