Tag Archives: Turdus merula

Grape expectations

2012 was a fruit year for us; we planted two new apple trees and a grape vine in our medium sized garden, adding to another apple tree, currants and gooseberries planted the year before. Each year we’ve watched them put out a bit more fruit, a few more apples on this tree or a better crop on the blackcurrant bushes, but it was the grapevine that had me most excited. We’d already used leaves from the summer pruning to make variations on Cypriot Koupepia, tasty little rolls of vine leaves stuffed with rice, meat, tomato and fresh herbs, but the fruit was slower to appear.

vine_leaves_2Koupepia in the making

I know that grapevines do well in this area as I’ve seen them growing and producing many bunches of fine tasting grapes. How good it would be to have a vine in our garden too – it’s one of those things that, once you realise the possibility, you just have to do it. The vine was planted over Easter 2012 against a south-facing wall where it would be bright, warm and sheltered. That first year it got settled in and didn’t grow a lot, not that we expected it to. Thereafter, it grew a little more and we carefully pruned it and tied it into the wires we’d put up, but the grapes were small and few so we left them for the birds.

oxford-grapesGrapes in a garden close to where we live

It didn’t start producing any fruit to get excited about until this year, when some 20 bunches started to form, tiny and green, gradually swelling and turning a beautiful dark purple. We waited impatiently for them to ripen, looking forward to the first fragrant, sun-warmed juiciness bursting in the mouth.

The view of the grape vine out of the kitchen window is partly obscured by the branches of the Magnolia tree, but it didn’t prevent me from seeing a blackbird flying into it, the foliage moving briefly and then all going suspiciously calm. That blackbird looked to me like it flew into the vine with purpose. Its movements mirrored exactly the way they fly into next door’s cherry tree when the fruits ripen and the tree fills with birds for a week or two. They clamber along its branches to pull off the cherries and scattering stones on the ground, which are then put into storage by mice. Time to check those grapes.

grapesNot a lot, but it’s a start and there should be more next year

I discovered that the blackbird had clearly been paying more attention than I had – the fruit was ripe and many of the easily reachable grapes had already been pecked at or eaten. Even so, there were many bunches of grapes that the birds couldn’t reach and they were ripe, as juicy and delicious as hoped for, so I cut them from the vine, leaving some for the birds to finish off. In hindsight, it’s obvious that the birds would watch the fruit more closely than me; indeed, I know from past experience that they do as I remember seeing a blackbird eating a huge and perfect strawberry I’d had my eye on for days, moments before I was about to pick it for myself. Next year it would probably be a good idea to net the vine before the fruit ripens, but we shall still leave some for the birds.

The blackbirds and robins are nesting again

Feeding the birds means that we can easily tell for the first time how many broods they are having and when. The main thing we watch out for is whether the birds eat the offered mealworms or fly away with them and, for both robins and blackbirds, it looks like they are onto their second broods of the season.

robin-blackbird

After the garden robin took over the courtyard robin’s territory in May, he introduced a mate and they started courtship feeding around May 5. This continued until May 29 when it abruptly stopped and both birds started appearing separately, which we understood to mean that the female was no longer sitting on the nest and the first brood of robins had been raised. On June 5, courtship feeding resumed and, as far as we know, is on-going. By ‘as far as we know’ I mean that the robins have endeared themselves to our next door neighbours who, seeing us feeding them, naturally wanted to try it for themselves and so the robins are visiting them as well. With a steady supply of good food, it will be interesting to see how many broods are raised this year.

blackbird-doorstep

There are also two pairs of blackbirds coming to us for mealworms, one pair from the courtyard and the other from the garden. They will occasionally all turn up in the same spot and a chase then ensues, but they mostly stay in their own territories. The courtyard blackbirds are still nesting in the ivy that grows on the wall between us and next door and, the young having fledged, the female gathered more material to refurbish the nest and laid eggs again. Those eggs have hatched and both birds are busily feeding young ones.

blackbird-window-3

The garden blackbird’s territory has come to include our kitchen windowsill, as he has spotted us through the glass and will sometimes perch outside and stare in at us. Sometimes he does this while we’re eating our dinner, which can feel a little awkward, and reminiscent of scenes from Dickens’ Oliver Twist where the boy of the same name asks for ‘some more’ gruel. At least with us, the blackbird will get it.

blackbird-window