Last Sunday morning I realised that something was wrong in the dovecote, but I couldn't work out what it was. Normally one or other of the parents - Hope and Glory - would be sitting quietly inside the dovecote on the nest. The only 'happening' would be when they swapped shifts, and one went in to let the other out. I'm always glancing at the dovecote when I'm out in the garden, or from the kitchen or sitting-room windows and am happy to see a glimpse of tail or a little face in the gloom, but this time it seemed like a whirling dervish was in the dovecote -whatever that is! I got the camera, despite my panic, and took some photos but I couldn't really see what was happening. There was lots of movements, bits of wing or tail sticking out of the cote doorway, two doves in the cote.... and one dove sitting on the nearby low roof observing.
I called my husband and he went beneath the dovecote and clapped his hands. I didn't want him to do anything really and part of the problem was as Hope and Glory are not ringed I didn't know which dove was the intruder.
It is nearly time for the eggs to hatch and I was thinking why oh why has this happened, just when I wanted everything to go right. I imagined two pairs of heavy 3-pronged feet trampling about in the nest, breaking the eggs..... as Hope or Glory defended the nest.
Suddenly after about fifteen minutes, it all settled down. One dove was on the nest and all was quiet. I still don't know what happened. It appeared to me that there were two females and one male (Glory). This seems strange as I could understand a rogue male turning up and deciding he wanted to take possession of the nestbox, but why would another female want to cause trouble?
Since then, more than three days ago, all has been quiet and the eggs, by my calculation should hatch any day soon. Dove eggs take approx. 17-18 days to incubate.
I decided that, if possible, I needed to mark Hope and Glory. Catching them and ringing them would have been very difficult and would've upset them so I didn't even think of it. The only way was to try to sprinkle them with food colouring like I did the 'cochineal doves' (see one of my previous blogs). I know roughly the times the doves do the changeover and as Glory emerged from the dovecote I kept my beady eye on him, despite the lawn being covered with white doves, and managed to sprinkle some pink food colouring on his tail. Next day I tried to do the same, with green colouring, on Hope, with less success. The pink colouring on Glory spread a little - maybe his tail was damp - but though I got a few tiny drops on Hope I havent managed to spot her in the crowd. One reason for this could be that during the last few days of incubation the female takes over full time and hatches the young. I hope this is what is happening!
So how are my 'secret' doves Nero and Smudge getting along? Well unfortunately, just when Smudge was growing up and entering into an adolescent stage and losing her squab look, she has disappeared. I fear she is dead - somehow I just got that feeling. One day I saw a male after her, pecking her neck, and I think she was too young for that sort of attention, and maybe things didn't go well for her, poor little thing. Here is the last picture I took of her.
Nero is fine, my beautiful black bold boy! I know he is a male as I have seen him displaying male behaviour. Long may he survive and keep visiting me. Here he is with his followers!
And guess what? Columba, my white ringed dove - offspring of my first beloved bonded pair, Pax and Persephone, was spotted on the island at the morning feeding time! I was so pleased to see him again and looking very healthy too. I remembered he came back last year about this time, and checked in my file. I had marked down 'Columba returned 17.3.08' - I blinked and looked twice. It was the very same date - a year later! Columba had again returned on the 17th March - amazing!
Two cute little incidents occured concerning other birds and the doves recently. I happened to look out and see a bluetit perch on the ledge of the nest box. It peeked in, saw Hope on the nest and flew off round to the back of the dovecote. It would be enchanting if a family of bluetits set up home in another section of the cote, but realistically I don't think it will happen. The other thing concerned my robin. I always feed the doves first, and then come back and put some special robin food down for Robs, as I call him - well one day, Mr. Impatient Robs flew over to the island, with the doves, and starting eating the smaller bits of their food with them! He flew into the house the other day, and I caught him by the window and cradled his delicate little body in my hands for a few seconds and touched his head gently before setting him free.
And nothing to do with doves, but when I drove my car up to its parking space just by our river there was the kingfisher right there in front of me - the sapphire of the river, back again this season - thank God.