Thursday, 15 October 2009

Rest in Peace - Flock of '09

Friday 16th October 2009

As some of you know, nearly my entire flock of white doves have been shot by the farmer at Pig Farm (see previous blogs) where they roosted at night, and made their nests.
I am devastated by this. The doves are a huge part of my life. Or were......

The farmer is a nice man - he really is! - and I knew he liked the doves. When they started coming to his building - a steel framed barn, he put up a wooden dovecote for them and hoped they would use it - of course they didn't, and even when he kept the door shut somehow they would squeeze determinedly in through the small gap at the top that couldn't be blocked.
The farmer is a friend of my husband's - his father died when he was 15 and he was taken out of school to run the farm. I don't suppose that was an easy life and in recent years he has had many personal problems culminating with his mother dying recently, just after mine. His farm was run as a pig farm in the past - (it isn't actually called Pig Farm by the way!) but now he and his partner run it as a livery stables - the building where the doves roosted is used as an indoor schooling area, with sand on the floor.

He warned me a while back that the doves numbers were increasing too rapidly and that he was getting complaints from the riders that the doves were startling the horses by swooping in through the door, or fluttering up from the sand. Certainly they were making a hell of a mess on the metal beams, light fittings and ground.

Before I went to Harrogate I knew that the dove numbers had dropped dramatically and I told my husband that I felt the farmer had culled them - 'He wouldn't do that' said my husband 'I know him... go up to the farm and see' but I didn't, knowing in my heart of hearts that the deed was done, but not wanting to know for sure and be upset in Harrogate.

I went the day after I got back. I could tell just by being there. The farmer, by chance, was working right near the schooling barn and he didn't look overjoyed to see me. He didn't lie, he told me he'd shot them (my pure sweet doves!) - he'd gone in one time, he said, and there were 60 of them in there. He didn't want to do it, but the horsey people were complaining and he didn't want to get sued...... I didn't ask the details and I'm trying not to imagine it..... the little white doves huddled together in rows, then the pile of fluffy limp bodies to dispose of...... I went into the barn, nothing there except feathers in the sand and you'd never know til you looked up and saw one small white dove, probably a young squab, dead, wing outstretched, draped over the beam. I hoped the horsey people saw it and felt bad, but doubt it. To them, it's problem solved and round and round the ring we go without being disturbed by little white nuisances.

The farmer followed me in to the barn. It's ok, I told him, I understand why you did it, I don't blame you. You're the only one then, he muttered - most people blame me for everything. 'I didn't shoot the blues' he mentioned 'Only the white ones'. Was that supposed to make me feel better, I wondered. I presumed he hadn't shot what he called the 'blues' because they are the ordinary grey pigeons, and some could be racing pigeons and it's illegal to shoot them, but I didn't comment. I picked up a fluffy bunch of soft breast feathers from the ground and drove away with a gloomy cloud over my head like a cartoon character. It's one thing pretty well suspecting a bad thing has happened; it's another having it confirmed.
I do understand why the farmer did it and I don't hate him, but it doesn't mean I like it. I bloody hate it! and if I'd been him I would've found another way. It's on his conscience and I hope fluttering white doves haunt his dreams. My garden seems so dead and lifeless without them. I can hardly believe that they've gone. I love all birds, but there is something magical and mesmerizing about pure white doves; you can't stop looking at them. But I have to draw a line under this, stop being tearful and move on and this blog is my little memorial to the beautiful birds that gave me so much pleasure every day, all day.
When I got home there was one single pure white wing feather near the door step, and when I went to the island, another one there. Good omens. I've stuck them in the kitchen sash window
In 2008 I was concerned about the huge flock - over 100 birds - coming to be fed. Husband was complaining and I cut down the amount I was feeding them in an attempt to disperse the flock and pacify husband! but secretly I adored having them swirling and whirling round me and every early morning as I trooped out carrying the blue bowl of grain they flew to the island to meet me and be fed, I thought of the words in the Elton John song Can You Feel the Love Tonight?......."there's a calm surrender to the rush of day"..... the doves were my 'rush of day'. Morning has broken - the doves are here! Now the morning IS broken and I'm in mourning.

The 100 strong flock of 2008 - with Spirit who couldn't fly on the path,

Maybe someone else culled that large flock of 2008 or they did disperse naturally because this summer I never saw more than 30-40 birds together or maybe sometimes 50 at the most, but of course they didn't stay together all day..... just met up as the sun went down and they went to roost.

Some of this summer's flock - I used to love to come home and find them all over the lawn, pecking, preening, bathing and sunbathing.

For me, this number was just right. I could afford to feed them all properly, and that of course has been part of the problem. I know I've contributed to their death..... if I hadn't fed them so much, they wouldn't have bred so fast and increased to become a nuisance to the farmer and the horsey people. A breeding pair of pigeons can, apparently, have up to six clutches a year - with the usual two eggs in a clutch, you can see how the numbers can add up!
I don't know exactly which of my ringed or recognisable doves were in the barn but these are all missing, presumed shot, and so very much mourned by me:
Hope - Feathered feet and brave single mother of my March squabs, Victory and Purity.

Photo is Hope and Glory in the dovecote in January this year.

Purity - One of the two sweet babies reared in my dovecote this year by Hope alone, after Glory was killed by a hawk, and helped by me. Green and purple ring. Named by Elizabeth D from Purplecoo and her God-dove.

This is one of my last pictures of him/her. She was only 7 months old and probably didn't get a chance to breed. I never even found out what sex Victory and Purity were.
Sweetie - Caught by me on the island in 2008 as a squab and ringed with two green rings. She was a small dove but at least 14 months old.

Spartacus - Big, bold, beautiful white male who ate peanuts from my hand, and crept up to the back door and stole the robin's food by the step when I wasn't looking.

Pearl - White dove with a few soft brown feathers on her back and named by my neighbour's little girl. She's at boarding school and I'll have to tell her next time she's home because she likes to help me feed the doves and will notice they're missing. What on earth shall I say? - 'They just all flew away, sweetheart.....' or the bitter truth.

And of course the VAST number of unringed but much loved pure white doves and their this year's squabs, and some lovely dove/pigeon crosses with black tail feathers
Rest in Peace my dovie angels - Not lost, just gone before.....

So, which doves escaped the massacre? and how are they doing? Well, the few that are left seem nervous and have to be more watchful than usual. They keep to the roof and fly away at the slightest thing. They turn up alone sometimes and sit there for ages...... it is so so sad.

There is a little hope for the future.........

Do you remember the dove that came down the chimney the day my mother died (24.7.09)? I called her Peace - see previous blog if you want to read about it. I suspected Peace didn't live with the main flock as she never seemed to arrive with them, or be there in the mornings. Sometimes she had a green-ringed (not by me!) male with her and sometimes I'd see her for several days without him. She has survived - thank God! - and he is with her most of the time. I call him Harmony. Peace and Harmony, and I am so glad she didn't die as she is linked to my mother. I don't in any way believe she is a reincarnation of my mother or anything like that, but it was odd that she came down the chimney that particular day. It's not a frequent occurrence - I've only had one other dove (Sooty) that survived coming down the chimney, and two that didn't.

Peace on the roof earlier this week.

Talking about Sooty - he hadn't been seen for a while before so it's possible he might come back some time as will other doves that haven't been around. Some doves do seem to be travellers and occasionally I see one that I haven't seen for months. Autumn was one that I mentioned in a my last blog - ringed with the same colours as Victory (pink and green) but on different legs - she just turned up one day in June after not being seen for 7 months! But I only saw her that once. I've also seen the white dove I believe is my Columba (white ring) in June and September. If it IS Columba then he must be 3 years old, as hatched in my dovecote in 2006.

Sooty, with a purple ring

Possibly Columba - but I'm not sure if those grey smudges were feathers or just dirt. Columba was pure white.

On 9th July I was absolutely amazed to see a pure white male with an orange ring courting on my lawn, and wondered if he was my Pax. Pax was my of my first four doves, the mate of Persephone and father of Columba and Lily. He flew away after poor Persephone had her head bitten off and I haven't seen him since. That must be three years ago or so now. I don't know for sure if this dove was Pax but he was pure white (tick), a male (tick), wearing an orange ring of the type I used then (tick) and in my garden (tick) so I like to think it was him. When I started keeping doves I didn't note the leg I ringed them on - now I do.

I haven't seen Victory - Purity's sibling and hatched in my dovecote in March - since mid August, so hope he/she escaped the carnage too and will come back some time. Nero and his mate Messalina flew away some time between the beginning and mid July so hopefully living happily elsewhere. I was sorry they left at the time, but I am now so thankful. Nero was one of the most beautiful pigeons you would ever see and no photo ever captured his luxurious plumage.

Last photo of Victory eating a pea, taken on 18th August.

Nero, with others, on the little porch above the kitchen door. The two brown ones have survived.

A pretty speckled dove I call Dalmation Dove - DD for short - also thankfully survived and has been seen every day, in company with a brown pigeon with a white tail- see photo above. Sometimes there is a paler brown pigeon too, and I think it's the older brown pigeon's squab. There are also a young dark grey pigeon and a larger pale grey pigeon with black bands. And a white courting couple that I have seen mating.This is DD on the lawn in the summer.

And again here, with the white tailed brown one.

The farmer said no doves had been back to the barn - hardly surprising, would you? They are sensitive and knowing; I'm sure would be able to understand at some level. But, he told me, some are roosting in one of his other buildings - where he keeps machinery. I pray he will let them stay...... but know he'd do the same if he had to. It's all in a day's work to the likes of him.

Some of the very few white doves and pigeons left feeding in my garden this week.

I wish some would come again to live in the dovecote. Hope and Glory, earlier this year, were interested from January. I've decided that if no doves set up home by next April, I will put up the homing net and try again. I am a bit wavery about this as it is heart-breaking to get to the love the doves and then have a fox or more likely the hawk get them. I have a new dovie friend, Yan, that I met over the internet and poor Yan had such high hopes of her little flock of four. Already she has lost two to the hawk, and her special dove Ffion was sadly damaged, but survived. I am so sorry, Yan. I know how upsetting it is and I do wonder sometimes, for myself, if it is worth it. Another dovie internet friend, Lee, had the same hawk problem and told me in the summer that a friend of his. living in the New Forest, had given up trying to keep white doves, due to the hawks, and now keeps them in an aviary. Lee doesnt want to do that himself, and I agree with him, the doves are and should be free spirits. There is no solution to this - Yan has tried all sorts of anti-hawk devices, and they don't really work. And yet, there is a dovecote not far from here, in a garden that I often pass, and there is always a dozen or so doves - in the cote and on the roof. Maybe I ought to knock on the door and ask how they manage to keep them all.

I'd just about finished this blog and was talking on the phone near the door, watching the garden, when I saw two white doves fly over, seemingly chased by something. It was probably a sparrowhawk though I didn't see it clearly, and then one dove flew madly off in another direction. I didn't see if the hawk got the dove - but you see it's a sorry state of affairs as my mother used to say, and I don't really know if I'm up to it any more. When there was a huge flock the individuals were protected when there was a hawk strike - now they'll be picked off one by one til there are none left.

The end (sorry you might have to scroll down quite a bit to make a comment, I just can't seem to get this right)