Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Murder She Wrote

There's nothing like a murder mystery,
But first let me set the scene:

This is a ceanothus shrub. I'm not sure of its full name, but I do remember it ended in 'nana' which is Latin for small. Unfortunately, my little shrub couldn't read Latin, or the bit about only growing to 3ft. tall. I planted it in front of the kitchen window where I could enjoy its flowers, but still be able to see the garden beyond. At first all was well, but after a few years it just grew and grew, until it was about 10ft. tall, completely obliterating the view from the kitchen window. And so I moved it to the far end of the lawn. Having read that fully grown ceanothus resent being moved, I also took some cuttings. It survived for about a year in its new position, and was then replaced by one its offspring. Yes, those cuttings came in handy.

But what about the murder, you may ask ?  Ah yes well, the ceanothus bush was the scene of the crime. During one of the recent severe winters I was lucky enough to attract a pair of long tailed tits into the garden. They stayed throughout the winter, feeding on fat squares that were hanging near the ceanothus bush. As winter turned to spring, I noticed that they spent a lot of time in the bush. At first I thought they were after the insects, but then I discovered that they had built a domed nest in the top branches of the bush.

Over the next few weeks I watched them as they discreetly flew back and forth from the nest. But then, one day their behaviour changed. Instead of leaving the nest from below, they were flying up out of the bush, and sort of pirouetting as they flew upwards. I presumed that the eggs had hatched, but I was very concerned that they were attracting attention to the nest.

Sure enough, I came home one day to find the top of the nest had been ripped off, and the ceanothus was covered in feathers. Sadly, only one adult seemed to have survived the attack. And the prime suspects ? Could it have been the squirrel who was building a nest in a nearby holly tree ?  Or was it the magpies who had nested in a nearby hawthorn tree ?

This week the squirrel and the magpies are back rebuilding their nests, which reminded me of this story. And the long tailed tits ?  Well after a long absence, they do visit the garden, but I don't think they'll be nesting here again.


  1. My Ceanothus died during the winter of 2010 so I bought a replacement which has electric blue flowers, so far it is minding its manners and not growing too big - I know they can grow absolutely huge. Very sad about the nest you are so lucky to have birds nesting in your garden - the local cats put paid to that in my garden. Long tailed tits are my favourite birds and they often visit the feeders but don't stay long.

  2. Beautiful flowers on that shrub. The bird story is sad, it's also the way of nature and at least enough survive each year to return and visit your garden.

  3. Aw, sad. But that ending is probably more common than we realize. Your ceanothus is beautiful.

  4. What a privilege to have Long-tailed Tits nesting in your garden but such a great shame there was a sad ending especially as it can take up to 3 weeks to build! Unfortunately the nests of the LTT have a very high rate of predation with only about a 17% survival rate. Either of your suspects could indeed have been the guilty party or, if they visit your garden, a Jay would also be a prime suspect.

    I have a Ceanothus in my garden which like Elaine's suffered badly in the Winter of 2010/11. It was always a picture in full flower as is yours.

  5. Nature at it's best, and worst I suppose.

  6. Crystal, your ceanothus shrub looks sooo... pretty! Too bad that it was becoming to tall for the position you had planted it in, but I am glad that you had the cuttings as a back up! What a sad story about the long tailed tits, but I guess that is nature.