My count – RSPB Big Garden #Birdwatch

So, having told you about this weeks Mistle Thrush, when it came to doing my hour for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, it had vanished completely! Just typical!!

Timed from 9.45am on Sun 27th January 2013 in my little suburban garden in Yateley, my totals for the 10 species of birds that landed in the garden are:

Chaffinches on our seed feeder 14th January 2013
Chaffinches on our seed feeder 14th January 2013

Chaffinch – 13
Blue Tit – 2
Robin – 2 (resident is v territorial)
Starling – 5
Blackbird – 2 (M & F)
Wood Pidgeon – 2
Great Tit – 2
Siskin – 1 (M)
Goldfinch – 1
Greenfinch – 1

So, no Mistle Thrush and much reduced numbers of Starlings (although there are plenty around), Goldfinches and Siskin. That’s the difference the Hampshire thaw has made I guess. The Dunnock that’s been semi-resident is also missing, as were the Long-Tailed Tits who dash through a couple of times a day and two Collard Doves who were cooing on our fence up until a few days ago.

Male Siskin on our Niger seed feeder 16th January 2013
Male Siskin on our Niger seed feeder 16th January 2013

Overflies, if I could have included them, would have been many more Wood Pidgeon and Starlings, and about 4-6 Magpies.

We didn’t do the Birdwatch in in 2012 (I must have been busy) but looking back at our totals for the 2011 RSPB #Birdwatch this years count is pretty good. We’ve not had a Blackcap this winter that I’m aware of, and Siskin numbers are down (though we did have up to 4 in the garden during the snow), but a lot more Starlings and Chaffinches.

I shall be interested in the RSPB results when they are released later in the year, and really must get out around Blackbushe and Castle Bottom again soon. The weather and lack of dog are have had a bad effect on my birdwatching, and on my hips!

My love-hate relationship with Starlings #Birdwatch

Starlings on our garden seed feeder in Yateley

The reason that this weeks Mistle Thrush has had so much seed to feed on, is because of the Starlings.

I know that according to last years RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch suggested that Starlings are among the garden birds most in decline, but there’s never been any shortage of them in our Yateley garden. Numbers regularly reach double figures actually in the garden, and there are many dozens around our estate, often lined up on the television aerials.

They are far from being dull brown birds, with plumage that close up is not only startlingly marked, but also an amazing combination of iridescent green and purples. Yes, they really could be described as beautiful.

But, they squabble atrociously and the noise can totally dominate the garden soundscape. Especially when there’s food on offer. We can refill our birdseed feeder and an hour later these greedy guzzlers have totally dominated the feeder, chucking the majority of the seed on the ground beneath. Some of the Starlings also feed beneath, but here the main beneficiaries are the Chaffinches, Wood Pidgeons, and Collared Doves.

What it does mean is that the Chaffinches who actually quite like to use the feeder too, only get a look in towards the end of the shift, ditto the Blue Tits who won’t stand up to the Starlings, and the Robin who has mastered the perch but rarely gets to feed there.

Birds feeding in the first snowfall of January 2013
Birds feeding in the first snowfall of January 2013 – you can see the attractive pile of waste food below the Starlings favourite feeder, but is it a health risk to other birds?

We do have other feeders to suit various tastes, so the most of our garden bird life gets something, but the grass is being utterly ruined and I’m concerned that the dropped food might contribute to the prevalence of Fringilla papillomavirus (warty legs) that we have in our Chaffinches – could the mites that cause it be transmitted through the mess of waste food?

With this weeks snow melted, and the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch over, it is my intention to try and sweep up as much of the waste the Starlings have created as I can, but I know it’s going to build up again very quickly. So what I’m wondering is if there is some design of bird feeder that will create less waste, or discourage the Starlings, who are perfectly capable of feeding on the fat balls or table feeders we have on offer?!

It’s not that I want to get rid of the Starlings completely, but just find a healthy balance in the way we feed the birds who frequent our garden.

Is my Mistle Thrush muddled? #Birdwatch

Mistle Thrush
Mistle Thrush in my garden 21st January 2013

During the snows of the last week, we’ve had a new visitor to the garden. A Mistle Thrush.

I don’t think it arrived just to perform for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, though when I do my hour of recording tomorrow morning, I’m really hoping it puts in an appearance.

But, it’s feeding habits have somewhat surprised me, especially considering the details put out by BBC Nature yesterday.

Mistle Thrush feeding on bird seed in my garden on 21st January 2013 (and ignoring the apple I put out for it)
Mistle Thrush feeding on bird seed in my garden on 21st January 2013 (and ignoring the apple I put out for it)

When I took these photo’s on 21st January, I had put out some apple halves for it to feed on, which it totally ignored. The next day I chopped it up much smaller, and the bits remain totally uneaten. Neither do we have any berries on the bushes around our garden, because we don’t have the space for those sort of shrubs.

Instead this Mistle Thrush much prefers the birdseed that has fallen from our bird feeders (more about which tomorrow). So, what I’m wondering is whether despite their known preferences for fruit and berries, actually the Mistle Thrush is a little bit more adaptable than we might have thought? Or, is my Mistle Thrush just muddled… or desperate, because of the weather?


Living Hermeneutically about Homosexuality (thanks to Steve Chalke)

Pink Primrose
I didn’t have a photo that seemed particularly appropriate to this item, so here’s a pink New Forest Primrose currently flowering against the odds in my garden.

About ten years ago my husband and I were delighted to become Godparents to the child of some old college friends, and co-Godparent with their close friend who happens to be a lesbian Christian.  We had no problem with this, but I’m ashamed to say it wasn’t something I particularly advertised among my Christian friends back at home in our reasonably evangelical church.

There, at about the same era of our lives, I heard at least one sermon deliberately advertised as and preached against homosexuality. I still have the notes that went with it somewhere on file upstairs. I couldn’t agree with it, but somehow felt unable to argue against it, through lack of knowledge and lack of nerve.

Recently I mentioned on Facebook Sara Miles’ autobiographical ‘Take this bread’ as being ministry changing. A friend rang me some days later having bought and read the book. She commented that she kept expecting Sara to deny her lesbian sexuality as she came to understand more about Christ, and that this was one of the things she had found most challenging about the book, because it didn’t happen. I realised that this simply hadn’t been an issue for me, I was far more interested in the challenge of the hospitality of the Eucharist and Baptism! That’s for another day, but it showed me that perhaps I ought to share more openly what I think about homosexual relationships and how I hold my views as having integrity with my Christian faith.

Now seems an appropriate moment for asking forgiveness of my few homosexual acquaintances for my silence, but I admit I only do so, because someone else has done the hard work of expressing their thinking on the subject, far more eloquently and comprehensively than I would. Suddenly I don’t feel so alone, and can unashamedly and lazily quote them.

First, I came across this quite balanced article around New Year from the Independent ‘Evangelicals who say being gay is OK’.

Then, this week, even better, was Steve Chalke’s excellent article ‘A Matter of Integrity’ which talks about responding hermeneutically ‘in thoughtful conformity to Christ’ to the matter of homosexuality and particularly homosexual relationships. I probably ought to find something to argue with him over, but I’m afraid I’ve failed. I’m either that bad, or he’s that good, you decide.

I have always disliked inconsistency, especially in myself, so hiding what I think hasn’t always been as comfortable as it might be. Before my BAP I was advised to work out what I thought about the ministry of homosexuals and homosexual relationships, in case I got quizzed on what I thought. I wasn’t, but the preparation was still useful.

Possibly Steve Chalke would see my thinking as a twisted exegesis, but looking back at my notes, my studies suggested that Leviticus 18 seems to be about not unthinkingly copying the behaviours of those people live among and keeping the purity of our relationship with God. Leviticus 20 asked people not to defile the sanctuary of God with any inappropriate behaviour, and I noted today we wouldn’t condone the death of anyone for the offences mentioned. In the New Testament, the use of the word translated ‘perverts’ in 1 Tim 1:10 comes from a Greek word the meaning of which is unclear, whilst there was a commonly used word for gay men that Paul hadn’t used (I can’t blog the Greek, sorry). Paul’s teaching here is directed at the goal of being pure in heart, of good conscience and sincere faith (1 Tim 1:15) which is what I was trying to work through to in this context!

So to have Steve Chalke articulate where his study (which includes these passages among others) has brought him to on this issue, has been very helpful. It has also finally made clear to me the difference between Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics – the former is just one tool among others for speaking about and living out the latter. Hermeneutics is basically what Sara Miles grapples with in her book, as in the midst of unexpectedly eating Christ she tries to grapple with what it means to try and live out God’s hospitality.

If doing hermeneutics means  looking at the Biblical revelation of the nature of Christ, in a way that ‘encompasses verbal and non-verbal communication of the wider culture’ then and now, then that’s what I see myself called to do now, and in the future as a priest. Sharing truths that might challenge others in their faith, is going to have to be part of the deal. I might not like the arguments that result from this, but that’s the next challenge I have to live with I guess.

So, there’s me then, coming out all hermeneutical and proud of it.

Grace at Cuddesdon in the week of Plough Sunday

Sunset at Ripon College Cuddesdon 15th January 2013 (the new Harriet Monsell building is on the right)
Sunset at Ripon College Cuddesdon 15th January 2013 (the new Harriet Monsell building is on the right)

Last night I said grace at the meal we always share at the start of an Oxford Ministry Course evening. Knowing that some rural communities may well have celebrated Plough Sunday/Monday last week, I was inspired to think about Cuddesdon’s own rural context, those things seen as we walk round campus and the recent floods of the surrounding areas.

Here is what I prayed:

Lord, who created the soaring kites in the sky above
And the glistening ice that delights our eye
but chills the sodden ground;
We give thanks for your glorious creation,
And ask your wisdom and strength to fill all those
who till the land and care for livestock at this time.
May we never waste the fruits of their endeavours
or our own,
That your name may be glorified
Jesus Christ our Lord.