Sorry about the grainy photo this week but I couldn’t resist sharing it with you. I suddenly saw this little blue bird beavering away in the mud around the birdbath outside the kitchen window.
As always it’s a race to find the digital camera, get all those fussy settings right, after making sure there is actually a memory card in the gate.
Then it is a question of tiptoeing through the tables and chairs and slowly, oh so slowly, getting a sight on the subject. I need hardly have bothered.
Mrs Mudstopper was too busy to notice me. You can see why the old Sussex country folk called her that.
Where the blackbird had bathed that morning in the old frying plan the surrounding earth had become a quagmire. It was just before the mini March drought ended. The rest of the garden and wood was dry as dust.
Then along came Mr Mudstopper to see how his wife was getting on with the shovelling. Both sexes are builders in mud mortar.
They roll the stuff around until they have made a lump the size of their heads, then fly up to the ash tree to start building the front door.
They have done this every year for forty years and always in the same old hole which a green woodpecker once made in 1970.
Probably these today are the great grandchildren for all I know because without an identity bracelet you can neither tell sexes or children apart.
If there is mud left from last year they will scrape it out with those sharp beaks and make a new door, always 30mm or 1.25 inches wide. It reminds me a bit of a kingfisher’s entrance in a muddy bank, though that nest is three feet deep.
If the nest hole is exactly 30mm already then only a faint plastering of mud will be used, like someone painting the woodwork.
But, if the nest hole chosen by the pair is, say five or six inches wide, then that complete gap will be built up with mud. One Sussex nuthatch back in the 1920s carried five pounds of mud over several days on such a rebuilding job.
A bird at East Grinstead once decided to make its nest in a straw stack, when 6lbs of mud was needed, a major engineering job.
If you watch your local jobbing nuthatch at work it will become shy and carry the mud bricks not to its nest but to some other part of the scenery and smear the mud all over the tree trunks, or even the roof of your barn.
When it is sure you have gone away the proper work on the doorway will continue. This is why I am careful not to let the bird see me peeping.