Dealing with drought is a now familiar task for gardeners, especially here in the east of the country.  The lawn looks like Wimbledon after two weeks pounding on the courts: brown and hard but with tough weeds stubbornly putting their heads up above all.   The few showers over the last few months have given a welcome fill to the water butt, emptied rapidly to bathe parched pots.  The well has held out, mainly because we haven’t pushed it hard: dirty, dusty cars are the norm here!

Song Thrush lines up a snail for a hard knock. (c. Oran O’Sullivan)

You might expect birds to be taking it easy too, with most of the nesting duties complete or very advanced.  The dry weather ensured full broods of swallows and house martins are already on the wing.   Young Robins are beginning to stir, the adults song a reminder that they need to find a space to call their own, as the autumn season approaches.

I have noticed young and adult Song Thrushes are busy at work: the tell tale signs of dry empty snail shells around the patio are evidence of an executioner at work.  Song Thrushes are happy to feed on earthworms, gleaned from the top snail by sight and sound. Blackbirds adopt the same method, looking and listening with head cocked to one side. However, earthworms go down deep into the soil as it dries leaving this method of foraging redundant.  The Song Thrush resolves the problem by moving to a related food source in dry weather: the garden snail.  These are picked from the surface, usually under plant cover and brought to a hard surface or edge, known as a Thrushes Anvil.  By repeatedly cracking or tossing the shell against a stone or kerb, the hard shell gives way to expose a soft, high protein meal for the Song Thrush, doing the gardener a favour into the bargain.