Birds

Bird-feeders

During this cold weather there is a lot to be said for getting the birds to come to you rather than plodding about the countryside wondering where they have all gone. They are not stupid — they are on the feeders! This year we are blessed with several greater spotted woodpeckers — this is a male with a red flash on the back of his head — the females have only red under the tail. They have been drumming for over a week now so we know spring is coming!

This nuthatch is Bill’s favorite — calling from a tree if the feeder is empty!

In Wales the feeder is surrounded by a miasma of flitting great tits and blue tits with the occasional coal tit, siskin and, if we are lucky, a mob of visiting long tailed tits. Our gold finches have gone somewhere warmer. There are chaffinches too and a robin who has learned to perch.

In the East Midlands, Bill’s feeder is also used by the ubiquitous tits but dominated by green finches and gold finches. Each bird feeder gives a snap-shot of the local bird population. There are chaffinches and a pair of bullfinches.

Beneath the Welsh feeder the swelling flock of pheasants are excavating, ekeing out a living from the rejected sunflower seeds — the nuthatch is very picky! They are very hungry since the gamekeeper stopped feeding them but have had the good sense to move up the valley, away from the guns. In Kettering their niche is occupied by a fat wood pigeon and they all bicker with the resident squirrels!

Following my recent freezer debacle I put some rapidly defrosting pheasant legs in view of the bedroom window (don’t worry, they were shot in the valley — no bio-hazzard). Within a couple of hours there were 8 buzzards circling above. Here is one of the two that were on the ground.

It is not just the feeders that the small birds visit — they like the spiders webs on the window frames, a long tailed tit was knocking on the window recently

Long tailed tits are very difficult to photograph — this wonderful picture is by Wildlife Terry (CC0 1.0) I think they are enchanting.

This blackbird forages on the bank opposite my study window giving me the evil eye and sometimes flying at the window — it’s not me he hates but his own reflection!

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trees

What is Welsh Oak anyway?

When we visited the botanical gardens at Kew last year I was confused by the oak trees — there are many varieties — none was labelled Welsh oak! Wandering through the diverse collection of oak trees I spotted one that looked familiar — one of our trees, it was labelled “Sessile oak”.

Sessile Oak, I read, is also known as Durmast Oak. Cornish Oak and Welsh Oak! Welsh Oak is Quercus patraea — patraea seems to mean “lives in rocky places” (I’d be more convinced if it meant “lives in wet places”!) Durmast makes sense though — dur is strong in French and mast is a spar on a sailing boat.

Q. patraea — Welsh Oak in Autumn

Don’t be confused with the other native British species, the Common Oak also known as Pedunculate or English Oak. English Oak is Quercus robur — robur means hard timber in Latin.

Welsh oak has acorns that sit directly on the tips of the new shoots (they are sessile i.e. they do not move).

Welsh Oak with leaves on stalks — acorns without pedicles.

English Oak has acorns on long pedicles so can wave about a bit! They are pedunculate.

The leaves are the opposite — the Welsh have stalks so produce dappled shade.

The English Oak leaves arise directly and densely on the twigs — they make dark shade.

English Oak Q. robur at Kew – leaves directly from growing tips around buds giving dense rosettes.

Simple! Except that they hybridize — you get mixtures.

Also the Welsh Oak is said to be taller and more upward stretching.

Welsh oak at home — tall and proud.

The English Oak is broader and more spreading.

However, how the tree grows has a lot to do with the density of its planting. A single tree in the middle of a field will stretch out sideways, its fellow in a dense wood with shoot up (slowly) to find the light!

My favorite oak — it lives in Wales but certainly spreads like an English Oak!
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Climate, seasons, Sheep farming, Wales

A Wind of Change!

As snow and ice cover the eastern counties of Great Britain, Wales is bathed in celestial light — for a trice.

It’s chilly with a strange east wind (of change, perhaps). The prevailing wind here is nearly always wet and westerly — it brings our weather from the Atlantic and snow storms from America — not so today, its coming from the Urals (I’ve got my Russian hat on.)

The sheep have not been gathered in, against the storm, but wait in disgruntled groups for fresh silage, the sweet smell of which precedes the shepherd on the crisp cold air.

Our valley is muted in the winter shade but the tops are bright, scoured dry by the icy wind.

which sends the turbines spinning and brings the snow ever closer — unless it all drops on England first!

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Health and safety, Humour, lifestyle

One of those days!

Putting on my glasses while leaving the bedroom I noticed a spec on the lens, thus distracted, I walked into the low beam which floored me, moaning and clutching my forehead.

I struggled downstairs clutching my re-booted head which remembered that I had not checked the freezer since I had switched it on several days ago in such bright sunshine that I could not see the little indicator lights. Never mind, I had thought, loading it with frozen fish, scallops, squid and prawns — I’ll check it when it gets dark! It has been dark on and off several times since but today it is bright again so, ever adaptable, I open the door to feel how cold it is. I am knocked back a second time this morning , this time by the disgusting smell of corruption — of rotting flesh — wasted seafood — green slime drips out onto the floor. I pause and experience a wave of sympathy for the poor fishermen whose produce rotted in Calais because of the wrong paperwork, then start lobbing out my lovely fish as Bill retires gagging.

Back to basics, I pull out the freezer and trace the wire to a plug that I had forgotten in a cupboard I don’t use and switch it on — all the little lights sparkle into life — well at least the freezer works but there is another whiff. In that cupboard with the disused wedding presents from the one before last there are signs of mice — that distinctive musty smell (Mus musculus) and tell-tail chocolate sprinkles — really disappointing, as I had thought we were rid of them.

So I set to — washing out the freezer, the cupboard and the floor — I set the mouse traps by the likely looking hole, a job I hate, then I rise with a sense of completion and crack my head on the overhanging work-surface, sending me reeling a second time and wondering what new horrors will be jarred to the forefront of my mind.

Just another day at the end of the rainbow!

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Carona Virus Lockdown, Climate, weather

Proxy Winter Walk!

Dawn of a stunning day!

But for those of you who are stuck in other places or don’t want to get out of your warm beds, here is a walk through the crunchy frost — watch out for the frozen mole hills covered by a dusting of last night’s hail and this morning’s crystal dew — they stub your toes and send you sprawling on the now unyielding turf.

See the lane in the middle distance — treated last night with grit and salt (during a rain storm that washed it all away) and now frozen and deterring visitors — Bill is looking for the postman –the computer says his parcel is on its way but I know differently. Just as we have decided not to venture out to shop — we will fall upon the mercy of our store cupboard (my armageddon stash) and I will secretly hope for much more snow so that we are confined by something different –something that makes us cut wood and bake bread! Something reassuringly traditional!

Meanwhile we inspect the sheep and marvel at the beauty of their surroundings.

By afternoon it is beginning to thaw but only until sunset and more is forecast.

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Birds, Climate, Planes

The Sound of Freedom!

What a difference a day makes — the clear blue sky has bought my fair weather friend out onto the banks of the Trannon to wonder at the thundering of the water and bemoan the absence of aerial activity.

No thermals yet for the buzzards and kites, not even the cronk of a raven… The kingfisher and the dipper have moved downstream. But what is this new roar above that of the rushing river. Right above our heads:

A F15E Strike Eagle

“All the way from Lakenheath,” said Bill “and probably in less time than it’s taken us to walk down the valley… ” He had a strange far away look on his face, “Jet noise — the sound of freedom!” he said, quoting the bumper stickers of the 80’s.

I only hope that my friends who remember protesting at Greenham Common with the same expression of nostalgia will have forgotten this by the time we meet again.

There were three F15Es (I need 3 — one to jump, 2 to adjust the camera and 3: bingo!) They made several passes over our valley and then were gone, doubtless marvelling all the way home at the strange water-world beneath them — all the way from Wales to East Anglia, in less time than it took us to walk home for our lunch. It will have been a spectacular journey today.

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floods, Wales

Welsh Squelch — Storm Christoph

As homes down stream are being evacuated there is a break in the otherwise incessant rain so that I can get out for a walk in the woods.

Soggy Woods
Swollen streams

Everywhere there is the roar of water and where there is usually a trickle — today there is a raging torrent.

A lot of water

56 flood warnings — that’s everywhere!

No such thing as bad weather — just the wrong clothes!
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Humour, Medical, Thoughtful

Padded knickers extending lifespan!

I read somewhere that time accelerates as you age. This is my impression and may be because as you get older you do fewer new, memorable things. Memorable things that you do for the first time populate the time-scape and as you look back, if there aren’t many it seems as if the time has flown by. I don’t suppose it matters much as it’s all just a trick of the memory but it’s good to have things to look back on and one of the reasons I blog.

There was a time I did something new almost every day but that’s not so easy now with all the restrictions. Last week I bought Saville oranges for the first time and yesterday I made marmalade for the first time and got my first sugar burn!

When we are next in Peterborough I am going to have a go on my daughter’s new adult scooter (she uses it to get to work at the hospital avoiding parking and public transport) — it’s manual like the ones we had as kids but bigger — I used to love my scooter! This will require the manufacture of padded knickers — the only proved way to avoid fractured femurs (I should have had them years ago) and I will certainly need them in Kettering when I try the new grown-up motorized scooters that whizz up and down the Headlands with some of the youngest 17 year olds (with driver’s licenses) that I’ve ever seen. Before I can do that I’ll have to get my first i-phone (that’s how you mobilize the scooter) and waylay a school-boy to help me (I’ve done that before).

A friend of mine (I won’t identify him any more specifically — you’ll see why) likes to go to work each day using a different mode of transport, it was easy to begin with, especially as they live on a waterway (that narrows identification down a bit). Car, bicycle, skate board, paddle board, kayak, walking, running along the beach… As time goes on finding new ways gets harder — swimming, sailing… Running over the dunes? (But that’s really just running). Running over the dunes naked! He could do them all again naked even if it does mean going early when it is quiet. So if you knew who it was and where to go you could see him at 5:30 am riding a child’s peddle-cycle, stark naked, along the sea-wall.

Electric Scooters for Rent by Wuestenigel (CC BY 2.0) Object of my desire!

When you see me streaking down the Headlands in nothing but my padded knickers you will know that I too am running out of new things to do.

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animal psychology, Humour

The Septic Geranium and Trans Lamb

A cade lamb, orphaned at birth and bought up by a silly woman and a clever dog will not be like other sheep. Aby has had her portrait painted, has been photographed for magazines (not Hello! but she was the centerfold for Border Life). Basically she is a celebrity — the ovine equivalent (in my mind anyway) of Joan Collins and also looking very good for her age.

Yesterday I found what I thought was a calf halter in the shed and I used it to tie a great sheath of brushwood to the wheelbarrow so that I could overload it like a Greek donkey and wobble to our “30 meter heavy duty compost heap” — our special habitat in the woodland. This is a safe haven for dozing hedgehogs, nesting wrens and the innumerable wood moulds and fungi that live in our little piece of temperate rain forest. Aby came with me for the walk.

On they way back I wondered if Aby was too old to be halter trained — she does after all identify as a cross between a dog and a human (a category that EIDCymru refuse to recognize on their annual sheep and goat inventory). As usual she was walking to heel. We stopped and I picked up the halter from the barrow and threaded it into a noose configuration — simple. Aby looked interested — lifting her head up to look at the circle of rope that I held in front of her. Without thinking I just slipped it over her head! She was pleased with this new award and set off to show it to Tex, her new companion with me still attached to the other end. As she ploughed on through the mud I was left behind — I tugged on the rope to demonstrate the principle of the process. The noose (for that is what it was — not a halter) tightened, she pulled harder. Not wanting to hang her, I let go! She headed up the hill. Her deadly pendant dragging in the mud and looking for something to grab hold of so that it could strangle poor Aby.

I gave chase — I grabbed — I missed — I grabbed again (this is fun) — I caught it as it circled her neck — she accelerated and swerved — I lost my footing and described a wide arc landing on my back in the mud (I thought “fractured femur — hospital — covid” but I didn’t let go) I was not in pain. Aby was no longer pulling. She was lying on her back with her feet in the air. What a piece of luck — she was caste — immobilized by that primitive quirk of sheep neurology whereby the do not work when they are upside down. I had time to pull myself together and remove her rope noose.

Our relationship may take longer to sort out — she stomped off feeling humiliated and totally let down and has been firing withering looks at me ever since. Like the car that rolls and has a dent on every panel, I was wet and mudded on every surface.

Thinks: must get a proper halter!

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Ecology, Health and safety, Hill Farming

Rural Detox!

Do you remember the old barns we inherited when we bought this farm — here is Alan starting to demolish the tractor shed!
The area at the back remained a gathering ground for scrap metal and all the bits and pieces that might just be useful in the future!

But the future is now!

We took a look at the older stuff and I accepted the proposition that it might just be asbestos, took some to the tip and had it checked and confirmed that it was asbestos. They thanked me for my offer but said they didn’t want it — at any price. At this point it could have stayed behind the shed for another 20 years but no, with the help of a friend with a digger we have sorted and stacked it and tomorrow an approved contractor is arriving, at immense expense, in PPE to double bag and remove same to a place of safety (actually controlled un-safety) after which I will get a certificate!

Ancient Asbestos
Roof tiles that no-one wants to recycle

And look — space for a new barn!

Sadly — the large ash tree has been reduced to produce — logs
and kindling!

Tomorrow the man will come to measure up for the steel frame of the new barn and we will order the wooden cladding, the painting of which will be another new diversion.

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