Hill Farming, Wales

Deep and Crisp and Even!

“Mark my footsteps, good my page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shall find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

From the Christmas Carol –Good King Wenceslas

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Aby, our oxymoron, a ten year old orphan lamb — now retired, and her companion, Twts (Titch in Welsh) coming down off the hill to the safety of the yard.

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Pedro — impatiently leading the way — what’s holding you up?

 

 

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Birds, Ecology, Wales

Happytat Creation

Here’s something to cure election fever!

Something new and glorious and full of hope!  It’s something we’ve discovered 50 yards from our back door — a pair of nesting Barn Owls!

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Here is the male (I think) who is paler and here is his mate with her buff coloured chest

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and dark spots on her flank.

Best of all, there are three chicks which I hope to show you in a couple of weeks when they will be ringed and meet the public.

All this and the photos are courtesy of the Species Habitat Protection Group who erected the nesting box and have been monitoring it for 3 years.  Last year there was just one tell-tail Barn Owl feather, so we knew someone had been house-hunting, but we had no idea that they had moved in this year and started a family.  Thank you Jon, Jan, Roger and Brian and the other volunteers.

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Birds, Ecology, Wales

Never Malign the Humble Starling

It could cost you an admirer!

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Starling by John Quine (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

 

I once had a very high opinion of a man for whom I worked, in a lofty Victorian hospital with what they now call ‘orangery windows’ in the roof of the long ward on the top floor. One day a bird that had strayed into the ward became trapped, flying up against the glass of one of these windows.  His frantic tweeting was disturbing the ward and distracting the medical students that my boss was trying to teach — it didn’t take much to distract a medical student.  Now, I knew he was an enthusiastic bird-watcher and early tweeter (nothing to do with Twitter — it was long before that).  Perhaps I thought I’d impress him.

“I’ll get the pole and let the bird out!’ I said and went to fetch the thing like a giant boat-hook that opened the sky lights.

“Good idea!” said he.

When I came back, they had moved along the ward, nearer to the bird and could see the flapping, squawking creature more clearly as it threw itself repeatedly against the glass in panic.

“Oh!  It’s only a starling!” said the boss ” Leave it!”

Crash!  There it was, shattered on the ground — not the window — not even the bird — but my shattered illusion — my respect, in shards on the floor of a paeiatric ward in North London.

Later, when the previously wise old patriarch, now demoted to a racist tyrant, was having his coffee, I went back and released the bird.

I remember this because it is the time of the year when flocks of these enterprising and social birds ‘graze’ our fields looking for something, I’m not quite sure what.  They alight (several hundreds of them), making a great stain on the hillside, chattering.

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Then they lift in a swirling cloud and swoop low over the pasture scattering the sheep  who are scared, they are convinced that this murmuration of birds is supernatural. Suddenly the cloud swoops into a tall tree, all talking, so that the Douglas Fir twitters with an invisible din.

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Then they are off again swirling, the ball of birds, tumbling up and down the valley, in and out of the morning mist, like a great ball of the lightest, flightiest, celestial dough, rolled back on itself and kneaded by an invisible force.  A splash of dough lands on the overhead electricity wires, then drips, bird by bird, back onto the grass.

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All the time more and more individuals are joining the throng then, suddenly, they are gone.  All that remains is the throb of a thousand wings as they pass overhead, there is nothing like it — perhaps the sheep are right!

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Starlings by Paul McGreevy (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

 Have a look at these murmurations: http://essexnaturalist.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/starlings/

 

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Climate, Wales

The Year Rolls On

Unremittingly — can you smell that mintyness that rises from the damp litter of fallen leaves?

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We’ve enjoyed a long and beautiful Autumn.  The beech woods have been aflame and the more sober oaks have held on to their russet leaves until just a few days ago.

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But now suddenly, in one night, everything is changed!

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The sky has cleared and the temperature has plummeted.  At night the stars in our black night are stunning and the all-day frost in the hill’s shade makes the morning seem moonlit. You can see the cold and smell the cleanness of the air (and stub your toe on a frozen mole hill).

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As the low winter sun peeps over the hill and stretches over the ground, where it touches it brings back life and colour.

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Ecology, Wales

Miracle!

It’s a miracle and like the birth of a baby (or a lamb) it brings tears to your eyes;  one day the twigs on the oak trees look strangely spikey, the buds at their tips are swelling and beginning to crack open, furled leaf points are starting to show.  There is heavy rain over night and, next morning — like a magicians bunch of trick flowers — every bud is open and every leaf-vein filled with sap and suddenly, where a lattice of branches divided up the open sky, our woods are a solid mass of billowing green.

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Say goodbye to the shamrocks, engulfed in woodland shade; they’ll soon be overtaken by the grasses, ferns and brackens, all scrambling towards the remains of the light.

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But first — enjoy the bluebells!

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The spring comes late in the Cambrian Hills but when it does it’s explosive!

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Birds, Hill Farming, lifestyle, Wales

Aerial Dog Fights

We are not in a war zone but over the undulating landscape of Mid-Wales fighter aircraft of the Royal Air Force rent the sky and intertwine their parabolas as they pass behind the hills to emerge and cross, one with the other with micro-second clearance — they travel in pairs, weaving like mating dragonflies on amphetamine, never quite making contact, thankfully — so far.

Photo: Cpl Paul Oldfield RAF/MOD [OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)]

2 Hawk TMk2 Aircraft courtesy of Cpl Paul Oldfield RAF/MOD (OGL v1.0)

They use this area for low level training (I don’t think it’s a secret) and use our house as a landmark or perhaps we are located exactly on the intersection of the invisible lines of the virtual grid that is projected onto the land by a NASA satellite  (the eyes in the sky).  When we were slating our new roof the eyes in the sky were obviously interested, sending fighters to make pass after pass over our house, lower and lower in the sky, trying to topple the large khaki penguin, wrapped up against the elements (it was winter — we do everything late).  Were we part of a secret military exercise — a pretend enemy missile installation under construction — subject to constant aerial monitoring and due for annihilation when we fixed the last ridge tile?  Or was the intelligence officer just keen on DIY, trying to see how we feathered and leaded the valley of our new roof?

Anyway we enjoyed the attention.

We’re not paranoid, not even when a massive Hercules transport plane hoves over the horizon which, in these hills, can be just yards ahead.  Motorists on the mountain road swerve to avoid the huge alien craft that rears up as they approach the crest of a hill!

The remains of a fuel tank from such a plane was in our barn for years, jettisoned by a pilot who misjudged the height of our hill, and quickly squirreled away by conspirators to fill the oil lamps of this valley for a generation — or so they say!

The aerial activity recently has been more pastoral.  The crows that roost and build their nests in the wood do not like the buzzards, nor are they very keen on the red kites —

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— that swoop down from great altitude to pick up the remains of pheasant carcasses left on the hillside for them by this lazy farmer’s wife who is fed up with making soup.

 

The buzzards are ever present,

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mewing to each other and circling above the trees and crossing the valley.  The crows are intelligent and social creatures and resent this invasion of their airspace so have formed an air force of their own.  They  climb up high in ones and twos and swoop down on the buzzard from above and behind and the buzzard will twist and roll to face the enemy with his talons outstretched and they will engage and drop and spin in the most aeronautically alarming way — a real dog-fight.

They recover and the buzzard continues to beat his Herculean way across the field of combat as the crows re-form to attack again.

It’s hard not to sympathize with the plucky crows especially after the chicken incident — imagine our delight when a great bird of prey alights just under our bedroom window to consume its prey — we are honoured and watch and wait, enthralled, to photograph its every move and later rush out to examine the spot — only to discover the remains of our last bantam hen!

173Best Buzzard

 

 

Photo of Hawk aircraft by Cpl Paul Oldfield RAF/MOD [OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Ecology, Wales

Common things being common

The grasshoppers that jumped out and away wherever you trod in our field last summer were green and there were lots of them.  That might make you think that they were Common Green Field Grasshoppers but with talk of global warming, climate change and species in all the wrong places (A Dartmoor Blog https://adriancolston.wordpress.com)  I have been inspired to have another look at my photos and to try to be more precise in my identification.

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First impressions may well have been correct and this confirms me in the belief that things should be named for what they are, although in this case I had such difficulty in photographing him that Brown Kneed Elusive might be a better name.

?Common Green Grasshopper

If you recognise this creature please leave details otherwise he will remain Omocestus viridulus, the common green field grasshopper.

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