animal psychology

Change in Management

SONY DSC

If you are conscientious about studying this blog, which I doubt, you might remember that we have two farm cats which, as the taxman knows, control our vermin.  One works, he’s called Midnight, sleek and black, he catches the mice, voles, rats and the odd mole, while the other, Guinness, the fat cat, manages; he is the manager; an agent if you like, he takes a cut of the quarry, and a percentage of the pay — 60%, I think. He’s never gone out much but he coordinates from his office by the fire while Midnight is out in all weathers …  That is until recently.

A little while ago I came down in the morning and stepped over Guinness, sprawled in front of the fire, basking in the heat.  But, hang on a minute, the fire was out.

“Is that cat dead?” said Alan and I’m afraid he was — it was all rather unnerving and sudden, though he had climbed a 15 ft pollarded tree  the previous week-end which was so out of character that Alan had wondered if he might have a bucket-list.

SONY DSC

Perhaps he did.

The amazing thing is the change in Midnight, the worker.  He didn’t go out for three weeks.

“He must be grieving!”

“No he’s not — he’s inherited the territory, the house, the staff, you and me.”  Always a cat of very few words, within weeks he is waking us up, caterwauling at the bedroom door, demanding food, chatting, complaining about the weather, knocking my handbag off the kitchen table if I put it where he now likes to sit —  I don’t know what will happen when the spring comes and all the vermin start to reappear.  Perhaps he’ll advertise for an assistant.

Standard
Ecology, Urban environment

London surprises

The human habitat expands in three dimensions.

SONY DSC

But just the other side of these buses is a tributary of the Thames — the River Wandle, that gives its name to Wandsworth — and look what we have here!

SONY DSC

A cormorant wrestling with a large, live eel which it eventually swallows whole.

SONY DSC

There it goes!

A short walk (for a country person, her daughter and her new grandson) and we are up-river in Barnes, in the wetland reserve that nestles in a meander of the Thames.

“Wake up, Little Grandperson!  Look at these!”

fullsizerender-5

Otters in their almost natural habitat doing what they do best — exploring!

 

Standard
Climate, Ecology

Barn Owl 2016

 

SONY DSC

Barn Owl 2016

We have ideal Barn Owl habitat (except of course when we accidentally set fire to it!)

P1060860 fIREMEN

But our climate is not ideal because Barn Owls, who like to hunt at night and are quite picky eaters, cannot fly in torrential rain;  this is a real problem in Wales!  This is the reason we occasionally glimpse one by day; it is not a good sign, it means it is very hungry.

The population is under threat in our area, despite the profusion of nesting sites and voles in our little valley and the hard work of all the volunteers.  However, inspection of our Barn Owl box revealed one Barn Owl feather in 2016 so, as the Owl Man said, we are on their radar so we live in hope.

SONY DSC

Meanwhile we will only meet at Falconry Displays.

 

 

 

Standard
Climate, Natural Beauty

Levels!

ISONY DSC

In Winter one becomes more aware of levels, height above sea level, contours and isobars, temperature differentials and of things variable, that change ones view of the world.

SONY DSC

Yesterday from the frosty world of the valley bottom we walked up through layers.

SONY DSC

Through the chill mists that form in the valley like a rising sea level.

SONY DSC

We climbed to where the sun skims the top of the hill to fill the opposite side of the valley with colour,

SONY DSC

and makes silhouettes of the sheep on the horizon.  Then we looked back over the hill tops, bathed in winter sunlight.

SONY DSC

 

Standard
animal psychology, Communication, Doggy, Hill Farming, Humour

Working dog? Superdog

Here he is!

p1040495-2

Not working!

Is he a Welsh Sheepdog?

SONY DSC

Well, sort of.

SONY DSC

He certainly understands sheep.

He knows when they are ill.

SONY DSC

A caring-dog for any of our lambs that are poorly.

He’s much more than that.

SONY DSC

Intrepid mountain-dog and finder-of-the-way-home-dog.

‘Responsible-adult’-dog.  Always alert, sensor-of-danger-dog.

p1050160-2

Night-hound, watcher-of-your-back-dog.

Ratter, humane catter, licker-up-of-mess-dog.

He’s a parson’s nose disposer.

He’s not a ‘blind-dog’ but he’s a seeing-in-the-dark-dog, a hearing-for-the-relatively-deaf-dog and a sniffer-dog for the finding-something-dead-job.

But most important — he is a remembering-dog.  Working with the terminally forgetful.

If the chickens have not been turned out or the cratches not filled with hay he will fix the farmer with his beady eye (see above) and throw glances at the chicken house or the cratch until the farmer says,”Oh yes, we’d better see to the chickens,” or the hay or the 101 other forgettable chores on our little farm.

spring 2012 209 Pedro

Pedro

 

Standard
Birds, Ecology, Wales

Never Malign the Humble Starling

It could cost you an admirer!

starling-by-john-quine

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.

SONY DSC

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.

SONY DSC

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.

SONY DSC

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!

starlings-by-paul-mcgreevy

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

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

 

Standard
Climate, Wales

The Year Rolls On

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

SONY DSC

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.

SONY DSC

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

SONY DSC

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).

SONY DSC

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

SONY DSC

Standard