Hill Farming, Lambing

Intruder!

Birdwatching Ewe

What is bothering this ewe?

Apparently in early labour, suddenly she sniffs the air and looks up into the trees.  She is completely distracted from the job in hand and agitated — whatever it is, she does not like it!

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Circling  above her is a large bird of prey — a buzzard, it wants a really good look at her.  Like the magpies that bounce (half flying, half jumping) around the nearby pasture, he is interested in the cleansings (placenta and membranes) and they seem to  sense a ewe in labour from miles away.  In fact this one has taken up residence in the stand of mature oak trees just above the pasture which gives him prior claim — or so he thinks, the crows and magpies think differently.

He swoops low ‘buzzing’ our ewe.

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Then he perches in the tall hedge to watch her — and waits.  She can’t settle.

Sheep in labour are very vulnerable and with any threat their contractions will cease for a time.  I don’t think that a buzzard, or indeed a domestic cat, is much of a threat to an adult sheep or a healthy lamb but there is something in their primitive background that responds to the shadow of a hawk, the shape of a cat and of course the bark of a dog that really upsets them at lambing time.  Dog walkers should bear this in mind because even the best behaved dog on a lead, can spook a ewe whose labour may become prolonged so that her lamb dies or, if she is beyond the point of no return , she may drop the lamb and run.

We like to see the birds of prey — we were very excited when we thought we saw an osprey recently, so are reluctant to chase them away.  Anyway, while I was wrestling with this dilemma this buzzard got bored waiting and flew off.

The ewe slumped immediately to the ground and finished the job.

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I am not a buzzard or a cat and she let me approach to help her with the first lamb and soon she had two beautiful, tall, strong lambs running at foot, one male and one female.

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Ecology, Hill Farming, Humour

Happytats for Birds and Bats

In a sheltered dimple on the far bank of our stream, facing south, we have spotted the first three tiny yellow lights that herald the Spring — they are ranunculi, brilliant buttercups with pointed stellar petals — broaches on the tweed of winter.  At this signal the woodpeckers have begun to drum.

It's a struggle to be first

It’s a struggle to be first

There is perfume in the air and overhanging the water, hazel catkins are dancing in gusts of March wind and the sunshine makes long shadows.   Clouds of frogspawn drift across the pond, strangely not reflected in the sky.

There is birdsong and the hum of passing wings.  The female pheasant from last year has reappeared.  Magpies are bickering and squawking in the field and above a circling buzzard mews so I go to check the sheep — a buzzard sees or smells a labouring ewe from high in the sky and will dive and swerve and snatch the precious afterbirth from the squabbling crows — but not today.

They will have to find some other quarry and that has reminded us that it is time to put up the bird boxes and the bat boxes that we made last winter.

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Prime real-estate – detached timber homes of French oak (offcuts from the office shelves) and other experienced material (hundred year old doors) deconstructed by a son and now born-again bat boxes with loft-ladder access from below (not shown).

We have sited them all carefully.  For bats: on the flight-path through the wooded glade at different heights for different species and facing for the morning or the evening sun.

The bird boxes face North-East, shaded and protected from the prevailing wind and sited with great thought, and not a little argument, about the specific requirements of the intended tenant whose name is penciled on the side – a test of avian literacy.

Do you think the mouse that was squatting in a bat house while it waited in the barn (avoiding the cat that sleeps on the rick) will find it up the tree?

Never overlook the importance of opportunism and untidyness in habitat creation!

Last year Great Tits reared a brood in this bag of kindling in the woodshed

Last year Great Tits reared a brood in this bag of kindling in the woodshed

We like the look of this old farm junk -- what will move in?

We like the look of this old farm junk — what will move in?

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