Ecology, Hill Farming

The Midwife has arrived…

in her black and white uniform.

SONY DSCWho called her?  Nobody knows.  But she knows: she knows exactly when every baby is due and she moves in a day or so before to watch over the mother.

Unlike her human counterpart she has no concern for the mother, she is here to collect the placenta and the membranes.  There’ll be no rotting flesh on our fields to attract predators.  All will be whisked away by the midwife bird.

She, or he, has been working up the valley following the wave of lambing which creeps up with the warming air and the growth of the grass.  The first sign  of her presence is a smear of wool on the field;  she has taken the liberty of pulling some wool from a ewe’s back to line her own nest and leaves a little on the grass, alarming as she chose the wool marked with red marker — does the colour of blood attracts her?

Magpies are hated by most farmers because of their partiality to another delicacy: they will peck the eyes from dead sheep and sometimes from not-quite-dead sheep and even from the head of a partially born lamb.

This upsets farmers (not surprisingly) but the flash of this bold and watchful bird will often alert him to a miscarriage, premature lambing or a fallen ewe and you can see magpies on occasions, perched on the back of a sheep, patiently picking out maggots from soiled wool which, if left, would attack the skin and eat into the sheep’s flesh causing rapid septicaemia from fly-strike and death if untreated.

Magpie looking for parasites and maggots

Magpie looking for parasites and maggots

The midwife bird is here to warn you that lambing is nigh — ovine tempers are frayed but the fields are drying out nicely so

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brace yourselves for an avalanche of lambs.

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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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