In need of a reminder

I don’t know about you but as the years pass (and seem to blur) I can never remember what I’ve seen when, so this year to jog my memory here’s some highlights from January/February 2014. Hopefully some of these will make an appearance VERY soon.

The wild year started slowly in my patch but by the 23 January there was a brambling on the feeder, along with a mass of greenfinch and goldfinch and the odd bullfinch. The flowers started popping at the beginning of February and I saw my first bee, a red tailed bumblebee, on the 16 February. The month ended with the annual frog knees-up at the pond.

I think I’m ready now for 2015 – but just make sure you throw some wildlife at me really, really soon otherwise I might sink into a deep depression and hibernate until April!

My favourite time of day… a walk at dusk

I should be working. It’s 11.33 am on a Friday morning and my mind keeps wandering back to my walk last night. No point fighting it… I need to get it down on “paper” then maybe I can concentrate on some work!

It wasn’t a planned walk. I’d had a lovely Valentine’s Day, surrounded by flowers, cards and love from my hubby. At 5pm the sky was still light… it was no good, the call of the dusk was too strong. I needed to walk.

Valentine flowers

Dragging on a pair of scruffy jeans, walking boots and coat, I stuffed my binoculars deep into my pocket and was out the door before you could say “washing-up”.

After a quick look in the garden pond (still no spawn – but plenty of frogs) I was off down the road, away from the sounds of civilisation, surrounded instead by the last lilting songs of a song thrush and blackbird, battling for supremacy in the nearby tree tops.

As I walk down the hill, the sun is just setting behind the fields on the other side of the valley and I can see the jackdaws gathering at their pre-roost in a tall tree on the skyline. They’re more than a quarter mile away and yet I can hear their distinctive “yarr” calls from here. They remind me of a noisy family gathering; lots of bickering, gossiping and laughing.

Out of habit I have a peek at the badger hole that has appeared in the hedge bank in the last year. No badger but a tiny movement catches my eye as a wren hops from stem to stem on a waving bramble. It’s only a few feet from me and yet it’s totally absorbed in the job at hand. You forget how tiny they are until you see them up close.

I reach the valley bottom. The predominant sound is water. Dripping, pouring, trickling off the waterlogged fields. The road is covered in a thin river of water where the drains can’t cope. It’s not a threat to the nearby houses but if frosts come it’s going to turn the road into an ice-rink.

Heading up hill again along my favourite country lane I spot something in the distance. The old oak is silhouetted against the setting sun, and high in its branches is the outline of a bird. A little owl. The lane takes me right under its tree and as I get closer it takes to the air but doesn’t go far – just far enough to keep an eye on me.

Little owl

The jackdaws have flown to the main roost now – roughly a mile away – I can’t see them but I can still hear them. Thousands of birds getting comfy for the night in their hidden copse.

Darkness is really taking hold as I pause at the top of the hill and look down over the valley. The little owl gives one call as it takes to the air again. I wait to see if any badgers appear, but nothing stirs in the wood. Even the song thrush is quiet now.

As I walk back down the hill a sudden movement catches my eye. It’s a bat, two bats – flying the lane as they do in the summer. The high hedges on either side making a natural feeding route. It’s good to see them again. Maybe spring isn’t so far away.

A distant tawny owl calls, it’s the last creature I hear as I make my way back home and the constant drone of the evening traffic drowns out the wild dusk world behind me.

Sunshine, winter otters and nosey badgers

What a brilliant Sunday. It started cold but sunny, so I made my mind up to go in search of otters on our local river. I’d forgotten that the river would be so swollen (after a whole day of rain yesterday), but luckily I had my welllies and managed to slosh my way through the floods, admiring the redwings that were sunbathing at the tops of the trees.

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It wasn’t long before I bumped into my friend Stuart (doing a bit of otter watching too) so we went off in search together along the river bank. We soon heard the tell-tale high pitched, repeated squeak of an otter cub, and sure enough, on the opposite bank there they were – Mum and youngster.

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It’s always a treat to see them out of the water, and I even managed a tiny bit of video footage in the water, as the cub tried to keep up with Mum, squeaking all the way, then met up and dived together. Sorry… I couldn’t help saying “lovely” at the end :-)

It was also a bumper day (or night) for badgers. Although badgers don’t hibernate, they do sometimes have nights in the winter when they don’t visit the garden. However, last night wasn’t one of them – far from it! Between 1pm to 5pm they must have been having a blimin party out there as I videoed them on the trail camera no less than twenty-two times. It seems like the youngsters were out in force (maybe sent out by Mum to fill their bellies before the frosts arrived) as these particular badgers were very cheeky and inquisitive – as this footage shows. I’ve never looked up a badgers nostrils before!

They are also incredibly determined and strong. I only ever put a handful of sunflower hearts under some bricks (to encourage them to work a bit for their tiny treat, and to stop the foxes from eating it), but when this badger arrived at 2.42am most of the seeds had already been eaten by his relatives. That didn’t stop him, oh no, not a single stone was left unturned, or unpushed!

Tawnies, jackdaws and a dawn chorus at dusk

After a depressing week of rain, cloud and generally messy weather, yesterday’s blue skies were a welcome change. Proper sunshine filled my office at home, and somehow the world didn’t seem quite so bad. It was also the day my friend Steve was coming over to put up the tawny owl nest box he’d made for my local owls.

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Unfortunately the Scots Pine we chose for the box was in the middle of an enormous hedge of camelia and laurel, 15ft wide and the same height. Getting a ladder against the tree trunk was going to be tricky, to say the least. Eventually we battled our way right into the undergrowth and stood the ladder up inside the hedge, success – we hoped.

As Steve emerged from the jungle below he did an amazing job of dragging the box up the ladder and somehow (I’m still not quite sure how) wired the box to the tree single handedly, while I faffed around at the bottom of the ladder feeling (and, quite honestly, being) completely useless.

tawny box

Now all we need are the tawny owls, who regularly hunt in the garden for voles and mice, to take a fancy to it. Personally I can’t see how they could resist such a des-res, although the jackdaws might take a fancy to it if the owls aren’t quick off the mark.

It was such a perfect evening I decided to walk across the valley to the jackdaw roost. I didn’t set off until 4pm, and as I walked down the hill into the valley, it felt as if I was off to roost as well. Jackdaws and rooks were flying in from all directions, slowly making their way to the pre-roost gathering site. There was no hurry, no rush, just slow determined wing flaps taking them to their meeting place. All roads led to the pre-roost.

Jackdaws

Anyone walking nearby would instantly have known where the pre-roost was. The trees on the hill were like the hub of a wheel, with the straggly lines of flying birds as the spokes, arriving from all directions.

I had planned to watch the main roost site from my favourite vantage point, about a quarter mile further on at the top of a hill, but the noise at the pre-roost was building and I found myself rooted to the spot. Strangely mesmerised.

As the trees filled with the sound of jackdaws and rooks, I gradually started to make out individual families. Three, four or five birds following each other from tree branch to tree branch. Fights broke out, like any big gathering, as some birds chased each other; turning this way and that, trying to get away from their persistent pursuers. Had they landed on the wrong branch? Committed a grave corvid crime? It’s hard to tell, but punishment was swift and pretty violent. Pecks to the head and body if they were caught, and “sent to Coventry”. Loneliness must surely be the worse punishment for this gregarious bird?

Suddenly the general hubbub of the pre-roost changed as a ripple of calls moved from one tree to the next. As if as one, all five hundred birds lifted into the darkening sky. This time every bird was heading in the same direction, flying quite quietly, no more than a mile to the next valley where thousands more birds would already be waiting.

For a moment a strange silence fell on the wood, everything seemed to be breathing a huge sigh of relief at the exit of the jackdaws. Then the singing started. Beautiful singing, filling the darkness with eerie, echoing, woodland songs that wrapped themselves around the branches of the trees.

In the distance I could still hear the main jackdaw roost settling down for the night. A single mass sound, lifting and falling in volume as they made themselves comfortable.

Walking home the only sound came from the streams still trying to draw the water off the land after the rains. No birdsong, no foxes, no owls, just water.

Finally, walking up the hill towards civilisation, with street lamps glaring, the sound of cars and people spoiled the atmosphere. I’d been out for over two hours, on the edge of a busy urban village, and yet I realised hadn’t passed a single human being. I hope it stays like that, I’d selfishly like to keep this special time, when day turns to night, all to myself.

Tawny owl photo credit: johnmuk via photopin cc

Dreaming of Dorset Otters

I’d love to report that I’ve been out watching otters, but the truth is I’ve been stuck inside this week working – so to cheer myself up I’m posting a beautiful video of Dorset otters by Hugh Miles. I was there when some of this was shot, so it brings back very happy memories.

If you’d like to see more by Hugh, you can click through to his website for his latest series “Catching the Impossible” Well worth buying/watching (even if you don’t like fishing) for the wonderful wildlife footage and underwater sequences.

Roll on spring!

Every jackdaw could be George

Every time a jackdaw lands in the garden, or on the roof next door, I wonder if it’s George. Standing at the window I know this jackdaw can see me. He runs up the tiles and stands on the gable for a second looking my way, then slowly he takes to the sky and is gone. Did he wink before he went? or was that just my imagination?

Today the jackdaw is my #WGW365

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The breath of a badger

The badger came last night. Nothing unusual in that, one tends to come most nights (I can’t help smiling every morning when I see that they have been, and get nervous when they miss a night), but this badger is quite distinctive. He’s got little ears. In fact, compared to some of the badgers who wander through the garden, he’s quite little all over. A cub from last year? I wonder.

The other thing (that makes me think he might be young) is he is very inquisitive. Usually the badgers are a bit nervous of the camera when I haven’t put it out for a while, but not this one. He marched straight up to it and had a good sniff and snort. So much so that you can see clouds of his misty breath. He then decided it wasn’t pointing in the right direction and promptly moved it to spy on my front door! Badgers revenge?