Out of the Frying Pan

January 12, 2014

I was all ready for a lovely bike ride yesterday – the day was forecast to be sunny, and a fellow cyclist had invited me to join him for his new ‘lunch your way to weight-loss’ diet plan (you can eat anything you like for lunch, as long as you do so at a cafe a 40-mile round trip by bike from your door). As we woke to a bit of a frost, I was a little late for the rendezvous having decided to put on the ice tyres and then struggled with the back wheel – I ended up riding out with just the front tyre spiked and my normal back tyre. It didn’t matter, though, because when I got to the meeting spot, the ride had been cancelled – the roads were hideous with black ice, and even the spiked ones were struggling. I could feel my own back wheel slipping as I climbed the hills – and had a bit of a slidey moment as I turned into our drive and the back wheel declined to follow – so I felt the decision was probably a sensible one all round, especially as I came back to find my twitter timeline full of broken bones and slips and falls.

But that left me with a yen to do something active outside on a glorious day that wouldn’t land me in A&E, and naturally the garden beckoned. What could be safer than settling down to a little clearing and muck-shifting on a sunny winter’s day? Well, it would have helped if I had remembered the landlord telling me about the shoot that was coming through the grounds to deal with the pheasant menace (it’s quite a good protection racket the shoots have got going here: they breed a load of what are basically garden pests, release them, and then landowners come and beg them to get rid of them from their land, while other people pay them to be allowed to go and shoot them…). I was in the walled garden, but I realised that they were working their way up along the non-walled side which is fenced and mostly obscured by shrubs. I was fairly sure that they wouldn’t actually shoot into a bit of garden where they couldn’t see if anyone was there – but, as a refugee pheasant came in to land nearby, not 100% certain that in the excitement, somebody wouldn’t let off a stray shot or two in my direction. I was listening to them getting nearer and nearer, pondering what to do. Call out? Take shelter? (except there was only the greenhouse). Take cover behind the cold frames? In the end, I did nothing and while a bird did fly up right in front of them, nobody loosed off a shot, there was some impenetrable banter, and the group moved on.

When we were tiny and living in New York, my mother once got told off by a group of hunters for walking with us in the woods in deer hunting season without wearing bright coloured clothing – basically you don’t want to look anything like a deer… Now that I no longer wear my scary yellow jacket much on the bike, I may have to repurpose it as a safety gardening jacket, so I can be spotted from afar. And maybe a bullet-proof vest wouldn’t go amiss either…


Good News for Crows

October 11, 2013

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks for road kill around here, for some reason. After one foggy morning a fortnight or so ago, when I managed to report FOUR freshly squished rabbits to the Splatter Project, suddenly our roads were blissfully dead-animal free. Whether it was because all the pothole repair activity was frightening the wildlife off the road, or whether the local drivers had just finished off all the stupid rabbits and we were waiting for nature to resupply, I don’t know, but I was beginning to wonder what was going on.*

But today it was back to business as usual, with two crows feasting on the latest bunny victim. And with the start of the shooting season there were enough pheasants lurking around gormlessly in the undergrowth to provide road kill for months to come. Let the massacre re-commence…

* this video might be one answer (for viewers not in Scotland, I apologise for the lack of subtitles)


Goodness, Gracious, Great (well, tiny) Balls of Fluff

June 20, 2013

Just when I thought I could relax over the fate of various baby animals with our tadpoles safely mutated into frogs, a new worry presents itself. As I rode into the drive yesterday afternoon I was confronted by the following sight

Pheasant and chicks

A mama pheasant, teaching her little fluffballs-on-legs that the safest thing to do when confronted by a wheeled predator was to crouch down and disguise yourself as a bit of the driveway… truly they are the bird brains of the bird world.

pheasant chick

there’s a baby pheasant in there somewhere – unfortunately this was taken with my phone, not the other half’s excellent camera

After a while mama and chicks dispersed into the undergrowth that was once the neighbour’s flower bed, which was probably sensible from the not-getting-run-over point of view, but less so given the presence of his cat. I’m not, on the whole, a huge fan of pheasants as they’re garden pests and a road hazard to boot (it’s hard to keep your composure on a bike when one waits until you’re almost alongside it to rocket out of the verge past your ear yelling blue murder) but the babies are rather sweet, and I don’t want to have to be dealing with any stripy fluffy corpses on my doorstep… and the cat has a distressing tendency to play with her food.


It’s not Often…

May 3, 2013

… I can combine gardening and cycle campaigning but this week townmouse is proud to present:

101 uses for a dead spoke reflector

101 uses for a dead spoke reflector

How to protect your kale from marauding pheasants, while also promoting cycling. Seems to work a treat too …


Winter Gardening

March 28, 2013

First find your leeks…

snow covered leeks

Actually, scratch that – first find your basket…

snow covered basket

In the interests of strict accuracy these pictures were taken a couple of days back, and today we’ve had actual sunshine and, if not warmth, at least the return of sensation to our fingers and toes. The snow is also gradually melting, although I expect the big piles along the roadsides will be with us for a while.

I had hoped that the snow would offer me one benefit – I might find out who or what has been eating my kale, which has basically been reduced to sticks. Yesterday, the other half reported pheasant footprints around the kale bed in the snow, so I went up this afternoon to get documentary proof only to discover this:

non-snow-covered kale

The miscreant has obviously been watching CSI:Bigtown and has decided to cover its tracks. As this would make it some kind of garden criminal mastermind, I think we can pretty well eliminate pheasants from our enquiries…

Update

I wish a certain grey furry miscreant would learn the same trick

muddy cat footprints


That’s Pheasant with an ‘H’

February 10, 2011

Questions expecting the answer ‘yes':

‘Would you like a pheasant?’

It’s payback time for all the times we’ve been startled out of our skins by a pheasant launching itself cackling out of the undergrowth right from under our feet – not to mention the emergency stops as one determinedly tries to kill itself under our wheels (bike or car – they’re not fussy). The landlords get pheasants as a reward for allowing the shoot access to their land, and as they had been given three brace of them this time, we were offered one of the spares.

Now a fully-feathered pheasant is a splendid thing, and though I’d like to think that – were I actually starving and had managed to kill one – I could hang, pluck and draw it myself, but realistically that’s not going to happen now, when I am manifestly NOT starving, as evidenced by my incredible shrinking jeans. So we were grateful that the bird in question turned up truly oven-ready: headless and gutless and featherless and looking reassuringly like a small chicken. The only question now is in what form to put it in the oven. The downside of getting them in this state is not knowing how old the bird is (you age a pheasant by looking at its beak – but you knew that, didn’t you?) which means roasting it probably isn’t an option. The landlord recommends casseroling, so at the moment I’m going for this, but if any of you know better, I’m open to persuasion


Stop this Gun Crime Now!

January 27, 2010

Bring-bring. The landlord rings to warn us that a gang of armed men and unruly dogs will be passing through the garden tomorrow. Not an example of ‘Broken Britain’ – well, not in the sense that Cameron means anyway – just that the local shoot are coming to rid the grounds of pheasants* (yes, yes, before you pen your droll comment, there is an ‘h’ in there, this is a rural area, not a feudal one).

This reminds me of the time we looked out of the kitchen window to discover our neighbour zeroing his gun sights on our garage door, but that’s probably a story for another day.

* Actually, now I come to think of it, having someone deliberately breed a load of a pests, release them in someone’s garden, and then charge another load of pests considerable sums to come up from London and shoot them for us is quite broken. But it does display a certain rural cunning all the same.


More Bird Brains

September 2, 2009

‘Gosh, that’s almost bright, for a pheasant,’ I thought. For not only was the bird not actually on the road itself, but – instead of running out and under the wheels of our bikes as is normal for pheasants – it took off IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION, flying away from the road towards the safety of a field.

‘Or maybe not,’ I added as I watched it swing round towards the road again and fly slap bang into a fencepost.

For some birds, maybe shooting is the kindest thing.


Why Did the Pheasant Cross the Road

November 3, 2008

Back on the bike today, with the journey enlivened by antics of one of the local pheasant population, surely the stupidest bird on the planet. Fortunately, this was a girl pheasant, which meant it flew away from the road (the blokes preferring the suicidal approach of tackling the traffic head on) but it’s still a shock to the unwary.

At this time of year – actually at all times of the year – the roads here are full of apparently suicidal gamebirds. But particularly now when the population is bulked out both by this year’s young birds and the ones which have been bred and released purely for the purposes of being shot at. When people wax lyrical about game being wild food, I don’t think they can have meant pheasants which, as far as I can tell are no less intensively reared than the average commercial free-range chicken and have the road sense to match. Unfortunately, as one is not supposed to shoot at the damn things unless they’re airborne, the ones that have survived this long are the ones that fly as little as possible. Eventually a breed of entirely flightless pheasants will evolve, hopefully with an inkling of the green cross code. Until then we get a bird whose best plan for survival is to crouch in a ditch until a car – or bike – is almost upon it and launch itself like a cackling feathery rocket in a random direction and hope for the best. ‘Startling’ doesn’t even beging to describe the effect. Who needs halloween, when you can get the crap scared out of you every day of the week?

It hardly seems sporting to me to line up with a big gun and blast away at birds which have been raised and then released and driven towards you just for that purpose (why not go the whole hog and hunt cows? There’s more meat on them and they’re easier to hit). If you want real sport round here, requiring real skill and the thrill of the chase, just get into your car and take to the back roads and see how many pheasants you can not hit. Bonus points for not hitting a red squirrel as well…


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