June 23, 2020
It seems we are coming out of lockdown – even here in Scotland where things are proceeding at a more cautious pace than south of the border. Not only can we make the 100-mile round trip drive to see my parents (as soon as the weather relents enough to make sitting in their garden while we socially distance a realistic prospect) but I got a text from my dentist confirming that my checkup will be going ahead on Friday (of all the things I was looking forward to being able to get back to doing, I can’t say this was top of my list)
I’ve also had a bit of a break in the work schedule – as a glance out of the window at the weather would confirm – and a chance to actually get to grips with a couple of those lockdown projects I started back when I thought everything being cancelled for the foreseeable future might actually give me some more free time.
One of these was an attempt at a couple of timelapses from photos taken during our daily state-sanctioned exercise. I’m still wrestling with the technology to make a proper timelapse (including something that can compensate for the difficulty of taking a photo from exactly the same spot at exactly the same angle every day) but for now the WordPress gallery gives a good enough first draft of the arrival of spring at the wood at the end of our road.
Sifting through the photos and trying to line them up is something of a thankless task, but I’m glad I made the effort – it seems an appropriate enough response to these timebending days. Weeks, even months can pass in the blink of an eye, while also being measured out in endless days: the same walk, the same spot, and time sneaking up on you all the while without your leave.
May 29, 2020
I’m still running. I’m not entirely sure why, except out of a vague sense that I ought to be getting more exercise now that I’m not cycling into Bigtown most days. Over the last four weeks I have at least either got fitter or got better at persuading my legs to keep running – I’m never sure entirely whether going running makes you fitter or just makes you better at running. Still, that in itself is possibly a good thing, and – depending on how things work out over the next few months – will either stand me in good stead when parkrun starts up again, or give me a better chance of surviving when the current crisis reaches the zombie apocalypse stage.
Anyway, out on my early morning run yesterday I encountered a deer. Not in itself a particularly noteworthy event – slow as I am, I do occasionally stumble across one crossing in front of me. But this one was running down the same road I was running down, and as it saw me it slowed, stopped, and then turned around and ran back up the road towards me. Naturally, being British, we both then did the slightly socially awkward dance whereby you each try and avoid each other and end up getting into each other’s way* and then the deer solved the problem by bounding over a gate and hightailing it across a field. It had clearly had the sense to remember that there was a handy gate, and the courage to run towards the shambling zombie thing to get to it, both of which put it firmly into the genius camp when it comes to deer escaping from danger (‘or perhaps you’re just not that scary to a deer’, the other half suggested).
Either way, it added to the pleasure of the run** and set me up for the next few days of looming deadlines amid glorious sunshine (if you’re planning ahead, note that my next big deadline ends on the 5th June, so we should be looking at rain from the 6th onwards). Fortunately at this time of year the garden more or less gardens itself – certainly I have had very little to do with the current floral display of self-sown columbines, apart from having the sense not to pull them up.
* I’ve not been in town for so long that I don’t know – but have people managed to solve this problem now that we’re all keeping two metres apart? Is there a hand signal or convention I ought to know?
** The sole other pleasure being that it’s lovely when you stop.
March 18, 2020
So, with everything being cancelled now, and spring advancing fast across the land – you might be wondering how my gardening is getting on. Surely this will be the year when everything gets planted in good time, the weeds get tackled, the wilderness beaten back (except where I’m actively encouraging it to come forward)?
Well, maybe. Today I did venture up to the greenhouse to water the seeds I’ve planted so far and to start preparing the beds for their future inhabitants. Peering at my sweetpea planters I noticed that one of them had what looked remarkably like a broad bean seed in it. Funny, I thought and looked again and realised that, no, it was two broad beans. And that the modules where I’d planted my broad beans had a neatly excavated little hole in each one.
The mice have clearly figured out a way into the greenhouse and had been busy storing up their own supplies by excavating every single broad bean and pea seed I’d planted, stashing some (I expect there will be misplaced pea and bean plants all over the place) and – from the evidence of the little pile of bean shells in the corner – scoffing the rest. So much for us gardeners having a ready source of food in the coming months.
Fortunately, between the ones I found and the leftovers in the packet I had enough seeds to replant (and the modules are safely in the utility room until they sprout). I feel a tiny bit guilty about stealing the poor mice’s supplies but then again, if they hadn’t been greedy enough to dig up too many to hide properly, then I might never have noticed and they could have consumed the rest at their leisure. I’m sure there’s an Aesop’s fable along similar lines…
February 23, 2020
Today’s bike outing was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me – Bigtown’s Cycle Campaign winter bike ride was to Papershop Village for a pub lunch, and amazingly we managed to slip through the gap between yesterday’s weather warning for wind and tomorrow’s one for snow. Unfortunately, in our excitement at getting what passes for a break in the weather these days (only gusts of up to 30mph and light snow flurries), we hadn’t quite clocked the fact that we’d be riding the whole way to lunch into a hefty headwind.
This meant progress was a little slow but I entertained the troops with tales of ASBO Buzzard’s reign of terror. As we finally approached the spot that marks the start of the bird’s domain, I realised that this might actually be at an end. Whether through wind action or felling or a mixture of both, the woods where ASBO Buzzard liked to lurk in wait of unwary cyclists (and more to the point, probably build its nest) are gone.
Weirdly, the warning sign doesn’t mention dive-bombing buzzards …
I hope the forestry guys were wearing hard hats.
November 10, 2019
With a long-running piece of work finally dispatched and a sunny Sunday in the offing with nothing else planned I knew what I’d be doing today: binge gardening.
The first port of call was getting to grips with my fedge. Over the summer it has become increasingly apparent that if my plan had been to create a line of willow trees then it has been a roaring success, as every single one of the sturdy stakes we stuck in the ground to act as a support for the woven willow lattice has sprouted nicely (I didn’t think that willow this mature would root, but apparently it will. Perhaps we should have put them in upside down to be sure but even then …)
The actual woven whips, which were supposed to root much more easily, haven’t done as well. A few have taken but more than two-thirds have not, possibly due to the dry spell we had after I’d put them all in, possibly some other reason, undoubtedly user error. Nothing for it but to clear away some of the encroaching vegetation, and wait for spring to fill in the gaps.
Of course, with willow, it’s not dead until it’s warm (or in actual flames) and dead, so I live in hope. Indeed, one of the deadest-looking sticks did prove to have a shoot coming up at the base, so we shall see.
It wasn’t the only thing showing unexpected signs of life, either. When the sun shines in November in Scotland, everything seems to emerge to make the most of it.
November 7, 2019
While I was gadding about in Embra, it seems there’s been a murrrder in the veg plot, which I’m rather sorry I missed.
Exhibit A: A sad pile of feathers
Closer examination of the scene of the crime revealed a little bit more about the identity of the victim:
It seems we are down one pheasant (and if that photo doesn’t convince you that birds are just tiny flying dinosaurs – and how cool is that? – then I’m not sure what will).
It leaves us no clearer about the culprit though. The position of the feathers, under the electricity wire, originally made me think it was a sparrowhawk as they like to retreat to a handy perch to pluck their supper, but I’m not sure a sparrowhawk could take a pheasant. I’m not sure a buzzard would be able to either, unless something had killed it for it first. We’ve not seen any foxes around, which doesn’t mean there aren’t any – it’s only urban foxes that like to stroll around in broad daylight. Then again, if we had foxes on the prowl would we have as many hares as we do?
It’s a mystery – and clearly, it’s also a sign that I need to be spending less time gadding about and more time at home, keeping an eye on my own back yard.
This is a programme I can entirely get behind.
October 5, 2019
Riding back from Park Run this morning, feeling pretty pleased with myself at getting a personal best (out of only two outings, but hey), my mood was ruined by the sight of a dead hare, right at the corner opposite our gate.
Seriously, who would get enough speed on this road to run over anything, let alone a hare?
Roadkilled hare isn’t that unusual around here – although generally they have the advantage over, say, rabbits and pheasants through their uncanny ability to run away from a car rather than towards it. But our road is tiny; it’s a dead end that serves six houses and a couple of farms, and you’d be hard pressed to drive faster than the average hare can run even if it’s not trying very hard – mostly they just lope along with no apparent effort at a good 20mph, so very much not like me at Park Run. I can only assume that someone was doing a three-point turn and the hare decided to sit tight on the verge, or else that some piece of farm machinery caught it somehow – the average tractor is a pretty tight fit on most of our roads these days.
Over the three years we’ve been here we’ve seen so many wee hares grow up into bigger hares, and then get replaced by a new wee hare. Some of them have had a distinctive appearance, they appear to have different personalities (being more or less chilled about people in the garden) and they all seem to have different taste in garden plants, and choose different hiding places to hang out (indeed, the latest one has been rather too fond of hiding under our car, so I hope that hasn’t lulled it into a false sense of security when it comes to motor vehicles). Our neighbours report the same – in fact, it was only yesterday that I was chatting to a neighbour about it and we were congratulating ourselves on what a hare-friendly neighbourhood we live in. They come, they stay a while, and then they go, and I’ve always fondly imagined them fanning out across the countryside until they’ve got wee hares of their own and then bringing them back to a place where they remember being safe. It’s gutting to discover one dead, just yards from the safety of our garden, especially in a week when we learned that wildlife numbers are continuing to plummet in the UK. But all we can do is continue to operate our garden primarily as a hare sanctuary and hope that this proves a one-off.
Postscript – just as I was writing this, I was delighted to see not one but two hares come through the garden and pause at the gate before heading off up the road. Here’s hoping they’re off to make more hares …
August 24, 2019
As I mentioned, we’re off on holiday on Monday for a couple of weeks, and so it’s been the usual rush to get everything done before we go. So yesterday morning I was keen to get to my desk and get my head down, with a couple of work deadlines looming.
This would have gone better, had not a stoat decided to appear on our front lawn and – if you’ll forgive me the technical animal behaviour terminology – start wildly mucking about.
Up until now, my encounters with stoats have been pretty fleeting – something dashing across the road in front of my bike, or occasionally stopping to peer at me from the undergrowth. I’d certainly never seen one doing backflips before, let alone right in front of my study window. As a means of distracting me from work, it couldn’t have been bettered.
In fact, according to some sources, this was the point of the acrobatics: stoats apparently hypnotise their prey by acting weird and then pounce as their unsuspecting audience edges closer for a better look. This would be more convincing if there had been anything else around to watch than us – stoats are also known for taking prey much larger than themselves, but even so I think a couple of humans (however fascinated we were) might be overambitious for something that weighs a couple of hundred grams. Another school of thought is that it’s the side effects of a nematode infection (although there’s no reason both couldn’t be true and that the stoats have evolved to profit from their infestation-induced antics; after all, it’s been suggested a similar thing might be happening in humans).
Either way, by the time I’d extracted myself from an Internet-sized rabbit hole of animal behaviour work really was looming, so it took until today before I managed to get the resulting poor quality video up online to prove I wasn’t imagining things
This morning’s distraction was just as cute but rather less acrobatic.
Given the stoat is still around, if the dancing really is an effective form of hunting behaviour, and the leverets prove as susceptible as we were, we might have a dilemma on our hands …
August 13, 2019
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but August is not my favourite month, in fact it’s one of my least favourite – mainly because it promises so much (at least for those of us raised in the part of the country where autumn doesn’t start until September) and delivers very little, other than torrential rain and the existential dread that comes with the words ‘Back to School’ in every shop. Since my last post, I have endured two more soakings on the bike (and only escaped another one by getting a lift to the station) and our utility room was home to enough pairs of soggy socks and gloves to make it smell as if the Swamp Thing had taken up residence there, or was at least using it as a laundry.
This week, though, we’ve had a pause in the weather and that has been enough to trigger the best bit of August: the point when all the young swallows seem to emerge at once and start practising their flying. My photos cannot even start to do it justice but yesterday and today the air has been filled with trainee swallows and it’s just glorious (except for the one that learned the hard way about windows just outside my study). Every so often a gang of them will come pouring past the window, or start gathering on the wires, and they seem to be chasing each other around as much as the insects they’re supposed to be eating. Today they mastered landing in the very tips of the birch tree branches, where they bounce gently up and down until another swallow comes along and bounces them off to go zooming round the garden once more.
It’s not just the swallows, either. At this time of year the hedgerows are full of learner birds and I’m often having to brake as I head down the hill on my bike to let a flustered blackbird or thrush get headway in front of me. We’ve got tiny little willow warblers, gangs of swallows, great tits and coal tits, and a juvenile wagtail that was stamping around outside our front door looking for insects. It’s a time to celebrate all of them, but especially swallows because it won’t be long before they’re gone for the winter and then summer really will have fled.
June 19, 2019
I have been reading The Running Hare with some enjoyment (despite, perhaps, rather than because of its prose style). It’s an interesting excursion into what wildlife-friendly farming might look like and it has reinforced my recognition that much of what we think of as natural countryside is in fact a green desert. In particular, the dairy farm that borders our garden; much as we enjoy the annual visitation from Moo-I-5, for the rest of the year the field next to us is being put to work growing silage and it is much sprayed, cut, slurried and the like, making me wonder just how chemical free our own vegetables really are.
However, after the coos all but put paid to the garden fence last year, we’ve gained a bit of a breathing space. For reasons best known to himself, instead of replacing the tottering fence, the farmer just strung a new one at an angle to the old, creating a triangle of land which is now out of reach of cows and tractors (albeit not the sheep who usually spend a few weeks there in the winter). It gives us a little more distance from whatever is being sprayed and it has also created an uncut corner which is going a little wild. I’m watching with interest to see what comes up, assuming it’s allowed to remain – if you believe some rewilding gurus this will turn itself into scrubland, and then forest, unassisted, given enough time.
So far, we’re seeing nothing more exciting than nettles, dock, cow parsley and buttercups among the grasses (none of which are in short supply in our garden either), but rest assured you will be regaled with updates should things become more interesting.
I know, you can barely wait.