And the Rain it Raineth Somewhere Else

September 13, 2017

For anyone who has ever thought that ‘this blog is all right, but it really doesn’t ramble on about the joys of rural cycling in Scotland anything like enough’, all two of you, I am on the CamCycle Podcast doing just that.

I have no idea what I said because I just chatted away happily as I am wont to do, and there’s no way I’m listening to my own voice to found out, but I do remember that the opening question was about what I’d seen on my bike that week. The recording was made a couple of weeks ago and I undoubtedly rambled on about blackberries and exciting drainage works, those being pretty much the highlight of the week at the time.

I was reminded of all this today, as I cycled home from Bigtown and found myself riding in the wake of what I’m pretty sure was a merlin, using the hedge as cover as it flew along the road for a couple of hundred yards, before hopping over a hedge and disappearing from view. I can report that, while not as speedy as a peregrine, they can certainly outpace me on a bike, and it was definitely the highlight of my ride home, indeed my week.

Naturally, I didn’t capture any of this because I was barely able to keep the bird in sight, let alone get a photo of it. So you’ll just have to enjoy the equally rare image of the rain raining on someone other than me as I rode into Bigtown at lunchtime …

rain raining somewhere else

Unusually, the weather gods didn’t manage to catch up with me all day

Advertisements

Entrapment

September 4, 2017

Regular readers will know, I’m all for a bit of citizen science, so when I heard about the Big Wasp Survey I thought I might as well sign up. It ticked all the right boxes: a little bit of diy trap building (but nothing so complicated I couldn’t manage – although possibly my effort could stand to be a little less wonky), learning new things about wasps, and beer (not quite as good as cake, but maybe they’ll do an ant survey next year …)

wasp trap with beer

The only problem was the beer part – you don’t need very much beer, and obviously throwing beer away would be a terrible shame. As it happened, nobody who came over the weekend fancied a beer, so there were no open bottles I could pinch a few millilitres from for my trap. So, once the dust had settled and everyone had left on Sunday, I was forced to drag myself off the sofa and have myself a beer.

It’s amazing the sacrifices we all have to make for the advancement of knowledge…


Peak Swallow

August 25, 2017

If there’s one thing we’ve missed since we moved to the new house, it’s been having a whole shed just for the swallows which meant a ringside seat when the various broods fledged and – having mastered the whole swooping-out-of-the-window trick – started practising their flying around the yard. Indeed, having resident swallows is a great way of marking the passage of the seasons: from the cheery moment when the first one arrives back from Africa, chattering busily about its journey, to the sudden silence when you realise that they have gone, and they didn’t even say goodbye.

trainee swallows

Trainee swallows on the roof below our bedroom window. Paving beyond demonstrates our relaxed gardening approach …

So we were pleased when we looked out of the window the other morning and discovered not one but dozens of swallows, some still clearly novice flyers, swooping round our garden and perching all over the roof of the house. At one point there were well over 30 all lined up on the wires, and it’s been very distracting trying to work with a bird zooming past my study window at warp speed approximately every 30 seconds.

Not having hosted their nests in our own garden means we can’t feel quite such a sense of proprietorial pride in these birds but, as the other half pointed out, at least our somewhat relaxed attitude to gardening means there’s plenty of insect life around for them to hoover up. Plus there’s the fact that I ride so slowly up the hill that I’ve usually gathered my own personal cloud of flies by the time I get to the house (and if the swallows were to learn that and start greeting my approach by swooping round my head for a free snack, how cool would that be?).

swallow food

We have various plans for the garden, from a greenhouse to a sitooterie* but so far they have not quite extended to building a swallow shed, especially as both the neighbouring farms feature steadings with plenty of swallow habitat. Still, if a corner of the garden somewhere proves hospitable to hirundines (house martins are also welcome, and possibly easier to accommodate), then that will be a massive plus. Meanwhile, we shall continue to enjoy any birds who grace us with their presence, however fleeting.

* The place in the garden where you can sit oot, obviously


I Brake for Baby Birds

July 25, 2017

It’s that time of year when the hedges are full of recently fledged birds, all a bit, well, crap, in the endearing way baby birds are. Which is fine, until they launch themselves in front of your bike and, like learner drivers, prove to be a bit slower off the mark than you were quite expecting. Twice now I’ve had to jam on the brakes to prevent myself from rear-ending a low-flying beginner that hadn’t quite made it to safety.

Sadly, it also means too many sad little flattened feathery corpses on the road. so far I’ve seen an oystercatcher, a rook, several blackbirds, a goldfinch, a yellowhammer and any number of unidentifiable little brown jobs (I really should probably get back to filling in Splatter Project reports).

It was cheering, though, to pass a hedgeful of a flock of something – hard to tell what when you’re zooming past. One went, and then another, and then they were all pouring out of the hedge to get away, hunners of them, chirping as they flew, setting the whole field beside me in motion. It was a laugh-out-loud kind of sight, the way they just kept coming as I passed, as if the hedge itself were taking flight.

And not a one ended up under anyone’s wheels, which counts as a bonus at this time of year.


Beating Around the Bush

July 19, 2017

Alert observers around here may have noticed in recent days a cyclist going even more slowly than normal along one stretch of road, sometimes even on the wrong side of it, paying more attention to the hedgerow than the (fortunately non-existant) traffic. The cyclist, for I am she, has been looking for that damned gooseberry bush ever since I first met gooseberry man and has been seriously beginning to wonder if he and his gooseberries were an elaborate, if disappointingly quotidian, hallucination.

Today, I thought I’d give it one last go. I’d even googled pictures of gooseberry bushes to be sure I knew what to look our for. I cycled down along the stretch of the road where I’d see gooseberry man at effectively walking pace, peering at every bush. The whole way down the road, and nothing. Crossed at the crossroads, picked up speed, glanced over to my left and bingo.

Gooseberries

Please tell me these are gooseberries …

Of course by this time I was running late so I didn’t have time to stop to pick any, and besides, I actually have no idea how to tell if they are ripe. A quick further google suggests that they are ripe when they are neither too soft nor too hard, which leaves me none the wiser. I shall have to go down and give them all a squeeze tomorrow.


Un-Buzzed

June 28, 2017

So it seems I’m not the only one with an ASBO buzzard, although I like to think mine is the original and best

While I don’t really miss ASBO buzzard, I do regret not taking the opportunity to try and film it in mid-attack, partly because I sense a certain scepticism when I tell people about it that a) it actually happens and b) it is genuinely scary. Plus the whole 15 minutes of fame thing, obviously.

These days, the main wildlife-related hazard I encounter on the road is an increasingly ripe badger carcase which has ended up right by a passing place on one of the narrower back roads. I always dread some well-meaning driver pausing at just that point on the road as they see me coming – leaving me unable to give it as wide a berth as I normally aim for. Squeezing past cars on a disintegrating road edge is one thing, squelching over disintegrating badgers is quite another. Sorry, were you eating?

Other road hazards are potentially a bit more fun

caution ramps ahead

Although the 14-year-old me is rather disappointed that the 48-year-old she’s trapped inside declined to even try to get some air.


How Does your Garden Grow?

June 22, 2017

Well now, funny you should ask that.

The plants that just sort of get on with it, like the potatoes and the broad beans, are just getting on with it.

broad beans and potatoes

The bits that regularly have hares sitting on them have hare-shaped gaps in the planting. I don’t know whether to be relieved or offended that they aren’t bothering to eat my beetroot…

beetroot with gaps

And one thing I have learnt since moving here is that beautifully landscaped sandstone terrace walls effectively double as high-density housing for slugs. We were out enjoying the last gasp of the longest day last night when I noticed how many of them were out chewing my plants. Time for some remedial action – fortunately slug beer brews up pretty quick and they don’t seem that fussy.

slugs in slug trap

Oh and up close, clematis flowers are rather fabulous

clematis flower