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.

roadkilled hare

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 …

Dead Cat Bounce

December 9, 2017

So it turns out, the only thing worse than having a dead cat slowly getting deader by the side of the road just at one of the steepest and hence slowest parts of your ride home – is when the dead cat gets moved off the side of the road and right into the middle of it, presumably by an ambitious buzzard, and then everyone proceeds to run over it. The result is even more avert-your-eyes horrific than the half badger of a couple of years ago, although at least the cold (and, having had the gritting lorry pass me with a cheery toot of the horn this afternoon, presumably liberal applications of salt) has at least kept it from getting too whiffy.

One of the joys of cycling is that you’re able to see and experience so much more than you can from inside a car – from night-time encounters with barn owls to being overtaken by sparrowhawks. But it also means you get to experience the grim reality of the animal carnage on our roads, up close and personal.

pigeon feathers

Some roadkill is more pleasant than others – pigeon feathers left by a snacking sparrowhawk

Still, at least I won’t have to witness the poor cat’s further decay. Tomorrow we pack up and head for Glasgow, and on Monday we fly to Minnesota and then Colorado where we hope some winter sunshine awaits. My father-in-law assures us the bikes are still there and in working order. Stand by for more adventures under blue Colorado skies.

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.

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.

Joking Apart

February 8, 2013

On my ride down for the paper today I saw not just our old friend ASBO Buzzard, busy chasing off an interloping red kite from its territory, but a beautiful male kestrel who was working his way up the road in front of me, ready to pick off any voles or mice that dashed out of the long grass and onto the road. And last night, out in a car for once, we saw a young deer slinking off into the woods – and a badger loping along the verge, both thankfully keeping well out of traffic (‘I’m glad we didn’t hit him,’ my companion said of the badger. ‘They can do a lot of damage to the car…’)

So while I’m all for science – and I shall still be keeping my eyes peeled for squished critters – I’m quite glad to report another non-result for the Splatter Project today. Long may it continue (although a few pheasants probably wouldn’t be too terribly missed…)

Here Comes the Science Bit

February 4, 2013

It’s not often I come back from a bike ride disappointed by the lack of road kill, but that was the story today. I had come across the delightfully named Splatter Project* (via twitter, where else…) which is attempting to map UK road kill hotspots through social media. One of the downsides of cycling around here is all the road kill you see – you notice so much more (but hit less) than you do in the car. So here was a chance to add something to the sum of human knowledge, put Bigtownshire on the map (even if we’re not the road kill hotspot of the UK I bet we’re the only one recording any fish) all while riding my bike – if only science had been like this at school, I might have stuck with it. As I set off towards Bigtown this morning, my only real concern was keeping track of where and what I saw for I was positive that I would be seeing more pancaked wildlife than I could reasonably shake a stick at.

Bowling along in with an impressive tailwind, I scanned the road keenly but did not spot so much as a squashed mouse, let alone a pheasant, badger, rabbit, hare or, indeed, brown trout. I was in the outskirts of Bigtown before I clocked anything at all (approximately half a crow, or possibly a rook – it’s hard to tell when there’s not much more than a wing left). Nothing daunted, I decided to return the slightly more scenic way back, along quieter more winding roads, where there was sure to be something splattered on the road – indeed one of them is known locally as ‘Bunny Lane’ due to it being where all the dead rabbits hang out. The tailwind became a headwind, as tailwinds do (headwinds don’t seem to have anything like the same propensity), the road kicked upwards – and I had plenty of time as I crawled up the hill to examine every inch of tarmac, but nada. I did come across a party of school children out on a run, but they were kitted out from top to toe in hi-vis so no chance of any of them adding to my tally. Birds flitted tauntingly in front of me, one of them daringly close to my wheel (I resisted the temptation to try and run it down, mainly because I didn’t really have any acceleration left in my legs by then), chickens played chicken as I passed through the farmyard – but there was nothing dead, nothing dead at all.

I suppose that a negative result is as important as a positive one – and I can confirm that at least 20 miles of quiet country lanes around us are disconcertingly squashed-wildlife free, although why is still a bit of a mystery to me. It certainly wasn’t because drivers had become any more careful (if the White Van Man bombing over the hill at top speed was anything to go by) although it may simply be that our army (airforce?) of buzzards and crows have hoovered everything up. It may just be the time of the year (we’re currently at the point where the only pheasants we have left are the geniuses of their kind) or that the floods have washed all the bodies away. I hope it isn’t because our local wildlife has gone into catastrophic decline – although it did make me realise that it has been a long time since I saw a squashed hedgehog on the road. I will be looking out, and I encourage anyone reading this to do the same…

If all that sounds a bit energetic, then there’s also this experiment you can participate in from the comfort of your own home. It’s from a student of Ian ‘long blond wig’ Walker who first discovered drivers give cyclists more room if they appear to be female and less if they’re wearing a helmet (don’t worry, you won’t need to cycle in drag to take part). Science, however, does not record how much room they give cyclists who are too busy looking for roadkill to pay attention to the cars, so whatever you do, make sure you do it safely.

* as an aside, I notice that as these are third-year university students, they have nothing as old fashioned as an actual web page. Clearly websites are for us old people, like email. Please try and keep up at the back…

Waste Not

July 19, 2010

My mother returned home last night, and was driven back from the station by a friend. The journey went smoothly, but sadly they did hit a hare on the way back. The hare, fortunately, was killed outright and the friend, having stopped to check that it was dead and to observe a proper moment of sadness at the passing of such a magical and beautiful creature, then popped it in the boot to hang it for the pot.

This is, of course, the right and proper way to handle such a thing. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to start scraping hares off the road – even freshly killed ones – but it does occur to me that we might not be quite so diligent about avoiding pheasants in the future. They do say, after all, that if you eat meat you should be prepared to kill at least some of it yourself. And it doesn’t say anywhere that you can’t do it by hitting it with your car…

Unintelligent Design

July 21, 2009

It takes a lot of effort, if you’re a very small rabbit on a wide(ish) and open road, to get run over by a bicycle, but the one I met the other day almost succeeded. Only my managing to second-guess its wild jinking straight into my path meant it didn’t end up squashed alongside its three or four more determined friends on the road.

You’d think that a century of carnage on our roads, combined with the legendary breeding turnover of a pair of rabbits, would have led to the evolution of a brighter bunny. You would be wrong. Explain that one, Mr. Darwin…

Hedgehog Pie

November 20, 2008

It was unavoidable. I hadn’t noticed it on my way out – perhaps it wasn’t there then, because it was pretty recently squashed. Just over the brow of the hill and round a bend, so I didn’t have much warning it was there. Right in the part of the road where I like to ride, where the car wheels have worn the rough tarmac smooth but not yet rutted it out. I hadn’t time to steer around it, and I didn’t want to brake and besides, I thought, it’s already dead. What harm can another wheel do? I’ll just ride over it.

Which is how I found myself spending the ride back watching the splat-splat-splat of the patch of hedgehog gore going round on my front wheel.

In other news, my E number has finally crept up to twelve. Pathetic. Must try harder. If only to ensure that every last molecule of hedgehog has been worn from my bicycle’s tyres…