Category Archives: spring

Frog-off 2016

I have been straining my ears for at least the past week, waiting impatiently for Frog-off. It came on Friday night, when a week of malaises (the joys of caring for the young, they share all their germs) had left me jaded and tired. It cam, as it always does, as a joy. The first tiny chainsaw of the frogs, calling out in the dark in hope and desire. Frog-off.

This year, it is on the late side. The earliest I have heard it here is in Feb but the latest was in the chillingly cold spring two years ago when I had to wait until April. It is the first undeniable  point of spring for me. The joyous moment when living things start to return to the upland bog which is my home. My hopes have been raised for more than two weeks by persistent herons frogging in my pond (it has no fish, they were catching something).

The frogs are the clearest sign of the fact that a visually dreary landscape has a rich inner life. Here, the numbers are huge. They are of course supported by all the little things which live under than, the invertebrates, and they in turn support the bird life. They are in important early resource to the herons and the barn owls.

More than that, they are a joy in themselves. The winter is over and past, and the voice of the frog is heard in our land.

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Frog Off!

It is a dark afternoon, and I have come indoors before finishing the afternoon round of animal care to report one of the most exciting milestones of the year. Gentle reader – we have frog off!

As I emerged form the stable with a barrow of muck I heard it again- the chain saw purr of a dozen male frogs, calling out from love and desire in my pond.

Now, however much bad weather follows, I know we have reached a point frim which we cannot go back. By tomorrow there will be frog-spawn. However ever many dreich days follow, it is spring.

Confused? You soon will be!

I have a lurcher who is liable to chase sheep. In fact the the only reason he does not chase sheep is that he is never off the lead near them. Remember this fact gentle reader, but let it rest at the back of you mind while I discourse on sheep.

I have three female sheep and this year all of them lambed (they are not all ewes but let go too). Bernadette had twin ewes, poor Martha had two dead lambs and one live one, and Hilda had two live ewe lambs and a little cold still tup lamb. I picked him up, and he was so tiny I knew he could not live. But in my hand he drew his first breath, and so I dashed him up to the house and plunged him in warm water, the quickest way to fight hypothermia. After a bit, I got him out and wrapped him in a big towel and put him in a low oven.

Astonishingly he did not die after all and with careful nursing in the kitchen, he grew strong and well, and doubled in size which made him a small size for a new born lamb, but a perfectly viable size. He is called Martin, in honour of Martin of Tours. (My other wether is called Gregory, and the historians among you will appreciate the joke).

Then Martha’s only lamb broke its leg terribly badly and could not be mended. She had to be put to sleep. leaving Martha frantic. So the decision was made to try and foster Martin on Martha. The trouble was that while Martha, a kindly soul, went along with the deception, Martin was bemused to be asked to take milk from a huge smelly woolly mammoth (Martha is not a small sheep). Milk came in bottles from his real mother – the first one he had set eyes on when the oven door opened. Me.

After a struggle, instinct kicked in, and Martin began to feed. He had lost a lot of weight he could not afford to lose, and it became apparent that after all the disasters, Martha had lost much of her milk supply.

So Martin remaines with Martha for care, comfort and small snacks of milk, and I go twice a day and feed him a bottle of milk. At the smallest chance he runs to the kitchen, and into it, since that was his first home and he hopes I will feed him before his due time if he looks cute enough (Martin does cute big time). Martha, determined not to lose her lamb a second time, runs after him, and if I am not quick enough, into the kitchen too.

This brings us back to the place I started. My lurcher,  Max, who would like to chase sheep. This evening I had let him out because he expressed an urgent need to answer a call of nature. I had forgotten that I had not yet shut Martha and Martin into a pen for the night. Martin saw me and hurtled towards me. I looked in horror at Max, knowing both how vulnerable a little lamb is, and how precious to me Martin is. Martha, with the same motherly thoughts, forget she runs from dogs, and also hurtled towards me. Max took one terrified look at 100 kilos of sheep charging towards him turned tail and fled into the very back of the kitchen.

 

Frog-off

We have frog-off. This evening, after a day of sunshine, the frogs are up and out and calling. I make that the earliest frog-off since I have lived here.

The green fire

The green fire is spreading up the hillside, but it has not reached me yet.In this latest of years I have been watching hopefully as the fuse first lit down at the coast has been edging slowly but firmly up and up, in and in. Now the valleys are blazing with new grass, budding hawthorn, and black ash buds.

Not here, not yet. Soon though. There are signs of its coming. Buds not yet broken are still swelling. A sudden riot of coltsfoot and celandine has broken out. Not the green, however, not yet. Not that sudden lushness all over the fields and hedgerows that means spring feeding, and lushness and the renewal of life is here.

Frog-off

It is one of the definitive points of the year for me – the most distinctive sound of, well, not quite spring, but pre-spring. A moment from which there is no turning back, on the path to spring, but not quite spring. It usually comes in February or March, and if March then in very early March.

It is the moment I first hear the mating call of the male frogs, or as I privately call it, frog-off.  This year I heard it for the first time last night – 11 April.  that is about a month late. Still, it is a happy sound, a positive sound. It is the most joyful of sounds.

Happiness is a warm hosepipe

The hosepipe was limp and warm in my hand this morning, which was a first since some time in February. Upland Ayrshire has not been exempt from the cold weather that has frozen the UK for the last month. The hosepipe has been stiff and cold.

The truth is that we have neither had the coldest conditions not the warmest. We have had snow, and one day thanks to drifts I was snowed it – and the drifts have only just thawed, though it was tiny frozen rumps that were left, like melted snowmen.

It has been the mis-match with the light which has been most strange. Some of the usual spring events are triggered by light. The geese, for instance, have been laying since February, and one is now sitting, and the curlews have arrived, poor things. Dear knows how they have managed to keep themselves fed, because the ground has been frozen solid, and I should not think they could have got their beaks in even in the ditch edges. The pied wagtails are here too, to breed. But the tits all fled, despite fat balls to feed them. It was just too cold, and they went further down the hill side.

There are, as yet, no frogs, and most of the time the pond has been frozen solid. However, the heron has arrived to frog, so I suspect she thinks things are stirring, and the pond is now thawed, because the nights have only been down to minus two, and the days up to a giddy 6 or 7.

Plant life has pretty solidly followed temperatures, and interestingly so have the guinea fowl, who have not yet laid an egg (I kept them in for a few days, to be certain of this. They were not amused …). The fields, not just mine, but all around, are bare and grey and brown. At the very best it will be another month before there is any grass at all, even if this week we get the few days of mild wet weather we so badly need.

This weather doubles, perhaps trebles, my work load. I am still damping hay for the ponies, and the poultry get little supplement from either insects or plants.  The sheep cannot be safely left out, and need to come in at night, and need to be fed hay and ‘cake’ (sheep muesli), and got buckets of water.  I am not alone in having extra work and expense, but I and the thousands in the same boat will not half be glad to see a real spring.