Tag Archives: birds

a clear pure light

One of the most successful things I have done in this cottage – still after six years in the throes of restoration – was to restore the old wooden ceiling. When I did that, I found a nail near the door. Almost certainly the nail on which in the past the hurricane lamp was hung to be easily reached down when one was heading out of the door to grapple with a crisis. This January brought the usual storms and power cuts, and I have got another hurricane lamp to hang in the same spot. IMG_1320I was glad of it on Friday night when my hear torch packed up and refused to work at all. This was not a good moment for it to pick, because the geese were in the middle of the pond. I have been having fox trouble again. Foxes are beautiful and destructive. Also, because urban foxes are being dumped in the countryside in large numbers, currently they are a real problem. I have recently lost my gander to a fox, and the sorrow of his poor widow was pitiable. I was lucky enough to be offered a breeding pair of geese, and took them, offering every assurance that I now had a safe fox-resistant (little is fox proof) pen for the nights. And there they were, in the middle of the pond. And there I was, running round the edge, trying to persuade them to leave the pond and get into their pen. Well, actually, just to leave the pond. I was wonderfully well placed to see both the beauty of the hurricane lamp, with its gentle glow, and the down side of it. A very gentle glow.  I would have given a good deal for a nasty bright modern light to help persuade the geese. The trouble is, the pond is deeper than my wellies. Round to the left I went, and round to the right the geese. Down to the right I went and round to the left they went. I waded in as far as I dared. They went to the opposite bank. I splashed the water with a long stick, and they edged right up to the bank. then the water was half an inch away from the top of my wellies and a backed off. And with that the geese went back to the middle of the pond. This was repeated for an hour or more. Even outside ones wellies, the water chills the feet. I got more and more fed up. The geese remained unruffled. Finally, tired and exasperated, I made an error. The water came pouring into a wellie. That was it. I had little to lose. I set off across the pond, and the geese looked at me in horror. Actually it must have been very funny to look and I do have a weakness for comedy. Making people makes me happy. Those wretched geese did not even have the decency to laugh. They did however at least shuffle up the bank, and very shortly, into their proper pen. And I went back to the house, poured the water out of the wellies, stripped off my soaking wet jeans and socks and hung the lamp back on its antique nail

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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.

Owls

After the night of giddy exhilaration when I realised I had an owl back in the owl box, I have been up and down over the owls, cursing myself for getting so emotional over things I can do little to influence.

I heard the female calling from her box, and hoped I had a pair of owls. The next morning I saw a female barn owl. That night there was total silence. No owl. Not nowhere. Despair.

Two owl-less days. Then a single owl sighted but little or no owl noise. Owls are silent fliers, but highly sociable with their mates. Where you have two owls they chat a lot, in the case of barn owls, in very breathy voices. I saw the female owl several times.

Sadly, I was forced to the conclusion that I had just one owl here, a female, who had a box and no mate.

Then on Wednesday night, I heard a great deal of owl noise. I stopped, froze, more like, and listened. Two owls in their favourite trees, ones which give a good look-out. An owl repeatedly flying into and out of the owl box, and back to the trees and into the owl box. Later in the evening, two owls, hunting, calling to each other. I think, indeed I am sure, that my female has found her mate.

Owls

Last night I had at least one barn owl back. Joy so great I dare not really believe I have a pair or that they will be there tonight – but I think I do, and I really hope they will be.

I went outside as usual about 8pm and I heard it. A long rhythmic wheeze. It is a version the typical food-begging cry of a young bird. It is the cry a female barn owl gives so that her mate will come and feed her: a pair-bonding thing which also improves her bodily condition so she can breed successfully. it was coming from the barn-owl breeding box. it stopped when the beam of my head-light hit the box, and started as I tactfully looked away.

I was overcome with joy, and rushed straight into the house, where I walked straight into the newly painted cupboard. I then got the paint off myself and back onto the cupboard, and went to feed the ponies – still with my mind wholly on the barn owl, so the little mare took full advantage and went into the yard (forbidden territory) and took some persuading to come back in. Sometime later I realised that I had also left the pony feed for today to soak with the tap running full, and by that time I had a sizeable flood and feed flotsam and jetsam.

But who cares?It looks as,it looks very much as if, the barn owls have arrived.

The silence of the guineas

I just really needed a day off today – a day off from worrying about the the guinea fowl. They stayed in so that I could stop worrying about them for 24 hours. Yesterday, a beautiful day of sunshine, I went out in the afternoon and heard – nothing. Well, heard some bird-song, some wind moving in the bushes, the odd chicken talking about some tasty insects, a plane coming in to land at Prestwick Airport, and a distant (and highly-regretted) growl of traffic. What I expected to hear was a sort of burbling cheep, a soft, conversational contact-maintaining call. From time to time the burble ought to have been cut into by urgent injunctions to ‘get-back, get-back’ and an instantly-recognisable alarm call. The absence of these things only meant one thing. The guineas were not there.

Gentle reader, I hear you ask: ‘But were they only just round a corner, maybe? Or silent?’ No. they are never silent, even at night they tend to mutter. Also, one can hear them from at least half a mile away. They are birds who are deeply unhappy unless constantly reassured that they are with other guineas, and who are designed to live in places where it is terribly easy to loose sight of each other. If I could not hear them they were probably getting on for a mile away. And I had no idea at all in which direction that might be, or if they still knew the way home. Twice before I have lost an entire batch of guineas, and I never ever know what happened to the first batch.

You are entirely right – by this tie I was panicking almost as much as the guineas do. In then end I located a distant ‘go-back’ which was coming from the nearish-by wood. they were heading home and were now about half a mile away, and down in a crevasse, which swallowed the sound. In a mere half-hour their voices were audible and eventually they made it home, neurotic as ever.

Today, a wild, wet day, they have been in their little shed. It is light and there is enough space to fly and walk. It is about the size of a bathroom in a modern house. I would guess there is about twelve times as much space per bird as in a modern intensive unit. They are not impressed. But I must say, it is a very good feeling knowing where they are.

The virgin Virgil

Bird life other than barn owls is however in a very healthy state. I have great, coal, and blue tits in numbers, robins, dunnocks, house sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes and each day now two herons, frogging in the pond. A neighbour saw a goldcrest, but sadly it did not make its way up here. I worry over the frogs, but it is plainly a bad time of year for herons.

I would love to have ducks, and last year I was visited by a flight of my favourite of all ducks, Muscovies. They sat on my gates and talked to me. I was so tempted – but ducks eat frogs. Muscovies would soon clear my pond of all amphibians. Despite their intelligence (Muscovies are at the top end of farmyard avian intelligence, just as guinea fowl are at the bottom) I cannot permit all my frogs an toads to be annihilated.

I am however going to try my luck with the geese again. Horatia and Virgil have never manage to have any babies, and I suspect they have never mated. I don’t know for certain that Virgil is male so I am buying in a young gander and two geese. If Virgil is in fact a goose and not a gander, the gander will have four wives, not an impossible thing and if Virgil is male, but not able to bring himself to mate, the new geese will in time provide fertile eggs for Horatia to sit on. I am eagerly anticipating the delightful task of finding suitable Roman names for the new trio – preferably from among the ranks of writers and not the warlike or statesmen.

Fit for a King


So as I drove home, the clouds were casting rose-petals in front of the setting sun, a red-gold monstrance in the sky. It had been an evening of grace in all – the Provost’s exceptionally well-chosen, and heartfelt words, the music (glorious even to one with cloth ears like mine) and the procession. Watching the flower petals fall, I was astonished that we had mustered so many, and that any flower remained unsnatched in Glasgow. And the Vice-Provost’s ever-refilled bowl, and the beauty of the petals falling, and the joy of shared worship, and the sense of Jesus’s presence. As so often, it comes to me as much it knowing the Sacrament is THERE as it does in taking and eating. And this evening above all others is a chance to glory just in His very presence. And the wave of bowing and kneeling as He passed – and even the hoovering up afterwards, and the laughter of those who share the joke the very essence of which is the mixture of the mundane and the sacred. Oh yes, it was a holy glorious evening. And when I got home, there was no anti-climax.

For the male barn owl was taking a short break form the hunting, hunting for the hoarse, demanding babies, and he posed for me. (He is much the bolder of the two) And here he is, with and without flash. But I fear in just the same pose. Even evenings belonging wholly to the one King have their limitations on this earth.