This should have been posted two days ago but LJ wasn’t playing. We’ve had a series of foggy and frosty mornings, very beautiful, which remind me so much of this favourite Tunnicliiffe illustration from the Ladybird book What to Look for in Winter.
As soon as it’s daylight, I’m able to enjoy what has become a daily treat: watching long-tailed tits on the bird feeder. There are always six of them, never a singleton. They all cling on to the feeder at once, tails wagging busily. Then at some unknown (to us) signal, they all fly away at once, only to return moments later. It’s a charming sight. When they’ve finished, the blue tits have a go. I’m surprisingly pleased by this.

I was complaining recently about the big, fierce birds eating all the food I put out. Today, a robin was feeding the whole time I was enjoying a cup of coffee. Yes, I know he's almost invisible but it's proof.

Drew the curtains this morning and saw this deer having a nice little lie down in the garden. The pic is the best I could do as it's not fully light yet. I wait to see if the beastie will move when I start crashing about. So far, it's taken no notice of me at all.

edit Oh dear, the poor thing has a bad leg and is only using three. Even so, fear gave it the strength to leap through the hedge into the field. I have enough things to worry about without adding injured deer to the list.
I’m not a believer in spoiling wild birds. They’re wild! Let them build their own nests and find their own food. But it is nice actually to see the garden birds rather than just know they’re there, so I have a feeder hanging conveniently from a tree branch, just where I can see it whenever I’m eating. When I put out those suet chunks impregnated with bird goodies and which you can buy so cheaply at the market, I had happy visions of flocks of tiny birds clinging daintily to the bars of the feeder, pecking away. Alas, there are too many big birds around. The cunning rooks (or crows, which?), baffled at first, found a way to get at the food. They would fly repeatedly at the feeder, stabbing their evil great beaks through the bars until, eventually, the suet bars crumbled and they were able to eat what fell to the ground. The Messerschmitts of the bird world.

The feeder currently (this is a joke, see later) contains lumps of a courgette loaf which turned out a disaster. As it included vegetables, nuts and dried fruit (geddit?) I thought the birds would like it. At first there were no takers and it seemed the loaf was so horrible not even the birds would eat it. Then it started to disappear. The crows (or rooks) are cleverer than ever; they’ve learned to cling to the sides of the feeder to get what they want. They are so monstrous (if they’re crows), that the feeder sways dangerously and twig, food and bird seem about to tumble to the ground. I hope it won’t happen as I’ve run out of handy twigs to hang things from. I thought magpies were supposed to be intelligent birds, yet every day I see one (I assume it’s the same dimwit) trying to get at the food and doomed to failure. It attempts vertical take off from the grass, flutters frantically just far enough to almost reach the tantalising treat, then collapses back on the grass. This goes on until the poor creature is tired out. Will it find a way?

Picture here if I manage to take one.
At this very moment there are SIX baby rabbits disporting themselves in front of the tool shed. They only come out in the evening and if they're startled they all jump under the shed.

Should I give up gardening and just declare the place a wildlife sanctuary?

A Story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain.

Isn’t this a lovely cover? There’s a charming line drawing for each chapter, too. A very nicely produced book. This is not nature writing as we might think of it (probably a blessing from my POV), more of a journalistic investigation into these beautiful and fascinating creatures.

Tod, Reynard, Charlie. The names given to the fox reveal a relationship between man and fox which is like no other. For me, the most interesting sections of the book are those dealing with the mythology of foxes, going back before the ancient Greeks, and the history of the changing relationship between man and fox. In recent times (by which I mean over hundreds of years) the change has been the result of the loss of all other large predators except the badger. This puts the fox in a unique position. Pretty well omnivorous and always opportunistic, foxes have now moved into our towns and cities, delighting some and alarming others. I was particularly interested to read that both physiologically and in their hunting methods, foxes have more in common with cats than with dogs.

The hardest chapter to read was ‘Friends and Foes’, which deals with the hunting issue. This is a subject on which it is impossible to be neutral and which I shall keep quiet about. Lucy Jones is very fair, interviewing people from both sides of the debate (or war, as it is for some of them) but it’s pretty clear where her sympathies lie. It’s really extraordinary how much opinion is divided on foxes, hence the ‘love and loathing’ of the title. Some opine that ‘we’ dislike them because we can’t control what is wild. Our beautiful landscape has evolved through being managed. Should this apply to wildlife as well? Where I live, people were pleased by the increasing numbers of otters in the river. ‘Isn’t it lovely to see the otters?’ they said. Then it was noticed that all the moorhens had disappeared. This was not a coincidence. When rats began running boldly around the river bank near the supermarket (I saw one myself not a foot away from me), action was taken immediately. But otters are prettier. Our relationship with wild animals is complicated.

This is a thoroughly researched book and a thought provoking one. I was sent a copy by Elliott and Thompson.
Two goldfinches in the garden this morning, feasting on the seeds of Verbena bonariensis (another good reason not to cut down all your plants in autumn). I only mention it because it’s so unusual; I’m far more likely to see a deer or a rabbit than a goldfinch. Couldn’t get a photo, sadly.

The contributors selected for this book are a mixture of the well-known, like Gilbert White and Edward Thomas and ‘fresh new voices’ from the present day (2016) submitting nature reports. You can spot the difference. Those writing in the past may have been awed by or just curious about the natural world but they took it for granted. Today there’s always a hint of ‘we may lose this if we do nothing about it’. Hence the association with The Wildlife Trusts.

Why do people writing about nature slip so easily into ‘Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.’ mode? How about this: ‘Refulgent fall the golden rays of the sun’ etc. That’s Richard Jefferies. One extract I found quite unreadable turned out to be by D H Lawrence, which explained a lot.

Because the book covers the whole of the British Isles and many different habitats, it has something of the reassuring comfort of the Shipping Forecast about it. The sun will rise every morning. Spring will follow Winter. It may be cold or mild, wet or dry but the earth is renewing itself with signs of new life all around for those who look for them. This is the perfect bedside book.

BTW Gilbert White frequently mentions the habits of his tortoise, Timothy. This gives me the chance to recommend a charming book: The Portrait of a Tortoise, edited by Sylvia Townsend Warner from Gilbert White’s notes. I was given this as a present years ago and it’s a delight.

Three more books are planned and contributions are welcomed for the Autumn and Winter volumes. Have a go? It will be a lovely set when complete. Many thanks to Elliott and Thompson for sending me a copy of the book to read.

Aren’t they pretty?
What a cold and frosty morning. It’s ages since I’ve seen any deer in the garden. This morning, once it was light enough to draw the curtains, I was sitting quietly at the table with a cup of coffee, reading in yesterday’s sports’ pages about Buttler’s fantastic knock of 116 not out off 52 balls. ‘Well done, young man’, as Boycott would say. Suddenly first one, then a second, then a third young deer bounded across the garden and scrambled through the hedge. They’re so quick! I thought the last one was getting stuck so opened the kitchen door to encourage him on his way. They usually leap right over the hedge but it won’t have its summer growth pruned until tomorrow, so perhaps even these astonishing little high jumpers knew they couldn’t make it. I’ll have a prowl round later and see what they’ve been eating, pesky things.

Ironically, I’ve made several Christmas cards showing deer as splendid beasts. Here’s one, as I couldn’t snap the real thing. Those I see don't have antlers.


This morning, for the first time ever, I drew the curtains and saw a large rabbit in the garden. Bunnies are cute but not what a gardener wants to see. Luckily this one was just nibbling grass and I don't have any lettuce or radishes for him.
Amazingly, after the horrors of yesterday, the weather is mild and sunny today. I was just about to Hoover in the spare bedroom (housework has been much neglected, lately), when I saw a tortoiseshell butterfly basking on the bed. It wasn’t at all keen to be caught in the spider catcher and I of course wasn’t keen on damaging its delicate wings. At last I caught and released it, knowing that there are still nectar-providing plants outside. The mystery is: how did it get in, when windows have been firmly closed against the weather?
I’ve just done one of those garden jobs which leave me with wobbly legs and a sore wrist. Chop, chop, chop with the shears at a great mass of vegetation, in this case loosestrife growing under a small tree. The problem is that it’s all tangled up with tall grasses which have seeded in there; I had to chop the flower stems to see where the grass was so I could pull it out. I don’t know what to do with this patch as the tree roots mean I can’t dig out the grass. Anyway, that’s very boring. The interesting thing was that I’d just got down to the last stand, using secateurs by then, when, like a harvester reaching the rabbits, I saw an enormous toad. Why it chooses to live in a garden with no pond, I can’t imagine. I hope it’s been eating slugs. It crawled away slowly enough for me to get a good look at it but of course the camera was indoors. I’ve borrowed this image from Wikipedia. Always something new to see in the garden.


The garden is full of butterflies and beasties at the moment. I saw this day flying moth on a clump of Stachys ‘Hummelo’. I’d no idea what it was and had to look it up.
more pics )



January 2017



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