Sea Fever

I’ve always loved John Masefield’s poem Sea Fever; it’s opening line of

I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky

has an urgency about it that I understand too well. But the second verse:

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

makes me feel like the tide is running in my very blood. I’ve spoken often to others of my hiraeth or “blood-remembering” of a certain place from my childhood and I’ve spent a few days there working this week and this verse just sums it all up really.

~

I’ve also discovered I’m becoming more interested in birds than I ever thought I would be. I know so very little about them and this area of North Wales is fabulous for bird watching, so for once I looked up and realised how ignorant I am about the seabirds wheeling above my head. As a child I thought seagulls were just generic grey and white avian waste disposal systems for getting rid of the fish and shellfish trimmings from our summer fishing excursions! Being there in late winter and spring means I see different birds because of migratory and breeding patterns and it’s piqued my curiosity. It’s really hard to take pictures of flying birds with a point and shoot camera when you’re standing on a headland in strong winds just attempting to keep your feet but I had fun trying! It was so breezy the gulls were flying backwards…

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Some of the birds I recognised gave me a real thrill. There are always the super common Herring Gulls and rarer Great Black-backed Gulls (and in summer Kittiwakes) but it’s many years since I’ve seen a Cormorant. We used to see lots of them when we went out along the coast in the boat mackerel fishing. As a child it intrigued me how they would stand on the cliff faces holding out their wings to dry. A black arrow darting over the waves made me follow it’s path from my perch on the rocks and sure enough this Cormorant alighted amongst the sunbathing gulls on a little rocky island and arranged it’s wings in the way I remembered. I was really pleased I’d remembered to chuck my little camera in my bag (I was only on the way to the shop!) and zoomed it as far as I could.

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I could hear Curlews mewing overhead – we have them around our home here quite far inland so they aren’t strangers to me – but thanks to the dazzling sunshine I didn’t realise until I uploaded the pictures that I’d caught a blurry Curlew on camera too.

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I saw my first ever pair of Oystercatchers standing on the shoreline below the house but I was as surprised to see them as they to see me and they’d taken off before I could grab my camera, seeing these was a big bonus even if I didn’t get to view them for more than a few seconds, both wading and in flight.

Other birds I saw but couldn’t photograph were the Ravens that the area is named for, Choughs, Arctic Terns and although I couldn’t absolutely swear to it, a Manx Shearwater swooping over the surface of the waves – it’s late enough for them to have arrived certainly but although I thought it was a shearwater I wasn’t certain. Next time I’ll be armed with a bird book too!

Mundane things like popping to the shops to fetch milk are hardly chores when you’re running over the headland and along the beach…

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And there was a fair amount of the flung spray and blown spume certainly.

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The scent of seaweed was mingled with the sweet honey tones of blooming daffodils and gorse on the headland warmed by the sun

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Back at the cottage I was hard at work stripping away years of neglected overgrowth and brambles, I worked solidly whilst I was there and slept like a log with the sea air and physical exertion but still found time to pause to eat my meals and have my coffee breaks sitting in the sun. Sun warmed stone at your back, a glorious view, bracing sea breeze, good coffee, SeaSalt chocolate and knitting. What more could you ask for?

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Especially when your knitting colour coordinates with the landscape…

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Not all the birds I spent my time with were specific to the coast. The hedges were teeming with garden birds familiar with back home, robins and all the usual Little Brown Jobs were squabbling over the bugs I was turning up and I shared my lunch one day with a super tame blackbird. I thought I was imagining it to start with but as I watched it wobble and dip on the wall I realised it actually only had one leg.

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As someone who has dealt extensively with amputee animals in my previous job as a vet nurse (and my own rescue dog is missing a limb) I’m intrigued by how animals cope in the wild with missing limbs. I’d have thought that this is a disadvantage that would shorten life expectancy quite considerably where survival of the fittest is key in a harsh environment. However this cheeky chappy seemed to cope incredibly well and I suppose the mild climate helps provide easy feeding most of the year. He wasn’t scared of me and after a few minutes hopped off the wall and down onto the weed covered patio at my feet. Like my three legged dog he seemed to have worked out alternative coping mechanisms to deal with challenges and whilst it’s a good idea to stay on your feet (foot!) and keep balance by dipping your wings when danger is around, he evidently felt I wasn’t that scary and soon settled down on the ground on his tummy whilst he got down to the serious business of turning over leaves and debris to pick up worms. He was obviously quite full already as after a few minutes the sun was making him sleepy and he started to nod off and his eyes closed. I slowly stood up and moved into the house to fetch my camera, sure he would be frightened off by that but he was fine with me creeping around and I was able to take pictures of him and whisper to him for some minutes before he decided to casually mooch on somewhere else.

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I just hope I see him again next time I’m there!

Under Sleep

What is this face, less clear and clearer

The pulse in the arm, less strong and stronger –

Given or lent? more distant than stars and nearer than the eye

~

Whispers and small laughter between leaves and hurrying feet

Under sleep, where all the waters meet

~

T S Eliot                      

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A Bird In The Hand

The past couple of weeks seems to have been all about birds one way or another.

We’re lucky enough to have had Red Kites move into the area in the past couple of years. We see buzzards all day, every day, spiralling upwards on thermals and calling to each other and I’m always passing them on the roads, me in my car, they sitting on hedges glaring angrily with predator eyes before taking off on a couple of strong wing beats. The Kites however are unusual enough to make me stop and watch whenever I see them – they’re still a rare siting here. I never have my camera on me when I do but it’s always a moment of grace to be able to see these huge and beautiful birds silently circle above my head. I watched a pair a few days ago as I drove back from town, they were on the edge of some woodland some two miles from our house and I hope that means they had chosen it to nest in and we’ll see more of these kings of the sky soon.

King on the ground however is Steve McGoose – he of the Great Escape at Christmas time. He was rather wimpish after he cheated genocide, apple sauce and stuffing but since February 14th – the traditional date for geese to start laying – he’s definitely found his muscles and is a pumped up one-goose-testosterone-machine. It’s best not to get too close as he chases off anything without hesitation but underneath all that bluff and bluster he’s a real romantic tenderly looking after his ladies.

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The poultry don’t appreciate the Kites as much as I do. These birds of prey tend to eat carrion rather than hunt like the buzzards but the slow shadow of a Red Kite moving over the domestic fowl usually sends them into anything between tense anxiety in the case of the geese to flat out panic mode with the smaller chickens. Often if I’m working outside I don’t know there’s anything unusual about but a warning “eh up!!”squawk from Tommy the cockerel will alert me to look upwards and I’ll see we’ve got sky visitors. The laying hens in the hen house – appropriately labelled “Air Raid Warden”, my dad’s idea of a joke when he built it some years ago – aren’t quite so bothered. With netting between them and danger and being of a larger size, they can be more sanguine about air borne predators.

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Although one fell foul (fowl?!) of the microscopic sort of predator recently and developed some kind of an infection. She looked proper poorly for a couple of days and mum moved her into a box in the house to keep her warm where she continued to look miserable and refused to eat. Occasionally something would grab her attention, like one of the dogs walking past and she’d slowly poke her head out of her box but on the whole she was one sick chicken.

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We decided she merited a trip to the vets and Sarah the vet prescribed various drugs for me to administer by beak and by intramuscular injection whilst my mum did a great job of chicken wrangling each morning so I could do this…

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We discovered she quite liked the taste of the Metacam and started to grab the syringe for second helpings!

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I was really impressed by Sarah’s choice of treatment, it wasn’t what I was expecting but it did the trick and Mrs Henny Penny is now back in the hen house right as rain.

The poultry belong to my mum and although I see a lot of our adorable pekin bantams Tommy and Henrietta as they spend most of their time down by our respective front doors I don’t see a lot of the laying hens. Pekin bantams are little chickens with biiiiig characters. But I’ve fed the big chickens a few times for mum this week when she’s been out and also been to check up on Mrs Henny Penny’s progress and discovered that they’ve also got quite big personalities.

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Three of these hens I bought as ex-commercial birds on Christmas Eve for mum’s Christmas Present – Three French Hens to replace our birds a fox had recently slaughtered. Mum added another three point of lay pullets a few weeks later. They’re all a commercial cross bred strain of some sort. But one of them has the endearing habit of squatting down in submission ready to be trodden by a cockerel whenever we go in. Tommy doesn’t live with them and we have no other cockerels at the moment. She still gets into position whenever we go in (except when I went to take a photo to show this!!!) and earned herself the nickname Diddly Squat from me. She’s super-friendly for a farm bird and I may have been sneaking her handfuls of corn and picking her up for cuddles…

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She likes pecking at things that glitter or dangle, the cords on my coat aren’t safe and the camera got a thorough investigation too. She also likes to show off her gymnastic skills and hopped up to give me a little display of how agile she is on the wobbly perch this morning.

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But Mrs Henny Penny thought two could play at that game and hopped up too…

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Other birds that hang around the house include this pheasant cock that spends a lot of time outside my bedroom window.

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He’s often on the lawn pecking around looking for bugs…

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or just dozing in the sunshine or waiting around for something interesting to happen.

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I even just found him stopping over for Bed and Breakfast in the pekin’s house because they were out for the day – Tommy was most indignant and hurled insults after the pheasant as he scooted away from me.

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Sometimes interesting things do happen. A few days ago I heard my mum shouting for me. I was a bit worried something had happened but she just wanted to show me the latest visitor to drop by before she let go.

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This Sparrowhawk had overshot the bird table whilst trying to pick up some lunch and gone crashing into our conservatory window. Luckily mum was inside and ran out and got to the hawk before one of our cats who couldn’t quite believe his luck that such easy manna rained from the skies above his head. We once had a Sparrowhawk fly into our greenhouse and sadly it broke it’s neck, this one however was just stunned and wobbly and was one lucky bird that mum managed to pick it up for safety whilst it’s world stopped spinning. I think it probably had a monster headache…

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I held it for a few minutes too and perched it on my chest to see if it was ready to fly off. It stood there and wobbled for a bit with one claw stuck agonisingly into a tender portion of my anatomy…

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and after a while picked up enough to spread it’s wings and zip off to freedom. Which in itself was a magnificent sight.

And next time I handle a bird of prey I shall remember not to clutch it to my bosom… ;0)