Birds and Bees

Don’t worry, this blog post really is just about birds and bees!!

This week I’ve had to handle both creatures in a way I wouldn’t have anticipated a few days before! I happened to be in the right place at the right time for a little swallow that had taken a wrong turning on Tuesday. I was next to my mum’s conservatory whilst she was out on errands and heard some fluttering noises. I put my head around the kitchen door just in time to see a Swallow flitting desperately from one side to the other trying to escape through the glass. It came to rest in the corner and Ginger the big tom cat prepared to leap on it. I roared at him and also dived for the corner and managed to bat away Mr. Ginger and scoop up the poor Swallow just in time.

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Luckily it wasn’t harmed at all and flew out of my hand just after I took these and went off to catch more insects.

The Swallows seem to be all nesting in barns this year. The house eaves have been taken over by a population explosion of House Martins – which is a good thing as they are on the Amber list. They really seem to like the wood cladding and bulkhead timbers as well as the shelter of the big overhanging eaves of my strawbale house – perhaps they recognise a fellow straw-and-mud-building fanatic when they see one!! Joking aside, the fact that the timbers of my home are durable ones that haven’t had any form of chemical treatment to preserve them probably helps; we chose them specifically for our own health and for the environment so the stamp of approval from these little guys seems like a small justification for that.

I’m not sure if they re-use nests or build new ones every year. There are some fairly solid constructions up there already but these pairs seem bent on a place of their own. I’ve not seen any coming or going from this one for example – apparently goose feather decor is so last year dahling.

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I’ll have to keep an eye out in case it actually has eggs in; we’ll soon see some hungry beaks poking over the edge if it has!

On the other side of the purlin are a young couple hard at work and having major domestics about how to go about it. I have to say that I somewhat sympathise with them – it’s always easier to work on a creative project like house renovations on your own I find!!

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This one has really got an eye for detail – or thinks it has. It’s quite fussy and precise about where each beakful of mud and twigs needs to be put and takes its time over placing carefully.

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This one just hasn’t got the same flair – apparently. It got told in no uncertain terms to go fetch some more materials and just stop messing up the progress willya?

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So the next time it just did a quick drop off before heading back for more gloop!

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I know where they’re getting it from, there’s a muddy patch near a dripping water butt tap that is perfect for them and I see them when I pass there several times a day. It’s outside the barn where I shear my sheep too and as that’s been one of my tasks this week there are plenty of woolly, strawy materials for them to dunk in the gunk to make a really well insulated and strong nest for their coming babies.

On the other side there’s more building going on too.

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I think somebody has already started on their family as one of the old nests is in use.

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It was hard to try catch them in flight but although the photos aren’t good, it’s nice to see them frozen in midair as they zip about so quickly you just can’t see them properly at all in real time.

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The other thing I didn’t expect to handle this week was our bees. I used to look after them but I became allergic to them about 5 years ago and I don’t go near them now. I do think they’re a vital part of the smallholding ecology – without bees and trees there would be no nature. And I really love their honey!

My mum has been looking after the bees in recent years with lots and lots of help and advice from some good friends who live quite some way away. Like most jobs it’s easier to do things with two people and bee-keeping is one of them. It’s important to work quickly and quietly once the hives are open so as not to annoy them more than is necessary and not to chill the brood (baby bee larvae) and eggs. Full supers of honey are pretty heavy to lift as well – in all, an extra pair of hands really helps.

I know mum was anxious that the bees might swarm on a warm day earlier this week and they certainly looked and sounded like it was on the cards for early afternoon. So I said I’d give mum a hand; it would be a shame to lose either a swarm of bees or the honey after the work she’s put in (and me, I’ve been helping to build some new hive parts!) So I cobbled together a bee suit out of various weird odds and ends and we went through them and moved some bees around.

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Hopefully it’s given all the bees enough work and space to be getting on with for now.

I removed this chunk of brace comb from the brood chamber. It had capped brood in and a little honey but it needed to go and the hive was chockfull of baby bees in the making – so although I don’t like despatching even one bee, it had to come out. I left it in front of the hive for the bees to clean out. I’ll probably remove it soon and melt it down and filter it into pure beeswax to store.

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They’re all busy working today. Just watching them on the flight board this afternoon, it’s funny to see how many crash land and roll in! Their pollen baskets on their legs are so full, it must be really heavy to fly with and awkward to manoeuvre. I’m glad they have lots of flowers to work though. Such a busy month of May!

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South Stack

A quick 48hour trip to Anglesey last week to deal with some work things ended up being more frustrating than I thought. Sometimes life is like that no matter how carefully you plan but it’s still irritating. Normally heading to Anglesey is a happy thing for me even if it’s for work purposes rather than recreation, a change being as good as a rest. I think life got just so busy in recent weeks I lost the ability to stop and savour the good moments and my head got into a bit of a tangle and I felt quite sad and upset.

Life is short.

It’s something I appreciate more and more with each passing year and see the truth of this much quoted cliché in other’s lives as a flag that you really do have to make the best use of time. Sometimes people use this to justify selfish acts. I prefer to take this to mean how we work, how we act, how we behave to those around us. Not to be frivolous of time or resources and especially not with other’s love or feelings.

But I also think also means to take time to enjoy what we have and appreciate it in the everyday rather than going through life blinkered to that which is around us. Realising I’d temporarily lost sight of that whilst fretting about things that I couldn’t do anything about I decided to “seize the carp!” as I like to pun and went up to one of my favourite places to walk Marley for half an hour or so in the evening before the next meeting I had planned rather than just sit around waiting.

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South Stack is known both for its lighthouse and for its amazing seabird colonies. I’m no birder; I merely stand on the sidelines hoping to absorb new information with every encounter. Although I’ve visited South Stack since my earliest childhood, I’d never actually been inside Ellin’s Tower which the RSPB use as an educational resource and bird-watching hide for visitors. By the time I got there it was closed for the day but instead of heading for the lighthouse carpark and surrounding paths as I do normally I decided to walk along what the map showed as the lower path along the coastline.

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This was a mistake!! I hadn’t appreciated quite how close to the edge of the cliffs it was and for those with a head for heights this is fine as it’s actually quite safe. For someone like me who can make myself feel faint by looking at a photograph taken from a high viewpoint it was a Really Bad Idea. This is a normal coastal walk for most people. For those like me it’s a panicky adrenaline-fuelled torture of an over-active imagination and by the time I’d appreciated this it was better to carry on than turn back!

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Having a bouncy Labrador with a life motto of “act first, think later” on the end of a lead just added to the stress. Dogs are meant to be kept on the lead but I wouldn’t have trusted Marley not to absent-mindedly bounce over the edge in pursuit of a seagull anyway! I kept him very close whilst we were walking… err… crawling here.

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I couldn’t really appreciate the stunning beauty of this path because I was too busy reminding myself to breathe and kidding myself I was walking through a wood a very very long way away from a cliff… I did stop for a sit down for a minute though and took a couple of photos to appreciate later on when I was back on less worrying ground!

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The cliffs by the lighthouse were raucous with the sounds of the Guillemots and Razorbills, Herring Gulls and Black backed Gulls. Once I was back on terrain I felt comfortable with I felt it was a shame I couldn’t have got there earlier and gone inside the hide.

So the next morning although I was heading back home I decided to make another quick trip back specifically to go inside Ellin’s Tower.This was definitely not a mistake. Leaving Marley in the car this time and driving up I joined the tourists and students already gathered there. For dedicated and knowledgeable bird watchers this must be paradise. The RSPB staff were very kind and helpful in showing people like me how to spot different birds and explaining about their breeding habits. The webcam showed some Guillemots in close up getting ready to lay their egg on the cliff edge (“nesting” is a bit of a strong word to use for the haphazard parenting methods they use!) and we smiled as a curious Razorbill hoved into view and photobombed the webcam and unknowingly peered back at us!

This is the picture I took with my little compact camera I carry with me most times. I would have loved a long zoom and my DSLR though – I must remember to take it next time!

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People come to see puffins here too but actually there are not very many unlike on more remote islands mostly in Scotland (but including “Puffin Island” on the other side of Anglesey). The rats that steal their eggs from the burrows they lay in can still access puffin nests here on an island connected to the mainland. There are only a few breeding pairs here. The RSPB man I spoke to said they had spotted 6 puffins so far at South Stack this year – really not very many amongst the thousands of other birds. He’d seen one that morning on the sea and explained how a solitary puffin would hang out near a group of guillemots on the sea. After a bit he quietly said he’d seen it again quite far out and trained the telescope on it for me. This was so exciting as it was the first puffin I have ever seen … even if it was a very long way off and through a lens!

After a few minutes observing I asked an older lady if she would like to see it too rather than me hogging it. She was very excited too and got her husband so he could see too. Then the RSPB man spotted another puffin in a group much closer to us below the cliffs and trained the other telescope for this couple so they could both watch. I grabbed a pair of binoculars and found where he was talking about. I was very happy to have seen these colourful little birds even if they are much more accessible to humans in other areas in Scotland. They are sadly an endangered species and really need help to protect them or we risk losing them altogether along with so many other bird, animals and plants.

I didn’t see any Choughs which are well known visitors here. I was told if I walked along the cliff path I might see some but I politely declined that experience again… Apparently they are quite friendly and if you hang around any length of time you’ll probably see them. I ate my sandwiches but didn’t have enough time to stop any longer. I hope to see them next time I come back.

I approve of the picnic area seating though!

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I was really glad that I’d taken just a little time out of the trip home to come back, to see these birds and to learn a little more about them. I asked when they had arrived and was told just 48 hours earlier. So by seizing the moment I had been able to see something I might have missed later in the year. Instead of adding to the busyness it refreshed me and I felt better for it.

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Marley and I turned around from the tip of Wales and headed off back to the mainland and mountains of Snowdonia and the next stop I’d planned on the way home – Bodnant Gardens…

 

 

 

Advent: December 13th

I saw this kestrel hovering over the coastal footpath a few months back. Even with the wind blowing off the sea helping to hold it still, it was amazing to watch how it could suspend itself in air as it scanned the herbage below. I couldn’t see much on my viewfinder of my point and shoot camera as it was so sunny and bright so I had to click in the general direction and hope for the best! Not a great photo but better than frames of empty clear blue sky!

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Advent: December 6th

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Oops… getting behind again!

I thought you might enjoy this picture I took in the summer. Our bantams are very friendly little birds and often pop down to the house to visit. But after Tommy the cockerel died, Henrietta was more than usually at a loose end. During the summer our house doors are often open and the animals come and go as please. Sometimes this also includes Henrietta!

She discovered that it was more genteel to hang out with the elderly Badger and Silky basking in the warmth of the conservatory than peer at the noisy boisterous big chickens through the mesh of their run in the paddock. So on more than one occasion we found her cwtched up on the rug in here. Silky is oblivious to her presence but Badger the 3-legged collie looks less impressed at sharing the mat!

Now everybody has their own kind to keep company with; the bantam chicks have grown up and Henrietta spends her days with them and Badger of course has Marley now to keep her on her doggy toes – what’s left of them anyway! But who knows when summer comes, Henrietta might be back … with all her friends in tow!

Advent: December 2nd

Well, I didn’t do very well with my Advent Calendar yesterday! For the first time ever I missed a day – it was a fairly stressful day with things going wrong but never mind, c’est la vie and onwards and upwards. The bonus side is that you get TWO Advent posts today! :0)

I thought something light and cheerful might be quite nice. Currently the weather is absolutely vile and my sheep aren’t very impressed with that; neither am I! Autumn seems so long ago now although we had such a wonderful long dry mild season I can hardly complain at the turn of the seasons now. For part of the Autumn I had a bluetit visit the window by my desk to pick up little spidery-mite creatures that were obviously hiding in the cracks in the timber cladding on my house (this is conjecture – I assume that’s what it was doing!). So I got quite used to the rat-tat-tapping next to my window whilst I was working. One day I took a photo.

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And as birds have featured heavily in previous Calendars I thought he could join this one despite it not being a very good photograph and also one that shows how dirty my windows are!!

I miss this little chap now that there’s nothing for him to peck at. They’re all busy on the bird feeders though instead so at least they’ve got something in their tummies now the bad weather is here.

Meanderings…

Summer is really picking her feet up now. Time just whizzes past and things grow when you turn your back for a second. May is just a memory and as my mother reminded me to my dismay a few days ago it’s not long now till Midsummer… and the longest day. I hastily Ssssshhhd!! out the next bit about it being “downhill to winter” after that!!

When I was last at the coast a few weeks ago I saw many things I hadn’t seen before. I’m really loving these first experiences of seeing a place I love and know so well in its different guises throughout the year. I don’t think I could ever tire of Wales in any season; there is beauty in everything and every season. Even if it’s just the timely lesson that all things pass and if you wait a few minutes some other weather will come along!

I took photos of various coastal plants that I didn’t know what they were because I’d not been at the coast in spring before. I meant to look them up when I got home but I was delighted to discover pictures of two of them in Colours of Shetlanda truly gorgeous collection of knitting patterns (and so much more) by Kate Davies which I bought as a download the other day. I had treated myself to a print copy of her other book “Yokes” for my Christmas-Present-from-me-to-me last December but hadn’t yet acquired “Colours”… I really love Kate Davies’ patterns which combine elegance and femininity with a quirky touch – each pattern being thoughtfully anchored in it’s inspiration. I’ve only knit a few of the small items like her wonderful colourwork hats but I’ve greedily stashed away various sweater patterns I’ve bought over the past few years and hope to have a major sweater knitting session in the very near future now that I’ve finally managed to shrink my person back to a size that I’m happier knitting handspun sweaters for! ;0)

I think anyone could enjoy reading these books regardless of whether they’re a knitter or not, there is so much else of interest in each one, from the beautiful styling and photography to the fascinating essays included throughout. So although I’ve still got the treat of knitting my way through the patterns to look forward to, I was prompted by the pictures in the book to look up the names of the flowers I saw and I’m happy to know now that this photo I took is of a Sea Campion:

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and that these exquisite little flowers which I spent some time kneeling on the spongy turf photographing but seemed to me to carpet the headlands like a million blue stars are Spring Squill.

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There were also carpets of Sea Pinks or Thrift everywhere.

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Those I had seen before on many visits but it made me realise all the other things in life that I take for granted because I see them every day but when you’ve never seen them before, even the very ordinary can become the extra-ordinary. The most humble or common thing takes on an exotic flavour and it’s so wonderful to really see things again – with the freshness of a child’s eyes as it were. Seeing for the very first time… It’s like a precious gift.

I’m well used to seeing Bluebells here in the woods, hedgerows and glades around my home – I love them. I was pleased and surprised to see how many were growing around the cottage as well, they’ve come back in the past year or so since some brambles got cut back and they flower for such a short window of time I wouldn’t have known they were there if I hadn’t visited at the right time. They were everywhere on the headlands, dotted amongst other plantsand undergrowth.

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Something that I remember well from childhood holidays was the way that Wallflowers take to the hot dry environment and naturalise themselves along the dry stone walls. I was glad to see them out – they smell so wonderful even if they don’t have the delicacy of the native wildflowers on the headlands.

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I was able to get closer to the Oystercatchers I missed last time around. I know these are very common birds but again – to me they weren’t. I stalked this chap for a while…he was a bit suspicious of me!

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and then half an hour later rounded upon a whole bunch of Oystercatchers on the shore and although they seem to be quite coy about being watched by humans, these ones were so busy dabbling around at the water’s edge and the wind and waves were making enough noise to cover my approach so I was able to quickly lie down on the bank and spent a happy half hour on my tummy watching them going about their business, feeding…

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mooching…

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skimming the waves…

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or hanging out with a Ringed Plover.

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They look so comical and ungainly waddling along the beach with their big orange bills but in flight they take on such a beautiful form, tapering to the V of their tails and the markings set off so well by the wing beats. Just awesome.

This little Stonechat was also not very happy about my presence on the coastal path although he stood his ground for considerably longer and “chatted” at me from the top of “his” hedge before finally taking off in a huff.

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It makes me wonder what I will find next time I go – so different from the Wales of my home. Different again from the land that lies between us too – this time I came back through Snowdonia rather than my usual trip skirting the northern and eastern edges of the country which is less picturesque but an awful lot quicker.

Hugging the flanks of Snowdon and sweeping gently down the Llanberis Pass it feels like you are driving through a timeless landscape of Giants and Heroes; or as though somehow you’ve been transported to Middle Earth. It’s quite unnerving for me; not only do I dislike precipices and sheer drops which give me a nervy swing in my stomach, it’s also quite spine tingling just seeing the majestic scenery round and about so I spend the whole time feeling quite keyed up and on edge – literally. You could almost believe that a dragon would crawl out from behind the massive boulders.

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Next time I shall make sure someone else is driving so I can really appreciate the landscape!

Fowl Play

It’s a good thing the sun has come back and giving everything a summery boost of energy (well maybe not in the case of the weeds and lawn perhaps) because there’s so much going on right now it feels like my feet don’t touch the ground from dawn till dusk!

However I do like being occupied and having many diverse jobs to do around the home and farm stops me from working 100% on just making stuff and leading to creative fatigue – something I know that can happen quite quickly to me when I don’t get outside in the fresh air as well. I find doing mundane routine jobs leaves my brain free to mull over new ideas and iron out the kinks in existing ones or edit things I want to write about before sitting down to type or create…

Sometimes it’s all too easy to get distracted however and these little cuties who’ve taken up residence in my spare bedroom haven’t been helping on that score over the past week or so!

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You might remember Tommy the Partridge Pekin cockerel who’s made the odd appearance on this blog? Well I’m sad to say that 2 weeks ago he went to sleep and didn’t wake up – not a bad way to go if you’re an elderly chicken – and whilst literally falling off your perch has slightly macabre comic overtones, the sad truth is that we miss Tommy IV very very much. He was a sweet chicken both to us and to his adored Henrietta (who probably didn’t appreciate what a lucky girl she was as much as she should). He would look after Henrietta most assiduously, making sure she had all the best bits of food and ALL of the mealworms we treat them with and generally fussing most anxiously about her general welfare in a most un-chicken-like way.

They spent an awful lot of their time free ranging just outside my front door where it’s a sun trap and being near to human company they were relatively safe from the foxes and polecats that plague our poultry and have caused us to lose so many over the years. Tommy and Henrietta were the sole survivors of the once numerous Pekin bantams we’ve hatched and raised over the past few years. We once had so many that we had to give away or sell quite a few. We had a lot of Lavender Pekins especially and a clutch of these got split up, two going back to the granddaughter of our friend who first gave us Pekins and the remaining six becoming the nucleus of the now almost-celebrity-status chickens of the excellent blog over at HilltopCloud run by my friend Katie.

Our own bantam numbers dwindled thanks to smash and grab raids by polecats until we worked out that they were lifting the lids of the nest boxes and swiping sleeping bantams off the nests so I screwed down the lids and sure enough the next night was woken by a terrific racket of Something trying to claw its way fruitlessly into the little bantam house and shooting out into the dark in my dressing gown I caught sight of a fleeing polecat in the beam of my torch. Inspecting the deep gouges in the wood left by the claws and teeth of the thief, I realised why gentle little sleeping bantams were so defenceless…

We have lots of foxes that get dumped around here too – a dirty not-so-secret legacy of the fox hunting ban that town foxes get trapped and brought out to the countryside to be released because presumably the reasoning goes that out here we don’t mind our poultry and lambs being slaughtered by hungry and bewildered foxes who have no restaurant bins to scavenge from or places to hide. Rural foxes generally don’t get seen, they hunt nocturnally and have their dens and family groups. Urban foxes cruelly dumped in the countryside don’t have those advantages, aren’t generally scared of humans and not only wander around in daylight searching for something to eat but also come close to humans and usually stand their ground if disturbed whilst sleeping in outhouses as though they were domestic animals, albeit not very friendly ones. Small non-flying gentle chickens and ducks ranging loose around the yards are like manna to such would-be predators and in recent years we’ve lost more poultry than you’d believe despite them being shut in early at nights and in winter and early spring when small prey is scarce making the hungry foxes even more desperate especially vixens feeding cubs, we have to keep the birds housed up inside in barns to prevent losing everything although last winter it came close; by December we were left with just Tommy and Henrietta and two older laying chickens in the main hen house so I bought three laying hens for my mother for Christmas and she bought a further three pullets a few weeks later. All are now penned in large runs we had to go to the expense of building. It’s sad not to let them free range but chickens are not cheap and it’s desperately sad to hear frantic clucking fading across the field and know that a dying chicken is being carted away for lunch and that even if you run as fast as you can, all you’ll find when you get there is a trail of feathers blowing across the grass…

So whilst I was glad that Tommy lived out his full life in peace and contentment, we were now down to just one Pekin bantam. I adore these birds, they are by far the sweetest and most amusing chickens we’ve ever had in 25 years of poultry keeping. Henrietta was looking lost too so a search online found someone wanting to rehome an 8 month old Partridge Pekin cock who from the photo looked to be a very fine bird indeed.

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Mum went to pick him up 10 days ago with her best friend and they were both entranced by the place he had been raised – it was a hobby flock but on a sweeping scale and she enthusiastically told me about the immaculate pens and houses, the gorgeous birds and other animals there and particularly the Lemon Pekin bantams the lady was breeding which isn’t a colour we’ve ever owned. When she got home with the new Tommy (the Fifth) after a very long round trip she realised she’d missed a trick – we currently have an incubator on loan from a friend and she wished she’d also bought some hatching eggs from the Lemon Pekins. Luckily her friend who lives nearer was more than happy to go back with her husband last week to pick up some hatching eggs for us and the lady also had the 3 day old chicks for sale so Mum arranged to buy those as well.

Henrietta initially wasn’t that impressed with Tommy V. She was so used to being an old man’s darling and his courteous ways, she was deeply suspicious of her new eager Toy Boy who is also very gentle and kind but hasn’t quite learned all the endearing habits a spoiled girl like Henrietta appreciates. So initially she kind of let everyone know she wanted her space thank very muchly…

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Which meant that Tommy Junior spent quite a bit of time feeling like a lemon…

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But now they’re getting on a lot better… although every now and then Henrietta still goes off to have a little “me time”. The ducks get on quite well with them too so all is happy in what’s known as the Pool Paddock at the moment.

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The ducks are very old now and we’ve not hatched out any more new ones – I love our Saxony ducks so I will probably hatch some more some day – we had nine ducks last year but thanks to random daylight fox raids over winter we’re down to only five!

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So back to the younger members of the family; the 3 chicks are growing well. The Lavender chick is definitely a cockerel, the Black Pekin chick is a hen and jury is still out on the Partridge chick – I thought initially it was a cockerel but not so sure now, we will find out once it has all it’s adult feathers! They’re less Orville-like at the moment and have got to the slightly gawky stage where they’re part fluff/part feather and they are deeply suspicious of my movements around the room which they can see through the plastic of their brooder box.

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I like watching them; like all babies they play hard and then suddenly get overcome by sleepiness and it always makes me giggle when they’re pecking around and then suddenly sink down onto the shavings as their eyes close sleepily and then beak-dive forwards zonked out flat from their chickly games. Last week when they were still very small they liked to cram into their food bowl all together. I had to take a picture through the plastic because I knew if I lifted the lid to take it they would jump up so it’s a bit blurry but still sweet!

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And the eggs in the incubator are doing well. We candled them last night to see if they were fertile and so far all 12 eggs are growing chicks inside of them so hopefully we’ll have some more babies in a couple of weeks.

Goodness knows what Henrietta and Tommy will make of that!!

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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.

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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!