Tuesday, 21 May 2019

In May ..

Unearthly strangulated sounds in the twilight: the lactating vixens' cubs. They're playing next door. Their den is beneath a shipping container. Two cubs have emerged onto the drive so far.

Our friend, the local gamekeeper sees foxes as pests and shoots them. Attracted to the placentas of free-range pigs that have farrowed, the foxes also take small piglets. The pheasants released on the farm also sustain a higher fox population. Lots of naive first-year hens make nests and lay eggs for the first time, they and their eggs and young are taken by foxes as well as by crows. Our gamekeeper maintains that injured or orphaned urban foxes taken to animal rescue centres are released nearby, increasing the local population. 
There is a contentious debate between the animal welfare lobby and those representing the other side. Licences for shooting birds have been declared unlawful. Polarised. 'You're with us or against us'. Personalised. Unpleasant.
It's time for mature debate rather than retreating behind our barricades and lobbing insults.

The May blossom of the hawthorn has stayed on the bushes for a long period. Perhaps the cool evenings affected the flowers? Our hawthorn hedge is doing well. A 100-metre stretch of hawthorn hedge can be home to 21,000 caterpillars. Vital food for songbird chicks and other invertebrates.

Spring cabbage is cropping well in the polytunnel. I throw the discarded outer leaves into the hen run. The hens approach the plant in the way that a bomb disposal team gingerly approaches a suspect device. I only let them out into the orchard when we're as sure as we can be that the foxes aren't about.

The Vegetable Garden is filling. Beans are in pots and will be planted when risk of frost is passed. The polytunnel is being prepared for summer tomatoes and cucumbers.

We took a turn around the garden and farm nest boxes last week. Lots of baby great tits and blue tits. One impressive pair of blue tits had fourteen youngsters. The highlight was discovering three baby tawny owls in the Woodland Garden box. A week later and much whit-hitting from an agitated parent owl. The young tawnies leave their nest early and while still clothed in fluff. We spot a baby sitting in the lower branches of a lime tree, being tossed by a cool wind. That evening the baby bird was on the ground. I was sent up the ladder to place it up in the branches of the lime while the adult bird scolded me.
Its' siblings remain in the box, they too in their onesies. The inscrutable babies bob up when they think my eyes are averted.

Sadly, not a single tree sparrow success so far. Rich saw a male and female cuckoo over race ground Wood last week.

We check the boxes of unringed birds again tomorrow and hope to add a further forty five boxes that our neighbour has sited in his wooded garden. 

A male whitethroat has been very active in the garden for the past week. Its' song is a scratchy short burst. Highly mobile. It sang in the Foraging Border as I was edging the lawn. We've now retreated from the western part of the lawn during our 'no-mow' month. 

Tree bumblebee
Our bee hotels are doing peak-season-brisk-business. Linda and I attempt to identify them without much success. In the apiary, Linda and Trev have been busy managing swarms. No major loss of bees so far, which is good news for us and the bees. Their natural inclination is to swarm and form a new colony. Sadly for honeybees, they are now infested with tiny mites that deplete the colony unless managed by beekeepers. Feral honey bee colonies, once widespread, are now consigned to history.
In the Cedar Walk tree bumblebees (Britains most recent bee colonist) have made a nest in one of our beehive-shaped compost bins.

Mighty cockchafers crash into the moth light during the evening. Star wars cargo vessels. Cumbersome. They gave their country name of 'doodlebug' to the WWII self-propelled bombs aimed at Britain by the Nazis. The underground caterpillars of cockchafers became a large agricultural pest and were almost eradicated by the use of pesticides. Their numbers are on the rise again, providing welcome underground food for birds and mammals.

A pinion-spotted pug moth came to the light during the week. Nondescript in many ways but a big pat on the back for us from the county moth recorder with a 'well done, your best find yet' and 'this is a moth we've been looking for over the years without success' making us feel as though we'd had a special mention in assembly.

Our garage work has begun.