Kim thought she heard an unexplained bump in the garden one evening, but whatever the reason, it was a surprise to find the rear half a full grown salmon in the studio bed last week. I wonder if an owl had dropped its prey originally. The nearest river – one of England’s best game waters – is some three miles hence so most likely to be the source. At this time of year exhausted adult fish, having spawned at the headwaters, drift back on the current to die so a predator, animal or bird, could have found easy prey here. We will never know for sure. The tail end carcass remained for a few more days, to my surprise, as I thought our regular predators like fox or crow would see to it. Eventually I disposed of the rotting remains, adding it to the growing heap of a bonfire in the field. Another corpse materialised a little later in the elegant form of a field mouse, drowned in a bucket of water, the long rear legs still elegant in death. Meanwhile, two very live frog companions – one full size, one small – can be discovered in their usual hiding place under a ledge of stone at the pond edge. Their rival co-habitees, the palmate newt population, seem to have mostly evacuated the soon to be frozen water in order to spend the winter safely under the stacks of logs or among dense leaved plants we’ve planted between water and fence.
Serendipity…Upstairs one morning last week just about to get into the shower when the voice on the radio asks ‘Which is the UK’s most prolific native breed of bird?’ And I catch sight out of the window, flitting over the wooden sheep feeders edging the lawn, the answer – the wren. There it is, rapidly working invisible cracks for insects. With 8 million breeding pairs this supercharged loud voiced tiny bird appeals to us all. Oddly most people don’t really notice them, so quick and secretive their ways. (Hence the Latin name Troglodytes – Cave Dweller). Their lives may be short and populations catastrophically hit by hard winters but their powers of recovery are such that within a few breeding seasons their premier title is regained. Unlike most other native birds the cock is the nest builder and he’ll construct a number, leaving the inspecting female to decide which home suits best. We’ve also witnessed them convert a former swallow’s nest on our porch where they sometimes shelter for life preserving mutual warmth during the depths of winter. Our other garden seasonal residents – blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, blackbirds and robins – are also beginning to return, like the wrens, this back end. I suspect all these birds spend the summer in food rich territories down in the sheltered wooded valleys of the fast flowing burns that define the southern and northern flanks either side of our property. These species return to our sanctuary acre where supplementary food is always available by way of seeds and nuts. Whatever the reason, we’re always glad to welcome them back.
We’ve been troubled recently by wasps nesting in the cavity spaces above the downstairs bathroom. Our builder in repairing and replacing ridge tiles and fascia boards revealed an extra dimension to the problem. I had earlier cemented the obvious entrance under the eaves after fumigating the nest but G in taking down the fascia boards revealed more holes where the insects could also get through.These he filled, but his wise advice we followed. Wasps love fruit and our south facing front garden holds the most prodigious of our apple trees and espaliers. In burrowing into and hollowing out the fruit the wasps get drunk on the juice which in turn makes them more aggressive and more likely to sting. Hence the sooner the mature crop can be gathered the better! We now have lots in store to juice day to day whilst out in the porch stand old fashioned sweet jars containing this season’s batch of home made damson gin and, due to the success of bushes planted last year, gooseberry vodka is on the go too!
It’s always wonderful to get family input with the garden and tree surgeon J got his his chainsaw to work recently, thinning the trees in the copses. To save a boundary stone wall shared with our good farming neighbour at Southridge, we took out a major willow trunk that was leaning precipitously over the long distance path that runs alongside, through his pasture. The longer bough segments we saved and I’ve now used them to line the gravel path through the west copse, replacing the original logs I laid last year. Glad to discover thick juicy earthworms in the accumulated humus between rotting wood and weed suppressant liner. I looked up to see the pair of resident dunnocks (hedge sparrows) looking down from branches, hoping for an easy meal. We often catch them foraging: ground hugging, fleet moving, shadow coloured presences. An uneasy feeling that in taking out the big willow in front by the east gate may have unfortunate consequences in leaving that side of the property newly exposed to passing traffic and curious eyes. A dustbin sized corrugated zinc planter by the front door vanished one night. Thieves (It needs two to lift) had taken it as well as the box bush it contained. These planters have value in reclamation yards and garden centres, and of course on line, where no questions are asked. As it happened this loss coincided with a spate of thefts in town where three Victorian post boxes were taken out of the walls that had contained them for at least the last 117 years or so. Apparently since the post office started replacing and selling off old post boxes in recent years a market has grown up for such antiques and a box, depending on condition, can fetch anywhere between £100 – £400 pounds. It’s concerning that if such brazen actions can take place in plain sight in urban environments what hope is there for isolated old boxes scattered through our rural areas? On a happier note, and perhaps echoing remedial felling action, Southridge phoned last week to ask if we wanted any muck from the cowshed he was clearing out that day with the tractor. Yes please, said I. Where do you want it? Drop a load over the fence from your field into ours. Done that day; two full loads. No pressure on moving a heap while it rests there out the way. We’ll load the barrows and spread on the vegetable boxes and the borders in due course. The lawns have been cut for what I hope is the last time this year while out front the grass seed I planted late on in the cleared roadside border has taken well and will hopefully last out the coming winter and continue to thrive (if I keep weed free) come the Spring.
A weekend away in one of my favourite parts of the world, the Pembrokeshire coast. This part, around Newport, on the long distance coastal path I know relatively well and experiencing it in every season (outside of Winter) down the years only adds to its charm and natural beauty. Our autumn ramble this Sunday took us from the road bridge crossing the upper tidal limits of the River Nevern, whose short and rapid course takes it from the Preseli Mountains to Newport Bay. Mercifully free of industrial or agricultural run off it’s a clear and healthy stream running through ancient woodland and bog for most of its length. Our route picks up the old pilgrim track linking sea to the ancient church at Nevern village. Forage as we go; windfall apples in a box in the church porch and blackberries in the bank hedge. (Have for supper later with custard – divine!) Features of the walk: an abandoned cottage that every visit claws further back into the grip of nature; inviting pools you want to go swimming with brown trout; rusted wreck of long abandoned grass cutter; greenlane with stone banks bursting with harts tongue fern while other higher stretches support a line of dense packed beech trees; late cut of silage all black bagged up in steep meadow; surprising paired yellows of toadflax in the lane along with flashes of pink campion. Insects on tiny balls of ivy flowers for the season’s best nectar. Most striking, stated in slate, the Pilgrims Cross and below another gashed in the smoothed rock. Saint Brynach’s church by the pretty tributary stream with its famous Celtic cross & bleeding yews still a place for the modern pilgrim to visit, more likely by car than on foot, and justly famed at that. The hat and cheery invite to support a relatively new feature to greet the visitor!