We’ve had many blessings in the garden this year, and have learned of many more in the world at large. Firstly, closer to home:
We began with one, but numbers on any one evening reached five and of all different sizes. Some were bolder, not ready to relinquish the food even at our approach. Some scuttled away as soon as they smelled us (no, we are not that stinky, they just have a good sense of smell). One was so bold as to dive into the live meal worm bag. My husband picked up the bag not realizing its contents, just wondering why it was so heavy all of a sudden…
Into November, the numbers started to dwindle as, we assumed, they started to hibernate. We still had some smaller ones hanging around, but they were very elusive. And they had company….
We have only ever seen one at a time. We would like to kid ourselves that it is the same one. We set out the humane trap (which my dear readers had convinced me to use) a number of times to no avail. I spoke with the woman at the feedstore where we get all our supplies, namely about what one does with a rat in a humane trap. I had assumed that you just set it free someplace else, but really couldn’t think where. I mean would you have to drive miles and miles away? She said it was against the law to re-home it. I said, well what do you do with it? She said, kill it. This can’t be right?
Anyway, it’s not like we have been overwhelmed with them. We have to expect them as we are surrounded by farms and orchards. It did kind of feel like the last straw though, turning on the back light only to catch one chowing down on the hedgehog food.
I think I agree with Germaine Greer on the subject of rats:
I feed the geese well away from their pen, to fool the rats. Yes, I have rats. If you keep birds, you will have rats. A man called Dick will come to put baits out for the rats if I ask him, but I’ve seen wrens flying in and out of the bait boxes, and wood mice and harvest mice newly dead on the garden paths, so Dick’s services have been suspended until and unless the rats make nuisances of themselves. Rats don’t like to live cheek by jowl with mice. Fostering the one should mean holding the other at bay. I do foster my mice in the winter, to the point of creating feeding zones for them in the kitchen cupboards. Not that I mind rats, rural rats, that is. They’re handsome beasts, glossy and carefully groomed, with tiny pearl-pink paws. (See http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/12/my-garden-is-not-neglected-its-a-wildlife-habitat/)
I particularly like that her garden was called ‘neglected’ by a surveyor. We have had a few cold caller landscapers stop by, their sales patter running to the observation that things look a bit overgrown. My husband told one we like it that way. The guy we have prune and chop around the place on a yearly basis advises his young assistants not to expect anything like a compliment or a thanks from me. “The more you cut down, the less she will thank you.”
The appearance of sparrowhawks at the birdbaths this summer has been a unique experience. Their interaction with other birds when the hawks are ‘grounded’ was fascinating to watch. One day we espied what we thought might be a juvenile sparrowhawk bathing at one of the bowls. Up hopped a magpie, determined to have the bowl to itself. Of course, a bit of a stand-off ensued, the magpie appearing to have accepted defeat. The hawk went back to trying to stuff its feathers into the bowl. But we had not figured on the tenacity of the magpie, for not only did it come back, but with muscle as back-up. The hawk had a little difficulty fending the three magpies off. In the end, it gave up the idea of a bath.
They and the robins remain the predominant characters of the yard. At the top of the bird pile is our adopted son, Boss, who will be going into his fourth season with us. He now has a complete set of big-boy feathers, although his beak is still a mottled black and yellow. He meets me in the drive when I have returned home.
In addition, he still appears to be with his mate from the past few summers, Tappy Toes. I have not been able to confirm whether blackbirds mate for life or not; they certainly seem to be.
Surprisingly, another character from the summer is still to be with us-our handicapped female blackbird
At the end of the summer, she picked up yet another impediment: when she regrew the tail feathers she had shed as part of molting, they remained permanently fanned. Like quite a few birds, a blackbird’s tail feathers will remained folded up (like a fan, see Boss’ photo above)), except when it is fighting or flying. She seems to be unable to fold them She certainly is determined, good genes to pass on. But with that tail, I think reproduction would be a bit awkward…
I think I mentioned Woodsy, our bald single dad, who was so stressed out by his responsibilities that he was bald all summer long (not totally, but so much so that he was picked on by other birds). We gave him some favorable treatment, and as soon as his young’uns were on their own, he grew back all his feathers. He now has a lustrous black coat and a bright yellow beak. Towards the end of the summer, he seemed to have formed a bit of a threesome with Boss and Toes (ironic as he and Boss were sworn enemies in the spring), but now he has taken up residence in a different part of the garden.
The robins, well, there’s a gang of them, indistinguishable and always at logger heads. They are still the boldest, the first to make their presence felt in the garden if something is going on that they are not happy about….
The Two Apocalypses (not in anyway a blessing)
As mentioned above, we have a yearly pruning and chopping usually around this time. This year, we were planning on having a tree taken down. Now, if I can be said to have a religion one of its tenets would be “first cut no trees down.” But there were numerous reasons why this particular tree had to come down. It was a habitat, but as we have so many trees and live next to a small wood, we thought the birds etc would adjust.
We lived next to a wood. For in mid November, the owner of the wood decided to decimate it. Of course, he thought he was just cutting down a few trees, but in the end it was much more than that, including some long well-established hedges. He really eliminated an entire habitat. I am still reeling, and so I would think are the wildlife. As a result, even though we have taken down a tree in the middle of our property, we have planted quite a few more and have more planting to do in the new year….
Back to Blessings: the wider world
My mother sent an article about a golden pheasant which appeared in Massachusetts earlier this year.
Have you ever seen such a thing? I feel a bit sorry for the dowdy characters we get around these parts….
From the American Museum of Natural History:
In the view of most paleontologists today, birds are living dinosaurs. In other words, the traits that we accept as defining birds — key skeletal features as well as behaviors including nesting and brooding — actually arose first in some dinosaurs. Most intriguing, and debated, is the evidence of feathers and featherlike structures on these dinosaurs…
This might not be so obvious in adult birds, but a nestful of hatchlings is all the proof I needed….
We’ve had Bees in Trees. Now, it appears, there are desert bees. According to a BBC article:
Deep in the Sahara desert are honeybees that have remained isolated from all other bees for at least 5,000 years.
The bees arrived at Kufra in Libya when the Sahara was still a green savannah, and have survived ever since around an oasis in the desert, over 1,000km from their nearest neighbouring bees.
So concludes a new study which has analysed the bees’ genetics.
The Kufra honeybees are so isolated they remain free of a parasitic mite that threatens bees around the world.
Details of the discovery are published in the journal Conservation Genetics.
Bees are found not only in African deserts, but in the deserts of North America:
Bees comprise a highly diverse group of hymenopterous insects in the Sonoran Desert region. Superficially, bees (especially the parasitic cuckoo bees) resemble some wasps, except that bees are usually hairier and more robust, and they possess specialized structures for carrying pollen back to their nests. ( see https://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_bees.php
Christmas Cracker Riddle
The answer to the Christmas cracker riddle of the previous post disproves Germaine Greer’s contention about rats and mice. A few clever readers immediately identified what all the objects had in common: meeces!
We had seen one or two scurrying about the garage this summer, but were not really concerned as they had been always about the yard in summer. We had been keeping more bird feed in the garage so it was reasonable that they would discover it (the squirrels have discovered the hard nuts in the conservatory after all).
The boots are old rarely used pairs of my husband. One day, he had seen a couple had fallen to the ground. When he picked them up, he discovered they were full of peanuts! We figured the mice had been getting into the food and eating it, but the boot stash indicated a bit of forward planning. We promptly started storing all the food in plastic tubs (we had forgotten a box of fatballs which were crumbs by the time we remembered them).
What confirmed their little micey plans was the lint from the dryer. As I had mentioned, we are a both on the lazy side: we shoved the lint from the dryer trap into the glass jar instead of walking the few feet to the bin. This one day, I was putting some things in the dryer, and noted the jar was empty. I assumed my husband had bestirred himself to empty it. Only to find out, that he thought I was the one who had emptied it. But neither of us had (of course). So who did? Once noted, we started to track the disappearance of the lint which happened with regularity, sometimes within an hour of it having been put in the glass jar. Someone had a plush, dryer-warm pad but where? The big pile of boxes is an option. But my husband thinks the more likely des-res is a box where an old coffee maker is stored kept on top of the dryer. Neither of us has been brave enough to investigate further.
And, the peanuts have disappeared from the boots….
I will try to think up a nice holiday prize for the next blog post. I can’t think the winners would mind sharing it with the rest of you?
Sparrow Hawk: Wikimedia Commons Photographer: Meneer Zjeroen https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Accipiter_nisus_Meneer_Zjeroen.jpg
Golden Pheasant: Wikimedia Commons Male Golden Pheasant at Smithsonian Photographer: Cosmas Robless https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Male_Golden_Pheasant_DC.jpg
Germaine Greer cartoon: (reproduced from the Spectator article)