Off Topic – Scenes in our little wood

There is a little wood at one end of our garden with a stream running through it.

img_20180531_144448596 And over the other side of the little stream there are several old trees and decaying tree stumps.

It’s rather overgrown across the stream, ideal for wildlife.

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Close up of the base of the old tree stump in the photo above

We wondered if anything was using the holes at the base of this old tree stump, so David set up a wildlife camera – and found that rabbits have taken up residence, running in and out of the holes at the base of the tree.

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The rabbits have made a path at the side of the tree up to a grassed area where Heidi, our cat, sits for hours on rabbit watch waiting for them to come out and play. Unfortunately her ‘play’ is a little rough for the baby rabbits and we have had to rescue a couple.

Corvus: A Life With Birds by Esther Woolfson

Corvus by Esther Woolfson is a remarkable book about the birds she has has had living with her; birds that were found out of the nest that would not have survived if she had not taken them in.

‘Corvus’ is a genus of birds including jackdaws, ravens, crows, magpies and rooks. The specific birds Esther Woolfson has looked after are a rook, called Chicken (short for Madame Chickieboumskaya), a young crow, a cockatiel, a magpie, two small parrots and two canaries. But it all started with doves, which live in an outhouse, converted from a coal store into a dove-house, or as they live in Aberdeen in Scotland, a doo’cot.

Although the book is mainly about the rook, Chicken, Esther Woolfson also writes in detail about natural history, the desirability or otherwise of keeping birds, and a plethora of facts about birds, their physiology, mechanics of flight, bird song and so on. As with all good non-fiction Corvus has an extensive index, which gives a good idea of the scope of the book. Here are just a few entries for example under ‘birds’ the entries include – aggression in, evolution of, navigation, in poetry, speeds of, vision, wildness of, wings’

It’s part memoir and part nature study and for me it works best when Esther Woolfson is writing about Chicken and the other birds living in her house, how she fed them, cleared up after them, and tried to understand them. Although at times I had that feeling I get when I visit a zoo – these are wild birds kept captivity and I’m not very comfortable with that, I am reassured by Esther Woolfson’s clarification that reintroducing these birds to the wild was unlikely to be successful and indeed they lived longer than they would have done in the wild. Though Chicken and Spike (and the other birds) live domesticated lives they are still wild birds:

I realise that if ‘wild’ was once the word for Chicken, it still is, for nothing in her or about her contains any of the suggestions hinted at by the word ‘tame’. Chicken, Spike, Max, all the birds I have known over the years, live or lived their lives as they did by necessity or otherwise, but were and are not ‘tame’. They are afraid of the things they always were, of which their fellow corvids are, judiciously, sensibly; of some people, of hands and perceived danger, of cats and hawks, of things they do not know and things of which I too am afraid. ‘Not tamed or diminished’. (pages 115-6)

At times, where Esther Woolfson goes into intricate detail, for example in the chapter on ‘Of Flight and Feathers‘ I soon became completely out of my depth, lost in the infinity of specialised wing shapes and the complexities of the structure of feathers. But that is a minor criticism, far out weighed by her acute observations of the birds, her joy in their lives and her grief at their deaths – her description of Spike’s unexpected death and her reaction is so moving:

I wept the night he died. Sitting in bed, filled with the utter loss of his person, I felt diminished, bereft. I talked about him, but not very much, in the main to members of the family, who felt the same, but to few others.

It’s the only way, this compact and measured grief, for those of us who are aware that there has to be proportion in loss and mourning; we laugh at ourselves for our grief, trying to deal with this feeling that is different in quality, incomparable with the loss of a human being.

We felt – we knew – that something immeasurable had gone. (page 209)

Anyone who has lived through the death of a loved animal can recognise that sense of loss.

Corvus is a beautiful book and I have learned so much by reading it. I must also mention the beautiful black and white illustrations by Helen Macdonald – I think this is the Helen Macdonald who was awarded the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction for H is For Hawk.

Esther Woolfson was brought up in Glasgow and studied Chinese at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Edinburgh University. Her acclaimed short stories have appeared in many anthologies and have been read on Radio 4. She has won prizes for both her stories and her nature writing and has been the recipient of a Scottish Arts Council Travel Grant and a Writer’s Bursary. Her latest book, Field Notes from a Hidden City (Granta Books), was shortlisted for the 2014 Thwaites Wainwright Prize for Nature and Travel Writing. She lives in Aberdeen. For more information see her website.

Saturday Snapshot

There is a field at the back of our garden which is on a steep slope (it is much steeper than it looks in my photos). A couple of weeks ago I spotted three roe deer at the top of the field, grazing, and quickly took a few photos using the zoom lens.

They soon were aware I was around and began to move away.

They jumped over the fence and were soon out of sight. You can just see their white rumps – one getting ready to jump and two on the other side.

See more Saturday Snapshots on Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot

Early yesterday morning I was sitting at the computer when a movement outside caught my eye. My desk faces the window looking out onto the back garden. I thought maybe someone was taking an early morning walk along the footpath just beyond our garden fence, but no – it was a deer. For once my camera was on the desk, with a card in and the battery wasn’t flat. Quickly I zoomed in and took a few photos because normally wildlife doesn’t hang around when I’m taking photos.

He was eating the leaves and blossom off the little apple tree and then walked on,

going behind the trees and out of sight. I thought that was that and he’d left the garden, but not so. For the next 30 minutes or so I could see him wandering around that part of the garden going backwards and forwards eating leaves and generally mooching about. I began to wonder if he couldn’t get out, but presumably as he’d got in he could get out. So I had my breakfast and then saw him again, this time moving towards the house. He jumped over our little stream and ran across the side garden.

This photo of him running is a bit hazy from the reflection from the window and my haste to get a photo! I was able to get a better photo from the side window:

He then went towards the road side fence and we were bothered he’d jump over onto the road. So Dave went out to the front garden to the other side of the fence from the deer and he ran back over the stream and disappeared. Later in the morning I went over to the back garden and found strands of hair caught on the fence where he had jumped over it.

He was in the garden for nearly an hour! He was much bigger than he looks in the photos and I think he’s a Roe Deer.

To participate in Alyce’s Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. All Alyce asks is that you don’t post random photos that you find online.

Just a Glimpse of the Orient


On Monday D and I went for a walk with a friend alongside the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we enjoyed these views. This is the start of our walk.

The Wendover Arm was first constructed in 1797, but as sections of it leaked it was “de-watered”. From 1989 onwards it has been restored and this is what it looks like today.

Kingfishers can be seen along the canal, but we didn’t see any on Monday. There were lots of other birds though, ducks, moorhens, coots and dabchicks (otherwise known as little grebes), busy diving and collecting nest material.


The ducks were in fine form, taking off a high speed and then landing with legs flailing before splash-down.

Further along the canal we saw a swan sitting on a large nest over on the other side.

 

The canal opens up into an area known as the Wides, with areas of grass and shrubs with a tiny island on the far side. Trees have invaded what was once open water and without management the canal would disappear in a few years.

Then came a surprise – a pair of mandarin ducks. I’d never seen these before; they looked very different from the other birds on the canal, but just so beautiful. The male has very distinctive chestnut brown and orange fan wings sticking up above his body, whilst the female is a duller brown with white spots. They were swimming together in and out of the trees. When I came home I looked them up in our bird books. Originally from China these ducks like streams and overgrown lakesides in broad leaved woodland and they nest in tree cavities. The canal is the perfect place for them.

 

Bat Rescue

This is the usual view of a bat flying – in the dark, but I was surprised yesterday afternoon to see a little bat flying in the garden in bright sunshine. It swooped down over the back fence and flew to the flowering cherry tree in the middle of the lawn, where it flopped down to the ground at the base of the tree. Before I could get there Lucy, our cat, was there like lightning, most interested in the little bat. I called her off, but the bat seemed to be stuck at the bottom of the tree, with its wings spread out wide. We tried to move it gently away from the tree and it flapped its wings feebly and then folded them around its body and crawled slowly along the grass.

Unsure of the best thing to do, we decided to take it to St Tiggywinkles the local Wildlife Hospital. They identified it as a “teenage” Pipistrelle and thanked us for bringing it in. They thought that it would be ok. They will release back in our area as soon as they are sure. Bats are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which prohibits anybody catching them or disturbing their roost. However, it does allow for the handling of bats that are injured or obviously in difficulty, especially those clinging to walls away from a normal roost site, although they must be released as soon as they are fit.