The siskins have appeared on our feeders in the last couple of weeks, bright, slender birds, yellow-green in colour, the males particularly handsome with their black crowns.
We have noticed a juvenile dog-fox frequently crossing the hill at the back of the cottage, in the daytime, recently. We have known him since last year when we watched him playing and dozing with his siblings and parents. Luckily for us he seems to keep his distance - our hens and ducks free-range in our land from early morning to evening.
On one occasion, our local hooded crows were harrying our resident sparrow hawk who had just procured a small bird for lunch. Maythered, he dropped the bird from his grasp. Before either himself or the crows could retrieve it, the adolescent fox (mentioned above), jumping and twisting, caught the bird in his mouth while airborne. Then, much to the annoyance of the crows and hawk, he beat a hasty retreat into dense undergrowth. All this within 5 yards of the cottage and boundary fence!
Over the past few weeks our attention has been focussed on a chalet we are having built on the site of the old house. It will be somewhere we can both write and paint, as well as accomodation for visitors when needed.
Spring has come and gone, slipping seamlessly into Summer. The swallows arrived earlier than usual - in late March. The cuckoo also returned early - we heard the first unmistakable heart-lifting call across Achill Sound on 24th April. Here, their preference is meadow pipits to act as surrogate parents. For a few weeks, from late April, the district is hardly ever without them, calling both night and day. In early May the
Spring continues to unfold here despite plenty of gales and rain. The frogspawn has been temporarily housed in a bucket due to the heavy rainfall. We hope to dig a good-sized pond at the back of the cottage in early summer, so that will be where the tadpoles hatch in May. The alder catkins, pussy willow, and gorse bloom are a picture just now.
On Thursday we spotted our first bumble-bee of the year - seeking nectar from the early primrose flowers and daffodils. The last two nights have been quite clear with a big full moon shining; the frogs have been singing and croaking in the drain - more and more frog-spawn is appearing. The pussy willow is making a great show of lovely silver-cream studded rods. We have a wild variety that always puts on a show earlier than our other varieties.
Our local hooded crows have been courting and reinforcing their nest in the flat top of the big old Scots pine across the river from us. They have nested in it every year but two since we moved here. A few days ago, they spent hours cawing and flying up into the air above the nest, swooping down and up high again. It was as though they were celebrating spring. I must confess I haven't observed this behaviour before. Today they are collecting soft material for the lining where the eggs will be laid - mostly sheep's wool.
As the weather improves the wild birds here are beginning to pair up. We have a few blackbird couples that are out foraging on the lawn early each morning. If the sun comes out Great tits begin calling from high in the alder copse beside us; they are already staking out their territory. We are hoping to place a few more nest boxes this year. Must get a move on!
We leave out a variety of bird food; mixed seed, pea-nuts and fat blocks, and this must factor in when they are determining where to raise a family. We hang the feeders from our willow bushes where the robins; chaffinches; green finches; coal tits; blue tits; great tits; reed buntings; blackbirds; and dunnocks can help themselves. Earlier in winter, in cold weather, we had the siskins and goldfinches visiting them. Regrettably, we didn't attract any redpolls this year. Last year they were prolific. Two years ago, in early winter, during a cold snap, we had 17 waxwing visitors who cleared our rowan trees of bright orange berries. Usually it is the fieldfares or redwings.
Our first daffodils - a double early, "Van Sion", that is almost naturalised here on the island - have been flowering about a week now along with the miniature "Tete-a-tete", - a picture with the wide-open, lilac, crocus tomasinius. Narcissus "February Gold" is just
opening. Deep maroon hellebores are in flower, and the siver-leaved cyclamen coum under the fuchsia hedge have a good showing of palest pink blooms.
Monday, 26th February
Frogspawn has appeared overnight, in a flooded section of one of our land drains - and more in one of our miniature patio ponds! Keen to ensure it hatches, we have protected it from being slurped by the ducks with some strategic positioning of plant pots. Frogs wake from their winter hibernation in February. They quickly return to ponds and drains and spawning usually occurs in March and April.
A female can lay as many as 2-3,000 eggs which are fertilised by the male. They disperse again after spawning. The tadpoles hatch at the end of May. In mid-July the mini-frogs leave the water, maturing into adult frogs in three years.
The first pale lemon primroses and china blue, starry, periwinkle flowers, are open for early insects and bees in the borders on the more sheltered, east-facing, front of the cottage.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Some Nature Notes from our original River Cottage website
at 7:48 PM