Sunday, 14 August 2016

Out and about

I've written before about evening walks and occasional encounters. I'm not sure if there are more animals about or if I'm just seeing more of them, but there has been a definite increase in meetings, particularly with badgers.

As well as more triggering of the backdoor security light as badgers come through the garden, I've had a couple of close encounters in the street that were thrilling and delightful.

A week ago, after a wedding anniversary meal that left me needing a walk, my evening stroll started with a pair of owls, I think tawny, calling to each other from the high trees that bound the zoo's western edge. It would be nice to actually see one sometime, but the calls suffice to let me know they're there. I've heard tawny owl calls described as mournful, but that isn't the sense I get; there is nothing minor key about them, more a soft assertion of presence, over the gentle sussurations of leaves and branches, that delights me, but no doubt terrifies listening rodents.

There were plenty of foxes around, the numbers swelled by this year's cubs. I know three or four were born earlier in the year down the hill, but I'm not sure how many there are altogether in the neighbourhood. It is this time of year when the cubs are more adventurous in the streets, playing in the middle of the road, learning the established paths and runs through and between gardens. Even when they are out of sight you can usually tell where they are as successive security lights flick on in front and back gardens, tracking activity and movement as definitely as an RFID tag.

Towards the end of the walk, as I turned into our street, I noticed a young fox standing in the middle of the street outside our house. I stopped and stood still. I saw that it was watching something, and when that something moved I realised it was a badger which started to come my way. The fox and badger were about 100 metres from me and I stayed motionless. As the badger came closer, I realised it hadn't seen me, unlike the young fox that watched me intently, trying to figure me out.

The badger didn't see me until it was about 2 metres away when it too stopped and was obviously trying to work out what to do. I had plenty of time to take in the grey fur, the colour of darkened charcoal ash, the black snout, the small ears and black eyes. Anxious not to scare it (because claws, teeth) I stayed where I was until it decided the sensible thing to do was scamper away and up a driveway.

Meanwhile, there was movement further down the street and I realised a second fox and a second badger were coming my way. This fox noticed me quite quickly, though I was standing still, and trotted off; again, the badger didn't until it too was about 2 metres away. This one didn't hang around to think about it, it turned round and ran off into the shadows.

I was chatting with neighbours who are happy there are badgers around but would rather they stayed on the hill. I can understand this as they have had to clear up the mess left by badgers in their bins. Nevertheless I disagree. "Rewilding" is a bit of a cliche, but I like the sense that we are surrounded by a nocturnal world that kicks against human sensibilities.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Catch Up

2016 has been almost as quiet as previous years. In Spring I thought there were signs of an upswing in the numbers of garden birds, but that hasn't been sustained.

My neighbour a couple of doors up reports the same. Despite the proximity of our gardens, the wildlife population differs: for example, I get a lot of jackdaws while he sees none; he gets goldfinches, I almost never do.

Even our usually reliable dunnock population is conspicuous by its absence. I'd like to blame the increasing number of cats in the neighbourhood, but I haven't seen much evidence of dead birds.

On the foxy superhighway
I've seen a single chaffinch in the garden this year (one more than I saw in the previous two years) but mostly it has been blackbirds, blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits and the occasional sparrow. I can hear starlings, but haven't seen many. There was a goldfinch on a TV aerial and three overflying, and 3 rooks a couple of weeks ago (to add to the garden corvid list of raven, carrion crown magpie and jackdaw). The buzzards have been around, but sporadically rather than a constant presence.

About the finches; I've commented here before about the catastrophic loss of greenfinches and chaffinches in the garden since the hard winter of 2010. Melissa Harrison mentioned something I hadn't known about:

Opening food waste bins

For other fauna: foxes are a constant and regular. Our backdoor security light was triggered a few nights ago when a badger took a short-cut, and badgers have been active in the street on bin nights. One of them seems to have developed a technique of pushing recycling bins around our neighbours driveway until the catch springs open.

We still have frogs coming through, though I have no idea where they spawn. Yesterday there were two dead frogs, one on the decking, one on the lawn. Both were adult and looked to have been in healthy condition. The were no marks on one of the bodies, but the other had clearly been killed quite recently by a bite to the throat. As there were no signs of anything snacking, my guess is it was a cat that did the deed.

Finally, the Katy and Cox's Orange Red apple trees continue to thrive (last year the weight of apples was almost too much for the young branches). The greengage and plum trees that went in last year both died and have been replaced--the replacements are doing very well. The damsons in the front garden are establishing themselves and are clearly fruiting. Leaf-curl aphids did some damage but that is more of an unsightliness issue I think, and it looks good for future years. Mind you, last year, something was eating fruits in the night straight off the branches, leaving the stones behind: probably a fox, maybe a squirrel.