Sunday, 26 February 2012

A tale of a fox, some geese and a moorhen.

Sunday 26th February 2012
An absolutely gorgeous morning 
Wild Geese and a Fox
Sunrise brought a still, clear morning with just a hint of a winter chill still in the air. Skylarks were already blasting out their song over the fields. More gulls than usual were flying low over the farm from The Wash. As I headed towards the chickens two geese flew over. Flying away and into the sun, they were giving just a muffled call. I was fairly sure they were Greylags, but was keen to get better views to check. In over a year I've only had one greylag fly over the farm, compared to two White-fronted Geese, so whatever these grey geese turned out to be, they were unusual. I hurriedly finished my morning tasks and went for a stroll to the end of the land, scope flung over shoulder, to scan the fields. Partridges, Red-legged, were everywhere, as were hares. Then what should I see but this.
Look carefully and you will see what for me was a farm first. Only a distant relative of the urban foxes I used to hand feed in London, this creature was more majestic, bushier tailed, and certainly more wary. It raced across the fields, paused to stare at me, then continued when I clapped and took a few steps towards it, despite it's considerable distance from me. The fox appeared to disappear into the dyke further along. Much as I admire foxes, I am now a chicken keeper and do not intend to encourage them. Extra vigilance will be required from now on. Hopefully it will prefer rabbit to chicken!

As I scanned further I could see that the two geese had landed on the river bank over by Coy Bridge, where the swan herd hangs out. I drove round to get better views. They were indeed Greylags, thought they didn't stay long before moving on. Two Goosanders flew over too and there were 14 Tufted Ducks on the Main Drain. Also with the swans for the last week has been a grubby white mongrel goose.

A Giggle Grabbing a Gaggle of Geese
The appearance of the Greylags was quite a coincidence given that today was the appointed day to go and collect our five new geese for the farm.Before we coold make the short journey to collect them, I had first to put the finishing touches to the stock fence and prepare drinking and bathing facilities for them.

We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. All we knew was that the geese were 'tame' and had wandered along the road into our friends' garden about a month ago. All their efforts to trace the owners had failed. We had no plan for catching them or for getting them home. More importantly, no one involved had any experience of handling geese. My internet research had stated that this should only be attempted by those with experience! But Don had advised me to go for the neck with one hand and to hold the wings with the other. I had a felling that this was making it sound more straightforward than it actually would be in reality.
On arrival, one of said geese was being fed bread from the hand. The geese appear to be Embden types, classic stately farmyard geese. We have no idea what sex they are - there seem to be various methods advised for this, all very subjective and none definitive apart from examining their most private parts. I'll wait and see which lay eggs! If they turn out to all be males, well at least we shall have a luxurious Xmas dinner to look forward to.
Unsurprisingly, the wallpaper table which was on hand to provide an alluring ramp did not serve its purpose. That would have been far too easy. Once the first got an inkling of what we were up to, there ensued a comical chase around the garden pond until the five white beasts were herded into a corner near the cars. I took the plunge and grabbed one gently by the neck. Success. I was surprised at how soft and light it was, and at how little struggle it put up. I put it into the back of the estate car, where it flapped and protested, took a seat in the drivers seat (oh how I wish I'd taken my camera) and crapped all over the seat and the handbrake - something that geese do a lot of, and take it from me you don't want to be in an enclosed vehicle with five of them for very long!

It was not long before we had two in, and after improvising a way of keeping them out of the front seat, the last three were captured and loaded. Following my example, others grew the courage to handle the geese too. Once in the car they were surprisingly settled, though corners had to be taken very slowly on the way back. They were clearly not accustomed to travelling in the back of a car! 

When we got back, I reversed the car into the paddock where they will live, flung open the boot and there they stayed.
After a little coaxing, one led the way out and the others followed.

They quickly settled in to their new surroundings.

First contact with the guineafowl.
Stubborn Sow
I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to move Daisy into her new quarters. She has been exceedingly tetchy of late. Hormones. Yesterday Sue tried in vain to give her an injection. It's not going to happen. Today she just kept moving behind Gerald for protection whenever I tried to usher her out of the door. When she did follow the bucket of food, she stood firm at the threshold and would not cross. Eventually, I laid a trail of food and Gerald slowly snuffled his way into the new quarters. So, pigs separated, but both in the wrong place! After well over an hour Daisy followed, so for now they are both together again. Plan B is to leave them to settle, then to persuade Gerald to move back to the old quarters tomorrow and shut the door before Daisy decides to follow.

Tomorrow...Plan B

Now my attention was turned back to the geese. I plan to shut them away at night, even more important now that I know there is a fox about. So far they have proved amazingly  easy to manage. It was easy to single-handedly herd them into the stables.

Here their forced close proximity seemed to bring all the petty squabbles of their past to a head. One seemed to be getting a bit of a pasting. I've learned that the best thing to do is to keep a discreet eye in case things get too serious, but overall it's best just to step away and let them sort things out.

A Farm Tick. Number 97.
Quite a day it was then. But it wasn't finished yet. As I took a stroll down the land with Sue, we spotted the barn owl hunting along the dykes. I saw three swans flying over the fields and joked that the geese might see them and fly up to join them. As I watched them through my binoculars, a moorhen appeared trailing it legs, flying maybe 10 feet low over the ground before disappearing into the dyke. It's taken me over a year to spot one of these from the farm, even though I know they're there, lurking in the dykes and along South Holland Main Drain. Number 97 for the farm list. 100 is now in sight. Maybe even this spring.

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