Thursday, 26 May 2016

Totally cuckoo

Black-billed Cuckoo - a dream bird!
Read further down for more
(All cuckoo photos by kind permission of Stu Piner)
22nd May

Another big day planned in the veg garden today. First job was to finish the structure for the peas to clamber up. It's taken ages to construct but it's worth it. One of Sue's willow dragonflies tops it off nicely. I'm growing Champion of England, an old-fashioned tall pea (they've gone out of fashion as they crop over a long period and cannot be harvested mechanically. I've sowed late in the hope that the flowers avoid the emergence of the pea moth.

I've planted a Squash Uchiki Kiri to climb up with the peas. Once they've been harvested it'll add some interest and have the structure to itself.

Next I planted the Minipop Sweetcorn plants which have been raised in the polytunnel. It should be warm enough for them outside now. There'll be no trouble with them cross-pollenating the maincrop sweetcorn as these are harvested as baby corns before pollination occurs. Again I've underplanted some Butternut Squash which will provide some ground cover and occupy the ground once the corn comes out.

While I was doing this, Sue was busy harvesting. We currently have a steady supply of mangetout, asparagus, rhubarb and new potatoes, as well as coriander and strawberries.

It was nice to hear the first farm cuckoo this year too, but warblers seem scarce on the ground so I'm not sure it will find a victim. Apparently each individual cuckoo is adapted to parasitise one species.

Evening crept up quickly today and before I knew it the clock had moved on to 6pm.

It was shortly after that I received a phone call. "There's a Black-billed Cuckoo on North Uist."

Here we go again!!!!

23rd May
So last night was somewhat overtaken by arrangements to travel for the cuckoo. To catch the morning ferry from Uig (Isle of Skye, 570 miles!) I needed to leave by 9.30pm. I had booked my car and myself onto the boat for the princely sum of £36.10 but plans had already changed. A friend had arranged a small charter boat back off the island so that we didn't need to stay an extra night.

A quick word about Black-billed Cuckoo. It's one of those birds which, at the age of almost 50, I thought I may never see. It comes from America. There was one last year for all of about five minutes on one of the Orkney Isles. Before that you have to go back 24 years to one which ended a bit of a run in the 1980s when there were 6 birds, an incredible 4 turning up in 1982.
But there's more to it than that, much more. For Black-billed Cuckoo has obtained quite a reputation for dropping dead shortly after arriving in Britain. There has long been a theory, birders' urban myth or not, that the caterpillars they find to eat here are toxic to them. Anyway, whatever the cause of their demise, even back in the 1980s you had to be pretty much in the right place at the right time to catch up with a BBC. Many of the old time birders were, though, when birds turned up with some regularity on The Scillies, albeit usually on their last legs clinging to branches droopy-winged and lazy-eyed. (The cuckoos, not the old birders, though that description may fit some of them!)
Today's bird seemed healthy enough though. It was in fact the first ever spring bird on this side of the Atlantic, which meant there was a chance that this one might just not live up to its predecessors' reputation.

And so the long drive to Uig began, va Middlesbrough and Sunderland to pick up a crew of young birders who weren't even alive when the birds turned up in the 80s! Fortunately it wasn't dark for long as we headed North which made the overnight drive easier.

As we headed through the amazing scenery of The Highlands I picked up the news we'd been hoping for on the internet. The Black-billed Cuckoo was still present, alive and well, at 6.24am. I drove faster, despite the fact it would make absolutely no difference to what time the ferry left. We passed several other birders' cars on the way.

The ferry across to Lochmaddy was uneventful, a chance to grab a breakfast and catch up with an hour or so of sleep. Down the gangplank at the other end and we sought out our taxis! Time had passed and it was now getting on for midday. We knew the bird was still there late morning, but there was still the possibility that it would strike us a cruel blow, either dropping dead or healthily flying off.

The taxi to the site seemed like the slowest ever, made worse by the single-track road and a mobile home that didn't know the purpose of passing places.

As we pulled up in the tiny hamlet of Knockintorran there were already maybe 30 birders present, mostly those who'd taken the more expensive charter plane option, though we were completely out-twitched by one team who'd worked out the ferry timetable better than us and arrived a good couple of hours earlier.

Scopes and binoculars were pointing and friends quickly put us onto the bird which was perched on a fence at the back of a garden. The bird was clearly bright and active, moving between bushes and regularly catching large caterpillars. I felt joy, relief and awe all at once.

We could now relax and enjoy the bird in such a wonderful setting. The bird regularly flew between gardens but was always quickly refound, if occasionally disappearing into bushes. It didn't take too long to get great views.

And so, after a very pleasant few hours, we headed back to Lochmaddy ferry terminal. But we weren't headed for the ferry as the next one was tomorrow morning.

Instead a small boat had come over from Uig to pick us up, one usually used for puffin watching on the Shiant Islands. We quickly assigned the inside as the drivers' lounge, a place to catch another hour or so sleep. The crossing was delightfully smooth and we were reunited with our car by 6.30pm.

The long drive home began, via Kyle of Lochalsh for Fish and Chips (I thought it best not to go for battered pizza - a Scottish health speciality I assume).
I managed to get the youngsters back to their beds in the Northeast by 3am, but the 3 hours further south back to The Fens had me beat. I got a long way but finally had to pull into a services for an hour's sleep - my third power nap in two nights.
By 6.30 I was on the road back home. Quite a contrast to where I'd just come from.

Back to life in the slow lane!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

In between Unst and Uist

Finally back from Unst, Shetland, two days after seeing the Green Warbler
I missed basket weaving at the weekend but
Sue made this lovely fish to hang over the veg patch pond.
You can see too the reflection of one of the
willow dragonflies she made.
17th May
Mangetout picked again. Growing it in the polytunnel has been brilliant. We get a basket full every other day. I've underplanted it with sweetcorn and squash now, so once those get bigger it'll be whipped out just in time to continue harvesting from the outdoor plants.

I separated the last two lambs from their mums this morning. Weaning the lambs is a big step for them but they all seem to be doing ok on their own, there's just quite a lot of loud bleating at the moment! The one looking up at the camera is Rameses. He's given up asking us for his bottle feed now.

Finally we have a third gosling. I don't get goose nest sitting strategy. Unlike other birds, they seem to lay in each others' nests, all sit on each others' eggs, sometimes two on one nest and the eggs seem to hatch one at a time and very unpredictably. I did find one egg rolled away from the nest which had a full grown chick inside. There always seems to be a major issue for goslings cracking their way out.

18th May
I don't often moan, but today was a really crappy day. Work things. Best forgotten about. Maybe if the government set an example and valued teachers (not to mention doctors, nurses...) then parents might too. At least I've got things like this to come home to.

and this...

19th May
Lawns mowed, flower mixes sown.
The hen we put on ten chicken eggs a while back has done a hopeless job of sitting. Today I found her with yolk on her feathers and when I looked in the broody coop there are now only five eggs! What's more, they seem to have rolled all over the place so I'll be surprised if we get any hatch at all.
We'll start collecting the Ixworth eggs and try out the new incubator we bought a while back. It's more intensive for us but should give a bit better result.
20th May
I really struggle to grow sunflowers. Occasionally they spring up randomly round the garden, which I like, but when I sow them straight in the ground they either don't germinate or get eaten before they get a chance to get going. So instead I plant them in modules and plant them out when they're about a foot tall. I planted some at the back end of last week in amongst the mangel wurzels, where I also planted my sweetcorn today. But something ate most of them! To be honest, I suspect the peacock, as I know last year I had to protect my sweetcorn plants from the girl.
Anyway, it's a slower process but I've put tree protectors round the sunflowers and then netted the whole bed until everything gets growing really well.

On a different note, I'm pretty sure we have Ash dieback on the farm. It'll hopefully take a long time to impact on the old trees but some of the young saplings have completely died. Others though, are shooting healthy branches from the base again, so we'll see what happens with that one. I'm currently planting lots of quick growing trees and shrubs such as elder and willow as well as allowing hawthorns to self seed.

21st May
Sue was busy with her bees most of the day. She had to check if the rape honey they've collected had begun to set, as if you leave it too long it turns concrete. In the afternoon she attended another of the West Norfolk group's excellent training courses.
I meantime had a big day in the veg garden, only interrupted several times by the odd one of Sue's angry bees. Mostly I just got pestered but I did endure one sting to the head. I knew this one was going to sting by the buzzing which was more than just inquisitive. Hopefully next month Sue will be able to change the queens and passify the buy little Amazonians!

Back to the veg. I sowed all my climbing beans in pots - Borlotti, Armstrong, Gigantes, Kentucky Wonder Wax, Cobra and Pea Bean. I prefer climbing beans as they use vertical space and give form to the garden. They are also easier to pick, don't hang on the ground getting dirty and chewed by slugs, and crop over a longer period. They also dry better at the end of the season.

My carrot bed had completely disappeared beneath emerging marigold seedlings! But once I did some careful hoeing, there was actually a visible line of carrots and one of spring onions. Carrots seem to be extremely unpredictable so ay crop will be deemed a success. I've got them growing in a fleece frame this year so hopefully I'll get to enjoy my crop rather than simple feeding carrot fly larvae. The unpredictability of carrots is summed up by the fact that the line of Atomic Red I planted outside seem to have failed yet in the polytunnel the same seeds have all come through. It can't be that conditions outside are terrible as the other variety has come well. I just don't understand it.
Anyway, I have optimistically sowed more line of carrots and more lettuces to keep the succession going.

While I had the hoe out I uncovered the turnip and kohl rabi bed. It is apparent that all the seedling have been munched by flea beetles. The two plants which had got past them I decided to hoe up so I could start over. Maybe sowing later will have better luck, but just in case I'm sowing I modules tto so I can transplant when the plants are large enough to outgrow the chewing little insects.
I've also interplanted the rows with tagetes seedlings (French marigolds) as this has worked in the past. These pretty flowers smell strongly and are avoided by most creepy crawlies. Unfortunately they are tender, so I raise trays of them in the polytunnel to plant out about now when we should be frost free. This does mean that they can't protect early sowings though.

And lastly, I've taken my first harvest of new potatoes from the polytunnel. Here is the product of just one plant in the basket I made last week. They're not as small as they look - it's a big basket!

We literally stopped using the stored potatoes last week - they have started to soften and to sprout a lot. This means that our potatoes now last us right through the year.

Coming next: Going Completely Cuckoo on North Uist

Friday, 20 May 2016

Chasing Crazy Birds - A Pelican, A Green Warbler and A Bearded Vulture.

10th May
4.30am Lands End car park
As the first hint of light creeps into the morning sky, it becomes obvious that the furthest south-west peninsula of Britain is shrouded in a thick mist. There are several other vehicles in the car park. I grab a short power nap after the overnight drive.

I've been awake for a few hours now. The weather hasn't improved much but it is now properly light. I have at least seen a Serin feeding on the ground, a bird which I have only seen a handful of times in this country.
Neil and I decide to check elsewhere, for the Dalmatian Pelican has not appeared in the sky. It was last seen heading this way at 6.30pm yesterday evening.

Neil and I have unsuccessfully checked the pools at Skewjack - they are quite simply inaccessible. If the Pelican is sitting on there, it could stay there all day. There is certainly nothing about the weather to encourage it into the air. This is frustrating.
We've now headed over to Sennen and are just about to walk a track in search of Brew Pool. Yesterday the pelican spent most of the afternoon searching for somewhere to settle, moving between tiny inadequate pools, occasionally even just flopping down into fields. Brew Pool was one of the places it had visited and, being unviewable from any road, we felt it was worth a try.
Then a phone call. The Dalmatian Pelican's at Marazion Marsh!
A quick dash back to the car and we were heading off in a whacky races convoy back towards Penzance. There was a buzz in the air, but it quickly subsided when it became apparent the bird was not actually sitting on the marsh but had been reported flying over it and heading east. General consensus was to head past Penzance towards Helston in the hope that the expanse of water known as Looe Pool might have attracted it.
It's not easy to drive fast through the narrow roads of Cornwall, though we did our best, but with each snippet of further information it was becoming apparent that the 9.56am news was old and slightly questionable. The Marazion flyover had been some 45 minutes before that message.
In a fit of desperate optimism we plonked ourselves on the low cliffs near Helston, just hoping that the bird may have rested on the sea and would possibly soar past.

DALMATIAN PELICAN again over Lands End.
We had moved on dodgy news and the gamble had not paid off. All those who had sat still were now watching the bird. The drive all the way back through Penzance and out onto the peninsula was frustrating and just a little bit scary (and I was the one driving!). All the while we were receiving updates that the pelican was still soaring in the air.
Eventually we pulled up just outside the small village of Sennen -where we had been at 9.56am - only to be told the bird had just disappeared from view.
More hair-raising driving down narrow country lanes in pursuit. Back to the area we had been checking this morning. Nothing. 10 minutes. Still nothing. This was incredibly frustrating. Then the call. "COMING THIS WAY". I scanned the sky and it didn't take long to see the target bird. It was the size of a flying boat!
Photo nabbed from Facebook. Alan Whitehead, I hope you don't mind! Fantastic photo.
It soared right over us before disappearing a couple of times, each time only to come back over our heads. It really was a monster of a bird, eclipsing the local gulls and buzzards.
By the time we left there were maybe 20+ car loads of birders all relieved to have finally caught up with this potential first for Britain and celebrating. It was good to catch up with friends, some who I'd not seen for a good couple of years.

There was just time to drop in on a dapper Woodchat Shrike back at Marazion Marsh (cruelly ignored by us on our first fleeting visit) before embarking on the long drive back to Lincolnshire. 870 miles later I pulled back onto the farm. Nice to be home.

(ed. The tale of the pelican is not finished yet. It turns out that a park in France keeps them and that individuals from there have been tracked as far as Poland. So whether this bird is wild or not we will maybe never know. It probably won't end up as my 507th tick as the committee which decides these things is pretty conservative in its judgements. Not to worry. It was still an amazing bird to see and it certainly felt like the best kind of twitch - overnight drive, no sign, whacky races along country lanes and eventual relief and euphoria. There's not been much to excite us twitching-wise this year.)

11th May
A gentle day of recovery after yesterday's exertions. Elvis has hatched ten little ducklings. I moved them from the high-rise coop as I thought they may not make it back up the ramp, but incredibly they squeezed through the bars of the run I put them in. I looked up and they were all waddling around outside with Elvis bemused on the inside. A few quick alterations soon fixed the problem.

By contrast, the hen who was sitting on ten Ixworth eggs has only managed to have one healthy youngster. Another two chicks were dead in the nest, a couple of the eggs had just failed to hatch, though fully developed inside, a couple had been fertile but stopped growing early on and one was completely rancid inside. Don't ask me how I know - cracking open unhatched eggs is never a nice job.

Meanwhile, Rameses has gone down to one bottle feed a day in preparation for weaning. When I go down to the field I shout his name and he comes running over. He is making very good friends with the dogs. Boris is scared of him but Arthur loves to play.

12th May
On my way to feed the chickens I spotted a Short-eared Owl perched up on one of the wooden posts near the bottom of the sheep field. I only had my phone with me but it allowed me to approach incredibly close. I've had several sightings recently. Could it be that they are breeding somewhere in the area?

13th May
The polytunnel is officially full. There are baby plants everywhere. I've been itching to get the tomato plants into the ground (not the outside ones, the polytunnel ones) but you're supposed to wait for the first flowers. Well, I just about managed to spot the first developing flowers on one of my little plants and that was enough. Tomatoes, basil, sweetcorn, minipop sweetcorn and celeriac all duly moved into the polytunnel beds. In my experience, once plants have a free root run they generally flourish.

14th May
Dentist!!! Not too bad in the end. My phobia is getting better.
Morrisons - a rare trip to the supermarket, interrupted by news that a Greenish Warbler on Shetland may actually be a Green Warbler. More on this later, but it has me distracted from the shopping and instead tapping away on my phone looking for news and how to get there.
FOX! In the garden. Not good news. I let the dogs out and make lots of news. Much as I like foxes and think they're amazing animals, they're not welcome round here. This may well have been the one that killed Terry the Turkey. I put the geese and goslings away for the afternoon and made sure the door to the turkey stable was closed over.

Something's eaten my cauliflower seedlings too, despite the fortress defences. I suspect either a rabbit has pushed under the netting or invaders from underground (slugs).
I check under the cabbage collars to find half of them sheltering slugs. I liberally sprinkle some organic slug pellets and secure the netting with more pegs just in case.
Next year I think I'll need to grow my brassicas in an underground concrete bunker with artificial lights, razor wire and an intruder alert system. There seems to be no way of protecting them from everything that wants to eat them.

Meanwhile, news on the Green Warbler has firmed up. There are no planes available (at a reasonable price) and Shetland is a long, long way. I give up on the bird and spend the rest of the day in a resigned tetchy mood.
15th - 17th May
At 1 o'clock in the morning I crumbled and booked two flights from Edinburgh airport to Sumburgh. I had six and a half hours to get there. I would be picking up Sam from his digs in Newcastle along the way.
The Tyne Bridge at 4.50am
A word about Green Warbler. The capital G is important, for that indicates it's a species and not just a warbler that's green! Though it mostly is! It's pretty much like a Greenish Warbler, but those 3 letters missing off the end mean that instead of being a scarce migrant visiting this country's migration hotspots a handful of times every year, it is instead a MEGA which has only occurred once before in 1980something, before Sam was born and before I was twitching.These missing three letters were what had me desperately phoning around late evening. I'd pretty much given up on getting to see the bird. Charters were prohibitively expensive and impossible to get on and the Aberdeen flight was not at a good time of day. There was however an Edinburgh flight but the return fare was a Flybe special £466!!! There was a cheaper way back, the ferry to Aberdeen for just £34 (but taking over 13 hours). But we were flying from Edinburgh. One word on a Facebook group made my mind up (thanks Dan). Train.
So a plan was hatched to fly from Edinburgh, get a lift up through Shetland with two other mad souls (thanks Adrian and Paul) and to return on the ferry before catching a train back to the car in Edinburgh. It was going to be an epic twitch! 

As we sat in Edinburgh airport we received the dreaded pager message NO SIGN OF GREEN WARBLER. Too late now. We were going. Besides, Unst is the most northerly of the British Isles and there wouldn't be many people looking. This Green Warbler had been a bugger to locate on previous days, so there was still hope, slim hope.

On our way!
As we came in to land our glumness turned to optimism as news came in that the bird was still present. News also came in that the ferry over to Unst had broken down!!!! Could it be that after travelling the best part of 700 miles we would finally be scuppered just 8 miles and one short ferry crossing short?
We continued North. The hour and a half wait for the first ferry seemed interminable, but at least we had otters to watch and Sam was chasing after Arctic Terns and Zetlandicus Starlings - he'd never been to Shetland before.
It was while we were waiting for this ferry that we heard the second ferry was now fixed, at least enough to limp back and forth for the rest of the day.

As you can see, we made it to the ferry onto Unst. Not only that, but we made it to the Setters Hill Estate where we saw this green warbler, or should that be GREEN WARBLER.

Green Warbler. photo courtesy of Sam Viles.

The story is not quite finished though. For, as we waited for that first ferry, news filtered through of a Lammergeir (aka Bearded Vulture) being videoed by a non birder last Thursday. This was an outrageous record but seemed perfectly genuine. This was on a par with the Yellow-nosed Albatross which crossed the country a few years back without being seen by a single birder.

We put it to the back of our minds.

... until 12.57 on Monday afternoon. Sam and I were wasting away the day watching daytime TV in our Lerwick hostel when news of the Lammergeier came through again, this time in capitals. LAMMERGEIER! Dartmoor. 11.35am.

Shetland with no car was not a great place to be! We could be there by about 7 tomorrow evening if we hurried.

Despite the efforts of many birders that day and the next, the Lammergeier was only reliably seen once more by just one birder. Other reports came from non-birders seizing on the news. Several referred to a drone which was being used in the area. One confident report came from Derbyshire not long after the Dartmoor sighting!

And so we boarded the ferry at 4.30pm bound for Aberdeen. We passed Fair Isle (The Isle of birding dreams) late evening before crashing for the night on the seats in the restaurant.

At 7 in the morning the huge ferry was inching in to Aberdeen docks. We had been offered a lift back to our car by another birder and his wife who had twitched up the slow way for the Green Warbler.

Talk on the journey home centred mainly around the Lammergeier, which was probably born to parents which were possibly part of the reintroduction scheme in The Alps.
Even if we could somehow get to see it, would the committee let us have it as a tick? Doubtful. It's the pelican all over again.
I'll still go to see it though.

ed. Friday 20th May. The Lammergeier has been seen again this morning, about 20 miles north of Dartmoor. It's going to be impossible to twitch.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Rhubarb, Broodies, Basket-making and Twitching... and more

7th May

Rhubarb. Rhubarb. Rhubarb.... Today Sue picked 14kg of Rhubarb and set about turning it into leather, ice-cream and stewed rhubarb. The rest she froze. Rhubarb is another of those crops which is ridiculously easy to grow but ridiculously expensive to buy. If you ignore the freezer, it is highly seasonal, which makes it special when it comes around each year.

While Sue was doing that, I was undertaking a bit of DIY.
Every time a hen goes broody we have been putting eggs under her, either Ixworth chicken eggs (for meat birds eventually) or Muscovy ducks (again for meat).
The trouble is that we are running out of homes to place the young families. With this in mind I responded to a Facebook advert for a broody box - basically a small hen house with a simple run. When I went to collect it, I was able to get two at a discount price.
However, they weren't wonderfully built. But they did give me a useful starting point and I spend today pretty much dismantling and reassembling them, adding small design features to make them more functional.

As with all jobs, this took longer than expected, but I was pretty happy with the end result. As one of our hens hadn't moved out of the chicken house for two days, we immediately moved her into one of the nest boxes on top of ten Ixworth eggs and closed the door to allow her to settle down.

I then embarked on another job, to weed and rotavate the flower beds in preparation for sowing the annual mixes. I knew that a few nettles had crept in over winter, but as long as these don't establish a deep root system they are easily pulled out. What I hadn't bargained for was the encroachment of creeping buttercups. These have a compact root system which clings onto the soil with a vice-like grip, meaning they have to be individually dug up. A couple of hours later or more I was eventualy finished. It had turned into a very physical job but I'm sure it will be worth it when the beds are a riot of colour.

Other things that happened today, in no particular order:

Another day of hot weather and the strawberries will be ready.
Time to plant up the shop-bought
lemon grass. The roots have developed nicely.
Basket making homework
before our session tomorrow
Growing early mangetout in the poltunnel is paying handsome dividends
8th May

The day started very early as I aimed to be at Gibraltar Point (near Skegness) by sunrise to see an Alpine Accentor. These birds are very rare in Britain and the only one I've seen here was over ten years ago. So with news the evening before of one poking about on a feeder just an hour's drive away, I set the alarm for early. Unfortunately the bird didn't play ball, vanishing overnight, but it was good to see so many of my birding friends there.
The day warmed up nicely and by the time I rolled up back on the farm the temperature had soared into the high 20's (high 70s for the oldies out there)

I couldn't hang around though, for I was due back at the Green Backyard in Peterborough for the second of my basket-making sessions. Everyone was impressed with my homework and I continued weaving until I was ready to put a rim on. An unexpected bonus was a handle - I had presumed it would be too complicated.
I also got to bring home quite a few long willow cuttings so that I can grow more of my own basketry willow. I've put them in the water butt with the other willows which have well and truly rooted. The hormones from the others should help my new ones to root.

There was still time at the end of the day to get most of the lawns mowed... again. A brief rest to chat to our neighbour Don was interrupted when we spotted a Short-eared Owl quartering the farm. Don told me that he had seen two together recently. It is getting late in the year for them to be migrating, so with a bit of luck they will become a regular sight.

That wasn't it for wildlife today. For when I let the dogs out just before their bedtime, there just outside the patio door was a spiky visitor. The dogs just sniffed at it and wandered off. It's only the second hedgehog I've seen on the farm. The first was caught in a rabbit trap (and safely released) last year.

9th May
At midnight last night I picked up reports of a pelican in Cornwall. It had initially been identified as a White Pelican, a sure escape so of no particular interest to the twitching fraternity. But the midnight message had a photo of a Dalmatian Pelican - a potential wild vagrant to this country. It had been seen in three different places on the sea. I resisted the temptation to head down overnight. A seven hour drive for a bird which could be anywhere off Cornwall is the sort of crazy manoeuvre I used to pull but I now take a (slightly) more balanced approach.

I awoke late with a very thick head. Pager news. The pelican just flew over Lands End! All that stopped me going was the thick head. I went out into the veg plot and tried to forget about the pelican. It was another very hot day. I had planned to sow seeds ahead of forecast rain, but the soil was very dry and lumpy so I decided to delay. Everything needed water so I set about the task of topping up all the poultry drinkers, duck pools, sheep buckets... when... the pager started wailing. That PELICAN. Some great detective work had identified it as the same bird which had been in Poland the previous month. This bird certainly hadn't just hopped out of some Cornish zoo. Should I go now? I wouldn't arrive till late in the day and the bird hadn't exactly been pinned down to one place. I reluctantly decided to stay put, but changed my plans for the rest of the day. Nothing too strenuous, for an overnight drive to Cornwall was surely in the offing.

I carried on with the watering, giving everything in the polytunnel a good drenching as it might be a couple of days before it got watered again.

Sometime during the afternoon I looked in on Elvis, for this was the first due date for the eggs she had been sitting on, and this is what I saw.

Yes. I know it's got a strange bill for a chicken. Elvis has been sitting on Muscovy duck eggs! It's not the first time she has hatched out ducklings and she doesn't seen quite so surprised this time.

At 8 in the evening I headed off to Sandy, Bedfordshire, to pick up a birding friend before embarking on the trip to Cornwall...

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