Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Pruned Plums and a Purple Chicken

30th July 2016
My Plums Are Pruned
I finally got my plums pruned! It doesn't look like a good year for orchard fruits though. The spring rains saw to that.
With a little bit of rain in the mix this last few days, the soil is perfect for weeding, so I spent most of the day just generally tidying up the veg beds. It gave me a chance to check on the progress of all my crops and to kill a few giant slugs!
Signs of autumn
Migrant birds seem to like the hedge that borders the veg patch and today saw the first returning migrants of the autumn (yes, I've used that word, AUTUMN!) A blackcap was tacking and a smart young Chiffchaff was getting chased all over the place by one of our resident robins, talking of which, look what I found today when I took a basket down from the stable wall to do some harvesting, so someone's not yet ready for autumn. I carefully put the basket back and will enjoy watching the robin rear its young.

The rape stubble in the field next door is proving rather attractive to birds at the moment. A small flock of starlings has moved in and I counted 73 Lapwings too.

31st July
Purple Chicken interrupts proceedings
I harvested more shallots today and the last of the early beetroots. Some had bolted and were much appreciated by the chickens.
Sue is going to pickle them for me. For some odd reason beetroots are the only thing I actually like pickled.

Major job for the day was mowing. I collected the grass today rather than spitting it back out - the compost heaps need some green stuff to get them going. I have 8 compost heaps and they are all full to bursting at the moment.
So I spent a very satisfying couple of hours whizzing around everywhere, oblivious to the rest of the world. It was late afternoon when I finally ran out of petrol and decided to take a little break before finishing the job.

I looked at my phone and saw a tweet with the hashtag #purpleswamphentwitch. I then noticed 20 messages!
I grabbed my bins and scope, had a mad search for my wallet and jumped in the car still in my grassy old gardening clothes. I set the SatNav for Minsmere RSPB and began the arduous cross country drive to the Suffolk coast. I should get there by 7 which would give a good couple of hours light to see the bird.

Purple Swamphen used to be called Purple Gallinule. I prefer the new name. It is also known as Purple Swamp Chicken, which is an even better name. It is basically a monster-sized moorhen, a purple-blue chicken with a stonking bright red bill, a red iris and bright red legs ending in ridiculously ginormous red feet! It spends most of its time wandering along the edge of reedbeds, often just inside the reeds, looking for tasty bits of old reed stem to eat. When it finds a good bit, it grips it between its toes and bites off chunks with its secateur mandibles.

There have been Purple Swamphens in this country before, but they have virtually all been of one of the more exotic eastern races and judged to have escaped from captivity. But today's bird was of the Western race, which breeds in Spain and Southern France. Add to that the fact that several this year have ended up far north of their breeding range, including Britanny which currently has its first record (presumably wild) and this Minsmere bird looks like it might be the real deal.
Purple Swamphens are a dispersive species, which means that individuals will wander quite widely if their pools dry up or after breeding.
It was good to catch up with many old friends at this evening's twitch.

And so it was that I found myself joining a crowd of over a hundred twitchers, peering through gaps in reeds waiting for the bird to make an appearance. It had walked out of view and I had a tense half hour wait before it came back along the reedy edge. First views were of its white undertail flicking up and down, then its gaudy red legs and bill. Finally the whole bird. What a monster!
I watched it for the next hour, until it flew across the pool and out of sight, those long legs and ginormous feet dangling as it did so.

I pulled back onto the farm at just gone 11 o'clock.
Hopefully the forecast rain will hold off for long enough tomorrow for me to finish the mowing.

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