Friday, 23 September 2016

A Couple of Whinchats, A Corncrake and a Parakeet

18th September 2016
An Afternoon in Norfolk
For the last couple of days easterly winds from Scandinavia have been blocked from reaching the east coast by a strong north-westerly airflow. I felt that this would result in birds being blown onto the North Norfolk coast, but the windy conditions would make seeing any birds very difficult. So I resolved to wait till Sunday afternoon to hit the coast in the hope that all the exhausted birds would be hopping about in the calm, sunny weather.

Once this idiot (there's always one who has to stand closer
than everyone else) left, the birds started coming to the
front of the bush.
I started at Salthouse where a small clump of willows held a surprising number of birds, including a Red-breasted Flycatcher. Not particularly rare, but I only see one or two of these a year so they are always nice to catch up with. The crowds were out in Norfolk today but I had a nice chat to a couple of novice birders for whom this bird was a first. They were from near where I used to live in London and we discussed the raucous parakeets which have taken over that area. The flycatcher took a bit of patience, giving just brief views mostly inside the bush, but after about 40 minutes it came and sat right out in the open for a minute or so, giving everybody a great chance to study every single detail.
As we came away from the bird we had fantastic views of a Hobby hunting Swallows just over one of the gardens in Salthouse.
The flycatcher had been found by somebody else the previous day, but I really wanted to get to a quieter spot to try to find my own birds. So I headed to Stiffkey, one of the few spots on the coast where you don't have to part with an arm and a leg for parking. I usually follow the path westwards, which takes me along the edge of the saltmarsh. There is plenty of hedgerow along here and one day I will find something very good.
But today the small strip of coastal wood to the east seemed relatively devoid of birders, so I headed along the edge of the saltmarsh with the intention of cutting up into the wood and working my way back. Near the end of the wood I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling loudly from up in the sycamores. These used to be scarce in the autumn, but so many reach our shores now that you would half expect to bump into one on the Norfolk coast in late September or October.
I cut up into the wood to try to locate the bird, but it stopped calling and seemed to move on unseen. But I lingered in the area waiting for it to reappear. As I stood quietly in the wood, suddenly a bird flew up from the long grass about 15m away from me.
My first view was of a short, fanned tail with pale feather tips. It reminded me of a snipe and Great Snipe briefly crossed my mind but that has white outer tail feathers. This would be a very rare bird to find. But then I caught reddish wings. I quickly discounted the two partridge species and pheasant poult and as the bird flew round below me I suddenly clocked that it looked like a crake! The body colouration matched corncrake!
This would be a very unlikely, though not impossible find. I have only ever seen Corncrakes on their breeding grounds in the northern isles, but they do migrate to Africa and do occasionally get flushed from the unlikeliest and most unpredictable of places.
I had only seen the bird for maybe three of four seconds but as I ran through every other possibility in my mind there really wasn't any other explanation.

I alerted a nearby birder and we walked through the general area where I thought it was heading for. However, it had flown out of view so it was a bit of a needle in a haystack. Corncrakes are famously difficult to flush, preferring to run away in the long grass or stay motionless. After about half an hour I gave up.
The only thing I was unsure about was that initial view of the fanned tail. It wasn't something I recognised. When I got home I managed to track down a photo on the internet which showed exactly the same. This was the first Corncrake I had ever seen in England and a most unexpected find.

Not the best picture
But the day was about to get curiouser. For walking back through the woods I heard a raucous screeching sound which was unmistakeable. It was the call of a Ring-necked Parakeet! I had only just been discussing them earlier in the day. It flew through the campsite and landed atop a tall conifer just long enough for me to get a record shot by putting the phone up to the telescope. It was then chased off by the local crows and jackdaws who weren't happy with this stranger. This was the first time I had seen this bird in Norfolk.
It really was a day of surprises.

19th September 2016
Farm tick 108!

My streak of birding good luck continued today.

The carpenters were supposed to come and finish off the Velux window early today, but by 8:45 they were 45 minutes late. I rang to be told they had gone to another job first. Nice to know. Somebody did turn up, but it turned out to be someone come to match the bricks for the conservatory we are about to have built. I could so easily have not been in. For the sake of a courtesy phone call these people must waste an awful lot of time calling on empty houses.
By 10am I got bored waiting for the carpenters and headed down to check on the sheep and chickens. I took my binoculars with me as the sky was a bit drizzly and there was a good chance something new would have dropped into the farm.
I kept checking back towards the farmhouse in case the roofers arrived and I just happened to notice a small bird hop up onto the top of one of my young poplar trees. I assumed it to be a  Meadow Pipit, then when I raised the binoculars it was quite the wrong shape and it had a nice pale supercilium (stripe above the eye). This was a WHINCHAT, a new bird for the farm (at least new for me). My first new bird for nearly a year.

It quickly dropped down to the ground somewhere near the dyke and didn't come back up for a while. I sprinted back to the house to get the telescope and my phone so I could grab a record shot, but when I got back I could not find it. After about ten minutes I relocated it facing away from me right at the end of the land. I lined the scope up on it, but just at that moment I noticed the roofers' van driving away along the road!

Another dash back to the house to call their office, then back out to search for the whinchat. By now I was out of breath! Again no sign for about ten minutes when it just popped up right in front of me on top of the Jerusalem Artichoke stems which form a windbreak for the pumpkin patch. This time I managed to get the telescope onto the bird and I just got my phone up to the eyepiece when I heard the roofers' van pull up again!

Back to the house to make clear what work needed to be done and to offer them a cuppa before heading back out to search for the whinchat again. This time it was drizzling and after over an hour I had to give up. I did find a fresh young chiffchaff passing through as well as observing a jackdaw perched on top of one of the Shetland lambs.

The carpenters finished and I bade them farewell. They had done a very good job. I then headed out for what turned into a fantastic hour's birding on the farm. I quickly refound the whinchat before noticing that it was with another! TWO WHINCHATS!

The rest of the farm was alive with birds too. The canopies of the old ash trees were jumping with linnets, chaffinches and goldfinches. The chaffinches were flycatching from the treetops, but then I picked up one which seemed to be remarkably proficient at this activity. I managed to glimpse it through a gap in the leaves and the bill I saw was not that of a chaffinch, but of a flycatcher! It turned out to be a Spotted Flycatcher, only the third I've seen on the farm. With that, I lost it. Lower down in the ash trees a pair of goldcrests were flitting and picking along the branches. Clearly these birds were ditching in the garden to avoid the drizzle. In the flower borders a couple of chiffchaffs were manically feeding up.
I wanted to carry on birding for the rest of the day, but unfortunately the drizzle just got heavier and heavier and the birds took cover. The rain continued until dark.

It's been a great couple of days of birding with a day on the Norfolk coast and a day on the farm. I'll be up early tomorrow to see what else is out there, but I wouldn't say no to a trip to the Outer Hebrides if something really good gets found!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Turkeys in a Twizzle

Frampton Marsh RSPB is turning into a very special little reserve

12th September 2016
A lovely morning spent at Frampton Marsh bird reserve.
I decided to do the long walk and explore parts of the reserve I'd not been to before. Sunflowers, cows, open skies and wading birds.
Returned to find a note that the roofer had been. It's their own fault for never bothering to communicate.

The sheep enjoyed the husks of the sweetcorn I cleared yesterday. This was the Sweetcorn Minipop which I grow for baby corns. The plants have grown way more vigorously than their relatives which produce full-size cobs. The early minicobs were impressive, but as the plants have matured they have produced woodier cobs with bigger kernels. The last of these got fed to the sheep so one way or another we'll end up eating them anyway!

Sweetcorn Minipop being cleared

13th September 2016
Temperatures soared to 30 degrees plus today. I was up early to greet the roofer.
We now have a skylight in the dining room, though it is not finished to anywhere like the standard it should be.

Turkeys in a twizzle!
The turkeys got a fright today for some of them ventured over the fence into next door's field, where they got a shock when one of the neighbours' ten dogs took an unhealthy interest in them.
I was alerted by strange alarm calls and looked up to see several turkeys flying up onto Don's shed - it's not Don's any more! I was worried that some might be on the road so opened the front gate and walked along. As I did so, one flew from the trees and crossed the road!

I continued with refurbishing and redesigning one of the chicken houses. I started it several weeks ago but then it came to a grinding halt. Necessity has spurred me into action though, as the youngest batch of chicks will be needing a house of their own in the chicken pen soon.

The freezers are down
At 11pm the electricity went off. Not all of it, so not a bulk standard power cut but a problem at our end. All of the upstairs lights and all of the sockets, including all our freezers!

14th September 2016
Texted electrician at 6.30am and problem was fixed by 9.20am
Even got into work for the afternoon.

The other good news is that all 8 turkeys are reunited.

15th September 2016

Foggy start
Warm nights bring foggy mornings. This didn't stop Arthur from making his first ever rabbit kill. He did have a slight advantage as all the rabbits seem now to have mixy. A small part of me feels sorry for them, but they are very destructive. Just one or two would be ok, but they are rather famous for multiplying rapidly. That's now one each for Boris and Arthur. At least they put the poor creatures out of their misery quickly.

16th September 2016
Stuck in work. There was good birding to be had on the east coast today, but not for me! Here's a pic of next door's ponies and sheep and another nice one of the dogs with the turkeys and geese.

17th September 2016
A flock of over a hundred linnets in the next door field today was great to see. Sizeable winter finch flocks are becoming rare as farming becomes more and more industrial and our farmland birds rapidly disappear.

A chick saved
Less good to see was that one of the baby chicks had been quite badly pecked by the others. I removed it and sorted out separate living quarters until it heals up. Chickens can be pretty vicious, but this time I think they weren't so much picking on a weak individual as being pre-programmed to peck at anything red.

Token apple harvest
A couple of the apple and pear trees have done well this year, though on the whole it has been very disappointing.
But there were enough apples on one of the trees to fill two large baskets and to spare quite a few windfalls for the sheep, who very much appreciated them.
We picked the cobnuts too. One tree had loads, one was average and two had none whatsoever. Explain that.

Monday, 12 September 2016

City dwellers invade

Saturday 10th September 2016
This weekend Charlie has come to visit. That's Charlie who came to live with us earlier this year while his owner was in New Zealand, Charlie who was responsible for Hot Cross Bun-gate, when all three dogs had to go for a very expensive trip to the vets to be put on a 24 hour drip after somebody had stolen a packet of hot cross buns. Several hours later, Arthur had started vomiting. Raisins can be highly poisonous to dogs.
Charlie has brought with him not only his owner and another adult friend, but a child and two young adults too. The farm is busier than it has ever been.
Typically, it has decided to chuck it down with rain all day, but the dogs and the city kids have still managed to get outside and meet all the animals. The youngest was heard to ask his dad "is this a real house?" Not sure what that says!

Chaos comes to the farm

Sunday 11th September 2016
Early Sunday afternoon and our visitors have departed. We managed to palm off some of the monster cucumber and tomato harvest on them and Sue's generous catering has cleared some useful space in the freezers.

Everything is very, very quiet on the farm and the dogs are sleeping after keeping the children busy.
Our sickly sheep is looking on the up.
In a moment I'm off outside to clear the sweetcorn plants and dispose of the outdoor tomatoes, which have finally succumbed to blight in this late surge of muggy September weather.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Flystrike strikes

5th - 9th September 2016
Oh the joys of going back to work.

But before that I had a bit of a surprise when the roofers turned up unexpectedly Monday morning to fit a new Velux window for us. In these modern times when there are so many instant ways to communicate, some people and organisations never cease to amaze me.
Here's the half-finished job. I'd love to show you the finished job but we're still waiting a week later!

On Thursday I came home from work and went down to check the sheep. This usually just involves counting them and making sure they are all feeding and respond when I call them. I check them every day.
But today one of the sheep was sat away from the others and did not respond. She had a thoroughly miserable look on her face. I went over to investigate and she didn't even get up. The reason soon became apparent as there were flies buzzing around her and I could quickly see large clusters of fly eggs laid in her wool. On closer inspection some of these eggs had hatched and there were colonies of small maggots on her skin. Some of her wool was wet and a couple of patches just fell away from her skin.
Although I had never experienced it before, this was unmistakably our first case of flystrike. The exceptionally warm, muggy weather had obviously contributed to this happening.

Flystrike basically occurs when a blowfly chooses to lay its eggs on a sheep. This is usually if they have laid in sheep poo or if they have a messy back end. Once the eggs hatch the maggots start eating into the skin - DISGUSTING.
The sheep very quickly indeed becomes ill and will die if not treated.

I separated the sheep from the others and gathered together dagging shears, scissors, hot water and cloths and Crovect ( a flystrike prevention application which can also be used in emergency to apply when flystrike occurs) and waited for Sue to return from work.

The affected sheep was one of the two commercials which we bought in this year. The Shetlands seem very resistant to flystrike, especially as they are kept in a very open situation, so we have not applied Crovect as standard this past two years.
We set about cutting back as much wool as we could from the affected area. As we did so we found more and more maggots, all tiny and obviously fairly newly hatched. We then washed the area down as well as we could with warm, soapy water before applying a good amount of Crovect all over.
This is a strong chemical and probably didn't make the sheep feel any better.

We then moved the sheep up to the top paddock so we could keep an eye on her and she could have some peace and quiet. She just stood, swaying from side to side, head down looking thoroughly dejected.

Sue was awake at 5 on Friday morning and got up to check on the sickly sheep. I pointed out that there was nothing more we could do now apart from wait, but she still insisted on getting up. The sheep was, in fact, looking quite a lot brighter. It had been eating grass and had taken itself into the shed. Its eyes and whole demeanour seemed much brighter.
We will keep an eye for a while yet and will treat the other sheep, but fingers crossed we caught it in time.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Fea's Conquered

1st September 2016
Autumn is officially here. Things are starting to quieten down on the smallholding, which is a good thing as the days are getting shorter and the weather is getting windier and wetter.
Unfortunately I have to go back to work, not that I don't enjoy it, just that there are always other things to be doing.
I expect my life will be regularly interrupted by birding. At least I hope it will be, for this is set to be an active hurricane season which usually brings plenty of waifs and strays from across the water.

2nd September
With the weather charts showing a fairly strong system coming into the south-west hard on the heels of constant westerly and south-westerly winds, I decided to head down to Cornwall, taking the daytime drive option. Although the drive is more tedious and it wastes valuable daylight hours, it does guarantee a half-decent night's kip before a long day sat on the side of a cliff in the face of a gale and its attendant squalls.
I picked up Dan in Bristol and we arrived in Penzance just in time to check in to the Backpackers Lodge before heading out for an evening meal in The Dolphin, the pub directly opposite the quay where the Scillonian boat sails to the magical Isles of Scilly.

3rd September 2016 - A Day for The Notebook
An early start had us all set up and staring out to sea as the sun was coming up. Seawatching is a difficult skill to acquire and takes practice. I always find myself struggling to get onto other people's birds for the first hour or so until I get my eye in again. The birds are often very distant and frequently disappear behind the waves. It is unusual that you can see enough detail using binoculars so most searching is done through a telescope. The problem with this is that the sea is a very big place with very few landmarks. When somebody else calls out a good bird it can be very difficult to locate it for yourself.
Of course if it's a really good bird then this can be frustrating. If it's a really, really good bird then it's easy to panic when you've still not found it after about 20 seconds of desperately scanning the ocean.
The technique is to slowly move the telescope across the field of view and wait until the bird appears. Move too quickly and the bird could be behind the waves as you pass by it. Move too slowly and you'll only get one chance. If it flies under your field of view you'll miss it.
Strangely enough, distant birds are easier to get onto, for they can take twenty minutes or so to travel across the viewable ocean. Also the further you look out, the more sea you are viewing, even if the birds can be very distant indeed needing an experienced eye to identify.

Worse though are the birds which pass close inshore. They often get literally overlooked. I was recently seawatching at Pendeen in Cornwall when a Red-billed Tropicbird, a monster rarity, flew along the cliffs in front of fifty people and no-one saw it. The only reason we knew about it was that somebody sat elsewhere told us about it later. Fortunately I am one of the very lucky few who have seen this species in British waters.

The sea(bird)watching was good today. Any time you are hearing calls of "Large Shear" you know it is going to be a good day, for these amazing birds are totally unphased by the weather. Whatever it throws at them they simply glide and shear effortlessly low over the waves, hardly needing to flap their wings. A strong southwesterly blow is essential to ease them closer to land as they are pelagic birds. Squalls seem to help too. I think they just choose to skirt round them which sometimes lures them closer to land than usual.
This morning was a good day for "large shear(water)s" with about fifty Cory's Shearwaters, many coming unusually close to land and affording excellent views. There were Great Shearwaters too.

But what we were really hoping for was a Fea's Petrel (to be more accurate, a Fea's-type Petrel, for there is another very similar bird which could, in theory, occur here - but that is nit-picking). With a very limited population breeding on Cape Verde, it is remarkable that the occasional bird makes it into British waters and even more rarely gets seen from land. I had seen one previously from the west coast of Ireland, where they are possible to see with a lot of persistence. I spent over twenty days seawatching before finally glimpsing one near the horizon!

But from the English mainland Fea's Petrels are even harder to catch up with. There are just a few sightings every year. The best period for them is late August.
At the beginning of this year I decided I wanted to see one from land in England. I had two options. The whackiest was to start driving north if one ever got sighted from more than one point facing the North Sea, for very irregularly a rare seabird is tracked all the way up the coast.
The other was to head down to Cornwall every time the weather looked good during the summer holidays. I reasoned that Fea's Petrels often get seen when Cory's Shearwaters are in our waters. They don't associate with them at all, but maybe move under the same conditions.

One other thing about Fea's Petrels. They have a terrible habit of passing by when everything has quietened down on the seabird front and everybody has packed up and gone home.

Come midday the rain set in. Most people left but Dan and I and one other hardy Cornish soul battled on for another couple of hours. But there is usually a late morning and early afternoon lull in seabird passage. We got absolutely drenched and the lull brought no surprises, so we eventually gave up and returned to the car to blast the heating on and try to dry out a little.
Another thing about seawatching is that it is very difficult to leave while there is anybody left looking, for it just takes one moment for some mega rare bird to fly past. At least if nobody is left you are none the wiser!

We negotiated the flooded backroads of the Cornish peninsula back to Penzance, where we headed for the beach at Marazion where a smart juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper, fresh in from America, was performing well.
The rain and the wind had eased off by now.

Dan and I are persistent little blighters. We had gone to Cornwall to seawatch in the hope of striking lucky, maybe with a Fea's Petrel, maybe with something even rarer. It wouldn't matter if we didn't see anything in this league, for it is not often we get to go seawatching and see so many pelagic birds passing close to land.
So late afternoon we found ourselves sat back on the cliffs. At least we weren't getting soaked. There were only half a dozen of us there now to witness a reasonable passage of birds. Large Shears were still occasionally passing by. At about 5.50 one person left, wishing us all luck, but not too much! At 6 o'clock, apparently, somebody else left from a bit further up the coast.
At 6:04pm I was watching a Cory's Shearwater doing what shearwaters do best, shearing across the waves and steadily getting closer, when I heard some unusual noises from next to me.

Something like "woh, woh, woh" from Dan. I knew it was something good. Dan has younger, sharper eyes than me and if he's getting excited about a bird then it is very likely something good.
A couple of seconds later I was in that blind panic trying to find a FEA'S PETREL.
Worryingly, the bird was close in and already more than half way past. It had snuck under our scopes.
I pointed my telescope downwards, but I was seeing so little sea that the chances of getting on the bird were slim. In under a minute it would be round the corner and out of sight.
I decided to give it five more seconds and then switch to binoculars. But a that moment I just caught a bit of wing appear from behind a wave before losing it again. I was pretty sure it was the bird though, so I moved the scope slightly right, trying to anticipate the flight of the bird and suddenly there it was, majestically rolling from side to side as it sheared over the waves.
Fea's Petrel © Steve Arena
Not our bird, but the best picture I could find to approximate the type of view we got. 
Fea’s Petrel off Truro © Steve Arena
In reality it had only taken maybe five seconds to get the bird in view. I had got lucky. But it felt like five minutes. It was as close inshore as you could want a Fea's Petrel to be and was heading past at quite a speed. Watching seabirds is as much about overall impression and flight action as anything else, but this bird was close enough to afford the luxury of studying some of the plumage detail too in the short time we had to observe it. The underwing was very dark indeed, contrasting with a gleaming white belly. The upperwing and mantle (back) appeared a similar tone to the sea, just slightly darker, but it wasn't possible to make out too much detail with the views I got. Light conditions made it appear paler than usual. The mask and the bill are distinctive on this type of petrel. The first one I had seen in Ireland was so distant you could hardly even make out a head! But on this one the familiar head pattern was obvious. I knew too to look for a pale grey tail - at great distance this can make it look almost tailless from the upperside as it shears up into the air. But in reality it wasn't the plumage details that mattered. Gadfly petrels have a way of flying like no other and this was majestic to watch. In fact, their flight is closest to a "large shear" except they are nowhere near the size.

I had only been on the bird for maybe ten seconds when it flew under the only notable landmark in the sea off Porthgwarra, the Runnel Stone (actually a large buoy). It passed well inside this marker. Most seabirds pass just outside.
But one of the four people left was still not on the bird. With the bird being so close and passing by so quickly the Runnel Stone had come up out of the blue and by the time I called out that it was there it was past. Then all went quiet and we savoured our brief but close views of a Fea's Petrel passing the south-west tip of Cornwall.
After a total of less than a minute it was gone.
It was only at this point that we realised the fourth person had never got onto it. That just goes to show how easy it is to miss a once in a lifetime opportunity when you are seawatching. That's the appeal of it. You've got to be in the right place at the right time and looking in the right direction. If you get lucky, you see a bird which will be gone in a matter of minutes. But that's what puts the pressure on if someone else calls it out.

Sunday 4th September 2016
A good night's sleep and a switch to Pendeen this morning as the winds had switched to westerly. Pendeen is on the north coast of the peninsula and after a south-westerly blow all the birds which have been blown up towards the Bristol channel filter back down. Ideally a north-westerly wind keeps them near the shore as they pass by. A westerly is not bad either.
Seawatchers huddled up against the lighthouse wall at Pendeed
The offshore rocks at Pendeen at least give a reference point.
There were plenty of people in position as the day started pretty well with more large shears, though most were distant. Remarkably Dan had another possible Fea's Petrel, but it was ridiculously far away. I got onto the bird he was describing for just about three seconds and Fea's crossed my mind too, before Dan had called it, but  just couldn't get enough to make a shout. It was only as it was about to disappear out of sight that Dan felt he could shout it, though he had already called that he had an 'interesting' bird that looked like a large shearwater but was too small.
But this would have to remain as one that got away. Thank goodness I had seen the one the previous evening!
Even more astonishingly, not much later one of the Cornish stalwarts called Fea's again, but again he couldn't get enough on it to be completely sure and nobody else got on the bird.
That's seawatching for you.

Choppy seas - ideal!
As the early afternoon lull came upon us, we decided to head off via a Hudsonian Whimbrel (a long-staying American waif) in a nearby rocky cove. Then another detour to Davidstow Airfield on Cornwall's north coast, a huge disused airfield which sometimes attracts waders. Alas, today all it was attracting was quite a collection of weirdos who appeared to be stalking sheep and ponies!

By 5:40pm we were filling up with petrol near Taunton. I would soon be dropping Dan off in Bristol and would hopefully arrive home in The Fens before 10. That was until we got back in the car and it completely refused to start.
We had to push the car away from the petrol pumps and I called Breakdown Cover. I am no mechanic and neither is Dan. As we settled in for a long and frustrating wait, Dan searched his phone for a solution (Dan and his phone are completely inseparable, he is half human half phone). He asked me to lift the bonnet and there, in front of us, was a loose battery connector. Problem solved and thankfully on our way again.
I rolled back onto the farm at 9.30pm after a very satisfying weekend.

The next rarest seabird I need on my list is Little Shearwater. This is even harder to predict, but next weekend is bringing some pretty tasty weather into the south-west, so I could be heading that way again!

Monday, 5 September 2016

Hedgehog Poo

28th August 2016
Little chicks set loose into big wide world
The little chickens, destined for the table, were let out of their pen today to take their chances with the rest of the poultry. We were not too worried about them, for the chicken enclosure is very large and there is plenty of space for everyone. With there being eleven of them, it was unlikely any one individual would get picked on.

As we expected, they made themselves at home very quickly. They are confident little things.

The reason for them losing their protective barrier is that the Muscovy ducks (also destined for the table, maybe sooner rather than later if they don't start behaving) have been a real pain to put to bed for a few nights. So we have moved their house to a corner and set up the barriers to funnel them toward the door.

A Reed Warbler stops off for a visit
Fresh easterly winds today were accompanied by sporadic showers, so it wasn't a surprise to spot a couple of migrant birds on the farm. Best was a smart Reed Warbler hopping around the herb patch. A close encounter with a Barn Owl at chicken bedtime was a welcome surprise too.

29th August
Run Rabbit, Run Rabbit...
I've been attempting to catch rabbits for ages but, despite me trying to get into the rabbit's mind, they are never tempted by what I put in the traps. In fact, I'd given up baiting the traps and shut all the doors, hoping that maybe they would become familiar with the traps and no longer be so wary of them.
But yesterday I decided to set up a couple of traps right next to one of the rabbit burrows under the hollow ash tree.
This morning, bingo! I've not handled wild rabbits much and it kicked more strongly than I thought and managed to escape. Sorry, but I'm not sentimental about rabbits.

My six monthly hospital check is coming up soon and it's always a bit of a worry. This one is a bigger three yearly 'investigation' so I've been wandering around not getting much done for the last couple of days.
At least it's been a chance to step back and spend some time appreciating our achievements here on the smallholding. I've been carrying the camera around too.
One of our honey bees deep inside a pumpkin flower
One of the sunflowers that made it, much appreciated by the bumble bees
The pumpkin patch is coming
along nicely

I think this is a Lesser Stag Beetle,
accidentally disturbed when I moved a large log

30th August
Another rabbit caught, or the same one again. This time it didn't get so lucky as I managed to quickly dispatch it. Arthur may be a sweet little dog, but the terrier in him appreciates a bit of wild food. Whereas Boris just wanted to play with his new rather macabre furry toy, Arthur soon claimed it for himself and set about tucking in.
Other rodents have been busy on the farm too. It's a shame they can be so destructive. They are very welcome to live in the young woodland or the long grass areas, the dykes or the sheep field, if they could only stay away from the farmhouse end of the smallholding. I have been trapping plenty of field mice and voles in the polytunnel. There must be thousands of them around for me to catch so many.
I topped up the rat bait stations yesterday too and the bait was all gone today. It is important to hit them hard when they move out of the fields so they don't start breeding and get established.
I have some excellent bait stations where you can monitor the amount of bait taken without having to disturb anything.

Welcome wildlife
Other wildlife is much, much more welcome though, even the hobby which had a successful raid today snatching one of the young swallows from the air. The swallows in the chicken feed shed have a very late brood, but it shouldn't be too long before they fledge. There were five eggs but I don't think there are five chicks in there now.
It is amazing that they will be flying to Africa so soon after they have taken to the wing for the first time.

Hedgehog poo!
Down in the young woodland I came across a rather unfamiliar dropping today. About 4cm long, all shiny and black and blue. It was obviously mostly composed of beetle wing cases. Back in the house I consulted a book which confirmed what I thought, HEDGEHOG POO! Fantastic!

31st August
An early start and an unwelcome drive down to London for my hospital check-up. It is not the most comfortable of procedures but it has to be done.

Back on the farm I had to take it easy for the day. The flowers in the veg patch are coming good now.

In the stable, Priscilla is enjoying clucking over her two chicks. Priscilla has always spent most of her time down near the stables and I suspect her two offspring will be the same.

Farewell summer
Tomorrow it is September. Even worse than the demise of summer is the fact that I have to go back to work!

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