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Help! There’s a pine marten in my attic!

Once upon a time my  granny heard a bit of a rumpus in her attic. We of course dismissed it. Granny was just hearing things. We probably should have known better. As ever granny was quite correct – there were odd noises coming from the attic and whats worse a foul smell was beginning to linger around her front door. After a wee nosey  it became clear why there was a smell. Whatever animal was roaming around up there had decided the perfect place for its latrine was right by the attic door. Unfortunately the combined smell of urine and poo was so strong it wafted down into the house. What a way to great guests! As you can imagine our Gran was not amused.

We soon discovered who the culprits were – a family of unbelievably cute pine martens! Pine martens are part of the mustelid family which also contains stoats, weasels, wolverines, badgers, otters and mink.

Even although the family were stinking out her house our gran still left some food out for them – a few eggs (we did not know if they preferred boiled, fried, poached or scrambled so just left them raw), raspberry jam (can’t go wrong there) and bread (they seemed to enjoy kingsmill – I do not think they are too fussy)!  I believe they have a bit of a sweet tooth as they have been known to even eat honey! Perhaps we should have left out a selection of preserves. I bet they would have enjoyed peanut butter too. Anyway one evening my mother and I attempted a stake-out. We left out some food and hid in the car to try and take some pictures. We were so lucky with what we saw. It was like watching some David Attenborough show only without his soothing commentary.

We watched and we waited,twiddled our thumbs, tried to stifle a sneeze or two, looked at the time and shifted uncomfortably until eventually we got our first sighting. A little chestnut head popped out a teeny hole just above the gutter in the roof. It pranced along the gutter and nimbly shot down to the food. The kits were keen to come out too and to our delight they did! One by one they clambered out the hole as well. They were obviously hungry constantly squeaking for the treats. Their mother brought up the food to them so they did not need to navigate down themselves. However one of the little ones got a bit carried away and promptly fell from his high vantage point splat on to the front porch. It was not very impressed.There was crying and whimpering until mum came back to help it back on to the safety of the roof. Not before it nearly crept into granny’s house (how did we leave the door open?!) and had a good nosey in her log basket.

And so our stake-out mission was complete. I think we held our breath (or it felt like we did throughout the whole thing). It was amazing to see these delightful little animals so close up. How lucky we had been.

Sadly the martens soon grew up and they have not returned. I think perhaps granny is secretly relieved. There are no more commotions up in the attic and no lingering latrine smell. All she has to contend with now are her usual garden birds, frogs, deer, wild cats, boar and beaver…perhaps that is a story for another day though.

Please check out:

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/Tullyography?ref=hdr_shop_menu

to see some pine marten and wildlife inspired pyrography art-work. All hand-drawn on to recycled wood 🙂

Well hello there old spring time.

So spring time is once again upon us. Splendid. It is so nice to be back in the UK for spring after spending the last two years in Australia. One thing I really missed while over there was the dawn chorus. I know it can be a bit annoying at times when you want to lie in but in-comparison to the bird calls in Australia the dawn chorus is just beautiful. Many of the birds in Oz are truly mesmerizing with their bright and bold colours. However I feel this is to make up for their lack of singing prowess. I think in the whole time I was over there one bird song really caught my attention – it was that of the butcher bird. It may have an attractive call but it is actually quite ruthless! The name pretty much says it all. The butcher bird impales prey on thorns or will hang them on a fork in a tree and then munch on them later. Here is a link to their song;

I feel like I have to forgive them when their fluid notes restored my faith in Australian bird song. What really wound us up was listening to the this guy;

The black crow/cow. These crows seemed to chatter non-stop to each other in the early hours of the morning….and throughout the rest of the day. Compare that to this;

Ahhh, the refreshing sounds of the dawn chorus. Much more relaxing.

So as of late I have been trying to identify birds according to their call. I used to do this when I was wee. I would wander through the garden like a little explorer recording the songs of the garden birds. Once I heard a distinctive song I next tried to find where it was coming from. More often than not I would spend ages looking and never find who I was looking for. Birds can be quite devious when they want to be.

I was out for a walk recently enjoying all the usual bird songs when I heard one a bit unfamiliar. I immediately stopped (forgetting I was on a small road) and scanned the trees above me. I then heard a rustle of leaves just a couple of meters in front. I happened to glance down thinking I might see a pheasant lurking in the undergrowth. They like to lurk. However instead I was pleasantly surprised to see the sweetest little reddish-brown face looking back at me. To begin with I thought it might have been a weasel or a stoat but, I was not sure. I could not see its tail which would help me identify it – I knew if it was a stoat it would have a black tip. Anyway I was suddenly reminded I was standing on the middle of the road as a car with a rather disgruntled looking driver tooted at me. I waved him on apologetically and marched back to the house to try and figure out which mustelid I had just been staring at. As I only saw its handsome wee face it is rather difficult to say – so there is no other option but to call it a stoat/weasel….a stoael or weat. I never did find the bird I was looking for in the first place either!

The following page is quite handy if you want to try and identify a few birds for yourself;

http://www.garden-birds.co.uk/information/tutorials/tutorial04.htm.

I definitely recommend it. It is surprisingly satisfying!

As of late I have also been noticing some beautiful butterflies frolicking around. The first one I saw was distinctively green and I had never seen it before. It reminded me of the cabbage whites you get back in Scotland. This lovely green fellow is a Brimstone (reminds me of something out of Harry Potter)!

http://butterfly-conservation.org/50-1310/brimstone.html

It is really a very pretty butterfly – especially when the sun shines through its elegant leaf-shaped wings.

I do not know about you but I am definitely looking forward to more signs of spring – little lambs jumping through the fields, a plethora of butterflies as the weather heats up, and an intensifying of the dawn chorus. Happy days 🙂

 

A sick note and some hunters.

 

As of late my boyfriend has been calling me sick note or toot (slang for rubbish) lungs. Pretty much says it all. My lungs are pretty toot and I have been off of work for quite a while lately hence sick note. Why am I telling you this? Well because of my toot-like lungs I have not been able to stick to my usual routine of driving to /from work and days off filled with walking, cycling or running. I have been out on small walks (usually just over a mile – as far as the lungs can cope with just now without properly packing in) but apart from this I have not been outside nearly as much as usual. Regardless of this I have still seen some rather interesting hunter/prey interactions. And so the underlying reason for this blog strikes again. Even in my reduced activity sloth-like state I am still seeing some pretty awesome animals and birds – all there, right under our noses, for anyone to see.

My boyfriend Doug (I feel it is time to name him as he appears so often in these blogs) and I were walking hand-in-hand on our well stomped route to the pub – one of three we pass on our usual circuit. I get the feeling this is one of the main reasons Doug keeps me company on these walks – nothing like a healthy couple of pints to keep you going till the better end. Slightly unrelated but I read the other day that athletes in Victorian times actually sipped alcohol while competing in events during the Olympics for this very reason. It was believed it would give them a boost of energy and dull the pain of any injuries. So perhaps Doug has the right idea.

Anyway en route we were taken by surprise when a grey lurcher burst from the undergrowth in an awfully excited state. It bounded up the road without a care in the world. Doug and I then had a conversation about whippets, greyhounds and lurchers as I was not sure how to tell the difference between each one. Within minutes the lurcher was back. He began bouncing around through the trees like he had springs on the bottom of each of his paws. Suddenly he stopped and looked inquisitively up at the branches above. True to their hunting instinct he had seen a small grey squirrel perched high up the tree out of harm’s way. The squirrel squeaked rapidly as it hopped from branch to branch. I think it was either mocking the lurcher below, telling it to sod off or was actually a wee bit alarmed. The squirrel had every right to be too as the lurcher stared intently up at it with gleaming eyes. It seemed to jump higher and higher determinedly trying to reach its prize. It suddenly made me glad I was not wearing my t-shirt with a squirrel emblazoned on the front. If I had been I would not have been surprised if it started having a go at me. We could see there was no chance for the lurcher – the squirrel was simply too high and the drooling dog simply could not climb. Soon enough there was shouting in the distance and after a few calls the lurcher gave up his prey and scooted off. If the squirrel could do a fist-pump I am sure it would.

Later on after the third pub which we tried to go into but couldn’t as it was closed we saw a stunning reddish brown bird of prey sailing in the sky above us. The sun shone on its feathers illuminating them beautifully against the bright blue sky. We could tell it was a red kite due the distinctive forked tail and white under-patches on the wings. It truly is a magnificent bird and I know I was certainly entranced by its striking colours and graceful flight. Standing open-mouthed I could have watched it for hours. However the the kite suddenly projectile pooped mid-flight breaking me out of my trance. Consequently I promptly shut my mouth and we decided to move on. Perhaps it wanted some privacy after all. I still cannot get over how common they are down here – especially after they were wiped out in England during the 18th century. In the hills of Perthshire, where I was born and brought up, you never see them. However down here in Hampshire they are thriving – a simple example of what can be done with a lot of hard work and dedicated protection programmes.

Finally, on my way to Tesco yesterday I came across a small black cat. I could tell immediately it was in hunt mode. Its muscles all seemed rigid and taut as it crouched low in anticipation of what lay ahead. I stood maybe 10 metres away but the cat did not even glance at me. It was so focused on its prey. It crept forward, one step, two steps and in a flash leapt forward paws outstretched reaching for its prize. Immediately after it landed I could hear the fast “chirpchirpchirrup” of a wren. I wondered if the wee wren had escaped the sharp claws of the cat. As I inched closer I found the cat in the bushes looking pretty disgruntled and foodless. The wren was sitting high up in a tree just a few feet away. The cat may have been after the wren, it may not. Either way the prey has certainly come out victorious in this blog.

Ps. I also saw a long-tailed tit today….it isn’t really a predator but they are such cute, fluffy bundles of joy I had to mention it.

The blue-footed booby.

One day I would love to see a booby….a blue-footed booby in-particular. There are actually many out there worth seeing – the masked booby (most likely out of the lot to rob a bank), brown booby (booby with a tan), peruvian booby (name says it all really), nazca booby (the biggest of the boobies) and finally the red-footed booby (a small booby with attitude). I am more than sure I would ogle in amazement at any one of these boobies but, the blue-footed is a jaw-dropper.

Usually I write about personal wildlife experiences and boy do I wish I had one with this particular bird. Sadly though I have not – one can dream. To be perfectly honest I was compelled to write a piece about the blue-footed booby because my boyfriend loves them. So this piece is for him. He even does a pretty good impression of the blue-footed booby courtship dance. He knows his stuff.

If you are from the UK the blue-footed booby is not a bird you are likely to see on your back doorstep and you probably won’t see it chilling out on the rocks at your local beach. However if you were lucky enough to live on the Galapagos or the continental coasts of the eastern pacific then you might actually see one; and how awesome would that be. Perhaps you would see it torpedoing down to the ocean at 60mph (thank god it has a protective air sac which protects its brain) in search for a bit to eat. Or maybe you would stumble across a pair in the midst of their courtship dance. The male would be slowly flashing his secret weapon…those big, beautiful, blue feet. The female is not attracted to those who have the biggest (size doesn’t matter after all). It is the brightest which really grab her attention. This colour is produced from carotenoids in their fish loving diet which indicate the healthiest and strongest individuals. More fish = more carotenoids = bluer feet = very productive and industrious male. That is the simplified science behind it all anyway. So like us even female birds can be a bit fussy and judgmental when it comes to choosing a mate. If his feet aren’t blue enough the poor guy doesn’t even get a look in…unless he was to shower her with gifts. She won’t get flowers, or chocolates, or diamonds. The male will lavish individually chosen nesting materials on her – what better way of demonstrating your serious by providing her with bricks and mortar. Have yet to see this work in a pub on a Friday night;

“Here you are love, I really fancy you – I brought you this brick to prove it”.

What has always intrigued me about the booby is its name. I can understand how it was christened “blue-footed” – Spanish explorers definitely hit the nail on the head there. But where does the “booby” come in. I am no judge but there is certainly nothing there to brag about – in-fact it seems pretty flat chested (not that there is anything wrong with that).

Perhaps imag2752_1it should have been called the “blue-footed boobless tropical seabird the males of which like to wave their feet up and down to attract the ladies”. If only I had been there at the time of first identification.

The term “booby” actually comes from the Spanish “bobo” which translates to stupid fool or clown. Like so many seabirds they are pretty agile and capable out at sea but on land they can seem a bit drunk – hence the name “bobo”. A bit like us really only the opposite way round. I guess we are often the wobbly ones out at sea until our legs get accustomed to the rolling waves. It makes me wonder if they have a similar name for us.

It is hard to imagine but there is actually a slight dark side to the blue footed booby. They usually produce two eggs at a time which hatch roughly 4 days apart. Therefore the first chick gets a bit of a head-start in life. He or she can turn against the second hatching chick – stealing all the food from it and even dragging it out of the nest. This isn’t an extreme case of sibling jealousy – it is a survival mechanism occurring when there is a shortage of food. As harsh as it sounds in ensures that at least one reaches adulthood and this is a very good thing. Let’s face it – where would be in a world without boobies.

http://galapagosconservation.org.uk/why-do-boobies-have-blue-feet-2/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYmzdvMoUUA

The grey heron, a little egret and my granny.

Lately I have seen a grey heron chilling out in the shallow, trickling stream running by work. He or indeed she stands perfectly still – not even moving an inch while I slow right down in the car to take in the scene. This makes me think it would be a great competitor in a game of musical statues – it would definitely win against us twitching humans. The image of a heron prancing around to disco music is quite amusing. I reckon you would have to watch out for the wings though. Being hit by one of them would be pretty lethal.

Its still relatively early at 0730. I am feeling quite groggy and would rather be back in bed. I wonder if the heron is feeling the same – it does look quite grumpy. Perhaps it has a hangover – that would explain the irritable expression it is currently wearing. Or it could be awaiting a long day at work like me – the options are endless really. I am probably over thinking it however and its more than likely just hungry. I have walked this stream once before with my boyfriend (once again in the search for fish) so know there are some trout nestled in the reeds. It is only a  matter of time before one of them makes the fatal mistake of swimming within striking distance.

I like seeing a heron.  The first reason for this is their appearance.  They are pretty odd looking birds with long, lanky legs, hunched back and, what looks like to me, a long curling black eyebrow which definitely needs a bit of a trim. I also like seeing them because they  remind me of my granny. She will be pleased to know this is not in appearance. Although I suppose there is a slight resemblance when it comes to colour of plumage. And it is not because this granny, like the heron, eats mostly fish – however my other granny does. The granny it reminds me of is the one who lives just down the road from where we were brought up. She has a lovely big garden with four ponds which were great for exploring when we were wee. On many an occasion my older brother and cousin won live goldfish in plastic bags full of water (pretty sure you cannot win them like this now) at our local agricultural show. They would put them proudly in her small pond giving them a grand new home. With that Mr Heron would arrive, fly in all high and mighty, swoop down to the pond and grab one of the poor wee unsuspecting goldfish. It was pretty devastating. The goldies never lasted long. I wonder how nice a goldfish even tastes to a heron. I cannot imagine it being hugely  satisfying and massively delicious.  However I suppose they cannot be fussy. It is not like they can wander in to Tesco’s, stalk up to the fish counter and pluck out a fully dressed crab or if they were feeling plush a couple of scallops or even lobster. If they could though I bet they would have an absolute field day.

After seeing the heron a fair few times I was disappointed one morning to find it was not there. Where was it? Perhaps it had discovered Tesco after all. Or it had had enough of me gawking at it first thing in the morning. I still slowed down though and peering into the dim morning light searched for its distinctive figure. No sign of it in the usual position. However I saw instead a bird all dressed in white – similar in structure to the heron but smaller. I began getting pretty excited and immediately forgot about my heron friend. Could it be a little egret? I had only seen one in books before so was not 100% sure. With that I whipped out my phone and did some quick googling. After looking at some pictures and scanning the RSPB identification page I concluded that it was in fact a little egret. Feeling pretty chuffed with myself I crept into the work car park and began my day. It was gone by the time I left work and I have not seen it since. However on the plus side now I know it may be there with the heron I will certainly keep my eyes peeled for it or any other bird which may be lurking in the area. Perhaps come summer time I will see a grey wagtail or two. A bird  which funnily enough is much brighter than you would imagine with its lovely yellow underparts. Something which I never understood as a child – why was it not called the grey and yellow wagtail?  Then again why is the red panda called a panda when it is in fact more closely related to a racoon, skunk and weasel. So much arguments along these lines exist. It is best not to delve to deeply in to it!

So there you have it. If I had not noticed the heron at the beginning of week I probably would not have noticed the wee egret the other day too. It definitely beats the usual sightings on the way to work – an army of pigeons ever intent on dive-bombing the car.

For those who are interested here is a link to more information of the little egret:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/bird-and-wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/l/littleegret/

A cold and crispy morning…

I started the day with a morning run. It was pretty chilly. The ground was covered in a sparkling frost – made all the more dazzling by the rising sun. As I ran along the canal I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the suns rays casting beams of light through the trees. Sections of the river bank were illuminated magically by these dancing streams of light. Water vapour rose in a swirling mist from the icy water. In previous visits to this section of the river my fish mad boyfriend had excitedly pointed out a brown trout or two. They would be darting in and out of the undergrowth in the search of a bite to eat. A good way of coaxing them out of hiding is by throwing in small pieces of bread. Apparently they have quite the appetite for the stuff. Although sometimes you have to be patient. Rumour has it they also like cheese. Which variety however eludes me. Perhaps simply chucking in a cheese toastie made with kingsmills finest would pull in a few biggies. I will suggest this to the boyfriend. He will probably tell me to stop being stupid.

Anyway today there was no sign of the “troots” as they would say in my motherland of Scotland. There was still some wildlife to be seen though. The humble mallard. Forever floating along our waterways. Probably the most common duck in the UK. In fact the RSPB states you can pretty much see them anywhere. I am not so sure about this though. I have yet to see one on the London underground, or behind the wheels of a car. Today I felt quite sorry for the group – one male and a few females. I figured their little feathery breasts must be pretty cold in the water – let alone their naked feet. Thankfully they have pretty neat heating system whereby the  warmth they have in their bodies is filtered down into their feet warming them up. Still though rather them than me. Despite the cold they had chosen a pretty good place for home. Right beside a pub. I have seen them regularly been fed by jolly pub clientele. This however annoys the boyfriend. Gaggling ducks grabbing food from the surface scare off those prized wee “troots” we talked about earlier.

I ran on. I was feeling pretty energetic on this particular run so boldly decided to take on a new route up a country lane which I had not yet explored. As I huffed and puffed up a gradual incline I stopped momentarily to admire the quaint thatched cottages bordering either side of the road. To me they always look so cosy and inviting – a bit like the hobbit houses in J.R.R Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’. While I was quite frankly being a bit nosy I was rudely interrupted by a sharp, frantic squeak. I scanned the trees above but to no avail. I could not find the culprit. I could not imagine a bird making this particular noise so thought it may be a squirrel. The squeaking carried on and persisted in the search. Soon enough I saw him..or her. It was in fact a grey squirrel perched on a branch just above me. I do not know how I did not spot the squirrel sooner. I was pretty sure it was sending out an alarm call thinking I was a potential predator. Either that or it was quite rightly giving me a telling off for prying on the neighbouring houses.

After seeing the squirrel I turned and made my way back down the hill. Not a bad haul for a frosty morning run.