Sunday, 31 May 2009

Foxes and Wild Flowers

Since seeing the vixen ambling through the field with her cub following close behind her (7 days ago) I have twice seen a fox cub alone in our garden and wondered if it is the same one. Both times he has looked a bit lost and confused but he is probably old enough to look after himself and he already seems to have learnt that there are often scraps to be found under the hanging bird tray. No sign of the vixen though, so I went for a walk down the valley to where I have seen her sitting outside her den before. She wasn't there, so I started to look for wild flowers on the SSSI land.

This area used to be prolific in wild flowers common to chalk downland so I was pleased to see that, despite the land having been driven over by big tractors during the scrub clearance, there are still a few patches that the tractor missed and some Orchids and other flowers are coming through.

Common Spotted Orchid

Twayblade Orchid



Friday, 29 May 2009

It is always pleasing when our ponds balance out leaving nice clear water. The wildlife pond still has quite a bit of the green gunk although the plants are growing rapidly so it should clear soon and the newts don't seem to mind. The two fish ponds are now fairly clear and I can see my fish again. All seem to have survived the winter well.

When we made the first fish pond several years ago we started with just 5 fish but now we have over 30 (hence we have two fish ponds) . The big white fish with the red head in the middle of the picture below was one of the originals and mothered a lot of the others. Strangely the frogs seem to prefer the fish ponds to the wildlife pond.

Unfortunately the clearer water hasn't gone un-noticed by the heron and several mornings over the last week I've seen him standing in the field looking hopeful but the clear fishing line around the edge of the pond and lots of plants has so far deterred him.

A lot of the flowers around the pond came from a good friend of ours who was in the fire service with my husband. He had a lovely pond with many beautiful flowers and lots of wildlife but when he sadly died his wife couldn't manage the pond anymore so she passed on some of the flowers to us. Now whenever the Irises flower we have a lovely reminder of him.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

I was just walking past the window when I noticed the fox in the garden and for once there were no pheasants around so I was able to grab my camera and take a couple of photos. Whenever the fox is in the garden he always has a good snuff around the bottom of the cob nut tree so I am wondering if there are some mice living there. It would be a good place for mice as there is a constant supply of food dropped down from the bird feeders an of course the nuts in the autumn. I will have to keep a watch out for them.

This is definitely the same fox that I mentioned in an earlier blog that was injured as this next picture shows the scar on his back. I am amazed he has recovered so well and so quickly as he had been in a very bad way and was barely able to walk.

I notice that the RSPB are doing a 'Summer Watch' this year for people to count all wildlife visitors to their garden not just birds. Trouble is a lot of the wildlife like the foxes and badgers visit in the evening or night so I maybe I could do two watches one in the day for birds and the other at dusk. I will have to read on their site exactly what they need.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Cheeky Squirrels

A lot of people don't like the Ring Necked Parakeets that have colonised in some areas of England because they are not native but I find them very entertaining and contrary to rumors I find they get on just fine with the smaller birds and I regularly watch them sharing the feeder with blue tits and finches. The thing that the parakeets really dislike though are the squirrels and as the picture below shows they get very cross when the squirrel hogs the feeder.

The squirrels can also be very entertaining, although, also a little annoying as they eat the bird food so quickly that it costs me a fortune keeping the feeders topped up. Luckily we only ever seem to have two or three squirrels at one time. They can be very cheeky and besides upsetting the parakeets they love to taunt the pheasants.

The squirrels aren't as bad as the young Magpies for teasing male pheasant though. They just love to try and pull out his lovely long tail feathers. The pheasant never seems to retaliate he just walks around with a Magpie hanging off his tail...very day I will manage to catch it on camera.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Lucky Escape

Poor sad and lonely male pheasant had a very narrow escape last night. I was watching him busily grubbing around the base of the cob nut tree when I noticed a movement the other side of the sheep netting and there was the young fox just making his way into the garden. I was in a bit of a predicament as the pheasant was between me and the fox so if I made too much of a sudden movement it would chase him right into the waiting jaws of the fox. Luckily the fox caught sight of me at the window and ran out of the garden so male phes lives for another day but was this what happened to the female phes I wonder.

Later that evening the same young fox was sitting in the field staring at something near the woods so I got my binoculars to see what it was and there ambling along was a vixen with cub trotting behind. Maybe the young fox was her cub from last year.

We kept hens for about 10 years or so and in all that time only two were caught by foxes. One was lost in a daylight raid and the other was caught at night the one and only time in the whole 10 years I forgot to shut the hen house door. Luckily the dog barked and woke us up and we all ran down the garden screaming (don't know what the neighbours thought!) but the fox took fright, dropped the hen and turned tail out of the garden. After a clever bit of stitch work by the vet and a months recuperation in my daughters bedroom, hen
ny, thankfully was as good as new.

I still like foxes though and think that not enough is said about their uses in the countryside. Some years ago when the farmer first started with sheep he killed of all the local foxes. This caused an explosion of rabbits in his wheat fields (there were literally hundreds) and an explosion in rats and mice. Needless to say the farmer has never totally wiped out the fox population again.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Female Pheasant Missing

I opened the curtains yesterday to find , yet again, that female pheasant and male pheasant were apart. Male pheasant was on the fence right outside the kitchen window but female was perching quite a long way away on the same fence (you can just see her). This is very strange behaviour for these two as they usually stay together all the time.

Then this morning I found the male phes looking very fed up sitting under a bush on his own and there was no sign of female phes

This could mean two things. She may have laid some eggs and be sitting on them which would explain her moodiness of the last two days or the fox (who now seems fully recovered from his injuries) could have got her. I'm hoping so much its the first reason as I am very fond of this particular pheasant.

She first came to the garden two years ago with her mother who was also quite friendly. Unfortunately the mother disappeared last autumn. If they fly to the other side of the valley they are likely to be shot. I personally don't know how anyone could actually enjoy shooting such a beautiful bird or any animal come to that but they do and regular shoots are held over the winter months. I was therefore very pleased when the friendly daughter turned up in the garden again just before Christmas... I can tell it is her as when she sees me she runs towards me instead of away as the other pheasants do. I hope she is busy trying to produce another friendly pheasant to bring to my garden but only time will tell.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Grumpy Female Pheasant

Oh dear, it seems friendly female pheasant is getting fed up with the amorous advances of friendly (or should I say over-friendly) male pheasant.

Yesterday female phes. flew up into the cob nut tre
e proclaiming that she 'had a headache' and wasn't coming down for at least an hour. This left confused male phes. gazing longingly up at her (he doesn't 'do' trees).

I don't blame her really as he is always chasing her around, dropping a wing to show her how handsome he is . He never leaves her side whether she is pecking around the garden or going for a wonder round the field. He is always there making advances.

He is a very handsome bird but sometimes a female just wants to get on with life and if she isn't allowed to do so she will go into a huff.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Dry day in the Garden

At last a dry day, so despite painful muscles after a particularly arduous horse ride the previous evening, I decided to abandon the housework and get into the garden. A drop of rain and the odd bout of sunshine had done wonders for the weeds...stinging nettles had sprung up everywhere and the first shoots of bindweed had reached at least a metre. Why don't all plants grow with such vigour I wonder. There are some weeds though that although a nuisance I can't help liking and the buttercup is one. We seem to have a bumper crop this year but their splash of brilliant yellow adds a nice touch here and there so they have been left for another day.

Another odd thing I find about my garden is the way that the flowers in the border seem to prefer the gravel area around the path. My perennial Sweet Pea, Lavenders and Sweet Williams have all taken to growing there instead of where I originally planted them. It looks pretty though so they can stay too.

Around lunchtime I was just thinking that it felt like I was in another country because our flock of Ring Necked Parakeets were making such a lot of parroty squawks when all of a sudden, just to confuse me further, I heard the sound of bagpipes coming from the other side of the valley...very unusual for SE England. The next hour was spent very happily pottering around the garden accompanied by some really lovely music but then my husband started the lawnmower and the airport started its load of afternoon flights so I went in for lunch.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Distant View of London

We have just returned from a trip to Bath and Bristol where we went for my niece's wedding. While we were driving around looking out at the beautiful countryside of wide deep valleys it made me think about what it is that makes Biggin Hill a special place for me, after all there are so many more spectacular places around Britain. I came to the conclusion that it is because it is so close to London and yet is so prolific in wildlife. On a clear day I can stand on the hill opposite our bungalow and see the Canada Tower at Canary Warf (about 12 miles as the crow flies) and yet be surrounded by sheep and watching roe deer on the edge of the woods. I took this pic last year. The tower is only just about visible on the horizon so in the next pic I zoomed in to show it more clearly but it is taken from the same place. It is so amazing to have such an abundance of wildlife but be so close to our capital city.

It was a lovely wedding and well worth the long journey to Bristol. My niece looked beautiful and it brought a lump to my throat when she first walked in looking so elegant and demure as it only seems yesterday that she was a cheeky 2 year old that could throw an Oscar winning temper tantrum. How fast time goes.

We stayed the night before the wedding at One Three Nine in Bath (a great boutique B&B that I thoroughly recommend) but we drove back to Biggin Hill after the evening reception, arriving back, very tired, in the early hours of the morning and longing for our bed and sleep. Unfortunately a lamb on the hill opposite had other ideas. It had obviously gone for a night time play and lost its mum as it kept up a continuous bleating for at least an hour after our heads had hit the pillow. I was on the point of suggesting to hubby (who by this time was fast asleep) that he might like to get up and see if the lamb had managed to trap itself the wrong side of the sheep netting, when blissfully it stopped. Good, I thought, now I can sleep but then my son arrived home having nearly run out of petrol on the return journey from the wedding. He thumped around for a while then, bliss, all was quiet but by this time the first tweets of the dawn chorus had started and that is the indicator for Lizzy (the cat) to wake up and stomp in to me to demand some food. I still feel I am recovering so it is just as well it is pouring with rain as I don't have to feel guilty at not working in the garden when there is so much to do out there.

Sunday, 10 May 2009


Spring is such a nice time of year. There is so much new life, so many new plans and anything and everything seems possible with the summer ahead. I love hanging out the washing and hearing the skylarks high above me and the lambs calling on the hill and feeling the warmth of the sun on my back but I have to do this before 9 o'clock as this is when Biggin Hill Airport comes alive and then the lovely country sounds are interrupted by noisy planes taking off.

Unfortunately spring has its sad moments too. A young dog fox that left its family home down the valley to make way for new cubs and that we often see in or near our garden has been injured. He is quite mobile so there is little I can do to help him as I don't think he could be caught. I will just keep an eye out for him and hope he recovers on his own...maybe I'll put a bit of cat food out to make his life a little easier while he is poorly. Then, this morning while I was watching the fox, a fledgling bird flew into our window and died. Very sad as it was probably on its maiden flight. We don't often have birds flying into the windows anymore since I have stuck fluorescent butterflies on them but I guess this little bird hadn't quite learnt to control his direction.

Another nice part of spring is being able to move the seedlings out of the greenhouse and into the veg patch. The veg garden is really my husband's province but after temporarily taking over last year while he was decorating our bedroom I found I quite enjoyed aspects of it. The trouble is, just like my cooking, I have no idea of quantity and plant far too much so like last year the greenhouse is fit to burst and I don't think it will all fit into the veg patch. We have therefore decided that to make more room we will put some of the more robust vegetables amongst the plants in the flower bed and the purple kale will definitely be one that goes there as when it goes to seed it produces an abundance of very attractive flowers.

I have just come back from a walk down to the SSSI area of chalk downland that was cleared using heavy farm machinery at the beginning of the year and it is a complete mess. Needless to say most of the hawthorn is re-growing. I was told that English Nature had paid £25,000 to have this work done!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Dawn and Dusk

I love the early mornings. I don't like the getting up but once I am out of bed I always feel a flutter of excitement as I draw back the living room curtains to see what's going on in the valley. It is a bit like unwrapping a present, you are never sure what will be in it but it is usually something good. Dawn and dusk are good times to see wildlife as it is quiet and the animals are usually a bit braver and hugry. This morning there was a young dog fox snuffling for mice in the field which, as he was only a few feet away from my friendly pheasant, was a bit worrying but they seemed to have an understanding as both ignored the other.

I don't wake up easily for these dawn experiences but this is where one of our most important residents comes in useful and that is my cat Lizzy. She is 18 years old and has been with us, from a kitten, for nearly half our married life and most of the children's lives. She has no tail due
to an argument with a car when she was two and she has a bald patch round her neck due to an allergic reaction to a flea collar. She always wakes at first light and thinks that I should also be up making her breakfast and over the years she has developed various ways of making me oblige; she meows, she stomps on me, head butts me, gives me horrible wet kisses, combs my hair with a paw that has probably just come out of the cat tray and if that fails she will systematically knock everything off of my bedside table. When she was younger I could happily push her off but now she is so old and stiff I can't do that so I get up and we enjoy the early morning together.

Dusk is also a favourite time of day for me and I usually find myself gazing out of the window instead of watching the TV. It is a good time to spot roe deer as they creep out of the wood to graze and with the warmer weather our bats have usually awoken from their winter sleep in the fir tree but this year I have only seen one so I think the others may have succumbed to the freezing winter weather we had. Very sad.