Archive for the ‘Background’ Category

First signs of Spring

First snowdrops of springDespite the freezing temperatures and the occasional snow flurries this weekend, there are signs that the winter won’t last forever and that spring is round the corner.

The first snowdrops have appeared at the edges of the woods and are peeping out from the frosty ground.   The first of the spring flowers, they are taking full advantage of the light that’s available on the woodland floor before the foliage of the trees and shrubs develops later in the year and puts them in shade.

We’ve also had the first eggs from the chickens this week (Monday, to be precise).  Chicken egg-laying is determined by light, not temperature, so the days are obviously getting long enough to stimulate them out of their winter break.

To celebrate, here is a wholly gratuitous picture of a chicken.  Meet Clarissa, everyone.

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Happy Winter Solstice 2009

Woburn Deer Park in Snow

Once again we’ve arrived at midwinter’s day, and appropriately it’s snowing heavily outside at the moment.  Tonight is the longest night of the year.  After tonight, the days will start to get longer until the summer solstice next June.  Now that I live closer to nature (in other words, in a house with only limited heating) I really appreciate why people have celebrated midwinter for thousands of years.  It’s good to think that you’ve turned the corner of the year.

And the midwinter festival really is ancient.  Contrary to popular belief, Stonehenge was not originally oriented on the midsummer sunrise.  It was aligned on the midwinter sunset.  Every northern culture has its own midwinter celebration.  Our own Christmas is the descendant of one.  When you think about it in these terms, the drinking and feasting and merrymaking isn’t getting away from the true meaning of Christmas – it is the true meaning of Christmas.

It doesn’t feel like a whole year since the last midwinter.  This year has gone by very quickly.  It doesn’t even feel like six months since I was gallivanting around Loch Ness on midsummer’s day.  I guess that a lot of good things have happened since then.

It’s time to make plans for the year ahead.  It’s been a few months since I’ve seen a badger, so they’re definitely on my list, but I’ve got a few more (very) amateur naturalist goals for 2010.  I’ll tell you about these soon.

I hope that you have had a good year too, and I hope the coming year is even better for you.  Happy winter solstice from me, Mrs BWM and baby Scarlett.

Scarlett in her baby carrier

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Baby carrier and camouflage umbrella - you saw it here first!

Things have been quiet around here for a while.  Actually, that isn’t quite true.  I haven’t been out much lately, but things have been busy at home.  Having a small baby takes up a lot of time, but things are starting to ease up a little.  I’ve also been busy with DIY in the house.  In particular I’ve been restoring our living room door.

This may not sound like a big task, but it’s turned into one.   I thought the door was a fairly naff 1970s one that looked out of place in a 140 year old house.  After some investigation it turns out that it was the original plank-built door that dates back to the building of the house in 1868, but the previous owners had stuck on plywood on both sides to make it look like a 1970s one.  A major campaign of reconstruction and painting, and it’s now back in its proper place – blocking the huge draft into the living room.  The practical upshot of all this is that we can now turn on the heating in the room, so at least we’re a bit warmer.

The other thing that has kept me indoors is the weather.  Like most people we’ve had a lot of heavy rain.  I don’t mind rain too much myself, but it makes it almost impossible to go for a walk with Scarlett.  In her baby carrier she’s exposed to the elements.  I can keep her warm with fleece suits, but I can’t keep her dry.  I don’t think they make gore-tex baby suits yet.

But I think I’ve found the answer.  Being a proper English gentleman I have taken to walking about the countryside with an umbrella.  But not just any umbrella.  I’ve found an American one in Mossy Oak camouflage.

Mossy Oak camouflage umbrella

OK.  So this is probably totally unnecessary.  Having a camouflage umbrella is taking the whole ‘blending into the background’ thing a little bit too far.  Who cares – I like it.

And when you think about it, perhaps it isn’t such a daft idea after all.  I like to think that it isn’t so much an umbrella as a portable hide or blind.  If ever I need to get out of sight of the wildlife, all I need to do is to pop up the umbrella and hide behind it – hey presto – virtually an invisibility cloak!

Whatever.  It means I’ve got more chance of getting outside with my daughter over the winter, and that’s the important thing.

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Cider and autumn strolls

Baby carrier - this season's must-have outdoor accessory

Baby carrier - this season's must-have outdoor accessory

The weather has been beautiful for the past couple of weeks – dry and warm during the day, with a pleasant, cool crispness in the evenings.  Perfect autumn weather.

To celebrate the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, we’ve been making cider in the village.  It turns out that a lot of us have got surplus apples that tend to go to waste, so we’ve got together and formed a cider collective.  Everyone has pooled equipment, knowledge and labour.  A couple of days of enthusiastic effort involving a garden shredder (!), two cider presses and many willing hands have given us 240 pints of home-made cider brewing away nicely.  It’s been a great way to bring people together and use the local produce, although I suspect there’ll be some sore heads when we have our Cider Festival at some point in the spring.

As predicted, I haven’t had much time for the badgers lately.  Having a young baby (that feeds every three hours, regular as clockwork) takes up a lot of my free time.  However, one of my duties is to give mummy some time off at the weekend, so I’ve been taking some gentle strolls outside.  Nothing too strenuous, you understand, just around the local fields and footpaths near the house.  For obvious reasons I don’t want to be going too far away juCountry Trackst yet.

The baby carrier makes it easy to walk around and Scarlett is quite happy in it – she just falls asleep and stays asleep, even though I point out interesting things such as muntjac deer, badger tracks and fox poo.  Not to worry – I have a nice walk outside, the gentle rocking motion of walking seems soothing for Scarlett, while Mrs BWM gets some time to unwind and relax with the rest of us out of the house.

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Yet another road casualty

When I drove to work on Wednesday there was another dead badger on the road through the woods on the outskirts of the village, almost exactly the same spot as the casualties of October last year and April this year.  I had a train to catch so I couldn’t stop to check the sex, but it looked fully grown.  When I came home at the end of the day it had been moved from the road (hopefully just onto the verge, but you hear odd rumours of people taking dead badgers away.  I don’t even want to think what for…)

This makes three badgers in a year killed here, almost certainly from the same sett.  I hope the sett is big enough to withstand the losses.  It must be a fairly active one – I’ll have to see if I can locate it when I get time.

So it goes…

I’m aware that anyone visiting this site will be confronted by depressingly regular tales of dead badgers.  I’m sorry about this.  It isn’t my intention to focus on unpleasant matters just for the sake of it.  What I want to do is to build up an archive of badgers in my local patch.  By recording the road casualties here in my diary (and I only include the ones in or immediately around my village), it means that I’m saving the information.  Perhaps it is just the scientist in me, instinctively collecting data, but in years to come it may reveal a pattern.  Nevertheless, if we get many more road deaths I may need to find a less public way to record them.

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For the past few months, while I have been wandering the countryside and pondering the mysteries of badgers, my wife has been quietly and patiently getting on with something much more important.

At 4.00am this morning our first child was born.  I’d like to introduce Scarlett Elizabeth to the world.  She’s beautiful.  I simply cannot express how happy I am, and how proud I am of my wife.

Scarlet ElizabethSo I’m now a dad!  Blimey.   It’s either time for me to grow up or an excuse to act like a kid again.  To my wife’s amused horror I’ve started searching the internet for camouflage baby slings.   I’m looking forward to taking a few gentle strolls around the countryside with my daughter.

In the meantime, things may go a bit quiet on here for a little while.  At least now you know the reason why.

Right, time to get some sleep while I have the chance…

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BBC Countryfile MagazineThe BBC Countryfile Magazine has just published its list of the top 50 British wildlife websites and I’m pleased to say that they’ve selected Tales from the Wood as one of the top 10 mammal websites.

Blimey.  I don’t know what to say.  This is all very unexpected.  I’m just a (very) amateur naturalist.

I’m kind of blushing here, to tell you the truth…

Anyway, check out the whole list here BBC Countryfile Magazine Top 50 British Wildlife Websites

Thanks guys!

50 Best British Wildlife Websites

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