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The landscape on Adakoy

The landscape on Adakoy

At the end of May last year I was off on holiday, wandering around Turkey looking for wild tortoises.  Well, we’re creatures of habit here in the BWM household, so guess what?  I’ve been doing the same thing this year.

We’ve spent the last couple of weeks in Turkey again, in a place called Adakoy near Marmaris.  It’s a fantastic place – mountains and pine woods sweeping down to the sea, and all pretty unspoilt still.  Our hotel was on a small island  about five miles across, which apart from a few other houses was entirely deserted.   I doubt if many people have ever walked for fun across the island, but the craggy rocks, steep hills and pine trees were crying out to be explored.

Once again, I found tortoises.  Lots of tortoises.  I came across a dozen or so on an afternoon’s walk.  They’re still odd things to come across in the wild, but I’m getting more used to them now.

Wild Turkish Tortoise

Wild Turkish Tortoise

On a slightly more scary note, I also came across a snake crossing one of the rocky paths, black in colour and at least three feet long.  I was too slow to take a picture, and at the time I had no desire to plunge into the undergrowth after it.  Looking it up on the internet later, it seems to have been a type of whip snake – impressive but not venomous.

Here’s an interesting creature which was quite common – the Dung Beetle.

Dung Beetles

Dung Beetles

You see, I didn’t lose my fascination with poo just because I was on holiday…

This is the scarab of Egyptian mythology, the kheper hieroglyph.  The Dung Beetle builds itself a round ball of dung, which it then pushes into a hole in the ground and into which it lays its eggs.  The larvae hatch and feed on the dung.  To the Egyptians it symbolised life, and the sun was sometimes thought to be pushed across the sky by a huge dung beetle.  They were fascinating to watch, particularly since they seemed to have no scruples about stealing the dung ball off another beetle.

The hills were home to a variety of birds.  Buzzards were common, soaring on the thermals, as were a group of Ravens.

Raven in Turkey

Raven in Turkey

The whole landscape was very interesting.  Whenever I go on holiday, I’m amazed that so few people ever set foot outside their hotel or off the road.  I had a great time and got to see a whole new part of the world.

Anyway, I’m back in Bedfordshire now and catching up on work, correspondence and general chores.  The weather has obviously been good here because everything in the garden seems to have grown by a couple of feet.  After all my travels lately it’s good to settle down for a long weekend.

 

 

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New Chickens

Chicken come out!I’ve spent the long weekend at home with Scarlett, catching up on stuff and playing in the garden between downpours.

One short note for the diary is that we’ve got some new additions to the BWM household.  Four of them, in fact.  Four new chickens to replace Mabel and Henrietta who were taken by a fox last year.

They’re Magpie hens.  I don’t know much about the breed (I let Scarlett choose them) except that they’re a Sussex hybrid, suitable for our free-range run, and they lay 240 or so brown eggs a year.  With Clarissa still laying that works out at about 20 eggs a week.  Good job friends and family like eggs!

Incidentally, we’ve had no other fox trouble lately.  A few days after us and the neighbours lost our chickens, a fox was killed on the road nearby.  Maybe coincidence, but we’ve not been bothered since.

All I need to do now is find names for our new girls…

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God created Arrakis to train the faithful

Frank Herbert Dune

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A Scene in RiyadhOnce again I’ve been absent for a while.  I’ve got a better excuse than usual this time. I’ve been out of the country for work.

I’ve just come back from a trip to Saudi Arabia, where I went with a small team of business psychologists to assess the senior executives of one of their big companies (which is the sort of thing I do for living).  It’s been hard work, but worth it: it’s an interesting place.  The people are incredibly friendly and hospitable, but the climate is a bit harsh.  I’ve been basking in temperatures of 40+ degrees during the day and 30 degrees at night.  When you walked out of an air-conditioned building it felt like opening the door of the oven.

And now I’m home, to a very soggy and flooded Bedfordshire.  The ditches are overflowing, the fields have standing water and my road was a stream when I arrived.  Home sweet home!

Enough excuses.  More badgers soon…

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Blackthorn Hedgerow

Blackthorn Hedgerow

I don’t know if it’s just me, or if anyone else has noticed, but the Blackthorn flowers seem particularly splendid this year. The blossoms appeared early but they’ve been in full flower for a good few weeks now, lining the hedgerows in white while the other trees are just coming into bud. The Blackthorn is, of course, the plant that gives us sloes (and last year’s sloe gin has been particularly fine, incidentally).  There’s a lot of folklore attached to it: it’s wood is hard and dense and traditionally used for shillelaghs and cudgels.  My tracking stick is made out of Blackthorn, and a good sturdy stick it is too. Now, the flowering of the Blackthorn means that we should be in the ‘Blackthorn Winter’, the cold snap that traditionally accompanies the flowering.  And today it’s certainly felt like it.

Scarlett in the Vegetable Garden

Helping in the Vegetable Garden

I’ve been in the vegetable garden for most of the day, planting peas and beans. Scarlett helped – I dug the holes and she put in the seeds.  And we’ve been shifting loads of manure.  We are on sandy soil here on the Greensand Ridge of Bedfordshire.  It’s easy to dig, free draining and warms up quickly in the spring, but nutrients tend to wash out quickly so the vegetable beds need all the help they can get.  Luckily we have a friend with a horse, and the stables have an inexhaustible supply of manure.  It’s a bit of a shame to be using my executive motor to carry dustbins filled with poo, but it’s worth it for the garden.  And I do clean it afterwards, of course.
Steaming manure on the vegetable garden

Steaming manure on the vegetable garden

The weather today has certainly been changeable.  The day started with a frost and a thick coating of ice on the car, but has been mostly sunny and bright, apart from sporadic squalls of hail and cold rain that have sent us scurrying for shelter.  And the wind has been bitingly cold.  Looking out of the window it’s been a lovely spring day, but at times I was secretly glad to be next to the warmth of a steaming dungheap.  The Blackthorn Winter indeed…

Mucky Girl in the Vegetable Garden

Luckily this was before the manure was put on, but I'm sure Mummy won't be impressed when she gets home from work...

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Village Cider Collective 2011It seems that autumn is here, despite the warm weather of the last few days.  The leaves are turning on the trees and hedgerows, most of the harvest is in (we’ve been gorging on blackberries for weeks!) and there’s a definite chill in the morning air.  The summer seems to have flown by.

But every season has its own special treats.  Autumn, in our village, means cider.  On Sunday the village cider collective convened for the third year of chopping, pulping and pressing and juicing.

The idea of the collective is simple.  Lots of people have apple trees.  Very few eat all the fruit.  Making cider is a good way of using up the surplus, but for most people it isn’t worth buying and storing the kit required.  So what we do is get together and pool apples, equipment, bottles, labour and knowledge – a cider collective.  Everyone who contributes gets a share of the spoils.

We’re getting quite good at it.  The whole thing is run like a well-oiled machine.  But to be honest, apart from the gruelling hard labour, Cider Day is more about getting together with the neighbours for a jolly day out.  The cider is a bonus.

Mostly a bonus.  Sometimes it’s a bit of an acquired taste.  We’re still learning the art of cider making.  This year we produced 20 gallons of apple juice for cider, plus fresh juice for everyone (fresh apple juice is delicious – darker and murkier than anything from the supermarket, but absolutely delicious).  We’ve adopted a scientific approach this time.  The cider has been split into four batches, each of a slightly different recipe and strength.  These range from simple scrumpy (OG 1050) to the sinister and potentially lethal ‘Nick’s Brew’ (OG 1080, plus crab apples for an extra tannin bite).  We’ll see how each brew turns out, and hopefully replicate the good ones in years to come.

I’ll make a note of how it goes.  Right now I need to check the 10 gallons of cider bubbling away under my dining room table…

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I admit it.  I haven’t been out much lately.  In fact, the nearest I’ve come to taking a stroll in the deep dark wood is reading The Gruffalo with Scarlett each evening.

I’ve been busy at work, with big projects in exotic places like London, Paris and …Watford, with too much work at home in the evenings.   I’ve been busy at home with various chores that have kept me going from dawn to dusk at the weekends, ranging from fixing the lawnmower (I am now an expert on servicing the Briggs & Stratton petrol engine, if anyone needs advice) to re-laying the block paving on our drive in the pouring rain yesterday.  It’s been busy busy busy, but at least it’s keeping me out of mischief.

And what about the mole?  Where is the mole in all of this?  Well, I came home from work this evening to find a dead mole in the middle of my newly-laid block paving.  How it got there I don’t know.  I can only assume that it got flushed out by the torrential rain yesterday and the cat caught it.  Maybe she left it there as a tribute to my paving skills.  She does that sort of thing (remember the rat in the dining room?)

I can’t remember ever seeing a live mole.  I’ve certainly seen molehills in my vegetable garden.  As the latest in a long line of  ‘dead animals I have found’ pictures, here’s the mole.

Mole

Do dead animals count as a tick on my mammal list?  Not even if they’re on my own drive?

Back soon, hopefully…

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Clarissa, Mabel and Henrietta - our three Speckeldy hens

Clarissa, Mabel and Henrietta - our three Speckeldy hens

It’s nice to think that although we’re in the middle of the dark and the cold of winter, warmer and brighter days will come again.  One of the key dates each year is the winter solstice, when the days start getting longer.  Another is the first egg of the new year.

Chickens stop laying in late autumn when the long nights begin, and they start laying again in the new year when the days have reached a particular length.  I had the first egg today from my three chickens – Clarissa, Mabel and Henrietta.

I’ve kept a note of this date for the past three years now, and it is consistently in the last week of January.  I now know when I can expect to have eggs again.  It may not sound very important, but we’ve grown accustomed to tasty, fresh eggs from our free-range hens.  I don’t like having to buy eggs from the supermarket.  They’re not the same, believe me.

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In the grip of winter…

Winter SkyWhoa!  I turn my back on things for a little while and suddenly it’s winter.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was walking along the hedgerows, picking berries in the autumn sun as the leaves turned a mellow gold.  Now there’s no doubt that we’ve turned the corner into winter.  The country is gripped by a cold spell, with freezing temperatures and snow in the North and East.  We only had a light dusting of snow here, on Friday, but it’s damn cold.  To give you an idea, I went out to the DIY shop at 10.ooam today (my life really is that exciting) and the thermometer read -4 degrees even then.  I’m doing that quintessential winter chore of going out each day with a kettle and defrosting the chicken’s water, which is freezing almost solid overnight.

The DIY trip sums things up at the moment.  I haven’t done much lately, to tell the truth.  I had a couple of successive weekends in which I fixed leaking pipes in the loft and mended a dodgy EGR valve on the new executive motor (an all-too common problem on diesel Vectras, apparently).  After all this, Scarlett fell sick with an unpleasant (but not dangerous) stomach bug last week, so I was looking after a sick toddler.  Then Mrs BWM caught the bug so I was looking after her too for a short period until I caught it myself.  A friend of mine refers to his children as ‘little germ warfare factories’.  I understand what he means now…

So things have been quiet on the wildlife and outdoors front.  I haven’t managed to get out at all, what with things to do and the short winter days.  I did get out for a quick walk today – my first in some weeks – but even though I had Scarlett wrapped up in her warmest hat, mittens and furry bear suit it was just too cold to be wandering around for long.  The fields are frozen like iron and there’s a bitter wind blowing.

Hopefully I’ll have some slack time soon.  In the meantime I think I’ll batten down the hatches against the cold and dream of those far-off summer evenings for a while.

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Sloes in the hedgerow - the fruit of the blackthorn

Sloes in the hedgerow

 

I’m afraid my life isn’t very interesting at the moment.  I’m spending most of my free time hidden away in an outbuilding writing the final entries in my professional logbook.  Once I’ve submitted this at the end of the month, assuming I pass, I’ll be a Chartered Psychologist; and then I’ll be Badger Watching Man BSc MSc CPsychol, thank you very much!  In the evenings it’s just me, my laptop and a mouse that lives up the chimney and keeps me company (for the interested, I think it’s a Mus musculus rather than an Apodemus sylvaticus, but it’s a bit shy and I never quite get a good look at it).

It’s been glorious weather today so, like Mole in The Wind in the Willows I said “bother chartership logbooks!” and took Scarlett out for a short walk around the fields.  Despite the sunshine it’s definitely autumn now.  The trees are starting to turn and the vegetation is dying back.  The hedgerows are still fruitful though.  There are late blackberries still to be found.  Now, you’re not supposed to eat blackberries after a certain date (either Michaelmas (29th September) or 11th October, depending on which version you follow) because allegedly the devil comes up and urinates on them.  It is true that they don’t taste great later in the year, but I had a few today and they were quite nice, so perhaps the devil is waiting until tomorrow.  Scarlett took no chances and refused them all.

The hedgerows were also full of hawthorn berries and rose hips.  I know you can make rose hip syrup, which is a good source of vitamin C for the winter, but I don’t know if you can eat hawthorn berries.  I’ll check it out sometime.  I’ve never heard of anyone eating them, so either they’re not edible or just not very tasty, but there were a lot of them so it’s something to think about.  There seems to be a good crop of sloes this year too (hence the dreadful and inexcusable pun in the title).  As you’ll know if you’ve ever tried one, Sloes – the fruit of the blackthorn – are so tart as to be inedible, but I picked a bagful with an idea of making sloe gin.  Apparently the trick is to put them in the freezer so the cell walls burst and the flavour comes out into the gin more easily.  As an alternative you can prick them all over, but that sounds like far too much work.  We have some chestnut trees in the spinney down the road, but the squirrels seem to have eaten all the best ones, just like they ate all the nuts on my hazel bushes earlier in the year.  Perhaps I’ll take a walk one weekend up to Aspley woods, where there are lots of chestnut trees, hopefully enough so that the squirrels can share their bounty with me.

My short walk took me along the sandy field where I do a lot of tracking.  It seems to be planed with wheat already and there weren’t many tracks to be seen, but I did find something mysterious.  In a couple of places there were ridges of earth running out about 15 feet into the field that looked like something had burrowed along just under the surface and pushed up the soil.

 

The tracking field with mystery tunnels

The tracking field - if you look closely the mystery tunnels lead out from the path

 

There are lots of rabbits in this field, and voles too, but I’ve never seen anything like this before.  There were no molehills in the immediate vicinity.  I assume they’re tunnels made by an animal, but I don’t know which one.

 

Mystery tunnel in field

One of the mysterious tunnels

 

I like a good mystery.  It’ll give me something to think about as I toil away in the evenings working on my logbook.

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Busy busy busy… Again…

Everybody seems to be busy these days.  I mean that in a general way, of course, but it seems to be true.  I follow a few blogs on general wildlife, bushcraft and related topics, and being busy seems to be a general theme at the moment (like Pablo, John and Steve, for instance).

This is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve been too busy myself to get outside or do anything wildlife related.  The last few weekends have been busy with making cider and a series of (very enjoyable) social events.  On the work front I’ve just come back from a week-long trip to Saudi Arabia (a very interesting country for all sorts of reasons).  I’ve helped Mrs BWM plaster a wall (among her many talents she’s a trained plasterer).  I’m up against a deadline to finish my logbook for my professional qualifications (I’m in the process of becoming a Chartered Psychologist).  To cap it all off I’ve started trail running again in preparation for a half marathon at the end of October (fool!).  All of this has eaten up my time lately.

Busy busy busy.  No damn cat, no damn cradle.

Hopefully things will quieten down soon and I’ll get back into the woods soon.  Promise.

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