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Archive for the ‘Diary Post’ Category

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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Village Cider Collective 2010

Today we made cider.

Cider - before and after

The village cider collective met for its second year to turn surplus apples into cider – a simple process involving a garden shredder, a large apple press and a few hours of fairly enjoyable labour.

Cider production in full swing

We didn’t have as many apples as last year, but we’re going for quality rather than quantity.

Apples ready for cider

We ended up with a little over 11 gallons of fresh juice.  We drink some of it fresh, which leaves 10 gallons slowly fermenting under my dining room table.

The final apple - cleaving the bum-shaped fruit

I admit, it would be much easier to just buy a crate of cider from the supermarket.  But that’s not the point of the collective.  It’s a way of getting together with the neighbours, making use of local fruit that would otherwise rot and be wasted, and it’s very satisfying to drink something that you’ve made from scratch.  If you’ve got apples, link up with your own neighbours and get brewing too!

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Holidays in the Sun

What made these tracks on the beach

Question: what made these tracks on the beach?

I’ve just got back from holiday, which explains why things have been a bit quiet on here lately.

We’ve been up in Anglesey, North Wales.  A beautiful part of the world, and we had beautiful weather to go with it.  We’ve been sitting on the beach in the sunshine, introducing Scarlett to the pleasures of making sandcastles (great fun) and paddling in the sea (a bit too chilly!)

I confess that I haven’t done much from a wildlife perspective.  I spent the days with the family and the nights fishing.  I don’t go fishing very often these days, so this was a treat for me – or at least it was until I became increasingly obsessed in my hunt for the fish.  At least I’ve got it out of my system for a while.

Beach Tracks

Answer: a one year-old with the urge to explore

I spent a very enjoyable day with a friend of mine who was carrying out a 3d laser scan of an ancient monument in the area.  The neolithic burial chamber of Barclodiad-y-Gawres dates back 5,000 years or so.  Although there are many similar prehistoric monuments on Anglesey, Barclodiad-y-Gawres is almost unique because of its decorated stones.  To protect these from vandalism, a concrete dome has been built over the site and entrance is highly restricted.  My friend was creating a full scan of the site, accurate to millimetres, to create a full virtual model of the monument.  This was being filmed for the TV series Hidden Histories, so watch out for that on the BBC later this year.  My role on the day was to carry the tripods, act as a general assistant and swap theories with the various archaeologists present.

Laser scanning at Barclodiad y Gawres

Does this have anything to do with wildlife?  Well, maybe a little.  For a start, we were accompanied on the day by a pair of choughs.  These delightful little crows are still rare, but they seem to be expanding along the sea cliffs of Anglesey.  It was the first time I’d seen them in this spot, anyway.

A second wildlife connection came from Barclodiad-y-Gawres itself.  The tomb is famous because the archaeologists who excavated the site found a collection of small bones from, among other things, wrasse, whiting, eel, grass snake, frog, toad and mouse.  They interpreted this as the remains of a strange ‘ritual stew’ that the stone age builders had made.

Filming for the BBC Hidden Histories programme

Filming for the BBC Hidden Histories programme

Personally, I don’t believe this.  I think that the bones were much more likely to have come from the dung (‘spraint’) of an otter.  I’ll write up my theory and the evidence for it in a proper paper one day.  It’s ironic really.  I was talking to some of the leading archaeologists in the field, and I managed to steer the conversation round to animal poo.

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I’ve spent the weekend without a car.

I’d love to be able to say that this was deliberate and part of a return to a more sustainable way of life (in the manner of John from Musings of Murphyfish).  Unfortunately it wasn’t.  It was because the engine of my (admittedly elderly) car blew up on Friday.  I was driving home from Birmingham on the motorway when the crankshaft failed, with the end result that the engine welded itself into a lump of metal with smoke coming out of it.

So it goes.  I spent the weekend looking for a new car.  Mrs BWM feels that it is time for me to get a motor that reflects my smart executive status.  She also insisted – quite rightly – that I get a car with a heater.  My last car didn’t have this luxury feature and it caused some hardship during the winter.  As for me, the only requirement I have for a car is that I can fit a bale of hay into the boot!

Now, part of my philosophy as a (very) amateur naturalist is that I study the wildlife within walking distance of my house.  In that respect, not having a car shouldn’t have held me back.  However, the search for the perfect heated/executive/agricultural vehicle kept me preoccupied for the weekend and so I’ve had no time to get outdoors.

I’ll do better in the future, I promise.

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Redcurrants

RedcurrantsToday we picked our redcurrants.  Last year we went away for a weekend and came back to find that the birds had eaten every last one of them – little sods.  This year we netted them against the birds and got a bumper crop (although the local blackbird was circling us like a hungry shark even as we were picking).  Redcurrants are beautiful to look at as well as to eat – a lovely, translucent red; and for the small amount of space and effort they need we get a great return of fruit from our three bushes.

In total we got just over 7lbs with enough left on the bushes to keep the birds happy.   Time to find a recipe for redcurrant jelly…

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