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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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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…

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…

The adult badger in the rain

The adult badger in the rain

We have a standing joke in our house.  About four years ago my father-in-law kindly bought us an irrigation system for the garden – a very nice one, with a hose and individual little sprinklers.  Since then, every time we plan to install it, nature responds with prolonged rain that makes it entirely unnecessary.  The irrigation system sits unopened in the shed, and we joke that even to mention it will provoke an inevitable downpour.

The early spring was fine and warm, and we’re officially in a drought here.  But last week we talked about the irrigation system, with predictable consequences.  It’s been torrential rain all week.

Since my last badger watching trip in the rain (in which I vowed never to do it again) I’ve made some adjustments to my kit.  I’ve improved my waterproof camera cover and bought a lens hood to keep the rain off the front of the lens.  This means that I no longer need to shelter the camera under my coat.  I’ve even bought a new pair of waterproof trousers (from my local country and outdoor store, Rugged and Tough in Hockliffe – an Aladdin’s cave of quality clothing and accessories), which takes care of my bottom half.

All this is was useful, since by 7.00pm I was sitting in a tree under a heavy shower and with a cold wind blowing in my face, but pretty warm and dry.  I wasn’t expecting much from the badgers in this sort of weather, but I’ll take any chance to get out and get watching, especially since it’s the season for cubs to be emerging, if there are any.

The camera shy badger cub

The camera shy badger cub

As the church clock struck 8.00 and the light was fading, a badger popped up from the west end of the sett.  Aha!  So this end of the sett is occupied again.  A quick scratch and a visit to the latrine site, and at 8.15 it was joined by a second badger, this time a young cub.

This is good news, as the sett can do with a few more badgers.  The cub didn’t move far from the entrance to the hole, as I’d expect at this time of year, and it went back underground after 5 minutes or so.  It was a little camera shy and I couldn’t get a good picture of it, but it was good to see it.

Another badger came out from the east end of the sett at 8.30 and trotted busily around the undergrowth, but by this time the light was pretty much gone.  I’m glad I didn’t stick to my resolution of staying inside when it rains.  I don’t know if there are more cubs, or whether any new badgers have joined the sett, but at least I’ve seen the first cub of the year.

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...

Live by the foma [harmless untruths] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle 

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Splashing in Puddles

Splashing in puddles - the fun side of rain

Most of the time I like to think I’m a positive chap, or at least I’m generally cynical in a cheerful kind of way.  But every now and then I have one of those moments of clarity that makes me question just what the hell I think I’m doing for a hobby.

Take this evening, for instance.  It’s been raining all day and I’ve been digging the vegetable garden, taking time out to splash in puddles with Scarlett (an activity she absolutely loves).  But seeing how it’s the last day of the holiday, and that I’ll be back in the office tomorrow, I’ve had an irresistible urge to go out and watch badgers again before I swap my camouflage clothes for my pinstripe suit.

6.30pm saw me sitting against a tree at the north side of the sett.  I don’t often sit here as the wind is usually in the other direction, but today it was blowing from the south of the wood, and the north side gives a good view of the big new spoil heap.

The rain was steady.  I sat on the damp ground with my camera tucked into one side of my open coat and my binoculars tucked into the other.  My gear was nice and dry while I was getting nice and wet.  I’d brought my camouflage umbrella with a vague idea that I’d set it up and sit under it, but I was sitting closer to the sett than I planned so I opted for a damp and inconspicuous low profile rather than comfort and left the brolly down.

I sat there for an hour, getting steadily wetter.  I really must get myself a pair of decent waterproof trousers one day (prospective sponsors please note!)  The badgers failed to make any appearance.  Badgers don’t seem too bothered by rain when they’re out foraging, but it does seem to keep them indoors later.  Sensible beasts.

By 7.30pm the light was failing, as were my hopes of an award-winning photo, or even of seeing a badger.  I confess I was thinking of home, when the wind suddenly blew up, the rain started hammering down and somewhere in the wood there was a tremendous crash and clatter as a substantial branch broke off in the wind.  Never mind the badgers – it was definitely time to head for home, through fields lashed by wind and rain.

As I walked I thought about what I needed to do to make badger watching in the rain a more practical option.  I could rig up a small hide from my umbrella with my camouflage tarp over the top – very snug.  I’ve made a waterproof cover for my camera out of an old dry-bag with the end cut off and the lens poking through the drawstring top, so I could put that into operation.  I could store my gear in a dry-bag in my rucksack, rather than under my open coat.  I could…

Hang on!  Wait a minute!  What am I doing?  What am I thinking?!  The obvious answer to badger watching in the rain, BWM old chap, is NOT TO DO IT!  Stay at home.   Drink tea.  Watch TV.  Read books.  Don’t sit in a cold, dark, wet wood.  They’re only badgers, after all.  In the midst of this stark moment of clarity my beloved camouflage umbrella snapped in a gust of wind, and my disillusionment and misery were complete.

Don’t worry.  It’ll take about a week for me to dry out all my gear and by then I’ll have forgotten about the discomfort and I’ll be ready to do it all again.  I’ll repair my umbrella (epoxy and aluminium bar should do it).  I’ll try out the umbrella/tarp hide idea.  I’ll get a pair of waterproof trousers and I’ll do all the other things I planned, and I’ll be out in the wood again, come rain or shine.  The call of the wild is too strong to ignore for long…

I’ve just returned from a very pleasant Easter break with my parents up in Cheshire.  We’ve had a great time, with Scarlett having plenty of space to run around in, Timmy the dog to play with, and a visit to Chester Zoo to see the elephants and tigers (and the Giant Otters are highly recommended).  All in all a very nice few days.

Even with all this going on, I found time for some badger-related activity.  I was lucky to have the local knowledge of my parents to guide me, and I was able to visit a few different setts.

The first sett is instructive.  Here it is – a splendid entrance inside a hollow tree in a hedgerow, with a big spoil heap of sandy soil.  Badgers seem to like to have sett entrances in or under trees, either for support or protection.  Perhaps it’s a little close to the farm buildings behind, but still a very nice place for a hedgerow sett.

Cheshire Badger Sett in Hollow Tree

Cheshire Badger Sett in Hollow Tree

But – if I show you the full picture, the scenario changes.  Here’s the sett and the spoil heap in the middle of the picture:

Cheshire Badger Sett by the Road

The Hollow Tree Badger Sett - next to the Road!

As you can see, it is right on the road.  Not a big road or a busy one, but right on the road.  It shows just how adaptable badgers can be, and that not all badgers are to be found in the depths of secluded woodland.

I spent a few hours on Saturday evening sitting out by a large sett in a patch of woodland near Delamere Forest.  Unlike the roadside sett, this particular site is well off the beaten track, so I had high hopes of spotting the residents.  It was not to be, however, proving that the badgers in Cheshire can be just as awkward as those back home in Bedfordshire.  The sett was clearly active, with deep paths and four holes with big, fresh spoil heaps outside.  It was a good site to watch too, with the holes in the side of a steep ravine.  I could sit on the other side and get a clear view as if across an arena.

I watched until dusk (8.20pm), but I had no night viewing aids (binoculars or NV scope) with me, so I didn’t stay too late.  Perhaps the badgers were using other holes round the corner.  Perhaps Cheshire badgers are just late risers.

It was still a good evening.  I listened to the alarm calls of Blackbirds and watched as a Tawny Owl – the target of their alarm – crossed the trees in front of me.  I spotted a Goldcrest flitting about in a low tree, which is a new bird for me.  Unfortunately, autofocus lenses can’t pick out a bird from a tangle of branches, so the photo isn’t great.  You can see the bright yellow stripe on its head though.  I know it’s there, anyway.

Goldcrest

Goldcrest (in there somewhere...)

The evening was livened up by the antics of a squirrel in the tree opposite.  One of the good things about my new camera is its quick shutter compared to my old bridge camera, which had a delay of a second or so between pressing the button and taking the picture.  It makes it easier to get proper ‘action squirrel’ mid-air shots like this:

Leaping Squirrel

Leaping Squirrel

So no badgers, but it was a good weekend all round.  A nice family break, a visit to the zoo and some new wildlife.  Happy Easter everyone.

Grandad BWM and Scarlett at Chester Zoo

Grandad BWM and Scarlett at Chester Zoo