Down to Earth

Further to my last post on 1st March I put two types of bird feeder at our field end, on our northern neighbours overhanging willow branches. The hope was to see if endangered species of willow or marsh tit might be present in this type of environment, and if so, might they be attracted by this food. Daily visits reveal the fat balls are a hit but the Niger seeds are not. No sign of marsh or willow tits alas but we’re well compensated by the sight of a flock of pretty long tailed tits enjoying the feast. Insectivores, they are clearly also partial to fat balls. Until this point I had seen more of these endearing creatures stopping off at the feeder in the yard of my terraced home in Lancaster than I had here in the rural heart of Northumberland. Rick Thompson in his delightful book Parklife, A Year in the Wildlife of an Urban Park, memorably describes a long tailed tit as being like a ball of wool with the knitting needles sticking out.

Big Sean showed up this week with his tanker and pipe to empty our septic tank. Gentle giant of a guy, shaven headed, covered in tattoos and a true countryman, we had fun testing pipe inflows into the tank and he showed me some tricks of the trade to handle future blockages, should we be unfortunate enough to have them!. Our brick and concrete settling tank, hidden in the ground, lies at the bottom corner of the garden, a decent fallaway from the house. Surrounded by blackthorn, gorse and briar, it’s a prickly mini-wilderness to deter human ingress and provide a haven for birdlife. We discover on lifting that some of the concrete slab covers are cracked so will need replacing soon. Must needs get hold of some railway sleepers and cut them to fit across its length.

Everyone is aware just how much lockdown has affected ways we communicate. Because we can’t be with the far off youngest broods of grandchildren I’ve taken to sending them videos shot on the mobile phone when out and about. Given their fascination with all things mechanical that’s invariably the subject matter; from the septic tank suction pipe in operation to contractors banging in field fences, to diggers and tipper trucks clearing a town centre construction site…I’ve had great fun keeping the clips coming for this select but appreciative audience of under 7’s. The other form of entertainment I’ve sent them has been home recorded stories.

The compact electric powered shredder I bought in the farm supplies store sale has proved really useful for recycling cut wood. Branches too thick to chip (over 35 cm) I’m slowly stacking in the spinney as another refuge, beside logs, for wild animals to shelter in or explore. In the past I’ve seen weasels and stoats in and out of such hideaways. We’re excited to have a weasel in residence somewhere about the place. It’s been spotted raiding the vole colony in the rockery after we’d initially suspected its presence from seeing footprints in the snow in February. Likewise a hare will occasionally make a welcome appearance in the garden, unconcerned at our presence, yet maintaining distance. Still surprises us that seen up close a weasel is as small as it is and a hare as large.

After a clean out of their stable Southridge gifted us a digger bucketload of horse manure & straw over our boundary fence. I’ve been commuting back and forth with the wheelbarrow ever since; spreading it on flower beds, round fruit trees and bushes, topping pots and bolstering compost boxes. With the Spring offensive under way at last we’re increasingly involved in garden renewal and maintenance…Winter’s nature friendly dead foliage is cleared, some frost killed shrubs dug up and replaced with other more hardier varieties. The pond, I’m cheered to note, is stirring to life as yellow globe flower heads swell and floating strands of veronica leaves green up.

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