Day 28- Showcase on a nature table

During the whole month of June we have been collecting, sorting, storing and growing our treasure trove of nature finds.  The nature table takes pride of place in our little Montesori inspired corner of the kitchen.

 

The tally so far includes : Sensory box, wormery, Ladybird ‘viewarium’, Insect guides from the bug farm, Wildlife trust guides and our Go Find It cards (a fantastic nature based card game for families) .

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Decoration includes our 30 Days wild poster, stickers (lots of stickers) and a cool Ladybird lamp that happened to be here already!

 

I couldn’t fit all of the childrens nature books on, so we’ve had to have a second nature table in the living room! I’ll post about this later.

I am enjoying watching the girls being able to explore and learn about nature at any point in their day. C enjoys pulling a chair over to check out the finds on top of the table and to see if anything new has been added. This morning I watched as she ran her hand along the top of the unit until her fingers bumped into the cold, hard snail shell. She stood, with her face turned away towards me, running her fingertips over her find, tracing the outline of the coiled carapace. A slow smile crossed her face. ‘Ooh, smooth’ she exclaimed, before skipping off to take an important phone call from the Teletubbies .

She has started to learn the names of garden birds, and yesterday flapped across the living room, pretending to be a Blue Tit. When I asked her what colour feathers she had, she looked at me with a mix of disgust and disbelief and said ‘ Blue of course, you can stroke them if you like.’ Gosh, how wonderful it would be to be two again!

 

Day 25- Mapping it out.

I have wanted to map out the fields for a while now.  I have only lived here for 3 years and have not yet become acquainted with the farm’s nooks and crannies. Today’s  Random Act of Wildness offered me the perfect chance to do just that. Not exactly OS standard of map drawing, and it is most definitely NOT to scale, but hey ho…it’ll do!

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F is always saying ‘I’m going to move the fence in such and such field’ and I nod along as if I know exactly where he is headed. In reality I only ever remember about 3 of the fields by name.

 

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The Cow Park is a great expanse (in my mind anyway) of relatively flat ground, which proves how plant life can still coexist with modern farming methods. On a quiet evening walk around the perimeter I have encountered Docks, nettles, bramble, clover, gorse, Chickweed, thistle, buttercup,Blackthorn, Hawthorn, ash, sycamore, Red Campion, Dandelion, vetch, speedwell…the list goes on.

The farmyard itself provides homes for many wild beast and fowl. We live on a farm….rodents are everywhere! Brown rat , field and house mice are often spotted dashing from hiding spot to hiding spot, trying not to be seen. Bats roost in the 200 year old barns and whizz around the yard at dusk, snapping up insects that multiply in the manure pile.  Pheasants stalk in the grass behind the heifer shed. A flock of wild pigeons settle down noisily each night on the roof of the cow shed. Occasionally a Sparrowhawk takes a pigeon , which is amusing to watch as they are much bigger than him!

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Summertime sees the Swallows return, the air filling with their clicking and whirring calls. Starlings arrive in late October, gorging themselves on the barley used to feed the cows. Buzzard and red kite are frequently seen soaring overhead, especially over winter months and after hay is cut.  Little owls during the Spring to screech outside the farmhouse in the small hours. We suspect they nest in the old ash trees that occupy the Meadow and Ox Park hedges. Barn owls are also seen later in the summer, hunting along the hedgerows and calling to each other across the fields. Their shrill cry sends a shiver down my spine.

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As I found out by doing the bioblitz that our garden and the sheds around the farmhouse are home to many creatures. We have seen great tits, blue tits, chaffinches, robin and sparrows on the feeders. Dunnock and wren fight over the spillage from the bird table. Collared doves are currently nesting in the hedge behind the immature oak.Thanks to our first attempt with the camera trap we know that there is a family of magpie, with two fledglings, here too.

 

Jackdaw are everywhere on the farm at the moment, the nest in the feathering loft has fledged at long last.

The log pile is our mini beast ‘Hilton hotel’. The meadow patch is wilder than ever at the moment, thanks to the recent wet and humid weather.

Business at the bee café is swift, and the ‘menu’ has expanded since the Scabious has finally flowered. Over the past month I have also become aware of (and showered curses upon) the large slug and snail populations residing in the garden.

Thanks to the 30 Days Wild project, I have finally had a chance to take stock of what coexists with us on the farm. It has also made me realise I know the farmland a lot less intimately than I would like to! Hopefully this will be the start of getting well acquainted with the rhythms of the wildlife that live on our patch of Wales.

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Day 23 – Mr Phes.

Down behind the cow shed, in amongst the tall grass and gorse bushes lives a pheasant and his mate. I have affectionately (and imaginatively) named them Mr and Mrs Phes.

Mr Phes is a loud and gaudy specimen. I have to admit, with a bright red wattle, bottle green head feathers and a white ‘collar’ he does look very fine. He struts and shouts across the fields, ‘chuck chucking’ and squawking as he patrols his territory. Mrs Phes is a much shyer creature, her subtle gold and brown plumage affording her excellent camouflage as she slinks amongst the grass.

 

Pheasants are quite common in the fields and woodland around us, and they are often to be found running along the country lanes, usually into the path of oncoming vehicles. I thought pheasants were a rather recent introduction to the UK, but it turns out that they came over with the Romans. Its ‘original’ homeland is 2000 miles away, in eastern Asia. Over the centuries they have spread across farmland and woodland habitats, becoming a ‘quintessential’ member of countryside fauna. Pheasants are also farmed for shoots, with necessary management practices playing a role in shaping the landscape.

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The RSPB illustrations for male and female pheasant.

 

Despite all his showiness my Mr Phes is rather camera shy. If I dare to get too close with my camera he explodes into the air in a flurry of feathers, madly beating his wings and clucking angrily until he can reach the safety of a hedge. Tonight, however, would be different. I had a cunning plan.

I decided to take a wander down to the cow shed in the evening, just as dusk was settling over the farm. I had planned on making a ‘surprise visit’ to Mr Phes, via the ‘back entrance’ to his abode. However, the large flock of wild pigeons that roost in one of the barns had other ideas. As soon as they saw me coming they rose into the air as one , and flew laps over the yard. They passed so close I could hear the whirring of their wing beats.

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The heifers in the shed were pleased to see me, and bounded over to the fence in an expectant fashion. Human means food. Once they realised I had nothing on me except my camera they went back to snoozing and mooching about in the straw.

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I sidled round the end of the shed, and paused, camera at the ready. Sure enough I could here a ‘chuck chuck chuck’ call  coming from the vegetation. Mr Phes had noticed me, and was trying to make a run for it. In pheasant terms, ‘making a run for it’ appears to mean ‘ walk as slowly as possible and pretend that everything is perfectly normal’.

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I followed Mr Phes at a respectful distance, as he retreated behind a trailer. He led me straight to his mate, who promptly shot into the undergrowth and disappeared from view. Mr Phes then continued his slow walk into the ‘Meadow’ field, where he stood crowing and beating his wings in a display of masculinity.  I decided to leave him to it. The dark was encroaching and the temperature was dropping, so I headed back into the farmhouse.

 

 

 

Day 4 (Al)Luring

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Todays activity…moth trapping. I used to live in a very rural part of Ireland and remember moths covering our kitchen window at night if we turned the indoor lights on. I haven’t seen anything like that since living in Wales, and can’t actually remember the last time I saw a moth . This seemed like the perfect chance to become reacquainted.

I knew that there were essentially 3 options:

  1. Ready made light trap.
  2. Home made light trap.
  3. Sugar solution.
  4. Rotten fruit

The first option turned out to be a bit too expensive for my ‘surving-on-maternity-pay’ budget. Fear of electrocution or a power tool related trip to A & E crossed ‘home made’ light traps of my list of options. We already have a ‘butterfly snack bar’ out, with fruit gently decomposing , so that left option 3.

Sugar lures seemed the safest, cheapest method of seeing Moths. Apparently there are various different tried and tested ‘recipes’available . The common denominator amongst them seems to be sugar (well Duh!) and beer, fortunately both things I consider to be ‘store cupboard essentials’.

My chosen recipe used approximately 250ml of stout, 500g brown sugar and 3 tbsp syrup. Other alternatives are treacle, and dark molasses sugar is the bees (or rather moths)knees. You can also try adding a drop of rum or vanilla essence to the mixture to make it even more tantalising.

In case you fancy giving it a go, this is what I did:

  • Put ingredients in pan and bring to boil, stirring continuously.
  • allow to simmer for 5 minutes before removing from heat.
  • Allow to cool, stirring occasionally.
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Sugary stouty syrupy goodness…it smelled divine!

 

The site I found the recipe on suggested pouring the mix into a coffee jar when cool, but I decided to work with it whilst it was still warm. I took the pan outside and selected a few logs (with ready made ‘handles’) to adorn, as well as an old gatepost at the side of the house. It was quite good fun!

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Then it was time to wait. I’m not very good at being patient, so it was a good thing that I had the usual bedtime struggle with the baby and toddler to distract me.

I decided not to get my hopes up. This might not be a very lucky night, and I might not attract any moths at all. Apparently some nights are naturally better than others (low wind, warm and humid conditions) but sometimes no moths will appear even if the night is deemed ideal.

At 10.30 pm I couldn’t wait any longer. I grabbed a torch, and some red acetate to act as a filter (Moths are less affected by red light). Guess what? Not one moth on any of the sugar lures. 2 woodlice were enjoying a snack but that was it.

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I did spot a few moths flitting about over head. One alighted on the wall long enough to get a photo, but I haven’t been able to identify it yet. DSC_0427.JPG

I think this may be one to revisit and try out another recipe. I did enjoy being out after dark though, something I haven’t been able to do since having my children. As a student in Edinburgh I used to venture up Arthurs seat in the dark so I could look down on the city lights .When I first moved to Wales I often went for runs on the beach once the sun had gone down, relishing the alone time and the crashing waves, cold sand beneath my toes . As kids in Ireland we would play out in the summer until we couldn’t see the ground in front of us. We would take torches and go out to see the Sika deer that came to graze at night in our fields, or watch bats or barn owls. On one occasion my sister and I set our alarms for 2 am to get up and watch  a meteor shower. I don’t think I would have thought to go out at night again if it wasn’t for the 3o days wild challenge.

Beetling about

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“Notwithstanding their filthy trade, the dung beetles occupy a very respectable rank.” J.H Faber.

After a rather damp and dismal morning, the sun finally appeared after lunch. As F still had jobs to do around the yard (Sunday is not a day of rest for a farmer), the girls and I went for a walk with him on the farm. We headed along the cow track to the ‘Ox park’, a field that the cows had  grazed in the night before. C was making quite a bit of noise (typical toddler) so I figured the chances of seeing any wildlife was pretty low. I was wrong-as we entered the field F motioned for me to be quiet. He had spotted a fox. It scoped us out for a few seconds before disappearing into the hedge. I was quite surprised to see a fox in the middle of the day, but F says he is seeing them more and more during daylight hours. He thinks it has coincided with an increase in numbers, which has possibly forced them out to hunt and scavenge during the day.

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The ‘Ox park’. You can see our dairy herd in the background.

C was having a great time finding cow pats to splodge in. I spent most of my time watching the ground to avoid stepping in the dung, as I had JoJo tucked in her sling. Although they might seem a nuisance, these piles of dung actually provide a valuable resource for some insects. Nearly every pat had a ‘sprinkling’ of little Yellow dung flies. These flies lay their eggs in the pats, and the emerging larvae are ‘coprophagic’ (they eat the dung!) . The adult flies feed on other insects that visit the pat.

Some pats  had lots of little shiny black beetles scurrying about on them. My entomology is a bit rusty, but I think they were Water Scavenger beetles. These beetles rely on cow dung for all stages of their life cycle. They play an important role in distributing and breaking down the dung- a ‘natural’ form of fertilising! They can be affected by the use of anthelmintics (medication used to worm cattle) , so it was reassuring to see them.

The beetles were fascinating to watch. Their tunnels snaked around under the crust of the cowpat, and every so often one would emerge from a burrow, scuttle about a bit and then disappear down another hole. I got a bit messy trying to get a closer look-next time I might try and set up a dung baited pitfall trap rather than resorting to digging about by hand!!

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Water scavenger beetle disappearing into its tunnel.