I was awake early this morning and a most amazing sunrise began to unfold before my eyes. I got my camera and walked out into the frozen world.
For the last few evenings I have witnessed some interesting behaviour. Around about 7pm a group of may be twenty Canada geese fly over the garden towards the sun set. After 10 or 15 mins another larger group, or perhaps the same group with more individuals fly over in the the same direction and this carries on for half an hour or so with the group growing to perhaps 60 or 70. Then as it starts to get dark 8.20-8.30 some of this large group fly back sometimes in smaller groups 8-12 perhaps but also in one huge flock of several hundred. They must congregating somewhere not too far away and then going home to roost.
There is something magical about making a fire and I love making fires when other people are involved so that it becomes a social thing. In February I cut the dogwood around the pond and dragged the cuttings to make huge piles in the wood. This had become overgrown with nettles and brambles and it was quite unsightly so we made a fire to burn quite a lot of it. It was a warm sunny day and when we had nearly finished I put some damper wood onto the embers and it generated a lot of smoke. I was mesmerised by the way the smoke caught the sunbeams as the sun went down.
There is nothing quite like seeing a family of animals at play. This year I have wtinessed rabbits, geese and deer all enjoying (I'm sure they do feel this emotion) interacting with each other in a playful way. Two days ago I caught this family of deer enjoying their freedom, the space and the fence.
There is nothing quite like seeing a family of animals playing. This year I have wtinessed rabbits, geese and deer all enjoying (I'm sure they do feel this emotion) interacting with each other in a playful way. Two days ago I caught this family of deer enjoying their freedom, the space and the fence.
In one of those interesting coincidences, the day I made this movie of the deer playing in the garden, I watched a BBC2 programme called ‘Animals at Play’ which demonstrated that many different species engage in play defined as: voluntary and repetitive behaviour, when the reward is the activity itself rather than trying to achieve a goal like feeding or breeding. When undertaken when the animal is young it is often a prelude to serious (adult) behaviour - like fighting or fleeing. Play is undertaken when the animal is healthy, and when they feel safe and relaxed (unstressed).
The programme makers claimed that play prepares animals for the unexpected, it enables animals to develop the neural pathways that enable them to react quickly when it is necessary for their survival. Play is also an important social process enabling families to sustain their relationships and perhaps, like when we play, it releases hormones like dopamine that make them feel good.
July 8 – arriving home from a two week holiday I noticed the Canada Geese were still here but as I approached them they all flew a few feet into the air. I remembered last year that the morning after I had seen them fly for the first time, they were gone. I wondered whether I should walk back to the house and get my camera but couldn’t be bothered and sure enough the following morning they were not to be seen. I was disappointed – they had been a part of our everyday life for the last 4 months. I was left wondering whether they waited for us to come home before flying away?
After 2 weeks the grass had grown but the main thing that struck me was the ragwort in the paddock. It had more or less taken over the eastern end which was a mass of yellow. The daisy-like, yellow flower heads of Common Ragwort belie the poisonous nature of this plant. Renowned as a weed of paddocks and pastures, where it can be harmful to livestock particularly horses. Ragwort is a biennial, flowering in its second year from June to November. I wondered whether its flourishing this year was because I had mown the paddock earlier this year and it had more space to grow. The upside is that the plant is one of the most frequently visited flowers by butterflies and other insects in the UK and more than 200 species of invertebrate have been recorded on it. Ragwort is the foodplant of the black-and-red Cinnabar moth: sometimes its black-and yellow-barred caterpillars cover the plant, totally stripping the leaves.
This is the 7th 1 minute movie in the series of movies I have been making about a week in the life of my garden. This one focuses on the 3 acre woodland area bordering the garden, in spite of the noise of the traffic it is a restful place full of life.
The wood is dominated by ash but there are many other trees – oak, wild cherry, blackthorn and hawthorn amongst them. The ash trees rise majestically 30 metres and sway in the wind. They are perhaps 100-150 years old and the wood is copiced. It could have been part of the ancient woodland known to have covered this area in the 13th century. The grown flora is wonderful with a multitude of spring flowers. My favourite spot is in the middle of the woods where the ground is often a bit boggy. Tall grasses grow into the path and the ground is covered in wild flowers in spring.
A few weeks ago I started relaying the paths with wood chips from some trees that had been felled – I call it the yellow chip road. There is something magical about its appearance as it meanders like a river through the dense greenery on either side.
Its soft and springy underfoot and I can walk along it without making a sound which makes it even more magical. By the side of the path are stacks of logs made from the trees that have fallen or had to be cut down.
The Roe deer are my favourite visitors to the garden at this time of the year. It always surprises me that such big animals live so close and yet we rarely see them up close. They are very shy and they don’t normally come close to the house but just occasionally they surprise us. Last week we were having dinner at around 8pm when I looked up and saw two deer close to the window. Even though I think they could see me they stayed for several minutes. More typically I walk around the edges of the field next to the garden with my video camera running and hope to catch them as they spring from the thickets along the fence line and charge down to the woods. But I am always excited when I catch a glimpse. Last night I saw a deer feeding in the field. There was an overgrown pylon in the line of sight so I crept up behind it. The wind was blowing towards him so I was pretty certain he would be aware of me and sure enough as I came round the side of the pylon he was ready to dash. But I caught a glimpse of him leaping into the woods. I slowed the film to reveal the grace with which he turns and leaps. Last year we had two baby deer about this time, but I haven’t seen any young-uns not so far.
Here is the fifth of my 1minute movies which I am assembling into a 7 mins week long movie. The garden is full of rabbits at this time of the year. I think we must have at least 100 scattered around and they dig holes in the lawn. They are a nuisance but we put up with them in the knowledge that one day I will probably have to re-turf the whole garden. I can’t deny they are entertaining to watch and a constant reminder that we share our garden with them and lots of other animals. As I write this I can see 4 on the grass in front of me. They have dug a burrow under the summer house with entrances at each of the four sides and it houses a whole family of rabbits – 2 grown ups and at least 4 little-uns. I have also seen the neighbour’s cat waiting to pounce on the little-uns but so far I think they have all survived. In fact, everything seems to go for the baby rabbits. A few days ago I saw a crow attack one as it ran across the field. The rabbits have been the most difficult animal to film. They pick up the slightest movement and are gone into the bushes by the side of the garden. Yesterday I crept to within about 6m of a couple of them but could not get any nearer.
The other character in this garden tale is the resident fox who comes by every few days and hangs out for a bit hoping to catch one of the little-uns but they disappear before she gets anywhere near them. More than likely she has some cubs somewhere but she has yet to show them to us. She criss-crosses her territory picking up scents and occasionally digging something up- probably a worm. I enjoy watching her move, sometimes she looks a bit drunk but there is also something delicate about the way she places his feet – almost like a thoroughbred horse. She looks to be well fed but only rarely do I see him with a rabbit in his mouth. I wish he was a bit more efficient at catching rabbits but she is not fast enough to catch the big-uns. I have seen her pass rabbits only a few metres away – she knows she can’t catch them so she doesn’t bother. They seem to co-exist quite happily together - and so should I.
SEQUAL - this very afternoon I was creeping round the woods next to the garden when I thought I saw a cat prowling through the undergrowth. I stood still and watched a cub fox poked his head up and continued to rummage for a minute or so before moving off. So he had already learnt to hunt for himself.
There is a gentle breeze and the air is full of floating white fluffy seeds from the clump of three white willow trees over near the paddock fence. It’s possible to watch the seeds leave their catkin and dance away on the wind until they are out of sight. White willow is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers grow on separate trees. Catkins appear in early spring. The male catkins are 4-5 cm long while female catkins are 3-4 cm long and a bit narrower than the male. After pollination by insects, the female catkins lengthen and develop small capsules, each containing tiny seeds encased in white down. These white feathery attachments help seeds to float on the wind like a dandelion seed head. I slowed the film down so that I could see more clearly their dance on the wind.
As I stand under the willows I am amazed at the entertainment before my eyes and I become enveloped by the participants. I step outside the tree and look across the almost horizontal flow of floating seeds. They dissapear out of sight. The wind is blowing to the east and the seeds flow like a river in that direction. I walk to the far edge of the field over 50m away and they are still floating past me. Some get caught on the hedge but a multitude carry on into and across the next field. This is an annual cycle. On my camera I notice I had filmed the same event on May 18th almost exactly one year ago.