31/12/20 It’s not so easy as you might think to identify a buzzard-sized raven in flight simply by size, unless there happens to be a crow mobbing it. And then you have to be certain that is a crow rather than a jackdaw or rook.
It has taken me a few years of experience and research to become confident in my identification of ravens. The first time I saw them must have been on a primary school trip to the Tower of London. As far as I know, I never saw or heard one again until I started walking the Southwest Coast Path. Making slow progress over the steep Cornish cliffs, I was alerted to the presence of an unfamiliar bird by a cronk: a deeper, gentler, altogether more beautiful and friendly sound than the caw of a crow.
Its voice is distinctive, but its pitch can vary, and this confused me at first. Sometimes the cronk is unmistakably low and sonorous; sometimes it is higher and sounds more like a gentle version of a crow. This is still the most reliable method of identification, however, along with its tail – if you manage to get a look – which is diamond-shaped (usually described as wedge-shaped), in contrast to the crow’s fanned tail. It has taken me many sightings and hearings, both at home and in the surrounding countryside, to be sure – absolutely sure – that the visitors to my garden the day after the winter solstice were a pair of ravens.
Monkey Chicken’s example was followed to the letter this autumn, with a Very Big Party to begin the season. I have never attempted anything so chaotic before, and have my friend Rachel to blame for her encouragement of the mad idea of a camping party. Approximately 30 adults and children came to camp in my garden for the weekend – although a few of them opted for a bedroom instead – and even more came to join us for a barbecue on Saturday lunchtime. With hot, sunny weather – no sign of autumn – live chamber music in the background for at least half the weekend, and Winnie becoming officially the Luckiest Pigeon in Suffolk by having a piece of music written especially for her by Rachel, I couldn’t have hoped for a more special start to my new decade… We were even serenaded by tawny owls after dark.
This summer has been full of excitement and activity, and, sitting in a sunny garden listening to bird song while I write, I am glad to feel it is not yet over.
With only a few small pauses between B&B bookings – all of which were occupied by visits from family and friends or short musical trips away from home – and averaging 5 concerts a month since April, I feel happy to have made it to mid-September without having to hide in a darkened room (more than once or twice, at least).
There have been so many highlights it would be hard to choose between them. One, of course, must be the many lovely people I have met and the joy with which they have shared my house, garden and creatures during their stay. Many of the other highlights are of course creature related. A kingfisher flew over my pond – I’m not sure what he was doing here as there are definitely no fish in it, but I was very happy to see him all the same – and I have seen hares in my garden almost daily. One crossed the bridge recently, which I as a result I now consider a magic bridge. Leia the chinchilla, who sadly lost her friend Solo earlier in the year, found a new friend and it only took a few days before they were snuggled up together. Malteser and Dusty the rabbits… well, cute, fluffy and funny pretty well sums them up. The goaties have, surprisingly, refrained from too much mischief this season but continue to rule the garden and the chickens with their usual self-assurance.
19/6/2019 Last time I looked it was April: I’m not sure where this spring has disappeared to. I have been willing it to rain so that the irises in my rapidly drying pond might have the chance to flower before the goats ate them all. My wishes were in vain: but somehow a few flowers managed to escape their jaws nevertheless. The rain came too late for the irises, but the vegetables and fruits are thankful, as am I, for having far less watering to do than last year. And for the absence of moral dilemmas: my water butts are being filled regularly, so the hose is rarely called for.
After a slow start with bookings, this spring has been all about B&B, vegetable gardening and music, to the neglect of my new bathroom which has been waiting several months to be painted. But that is a winter job, and it will just have to wait: I have learnt that ruthless prioritising is the only way forward in spring. Meanwhile, the vegetable beds were mended and cleared in February with the help of a friend, and I finally got round to repairing, cleaning and goat proofing the greenhouse – only two years late. So both are in full green swing, prompted and encouraged by my friend Steve, who has been passing on spare seeds and plants and acting as my vegetable growing consultant. ‘What do I do about the potatoes which have been squashed by a crow that got stuck in the vegetable enclosure?’ ‘Will my Brussel sprouts recover after having nearly all their leaves broken off?’ (The rabbits and goats were happy with their dinner after that mishap.)
Meanwhile Dusty and Malteser have been specialising in cuteness; Winnie the Wood Pigeon is as gorgeous as ever and will soon celebrate her 2nd birthday; the goats took full advantage of their one opportunity (and I shall ensure it is their last) to break into the beautifully fenced rhubarb bed and leave a scene of devastation behind them; and my new rescue chickens, Cheeky and Monkey (Monkey is below centre) – no need to say more – have settled into Crossways Farm life as though they never knew anything else.
Holy Trinity, Middleton
Outdoor temperature: 10.9˚C; indoor temperature: 8.9˚C, humidity: 78% It was another glorious morning. Middleton was the neighbouring village to the south of Westleton, which I had left until now because there were fewer churches in the vicinity, and I had visited most of them already. Today, I only had time for two church visits on my way home. I was looking forward to it: I didn’t know Middleton at all.
So I thought, but when I arrived, it looked familiar: I must have driven through once or twice before. It is odd that I didn’t remember its name, because it is a distinctive and friendly-looking village, with pub, church, and many houses clustered around a village green of just the right size to give a sense of both space and community.
20/12/2018 It very much still feels like autumn, and I’m glad about that. I can carry on enjoying walks and garden jobs accompanied by chickens and goats without having to brace myself too often to go outdoors. I know I will warm up soon enough with activity, but that doesn’t stop me putting off going out in the cold…
Autumn seems to be the quietest B&B period. More so than winter. I think once New Year has passed, people start needing to think about their next long weekend or holiday in order to get them through till spring. I don’t mind having a quiet period: it gives me a chance to catch up on all the long overdue tasks of mending, sorting, tidying (indoors and out), admin, getting myself generally a little more organised than usual, and even decorating. And this year I actually feel as though I’ve made the most of the time available, to the extent that three years after building work was completed, I am finally getting round to decorating the animal room and finding a way to permanently rodent-proof the wattle and daub walls, which are slowly but surely being transferred to the floor by chewing chinchillas and excavating rats… I am also well on my way to having a new bathroom (the last time it was done was likely in the 1950s) along with other smaller but equally essential renewals or additions, such as paving improvements and a proper fence for my rhubarb bed that I defy even Ilo and Felicity to breach…
(The embedded audio player may not work on some browsers: download audio file here)
10/12/18 The sound of tawny owls isn’t restricted to autumn, or even to night time. They are usually not far away at any time of year, and a few years ago there was a period when I would hear them in the garden more often at about 11am than any other time of day.
Recently I noticed I had been missing them. Autumn nights are not complete without that most magical of sounds: a sonic reproduction of alpaca wool. It is a sound I could snuggle in. What a contrast to the bird that produces it! Loose-feathered and beautiful as tawny owls are, I am under no illusion as to their cuddliness. One glimpse of those piercing eyes and deadly beak and claws instantly corrects any mistake on that front. Their babies are another matter, however. Perhaps the sound is of owlet fuzz rather than alpaca wool. It certainly has the same effect on me as looking at a photograph of a baby owl.
30/9/2018 Many of you know the story of Winston the Wood Pigeon. But you may not know the latest developments. Beginning with the fact that Winston is now Winnie. And no, she is not confused about her gender.
Winnie and her sibling came to live with me aged approximately two weeks. Becoming a pigeon parent was a steep learning curve, and sadly Winnie’s sibling didn’t make it. But Winnie was a tough old bird, and when she took her maiden flight on the day I visited Winston church in August last year, her name was decided.
19/9/2018 It has been a busy and fun summer, full of sunshine, B&B guests, church concerts, animal happenings and house improvements…
The two most important events that have happened this season are, first, the arrival of Dusty and Smudge, two gorgeous and soft rabbits. Dusty is a Lionhead, like Dexter (though with more upright ears), and Smudge is a Mini Lop. They cannot replace Dexter, who is still deeply missed, but they are a great joy and comfort. After a few weeks of rabbit withdrawal, and sure that I’d find no other rabbit that would match up to Dexter, I thought perhaps I might just go and meet a few rescue rabbits and then make up my mind.
Dusty and Smudge, then called Pippa and Jasmine, were the first two rabbits I met. ‘I won’t be taking them home,’ I told the volunteer at the rescue, ‘I’m only coming to meet them’. But before I left I had reserved them and told her I’d be back the next day to collect them.
18/6/2018 It has been a good spring, despite its late arrival. After a wet and boggy start, leaving everyone desperate for sunshine, its end is dry and sunny, leaving everyone (with a garden) desperate for rain. Some rain would indeed be welcome, but guests, creatures and I are having no trouble at all appreciating the good weather…
This season has had many highlights. To mention just a few, we have welcomed four new cuddly ratties (Badger’s relatives) and four new chickens, who have settled in well and are laying beautiful eggs. There were one or two adventures at the start due to my forgetting to have their wings clipped before I brought them home. It took me nearly two days and a fair bit of neighbourly detective work to track down one of the girls who had made her way to someone’s garden down the road after the goats frightened her over the shed roof…
I also had a friend to stay last week for a two-and-a-half day intensive gardening session. In that time we managed to transform a cage full of weeds back into a fruit cage and raised beds planted with courgettes, squash, sweetcorn, kale and tomatoes. I still have to check regularly to make sure I’m not imagining it! Thank you to my friend Gina for all her hard work and weeding enthusiasm.