Thursday, April 23, 2009

Barn Owl Chalet

You remember my telling you about the Barn Owl box the size of a Welsh chapel and with a Swiss-style overhanging roof? Well, here it is, in its new home in the fork of an ancient pear tree. If I were a Barn Owl, I would take my shoes and socks off and LEAP into it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bob Scott

Today I went to a memorial service at St Mary's Church, Buckden. I don't like funerals and I don't like memorial services, but this is not about me. This is about one of the giants of British ornithology, Bob Scott. One by one, we are losing our giants. I just hope the generations coming up can fill the shoes of the likes of Bob Scott. He was the best:- knowledgeable, energetic, charismatic, and he had the common touch, rare nowadays.
And you must forgive me if I have had a glass or two more than usual tonight:- I don't like losing old mates.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The garden in April

This spirea species is a wonderfully vigorous plant, so it's a pity that it flowers for such a short period. It was given to me years back by a green-fingered lady in the village, who told me not to prune it. "Just leave it alone", she said, reminiscent of a similar exhortation from my mother in a slightly different context.

Little Owl box

It seems that someone has at last cracked the mystery of how to make a simple but effective box for Little Owls. The picture shows a scaled down model that I just made (2/3 life size, with Kiki's mini-teddy to give an idea of scale). The fun bit was finding a way to cut the circular entrance hole. This involved the purchase of an attachment to my Bosch hammer drill from Mackays in Cambridge, a shop modelled on Aladdin's Cave.
My next project is to build a full scale box (about 30 cm each dimension) using offcuts of plywood retrieved from one of the farms we visited yesterday.
And here, for those who have never seen one, is a Little Owl. It was introduced into Britain from the Continent in the eighteenth century and is now well-established in all suitable habitats.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Goodness, where did the time go? Still no Wheatears, still no Ring Ousels, so bugger birds: I am going to tell you about Charlotte. Let me set the scene: old Central Heating Boiler finally giveth up the ghost, need for new CH Boiler emergeth. Man in posh suit arrives, assesses scene, sends estimate for new boiler, which I accept, given that I have no choice if I don't want to die of chilblains, or worse.
Technician arrives to install new boiler, turns out to be 20+ year old young woman called Charlotte. I make no comment, being not a reconstructed male, but at least a discreet one, and she gets down to the business. Next day, her two "helpers" arrive, a middle-aged guy called Chris, and an apprentice called Sam. And Charlotte is their boss. I LOVE IT!
Now, I have a new CH boiler system, everything is the dog's b..........s. And, as a bonus, Charllotte's partner, Martin, works for a farmer Ramsey way, so, thanks to Charlotte's intercession, today Peter and I went over there to put up a Barn Owl box, and to arrange to repair another to make it more effective.
I love Charlotte, not because she is a fine young woman, though that isn't a bad reason, but because she is a mensch. And we did something for Ramsey's Barn Owls into the bargain, thanks to her. I just hope young Martin realises what a wonderful partner he has.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

They're on their way!

My colleague Paul saw three Yellow Wagtails on the fen yesterday, one of the summer visitors that we all love to see. This is the first record for 2009. Other species due to arrive soon include Wheatear, Ring Ousel and Turtle Dove, as well as all the warblers. Today, I trolled round half the fen and found nothing, well, I did at least see two pairs of Lapwing looking as if they were going to breed. But if I don't find, say, a Wheatear soon, I might take up another hobby altogether. Flower arranging maybe.

Captain Webb

In 1875, Captain Matthew Webb, a native of Dawley (the village in Shropshire next my own natal village, and about which I have already written) was the first man to swim the English Channel. My daughter's current gentleman admirer, Mark, is going to attempt to do the same in mid-July this year. I do not intend to ask him WHY he wants to do this. I hope, though, that if or when he gets to the other side, success will not go to his head, as it did to Captain Webb's. That poor old bugger just kept looking for new challenges and finally died in 1883 trying to swim through the whirlpools below Niagara Falls.

Saturday, April 04, 2009


That stands for Barn Owl Conservation Network, and today I attended its annual Symposium. I learned a lot, met some old friends and colleagues, and raised my confusion about certain topics to a much higher level. The venue - Sheepdrove Farm somewhere west of Reading - was idyllic. The weather was just about perfect and thhe lunch was, erm, different: totally organic, a carroty soup followed by a fruity flan, washed down with apple juice (I think).
The presentations were in most cases excellent, by which I mean people spoke clearly, the technology worked (Powerpoint, of course) and lots of good information and thought-provoking ideas were put forward. Only one speaker mumbled, and only one overran her time.
All in all, a good day out, but I do have only one minor quibble. The person who designed the seats was clearly a dwarf with a bum the size of a hot-cross bun. My backside was in agony after about half and hour. But, let's face it, suffering has always been the price we seekers-after-truth have had to pay for enlightenment.

Trellis goes international

Dear Mrs Sarkozy, she writes, I had no idea you were a purveyor of duck recipes, you being French and more likely to eat raw meat and crushed frogs' legs and such. Thanks to the late Mr Trellis, I once experienced Peeking Duck, aptly named as its eyes followed you round the room as you poured gravy and orange peelings over it. I should have killed it first.
Anyway, I didnt really enjoy it, but my late hubby, bless him, thought it very erotic - is that the word? - and said that you could eat every part of a duck except the squeak. Or was that pigs?

Listen, dear, you eat what you fancy, and feed up that husband of yours - he looks really skinny to me, not a good advertisement for a country that prides itself on its gluttony.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Forever Amber

The lady from EAGA, whose name is in fact Amber, wrote to me again, this time telling me I qualified for the £300 discount on the cost of the installation of my new central heating boiler. Thank god I didn't return the four long-life light bulbs.
So, da guys are coming next Wednesday to fit the new boiler, and whatever it costs (which is a lot), it will be three hundred sovs below quote, thanks to Amber. Amber, I will remember you forever.
And if you guys understand THAT allusion, you must be as old as I am!

The course of true love....

You all know me for a romantic old scrote, and I apologise if I have involved you emotionally in the love affair of my pair of Mallard. But I can't keep this to myself. This morning, HE was in the garden, but SHE wasn't.
I panicked. A lover's tiff? Had she finally succumbed to the charms of that muscular male from the other day? Or, heaven forfend, had one of our local poachers had her on his plate with baby new potatoes and succulent garden peas?
I tell you, mes potes, this kind of thing really takes it out of me. It's worse than cholesterol. But just now, kissed by the rays of the late evening sun, there was MRS Mallard, calm as you like, but MR Mallard was not with her.
I know, or at least I hope, this means that she spent the day on eggs, while he noshed in my garden, and that he is now on incubation duty in order to relieve her so she can in her turn get something to eat.
I hope so. I really didn't like the peas-and-potatoes scenario.


I have started a series of photo albums in Facebook. If you want to take a peep, go HERE.
Or paste this url into your browser:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Shed trash

You know my Land Rover, the one with the fancy bull-bars on the front, yes? Well, I park it down the side of the house just in front of my garden shed, yes? And my neighbour opposite, Sue, said "I am sure one day you are going to drive right into your shed", yes?
Silly woman.
And yesterday, returning from another successful erection, I climbed out of my Land Rover, my mind on the good bottle of wine I was going to open to celebrate another well-sited Barn Owl box.
And the Land Rover continued to roll. I had forgotten to put on the handbrake.
And it hit the garden shed.
And there was the sound of wood splintering.
And there was a great mess....
....which I have spent most of today putting right. The shed will never be the same again, but I effected a pretty cool repair. I took the photo above AFTER the repair, but you can still see some signs of the splintering, and you can certainly feel the MENACE of the vehicle.
My only problem now is how I will face Sue when she finds out I fulfilled her prediction and trashed my own garden shed.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Good ole boys

There's a couple of derelict barns on Dairy House Drove with evidence of roosting Barn Owls. There's another derelict barn about a klick away on Cross Drove that I have never visited, but looks promising. So, I stopped to chat with a good ole boy on a tractor, told him my mission and asked him if he knew who owned the Dairy House Drove barns.
"Oh, those belong to ole Keith L, But....", he says, pointing across the fen to the derelict Cross Drove barns, "that's where you ought to put your boxes.That's where the ole owl is."
He told me that they belonged to Graham M. "He's a good ole boy, he won't mind." So I checked and, yes, ideal with evidence of roosting Barn Owls. So I tracked down Graham M, and got his blessing to put up a box, which I did. Then I tracked down Keith L, who had sold his land and barns on to Nick E..., another good ole boy. So I tracked down Nick E, who said go ahead, which I did.
So two more military boxes have now found homes on Haddenham Fen with every chance that Barn Owls will breed in them. On top of that, I have made the acquaintance of two more good ole boys. Maybe one day someone will call me a "good ole boy", but I doubt it, as I am a newcomer, only been here 26 years.