Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Rats and Chooks, A Visit To St Cats, Introducing My Vole, An Apology To C.A.L.U.M. and, We Have I-Phone Lift-Off!

We are over run with rats.

It is not a nice experience.

So we have to do something.

The general wisdom is that the combination of a ready water supply in the form of the nearby lake combined with a ready and easy food supply in the form of the girl's chicken food means short of putting down some Very Nasty Indeed poisons (which we won't do) the rats will remain. And then multiply. And then multiply again. And probably again after that.

So, after much soul-searching, we have decided to give up our hens. They've been with us five or six years and I will be sad to see them go, but they are only moving down the lane to a (to be honest) far superior abode (in the form of ma's garden), so we will be able to visit them. Hopefully, that will sort our little rat problemo out.

I've been out at a college practical today- a field trip to St Catherine's Hill, an iron age hillfort and nature reserve.

It was cold. Does that show in the pics?

 But we are Brave and FoolHardy Ecology Students, and so we kept going....

 In fact, compared to our trip to Richmond Park to see the deer rut last autumn when we all got completely soaked, this visit was relatively comfortable.

St Cats is bordered by Twyford Down, which some of you may remember from the protests that went round the country 19 years ago, when the M3 cutting was put right through the middle of these ancient hills and trackways. I was at uni in the city at the time and a friend got his pictures of the demonstrations of what became known as the 'Dongas Tribe' into the national papers. The cutting is still an eye-sore and I suspect if it were required now a tunnel would be the preferred method. The motorway slices straight through the middle of the hills, cutting them off from Winchester entirely, which is not Great News for the local wildlife...

St Cats is chalk downland and part of the management plan involves the grazing of livestock to produce a mixed level sward. Sheep nibble it right down and the cattle leave it a little longer. This benefits all the invertebrates who call the hill and surrounding valleys home (including the increasingly rare Brown Argus butterflies who live on the slopes here).
The trust that manages the hill grazed British White Cattle here. The jackdaws were having a Great Time this morning pulling our their coats for nesting materials. There are gonner be some swanky-looking fur-lined nests round about....

St Cats (or the valley to one side of it) was used as a burial pit during the 14th C when the Black Death wiped out most of Winchester. There are still restrictions in place today that prevent disturbance of the ground around the graves. I've always found that section of the hill an eerie, sad place to be.

The ancient hospice at St Cross, about which I have written before, was visible across the still soggy water meadows as we made our way back to the cars....

Here is a picture of some of my Chums, squashed into the landy on the way home. And at this point I have to issue a Very Public Apology to Calum (see, only one "L") for miss-spelling his name in a previous post. I promised I would Cal, and I have!

I popped into winch for a spot of retail therapy afterwards, but forgot I was wearing my 'traipsing round the hills in very cold weather' kit and made the mistake of going into Jigsaw, where the shop assistants and the customers alike looked like they would very much have liked to call the police and have me forcibly ejected for bringing the tone of the place down. This is becoming a pattern. Sigh.

Back home and Scruffy Mucking About Clothes (as M rather endearingly calls them) are not remotely out of place, in fact they are de rigeuer. The birds didn't seem to care (or notice), probably because they are all too knackered to be bothered about what people are wearing, run off their feet (flown off their wings?) as they are, feeding small children whom they've hidden away in their nests strategically placed round the garden...

And as far as Pop and Ted are concerned, you could walk round the house naked and they wouldn't mind, as long as you put their fire on for them. Remember how this used to be Teddy's fire and Pop was lucky is she got half a paw on the blanket in front of it? Those days are long gone...Incidentally, don't you think she's grown? Nearly as big as Teddy these days.

Squashed up as close as close can be

I think I mentioned that we have a Vole (I think he's short-tailed, unless he's met with an unfortunate accident) living in the front veg patch? I first noticed him some time last week and have seen him a few times since. A couple of days back I noticed he has made himself a Nice Front Door in the form of a hole into a tunnel on the other side of the beds from where I first saw him. This suggests to me that he considers the whole of the veg patch as his stomping ground, something I have been worrying about, because M also consider the veg patch to be his stomping ground. I say have been worrying about rather than am, because today something happened that made me suspect the vole won't be remotely bothered about M being there. 

I thought I'd try and get a piccy for you. I expected this to be difficult (voley people being notoriously shy and fast and his hole being nearby), so you'll imagine my Complete Amazement when I went out with the camera and found him, not only sitting out in broad daylight by his hole, but remaining calmly there while the dogs crashed up and down the path in front of him like lunatics, battering themselves against his fence. I was desperate to wave them away but honestly thought he'd skedaddle if he heard my voice or if I moved. As it was his face was obscured by some blades of grass so I thought perhaps he didn't know I was there. 

In the end the dogs were driving me mad so I took the risk and waved them away and then took a step or two forward so I could see him properly. 

Did he bolt as expected?

Heck, no. He remained sitting where he was, looked calmly at me for a good few minutes, and only when he'd checked me out thoroughly did he turn round and amble off down his hole. Magic. I LOVE knowing he is there.

Properly Gorgeous

The latest Des Res chez Countryside Tales
He's chosen the spot well as it is underneath the Quince Tree (more or less), which is looking Very Romantic at present, covered as it is with pretty pink blossoms. This should stand him in Good Stead when it comes to serenading any Potential Mrs Voles. If I were a lady vole I would fall for a boy vole who'd built his house underneath a quince tree, suffused with blooms...

The only other thing of note to tell you is that the new iphone has arrived and I am already hooked, largely due to the fantastic wildlife-related apps you can get for it. This is going to prove Enormously Useful for college, where we do a lot of ID tests for all sorts of wild-related things...


I've already downloaded a goodly selection and had fun last night  testing M on various bird songs and wild flowers. This was gratifying because I can easily beat him at it, which makes up for all the University Challenge episodes....

These apps are great- the birdsong quiz one tests your knowledge of the calls of various birds, and I have another one which tests birds by sight. The wildflower one has got different settings for the quiz element, so you can choose to test your know-how against the leaf, flower or the whole plant. Its the same for the inverts one and the winter twigs. Happy Days! You know what I'm going to be doing for the foreseeable future.

I'll leave you with a pic of those two devoted doggy people trying to kill each other on the garden path, as you do....(Mr Vole lives just behind the fence on the right).

Hope your week is going well?

CT x


  1. Glad that you are having fun with your new phone!! I hope that you get the ratty problem sorted out, that is not fun. At least voley your other new resident is a lot friendlier!! We have three levels of clothes in our house, the bottom level of which is scuffing!! xx

    1. Glad you also have your own version of mucking about clothes- presumably, you are smarter than me when it come to going into town and posh shops?! x

    2. Not so much! We have smart - posh for restaurants, weddings etc - normal - what we were all the time - and then scuffing - that we try and keep to the back garden and indoors so that no one else sees!! Out and about in town and shops comes under the normal heading which would be for me jeans or trousers and a top of some kind! xx

  2. Thanks for the advice on the niger feeder, I'll get one then.
    Another question. What's the advice these days on putting out nuts at this time of year? I am hoping that the industrial close gauge mesh on our feeder means that the birds won't be able to winkle out whole nuts. Last year the woodpeckers even took bigger pieces down to the ground and broke them up on stones before taking them off to the babies. They made countless trips back and forth and we raised three new Woodrows that way. I'd hate to miss this experience, but hate to inadvertently choke little birds even more.

    1. Ooh, now, the honest answer to that is I don't know. I will ask at college and get back to you. For myself, I tend to think the birds aren't stupid and know what they are doing. Our feeder makes it hard to get entire nuts out but I will double check. Thanks for raising it :-)

  3. I, too, have what I call 'grubbing clothes' which are usually old floppy tops and jumpers and trousers that are beyond being seen in public. The pupils at school are mostly appalled that I do not wear jeans to non- uniform days. They are even more appalled when I tell them it is because I do not possess a pair of jeans. But their most appalled faces are saved for when they discover I am vegetarian. They can't get their heads around that one at all!

    I am glad that Tybalt and Flora Bijou Mybug are not the only adopted bruv 'n' sis who regularly try to kill each other! And my! Hasn't Poppy grown!? As for I-phones...well, I still panic using my Samsung Galaxy (4 years old!) but I do love my I-pad! Xx

    1. It seems that all the best people have a 'knackered clothing draw' for their countryside and outdoors pursuits :-)

      How odd that students aren't into vegetarianism, and how depressing :-( Hopefully, you are introducing them into thinking about their food a little more by telling them that you are a non meat eater?

      Yes, Pops and Ted have time set aside each day for 'brother and sister battering'. They ABSOLUTELY love it, make a right old racket, and always seem to end up doing this on top of my feet/ against my legs where bare teeth are a menace. I must get video evidence....

      If you love your ipad, an iphone is surely only months away. Think of all the chicken apps, cat apps and knitting apps you can get (I shan't mention leaky roof apps for fear of tipping you over the egde) xx

    2. I do like your new phone and all those apps. Still not sure of the difference between different types :( Daughter has a contract phone but its about £25 a month. Wish I could justify having one!! If I find a way I'll ask you more about where you got yours :)

      Hope you solve the rat problem soon - the vole is lovely though!

      Most of my clothes seem ancient - I have noticed when we go out my son and daughter either seem to march ahead or lag behind - I suspect so no-one thinks they are with me!!!! Daughter calls my coat a "tramp mac" because its green and looks like a parka!!!!

      I love the cute pic of Teddy and Poppy by the fire :)

    3. My kids refuse to walk anywhere near me too. They particularly hate it when I throw my arms around them and kiss them in public (so of course I do this whenever possible).

      Mobiles are a mine field to me too. All I know is I like the apps on the iPhone so it was worth changing for it :-)

      M is a bit worried about the safety of his Veg re the vole but I keep telling him they prefer grass....

  4. Terrier fun involves snarly faces and teeth it seems. I can't believe how much she's grown! I'm off to see if Android can support a similar app on my phone......I wonder what a Brambling sounds like? Very like a Chaffinch I should think! xx

    1. Definitely - that's the most fun you can have when you're a terrier :-)

      Pops seems to have shot up in the last fortnight. I'm wondering if she's now fully grown?

      Very envious of your brambling. If you look on the rspb website they've got bird calls for lots of species recorded. Xx

  5. A wonderful post. The history is fascinating, especially the Black Death burial pit. I love the idea of green bridges, hopefully one day they'll appear across the M3 to help do something to address the damage to wildlife.
    That is a shame about your hens, but I'm glad they won't be going too far away (and to a good home) so that you can still see them.
    The little vole is certainly gorgeous!

  6. It was very interesting listening to the site manager talk about the various things he's involved in including partnership with local reserves and local land owners to try and create wildlife corridors to connect up all the green spaces. Hugely encouraging.

  7. Just found your wonderful blog through Casey Harn, hope you don't mind if I tag along awhile?

    1. Hi John and thanks for your kind words. Feel free to join in- the more the merrier! :-)

  8. Sorry to hear about the hens....but then they are only moving down the road so that's not too bad. Rats can be such a problem, but I'm surprised the dogs didn't get'm. I used to have a German Shepherd and a scruffy tom cat, who hunted together to kill rats, as I was just a child I thought it was brilliant.
    Just love the cattle and the jackdaws image.

    1. The dogs can't get at the rats inside the chook pen, and Cleo (puss cat) is getting on a bit for ratting. Ted did get rid of a nest last year at the top of the garden, but the rats have now moved in beneath the hen house, which is hopeless :-(

  9. Enjoyed your photos of the British White at St Cath's with the jackdaws.

    It so happens that she's ours, on loan to the Hants Trust. She's a three-year-old heifer called Lauren. She's now at St Cross, ready for her first calving in a month or two.

    1. Hi Richard- what a great coincidence! Nice to know where she comes from and how she is doing. Hope all goes well with the calving.

    2. I was just about to ask if the cow belonged to you!


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x