Cats and birds

Alas, our sweet little kits have turned into ruthless killers …When Eggy and Ilsa arrived here some two years ago, they were completely unused to country ways – and pretty useless at birding. They didn’t quite get the concept of self-concealment …But, with practice, they got better at it …Our old cat, Poe, had never been very interesting in birding – she was a serious mouser, and would go out in all weathers …Bringing back special mouse gifts …When Eggy and Ilsa arrived, she even gave a masterclass in the catching of small furry animals.  I think this was the first time Ilsa (on the right) had ever seen a shrew, and she was absolutely fascinated …And Eggy and Ilsa learned to become dedicated mousers, proudly …leaving appreciative gifts …And tackling their mousing with enthusiasm, even in tight corners …Because Poe had shown such lack of interest in the birds, we’d always felt free to put food on the path as well as the hanging feeders on the house wall.  This meant we got a range of birds into the garden who could only feed at ground level. Through winter …spring …and summer …we continued to feed the birds on the ground.  Eggy and Ilsa watched from various vantage points. Upstairs windows …And the conservatory offered particularly good view points …But alas, last year they shocked us out of our naïveté, making us realise how stupid we were to think they were too slow and silly to catch birds.  They brought in a beautiful song thrush. We managed to get it away from them, and set it loose in a safe place, only to come upon it dead later on.We were deeply upset – particularly (and irrationally I admit) because it was such a beautiful bird.  We’d seen it feeding on the path, and had taken great pleasure in its presence in our garden.

So Eggy and Ilsa got collars with bells on them – and not just standard bell-collars. I added extra bells. They were very good about them, submitting to having them put on every morning before they went out.  And – by and large – the bells worked.Eggy and Ilsa seemed content to get their kicks from bird tv …So this spring we expected to do the same.  But, of course, it’s been horrible weather, what with the Beast from the East and its vicious relatives.  The cottage has been truly snowed under …And some days it was nigh impossible to even see out …The cats really didn’t want to go out at all …And we were able to feed the birds lavishly – after all never had they needed food the more than in these horrible recent snows …We could tell from the footprints that we were hosting a great company – and some rather large birds …During all this cold and wintry period, we were delighted to have a family of four yellowhammers visiting us regularly – we’d never had yellowhammers here before, but how pleasing that we were to be able to sustain them through this harsh spring … (this photo below actually taken in the sun on Easter Day) …But one day, we came back from a long day out in Edinburgh to find this horribly unwanted gift.  Aaaagh – such a little beauty, such a loss, especially as we know that yellowhammers are on the RSPB Red list of dangerously declining populationsTime to face the facts: our little cats are actually very clever killers – that is what they are programmed to be, and we were being very stupid in ignoring it.  Just look at Eggy hiding in wait for birds to feed on the path …Can’t see her?  Well, come along the path with me, and you can see how perfectly she is placed to pounce on any unwitting bird …So we’ve put planks in place to make it harder for the cats to spring onto the path …And we’ve moved the bird food, no longer spreading it on the path, but rather along the edge of the flower bed, which with a small shrubbery nearby is much more in the birds’ natural comfort zone anyhow …These are very poor pictures, taken on a miserably cold Easter Monday through upstairs windows, when snow and sleet were tipping down, but there are our little yellowhammers feasting away in their new feeding ground. If you enlarge the pics you will be able to see how many of these little birds there are. The young are far less yellow than the parent birds …The amazing thing is that in the few nice days midweek, the yellowhammers started to appear in abundance in our garden …At one time we counted 17 yellowhammers feeding there!Could it be, could it just be, that during that first vicious attack from the Beast from the East, when we’d just noticed the yellowhammer presence in our garden, they were nesting in the locality, and it is those young we are seeing in the garden now? I haven’t yet been able to find out dates for yellowhammer first spring nests, so I just don’t know.

So, wish us luck – it isn’t easy accommodating cats and birds, and nurturing both.  We now shut the cats in when we go off on long days out – they don’t like it at all, but if it will help keep a few more of our little yellowhammers alive, it’s definitely worth it!

Spring is in the air – sort of!

Oh, how we long for spring!

We had some blissfully fine weather last week, and got very excited.  All sorts of spring activity is starting to take place.  The washing is being hung out again (for the first time for goodness know how long).Washing out againSmall plants are beginning to appear in the flower beds – Irises … (I just love the way they are so tightly and neatly scrolled as they poke out of the ground).Iris buds to comeSnowdrops …snowdropsLittle Daffodils …little daffodils in bloomCrocuses …CrocusesLittle pots on the terrace are more confident in the sun. Flower pots on terrace These marigolds (seeds from my cousin Polly) have splendidly flowered all winter.Flower pot flowersAnd there are outdoor chores calling for attention.  The raspberry canes are sprouting and will need cutting back soon.Raspberries sproutingAfter a miserably wet and windy winter, we are enjoying walks out and about again.walks in spring sunshineHow good to see the gorse flowering again.Gorse is outA couple of days ago we had a truly wonderful walk further down the coast from Beadnell to Low Newton (you can see the route we took in the Searching for Sanderlings blogpost, almost exactly a year ago).  Shadows still long, warning that it is early spring and the sun is very low in the sky.  Just in the distance you can see Dunstanburgh Castle.Walking along Beadnell bayInside, thoughts are turning to spring too.  Poe is starting to moult, and needs regular grooming again.  I think she’s a bit unwise to start casting her coat so soon, but perhaps she knows something I don’t.Poe starts moulting againSeed catalogues come out, and we begin to get excited about summer flowers.  Stephen has plans to build a pond this year ….Seed catalogues come outStrangely, inside our flowers are mostly flaming scarlet-red, which is kind of weird, – but gorgeous too.scarlet flowers insideAnd despite the cold outside, we are still getting salad crops in the greenhouse.salad leaves in greenhouseLast weekend, I was in London, and things are rather further on there than here in the north.  Just look at these positively Wordsworthian daffodils at Alexandra Palace!Daffodils at Ally PallyThere was spring blossom too.Blossom on tree at Ally PallyThen – just as we are starting to take this beautiful spring weather for granted, the weather turns and we get snow – or is it sleet, or perhaps hail?Grey and cold againEvery year, it is the same, and every year we get over-excited with the first signs of spring warmth and growth.  Back to normal for Northumberland.snow at SeaviewIn Moominland Midwinter, Tove Jansson tells the story of how Moomintroll wakes up early one winter (rather than hibernating right through as Moomins usually do) and thus experiences cold, snow and wintry wetness for the first time. Moonmintroll gets rather fed up with it, and comes up with this wonderful grumpy little poem.

Listen, winter creatures, who have sneaked the sun away,
Who are hiding in the dark and making all the valley grey:
I am utterly alone, and I’m tired to the bone,
And I’m sick enough of snowdrifts just to lay me down and groan.
I want my blue verandah and the glitter of the sea
And I tell you one and all that your winter’s not for me!

I’m with Moomin on this one!Grumpy Moomin

Field of the Cloth of Gold

As the seasons pass, the fields outside our house change colour – sometimes it’s because of the weather, sometimes it’s because of the crops growing there.   Sometimes it’s just the light.  It is extraordinary how different our view can be because of this colour change.

We spent our first night here in July 2010, and this was the view looking from our home out down the coast to Bamburgh Castle.  Gold – and a rainbow to boot!  The crops – wheat, barley, oats – were ripening.  One field had already been harvested and ploughed up for winter sowing.  You can see the reddy-brown soil of the locality.  But the overwhelming colour and feel of the place when we first arrived will always be gold for me.golden fields and rainbowBy October, the fields were green.  The farmer had sown winter crops, conditions had been benign, and the young crops were growing well.  There were still plenty of small creatures about for our cat Poe to hunt.Poe exploring green fieldsThen in November, and on through the winter, we got snow.  Sometimes, it was a white out.snow white outSometimes, it was that blue-white, picking up the colour from the brilliant sky-blue and sea-blue.blue white of sky and sea and snowIn other years, we’ve know that sort of semi-snow state where it’s not white or green or brown.Sunrise on snowy fieldsEarly spring is an intense green – and blue.  I just love days when the forget-me-nots pick up the blue of the sea like this.  (Think it’s a hare in the field).Hare running on green fieldAnd the plants get greener and bigger.   Field, garden, lawn – all an abundant luscious green.abundant luscious greenThen the crops start to  change in colour – they’re on their way to gold via a sort of fresh lime-green.   At the same time, stronger and bolder colours take off in the garden.lime green fields and the odd poppyThen back to gold again.Poppies in front of golden fieldOn light evenings the colours shift. Some nights a dense blue dominates.deep blue of moonlight Golden fields are harvested.Harvesting golden fieldsThe stubble turns a softer faded gold.Golden stubble fieldOne year the farmer had planted broad beans in the field nearest our house.  These were left until late, late in the season when the beans were hard as pellets, and then they were combine-harvested like the other crops.  Apparently dry beans such as these are sold to Pakistan.  A dirty scuffed brown view for a long time.Dirty scuffed bean plantsThere’s also spring muddy-brown , with just the hint of green as the new shoots burst forth.  We had had heavy rain just before this picture was taken, and then hot sun resulting in mist steaming off the fields.steaming brown fieldsThis is the best brown – the rich chocolatey brown of the freshly ploughed field.Chocolate brown field being ploughedIn the right light, a field will take on a completely different colour.extraordinary golden evening light on fieldThis year, the farmer has planted rape for the first time (that we have known).  It has just come into flower.  A Northumbrian field wearing a cloth of gold.field of the cloth of gold and double rainbow