Friday, 25 November 2016

Unlucky 13

Wednesday saw me driving down to Silverwood-land to collect Liz, have a bite of lunch with Steak Lady and get a first look at the new grave stone on Mr SL's grave. That would have been a perfectly good story for a blog post. I didn't need all the death, destruction and drama shoulder-barging it off the front pages. It would have been fine. A nice peaceful happy post. That would have done. Come home, few days to recover and prep the house for our weekend visitors. Everyone's a winner. However, the best laid plans (as they might have said) of mice and men shall come to naught when Brer Fox intervenes. Let me explain.

Flights of Angels Sing Thee to Thy Rest
Wednesday, as I said, I was off down to Silverwood-land for the 2 hour drive to meet Liz, see this grave, spend a bit of time with the Silverwood gang and a bite of lunch. It was not the best drive ever - I was driving straight at the bright, low sun, on a very frosty morning and the windscreen washers had frozen up, so I had that fine, salty spray off the vehicles in front and was playing that silly game of trying to wipe the windows whenever that car or lorry went through a puddle and gave you a good wet dose of spray. At some points I even had to stop, pull over and get out and wipe it with a rag.

So, I arrived and we drove round to admire the very fine and tasteful head stone (Rest in Peace Theo) and adjourned to a local café for a bite of breakfast. From there round to Silverwoods for a chat with Mr and Mrs S. It was a lovely relaxing day and we headed home in good time to be there for poultry lock-up and to let the dogs out for a 'comfort stop'. So far so good. As we drove up our lane towards our gate, we could see "white stuff" in the verge of our splay and quickly worked out that this 'stuff' was Buff Orpington feathers. Maybe one had got out and been hit by a car?

First inkling of the problem. Feathers in the verge of our splay
No such luck - as we opened the gate and drove up the drive, those feathers were quickly 'joined' by larger puffs  in the drive, on the front lawn, in the 'woods' to the left and then, with increasing horror, the grass around the pond and even strewn across the frozen ice of the pond. We had obviously had a disaster and immediately suspected a major fox strike. In the gathering gloom we could also not see any chickens so our hearts sank; we thought we'd been wiped out, all the birds killed and taken. The sort of thing you read about but you hope never happens to you. The absolute lowest down side of having your poultry free-range.

Feathers on the frozen pond
From that low point it did start to improve. We spotted the geese all intact and could see 2 ducks with them. We started to spot chickens cowering in corners, scattered into surrounding fields, perching high in hedges. Two sad, still lumps of feather proved to be injured roosters who allowed us to pick them up and carry them to safety indoors. Other chickens hearing our voices and us whistling them up decided it was safe to start clucking and to come out of hiding. We shepherded these home more or less willingly. We spotted the old Sussex (Enda) the wrong side of a sheep-fence and helped her over in near darkness. One Guinea fowl started shouting from 30' up a spruce tree in the pig-run and we found his 'wife' (Min) in the rafters.

Brer Fox went this-away? The field
As the darkness closed in we had everybody we could safely locked away but could see no sign of the three turkeys, 4 of the ducks, various chickens, one of the Guineas. It was all a bit confusing (as well as upsetting) but we could do no more. We had to leave them be and hope that more birds might be roosting out and might join us in the morning. We also now had a day-time fox who might easily come back for more and who I needed to either have words with or at least show him/her/them that we are now home, alert and ready.

Safe in the Tígín?
By the next day, it was all a bit clearer. Only one Guinea fowl came home - he'd roosted in a tall ash half a field away and quickly replied with his alarm calls when his buddy woke up in the spruce and started calling. Nobody else came home. In our searches in the evening we had found 2 unclaimed corpses, a duck and the old white Hubbard (Miss White). The fox(es) had managed to kill 13 birds and taken 11 of them away including all 3 turkeys, 3 of the Buff Orp poults (the chicks from Dustbin Lady and Crate Lady), 4 ducks, one young Marans cockerel and both the old Hubbards (Miss White and Miss Red). We assume that, though it is possible that the ducks flew away and the turkeys are scattered across the landscape.

Sunrise over the village crossroads
We have also since found the path used by the foxes carrying off the dead ones - they went off across the lane and through that field opposite which we tried to buy and on then through a hedge and diagonally across the 2nd field. After that we lost the scent and could find no more feathers. We are being fairly philosophical about all this and because the fox has not returned (except possibly to collect the last 2 corpses which we threw into a bramble patch) we are not sure what we can do about him/her/them.

Frosty grass is almost Christmas Card-ish.
We are relieved and delighted that we did not lose more birds. We lost no adult Buff Orps and we kept our two old favourite survivors, the old Sussex (Enda) and the even older Cuckoo Marans (Squawk). Our #2 Buff rooster (The Corporal)  is badly injured but is hanging in there and our #1 (Lt. Colonel Sir Bufton Tufton) is so unfazed and immaculate we suspect that he was either in the beer tent when it all kicked off or, possibly, at his London Club. They do say that it is always the roosters that "get it" because they leap to the defence of their women. Buffers does not seem to have read that bit of the rules of engagement.

The kattens are off for their ops.
More on all this fun and games in a future post.

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