Saturday 31 October 2009

Sparrowhawk Kill

For those who've never seen one, here is a very typical sparrowhawk kill. This is all you get left of a sparrow when our killer-queen female sparrow hawk, regular visitor to the garden, gets lucky and is then left undisturbed while she eats. Here she's pulled down a female sparrow right under the mixed seed feeder in the Paulownia tree.
The main photo shows the small circle of plucked feathers, usually with an empty centre where the hawk was standing to do the job. Then right in the middle of that, a rather pathetic bit of sparrow-beak and fragment of forehead bone / front of skull. That is all that's left. here, I've pulled out the beak bits and put them on a handy leaf to make them easier to see. Usually they're just lost in among the feathers.
Some people hate to think that death stalks the garden, and the poor old sparrows are being murdered in cold blood. We look at it that we're proud to be able to support a top predator, and it's a sign of a very healthy sustained sparrow population in out wildlife garden. We see the sparrowhawk about once a month - she whooshes through at hedge-hopping height, hoping to surprise a sleepy sparrow. She's very manouvre-able but the spugs are fast and usually vigilant.
If she's lucky there's a rush of air and a puff noise as she thumps into the spug feet-first, then a commotion from the other birds in protest (from cover). If not she zooms on through, or alights briefly on a perch in the garden with a "darn-it!" expression on her face, before streaking off again to the next likely bird-garden.
Have a great Hallowe'en

Thursday 29 October 2009

Greenwich Mean

So sad - we're now on Greenwich Mean time (GMT), so we suddenly don't have any daylight left in the evenings, and we're lucky if we can get a walk before dark. Especially if Dad either stops on the way home to sneak some broad beans into the allotment (good ol' Autumn sown "Aquadulce") or as yesterday gets held by a problem at work.

Still, rumour has it that Bob the Builder (actually John) is on the way soon to start knocking the house about, and that Dad might have some time off work to coincide. Mum has a dream of a "kitchen diner".

...and just in case you're interested, Dad is now blogging in competition to this one, "blogger in residence" to the Cambria Trust volunteers, in which he is involved on a regular basis. Nip onto their website and check out the "news" section for anything that says "Volunteer's Views". Can't promise it's any more exciting than this but it will be different.

Look after yourself

Monday 26 October 2009

Yo Weiner!

What can I say? This link provided by our very good westie-mad friends in the Deep South, Marlane and Norm. Yes, it's a real dog, and yes it's in a bun. Go look for yourself - they found this spoof newspaper which appears to be sponsored by the dog food with the westie on the front - called, apparently Caesar in this country, but Cesar in the USA (although I may have that wrong)
"Enjoy!" (as they say, enthusiastically, in the South)

Wagga Wagga

Our thoughts are with Dad's 2CV chum Andy and with his Mum, our good friend Mary, who always makes a fuss of we westies when we camp on her land with the Kentish Hoppers (2CV club), and whose Cavs Daisy and "Dinky" (He's a boy and is actually called "Fair Dinkum" as he was a gift from one of Mary's sons, who lives in Australia).

It is Australia that Mary was visiting last week when she has suffered a medical emergency which left her hospitalised in Wagga Wagga (I kid you not - it's in NSW), and is now to be flown home to the UK later this week. Despite all this Andy has managed to get the restoration project car "Mademoiselle" through her 2009 MOT, so she's back on the road and street legal. Dad has a week off work next week, trying to use up some holiday, so we may get to go out in her.

Andy was commenting that she was a bit lumpy and grumpy to start after the months of being cooped up in the lock-up, and could use some exercise and tender loving care. This is, after all, why the boys spent all that time in the freezing wet winter of 2007/8 doing the rebuild, to drive her around - not to sit her in a barn under a dust sheet.

Get well soon, Andy's Mum

Sunday 25 October 2009

Birthday Diamonds

Happy Birthday Diamond - 21 (again) today. I know Mum and Dad are descending upon you in your hospital bed today with gifts and cards (as will lots of other people). Don't eat all the cake before we get there! This is a special day - it wasn't that long ago we were all worried you might not make it. We all hope you have many many more!

Mum also has another birthday to attend, that of ex boss. They're like buses - you don't see one for ages, then loads come along at once. Also in the queue is the 3rd "birthday" of this blog (and so my 3rd anniversary or arriving at this house).

And while we're on milestones, today we will pass the 7000 visits mark on the blog. Click on site meter at the top of this screen - we were on 6997 as I wrote this.

And now for a chilled out day. Dad's volunteering at the barge Cambria, and Mum's got all these birthdays to do, so we look like being "home alone" dogs. Hey ho. I expect we'll get a walk later.

Happy Birthday Diamond (and Ann P)

Monday 19 October 2009

Dog Bolter?

Every now and then we have to indulge Dad and his love of strange brews and real ales, so when Mum was out in Ramsgate (Ram's git as it get's called round 'ere) at a Waitrose, they came across this dark porter by Gadds of Ramsgate, brewery.

See for more details.

A lovely beer, says Dad, but we all have to ask... where did the name come from?


Saturday 17 October 2009

Committee Special

As well as the proper guided walks Dad does for the public on behalf of the Friends of Kingswood (like last weekend's Deer Walk), Dad volunteered to take the Committee on an invitation-only special, starting into the forest at 06:30.

He came home positively bubbling over with excitement. Not only had the 9 of them heard and seen all sorts of normal deer stuff, but as they crept up towards the main rutting stand as a tightly packed group, Dad suddenly saw a movement and crouched. The rest of them saw this and froze, peering into the trees, thinking he'd seen something at a distance. Dad mimed "keep still, and very quiet", pointing to some bushes not 30 feet away.

Suddenly there was a "Crack" and thump and loud scrabbling noises - 2 bucks were fighting just behind the bushes, oblivious of the presence of 9 humans so close. As the photo shows, this was not a photo-opportunity, but nobody cared - they were all frozen with excitement to the spot, all the time thinking one or other of the combatants would look up and see them.

But no, these boys were too focussed, lifting their heads just to size up the opponent's next move before, crack!, their heads and antlers clashed again, thump as their forefeet hit the ground, and scrabbling as they pushed and shoved each other, battling to gain ground. Antlers rattled against each other as each deer wrestled his neck into more advantageous positions. This went on for what seemed like ages, but was probably only 5 minutes, before very suddenly, the buck on Dad's left turned and fled, hotly pursued by the other, crashing through the scrubby birch at full speed, missing the humans by only yards, still apparently unaware of the spectators.

It doesn't get much better than that, said Dad and suddenly everyone was chattering excitedly at once. Brilliant, they all agreed! After that they went back to normal stalking and creeping about but everyone knew they'd probably seen the best view of the day, and didn't really mind if they never saw another deer!


Friday 16 October 2009

He Knows You're There

No matter how distracted these Fallow bucks seem to be, or how carefully you sneak about, they're generally a few seconds ahead of you and as you zoom into focus on the long lens there they are, almost winking at you and saying "you'd need to be up a whole lot earlier than that to catch me out, son!"

Dad's second day off today, and although rain in the morning stops play on deer-photography, he is able to sneak out mid afternoon. Usually, by then there's been a million and one dog walkers through the forest, and the deer are all in deep cover, so he's not expecting much, but this old boy was still hanging in there, roaring away and paused photogenically for a few seconds.

Have a good weekend.


Thursday 15 October 2009

White Phase

We already said, a few posts ago, that 99% of the fallow deer in Challock Forest are the very dark colouration known as "black phase", Well here is the other end of the spectrum, a "white phase" doe. Also, just emerging from the bushes behind Mum, a fawn nearly as pale. You can see that this doe is not albino - double click the image to make it expand to full screen, and you'll see she has dark eyes.

Oddly, the Challock population does not seem to have any of the in-between , normal text-book fallow deer, Bambi coloured pale brown with cute white spots. It's believed that the black phase ones are a Dutch population, imported when the Royal hunting forest was set up, and the white ones are from a few escaped white bucks which had been kept in the walled Eastwell Estate nearby.

My other pic today is (Thank You Scott-the-Bees) a jar of Kentish honey. Bit of a blend apparently, and not entirely 100% from Dad's allotments, but close enough, and gives Mum and Dad a real buzz, if you'll allow the bee-centric pun. We were up at the allotments today picking borlotti beans, and met up with Scott and our own bee-keeper-in-training, Pete. They are building the fencing that will go around the new bee-plot, and tell me that our colonies will be back "home" imminently, hopefully before the first frost.


Tuesday 13 October 2009


This blog comin' at you today from a new computer, running Vista, so I don't know if it looks any different to you from there.

Mum has the day off work, being a bit tail-end of cold ish, but by the evening she feels up to a visit to Diamond. She'd been wary of going in and sneezing all over the poor girl, just about enough to finish her off ! Also on the mend is Megan, who tonight manages a stroll to the Rec and a good old walk around (more of an amble really) while I chase the tennis ball. We meet and talk to Finzy (big black lurcher of the long wizened beard), and to old favourites Smudge and Barney.

We also meet the always-immaculate sister Ellie, just back from the groomers and looking gorgeous. Dad tries to swap me out, but Ellie's Mum is having nothing of it. She also tells us that Ellie is going through "one of her phases" of waking "us" up at 02:30 to be let out for a wee. "Phases?", says Dad. "Deefer's done that to me every night since she was born, practically!" But it turns out that Ellie, once out, snuffles and bimbles for 1-2 hours and they can't get her back in.

I can't see Dad putting up with that for too long - at least mine are a quick out, charge down the garden, have a pee and bribed back indoors with a treat. Dad says he barely wakes up, and certainly doesn't feel like he's lost any sleep over it. 2 hours? What does she do out there?


Sunday 11 October 2009 the old canal

Regular readers might recall Sept 13th, we made reference to Diamond's old old friend-of-the-family, Ella, given to saying "I'm nearly 84, you know" as soon as she is past her 83rd Birthday. Well, she's currently "nearly 90" or so. Mum tells us that Ella, Bless Her, had become concerned that Diamond might be struggling for money, being "off work sick" and all that, and had offered to top up her phone card for her.

Diamond, touched by the generosity and sweet ness of this, tried to phone Ella back, but only getting the son ( "our Stanley" ) heard that Ella was out with her "fella". Apparently each Thursday, Ella goes out walking with her "young man" down by the old canal (the guy's got to be 75 if he's a day). How sweet is that? Go Ella.

The H and myself are whizzed off to Reculver for a walk, but the carpark, pub and the whole place are crawling with "Race of Life" push-bike riders (it's a Cancer Research charity thing). There's a queue to park. We turn tail and race up to the free, uncongested end, the Bishopstone carpark.

Dad has some fun helping a bloke launch a stunt-kite, and then we have some fun racing around barking at the ruffling, wind-scream whooshing noises of it as it whizzes low over head

Do you realise, this is our 700th posting? You'd think with that much practise, it should be quite interesting by now, wouldn't you........

Hope you're enjoying the weekend.

Friday 9 October 2009

Wet Weekend

Dad's home from work, but it's tanking down and shows every sign of being set in for a wet weekend. To be sure, the garden and the allotment need it badly but it'll be a bit miserable for Dad's deer-walk in Challock Forest tomorrow. He is guide tomorrow. No problem, he says. the deer can cope fine with the rain. It's the blustery winds that unsettle them, filling the forest with human scent well before the walking party tries to creep in undiscovered.

Ah well. We shall see what we shall see. Poor ol' Mum has a bad throat at present, so she's not even allowed to go visit Diamond, who's back into hospital for a final (we all hope) session of treatment.

Have a good weekend

Thursday 8 October 2009

Does your Mum know you're out?

Meggie is still a bit painful on that foot where the vet, suspecting it was a growth, sliced a lumpy chunk out of one of her pads and then cauterised the surface. She can barely put weight on that foot, but looks so hopeful as Dad prepares us for the walk tonight, that she ends up getting a carry under his arm to the Rec, where she can amble about on the grass. Dad suggests none-too-subtly that she is not a slim and sylph-like baggage.

It turns out to be a nice session on the Rec. We meet a tiny tiny Springer called Bonny, whose (also very young) owner says is 10 weeks old. That seems very young to us, and we wonder whether she is fully innocculated (Bonny, not the owner!). Later. grown-up Spinger "LB" shows up and the contrast is amazing, Bonny being not much bigger than LB's head! Bonny, though, is a game little soul, and charges all three of us in that gangling, semi-co-ordinated way that 10 week old pups have.

We also meet old chum collie-cross Ben (him of the white flash chest, and white "peepy toes". He's all distracted by someone who has unwisely brought an on-heat JR bitch to the Rec, and was having to re-think the wisdom of this move. The numpty in charge of that one had never even conceived of the fact that it might be a better plan to walk her somewhere a bit quieter for the 2-3 weeks. Dad and his chums actually wondered whether he (the numpty) knew what "on heat" was. They had to patiently explain things as if to a young child.

One born every minute. Do their Mums know they're out?


Sunday 4 October 2009

Didn't want to play.

Dad's back to the forest this morning, leaving a bleary eyed Mum to luxuriate under the duvet, and armed once again with the new lens, but this time, despite his best efforts, the deer do not want to play. These very long distance shots are the best he could do today.
First up a decent sized buck with partly palmated antlers, may be 6-7 years old but here, anyway, well away from the rutting stands, so maybe a "chancer" for later in the season - he'll have to bide his time while the big boys exhaust themselves. The Master-Buck, holding the stand will get so focussed on the job, he'll not even stop to eat, drink or sleep for the days he's in charge, so he can get pretty exhausted and will then get barged off the stand by the next pretender.
He'll go and have a serious lie-down and get back into eating and drinking to get his condition back up for the winter. His mission is to service as many does as he can while he's top dog, and once he's kicked off he can think about next year. Some, when they are 8-9 over-do it and simply go off and die of exhaustion. Our fine head of antlers in the hall were from a white-phase buck who died of, we believe, natural causes in the 2005 rut, probably in just such circumstances.
The second pic, again, at a fair distance, is of doe on the left, and her young male fawn on the right (probably born last spring). It's entertaining to watch these guys around the rutting stand. The big old bucks are stomping around and grunting and roaring in a bass-y male, testosterone charged way, with the younger bucks circling outside the stand waiting their chance. Then like bored children at a show that's mainly for the grown-ups, running around play-charging each other and bleating like little lambs or goat-kids are these year old fawns, with their Mums trying to keep them out of harm's way.
Hope you're weekend is going OK

Saturday 3 October 2009

Not home yet...

With exams looming, Mum is off "to school" today to find out all about what they entail, calling in on Diamond on the way home for a cup of tea. We stay home with Dad who's of a mind to blitz the garden of its shagginess and piles of fallen (Paulownia) leaves. He is leppin' around with secateurs pruning all 4 apple trees, the two plums, the quince, the damson, the cherry and the greengage, producing a mountain of prunings which need to go through the shredder.

He rakes up any amount of big, crisp, dry Paulownia leaves, also for the compost, and a good 2 rubbish bags worth of the sword-like, sharp edged "cabbage palm" (Corylinus australis) leaves, which are no good for the compost as they never ever break down. Next it's hands and knees for a bit of trowelling out ground elder and finally a rake around and tidy up.

Finally we can go for a walk (H and I again - Meg's still a bit delicate), down to the boat yard where Dad wants to see if his favourite barge, the SB Greta is "home" yet. Owner Steve Norris uses it for charters through the Summer, based in Whitstable fishing harbour, but in the winter she holes up here, de-rigged and safe under her poly-tunnel round till about Easter, while she gets re-fettled. We didn't get to go out in her this Summer, never quite getting round to it, but I expect he had a good season - he's definitely had the weather for it.

As I write this Mum is rebelling. Trying to be good and stick to the dietary fare since we all returned from narrow boating like bloaters, she pleads that she can't be bothered tonight to eke out yay grams of this and that, so she's nipped off in the car to buy something soul-food-ish, calorific, delicious and rebellious.

Go Mum!

Friday 2 October 2009

Don't think we're in Kansas...

After all the frivolities of the day are over (Deer hunting, shopping, allotment harvesting etc), we (Haggis and I) finally get our proper walk. Dad has today off because under the new arrangement at work where he has to cover every 5th weekend, including being on site on the Saturday, he gets a compensatory Friday off.

The walk is still just H and myself because Meggie, whose vet visit last week involved having a chunk taken out of a front paw pad, and the opening cauterised, is not yet healed enough to be comfortable walking far on it.

We head off down the Abbey Fields towards the creek, in the course of which we meet dalmatian pup Woody, who is no bigger than Haggis, so presumably only a few weeks old, rather than months or years.

It's a warm breezy day and down along one of the drainage dykes, with cut reed-mace piled up everywhere, and bordered by a line of trees, the breeze and heat sets off a rather spectacular whirlwind. The spiral tracks over a pile of reedmace bits and suddenly we have a whirling column of reedmace bits heading straight for us. Nothing for it but to part-close your eyes from the flying straws and wait for it to whirl by.

We survived, and as far as I know, no munchkins or witches got involved, no houses flew, no cardiacally challenged lions or metallic figures, no appalling rhymes about being a "mouse" (mow-ess) and showing your prowess, and Dad was never wearing any red footwear. As far as I know, anyway.

Have a great weekend

Back to the Forest

Not brilliant we freely admit, but better than anything else we've taken so far. These pics of the wild Fallow deer in Challock Forest, near Ashford in Kent. This in Dad's ongoing quest to take a "decent photo of the Challock Deer in their own forest". It's rutting season again, all be it not long started and the deer are still not fully focussed on it (which means they spot humans lurking behind trees really early; when they're really into the rut their attentions are... um.... else where!)

You can see from these what we mean when we've said in the past that the Challock deer are "black phase". Fallow deer have phase colours like alsatian dogs and rabbits, varying from almost white (they aren't albino - just very pale but with properly pigmented eyes and skin), through the text book "bambi" fawn with white spots, through to these dark ones called "black" believed to have been originally a Dutch population used to stock the forest when it was the King's hunting patch.
First up is an old buck who would have big palmated (webs of bone between the prongs of his antlers) antlers had he not broken one. He's at a bit of a distance. Closer is the best shot, of the young buck with single prong antlers. He'd be called a "pricket", and is probably only 2-3 years old and just getting interested in the rut (but doomed to get nowhere against the big boys for 6-7 more years yet, poor aul' thing). Finally a group making off. Notice the big "master-buck" to the right, with a good spread of fully palmated antlers. He'd be 8-10 years old. Next to him the only doe (no antlers) in the photo, although out of shot, this group had half a dozen more does.
Notice we're using the expression "bucks and does", which is the correct term for fallow deer. In UK, we only use stags and hinds for Red deer, Roe deer and (strangely) the smaller sikas, muntjacs etc.
Not bad huh? More pics as and when Dad can bet back out there early in the morning. He nips out at 7-ish when it's still fairly dark, and gets into position ready to try for a few pics as the light comes up.
We aren't allowed to go. There's this theory that dogs chasing about do not mix well with calm deer photography. I can't think why!