Friday 31 May 2013

Eire Raiders

The Citroën 2CV Club of UK (2cvGB, for short) is organised into Local Groups rather than being run as one big club (although there is a Central Committee and an official National body) and it is at local group level that all the camps, rallies and events take place, with each local group advertising their events in the club mag so that people from any other local group can come and take part. When I lived in Kent I was main-man for the East Kent group, who are called the Kentish Hoppers. We ran camps in a member's Mum's farm at the village of Preston, near Canterbury and these were regularly mentioned in blog posts of old.

But it is the Bath local group, the Bath Tub Club who are the subject of this post. The group, run by John Mellor and Carol M who visited us here a while back organise driving tour holidays which in 2cvGB tend to be called 'Raids'. This one, being a tour of the west side of Ireland, got called Eire Raid or, less seriously Hair Aid. We offered to become a port of call on this Raid, as well as a port in a storm, possible free camp site, under cover car repair facility etc if it all went a bit pear shaped.

Well, they have all had a whale of a time and some lovely weather. They have toured all the scenic bits, had some lovely meals and sampled some excellent Guinness and John has kept us all up to date with his blog and reports on Facebook under the heading Hair Aid News. They decided to call in here this afternoon, so we went a bit mad yesterday mowing, tidying the garden and blitzing the house and Liz went into full-on Domestic Goddess mode baking scones, three kinds of cake, lemon biscuits, bacon cheese and chilli biscuits and those chocolate covered Rice Krispies things. We had an army of mugs lined up for teas and coffees, jam, butter and whipped cream for the scones, dogs were walked and banished to upstairs (briefly!) and we were ready.

There were 11 of them in the end - we knew John and Carol and we knew Sue Chalcraft from club AGMs (she was 'Keeper of the Archive') and Jan the Membership Sec but I am rubbish at names so the rest of you, if you read this, I'm sorry but names pass through my brain without really touching down, so I will have to learn them and get to know you better through Face Book. They were all lovely people and it was fantastic to have them here. They loved the place and the geese and goslings, chooks, mini-horses, rabbits, dogs (yes, we quickly let them out of their room once we'd explained about not letting them dash out of a door and get at the goslings) and cats. They descended upon the food like a plague of locusts and we chatted and talked, showed them the place and all the work we have done to renovate it.

All in all it was an excellent 'event'. I think this is their last night of 'Raid'ing so as we said our good byes, some of them were also saying their own good byes to each other as they went their separate ways back to ferries to the UK over tonight and tomorrow. That sad 'end of holidays' feeling we all know so well. Well guys, if you are ever by this way again, do look us up. We love doing this and Liz, particularly loves all the baking and Domestic Goddess-ery. There is something Irish about being hospitable and feeding guests, and Liz has definitely got this gene.


Wednesday 29 May 2013

Water, water, everywhere.

By coincidence there is a lot of water in today's post even though we have a beautiful blue cloudless sky today as I type and a warm breeze blowing. Secretly and selfishly (for reasons which will become clear) we wouldn't actually mind if it was raining today but we are not wishing for that and definitely no-one is doing any rain dances.

First I expect you'd like a goose update. We have currently 7 healthy goslings on site plus 'Lucky' doing very well down at Carolyn's. I have started feeding them in the goose house and Liz has sunk a cat-litter tray into the gravel just outside as a paddling pool for them. Yesterday we noticed them for the first time being brought out accompanied by various grown ups, for a drink and a swim. Liz had arranged some flat stones to help them get in and out but they do not need these - they hop in and out quite happily.

Today they were taken on a big adventure as far as the orchard by both parents. Suddenly the sky seemed to be full of hooded-crow calls and then the shouts of magpies harassing the crows and eventually driving them off. I stayed around just in case and for the first time in my life, wished I had a gun. The mass exodus gave me a first chance to inspect the remaining nests and to collect up failed eggs and have a tidy up. I found, to my surprise another gosling but this poor little mite, though dry and fluffy, was stuck to the inside of his half-shell by his head, neck and shoulder. I freed him but he is very weak and wobbly, presumably as a result of not being able to exercise after hatching. More on him in a minute. First there were also 2 other stuck, half hatched goslings but dead ones, and 5 other eggs, now cold. 4 of these proved to be fully developed but dead, so I assume these were laid after we got started and have now been left behind. There was also a sterile egg (just yolk and white).

So, for my 17 eggs which I know were there at one stage we have

Lucky, doing well at Carolyn's
7 healthy goslings now being shown around the place
1 sickie
2 half hatched dead
4 fully developed but unhatched, dead
1 sterile
1 missing (no idea, the list above only accounts for 16)

[A quick pic of the chickens, now 5 weeks and let out to join the grown ups]

So, that sick gosling? Stuck in his shell he has not been able to exercise and develop properly so his neck is all weak and twisted and his legs seem a bit crunched up but he can kick strongly. He wobbles a lot, falls over and was lying upside down for a while this morning. When the gang go off for an explore, he gets left behind, so I have been able to sneak in there and help him a bit, holding him in the water so that he can drink and do his physio therapy kicks. I have offered him food but he just pokes at it with his beak. I didn't actually see him eat any. I am hoping that now that he is free of the egg and can struggle about, he might catch up but I don't hold out much hope for him. I am consulting with Nurse Mentor Anne.

Yesterday saw us make the long journey across to Allenwood, County Kildare to collect our pond liner from Rock-World. This could be rolled up reasonably tight so would fit in the Fiat, but weights 150 kg, as much as 2 people, so was actually offered up to the car with a fork lift. Poor old car! This is the last real ponds and water-features business in Ireland after the economic woes and probably survives in Kildare only because this is one of the most prosperous counties, home of The Curragh race-course and all those rich race-horse folk. The 'shop' we noticed was well stocked with huge pumps and filtration gear for massive ponds and fountains - prices of over €1000 per pump and outputs of 18,000 litres an hour. Impressive.

Allenwood is right by the Grand Canal so we opted to take a picnic and we sat in a very nice moorings to eat our sandwiches and salad, remembering all those brilliant narrow boating holidays. Not a single boat went by and we know that the canal is barely used. As well as being clear of boats, it is also amazingly clear in the water-clarity area - unlike a lot of Yorkshire and Lancashire canals, you can generally see right down to the bed, seeing all the little fish ('Pinkeens!', said Liz) and the pond weed. We watched the strange dog-foot-print shadow cast on the bottom mud by pond-skaters on the surface.

With the liner home, I was going to rest up and leave the installation till 'tomorrow' (now today, of course) but Liz was having none of that! It was heavy to move about, but we got it in place north-south-east and west. First, of course we had finished preparing the bottom, going over it with the back of the rake and a yard-brush to clear up any possible sharp stones and bits that might puncture the rubber sheet. It seemed enormous! Well it's in now and we have started to fill it with the 1010 litres from our bulk-tank plus a little rain last night but, guess what. it has stopped raining and the sky is blue! The tank full, we calculate, resulted from 1.3 inches of rain falling on the car port and the car port is smaller than the pond so, as you'd expect, it has spread back out to being only a shallow pool in the bottom of our rubber. The advice from the guys at Rock-World was to get half an inch into the bottom to help with pulling out wrinkles. That's ab out the stage we are at.

[Cats playing with the first rivulets of water into the pond liner.... "Can we start fishing yet?"]

If we can, we want the pond to contain only rain water, none from the mains here which are not the best chemical mix for a wildlife pond, even though the brave folk here drink it when it is not under 'Boil Water' notices due to the latest outbreak of Cryptosporidiosis. This might take a few weeks, though we now will get what falls in naturally PLUS the car port's gurglings. We will also arrange intercepts on the house down-pipes to collect some of that - fortunately the house is uphill a bit from the pond. We could just do with a bit of rain, but if anyone asks, I never said so.

So there you have it, Goslings a-swimming, a pond liner, a canal-side picnic and fishing for cats. One unexpected aspect which never occurred to me and I will now have to watch. The geese brought the goslings down to see the pond. They stayed up on the bank but the goslings all leapt onto the rubber and slithered down into the 'depths'. The Geese called them back and only three could climb back up. I had to nip in a bit smartish in my soft shoes and give the other 4 a bunk-up back to safety. It's nerve wracking, all this baby animal management.

Monday 27 May 2013

Happy Families ( There's a relief ! )

After the trauma of rejected goslings and rescuing poor unfortunate 'Lucky' to Carolyn's I am pleased and amazed to be able to report a complete turn around in our goose-rearing fortunes. We are not sure why but perhaps the geese got over the first shock encounter and spent the night re-thinking their maternal instincts, plus a bit of we humans being a bit calmer and not diving in to intervene as soon as we misread the signs. Anyway, for what ever the reason, once we had delivered the rejected gosling to Carolyn, all the geese calmed down and the females went back to quietly sitting on their eggs. Possibly overnight or early morning, but definitely by about 2 pm of Sunday I was fairly sure I could hear cheeping again and soon I was definitely seeing yellow down showing between the white adult feathers. We were on again.

Amazingly everybody stayed calm and I have seen even the Gander very very gently sniffing around the new goslings. He has moved permanently into the goose house and is doing a good job keeping guard - I have seen him lunge at Blue the cat when he approached the door. Even more amazingly and completely against the advice we had been given and had read, we do not seem to be getting any argument between the females as to who owns the babies. They are either sharing, or they each have their own and they know who is whose so it is not an issue. This, we know, could have been very different and still might, so we are not being complacent - we are keeping a very watchful eye on proceedings.

We think we have at least 4 goslings across the current brood (plus Lucky as a fifth). I have seen 3 and while I was watching the three, I could see rippling under the feathers of Goocie's back. It could be more, we are avoiding going in to disturb the happy family till they are good and ready to come out and explore the garden. There will be time enough then to 'count our chickens'.

Chicks, ducklings and goslings alike, hatch with the remainder of the rich yolk in a yolk-sac within their body cavity (it is drawn into the body during the final few days of incubation) so that they can live 24-36 hours without feeding. This is an adaptation to allow earlier hatching chicks to stay in the nest while more tardy siblings catch up.  Eventually though, you do need to feed them and supply them with water. We do not know for sure when these guys hatched but at some point today or tonight they should hit the hungry-gap.

On this one we were well supplied with advice, so I decided to make up a smorgasbord of all the likely ingredients. They should find something there that they can eat. In the picture, clockwise from top are chick-crumb, wetted chick crumb, water, chopped up grass, hard-boiled egg (including finely chopped shell). milled barley and (centre of tray) grated carrot. I sneaked this in mid morning to much protesting hiss from Gander and a bit of alarm from the Mums but I did my two-tone whistle which they know so well, and Gander's hiss turned to his excited 'food!' honking so everybody calmed down again. Gander loomed his neck over the tray and explored the contents with his beak-tip. I like to think he gave the selection his approval. As far as I know, no goslings have yet ventured out to the tray to eat but it has been disturbed, so maybe one of the mums or Gander have had a little taster. I will refresh this every morning and eventually they may learn to love it as did the baby chicks.

Meanwhile Carolyn has posted to Facebook a nice picture of Lucky getting his first swim in their house bath - he looks very tiny in what we think must be a big whirlpool type bath tub.

Finally we do not have a Bank Holiday today in Ireland, so we decided to bite the bullet and order the pond liner for the big pond. This measured out at 8.53 m by 12.5 m and set us back €915.90 or £782.85. It is being cut to size at the depot in Allenwood in County Kildare. We can collect it and save ourselves the lorry pallet-rate of €54. It is about 150 kg so should go OK in the back of the poor, over worked Fiat Panda. We are very excited!

Sunday 26 May 2013

(Not So) Lucky.

As promised some pictures of our first gosling 'Lucky' now warm and dry, safe and sound after his scary start. If you've not read yesterday's post you will not know that this little guy (we have no idea of sex yet, so he's a 'guy' till proven otherwise - it saves all that clumsy him/her, he/she nonsense) did not have a very promising start. His parents are all young birds, not even a year old and have (not surprisingly) not apparently developed a good parent instinct yet.

This baby hatched at about 5 pm yesterday and we only found out because of a sudden cacophony of hissing and honking in the goose house. When we went to look we at first thought the 2 geese might be fighting over the chick but it seems that, rather, the three grown ups were shocked and horrified at this wet wriggling, cheeping 'monster' arriving in their nest without warning. The Gander raced in at the noise and everyone was suddenly charging out of the goose house and off for a shout around the garden.

Nobody wanted to go back in 'THERE' and face the thing, so there was a risk he'd get cold. Eventually they all did go back in but would not get back on his nest. They stood back at full neck range and hissed at him and looked as if they were going to try a few tentative pecks. The next time I looked he was 4 feet from the nests (which now had the Mums sitting on them looking a bit breathless and ruffled but at least they were on). He looked a bit bruised and still wet, as if he'd been flung there, maybe by the Gander, perhaps mistaking him for a rat.

Thank God then for our helpful friends, Mentor Anne with lots of advice and Carolyn who already had an incubator running with duck eggs and a brooder-box with an Infra Red heat lamp shining on a group of ducklings. He was rescued and rushed down there where he is now doing OK and starting to get some strength in his legs. This takes a couple of days in geese, by all accounts, possibly as a result of them being so scrunched up in the egg and is helped, in nature, by them being close enough to water to go for some physio-therapy swimming. Meanwhile they flop about on their bellies on land building up their strength. Lucky is in with the ducklings but protected from getting trampled by the comparatively active ducklings by being mainly in his own plastic tub. We went down to visit him this morning and take these pics, and he's already starting to rear up on his legs and climb out of the tub. He has had a swim in the (bathroom) bath for his physio. Nurses Carolyn and Charlotte are very happy with him.

Meanwhile, what of the other eggs and those disastrous parents? Well, we have offers of incubation for all the remaining eggs if it comes to that (They are nearly 'cooked' anyway being on Day 32, so this would only have to be for a couple of days) or of just any that start to pip and look like they might also get rejected. There is a chance that after the first horror-struck rejection, any 2nd and third babies might be better accepted but we are under strict instructions to keep a close eye and intervene if that is not the run of things. Any more rescues can be whizzed down to Carolyn's to go stay with Lucky. They see this as fair enough given that we are looking after their 3 mini-horses. Thank you very much, C, C and M-A. It's all quiet at the moment. No more hatches as far as we can tell (as at 13:30 on Sunday) so the Mums are sitting quietly as they have done for 32 days, and the Gander is mooching about quietly just staying in range and keeping an eye. We have no idea whether we will even get any more babies hatching.

Meanwhile I couldn't resist another picture of the Disastrous Dad enjoying his bath yesterday before all this kicked off.

Oh and the 'Lucky'? I commented to Liz that it was lucky she'd chosen to take a break in the back yard just at that moment of the honking and shouting, otherwise the baby would have been lying there on the concrete till morning, presumably chilled to death. "We'd better call him 'Lucky' then!" said Liz. Then, to cap it all, the song playing on the radio as I drove to 'A&E' was that catchy "Up all night to get Lucky" by Daft Punk and Pharrel. Not sure if those boys are thinking of the same kind of 'luck' but we'll gloss over that!

Saturday 25 May 2013

A Gosling Hatch but then more Drama than you Need.

No pictures on the gosling yet - it all happened a bit fast and we were not grabbing cameras. In brief (well, fairly brief) we'd been talking to Carolyn today and we were all feeling a bit downbeat about gosling hatches, this being Day 31 and no action yet. Then Liz was taking a breather in the back yard after a long day (of which more later) and she suddenly heard a commotion in the goose house - hissing and honking. We could see a little wet newly hatched gosling in one of the nests and jumped to the conclusion that the geese might be fighting over it. We raced to try to separate the geese by sliding a camping table in between the nests but only ended up causing more excitement, trauma and everybody jumping off the nests and racing out to meet the gander who had by now come running at all the noise.

Everybody calmed down and eventually returned to the goose house but nobody seemed to want to go near this new, wet, wriggling cheeping 'monster' who had suddenly appeared in the nest. We now think the hissing was probably the geese's first sighting of the 'thing' and horrified reaction. Both geese were now trying to get in the same nest box to the left of the new barrier, and no-one was going to get back onto the gosling. The Gander leaned over him and hissed, and everyone was getting a bit fired up again. I quietly removed the table/barrier in case it was that causing the problem, but then both geese and the gander took to looking at the nest in horror, hissing and occasionally seeming to take a tentative peck at the gosling.

This was not looking good. I backed off in case they might settle, but ten minutes later the gosling was in the middle of the floor, 4 feet from the nest having presumably been flung there by the gander. He looked a bit red, bruised and pecked about one flank. I needed to intervene in case he got killed. I rescued him/her and sought help from Carolyn who was closest. She advised I bring him quickly to her place where there are ducklings under an Infra Red heat lamp and an incubator also with duck eggs. The little Fiat turned ambulance as we raced down the lane. Suffice to say little gosling is now safe and warm in the incubator and Carolyn reports that an hour or so later he is lifting his head, which is a good sign.

We must now keep a careful eye on developments and we need to decide whether this the result of under-developed maternal instincts in the geese, none of whom are a year old yet. If so we should grab up any more eggs that hatch or potentially all the eggs and certainly be on station to rescue any more goslings who get ejected from the nest. They can be kept warm in the airing cupboard or a brooder-box or, in emergency I can do more ambulance runs.

On a happier note I FINISHED DIGGING THE POND today. At 6 m wide and 10 m long it has been a real labour of love which I have tackled at an hour a day and it has taken several months. It is finally there and ready for its butyl rubber liner and some water. It is a relief to get this far. We have done ponds before several times, but never a monster this big.

The horses got a nice treat today, being given the long lush grass between the orchard and the 'Secret Garden' today. We tethered each to a fence post so that they could just about reach each other if they needed to but they could also graze the whole width of this grass strip. They pile into the grass, especially, we have noticed, Bob (the pale Mini-Shetland furthest from the camera in this shot) and fill their bellies up tight, then all take a lie down. Carolyn had warned us about this which is lucky because as Liz says, having read very little about horses and knowing even less, lying down means colic and trauma and get the vet QUICK. These guys are very happy to be led back to 'their field' at the end of the day, where they go for a play-fight run about, racing round the field in great galloping arcs. They are little charmers.

Another gang getting more space today were the 8 baby chicks and Broody Betty. These guys are nearly 5 weeks old now so will soon be fully free range but we opted for an intermediate stage and gave them a weld-mesh corral while they got used to being allowed out of the  rabbit run which has been home for their first few weeks. As I look now the picture has resized itself into landscape. If this is still the case as you look, I apologise. I will try to sort it out.

I also promised you a better picture of the Gander enjoying his enamel bath which he can now access via the pallet ramp and he loves it. I have given him an old car floor mat as a non-slip pad to help him get out - we had seen him struggling on the skiddy wet enamel. Now he confidently hops in and out and stays for a long time in there preening, splashing and probably keeping a supervisory eye on progress on the big pond. I am sure he will want to be our first customer and if he could just hold off killing any goslings till we get it filled, he can even lead them out onto the water in a picturesque convoy. We wonder will that happen?

Friday 24 May 2013

2 Hares, 1 Red Squirrel, No Goslings

I was treated to a lovely sight yesterday morning as I went out first thing to do my feed rounds - 2 hares strolling up the East Field back lit by the morning sun. I hasten to add that this picture is not one of mine - I am never organised enough at that time in the morning to have shipped the camera and telephoto - this is a shot blagged off the internet, as are the next two. We have our own subspecies of hare 'over here', the Irish or Blue Hare and we've seen these several times since we moved. Usually they are racing from A to B and you catch only a fleeting glimpse but yesterday these two ambled up the field and when they say me emerge from the back door, paused and gazed at me. I looked at them and them at me for some seconds, maybe half a minute before their nerve seemed to fail them and they turned and hurried off back down the field.

I thought I'd done well but I was completely trumped later in the morning by Liz's sighting of a red squirrel chasing across the road down by Shannon's Cross, just north of our local village, Loughglynn. No mistaking it, she says, although she couldn't believe her eyes at first and was mentally ticking off possible more likely creatures.... stoat or weasel? Nope, big bushy tail. Grey squirrel? Nope - this one glowed in its gingery orangeness!

In theory we KNOW we are in red squirrel country with the greys fading out at roughly the mid-line up Ireland and a band of 'only reds' territory running up through the western side of the island a bit inland from the coast. In practise neither of us had actually seen one (and I still have not, ever, unless you count captive bred animals)

Naturally we were keen to report both of these sightings for the record on the National Biodiversity Data Centre website at  Looking at the right hand map here 'since 2010' distribution those poor squirrels look a bit thin on the ground, but it's probably just lack of recent recording rather than such a catastrophic decline.

Meanwhile, back here, we are on Day 30 of Goose Incubation. I thought we were on this morning. You know how you come to 'know' your animals and can spot even the subtlest change in behaviour? Well, this morning when I went to unlock the geese, only Gander came out and he seemed to be much calmer than normal, not shouting out his excitement at his release. Both geese sat tight on their nests and when we looked through the crack (the door is old and rotting and the hinge is not very well attached, so you can see a chink of goosiness by looking from the kitchen with binoculars) there seemed to be a lot of fidgeting going on. I added 2 and 2 and made 5, of course so I was getting quite excited but later on the girls both came off and went for a stroll, graze and poo with Gander which gave me a chance for a proper look (and also suggested to me that there would NOT be a hatch - I can't imagine the new Mums would be off strolling and abandoning new babies!) Nothing yet I'm afraid, but we are only on Day 30 of the 28-35 day predicted date range. Patience is the thing.

The picture, which is cropped from a very quickly snatched mobile phone shot shows Gander finally sussing out that the pallet leading up to the enamel bath is actually a ramp for his benefit. He finally worked this out yesterday and dropped down into the bath for the first time. This is him splashing about. I will get a better picture soon.

Wednesday 22 May 2013


Today, the 22nd of May is our 'G-Day', the first day that any goslings were likely to hatch. So far no sign of any activity but I am told that, as happened with the chickens, they can have hatched but be kept a secret by their Mum for a couple of days - you might see and hear nothing. I have crept in and sat very quietly and listened but there are no new noises. Ah well, we are nothing if not patient, so we are leaving them well alone and allowing Nature to take its chosen course. Our friend Carolyn, just down the road, has had 6 goslings from 6 eggs 2 days ago, so we are a bit envious. We are also told that our problem of failing to separate the girls and allowing the egg 'borrowing' to occur might evolve into arguments over the new babies. This can go badly wrong for the babies, as you can imagine, but we are clinging to the belief that it's a bit late to separate anybody now, and that these two sisters have been nothing but amiable and nice to each other for the 4 weeks of sitting, so might just carry that into Auntie-hood.

Meanwhile our suspected barren hen, 'Baldy' gets a reprieve. The stock pot is back in the cupboard. She laid an egg! Fair play to her. She laid another this morning, so we hope she is back on line. Mind you we have not yet had that 3-egg (100% productivity) day  as one of the other girls took a break. You should always listen to your known experts - Mentor Anne said all along that William would not be 'treading' Baldy (and making her bald) if she was infertile.

The chicks are now at 4 weeks and have that amusing, half feathered, 'threadbare' look where you can see their reptilian ancestry shining through. Looking and strutting about like mini velociraptors and having all the experts having a punt on sexing them, which is notoriously difficult. Are tails up or straight backward? Is that a bit of a comb forming above the beak? Mentor Anne is going for 4 and 4, 2 roosters, 2 pullets among the buffs, my Sussex a pullet, The La Bresse cross a rooster and one of each in the Jersey Giants. Place your bets, ladies and gents.... the wheel is in spin!

In the orchard the apple blossom is just now starting to open so it is at that dark pink stage where only the backs of petals are visible. These are only young trees so we are pleased to have any blossom and we are not expecting any fruit. When the wind is less fierce we are getting a fair few bumble bees coming through now and the odd hover fly. I have not seen any honey bees and Anne tells me that Irish Bee Keepers are reporting 76% hive loss this winter on account of the hard weather. We'll see this year as the year in which the new trees got established and hope for a sensible season in 2014.

Diversifying our orchard a wee bit, we found in a local Garden Centre, and planted a hazel nut tree. The fruit tree layout was originally going to by 4 rows of 5 trees but we found that there was room for a 6th row at the north end, still giving clearance to the hedge line. I will do a line of nuts and other non top-fruit along here where their bushy shape will not detract from the plan to be able to look down avenues of blossom across the neat goose-grazed grass. Everything in its place? We had intended to get some hazel and nut trees from the 'Million Trees' project but it all seems to have gone a bit quiet in that department and the latest email update had them including escape clauses like 'trees will be made available as funds are obtained'. Reading between the lines it seems to have stalled and run out of money and trees. Ah well, the 27 we planted here are now breaking bud. We gather 'they' managed about 100,000 on the day which is, at least, 100,000 trees in the Irish landscape which would not be there but for the programme.

In the 'allotment' things are looking pleasingly weed free. We have decided to attack the enormous task of weeding in the same way I do pond digging - trying to achieve an hour every day, which translates into 2 big 'Curver' buckets onto the compost. Nearest to you in the picture is last year's rainbow chard which has amazed us by not bolting away to flower and is continuing to give us good yields. I have now got peas, broad beans, 2 kinds of artichoke and 3 of potatoes breaking the surface plus lines of smaller seedlings which I need to protect from the hens dust-bathing games.

Finally, with the grass growing like billy-oh and us not yet ready with multiple-gosling lawn mowers I have had to fire up the lawn mower to stop it all getting away. Carolyn has now sold the 4th horse (a 'big' ( i.e. normal sized) Irish Cob called Sam) so she was able to drop by yesterday with a third lunge rein, one each for 'our' three miniature horses. I was therefore able to 'deploy' my three mini-horse mowers today on the three reins , 2 in the Primrose Path and one on the front lawn under the trees where I daren't mow for fear of cutting into tree roots. We needed 3 reins because the three horses fret if they can't see one another and mess about trying to gallop up and down rather than settling down to eat the grass as intended. You can't just take 2 out mowing and leave the 3rd in the field. It was fun and games this morning in Liz's absence, trying to get 3 head collars onto 3 horses and then get them all tethered. I am not an experienced horse-manager and I think they spotted that!

Sunday 19 May 2013

JD Bob's ponds

We know it rains a bit round here but we were still surprised at how quickly the 1010 litre rainwater tank has filled up. You can see here that we are now above the top metal frame bar so we are well up in the 900 litres area. Resurrecting some skool maths I have calculated that given that the 'catchment' is the car port roof at approx 5 m by 6 m, 1.3 inches (in old money) of rain has fallen in the last ten days, since we installed the tank. For those not versed in such matters, the rain in an average year here is about 40 inches, so this would be about a right for the 10 days. Bodes well for us being able to keep the pond topped up when we need to, doesn't it?

The newest Rabbit, Goldie, continues to thrive and is scarfing the good Roscommon grass to the manor born. This is a nice picture to give you some idea of the size of her - we are looking through 2 inch chicken wire here. Not a small animal. We are hoping for plenty of 'kittens' from her in mid June and in particular we hope there is a nice buck for keeping to mate with Ginny and Padfoot in the future. Goldie, if I have not already said so, is a Flemish Giant cross Californian White. These varieties do not stick to their colours too well, so we are told the babies can be pretty much any rabbit colour. There can be up to 15 kittens but the usual rules apply - you are wise not to even LOOK into the nest till they might be 2 weeks old, or the doe may kill and eat the babies under stress. They are born pink, hairless, blind and with their ears sealed up. By 2 weeks they are furry and cute, miniature bunnies. We are hoping for a successful 'kindling' both for her and for Ginny and Padfoot. It will be Ginny's first time.

We have been down to John Deere Bob's bank field for a look at the pond(s) we plan to do the newt surveys on. I knew where the first pond was. We took the dogs down there for a walk and they were pulling around so much, eager to race around the grass around the bigger Lough Feigh, that we risked letting them off the leads so that we could gaze at the first pond in peace. We saw small fish. We did not see any newts but that's OK; in really clear water newts are sometimes nocturnal, so you need to come back at dusk with torches. However, the dogs ran off into some bushes and we got a bit concerned after a while and Liz went a-hunting and discovered to our delight a second and much more promising pond.

This pond is more full of vegetation including many species we might have to blag bits of to start our own pond - marsh marigolds, floating water plantain, amphibious bistort and so on. It has much less open water and we could see no signs of fish. Fish are predators on newts and newt tadpoles so that, in general, you do not get newts if you have fish. (Note to you pond makers out there - if you want to create a wildlife pond, avoid the temptation to go buy goldfish!). We did not see any newts in this one either but we resolved to return without dogs and with plastic sacks to sit on and maybe even a picnic. It really was an idyllic, beautiful, peaceful place. We are going to enjoy newt surveying there.

 We are homing in now on the first possible gosling hatch date. This is the 22nd and it is a tense, nervous time. The baby chicks (who hatched the day the geese went broody) are coming up to 4 weeks old too, of course, and getting well feathered and starting to look too big for the run. Broody Betty is also looking quite keen to get out and show them around. We are still a bit nervous that they are very small and might fall prey to the cats or a magpie, but Gander, bored by his women having been sitting now for 3 and a half weeks is currently hanging around near them and shouts at any passing crows or 'maggies'. He also scares off the cats. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic changes when (Please, God) we get some goslings for him to look after and he gets his ladies back. Our plan (frantically NOT counting chickens here) would be to keep all the geese then in the orchard field during the daytime so that we get that grass a bit grazed and to shepherd them back and forth to the secure house at night. Of course we are aware that this might all go wrong and we get failed clutches and no babies. These are very young and inexperienced mothers and although we've seen them do what we think is a successful incubation, we are by no means out of the woods. Wish us luck and hopefully by next weekend we will be singing (and honking) a happy song.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

We saw a Sparrow!!!!

OK, probably not the most exciting subject for a blog post, especially for my UK readers where the good old common or garden House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is as common as muck. In our garden in Kent, where we did the 'wildlife garden' bit and fed them all year round, we had a resident population of between 35 and 75 cheeping from the holly bush and beech hedge, hanging around the feeders and nesting in at least 2 of the sections of our 'sparrow terrace' nest box. Like you, probably, we thought nothing of it. If you fed the wild birds, sparrows was what you always got and you hoped for the other species as well.

When we moved to the West of Ireland one of the first wildlife-related things that struck us, as we lived those early months in the caravan was the lack of sparrows. Not a one. Now we know that Ireland famously does not have snakes and, now trained on newts, we know that the island lacks several UK species of amphibian (allegedly the Common Toad, Palmate Newt and Great Crested Newt among others). It lacks all manner of mammal species which is understood to be an effect of the retreating ice age ice-sheet and species struggling to migrate north before the land bridges were submerged by melt water sea-level rises, for example moles, various rodents, wild cats and several deer. There are also many differences in flora and invertebrate lists.

Our caravan bird-neighbours were much more abundant populations of birds which were not common in Kent - chaffinches seemed to fill the sparrow niche, so that we have had a regular 15-17 permanently on site polishing off spilled chicken feed. Coal tits were common, though that seems to be a winter thing. We have 5-7 robins always around and wrens are also common. The common UK carrion-crow is replaced in Ireland by the grey bodied Hooded Crow. We have also since learned that some of the species that do live here 'do not get this far over' (to the west); apparently Short-Eared Owls do not live in Co Roscommon.

It was almost a year of living here before we saw a sparrow, and that in the yard of a local agricultural feeds supplier. We guessed that they are in fact 'here' but that because this is a beef farming area without the arable grain harvest and storage and where very few people feed wild birds. We have since seen them very rarely in other grain store areas but it was on 7th May, just a week ago, that Liz spotted 2 around our hay barn and shouted, "That's a Sparrow!". She was right - there were actually a pair and we were both grinning like loons, happy to have 'our old friends' back. I have since seen both a couple more times, so we are going to declare them resident. We do have sparrows!

Tuesday 14 May 2013

I Named that Statue. Minute that!

One of the things I have always loved about the Irish is the way that they adopt amusing, irreverent nicknames for their statues, street art and landmarks, notably in the capital, Dublin. A rather boobalicious representation of Molly Malone with a barrow full of fish, cockles and mussels (naturally) is widely known as "The Tart with the Cart". A statue of James Joyce complete with walking cane and iconic specs is "The Dick with the Stick".

A fountain in O'Connell Street which depicted Goddess of the River Liffey, Anna Livia reclining in the water with fountains bubbling down her from shoulders to feet was nicknamed 'The Floozie in the Jacuzzi'. She has now been moved to Croppy Acre Memorial Park in Dublin, replaced with a Millennium Spire, after having been filled with washing up liquid for the umpteenth time. The spire, as far as I am aware does not have a funny name, but I expect it does. A nice statue of two ladies paused in their shopping, sitting on a bench to chat with their Arnott's bags beside them quickly became the 'Hags with the Bags' and so it goes on.

Our nearby Airport, Knock, now has its own statue. We saw the strange twisted pair of upward pointing spikes, shaped like one of the more delicate pincers or tweezers I had in my precious Dissection Kit as a biology student, when these prongs were still being smeared with cement as I collected Liz from the airport on April 29th. We had no idea what they were apart from fairly obviously being a bit of roadside art. Eye catching enough and with that lovely view across Mayo behind them. It was only a few days later that we saw in Facebook, that they were in fact the backdrop to a statue of the visionary 'man of the cloth' Monsignor Horan who first conceived of the idea of an airport for these parts and politicked it into being.

As the news release says "A new statue of our founder, the visionary Monsignor James Horan was unveiled today at Ireland West Airport Knock. The new statue is situated on the approach road into the airport and is a fitting tribute to the great man. A display of Monsignor Horan's memorabilia and artefacts will also be on display in the airport terminal over the summer months".

Of course, I was straight into Facebook and thinking that this statue now needs a witty name, so I challenged 'my lot' and, aside from a rather rude one from Mr Silverwood no-one took up the baton. I went with "The Geezer by the Tweezer" which got a few 'likes' (approving ticks by Facebook people) and was then passed on to a vox-pop 'Twitter' Feed called @Ireland where the current 'chair' liked it too.

This summer, when the crowds of returning Irish wing in on Aer Lingus flights to Knock Airport for "The Gathering, Ireland 2013" and you hear them being driven past Monsignor Horan by their pick-up drivers who say "Ah yeah! They're calling it the 'Geezer by the Tweezer'! Isn't that great?" you'll know that it all started HERE.

Meanwhile in Rabbit news, Goldie is settling in well and was out there in the sun (when it managed to shine) wolfing down good Roscommon grass like it was going out of fashion. She'll be fat as a fool, as well as pregnant!

Monday 13 May 2013

Three in the Dog House

We have three animals currently on the 'naughty step' but I have not photographed them so I will post a selection of nice pics and catch you up with what they are about as we go along - the first 2 though are a Buff Orpington chick and a Jersey Giant (black) at 3 weeks.

First customer for sitting outside the headmaster's office to await his fate is Blue the Cat, who manages to hook a passing swallow out of the air as it dives down and into the Tígín where they are currently nest building. I can only imagine that the swallow failed to adjust his eye sight to the dark inside on a bright morning; they are usually well able to avoid our cats. Luckily I saw him out of the kitchen window playing with the victim who was patently still alive. He would not yield the bird to me, but his 'Mum' (Liz) has a more menacing way of scruffing the cats and growling "MINE!" at them which makes them drop the capture. Liz scooped the swallow up, shaken and not stirred and we laid it in a tea-towel in the only place where cats fear to tread- the Goose House with its two broody geese. It was still alive by lunchtime and then gone by mid afternoon and we have since regularly seen both 'our' pair whizzing about as normal so we assume this time he got away with it and , we hope, learned to be a bit more careful coming through the doors of the Tígín.

Next up, our bitch-pup, Poppy, now 11 months old, so old enough to KNOW BETTER. She has adopted the habit of chewing wetly, or just sucking, the crotches of any of Liz's clothes - knickers, jeans, pyjamas. She does not always actually damage them, just renders them unwearable till they have been washed. She never touches mine, just occasionally has a chew on my sandals, but never clothes. Naturally, we are trying to cure her of this annoying habit. Chunter chunter.

 Our final customer today is the hen we are now calling 'baldy' whom we believe, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, may have given up laying eggs for good. You'll recall that we had a eggy hiatus and changed the feed for an organic, Pedigree Petfoods product. This seems to have sorted the soft-shell problem and the lack of eggs, so that we now get 2 good eggs most days but ONLY 2 from three hens. We watch closely and have seen that the other two hens slope off from the rooster every morning and lay their eggs in the nest boxes, but 'Baldy' (so named because she gets William's 'attentions' so often that his spurs have worn away some of the feathers across her back) is never missing. Mentor Anne tells me that it is almost unheard of for a rooster to bother 'treading' a barren or infertile hen, so she has advised me to beat the bounds, searching all the hedgerows, nooks and crannies, where I'll almost certainly find a huge stash of eggs (Simon says this normally happens in winter as the vegetation dies back; that's when you find the caches). I have had a really thorough search today though, rummaging through nettle patches and ground elder with a hoe, and I am blowed if I can see any. So, unless she gets her act together before the new babies reach PoL (Point of Lay), the stock pot looms for her.

Meanwhile, in happier news all 8 of our chicks have survived to 3 weeks old. This is fairly unusual, apparently, you normally lose a few. The horses are also doing well, enjoying their new 'rushless' field and learning to come to us on call to earn a Polo mint treat. Liz has not yet done her official newt survey but by coincidence I found one swimming in the goose-drinker this morning. It's a very egg-loaded female (says Liz) and was probably looking for a suitable pond, which the drinker is NOT, having vertical plastic sides. We rescued it to a more suitable 'pond' and Liz was able to break out the official forms and record it for our 10 km square (grid ref M68). We got a nice reply from the Official Irish Wildlife Trust website to say that this was a 'New Record' for M68, smooth newts never having been recorded for this square before. This actually makes it pointless for us to survey Bob's pond, as the box has been ticked, but we will do it anyway and they can have a 2nd tick if we find any.

Today we collected up our latest addition, the meat-breed doe rabbit, Goldie. She came from Mentor Anne's 'stable' and is pregnant to Anne's Californian White buck, Bobby. This might get confusing - we have John Deere Bob, our friend and neighbour, Bob the mini-Shetland horse and now Bobby the potential Father to Goldie's 'kittens', who, if all goes well, are due around June 13th. We will be over-run with baby animals if we don't watch it. I do not want to be counting chickens, but we have the potential now for goslings on 22nd May, baby rabbits from Ginny and Padfoot on 2nd June and now Goldie.

Oh - and the other pictures? In order, the three horses having a rest, some horse product on the rhubarb, that newt, Goldie and some pear blossom just opening now on a Conference Tree we had as a gift last summer from Steak Lady.

That's it for now.