Tuesday 12 August 2014

Cat and Mouse, Wren and Butterfly

Liz and Sparks do 'beekeeper'
Monday afternoon sees us playing host to 'Sparks', Liz's brother, who is down for an overnight visit. He's on his own this time and is looking forward to a chance to have a good look round the place, relax, consume some of Liz's lovely food and have a good long heart-to-heart into the evening as he's staying the night. He is, as the Chinese (allegedly) say, "living in interesting times" at the moment and has some key decisions to make but distracted or not he is always welcome here; he pretty much built the place, after all (see all the posts from the first quarter of 2012).

So he arrives, grabs a quick coffee and then enjoys a tour of the latest livestock, taking in the pigs, geese and goslings, sheep and the baby Buff Orpington chicks. His afternoon coincides with our weekly bee-keeping tasks, and when offered the chance to suit up in the bee keeping garb and go assist Liz, he jumps at the chance, never having done anything like this before. The job today is to open the hive for an inspection and then, if the existing top 'super' is a buzz of activity, to stack a 2nd super on top, with the queen excluder board underneath it. Typical of Sparks, though, he doesn't just want to parrot this job and do what he's told, he is full of questions and interest, and we talk about the bee keeping for ages, finding him books to dip into and the Association magazine. Once Liz and I get going on that subject, it is difficult to stop us.

Well, the task went to plan and the new super is on, so that can now start filling with drawn honeycomb and hopefully some honey, but it is mid August by now and the big honey "flows" (that is how bee keepers refer to the busy periods of bees bringing nectar back to the hive from the peak flowerings of, for example, fruit trees, dandelions, clover, bramble etc) have almost finished. When I am doing my bumble bee surveys, I often add notes in the 'margin' telling which flowers I have seen my sightings foraging on, and lately these have noted that bramble is almost over and the bees are limited to knapweed, thistles and clover in the verges, with lavatera and lavender in gardens. The honey bees must be seeing the same dearth of flowers so that if you have not made a honey harvest by about now, then you are unlikely to get one. With getting our Nuc' (colony) only in late June, we've missed the boat a bit this year and will have to wait till autumn 2015 before we see any amount of honey

1st class travel arrangements for the chicks -
an old washed out paint bucket!
Other than that the place chugs along in its normal routines. We had one tiny hiccup when one of the 'Baker's Dozen' Buff Orpington chickens dies on us overnight. I have a sad little corpse to retrieve in the morning. We have, as ever, no idea why. There are almost never any symptoms These things just happen and they usually happen very fast, one minute the chick is a healthy and active as the rest, the next near-death or dead. We assume it is some kind of 'runt' development, thing, the weakling chick that would never have made it in the 'wild'? Anyway, we are down to a real Dozen now and , of course, all these look healthy and happy... but who knows?

Purple loose-strife in the pond.
One of our lambs is also concerning us in a small way; it is the ewe and she has gone lame, walking with a slight limp at the back end and seemingly a bit stiff when she gets up from the ground. Our sheep-man Kenny, has promised to turn up soon (!) to attach these ear tags to the sheep, so we will get him to invert the lady while he has a grip on her and he can cast his expert eye over her feet. She may have just taken a 'puck' from one of the boys (this is how they describe a 'clout' or a 'whack' here) and is bruised, but we know that sheep famously spend 23 hours of each day trying to commit suicide, so we had best get Kenny to check for foot root or other lameness issues.

Water mint. Sorry about the rubbish
picture. I was leaning out over the
pond, worried I'd drop the camera
in the drink!
I had a nice surprise this morning, a sight that I have never seen before (all be it not very 'nice' for the 'mouse' party) - a fluttering outside the kitchen door caught my eye while I was making coffee and turned out to be a tiny wren playing 'cat and mouse' with a big peacock butterfly. The wren was not much bigger than the butterfly, so the two looked at first like a pair of butterflies mating, but closer inspection showed that the wren had damaged the butterfly but not stopped it flapping. The wren had to peck and tweak at it for several more seconds before she had it subdued enough to grab the insect's head and fly off to some secret place, presumably to consume the prize. As I said, not a lot of fun for the butterfly, but a wren has to eat too and it was a charming sight.

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