Tuesday 6 March 2018

Fox Watch

Just for a laugh, our biggest snow-drift of the recent cold snap.
It formed in a eddy in our yard and must have been... oooh...
6 cm deep at least! The turkey-hen stepped in for scale. 
Yes, Fox-Watch. This is the new buzz-word name given to our newest and most time-thirsty 'hobby'. It is, exactly as described, time spent watching out for our persistent and so-far uncatchable furry friend. Brer Fox. I might sound upbeat and light hearted about this but inside, both of us are starting to get very annoyed and increasingly ground down and frustrated.

Our cat, 'Soldier' looking very 'Miss
Haversham' in his cobweb fascinator.
Presumably sticking his head into some
dusty rat-hole. 
Previous foxes have come and done their terrible stuff, but then turned stupidly predictable in their raiding or their routes to and from. We have been able to trap and shoot them within days so that we can then relax and forget about foxes for periods of 15 months+. This guy (or gal) nips in at random times in the afternoon (or 11 a.m. once) to just snatch a single bird from the orchard or the bit of land behind the goose-house. These are the places you cannot see from the house and cannot hear very well.

We have an excellent alarm system involving the 4 Guinea Fowl who scream blue murder at the sight of him, which works when they are out in that bit too and we now know to drop everything and race out there at the first shout. We also have the 3 dogs who are now expert at zooming out there, down through the veg garden and out through the hawthorn hedge in hot pursuit. They know by now to ignore all the 'not-prey' species (poultry, lambing sheds etc) and they know what Brer Fox looks and smells like. We let them go when we dare and they vanish for 20 minutes or so. We don't know whether they even get close to the fox, but the fright seems to make him rethink his tactics for at least a few days.

The 'beastly' winds turned the knitter's thoughts to hat and gloves
The trap is now permanently baited with tinned sardines or kippers but has so far caught only a 'foreign' cat, a manky looking grey and white yoke who was very fed up at being caged all night, lucky he didn't get rained on but presumably happy to have a belly full of my tinned fish. My heart missed a beat when I looked across and saw that the trap had been sprung. When I let the cat out he shot off like the proverbial scalded one and I have not seen him since. I was worried that he'd get trap-happy and come back for more fish, safe in the knowledge that he'd come to no harm, which would have made setting the trap for our fox a bit of an issue. I do not even know that the fox has smelled the fish or found the trap, never mind cunningly decided not to go in it. Patience is, as ever, the thing.

Apologies for this terrible (heavily cropped) shot of our
male reed bunting. 
We are left, then, with the need to stand 'Fox Watch' in person out there for all the at risk hours and indoors for all the less risky hours that the birds are out free ranging - about 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. currently. I do the outdoor stint from about 3 pm to lock-up. I am well bundled up and brought cups of coffee periodically by Elizabeth. I take my binoculars out there too, partly to help me scan the far horizons for russetty red, bushy-tailed varmints, but also so I can indulge in a bit of bird watching. When 'The Beast' is not blowing through this is actually quite a pleasant way to spend the 2nd half of the afternoon. I sometimes relieve the boredom by taking the dogs out with me, the better to keep a visible fox-deterring presence out there and scent-marking the boundaries. I just hope I can soon report the capture and despatch of this red bastard and put an end (for a while) to the need for all this nerve-twanging, tense, vigilance.

What else is new? As suggested above, we finally saw the end of our brutal cold-snap, "The Beast From The East" and in fairness we got away with it very lightly compared to some parts of the island and, of course, the UK and other countries. Over in the East and SE friends were reporting being snowed in by 7 foot drifts and I've seen today, pictures of Chinook (helicopter) supply-drops to cut off farms in Cumbria for solid fuel and food. There have been all the usual footage of hard pressed farmers digging out their sheep, alive if they were luckily but frozen to death if not found in time. Even so, the first thing I noticed when I went outside on Monday (5th) was NO WIND. Bliss. By afternoon the smoke from our chimney was pouring away into the NE, no longer at the beck and call of that horrible NE wind. Today we've had proper wet rain. A few chunks of broken ice float on some of the stock drinkers, but mostly we are 100% thawed.

You'd not fit any more sheep pens in that
 shed. Lady in Waiting, Rosie here is
next door to Polly and her twins. 
The ewe, 'Rosie' continues to keep us waiting and makes me feel like a proper beginner "panicking" and dragging her indoors a week early (OK, it's only 4 days so far). We joke that she is conning us to get some nights in the warm, 'bagging up' a little bit (yeah, yeah, show a man a flash of pink booby and he's putty in your hands!) and then holding out for the arrival of our next house-guests. We have the baby-animal-mad Danielle and Cousin Cathy arriving Friday, so Rosie will be able to do her thing to an audience. Ta daaaa! Look what I did!

Sun 3rd saw me at the end of the 13 week Garden Bird Survey
for Birdwatch Ireland. 
The ewes are in the small concrete/stone building we call the Tígín (wee housey) which is a proper man-shed with man-junk and tools stacked and shelved to roof height and some bits hanging from beams that run across the room from wall to wall. I was joking on Twitter that I couldn't tell whether she was really "star-gazing" or just looking up at the dusty, cobwebby, man-shed mess; the former is a sign of labour and imminent parturition, the latter just a natural female horror-reaction to the man-shed scene. Ah well. She'll make up her mind soon enough. Mother Nature knows best. Patience is the thing. 

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