Where have all the birds gone?

The weekend before last my garden was teeming with birds – long-tailed, great and blue tits, dunnocks, greenfinches, chaffinches, blackbirds, collared doves, wood pigeons, a lesser spotted woodpecker and a robin! Brilliant I thought, that goes well for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch on the following weekend.

So, last Saturday, horse, cats and chickens fed and let out, I settled down with my breakfast to watch the two bird feeders in the garden. Nothing came. Ten minutes later, still nothing. Where have they all gone? Had they been ‘stuffing themselves silly’ before I arrived at the window? All the feeders were full, the cats were asleep indoors, so where were they?

After another 10 minutes, and 1 great tit, 3 blue tits and 2 wood pigeons later, I gave up. Perhaps they knew it was the Big Garden Birdwatch Weekend and had flown off to another garden ? Maybe the fact that one of my cats (grrrr) had caught a blue tit and my one remaining robin *sobs* during the week, was keeping them away. I’ll watch out earlier tomorrow I thought, when they were would be stocking up after a cold night.
To my amazement, when I awoke Sunday morning and looked out of the window… all the snow had gone! I had never known it to thaw so quickly. I soon discovered that the barn and the greenhouse were both flooded, but no damage fortunately.

Oh, how lovely it was to stride across the yard without fear of going A over T. Not having to take geriatric little steps. I must have looked so funny bundled up in my five layers of clothing tottering about the place ! Good job nobody could see me.

The sun shone down from a blue sky and the wind blew fiercely scattering all my flowerpots and stable tools all over the place and slamming gates into my groin. Ho hum, when will we ever get the weather we want? Must be positive, at least the sunshine and the wind will help dry the ground, which had turned into liquid mud!

Had to chuckle when I heard somebody on the radio recommending making lots of snowmen before the snow went, to cut down on the amount of snow thawing all at the same time. Wonder if anybody followed their advice?

Jobs done I made a cuppa and settle down to watch the birds… What birds? Perhaps they had all gone on holiday to warmer climes? I gave up after another 20 minutes with a paltrey total to load onto the RSPB website. Wanted to say that I usually have four times as many birds, but there wasn’t a box for that 🙁


Still, have to be grateful for small mercies, the chickens on Saturday finally came out to peck around in the last of the snow and enjoy some boiled rice I gave them.

Maybe I will have better luck with the Big Garden Birdwatch next year!

Space saving idea for kitchen cupboards

It’s lovely living in a little cottage, but it means that storage space is at a premium.

Because of the limited space, I take some of my supermarket carrier bags to the local farm shop for reuse, but like to keep some back, as they are so useful. But it’s incredible just how much space they can take up in already bulging kitchen cupboards!

On a visit to my brother in Sweden I noticed how he dealt with the problem. It was so simple that I thought I’d share it with you, so that you too, can free-up space in your cupboard.

Lay your bag flat on a flat surface, smoothing out towards the open end to remove all the air.


Then fold it lengthways three times, again smoothing towards open end.


Then fold diagonally starting from the closed end.


Then fold again.


Keep folding until you get to the open end.


Then just tuck in the handles into the open part of the folded bag.


Hey presto, one large bulky carrier bag folded into a little ‘wedge’ of plastic that will take up very little space in your cupboard! I fold up all my big horse feed bags like this too, which saves even more space out in the feed shed.



The joys of country living

I awoke on Monday morning with a sinking feeling in my stomach. Looking out of the window I realised why. A blanket of snow covered the garden, shrubs trees, fences as far as the eye could see. It was 6.10 am and I had to be at work by 9 am.

I groaned as I pulled on my three layers of stable clothing. Brrrr I thought, as the central heating hadn’t yet kicked in. Managing to get downstairs without being tripped up by  Minnie or Maisie who chased down with me, hopeful for a handful of biscuits for breakfast, I filled the hens’ saucepan with water.

After yet two more layers of clothing, a silly-looking wool hat with ear flaps and thick gloves, I ventured out of the back door. Brrrr, I said out aloud.  Brrrrr, I said again, as I looked at the  thermometer.  -12 degrees it said. Brrrr flippin’ brrrr, I said again.

The catch on the gate into the field was frozen, as was the bolt on the stable door and the clip on the gate into the hen’s run. Unable to touch metal anywhere with my bare hands, as they stuck to it, I kept my gloves on.

After giving Max his breakfast I mucked him out. His droppings (poo to you) and the water in his bucket were frozen solid, as was the outside tap.

I groaned, (again) when I saw the accumulation of snow on the netting above the chicken run.

Snow on chicken run netting

Snow on chicken run netting

Instead of 5′ high, the weight of the snow had reduced the height of the netting to more like 3′. Before I could open up the hens’ pop hole, I would have to remove the snow weighing down the netting. This I did with a broom, from underneath. Thank god for my hat, I thought, as the snow showered down around me.

I found some parcel tags (which were, surprisingly, where they were supposed to be) to anchor the netting that I’d pulled tight down the sides of the run. This done, I could open the pop hole.

Don't want to come out, thanks very much

Don’t want to come out, thanks very much

Oh well, stay in there I said, and they did – all day. Don’t blame them, at -12 degrees I didn’t want to stay outside either.

Next job? Breaking the ice on the trough with a lump hammer and scooping it out with a sieve so it didn’t knit together. It was over an inch thick. Brrr, I thought.

Had to fill Max’s water buckets in the bathroom and every time I went into the house my glasses steamed up. What a struggle, I thought as I trudged down the drive to open the gate. All of this before I try to get to work to start my day job!

Finally, all the outside jobs done, I could go in to shower, breakfast, get dressed and off…. Oh, better get the snow off the car and turn on the ignition to warm it up, I thought.  Easy peasey, right?  But no, I couldn’t open the driver’s door! No matter how I tugged, it wouldn’t budge! So back into the house for some warm water and a sponge and yet again not being able to see because of my glasses steaming up. Blow this for a game of soldiers, I thought, as again I left the house with a another bucket of warm water. After a few minutes, I managed to thaw out the ice around the door and it opened. Allellujah, I said as I started the car. Crikey, it started first time!

As I drove down the drive, a mere 40 minutes late for work, I looked in the mirror to see Max standing by the gate, looking at me ….

Can I come in now please, mum?

Can I come in now please, mum?







The Gallery : New

Over five years ago I was given a lovely orchid when I left my job. It flowered for 18 months, then stopped. I had planned to chuck it out, but never got around to it. So glad I didn’t, because at the end of last year it grew a new stem and over Christmas buds formed. This week the first bud opened into a beautiful new flower !1st orchid for 3 years

Two little miracles

Throughout this blog, if it survives past the first year, there will, no doubt, be lots of mentions of swallows. Most years they nest in my stables and during their stay with me, they bring me such joy.

14 or 15 years ago I had just one pair nesting in my spare stable, out of which I had just moved my horse.  They had built their nest high on the gable end wall which was, unfortunately, in front of the stable door. This put them in danger from my young cats.

As soon as the hen started to sit on the nest, I made a mental note to shut the top stable door, as soon as I saw the broken shells on the stable floor, to thwart my cats’ attempts to get up to the nest. The swallows would be able to fly in and out through the stable nextdoor.

My mother was coming to stay that Saturday, so I was a little distracted and missed the broken shells. As I walked past the spare stable, when I went to let my horse out, I looked up at the nest and then down to the floor where I saw, to my dismay, the broken nest and three inert, nude little bodies on the shavings. My heart sank. Too late. I was heartbroken.

I picked up the three little bodies that could only have been a day or so old. They were but 1.5 inches long and completely bald except for a few bits of fluff. I cupped them in my hands taking the opportunity to look at wild birds at such close quarters. As they lay in my hands, looking much like Disney characters with their big heads and eyes and huge yellow beaks, did I notice a flicker of an eyelid? Was there a chance that one of them was still alive after such a fall?  I carefully cupped my hands around them, warming them and blowing gently on them. Slowly, slowly, two of them began to squirm, they were still alive, I could hardly believe it!

Now, what could I do with them? Waiting a while, until they had warmed up, I placed them on a duster, in a bowl, and put them in my linen cupboard, well away from marauding cats! Then left to drive down to my mother’s to bring her back.

On my return, I checked the linen cupboard and they were still alive! But what to feed them? It was the beginning of May, cold for that time of the year and it hadn’t rained for over a month. No flying insects L. I checked an RSPB leaflet I happened to have on caring for fledglings. Cripes, I thought, these weren’t fledglings, they were newborns! Well, it suggested scrambled eggs, and digestive biscuits soaked in water which I proceeded to feed them every few hours, with the help of a pair of tweezers.

Over the next few days, cut up worms (eeek) some flies I managed to swat (two amorous flies in one go which was a bonus) were added to their diet. They continued to survive, if looking a bit of a mess with little bits of scrambled egg and biscuit scattered about their person.

Their ‘nest’ changed to a shoebox packed with hay. They were so cute, the slightly larger one nestled his sibling under his wing and, before long, every time I opened the bathroom door they heard me coming and began to cheep madly!

Outside I could see a pair of swallows sitting up on the electricity wires above my paddock. I took the chicks in their shoebox, covered with a tea towel, out to the paddock and stood under the wires. Uncovering the shoebox, and saying to the chicks “Now cheep for all you’re worth” I held the box up, at arms’ length to let mum and dad see their chicks in the box. Every evening I did the same as, as luck would have it, the adults were roosting next to their broken nest. “Look”, I would say, “here are your babies”. During that weekend the swallows were flying in an out of my shed and barn looking for their two remaining chicks.

The chicks had fallen out of the nest on the Saturday morning, and by Tuesday morning they were still alive and I was beginning to despair. How could I train them to fly when the time came? How long could I keep feeding them every few hours? How could I continue to keep the cats away from them?

I went for a walk around the stables, hoping for inspiration. Looking into the stable nextdoor to the one with the broken nest, I looked up and saw an unused nest from the year before. Why hadn’t it occurred to me before? Why hadn’t I thought of putting the chicks in there?

Excited by the prospect of a happy ending, I put a step ladder up to the old nest and removed all the cobwebs. I brought the chicks out, stood under the parents up on the wire, removed the tea towel, again holding them up to show them. Did I imagine them moving their heads, looking down…. Quickly I took the chicks into the stable, climbed the ladder and put them, oh dear one went in head first, into the nest.

I left the stable, removing the ladder and went and hid behind my car, peering out the side to see what, if anything would happen…. I can’t type this without the tears welling up in my eyes.. After a few minutes the parents came down from the wires and… flew into the stable. Within ten minutes, they were in and out of the stable feeding their little ones.

Words cannot express how I felt. I could not believe that they had actually been watching, that they found their chicks in the nest in the other stable, three days after they had fallen from the nest nextdoor… and that they had accepted them and carried on as if nothing had happened.

Over the next few weeks I watched those little fluffy creatures turn into fully fledged birds. I was so proud of them when they flew for the first time. I had really bonded with them after caring for them for those three days, trying to find and prepare food for them, worrying about what to do with them.

It is hard to believe the tenacity of that pair of swallows, that they stayed there watching me bring out their chicks to them each day and, when the time was right, picking up feeding and caring for them again. Experts say that birds will reject chicks if they have been handled by humans… This certainly was not the case with my swallows, thank god.

Having read this post you will understand my elation when, probably in April, I will mention that my swallows have returned.