The Last Furlong

Comments on the race of life.


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Colour and gender blind

The old fashioned Martin Luther King idea that we should all be colour blind and take a person by character, not the colour of their skin, has gone for a Burton. Now we must NOTICE colour.

Mr Furlong is very slow to catch on.

Every day he says “That brown bird is back at the bird feeder” and every day I say ” No, that’s a blackbird.”

Every day he is not noticing that if you are brown, you are called black, even though you are brown. He is not noticing that being female makes black brown, or if you are male, you are black.

But, then, of course, we don’t know if the black blackbird is gender neutral, cis, or LBGTQ.

The brown blackbird might call herself they/them.

So, the solution is not to notice any visual characteristics in anything at all.

Tomorrow , Mr Furlong can say “There is a bird on the birdfeeder”. And I will say, “How do you know its a bird? It might be a trans-squirrel.”


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Length – 6 to 8″

I am constantly astonished at the Seasons every year here in the UK. I love them.

What, to me is incredible, is how quickly plants grow when they start doing it. Every winter, our garden appears dead. Every summer, it is simply packed with plants that have resurrected themselves.

You don’t get that in Africa or tropical places. Every day is a nice day. The garden is simply green. The plants flower at various times, not distinguishable from any other time. It’s same, same, same.

You don’t notice quick growth amongst the growth.

Here, I watch birds from my bedroom window. At the end of winter we did a huge cutback of dead vines. The first big prune for many years I think. So the birds have feared the exposure without hedges or creepers to hide in. But now everything is growing. The birds are back.

The old stumps of the creepers have sent up new vines that are growing at a mind boggling pace. Every morning, I can see how much they have grown in a day.

And no joke, it is six to eight inches a day!

How amazing is that?


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Bibbity bobbity birdie boo

Last year, in lockdown, the Furlongs were entertained by Robins nesting in the garden.

I have been wondering where the birds have gone that used to visit our garden. But some nights ago, I woke with an aha thought. They’ve gone because the feeders have become exposed.

We repositioned the Tea houses ( wooden feeders) on top of a greased pole that Einstein, the clever rat, could not scale. We dug out the wretched ornimental grass that shed its leaves all over the garden, that was startled bird cover. And we completely annihilated the dreadful thorny evergreen plant that grew along the fence. The exposed wire fence is waiting for creepers to overwhelm it.

So, we have shot ourselves in the feet.

The problem of the naked, exposed feeders is being rectified. We’ve bought a new garden arch through which we have trailed the variegated ivy that was previously trailing on the ground. And on the other side of the arch is an old clematis that falls over the wall next to the garden stairs every year. It’s full of leaf buds.

And the creepers along the fence are budding too.

There are no Robins nesting around the back of the shed this year.

But

they are nesting in a shed that our upstairs tenant uses that runs down the side of this building.

I know they are because yesterday, as I walked into the ginnel that runs alongside our side wall, two Robins I recognised, Mum and Dad, were on the ground there.

We startled each other.

Boo!

And the Dad hopped up to me as he used to last year, and asked for food.

But I had nothing to give him.

Seeing how disappointing I was, they took off, but not before I got a flash of insight as to where their nest might be. Trouble is, I’m a shorty and I think this year, the nest is in a yellow bucket on a shelf in the shed, under the roof, too high up for me to look into.

Today I shall make an offering of our best dried worms.

And wait.

And see.


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Einstein is back – and, boy, has he grown!

The rat that figured out how to get out of our humane trap, and did so regularly, disappeared when we stopped feeding our birds.

But so many birds are back here after reaping the autumn harvest in the countryside around here, that we have put out food again.

Simultaneously, the council mowed down the thick undergrowth all along the canal path. The inhabitants have had to move house.

One of them, Einstein, I think, had a brilliant idea. He thought to himself ,

“I remember the fine repasts I used to partake of night after night at the house along the road there. Ill just take a gander, and see if the doddery old mugs are still there. (Sniff sniff) They have such a stupid dog, I’ll be quite safe eating in their caged restaurant. (Sniff sniff) Mmmm, that smells familiar! Ah, yes look! Nice grub, I’ll just scramble up this old dead creeper, and I can nosh all those yummy fatballs while the mugs and their stupid dog are sleeping. (Sniff sniff) Ah, YUMMY!”

Well, the mugs have been watching through the window.

They are appalled at how large Einstein has grown. And he’s not welcome here.

So

there are two options.

We set the trap in the hope that Einstein has become so obese, he’ll never make it out again, or has forgotten the escape code. And then, we take a drive somewhere during lockdown (for a very valid reason, and not just for fun you understand), and release him somewhere in the Lakes. ( Lake District Tourist’s delight, not for drowning rats!)

Or

we phone the Council and ask them to retrieve their lost property!


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The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

There are no birds in our garden. Einstein, the rat that cracked the code for the rat trap, is not here. The bumblebees for whom I built a nest, now ocupied by woodmice, are nesting in some other garden.

The neighbour down the road has an obsession about rats and mice and poisons them. The other day, I came upon her pruning her hedge (thank god we have no hedge) and there, on the pavement outside her garden, lay two dead, perfect, woodmice. I stopped.

“My God,” I exclaimed loudly to Mr Furlong, “these poor lovely woodmice, no, I think I said harvest mice (but they are the same thing), have obviously been POISONED by some unscrupulous person! Fancy doing that! Who here in England would poison harvest mice?”

The poisoner in question, climbed down from her ladder and loped up the road to see what my fuss was about.

“Look”, I say, “can you believe that someone around here is killing these beautiful things?” She looks.

I say, “Aren’t they lovely?” She looks again, dubiously. “We have them at our house. You can tame them, you know. And they never come into a house, they are not house mice.”

She says, animated, “But there are RATS!!!!!!along the canal!!!!! (exclamation marks continue…..)

“Oh, yes, I see them often, but they are wild creatures. By choice, they do not wish to live with US.” Our eyes meet. I can see her disbelief.

Her killings will continue. I know about her, because I am friends with her neighbours and hear about her poisons and bone snapping traps and boasts about how many creatures she killed in one night in her garden.

There are no birds in our garden. Einstein, the rat that cracked the code for the rat trap,  is not here.

I hope they are only off in the country reaping seeds and berries in this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

I hope they are not visiting the bleak garden with the neat hedge at number thirty five!


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Rising sun, August moon

I’m not sure how on earth the two bird feeders in our garden got their names. It was possibly because they look slightly oriental. Like little Pagodas.

Mr Furlong made them.

We call them ‘the Teahouses’ of the Rising Sun and the August Moon. We can notify each other by yelling “Look in the August Moon!” or ” There’s a mouse in the Rising Sun!”. They are very specially designed by a genius.

Mr Furlong is the genius. They have roofs we can open to fill the food trays on the floor within. The roofs are supported by a collonade of dowels spaced apart in the exact dimensions for tiny birds to get through, and keep large birds out. The Rising Sun is attached under the normal bird feeder, whilst the August Moon has three legs and stands amongst our plants.

I watch The Teahouses from my bedroom window and Mr Furlong can see them from the kitchen where he potters about. Mr Furlong is a kitchen creature. He has one of his computers in there and produces the food we eat here in this ‘house’. The birds are most active in the mornings. And the Woodmice come to feed too.

Having the Teahouses has stopped the Wood Pigeons chowing all the small bird’s food, and the rooves on them protect them from the view of overflying seagulls and raptors. And protect the food and the birds from the rain. Blackbirds often feed underneath them, picking up the bits. Blackbirds are a little too large to get in. And there is no ledge provided for the bigger birds to stand on if they attempt to stick their heads through the collonades which they do.

After the baby robins left the nest, they were in and out of the Teahouses all day. We haven’t seen them there for a while. Maybe they have found a better chef! But, Rising Sun and August Moon are the most popular eating establishments in our garden.


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Talking Stella

I haven’t much to say, so I thought this might be entertaining.

I didn’t know Starlings could talk, did you?


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Robins – eggs to flying.

About a month ago,  our dog found three eggs in a nest in an old pot plant  lying on its side in a secluded corner of our garden. We immediately closed off that section, so they wouldn’t become dog omelettes.

The next day, there were four eggs.

And the day after, five. With a robin sitting on them. I saw two different robins sitting on the eggs during that time.

After about two weeks, we found tiny  naked pink babies lying inert in the nest. They were no bigger than a thumbnail. Sometimes they were there cold and alone for quite a while wating to be fed. They  transformed from inert pink thumbnails  to squirming  pink hideous things straining tiny heads upwards, like mini monsters.

We bought mini mealworms for mini babies. I laid the worms out on a plastic gardening stool I’d put in front of the nest the day the dog discovered the eggs to stop it getting close. So in the late afternoons, to help with supplies, I offered the worms to the parents. “Kip, kip, kip. Kip, kip, kip”.

As the babies grew in their hideousness, so did their dinners. And the parents became tamer. Eventually, the Dad would pick up exactly four worms alight on the nest and stuff a worm down the gaping mouths of his monsters. Four of them.

Growing babies is hard work. We put fatballs up for the parents, not the babies. Rather like a gin and tonic at five. A treat. Something to keep the spirits up.

Believe me, there’s nothing uglier than a baby Robin. All mouth, no eyes, weedy body. But they transform!

They develop fluff, mini wings, black eyes that wink at you, and small round bodies. The nest gets really full, crushed actually, with each fat baby adjusting itself for comfort sending a ripple of adjustments through its sleeping siblings. They do sleep a lot.  And in filming them, I found them hard to wake for a good shot,

Yesterday, they left the nest. When we went to feed the worms,  the nest was empty  and  the four babies, safely reared, were in the bushes, fluffy, speckled cute things, testing their erratic flight skills.

One accidently flew into me. And clung on the gate by my feet. We were both surprised, shocked even. A frozen moment. And I was delighted. Here, right HERE, was proof of the most amazing miracle that we’d  been privaledged to watch.

So from sitting to hatching takes two weeks.

In our case the father Robin also sat.

From hatching to leaving the nest takes a further two weeks.

In our case, in the beginning, the mother fed too.

So it’s  done in a month.

Clever birds. Well done. You are welcome to do it again in the nesting places I  have prepared for you with hope that you will. Bye bye babies, stay safe. Its a big bad world out there.

So my best advice is to stay at home, here, in OUR garden, please. Hope to see you at our bird table. We’ve got some left over worms that need eating….


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Meet the Dad(s) – Robin expert required here please.

Our Robin nest story is now complex.

The thlot plickens!

In the beginning there was a dark Robin and a light Robin and small light Robin hanging about. I thought it might be a young Robin hanging about from a previous nesting.

BOTH the dark Robin and the larger light Robin sat on the eggs. I saw it with my own eyes. I looked it up on the Internet where I found that male Robins “have occasionally been seen to sit on the eggs”. Then the eggs hatched.

I thought the dark Robin had disappeared. She is darker, charcoal even, and has the orange mask around her eyes and a dark widows’peak, whereas the male does not (see pics)

Once a day, I put live worms in the now Blackbirdproof feeder that we invented.

But now something odd is happening. Daddy is feeding his babies. It looks as if he is sitting on them too sometimes. Is that possible?

But, the smaller light coloured Robin, that I thought was a hanger-on, is picking up mouthfuls of worms and flying off into the bushes as if HE is feeding babies too. Is that possible? Two nests in the same garden?

And, as I said I thought the dark Robin had disappeared. Mr Furlong suggested she was out “pulling”…..? But I don’t know. The large photo below is the Robin sitting on the babies today. Is that Dad? No, I think that’s Mom!

Light Dad, Dark Mom, Hatched babies, Hungry baby!


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The fat ball visitors

Shssssss! Don’t tell the dog.

On the premise that if you build it, they will come, and we want bird visitors to really like our garden and nest here in the Spring, we have put out bird seed and fat balls.

We have had visitors! But we haven’t seen them.

There is bird seed scattered on the ground in the usual bird-like fashion. But it’s the fat balls that are being demolished fastest.

Trouble is, I suspect the fat balls are being consumed, not by sweet little birdies, but by something with clever hands and bigger mouths.

I hope the dog, Bass, doesn’t discover that. He’ll be sitting outside in all weather waiting to catch the squirrel who’s trashing our fat balls.

We’ll have to dig out the anti squirrel fat ball feeder.

That seams really mean, don’t you think?