Summertime

And like that, the summer is nearly over. In many ways, I don’t mind. I don’t enjoy the extreme heat (above 28⁰ is extreme for me!), and so much that I enjoy doing just isn’t as much fun. Especially the bugs in the wood. I really don’t like those.

However I absolutely love the wilder weather we get after the sun! The storms of a couple of weeks ago gave some stunning lightning and I loved the beach on Saturday.

A tad breezy

We went to the Game Fair for the first time. We only had 3 hours there and it wasn’t anywhere near enough! The site was enormous and we barely scratched the surface of what was there. We went on the Saturday, following scorching heat for setting up where people were worried about looking after their animals, and then downpours on Friday, and drizzle on the Saturday. The bottom part of the site was rather muddy. I’m not good at staying clean at the best of times, and I was covered!

The reason that we were there for such a short time, was because we have a new addition to the family:

Watching the sunset

She’s now 12 weeks old, and is growing and learning fast.

With everything else going on, I’m still trying to keep up in the wood. The pond is looking empty, although it hasn’t dried out completely this year which is an improvement on the last one! The greenery around it is also an improvement – last year was thick bramble, and this year has been replaced with barley (!), thistles and other tall weeds, but they’re dying back now. The edge of the pond has been helped with use of the scyth.

There’s so much more I want to do there, including preparing the pheasant pen, but other things keep coming up! In the non-outdoor world, I’ve been learning how to hang wallpaper – I just love this pattern!

A long time coming

In several ways this post has been a long time coming, and the longer I’ve left it the harder it’s been to start.  I’ve been quiet for 2 reasons that are interlinked, but life is settling down now and it’s time to start writing again.

The main thing, after many years of looking forward to it, is that we have moved home! We are now in a lovely house with a decent sized garden, and a 10 minutes walk from the beach.  It’s perfect.

So a whistle stop catch-up of the last couple of months:

  • I’ve spent very little time at the wood, however the “crops” have absolutely shot up!  The brambles haven’t come back, but instead there are thistles, which I really need to look at pulling out.

It did look like this:

now looks like this:

  • The mallards sadly didn’t nest, but they should next year….
  • I now have a garden!!
  • I’ve learned how to use a hedge cutter, and how much I hate leylandii
  • I’ve learned how to use a pressure washer, and how to re-sand a block paved driveway.
  • I have done a ridiculous amount of painting (but have more to do…)
  • I’m going through a steep learning curve in relation to garden plants.
  • Our cat is both great, and a right pain, in learning her new boundarys having been a predominantly indoor cat.

   

  • Cleaning out gutters smells realllllly bad
  • Water butts are both easy, and really hard to fit!
  • And over the last couple of weeks I’ve been getting back into clay shooting.

The garden is a complete dream. 

There is a ridiculous amount of work needed – one of the decks hasn’t had any love in many a year, and while J has managed to do one coat on it (after many, many cleanings), we haven’t got round to doing the second.  Part of the delay here was dealing with next door’s leylandii hedge.  While cutting back our side of it, there was a general discussion of the species, and that this particular one needed about 3′ taken off the top. 2 days later, J got home from work planning on painting that side of the deck to find leylandii everywhere!  While that delayed the first coat, it’s been wonderful to have more light in the garden.

One of the things I wanted in the garden was a water butt.  Due to mis-sending of it and following trips to the garden centre we ended up with 2, with slightly different fittings. I fitted the first one (again, first time dealing with downpipes, and having fun with blunt-ish hacksaws), and the next night it was completely full!

So with my confidence at high point, I did exactly the same with the other (no fitting instructions, but a different style of diverter…) and it just hasn’t wanted to fill.  The triggered the cleaning of the gutters, and the natural flow of water will fill the other one first, but next step is to dig out under the water butt and see whether that’s the issue…

Both my and J’s parents have kindly given us tomato plants, so I’ve been learning how to look after them, but my favourites are the strawberries.  I have a lovely terracotta strawberry planter that was my grandmothers, and it is doing so well! I now have lots of mini-strawberries that should ripen in the next couple of weeks. 

A week ago I went clay shooting for the first time in a few months.  It wasn’t good.  It appears in my time off I’ve forgotten everything I’d learned. So Saturday J and I headed to Fennes with some friends.  I had a really great time.  I was reminded of a few bits, and got some confidence back.  We have a 100 bird day at our local club in a couple of weeks and the wildfowler’s joint clay shoot in a month, and I really want to do well!

Duck nesting tubes

The other part of my weekend adventures was building a duck nesting tube. We’ve regularly been disturbing a pair of mallard that seem to be based on the pond, and knowing that there are foxes and badgers wandering through the area it seems a sensible plan to offer any nests some protection.

I don’t have much practical experience making things like this, but with YouTube videos and some advice from a friend, I was determined enough to build something.

Step 1 was to get some hay. Now I know I could have just gone to a nearby pet shop, but that seemed an expensive option, and I had no idea how much I’d actually need. So, heading to Google I found a local farm that sells single bales and headed off to the postcode I was given. Google maps showed the farm in one place, the postcode about a mile and a half away. I tried both, no farm. Trusting to instincts, and going with the postcode I kept going, and eventually ended up another half mile away!

I want a truck!

Step 2 was measuring, cutting, rolling and fixing the wire, and was by far and away the most fun and easiest part of the job (for me).

The bit I wasn’t sure about, and the bit I want to redo next year, was attaching the 3′ board to the post, I decided to use a fence post effectively upside down, and that worked well, I just didn’t attach it to the board particularly nicely.

And now the final part- getting it into the pond! Firstly getting everything there – I’d been asked not to drive over the bluebell shoots that were then coming up strongly, so I got half way and and had to carry everything the last section 3 trips.

I don’t have any waders as mentioned in earlier posts, and it was March, and I knew I needed to get reasonably deep. Not something I was relishing. I knew the bottom is slippery and lumpy from when it dried out last summer, and falling over could not happen; I didn’t have a full change of clothes. An error I realised as I made my first step.

I was carrying a heavy sledgehammer and a 7′ post initially, and had no idea if I was going to be able to hammer it in, with starting at full stretch over my head, but somehow I managed it. The post went in, with hard work and eventually I got it down to about chest height and started fixing the board to the top and the tube on top of that.

Standing in thigh high water was surprisingly ok. It wasn’t as cold as I feared, but the slippery bottom of the pond was worse. I could stand still and work but every time I had to go back to the shore to get the next part I was a blink away from going in.

Eventually it was done. Most of it I’m happy with, I need to change the board after this nesting season, but for a first attempt, I’m happy.

Badger watching

J was away this weekend, which left me with some time to do something I’ve wanted to do since I got this photo on my trail camera, badger watching.

Having never done it before, I spent some time reading up on it, and settled in to wait, leaning against a comfortable looking tree around dusk. I quickly learnt that my wildfowling coat (my warmest one) makes a really loud creak whenever I moved even the smallest amount! Not something I ever noticed on the marsh.

While I knew badgers tend to come out after dusk, all my trail camera photos of them are in the early hours, so I didn’t have huge amounts of hope. I listened to the noises of owls, and the very strange bark of muntjac, and after about an hour the snuffles started. I was amazed how loud the badgers were! I had positioned myself with 3 of the 4 obviously active entrances in front of me, with the 4th about 20 yards to one side and slightly behind me. Of course, it was the 4th that I could hear the most noise from!

On the opposite side of the clearing, I could see a set of eyes, reflecting red from the red headtorch I was using. They came and went and I started doubting my eyes. However after about 15 minutes, out it came! Not close enough for me to see details, but a badger none the less. It was much smaller than the ones in my photos, so I assume the larger one had gone off earlier from the other entrance. I was so excited, and nervous, and all sorts of emotions. It puttered around for a few minutes and then wandered off. I waited for a further hour before leaving, surprised by how damp and misty it had become while I was oblivious to everything but the sounds of the woods.

Trees

Having done the clearing sessions (there’s so much more to do…) we’ve been looking towards the future. With ash dieback becoming more prevalent than expected (BBC- ash dieback) and with other diseases affecting native trees (https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/tools-and-resources/pest-and-disease-resources/chronic-oak-dieback/) we want to make sure that there’s a wide variety of native species throughout the wood.

The Woodland Trust have been running a fantastic scheme giving away packs of trees following an application, and J applied for this last autumn, and this week they arrived. Obviously when my car was out of action, and I was getting the bus to work! A lovely colleague, who had also helped out on one of the work party days kindly brought them home for me.

The first planting session was just J and I. We focused on gap filling hedging that was planted a couple of years ago where not everything had survived, and also planted a hazel stand in one of the newly cleared areas. We want to be more thoughtful about where certain trees are planted than has been the case historically, also with considerations for using wood and coppicing to get the best out of the trees.

With our new (relatively speaking) pond area, J planted a lot of willow around the hide, with a long term plan of having a natural hide. J and I also cleared lots more of the bramble and nettles that grew back this year and planted bird- friendly trees like wild cherry.

Dad has also been getting involved and planted a new section of hedge at the top end of the wood where it was completely open to fields as well as gap filling.

With 400 trees, and a long term plan, we didn’t want to immediately plant everything, so J and I also built a “tree nursery” for the oaks. They’re only little still, so to give them more of a chance once they’re fully planted we’re going to give them a couple of years of lots of attention in nice soil. Most of the wood is clay and it dries out badly, so if they are a bit more established when they go in the ground that can only be a good thing.

This was half an oil drum, gravel, topsoil, mulch and a lot of water! They’ll straighten up quickly and will be a lot easier to dig out to plant than they would have been in the ground.

This weekends plans… badger watching and duck nesting tube building…

End of the season

There was loads planned for last weekend including our third and final work party day and my last planned wildfowling trip for this season.

I knew a few people were coming to help in the wood, but so many more turned up it was amazing! We cleared such a huge area, and walking round the wood yesterday the bluebells are already pushing through in areas they just couldn’t before.

Before the great fire
After the great fire

The photos really don’t do justice to how much work was carried out.


Sunday morning we went for our last wildfowling trip of the season. We weren’t expecting much as it’s been so quiet all season long, but with such lovely weather and a perfect time tide it would have been wrong not to go.

We headed out to the furthest point away and settled down to wait. There were lots of bangs from other marshes, but as expected all we were seeing was cormorants, brent geese and other wading birds. Until we heard the honks of geese! But geese never go to where we were. But there was 6 greylag, flying straight at me They reached the opposite side of the creek and then turned away towards the other end of the island. But it was nice to see.

5 minutes later and we heard them again! 2 had turned and were coming back. A shot from each of us and a lovely retrieve by Millie and we had a wonderful roast goose dinner.

The walk back was somewhat more interesting. We picked up the other 2, who were taking home a teal, and ambled back in the glorious sunshine.

Ray has a significant number of bridges, in various states of (dis)repair and slipperyness. I am not as light on my feet as the men and tend to use bridges where they leap the marsh. This came to bite me. The first time the bridge is necessary but already had 2 missing slats, and even while stepping near the edge, there was an ominous “crack”. I scampered along the rest without looking back!

The second, all the others jumped, while I used the bridge. A terrible mistake! The entire side support failed and threw me to the floor. Ow.

It’s been a great first season, so many beautiful sunrises, long walks and different ways of seeing the outdoors. I took home one duck and one goose, which most wouldn’t see as much, and certainly not enough to be able to feed us through the winter, but I am happy with that.

Conservation and clearing

Day 2 of our 3 work party days was held on Saturday. The plan was to clear an area that had been completely choked by brambles and elders, and we had a lot of volunteers to help us out. In fact, I have been completely amazed by how many people have wanted to be involved; friends, family and colleagues have got stuck in.

For me, time spent outdoors recharges my batteries and provides a welcome escape from the pressures of life, but I never expect anyone else to feel that way. This was making me feel a little guilty about the area that was planned as it really was wild with brambles.

Before we drove down, we were treated to the sight of a bird of prey sitting on a branch, and then swooping around us.

J and I arrived early to make breakfast for the morning workers, realising as we arrived that we’d left the cast iron frying pan, and silicon tongs at home! Thankfully a trivet given to us by the in-laws and not yet used was pressed into action with the caravan pans and all was good.

Nothing can beat outdoor food.

I cannot stress enough how choked this area was, the “before” picture just doesn’t do it justice.

The morning was hard work carried out by everyone.

By lunch time there were 3 bonfires going (4 by the end of the day!) and an annoying wind direction meant you couldn’t avoid being choked by at least one.

A lunch of soup and jacket potatoes set up the afternoon group nicely.

And by the end of the day an absolutely huge area was cleared. I cannot thank everyone enough for all their hard work! This was an amazing effort and will allow so much more to grow come spring.

Busy day

It’s taken me awhile to jot anything down about this, but even though it’s a bit late I really wanted to say something.

We had our first of a few “work party” days.  We spend a lot of time in the wood and over the last few years have been working hard to open up light, space and paths.  J and I have been doing a lot of this, with work also from mum, dad and my aunt, but we often get comments that others would like to get involved, and our normal “are you free today?” not giving people enough time.

With sunshine forecast and a tide of 10am, J and I decided to head to the nearest marsh first, and it was cold. My first properly cold wildfowling morning, and as I’ve said previously, I’m not a morning person and didn’t have my brain engaged.  I have 2 pairs of wellies, one for walking and one for warmth (but are likely to get sucked off by mud), and so I always wear the walking ones on the marsh.  What I hadn’t considered, until I’d begun to lose feeling in my toes, was that that we had just popped over the sea wall and weren’t really doing any walking.  Also, it was cold. Wrong wellies. Bother.

The other part that we both got wrong, was the amount of water in the creeks.  We expected a reasonable amount of water in the creek given the tide time and there just wasn’t. 


With a lack of ducks and the stunning colours in the sky I took the opportunity to have a play with camera settings.

Water finally arrived, all in one go, just after sunrise, but too late.  We heard a few wigeon, one mallard, and saw lots of swans, brent geese and shelduck, but that was all.  The star of the morning was the sunrise.

We headed round to the wood for 9am and got down to breakfast, and found out again how much better everything tastes when it’s been cooked outside! Bacon sandwiches set us up nicely for the day.


The plan for the morning was to open up a new path.  We’d already pushed our way through and thought it would be quite easy to do with mostly clearing fallen trees and branches, and some elders.


Godparents and family turned up and with 10 of us it was quickly done, and most left around then. 


Lunch was jacket potatoes cooked in the breakfast bonfire, and homemade soup warmed up on it.

Afternoon was time for friends and the 4 of us cleared a huge area.  Within that we rescued a tree that was being taken over by bramble, and overall allowed more light to reach the ground which should lead to more bluebells come spring.

First duck

I’ve come away from the weekend, happy, content, sore and I can’t wait for the next one!

Last week was emotionally tough – lots going on at home and work and I needed to get out Saturday morning to reset my mind and body. I didn’t care whether or not we saw anything (we didn’t much), but to feel the fresh air and see the sunrise would be good for the soul. J happily agreed and we pootled out to a close point on an easily accessible marsh. Good thing I wasn’t fussed about seeing ducks, because there were a grand total of 5. 4 teal flew down the channel past J who, I later found out, didn’t see them as he was having a little snooze! The fifth bombed past me so fast I did nothing at all. The sunrise was stunning, and opposite the black clouds were a striking backdrop, the picture doesn’t do it justice.

My morning finished with a swan flying low, altering course to check me out; so majestic.

We bumped into my parents at the wood and after the requisite chat, we joined them in clearing a few fallen trees. Some had been there awhile.

I love this time of year and am currently craving the snow that is forecast for next week. I don’t feel like we’ve had a proper winter yet (I’ve only had to scrape ice off the windscreen once) and so these blue bell shoots seem a little early.

With high tide being at 4am, there is very little water in the creeks at dawn, so Sunday we went out with our friend A to the furthest point from civilisation. I led for the first time, and nearly made the whole way. Near the end A warned me to watch out for holes; 30 seconds later I faceplanted the ground! A knee deep crack in the marsh completely took me by surprise.

You may have noticed that I although I talk about wildfowling a lot, I have never actually mentioned taking my own duck home. Collusion had happened during the week, and A was insistent that yesterday was the day that I would break my duck (pun totally intended!), and he put a lot of effort into getting decoys set out just right. (Thanks A!)

4 wigeon dropped beautifully into the decoys, I pulled the trigger, heard James do the same and watched only 2 fly away. Millie, A’s lovely labrador, worked exceedingly hard against a strong tide and brought both wigeon home.

The rest of the day involved shifting furniture, and was completed with both a cycle and then a walk round the wood.

The sunset matched Saturday’s sunrise.

And to round off the day, the ducks and a pheasant (a gift) were prepared for this week’s dinner.

It really was the perfect outdoor weekend.

Holidays

Holidays are always too short to fit in everything you want to do. This one was no different. The main priority was re-tiling the bathroom (fun, fun, fun!), and obviously catching up with family we don’t see so often so there wasn’t as much time for spending outdoors as I’d have liked.

We got out clay shooting (see here), managed a little bit of wildfowling, a bit of work in the wood and finished with some roost shooting.

We spent time at the wood whenever we could. The mist over the meadow one sunset was beautiful.

My “Christmas holiday presents” from J (we weren’t exchanging Christmas presents!) were a boot bag, and new wildfowling bag and a wildfowling coat and all are being well used already!

The wildfowling was quiet. We went out twice, the first time the marshes were exceptionally quiet of everything! We saw 2 mallard and that was it. Not even the usual wading birds were around. It was actually very odd. As we left the mist was rolling in….

J and I went back to the same marsh, but a different part, the next morning (new year’s eve), and there were ducks! It was still pretty quiet, and most of them were flying high, but it was great to see something after the day before.

My favourite sight was a lone swan flying low and making it’s rhythmic honking. The most irritating moment was walking off the marsh, guns safely away in their slips, and a single mallard flew slowly over our heads, almost within touching distance, and almost seemed to raise a finger at us.

New year’s day, and the last day of my holiday, we spent some time at the wood, cleared some old brush and used our new chainsaw, finishing the day with a bit of roost shooing – the first of the season. Both of us brought a pigeon hoe for dinner.

What did you get up to for your holidays?