Uphilldowndale

Watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in northern England


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Sleeping with corncrakes

It was one of my Hebridean holiday aspirations to see a corncrake, a secretive little bird, that at one time used to live in our meadow,  here in  north Derbyshire so Freddy the farmer told me.

Killed off: The Corncrake

Freddy was born around 1920, and farmed from this house until the 1970’s, when during that life time the corncrakes disappeared from our meadow, I don’t know, but I do know that there are now only  just over a thousand calling males (and hopefully a similar number of females) in the UK. The birds demise has been a result of changes in farming practice, and the birds reluctance to break cover when the grass is mown, you can guess the rest.

One of the best places to find them is the islands of the Outer Hebrides, where much work is being done to give them the best chance of breeding safely.

One you’ve heard a corncrake, you will know its call forever.

We heard plenty but didn’t see a one.  They favour clumps of nettles and long grass.  I spent a long time staring at clumps of nettles, knowing the blighters were in there.

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They’d lure you in with a call, then fall silent for fifteen minutes or so, then, just as you were starting to think you’d move on they’d give another rasping call.

The best time to see and hear them, is at dusk, or dawn, or just after it has rained. the problem with dusk and dawn in the Outer Hebrides in June, is that dusk is very late and dawn is  very early.  We heard plenty, especially around four am. I have the badge to prove it.

I slept with corncrakes!

A calling corncrake is a lullaby I can sleep with.

 

 


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Pick up a…

P-P Penguin,  penguin waiting for a bus, Scalpay Outer Hebrides.Pick up .JPG

On the lovely little Island of Scalpay.  It’s only since 1997, that there has been any chance of catching a bus either to or from Scalpay.

Prior to 1997, the residents of Scalpay were reliant on a small, sporadic ferry to transport them 300 meters across the Sound of Harris onto North Harris. Thanks to generous funding provided by the European Union, work commenced to connect the two islands by bridge. Making this dream a reality would be challenging and costly; £6.4 million to be exact.

 


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Downy nest down

Spud the dog and I found a nest today, a crushed cornucopia, a squashed tricorn hat, with an extravagant plume of horse hair. Mosses, lichens, feathers and webs, felted into a snug bivi bag of a home.

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The fact we found iton the ground suggest its not a story with a happy ending.

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We found it under the apple tree, near the conifer. I think its the nest of long tailed tits, one of my favourite birds. I’m guessing a magpie had something to do with its demise

nest down


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Wading in

A heron in the field pond, I don’t think I’ve seen one wade in quiet so deep before, not quite up to his neck in it, this is about as deep as it gets (too deep for a chicken we established).

Heron

After a week of windy weather, which played havoc with our Internet connection (the  wind dropped and it seemed to ‘self heal’,  but who knows the real reason) the UK has experienced one of its hottest Easters on record, very pleasant to be out and about in, but a also a little worrying, the ground is so dry, moorland fires have been a problem yet again. Sadly people just don’t seem to understand how easily a fire can start and just how long peat can burn for.

Nature has been dead in  tooth and claw, kestrels are nesting in a dead tree in a neighbouring field, but the jackdaws are mobbing them, I hope they manage to rear their chicks,  and I don’t think the three dead goldfish found in the yard are the herons work, more likely to be the cat’s antics.


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The Berry Report

I was concerned in the heat of the summer that there would be a shortage of berries for the birds this winter, great swathes of the best blackberry banks had withered and died,

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The winberries, had the very life blood sucked out of them by a young oak.

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And of course my beloved pink rowan, had failed to flower, oh how I will miss it this winter, the birds will probably be more adaptive about it than me.

But things have rallied, acorns are abundant, I thought I’d be seeing the jays with their stitching flight, working across the field to their favourite oaks, but I’ve not seen one, I think they have found one tree and scoffed themselves silly, until they are unable to move

The red rowans are heaving with berries, well they were, the chickens have made inroads into them, further than you’d expect of a chicken.

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They seemed to be having training seminars on how to get to the best position,

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I wouldn’t mind but I’d put the wire cloches there to stop them digging up my plants

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The same flourish can not be said of the grass. Farmers are still very short of feed for the winter.

 


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Sweet Scented Shady Lanes

A delightful place to be on a hot day, the deeper the lane the better.

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Whilst many plants suffered during the ‘Beast from the East’ some seem to have had a bit of a boost, rhubarb for example, every one seems to have so much they are making rhubarb gin, or maybe it is that  rhubarb crumble has fallen out of favour.

The honeysuckle is divine this year, especially  first thing in the morning, so sweetly scented.  However, my precious pink rowan, has not a flower on it, and its usually smothered at this time of year, we came home from Ireland, to find small withered stick and buds scattered along the path, presumably what should have bourne this years flowers and berries, oh my how we will miss the berries