Sunday, 27 January 2008
The birds and the bees Part II
I've often wondered what wild animals or birds think when they come across a house. I reckon they look on it as a very odd shaped tree. They certainly regard it as an opportunity for a new home. Take the sparrows for instance - plain little brown and grey birdies my mum always called "spadgers", and which I have recently seen called that in a different area to the Hampshire we both grew up in. Countrywide, sparrow numbers are apparently in steep decline. Hmmm. I think that's probably because they have emigrated to Carmarthenshire. I can assure you that there is no shortage of spadgers in OUR garden. They spend all day in the sprays of Paul's Himalayan Musk which covers the rose arbour (seen above), and along the honeysuckle and into the tree in the corner of the garden, and they make a racket all day long, a discordant comment on whose turn it is to go to the nut nets next. They live in our house. Under the eaves mainly, but one group lives above our bedroom window. They have managed to squeeze in by the lintel and nest directly on the plasterboard of the window aperture. When they have fledglings, we know all about it, and sometimes they will wake me in the night, their claws scraping on the plasterboard. There is a crack and a bow in the latter, so I hope that they don't one day fall through and onto Great Uncle George's big bow-topped Army chest . . .
Then there are the newts. I don't think newts have the gorm to look on a house as an opportunity for escapism, but they arrive here by default, probably as eggs laid up in the top holding tank. At this point, I feel I ought to add that we have our own water supply, from a spring, as do many old farmhouses in Wales which are off the beaten track. It is beautiful water to drink and we try not to dwell too long on what we might be sharing it with! We only normally have a problem with a newt when it has managed to crawl up the small pipe which feeds the flow to the downstairs toilet cisterns. I believe their family motto must be, "Where there's a will, there's a way" . . . We know we have a problem when it takes all day for the tank to refill and then my husband has to dismantle the innards and remove whatever newt died through being too inquisitive and not having a reverse gear . . .
When I was a child I remember seeing an ancient black and white film (starring Stewart Granger if I remember rightly) about natives in Africa, who built their village across an elephant route. Every now and then the elephants would rampage about through the village, tossing locals out of the way with their trunks, with Stewart Granger, looking suitably dashing in his Jungle Whites, brandishing a gun and looking manly. "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes" he would yell, or words to that effect. Now, I am not claiming our house is built on an elephant trail, but instead we have the Carmarthenshire Froglet Trail coming under our front door and straight up the hallway. I dare say that over the millennia, this is the route the little chaps took to Go Up The Hill, but several hundred years back a house got bunged in the way, and they haven't managed to evolve far enough to take this fact in yet. So at a certain time of summer, we will go out into the hall to find a procession of froglets hopping West, bouncing headlong into the skirting board (ouch!) and, unless rescued, perishing in the back hall. I once put my walking boot on, only to find a very dessicated froglet in the toe. . .
We have dug two ponds in our garden - one for fish, and the other a wildlife pond. There is never a shortage of frog spawn in the spring and I could watch the little chaps for hours, wriggling round in delight on the shallow sun-warmed shelf of the wildlife pool, doubtless fearing to go in the Deep End as there lurks the Dragonfly Larva (queue music for Jaws), and if you have ever read the Waterbabies, you will know just what I am talking about. Dragonfly larva have the most fearsome pincers. They are also a few evolutionary steps ahead of a tadpole. The tadpole takes a wrong turning, ends up in deep water (literally!) and then from the styggian depths an evil shape appears, like a cross between the devil and a mermaid, grabs the poor unsuspecting tadpole and then it's one frog less . . . In the main pond one year, a very pregnant newt had taken up residence. I found her 3/4 dead, looking like one big bruise, having been grabbed in the pincers of a Dragonfly larva and drained of her lifesblood. It's a shame, as once hatched they are the most beautiful creatures, but they are awful thugs in childhood . . .
I haven't told you about the bats either. When we first moved here, we were in total ignorance of the bat colony in the attic. Pipistrelles. Small. Furry. We call them "Bit Bats" after Alison Uttley (who has to be my favourite writer of country books). They were usually pretty contained in the attic, as someone in the past had blocked in the staircase. We thought nothing of this "blocking" until we looked up our house in the 1881 census and found that two of the people living here had "idiot" written beside their name, and I hate to think that they may have been locked in the attic for their own safety, when the rest of the household were hard at work on the farm . . . But I digress. We had a brood colony of bit bats in the attic, and didn't think more about it, though occasionally one would manage to slip under the door or squeeze under a beam and you would meet it as you padded, bleary-eyed, at 2 a.m. in the morning on your way to the bathroom. My eldest daughter (who has long hair) has a real phobia about bats to this day, and unfortunately, it is ALWAYS her room that the bat takes refuge in. I must say, for something that has radar, they seem remarkably dozy about finding their way out through a wide open sash window . . . Now we appear to have Long Eared Bats, up under the roof slates. If you stand in the attic rooms and squeak, you will get an answer!