Sunday, 30 December 2007

Wings over Uxbridge

From the window of the 607 bus going into Uxbridge I saw a large bird sitting on top of the Civic Centre offices. It took off, battling against the gale, and hovered over the RAF grounds, while its mate lurked in the skies above the road. It was a pair of kestrels. Talking to an ex councillor who used to work at the Civic, I heard that the birds had been nesting in the gardens behind the centre for many years. Their great, great grandparents were probably there when my friend was working there. A nice continuation of the species.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007


Took a Boxing Day stroll alongside the Grand Union Canal and saw Three Swans A-swimming, plus a family of two adults and three teenage cygnets. Though from the angle in which I photographed the latter, there appear to be only four heads between five swans! Whereas the threesome were scooping the water for food, the Swan Family Robinson were pecking at the plants on the canalside, taking whole stalks in their beaks as if stripping them of nutrients. I've never seen swans do this before.

Saturday, 22 December 2007


At last the pond fish have done what they are supposed to do in winter and are lying torpidly at the bottom of the pond, swishing a fin or tail occasionally - all except for Sandra, the athletic one, who still makes the occasional leap to the top and back. I think she's the only one that feels the cold.

There's netting over half the pond but that didn't stop a passing heron from chancing its luck yesterday. It swooped down, stood on the edge looking in, my partner spotted it and flapped his arms and off it went, soaring in stately fashion over the treetops.

The green woodpecker was searching for ants in the lawn again this morning, stabbing at the frosty surface with its hammer of a beak. Don't think it got much. The ants are probably keeping warm way underground, with little anty hot water bottles and noggins of fermented aphid dew.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Bird bonanza

I have never seen so many different species of birds in one place as I did yesterday. Seven green parakeets hung from the branches of The Singing Tree (next door's tall, slender silver birch, the topmost twig of which is the blackbird's favourite evening perch), dangling at various angles and splitting the air with their screeches. A tiny wren clung to the pond netting and took a drink. Three crows fluttered down on the wind like broken city umbrellas. A robin darted across a landing magpie's trajectory and stole its crumb. The leafless peach tree was alive with long-tailed tits. Blue tits and a great tit chattered excitedly in the tree next to them. A flock of starlings squabbled and shrilled. A pair of wood pigeons, as plump as Christmas partridges, waddled across the lawn.

The only characters missing were the sparrows. But when I went to post some cards, a privet hedge was alive with them, which made me think that it is habitat, not food, that is driving them away from our cities. When I was a child, everyone had a privet hedge and ivy was not stripped from trees and gutters, and thick hedge, ivy and old iron gutters were where sparrows regularly nested. Luckily, Hillingdon still hangs onto a large number of privet and thorn hedges and so the Hillingdon sparrow population is a healthy one. I counted a flock of 14 pecking up crisp crumbs on the pavement in Polehill Road last summer. Their cheery chirping really raised my spirits.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Fox at the window 2

The fox visited again today. The cat doesn't seem a bit fazed. After he had dined on scraps, he quenched his thirst at the pond. I feel so proud of his thick coat and magnificent brush. To think that a few months ago he was bald and had a tail like a rat's. What a result! I am a convert to homeopathy now. Someone asked if I was sure it was the same fox. I am. I recognise his face and his expression. I think that he now associates humans with feeling well again. Feral foxes have a lifespan of only a couple of years, but I like to think I've given him back a year of his life, because, when he was suffering from sarcoptic mange in the summer, the outlook was bleak and he was unlikely to have survived the winter. Now I think he's in with a good chance - especially as we have a particularly large turkey this year!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Fox at the window

Yesterday evening at about 7 pm one of our visitors - Jack, aged five - suddenly said excitedly, "There's a fox at the window." We all turned round and, sure enough, the fox that had regrown his fur following the course of homeopathy I treated him with, was on the deck, illuminated by the golden glow of the security light, with his nose pressed against the patio doors as if he was the visitor at the zoo watching the animals feed.

He wasn't fazed when he saw us all watching him, but turned round and trotted off to pick up some scraps from the lawn. Let's hope he doesn't take it into his head to come visiting through the cat flap.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Squirrel v woodpecker

The green woodpecker was stabbing at the lawn. Suddenly, a squirrel appeared and started acting very agitated, dancing round the woodpecker and flicking his tail in angry semaphore. The woodpecker was only after ants, as usual, but the squirrel thought it was after the nuts he had buried. As soon as the bird flew away, the squirrel anxiously scurried about the lawn, tamping down every spot the woodpecker had disturbed to ensure his larder remained intact.

As I walked down the road at around 2pm yesterday, I thought it was strange that there wasn't a bird to be heard or seen. A sudden suspicion caused me to cast my eyes upwards and there was a buzzard, wheeling in ever increasing circles until it lazily cast off over the school playing fields. Wish it would spot some of the rats that have nested in our rockery. Or maybe not. Poison has been put down for them so it's best that the buzzard carries on going to school.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Autumn spiders

First to arrive were the big-jobbies. The saucer-sized black monsters that scuttled like mice across the living room floor and vanished beneath the door, to pop up when I least expected them, such as on the handle of the kitchen drawer I was just reaching my hand towards.

Then came the stripy ones like small humbugs. Then the daddy longlegs spiders that quivered in lofty corners (and beside the loo).

Now they have had their day and in their place, but outside the window, thankfully, are hordes of small, squat ginger ones. Does each different wave reflect the type of prey that is around at that time? The smaller the spid, the teenier the fly? If so, what were the huge ones catching? Hornets? Bumble-bees? Or hapless humans that strayed into the kitchen in the wee small hours, looking for an aspirin, a drink of water, a large scotch, or a can of Raid?

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Lawn Pecker

For the last two days, a green woodpecker has arrived each morning around 8 am to peck vigorously at the grass, unperturbed by pigeons who aren't quite sure how to treat it. Is it a bird? It's a very funny colour! In the summer, a pair of green woodpeckers used to descend on the ants' nests and gobble up ants but I don't know what they are looking for now. Anyone got any ideas?

Thursday, 1 November 2007


With all the fallen apples rotting on the ground, I'm surprised I haven't seen the muntjacs. Maybe there is so much food nearer to where they live that they don't need to cross the farm fields, push through the hedge and come into the garden.

Two years ago I saw the hind for the first time. This spring she was joined by a stag. At first, I didn't know what I was looking at. Animals the size of a large dog, but one with tiny horns? It was my partner who identified them. He tells me there used to be a private wildlife park near the Heinz HQ and he thinks they have escaped from there. I'm hoping they had offspring as it would be great to see a whole herd of them and I'm sure we can spare the odd apple. I hate Bramleys, anyway! But they can keep their teeth out of the Cornish Aromatics.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Hair restorer

The sad sight on the left was a young fox with sarcoptic mange that was in the garden almost all the time three or four months ago, scrounging any food it could get. Its brush was like a rat's tail, it had practically no fur and it didn't look long for this world.

In desperation, I Googled fox mange and arrived at the website of the National Fox Welfare Society. They provide a homoeopathic treatment free of charge. It's a combination of Arsen Alb and Sulphur 30c, for those who know anything about the subject. The instructions provided suggested making the fox a jam or, even better, honey sandwich every night for a month, and sprinke 4 drops of the treatment on it. Well, it worked. Look at the brush on the same fox now (right-hand picture) and the thick fur that has grown, now that the poor creature is no longer scratching itself bald. Left untreated, the animal would have died within four months. Now, hopefully, the little dog fox will go on to father a family and live at least a couple of years.

I sent them a donation by way of saying thanks. Not everyone likes foxes, or the way they have proliferated in urban surroundings, but Hillingdon isn't inner London. There are more than 30 miles of countryside on the Hillingdon Trail and room for a few foxes, I think.

Friday, 19 October 2007


In the ten years I have been in the area, I have seen such sights as a peacock butterfly being chased out of a hedge in December by a hungry sparrow, a pair of muntjacs, stag and doe, munching apples at the bottom of the garden and stag beetles emerging from the 'loggery' surrounding the pond. The garden has been haunted by a completely bald fox, that I cured with the aid of homeopathy, thanks to the National Fox Welfare Society, and I am entertained daily by the antics of a woodpigeon called Open Heart Surgery! Some of these posts are taken from another blog of mine, so apolpogies to anyone who has already read some of the adventures. As studying nature means a lot to me, I have decided to separate the subjects and from now on, my wildlife posts will appear at this blog address.

An Outbreak of Owls

"Wit, wit-wit." It's not a blackbird's alarm call. Too loud for that and not quite the right tone. Too much 'body' to the voice. It sounds more like, "kwik-kwik." Then the sound is followed by a weak, experimental sounding 'whoo'. Aha! That sounds more like an owl. And hey, there's another one, on a different oak tree, answering it. But wait - it's only three in the afternoon. How can it be owls? I run for the binoculars and climb up a ladder. I spot an upheaval on a branch. It looks like a large bird flexing and flapping its wings, preparatory to taking its first flight. I'm thrilled. I feel privileged to watch what may be the debutante flight of an adolescent owl. Then my hopes, together with my interest, are dashed. The flaps I have seen turn out to be nothing more than two randy wood pigeons having it away. Damn! Owls, where art thou?

In the last few days I have found out that they are probably tawny owls, which leave the nest any time from August to November, to establish their own territories. The RSPB have put them under Red Alert because their numbers are declining so rapidly, so I really hope that two Hillingdon owls are off to found new dynasties in the area.