Thursday 26 January 2017

How to make a pine marten proof Barn Owl nest box

Well we think it's pine marten proof. To get into the nest the pine marten would have to walk upside down below the ridge then drop on to the owl's landing pad so we think any owls will be safe.

First find a 45 gallon ( 100 litre ) blue plastic drum. cut out an entrance approximately 6" x 6" (150 mm x 150 mm). Make a landing pad about 6" square then attache to the front of the nest with two roofing bolts. Finally drill a series of drainage holes along and through the lowest point at the bottom.

Attache the nest below the ridge with loading straps strained tightly the nest box must be rock steady.

You may now have to wait several months or years until an owl takes up residence but just to see if last night's owl is interested I have set up the trail cam.

More tomorrow perhaps.

If you do get a breeding pair in this box you can use the white plastic plugs in the end to insert a small nest cam.

Barn owl moves in with the sheep

Photo: Hamza Yassin (Cameraman and photographer)
Hamsa, our resident wildlife photographer was on his way home last night about 10.30 and glimpsed something white up in the rafters of the sheep house, he has a genius for spotting wildlife while driving. This can be disconcerting for passengers.

He reversed his car and shone the lights inside to take this photograph with his mobile phone. He normally uses an extremely expensive long lens.

I suspected that an owl was using the building because of the white streaks of excrement on the rafters and here is the proof. It was was probably in there to shelter from the gale that blew in from the SE and has carried on throughout today.

The next step is to make a nest box to see if we can encourage it to take up permanent residence. The main danger to any birds nesting around here is the pine martens so we will have to make one from a 45 gallon ( 100 L)  plastic drum fixed with load straps to the roof..  The pine marten will not be able to get any purchase on the plastic surface and the drum will be held securely. Owls don't like nest boxes that feel insecure.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Mid January - The sheep and shepherds are indoors again

Yesterday the ewes followed me down off the hill and trooped into the sheep house , they seemed to know they would be more comfortable. It also means that elderly shepherds are out of the weather and don't have to carry food to them.

They are inside now for at least ten weeks, until they lamb in April. We can manage them more closely and keep the lambs inside until they are at least 48 hrs old and able to withstand the weather. Hypothermia kills more neonatal lambs than disease, poor nutrition and foxes,

The older ewes are  five to six years old and seem to know what to expect. They settle down quickly with a minimum of  stress. After all shepherds have been housing their flocks since the sheep were first domesticated for protection from predators at night so they have probably developed a tolerance for it. Their social hierarchy is well established too so their is a minimum of aggressive interaction in this new environment.

The blue mark on the shoulder is my flock mark, there is a small nick in the rear edge of the nearside ear that is also my mark but it's difficult to see. The red marks get fainter as the mating season progresses, they show that the ewe has been mated.

Saturday 21 January 2017

Phil......... this is why I think that the American people will get it right eventually.

My friend Phil doesn't post comments on the blog, he is computer literate ( he can switch it on and off) but hasn't worked this out yet. He emailed,

 "What evidence is there that Americans do the right thing eventually?".

They abolished slavery, sorted out two world wars for Europe (a bit reluctantly perhaps) they elected Obama. and invented rock and roll.  I realise that's not a slam dunk answer so how about this?

A quick scan of today's newspapers; The Guardian (UK), Le Monde (France) and the New York Times gives me some cause for optimism. It's evidence based stuff..... remember that?

President Trump lost the popular vote. Today, his first day in office, he has the lowest approval rating on record. Lower than Nixon's on the day he resigned. It can't get much lower.

Today hundreds of thousands marched to protest President Trump's agenda, the biggest protest was in Washington DC. For disapproval alone to bring change it will take a full term and eviction at the next election in 2020.  But, people with values similar to Bernie Sanders are numerous and organised they probably realise that they need to become a populist movement of the left in order to win and they can do it.

US workers have seen no real increase in wages for 30 years and President Trump is putting the people who screwed them over into high office across government, his cabal of billionaires. Many of those who voted for him will soon realise this.

For change to come sooner there is always impeachment. President Trump's links with Russia are already being investigated and he is still carrying on business with foreign countries contrary to the Constitution of the United States.

Then there is outright failure to deliver. Today President Trump signed an executive order to remove "Obamacare", potentially leaving millions without healthcare. The Republican Party is deeply divided over this his action could fail

Hope that answers the question Phil. I have tried to be polite, it's difficult.  No more political posts, I need to get out more.

Friday 20 January 2017

Don't despair.... Americans can be relied on to do the right thing......... eventually!

Read this.... make America great again.
Back in the 1980s we took our family holidays in the USA children flew at half price and we had a 20 kg baggage allowance each. This  meant we could take our own camping equipment, hire a car and take off into the boondocks.

We camped, walked and paddled canoes in National Parks and State Parks from Yosemite to the White Mountains and the Boundary Waters. The United States was a world leader in nature conservation, environmental ethics and protection........ and the provision of excellent campsites.

In 1985 I travelled from Maryland across the country to California to study the development of sustainable agriculture paid for with a Winston Churchill Fellowship. Then the USA seemed to be leading the world in the science and practice of sustainability. From Chesapeake Bay through the "flyover states" to Davis. It was  based on sound science and practised by non-corporate farmers.

Today the United States has inaugurated a new President who rejects science, environmental protection, many basic human rights and what I used to think was the innate politeness of Americans.

Coal has had it's day;  that was true when my father, a coal miner, retired fifty years ago. Oil is rapidly being replaced by renewable technologies and the future lies with those who develop, sell and implement them.

2016 was the third year in a row when global temperatures exceeded all previous highs. The global average temperature was 1 C higher than in 1916. It may not sound much but we are close to the irreversible tipping point of 2 C.

If the USA does not take responsibility, as the world's 2nd largest polluter and shoulder that responsibility for it's global as well as domestic good then others will.

The Chinese people are choking to death and China is the biggest polluter but they understand and accept the science. They seem to be prepared to do something about it. They accept the need to control their pollution and to  invest in new technologies.

Don't despair, the American people have a history of doing the right thing........ eventually.

Tuesday 17 January 2017

"Love of Country- A Hebridean Journey" a short book review

Coming home this afternoon on the Calmac ferry, "Raasay" the boat rumbled and stuttered across the cold black water of the Sound the shore obscured fore and aft by fog. the perfect atmosphere for finishing my Christmas book the narrative of a pilgrimage from Arran down north to the Butt of Lewis and St. Kilda.

"Down north" because that was how the Gaels saw the geography of the Hebridean archipelago. Unlike Mercator's projection with North at the top their map was rotated clockwise through ninety degrees with the isles of the west strung out from Eire on the left to Lewis on the right. Mainland Scotland was a mere outline at the bottom. Not many people know that, I certainly did not.

Six years of exploration went into this book, the result - a sensitive and perceptive treatment of  other writers from Dr. Johnson, to George Orwell, the tragedy of the clearances which in the 21st century might be called ethnic cleansing and the meaning of home.

It's the ideal companion and guidebook to the history, culture and rugged landscapes at the Atlantic edge .  A "Lonely Planet or Rough Guide" it isn't.  Don't travel here without it.

Love of Country - A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting, GRANTA, 2016

Monday 9 January 2017

Snow on the way - time to save some lambs

The first two minutes of life (and the last two) are the most precarious, a lot of lambs are lost around birth.

Probably as many are lost now, in the second month of pregnancy when nutritional stress leads to re-absorption of foetuses in the womb.

The heavy snow and deep cold in Northern Europe is moving our way this week so we have started to feed silage to save those foetal lambs.

We will bring them into the sheep house later in the month for the second half of pregnancy, they will stay inside until they lamb in April. they can be much more closely
supervised and manged indoors and kept in for at least two days if the weather is wet and cold.

It's the wet cold weather that kills, with hypothermia. If the lmb are dry and have enough milk they can survive below zero temperatures.

Hopefully they will be turned out into the sun with lots of milk.

Saturday 7 January 2017

Avian flu restrictions extended

Bored and frustrated
You might think that my hens would like being in a well ventilated, dry and windproof building at this time of year but they don't. Every time I open the door to give them fresh food ans water they try to get out. They are now banged up until 28th February.

Outbreaks of the H5N8 virus have been confirmed in England and Wales and if they are outside my birds are mixing with everything from seagulls to wild geese and sparrows.

It's more of a problem for small scale backyard poultry keepers who have only a few birds and a a very small coop. Indoors they need dry litter, good ventilation and at least 1 sq metre of floor space each.

On the plus side their feet are clean so the eggs are clean and easy to collect as they only have the nest box to lay in. Normally I have to search for eggs in straw stacks, the barn and even under hedges.

Because the hybrid egg laying machines ( the brown ones) are mixed up with the La Bresse

(white ones) and I don't have enough pens indoors to separate them I can't produce hatching eggs at the moment and these eggs are worth $3 each.

Friday 6 January 2017

The Snitterfield Oak - 700 years and still going strong

Old when
Shakespeare was a boy just three miles away
The Snitterfield oak was  probably an acorn in the early 13 th century. Robert Bruce was King of Scotland and Edward 1 was on the English throne.

I photographed it this week and it looked pretty healthy for an ancient tree. How do I know its age? I tracked it down on the Woodland Trust data base.

When the tree was last measured at girth height (1.5m above ground level) in 2007 it was 8.03m around, which according to the WT makes it over 700 years old. It was probably planted to mark the boundary of the village's medieval open field system.

At the time even the aristocracy did not own the land, the King gave them a right to it and in turn they rented strips to the village serfs or peasants. There were rarely fences or hedges to mark the boundary. Fences came with the Enclosure Acts in the early 18th century when land became a tradeable commodity and the peasants were evicted.

Enclosure probably gave the feudal clan chieftains here in the Highlands the idea of the clearances as they became increasingly anglicised and greedy. They needed money to pursue their pleasures and define their status in London. But I digress, it's a remarkable tree and beautiful in the early morning light.