Here we are at the beginning of June and no meaningful blog – again. I must be the original reluctant blogger, but somehow life seems to be for living rather than writing about....
There have been lots of interesting wildlife things happening over the last few weeks, and many of them have contributed to the number of tasks I try to tackle in a day.
The primroses were plentiful this year, and so pretty. Something to do with the wet winter, perhaps.
Rosa and Nina (my granddaughters aged 3 ½ and 1 ½) had great fun making crystallised primroses and violets as cake decorations using egg white from the new hens who have come here for a peaceful (!) retirement after a busy life of laying lovely eggs for my neighbours next door.
It was only a couple of days before both girls were checking whether the eggs in the nest box were warm (recently laid) or whether they had been there for a while and gone cold. Rosa was very keen to make sure eggs were collected before lunch as not many are likely to be laid in the afternoon and hens are often tempted to peck and eat any eggs left in the nestbox for too long. When hens discover how delicious the eggs are it is a constant battle to get to them first. The old fashioned remedy was to blow an egg, fill the hollow with mustard powder and put the egg back in the nesting box with the idea of teaching greedy hens a lesson. It always seemed too much of a faff, as well as being rather unkind, so I have no idea how effective it is.
We had an early display from swallows and house martins whirling around catching insects, but they haven't been so much in evidence recently. Perhaps we'll see increased numbers when this hot dry patch is over and there are more insects about.
A couple of weeks ago there was a cormorant perched on a rock by the burying ground stretching out its wings to dry. I have seen them down near Alisary towards the head of the loch, but never here.
There was also a large red fox sauntering about in the field in broad daylight. The second day Bugsy gave chase, but these days there's no serious possibility of him getting anywhere near. I am extra careful to shut the hens up at night now that I know who is prowling around.
The stags still come down at dusk. They are at the other end of the fields so it's difficult for me to count them from here, but there were about thirty at one time and there are still probably about twenty. In other years they have grazed outside my window for a large part of the day, but not this year. Occasionally there have been some about at about 5am but certainly not many.
We have found a couple of antlers, but both were damaged. Christine Stewart who has been staying here over the winter uses pieces of them in the jewellery she makes.
The wild garlic has been a real treat. I vaguely knew where it was but hadn't found much time to pick it in other years. Now that there is a bit more light (courtesy of Scottish Hydro Electric and the council who both felled trees and cleared out undergrowth near the road and the electricity lines – I was devastated at first, but some good things have come of it) it seems to be thriving as are the foxgloves. I had some nice birch to burn over winter – it doesn't seem to need to be seasoned as long as oak – and I asked the tree fellers to pile up the shredded brash instead of scattering it. It has made a very useful mulch for some of the new planting we have been doing.
The bracken is unfurling at a great rate in the heat of the last few days. I cut some of the tiny fronds and ought to try to get another cut this weekend. I try hard to regards it as an asset and that, cut young enough and mixed with manure from Kirsty's ponies or Graham's hens (or now even our own!)' should make good compost which we need in large amounts to fill the new raised beds in the equally new enclosed garden. And we have resolved to gather seaweed in October, in the way the crofters did – and often still do – to fertilise the ground. One guest who shall be nameless (you know who you are) takes Roshven seaweed home each year for her garden. I wish more people would do the same. Much nicer than buying seaweed extract in plastic bottles. And I wish I could be as conscientious in the gathering of it as she is!
Cutting the bracken seems to be really good for the bluebells growing amongst it. They are spectacular this year. I think they have enjoyed the wet winter, but I also think I am learning to help them along by cutting surrounding grass and bracken at the right time and leaving them for a while after flowering so that they can set seed.
The new more careful management of the grassland seems to be paying off. No cattle over last winter because the fencing isn't up to it and effective repairs would be prohibitively expensive, but Kirsty's two ponies made agriculturally tolerable and personally charming residents over winter and didn't try to escape. Even a modest electric fence was enough to contain them. They have provided valuable manure for the compost heap, and we have also been collecting molehills from the front meadow to fill the raised beds with finely sieved clean soil. No imported ground elder or mare's tail in bought topsoil for us!
The wood sorrel has come and gone and the gorse is fading. We have had soup made from young nettle tops and sorrel, but sadly haven't been able to harvest cockles, razor clams or other bi-valve molluscs as there is currently an algal bloom on the loch. Being filter feeders, they concentrate the toxins although they do eventually clean themselves .
I'm not very familiar with birds as my eyesight was until recently not particularly good. We have enjoyed lots of different birds, some of which are listed on Roa and Nina's blog for May, and I'm going to learn to identify more. I can do Canada geese, greylags and pinkfoot – they're harder to miss. All have been here in recent weeks and some have been very vocal indeed.
This morning I had a close encounter with a hooded crow. A couple of days ago there was a fledgling in the deep grass by the washing line, making quite a noise. I thought the best thing was to let its parents help it, but sadly yesterday morning found it dead some distance away from where it had been calling. So I called Rose to help this morning's waif. I guarded it from enthusiastic dogs whilst she got a step ladder, but the parents were pretty distraught and not at all convinced I came with good intent. One flew to attack me and gave my head a couple of sharp pecks. It really meant business, and this evening I decided I wasn't in a mood for an argument so the washing will have to stay on the line for tonight.
It's 11pm and not dark. The bats are having a good time catching insects, and I'm going to have some supper.