Sunday, 24 April 2016
Notes from an urban countryman
Today's domestics involve planting two pots of Stock flower seeds either side of the Night Scented Stock which was sewn last week. That way, we should get scent through the kitchen window, day and night.
I did hear once that Night Scented Stock designed itself to be pollenated by moths, but I am not sure this is true. This is a little ironic, because I have just rigged up a load of pheromone traps for the dreaded clothes moths, from which we suffer quite badly in this house - H.I. loves cashmere, and I hate doing the laundry.
These traps only attract male moths, but it is the female's offspring (in worm form) which does the damage. The idea is that the trapping of the males puts a dent in the population in general, which is better than nothing. As soon as I had unpeeled the backing from the sticky paper, a moth appeared out of nowhere in broad daylight, so I am guessing it was a male. One down, 3000 to go.
The other little chore this morning was to wipe a great white splurge of gull-shit from the outside of our bathroom window.
It is the breeding season - for everything - and the gulls are back in town, fighting over territory as they treat the rooftops as clifftops. Shitting on each other - and us humans - is just another way of making our lives difficult. H.I. got shat on yesterday. I once saw a Japanese tourist get shat on by a gull, and it really looked as though someone had tipped a bucket of white-wash over his head. He was remarkably sanguine about it, just quietly saying, "Oh..."
You would think that the seasonal orgy of sex, birth and violence would pass you by in town, but all we get is the worst bits of it. We do have blackbirds all year round, which is nice. They warble to each other across the river at night, Winter and Summer. This is so much better than the gulls swearing at each other, beginning at midnight, reaching a peak around 4.00 am, then quieting down after you have got up - when you really need to sleep.
I miss the thousands of Starlings which used to roost at night, after they had swarmed overhead in the great, black clouds of their nightly murmuration.
The feral pigeons breed all year round, just so long as they have a food source, and with the amount of late-night take-aways in towns, they always have a food-source. They especially like eating the vomit from the pavements on Sunday mornings. Feral pigeons are the direct descendants of cliff-dwelling, coastal Rock Pigeons.
For the last two years, there has been a massive influx of proper Wood Pigeons. Prior to then, you never saw them in town. We also have quite a number of Collared Doves. Only about twenty-five years ago, Collared Doves did not exist in England. Another success story.
A pair of Red Kites have been spotted on the outskirts of Bath, so it will not be long before we may have as many as Reading, which has them in medieval quantities. They were released as a breeding pair in Oxfordshire by Paul Getty, and have been creeping further South for the last 15 years.
Buzzards circle overhead quite regularly, upsetting the gulls, and of course we have the breeding pair of Peregrine Falcons on the Catholic church, which don't seem to have any effect on the feral pigeon population.
I was speaking to the man who runs the camera for the Peregrines on the church last year, and he told me that they caught - on film - one of the Falcons coming home - at night - with a Moorhen.
I knew that Peregrines will sometimes swoop down on prey on the river - I witnessed one of the Norwich birds arrive on the nest with a duckling last year - but I didn't think they did this at night. It turns out that they don't.
Here was something else I learned. Have you ever seen a Moorhen in flight? I mean real flight, not just flapping along six inches above the water in a burst of speed?
You probably haven't, because Moorhens only fly in the dark, which was how this one was caught mid-air by the Peregrine. Somehow, I had always thought of them as flightless.
And then of course there are the house-flies. It was so warm last year that they never properly disappeared. I am expecting a bumper crop this year.
Posted by Tom Stephenson at 05:08