Canal kittens

I’ve been lucky with the weather this week – although this morning appears to be doing all it can to buck that trend. I’m layered up this morning (it’s about 8am) because the wind is cold and the pavements are wet. Thankfully despite some overnight showers it’s currently not raining.

Other days have been kinder and when the sun’s been shining I’ve been exploring around the Yarningdale aqueduct on the Stratford upon Avon canal.

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This section of near Claverdon is one of the nicer places that I’ve ‘found’ recently – although admittedly this stretch was never ‘lost’ – I’d just never been there.

Just a few miles outside Warwick is an easy entry point onto it next to the Crabmill pub on the Henley road. From here I made my way several miles down its towpath with a friend on Wednesday. Pleasingly neither of us had come across this location before – despite us both having driven past it more times than I care to count over the years.

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As in touch as I am with nature these days though I’m not sure that the same can be said for cats. I seem to have completely lost my knack with them – because despite my obvious rugged charm it appears that the kittens clustered around this particular barge wanted absolutely nothing to do with me.

I passed by them twice, first trying to tempt a little black and white kitten to come and get some fuss and then an absolutely gorgeous little grey one on my return journey.

They were totally disinterested.

A man could take the hump if his surroundings weren’t so nice.

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In all we strolled just under six miles along this really rather lovely and rural section of canal – and it made a lovely change from walking along the Grand Union – which I’ve pretty much done to death over the last few years.

Sure – it’s just another canal – but there’s something about the tranquility of their still waters that becomes quite addictive.

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My companion and I enjoyed our walk so much that we plan to go back again and do some more exploring ASAP.

The architecture of this stretch of the canal seems quite different to others. The locks seem thinner, and the bridges are nearly all designed to lift like a drawbridges.

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The ones that aren’t have lovely little sluices at the sides, which seem to do a great job of pushing colourful piles of leaves into the water in swirling patterns.

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It’s a really nice part of the world to explore.

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I’ve also managed to get out and about to what’s becoming something of a familiar stamping ground of late – and on Tuesday did a rather epic (maybe a little too epic on reflection) 12 mile walk from my house in a giant circle to Offchurch and back again.

The tone of the Grang Union canal here is more urban – but I think rather nice in it’s own way, as some of the usual urban decay associated with proximity to such waterways is slowly turning into urban regeneration. With that comes art, and an entirely different kind of kittens that are far more likely to let me stroke them!.

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I find it fascinating that what would once have been considered vandalism (thanks to Banksy and others like him) is now art to be admired and even commoditised in such places.

Furthermore – rather then being an indicator of trouble it’s often seen as an indication that an area is ‘bohemian’ and that there’s new life and potential to be found locally.

I couldn’t have hoped for better weather to see it in either. It was (mostly) glorious that day – and further along the walk my companion and I rounded a corner to find a sea of colour.

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All of the fields nearby were full of little purple thistle like flowers – but I’m really not sure what they’re for or what they are.

I’ve looked online and the closest thing I can find to it is a ‘creeping thistle’ – but I’m not entirely sure that it’s a complete match – so if anyone reading knows what it is or why it’s planted in such large quantities (there were three huge fields full of it!) then let me know because I’m quite curious!

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I’d have happily knocked on the farmer’s door to ask – but for the fact that a passing elderly couple (also enquiring what the blooms were – we were all stumped) said that the rather temperamental land owner had recently been shooting at dogs, and that he wasn’t to be trifled with.

I’m not sure how true it is – but I’m keeping to the footpaths and not wandering over to the farmhouse to jab his doorbell nevertheless. Besides – I have my own land to tend to without worrying about being shot on his.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been bringing some order to my garden before the winter hits.

Parts of it have been a little neglected – but not because I’ve felt lazy. I’ve been cutting back one (rather huge) bush in particular which I purposefully left to grow pretty much out of control for the whole summer.

The rest of the undergrowth was looked after – but this one chunk of my border remained sacrosanct.

Long term readers will remember how distraught I was in June last year when (whilst hacking this particular bit right back practically to stumps) I uncovered a blackbird nest complete with eggs (link).

I was absolutely mortified and immediately tried to cover it back up the best that I could. Initially this seemed to work and for a while the mommy blackbird returned to sit on them.

She did so come rain or shine with the newly exposed nest often rocking violently back and forth in the wind.

The damage was done by then however – and the branches I laid back over the top of it in the hope of giving it cover eventually fell further forward in the wind, making the nest inaccessible. The blackbird was forced out and within hours the eggs were broken open and the contents eaten.

Nature is cruel and at the time this really got to me. I felt totally responsible for the loss of these potential little lives.

This year therefore the bush was left to grow because I could regularly see all kinds of birds going in and out. Even though we’ve experienced a dry summer the hedge still got bigger and bigger and looked more and more unkempt as the months went on.

Despite what the neighbours might have thought though I consciously resolved to leave it alone and I’m glad I did.

When I finally finished cutting it all back on Wednesday afternoon I found this – which made my (rather messy) choice something that I was rather proud of.

A new, used – and now empty nest. Evidence that new life entered the world because I chose not to prune. This really made me happy. Who needs a tidy bush when it means dead birds?

Not me.

However there’s another issue associated with leaving it to grow – because then you have to dispose of it all.

Since I’m not a fan of using the car to take rubbish (or me) anywhere unless absolutely necessary I resolved that all of the branches would fit in the bin regardless of how much they didn’t want to.

All they needed was a bit of energetic chopping and some stamping.

It’s nice to be able to do such things – because even a year ago when I was cutting this back I was six stone heavier and wasn’t quite nimble enough to climb into a bin!

Oddly I felt great at the time (I climbed Snowden at this weight!) but even though I’d lost 14+ stone by then I’m still taken aback by how my features have changed.

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A long time friend remarked to me yesterday that he realised he didn’t remember ‘old Dave’ any more – and that when he looked at recent side by side comparisons on Instagram it suddenly struck him that his past memories of times we shared still have me in them – but I look like I do now – rather than the big guy he knew.

What a thing to say!

How cool is that?!

The idea that I’m continually re-wiring people’s memories of me by presenting a newer version of myself thats fitter and looks radically different is fascinating.

Long may it continue internet!

Davey

Head in the Thorpe Clouds

One of the things that I’ve been pretty happy about after going up Snowdon last weekend is that instead of being completely destroyed like I’d expected to be the absolute opposite happened – and I’ve been full of beans.

Although it may be attributable to further great progress with my weight loss – I’ve just felt considerably more ‘sprightly’ than usual over the last week and I’m not over exaggerating when I say that there’s been an extra spring in my step pretty much everywhere I’ve been. I feel quite light on my feet at the moment and I’m really beginning to like climbing gradients! Although I’m still not so keen on the downhill bits afterwards I’m gradually getting better at both.

Today I’d arranged to go and visit my friend in Derbyshire – and it was an excellent opportunity to have a go at some of the ‘bumpy’ bits in the Peak District.

I was previously of the opinion that I’d never been there before, until my mate pointed out that as unruly and savage youths in secondary school (although I speak primarily about my own feral self) we were taken to Dovedale on a Geography field trip (we go waaaay back he and I) and during this day release from our incarceration we walked along the river Dove taking photographs detailing the erosion and geology of the area. I’d also been back there with my Dad a few months later.

I hadn’t realised though that this was in the Peak District – and as soon as my friend mentioned climbing Thorpe Cloud (wikipedia link) I knew we had to go back.

Upon arrival this morning we parked up at a National Trust heritage site called Ilam Hall. This is a gloriously maintained place – and there’s clearly a lot of love and care gone into making sure that even on the most overcast day the grounds look in tip top condition.

The nearby Ilam village also has some really nice little features – with a large number of rather twee matching cottages, a (somewhat ostentatious) monument and a genuine concern for smaller local residents that may wish to cross the road.

My friend had with him a rather cool little Garmin GPS plotting device that occasionally made little noises if it thought we were straying off piste, and with it and a full size paper OS map of the area (I’m definitely getting into these – my proud cartophile friend was RIGHT – I did learn to love them!) we made our way through the village, around Bunster Hill and across a few fields of sheep and cows until we hit the river Dove and the bottom of our objective.

Unlike the relatively winding and gentle start to Snowdon’s ascent last Saturday, this is a pretty steep, in your face clamber up a hill.

However, it’s over in a lot less time.

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It’s not particularly difficult or technical, but it is some pretty good cardio – and by the time I’d reached the top my bpm had reached 140 – and it wouldn’t be for the last time today.

However – it was really worth it. The view was lovely – and in the distance (if you look at the video) we could easily see where we’d come from.

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After reaching the top and looking at the view for a short while we decided to walk along the River Dove towards Milldale (re-tracing our field trip) which you can see in the distance when you start down the other side of the hill.

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Although not particularly spectacular, this is really nice (mostly wooded and shady) stroll along the river bank.

Within another 20-30 minutes we were down on the river bank by the famous stepping stones below and looking back up at where we’d just been.

If you’re thinking of going here for a day out be aware however that it’s quite undulating along the river and although it’s not particularly challenging if you’re moderately fit it’s also not somewhere to go with a buggy or if you have mobility issues.

It’s a lovely little oasis of wildlife though and there were plenty of birds and butterflies to keep the eyes engaged and interested.

Although we’d originally started along the path to Milldale, the reality was that we’d really be able to do nothing when we got there but turn around and go back, so when we came to Ilam Rock Bridge after a mile and a half, and saw a signpost with a (two mile) path back to Ilam we decided to follow it.

Here the tone of the walk changed a little however. This was a lot more ‘woodland’ than ‘river-bank’, and after a short while onto the opposite bank we came to a foreboding sign…

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How bad could it be though? We were already conquerers of Thorpe Cloud!

We tutted in the face of adversity and made our way up the muddy slope. After a few minutes on the way down a couple passed by us, and the slow moving lady bringing up the rear simply said ‘good luck’ as she gingerly made her way to the bottom.

We looked at each other. It was a little steep and muddy…

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However – although my heart rate was immediately back up to 140 and it was pretty steep it definitely wasn’t all that bad!

Sure – it was slippery and you had to watch your footing, but the path was clear (if a little close to the edge at times) and there were a lot of railway sleeper steps on the way up, making it a workout challenge – but nothing impossible or dangerous if you were careful and took your time.

Before we knew it the steeper section flattened out and we were on a relatively gradual incline winding our way through the trees at the top of the valley and heading back along the river at a much higher elevation.

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This went on for a while, and then all of a sudden we were back out in the open and looking at yet another absolutely smashing view!

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Following the path (now much more rural – winding through open fields and over stiles) we were soon faced with surprisingly static sheep – who were standing completely still and just watching us get nearer and nearer.

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I’m not sure what was going on up on that hill – but the sheep on the right was taking more than a passing interest in the sheep in the middle. However – as the saying goes, what happens in Dovedale stays in Dovedale, and who am I to disturb any of their high altitude pleasures?

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After a very steep descent (thankfully on grass rather than rock and mud) we were soon in sight of our objective and could just see the tippy top of Ilam Hall in the distance.

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There was still a good quadricep workout ahead however – and after about 20 minutes of burning thighs we were back on level ground and once again (after a little more walking) at our starting point.

My friend uploaded a (frankly exceptional – I’m totally in love with his GPS and love the flyby in this link) video to show our walk time, elevation and route. If you’re interested in replicating it then this will most certainly help!

I wish I’d been able to do this with Snowdon last week!

When we arrived back at the Hall thankfully there was a cafe, and an opportunity to sit down – which we both did with a nice cold drink.

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I couldn’t help but feeling we were being watched however. It was if the local residents wanted something from us…

There were robins, sparrows and these mean looking guys all over the place – waiting to hoover up any leftovers. I’m not sure who spent the most time watching who!

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Frankly it was the perfect end to a perfect day out in the Peak District.

Or was it?…

That actually wasn’t quite the end of the story internet – but I don’t want to over burden you…

There will be more of that in another post!

Davey

And then there were none…

Today has been my longest day gardening yet – and even if I do say so myself I’ve done a LOT. I started at 8am and finished just after 3 when I finally stopped for lunch. The weather has been changeable – but (despite dire weather predictions) it’s been a pretty nice day to put in some hard graft. The sun has been appearing on and off all day with only a little bit of rain to spoil things occasionally.

When I started doing this three weeks ago everything was aching all the time and I really felt the burn in the evenings – however now the work involved is becoming pretty routine. My arms and shoulders are definitely getting used to sustained gardening (seven flipping hours of it no less!) which they’ve never really had to before.

Visually however this had been a less than spectacular day and the garden doesn’t look massively different from yesterday when I stand back to see where I am. Most of the hard work has been chopping up what I’ve already cut away (this took a gruelling four hours) or removing buried rubbish and ivy.

About two years ago in high wind the ancient fence collapsed by my shed (it was also helped by the neighbour who decided to push it over and put a new one in its place without asking) and since I wasn’t really mobile enough to clear it up I just left the remnants next to the new fence to go rotten.

Although it wasn’t really how I planned it this has made its removal a lot easier for the most part – as it pretty much falls to bits when you push it into bags. Although the area by the fence is not completely finished I think I’ve made a good start.

With the branches from yesterday and the bits of rotten wood and ivy that were knotted together I’ve not only managed to pack solid to the brim my green recycling bin (which was emptied this morning and immediately re-filled for the third time) but taken another 6 bags to the tip, bringing the total to 62.

However – regardless of what I’ve been doing – throughout I’ve only had one thing on my mind.

The blackbird nest.

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It was abandoned when I came out this morning. Overnight high wind had pushed the branch that I’d laid over it as cover last week onto it’s side. It looked like it had forced the female blackbird away from her eggs and she was no-where to be seen.

I hurriedly removed the obstruction and checked the eggs.

They seemed intact.

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I started work by the shed – wanting to stay as far away as I could.

I was initially worried that maybe a predator had killed the female bird overnight. It had been awful weather. Had the exposure affected her? If she was on the ground had a cat or fox got her? I stopped what I was doing and looked around under the bush where the nest was.

There was no sign of a struggle. There were no feathers on the lawn.

And then almost an hour later I heard her usual song. She was on the roof, taking a bath in the guttering!

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However she seemed to have absolutely no interest in returning to the nest and when she’d finished her ablutions was instead spending her time preening herself and sitting in the sunshine nearby.

The male blackbird stopped by their nest in the meantime, had a quick look in and immediately flew off again. From that point onwards he was absent for the rest of the day.

I tried not to think about it. Maybe she would return to the nest…

I Googled how long eggs can be left after an incubation period has started. Not long it seems. If she didn’t come back soon there would be little hope.

In the meantime there were lots of other spirited residents in the garden to take my mind off the matter. I noticed that going in and out of my roof is another little family of house sparrows.

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These little guys are amazingly quick and nimble when they fly about and I’m glad they seem to like where they live as I read that they’ve declined in the UK by 70% (almost as fast it seems as a Conservative majority in parliament) since I was a child. Back then they seemed to be everywhere.

The one in the picture below with the black bib is the male – and his mate is a light brown colour. She’s been close by to him all day – and paying close attention to what he’s doing as he collects materials for what seems to be a nest in the eaves of my roof.

He’s been particularly interested in stripping the dead ivy on my back wall, and pulled several little straw strips off before retreating to his home.

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Between the two little sparrows the garden felt like it was a hive of activity. They were continually fluttering around and performing tight turns and fidgety changes of direction in mid air.

When they weren’t doing that they were singing and taking dust baths.

My movement of rubbish has also produced a number of frog sightings today – and there was quite a variety to see. Today there were three distinctly different sizes and colours. My particular favourite is the little yellow one climbing the wall. Shortly after the photo he nearly hopped over my head to make his getaway.

Admittedly I’m not sure what variety these are (I could just look them up I guess) but I think they’re all really pretty – although I know one of my close friends in particular doesn’t share my opinion.

For that reason alone I apologise for the following gratuitously close up frog shots.

After taking these photos I headed off to the tip to drop off the refuse I’d created before the tip closed for the day. When I came back I immediately looked at the nest again.

Disaster

The eggs were now punctured. From the outside.

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There were no signs of life.

So – it looks like on this occasion my intervention and maybe bad weather too have put paid to this little clutch of potential blackbirds. It seems that they were never meant to be.

This genuinely made me sad – but I guess like the swanlings who disappear so quickly this is just life. Nature is cruel – and the blackbird (who was still sitting in the sun nearby) was just getting on with things.

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She seemed healthy and I can only hope that her mate is off somewhere constructing a new nest for her to populate.

Fingers crossed internet.

Maybe – just maybe – there will be little baby sparrows instead…

Davey

And then there were two…

It’s been a really mixed bag of moods this week – and having spoken to a few of my friends I don’t think I’m alone in this. As I mentioned previously my Saturday was all about eating everything I could lay my hands on. Today I’ve felt rather similar if I’m honest – and my attempts to avoid food have propelled me once again toward the garden, in the hope that if I do a bit more every day it will eventually look like a paradise on earth.

In reality I suspect it will just look a lot less scruffy – as I don’t have the money to put down any new turf or anything – but I may sew some grass seed once I’ve finished raking all the ivy out of the lawn which is flipping everywhere!

My success diverting thoughts about food have been mixed today. Every time I managed to get into the swing of things it started raining heavily and I had to give up and retreat inside – closer than I really wanted to be to the fridge, which was occasionally raided when I wasn’t really hungry.

This has been partially because when I’ve retreated indoors I’ve also been abstractly browsing for local jobs – and coming up largely blank.

I applied for one that I really wanted a few weeks ago – but the (frankly infuriating) online application process randomly deleted both the job and my application a week or so ago without explanation. Much to my surprise the job was re-advertised today – but when I went to apply a second time the site told me I had already done so and showed me my previous application, which somehow is once more alive and well (despite being ignored for almost four weeks.)

So when I’ve been filling sacks with refuse it’s at times been through gritted teeth. On the plus side though I’ve now upped the total to 56 bags taken to the tip and have several more ready to go. My arms and back are suffering this evening though. The chopping seems endless at times.

When at the tip today I was watching a guy with a small trailer and a Land Rover offloading loads of the massive branches that I’ve been spending hour upon hour chopping into twiglets and packing into sacks.

Although part of me (particularly from an exercise point of view) is enjoying the hard work it’s become pretty boring now – and I honestly never ever want to cut another branch into little bits ever again.

At least until tomorrow when I’ll definitely have to go out and do it again.

It would be nice if there was a little more variety to the task at hand – but at the moment it’s just what needs to be done and I don’t aim to give up. This (almost) daily push means that it’s looking better and better though and is now a far cry from when I started.

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Eagle eyed viewers will note the large pile of pruned bushes that I’ve dragged over to the right however. There’s still a lot of clipping to be done in that mound – and also to the left with regard the tops of all the border branches still remaining. I envisage them eventually being a more manageable 5ft or so in height and growing out into the garden no more than around 1-2ft or so.

Out of shot to my left is the bush with the blackbird – which I can’t touch until they’ve finished nesting, but eventually it too will need to go.

For the time being though the female blackbird is still there, sitting, watching and waiting – and lets me get quite close now. Although she always seems poised to make a fast getaway there’s never an indication that she’s scared of me – and thats just the way I want to keep it. I’m respectful and quiet while I’m out there and try not to invade her space.

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On the subject of my tweety residents though there has been a sad development. When I first accidentally uncovered the nest I looked inside and there were four eggs.

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Today the bird left the nest for a little while, and as neither male or female were around I had a quick peek inside.

Something has stolen TWO of the eggs!

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Given that less than 50% of chicks (according to the research I’ve done) typically survive this means it will be a small miracle if there is a positive outcome from this state of affairs – however I live in hope.

I raked up the earth by their bush before I went in today just to make sure that there was something to eat close to the surface. I hope that they found something for lunch because they deserve a break. Things would probably be very different if I’d not chopped away their cover.

Anyway – things are what they are.

This evening I’m cooking a large chunky soup in the hope that its size, warming effect and low calories will finally stop me wanting to eat my mattress (plus pillows and duvet) and allow me to relax a bit. I know that strictly speaking I’m supposed to be avoiding large portions, but today I honestly don’t feel resilient enough to be austere.

I just want to get the average mood of an average rainy day filled with average tasks and with average employment opportunities out of the way and wake up tomorrow with a sunnier frame of mind.

Of course I guess we all know internet that since tomorrow is a Friday instead I’ll most probably just be continually stressing all day long about whether or not I’ve lost any weight this week.

Sigh. I’d better go and stir my stew.

Davey

Nature is awesome!

For the most part I’m in awe of nature.

Apart from cat sh*t – which despite me not owning one seems to appear in pretty much the same place outside my shed with annoying regularity. Despite me knowing the likelihood is almost certainly nearby it never seems to stop me from stepping in it.

This does little to endear me to the little f****r that keeps on doing it. Still – there thankfully are other things to distract me. Once again I’ve been working on the garden – and the weather today has been perfect for it.

I took another 9 bags off to the refuse tip today, meaning I’ve now managed to get rid of 51 sacks of bush and ivy during my clear up. The garden isn’t sitting still and letting all of this happen however. It’s growing all around me and pleasing little things keep popping up to catch my eye as I work.

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I also had a spot of luck at the recycling centre while I was dropping off my clippings. I always pop into the charity shop to see if there’s anything useful – and found this sun lounger (practically brand new from what I can see, and barely used) for the princely sum of £6!

I honestly would have never contemplated buying or trying to sit in anything like this previously. Not only would I not have been able to get in and out of something thats barely six inches off the floor, but I would have absolutely destroyed it with my weight. However now, new lighter Davey may for the very first time be able to enjoy relaxing in a shady corner of the garden with a good book.

This is a pretty darn cool non-scale victory!!!

While I lay back in tester mode, gingerly listening to the fabric move and the frame quietly creak and settle (I was still convinced I’d turn it into a pile of bent metal and torn cloth and was pretty nervous) I noticed my avian neighbours moving about in the bush in front of me. Mr blackbird was back so I edged out of the lounger and manoeuvred myself to another spot for a look.

Earlier in the day mommy had still been on the nest, watching me carefully as usual.

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Now she was gone – and in her place daddy was keeping watch on the nest.

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I carried gardening – making sure not to spook him – and he sat watching me as I clipped and trimmed away.

I forgot about them after a few minutes as I was intent on removing as much of the ivy around the base of my tree as I could. It’s been consumed by it from the base up – and I’ve become a little worried that if I don’t stop it growing and peel off whats already there that it will kill the (rather large) tree and I’ll be left with a dangerous situation.

Previously the base was pretty overgrown.

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But now it looks a bit better.

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I thought (given all the ivy higher up) that this was suspiciously easy, so I peered around the back.

I really really wish I hadn’t.

There’s a hell of a lot more to do on the other side – and the vines and roots attached to the neighbour’s side of it are something that are going to require a lot of work. I’m also not sure I can do it from my side – so for the time being I decide to carry on with my bushes.

While I was doing this Mr Blackbird decided to come quite close and hunt around my clippings, so I moved away to let him forage for food, and filmed him while I sipped my coffee.

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What I watched next is something I’ve not seen close up before.

 

I REALLY urge you to watch the below one minute video. It shows how the female blackbird has been able to sit in one place for so long without moving and actually brought a little tear to my eye while I watched it happen.

Despite cat sh*t nature is totally awesome!

Anyway – I’m visiting a friend in hospital shortly so I need to rush off and have a shower before getting my baked potatoes out of the oven.

Laters internet!

Davey