Melancholy Monday and Minor Bird Melodies; Bitter Sweet Weeding; and Turkey Talk

Let’s get the melancholy bit out of the way.
I finally heard ten days ago, that we have a potentially wrecked engine (blown turbo on the way back from a lovely day trip to Highgrove to see the gardens. After a further 3 days, and a considerable sum of money spent with the garage following this initial news, we DID have a wrecked engine), so we’ve been trying to source a replacement vehicle. Now found.

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But that Monday was a day to match the mood – grey, wet and gloomy. The third dead barely hatched, turkey poult was found on Sunday evening just a foot from the by now unkempt mums, with 2 neat tiny puncture wounds either side of the neck. And a decidedly un Nutkin-like grey squirrel exited the crime scene on Monday morning, in spite of what we thought was a squirrel proof run, with a smirk on his (or her) face. Was it even the culprit?
Farmer Bunce had nothing on my zero tolerance state of mind just then.

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So to switch to another Roald Dahl inspired plot (The Twits), sticky boards were tried overnight after my inability to wing it, or possibly them (since they seemed to daily change in size), with an air rifle. Nowt but a closed board, and a few tufts of squirrel fur.
Obviously they weren’t sticky enough.
And spring was meant to be a time of life bursting forth.
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And then:

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A day later the sun was out, the temperatures rose, and I spent all morning hand weeding, as is our self inflicted preferred way, bent double in the larch copse. But what was the bird singing short melancholic bursts of song throughout the day? The number of times I paused and craned upwards against the sky, before I actually managed to spot it, high up in the tree second from the left, below.
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Clearly a thrush, but mistle, or song?
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We’d previously found clusters of smashed banded snails beside anvil stones – a sure sign of song thrushes around.

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Indeed, I’d seen these birds regularly on the ground, through all the cold weather. But not at all for the last 10 days. Perhaps the song thrushes were migrants which had now flown back to the continent?
If I recognised pitch, I could have identified it from this song as a mistle thrush, since they apparently sing in a minor key. Click here for a really useful guide to differences, including song, from the RSPB. But mistle thrushes are also less confident songsters, rarely repeating a phrase. And they do typically sing from high up in tall trees. But all day? Just to attract a mate, or establish territory?

I reckon that there might be some deeper purpose, or enjoyment. Perhaps like the musician in a sweet spot performance, they really do experience some joy, or physiological brain induced high? If this sounds a bit wacky, follow this link to the concepts of a resonating 11 dimensional universe by a world expert on string theory (Michio Kaku and click here for link to a video and transcript). I think that this subject definitely deserves revisiting later since I can barely grasp the concept, but for now I’ll just add that we’re at a brief point in the year, when the sun streams in through our tiny, East facing cowshed window, and fleetingly casts an arc of bright light over the piano keyboard, around 6.50 am.

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As if inspired by this significant event, the other morning a new tune came to me. And with an ascending phrase, was altogether brighter and less melancholic than most of the ideas that randomly pop into my head. The idea that like the mistle thrush, I’m simply tuning in to the vibrations of the molecular beat of the universe, and simply resonating them through my brain patterns and finger movements, is a strangely appealing concept.
Occasionally with eyes closed, and playing a tune which by repetition becomes embedded into the neural pathways, one does indeed momentarily leave behind the here and now. Come to think of it, I read recently that the physiological brain changes associated with a pleasant musical experience are very similar to those enjoyed during sex. The same bits of the brain light up on a scan.
And this is a topic mentioned by many professional musicians. A recent radio interview between John Wilson and classically trained violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy recalled a particular concert when Kennedy felt so at ease with his musical performance, that he ‘left the stage and then the concert hall’, mentally or spiritually, floating above the orchestra and audience, before finally thinking that perhaps his mind should rejoin his body once more to finish the piece! I should add that the punchline to this story was that he was, at the time, wearing a headband that he’d bought at auction. It had previously been owned by guitar legend Jimmy Hendrix.
Might some residual mood enhancing substance which he’d absorbed from the headband’s fabric, have induced this out of body experience, he speculated?
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Tuesday’s evening clouds were so divine, with the fading chorus of birdsong on a still, nearly full moon evening, that I nipped inside for the camcorder. As I exited the back door, a red kite drifted effortlessly, with beat-less wings, uphill to a roost or possibly nest tree, in our neighbour’s field, joining and buzzing its mate already there.
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And then as light left the scene and the moon curved higher and westwards behind our big oak, a robin took up station. Sadly, I can’t play the recorded song here, but it ranks as one of my very special moments in all the years at Gelli Uchaf.

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And the garden and landscape had atoned for melancholic Monday.
Dewi, our itinerant cuckoo, returned last week to our great delight, joining the swallows and the reedy grasshopper warblers, as the trio of spring arrivals that should herald warmer times.
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We live in such hope after another heavy frost last night. I read a brief piece at the weekend that reveals that their homing skills may be down to their (iron) balls. Or more accurately, the microscopic spherical iron particles in the hairs of their inner ears, which perhaps function as magnetoreceptors and give them their very own, on board compass, to help them navigate their way round the globe, along with the position of the sun. Click here for more, and an image of the tiny balls. Apparently, mammals don’t possess these tiny iron particles in their equivalent inner ears.
Which is, I guess, why we rely on sat navs or maps.
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It’s taken a long time to need attention, but with lengthening days, the annual battle with weeds has begun in earnest. Hand weeding in our beds and borders over years has honed our abilities to spot the usual suspects at an early stage when they can usually be hoiked out with less effort.
Here our most common enemies are hairy bittercress and creeping buttercup, along with woundwort. We’re spared ground elder and bindweed, at least for now. But one of the exciting aspects of this frankly mundane, tedious and repetitive garden task, is finding something new and unfamiliar, amongst the thousands of ordinary seedlings.
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This year it’s been the early leaves of sweet cicely, Myrrhis odorata. We’d grown the plant for the first time last year, and so enjoyed both the foliage and frothy umbelliferous flowers, that I’d scattered the seeds in a newish area of the garden, hoping that the plants would pop up randomly amongst Iris sibirica and Penstemon “Husker’s Red”. And here they are, looking very pretty from day one.

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Meanwhile the paths and yard also need attention. At Highgrove a couple of weeks ago I’d asked how they managed their fairly weedy cobbled paths. “Hands and knees and a team of knife wielding gardeners”. 14 for the 14 acre plot.
Here I have a slight variation. I use the sharp end of an old chainsaw file to winkle out any larger weeds from between the stones. And then as mentioned before, ‘The Man In Black’ uses a steam cleaner.
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In fact, it’s our ancient Earlex Wallpaper Stripper with a special weed treating lance, which the lovely chaps at Earlex sent me free of charge last year, after I’d sung the praises of their equipment on this blog. Yes, it takes a bit of time, and needs repeating. But like hand weeding, this type of nice repetitive job is perfect when you want to disengage your brain for a bit. And if you time if for a sunny day, not only does it cost almost nothing (if you have on site PV generation), but it also saves dousing the paths in noxious chemicals. I calculated last year that using Pathclear would result in a bill of around £150 annually to treat our paths and yard just twice.
The final benefit is that the solitary mining bees’ little piles of sand have just started to appear between the cobbles. This never happened in the days when we used chemical treatments.

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So, for the first time since mid October, the lance carrying man in black, is happy to return to do battle in the struggle to tame the garden scene.

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With all the gloom surrounding the turkeys, and lots of well meaning advice about turkey breeding habits (mainly from folk who’ve never tried breeding turkeys), I eventually found a couple of nuggets of vital scientific information. The brutal mating procedure is apparently always initiated by the female. The back treading inflicted on the subservient hen is potentially so damaging, that saddles are sometimes fitted to the hen. More commonly, commercial breeds are mated by artificial insemination. And usually once a week for 5 months, partly because turkey semen rarely lasts more than 18 hours outside the male’s body, even with best modern practice for collection and storage.

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But one issue which has perplexed us is that our 2 turkeys are still sitting on eggs, still playing musical eggs shifting them around between the 2 adjacent nesting depressions, and even still laying eggs. A good 10 days after the first poult successfully hatched. We’d decided yesterday that we’d better move Bernie the Bronze (the stag) back in with them, since he might be a better predator deterrent than me, and we assumed that by now there was no way that the females could still be laying fertile eggs.
Firstly, they apparently rarely mate a second time whilst they are incubating eggs, and secondly, I discovered that turkey hens have special semen storage tubules, just off the uterovaginal-oviduct junction. Never mind the only 18 hours viability of commercially stored turkey semen, or the up to 5 days viability of human semen once in a woman’s oviduct. Thanks to these special storage ducts, it’s been shown that viable turkey semen are still present in these storage tubules for up to 75 DAYS after a single mating! SDIM9804 (2)Perhaps this is why turkey stags seem to spend so much of their time displaying – even to their offspring – there might be both an element of frustration, and also wondering whether today just might end up being his lucky day.
There’s clearly a lot more to these interesting birds than is first apparent. And even if no more poults appear this year, we feel sufficiently encouraged to try again next year, by now better educated and prepared for what to expect from them. Also they’ll have gone through the whole process once before, and perhaps be better able to cope.
In spite of no apple or pear blossom as we head into May, thanks to the still cold winds and this late spring, the sun is shining and all seems well with the world.SDIM9756 (2)
Our first Oregon sugar pod mange-tout peas. 29/04/2013. In our compost heated greenhouse. Grown from pre-germinated seed, sown before Christmas.
SDIM9765 (2)A serendipitous new planting of Narcissus which already looks stunning. N. “Thalia”, N. “Tresamble” and N. “Merlin”.SDIM9792 (2)Tulipa ‘Flaming Purissima’.
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2 thoughts on “Melancholy Monday and Minor Bird Melodies; Bitter Sweet Weeding; and Turkey Talk

  1. Julian, I was fortunate to see in my back garden about a month ago a pair of Mistle Thrushes. I’ve never seen Mistle Thrushes before so I did rather do a double take, recognising instantly that they were unlike our regular Song Thrushes, bigger and greyer being just 2 of the differences. How lucky to see a pair together! They did not stay for long, perhaps 15 mins, and I have not seen them since, but I hope they’ll return another time…

    • Hello Rinka,
      Thanks for the comment. How lucky to see a pair. Apparently in most gardens Song thrushes are 5 times more common than Mistle thrushes. But here, the situation is reversed, and Mistle thrushes are the norm. But usually we only see or hear one at a time, BW,

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