We’ve slipped into that time of the year when, with no obvious clues from the evening before (or at least none that I’m clever enough to spot), you can wake to a garden filled with dense mist. Apart from the highlighting of now revealed cobwebs which always fascinates me, if this overnight veil is burned off by a steadily rising sun, then briefly, the garden can take on a totally different look and feel. Just such a morning happened about 10 days ago, so I thought I’d include some of my favourite images:
Around the same time, and before the more typical grey and damp days of most of the last week, we had one of those spectacular 10 minutes around sunset, when the combinations of clouds and falling sun produced a sky-blue-pink moment:Even here, with a fabulous range of cloud types and displays throughout a year, this really was special. Sufficiently so, for me to try to find out a bit more about what causes it. Apparently, it’s due to what’s known as Rayleigh scattering (named after Lord Rayleigh 1842-1919 – a British Nobel prize winning physicist, click here for a biography of this accomplished scientist), who first explained that the sky is perceived by us as being blue because of the scattering of the multi-coloured light radiation from the sun. Atmospheric molecules create this scattering, which occurs across the spectrum but is most significant at its shorter, blue end.Additionally, clouds, and water molecules within clouds, will magnify these effects and as the sun falls or rises from the horizon, the light radiation passes through significantly more of the atmosphere – up to 38 times more as it moves from the zenith to the horizon. Over these greater distances of optical paths, filled with potentially light scattering molecules, the blue component begins to be lost, whilst red light (which also scatters if there is sufficient air between the observer and the source) begins to scatter and create the coloured hues which can predominate around dawn and dusk.This is a huge simplification, by a non-physicist. And frankly it doesn’t directly explain the very special colour mixes of a sky-blue-pink dusk display. If you want to be totally baffled by scientific jargon, then click here for techno speak and formulae; or click here for a more understandable take on a phenomenon which I’ve always adored, but never before really understood.
(A different kind of sky blue pink moment?)
The BCS power scythe is temporarily resting, as the rain falls and its operator is left with the frankly less appealing task of manually clearing the debris. Its ability to tackle old tussocky shoulder height grasses and rushes in our several acre lower wet meadow has been formidable, but the plan was always to try to improve this field and increase its diversity over several years. Rather like a garden, bite off too much in one go and early disillusionment is likely to set in.What to do with so much plant debris was also going to be a big issue. Burning it would be an option, during one of our dry cold wintry spells. But having run my compost reactor, I now appreciate even more the value of decomposed organic matter as a potential soil improver, or potting agent. So I’ve gradually worked towards forming the debris into modest length deep bed sized piles.Perhaps I might even try growing squash on them at some time in the future? If not, then at least the eventually decomposed organic material is more accessible and confined. As with many of the tedious tasks we’ve tackled over the years, rationing one’s efforts to a short time each day seems best. Lugging pitchforks full of wet rushes is physically moderately demanding for ageing joints, but it’s a good way to work up an appetite for breakfast. However, as with ‘making’ the garden, any transient improvement in the appearance of these meadows, which this blogger can achieve, will inevitably be quickly undone by the ravages of the climate and geology, once efforts cease.
It’s been interesting to spot how quickly one’s intrusion into such wild territory is noted and exploited by the native fox population. Within a day of cutting the rushes, droppings began to appear on tussocks of rush stem that had been left proud of the surrounding wet ground. (Rowan berries for breakfast?)
Perhaps this was simply a drier place to pause? But there’s also a territorial element to it, and I’ve already reworked my own deterrent marking to take account of the fact that height matters. Interestingly a google of “foxes and defaecation marking” produced a top search of a PDF document produced by Bristol City Council, on living with urban foxes. Quite often in my time as a vet living in Bristol I would pass 2 or 3 foxes crossing the roads as I travelled the 10 minutes between home and clinic to attend a late night call out. Since living in rural West Wales, whilst foxes are undoubtedly common, one rarely sees them. This deposit below involved at least a 4 foot climb up the rush pile, to be top dog fox. (Centre top, to the right of the darker rushes – and how wonderfully ergonomically designed a good 3 tine pitchfork is).
Adult foxes can easily scale 6 foot fences or walls. Which brings me back to my own use of human male urine as a scent mark deterrent of both rabbits and foxes around the garden and poultry enclosures. I’d had a spell where I was uncertain whether it was really working – at least as far as the rabbits were concerned. Scrapes had been appearing again together with droppings on several of our mossy copse paths earlier in the spring. Then a penny dropped. Sorry.
Having read that foxes have 12 different postures for depositing urine, with females just squatting, I figured that my pee should be directed from the watering can, not just onto the ground, but higher up – as though deposited by a more dominant predator. Moreover, if it was placed reasonably regularly and on the leeward sides of mature trees or fence posts, then it stood a much better chance of persisting in our wet climate. Since adopting this modified marking routine, at roughly weekly intervals in late spring, evidence of any rabbit activity in the garden had reduced to almost zero.
Coincidence? Well one can never be certain, but in spite of this apparent success at deterring these garden nuisances, a week ago just before dusk I came across a recently killed mature rabbit lying between two of our Rhododendron shrubs with the left side of its head missing, but otherwise a superficially unmarked carcase. Intrigued as to what had killed it, I was distracted by another garden finding, but remembered it a couple of hours later, just after dark, so thought I’d nip out and get an image for the blog. I didn’t even take a torch, since I knew where to find the body, and reckoned that the infra-red pre flash and exposure light beam from the camera would be sufficient to focus the shot on the carcase.
But the body had vanished! I couldn’t see any trace in the dim red glow.
I returned with a torch to search for traces at the spot where the body had been, and then realised that it was still there, but had been covered with leaves and debris, and by now most of its head had been eaten. But what could have been responsible? A fox?I then found a great on line guide to ‘Livestock and Animal Predation Identification’.
You can click here for the full link, which covers foxes, badgers, weasels, and many other potential British predators, but being of North American origin, also includes bobcats, lynx and mountain lions. There is a record here of a single mountain lion having been documented as killing 192 ewes in a single night, so I’m glad that we don’t have any of those around! There are some really sensible guidelines about what signs to look for around the carcase – where wounds are, what has been consumed, teeth marks and sizes, or scratch wounds, etc. all of which I’d missed doing, until it was too late, i.e. the body had disappeared completely. But the covering of the carcase with leaves gets mentioned in the section on bobcats and lynx, though isn’t included in the section on domestic cat predation.
The ‘cat’ will then return to the site later for a further meal from its kill.
Which inevitably leads me onto ‘The Beast of Brechfa’ – the ‘mythical’ black panther type animal reported in several sightings around the Brechfa forest a number of years ago. The trail has gone a little cold now, but the ever reliable BBC (?) produced a press release in 2002 concluding that an academic research programme had confirmed that large black panther like cats were probably alive, well, and breeding in the Brechfa forest, (which borders our land), as well as probably on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.
HOWEVER, our neighbours also own a black domestic cat which has on previous occasions climbed in through their bathroom dormer window carrying a half-eaten rabbit, so I suspect this is most likely our surreptitious rabbit slayer.
Still, after a couple of weeks of lapsed territory marking, I clearly need to intensify my efforts, and after just reading some work from 2002 on the importance of scent marking in Giant panda social structures and interactions, by White, Swaisgood and Zhang, (‘The Highs and Lows of Chemical communication in giant pandas – click here for details), perhaps I need to switch from a watering can to a knapsack sprayer? And restrict my efforts to calm days.
Pandas apparently use 4 different postures for urine marking, and of these it’s the urine released in the handstand position, which carries most clout with other pandas encountering it for the first time. All of the research team’s surveyed pandas which were exposed to appropriately positioned scent marks, spent significantly more time investigating such highly positioned smells. And caution and avoidance of the area was the result when many of the ‘sub-adult’ males encountered such smells.
As the researchers suggest:
“Height of odour deposition, especially in the handstand position, may be associated with body size, a major determinant of competitive ability”.
So, it really seems that in such things, height really does matter.
On a final and less controversial note, some more images from the garden in September: