30 March 2015

Maybe this is the answer ... maybe not...

A recent speaker at the WI gave me all sorts of hints about dealing with squirrels although his real interest was birds. Over a cup of tea I mentioned my frustration over the four-legged friends creatures that eat all the birds food so Chris ... that’s Chris Edwards from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) ... gave me a few ideas and some leaflets.

Apparently the best way to fool squirrels is to hang a feeder from fishing line because it’s too thin for them to get a grip. Well, that would mean rethinking the whole problem from scratch, like where would I hang the fishing line bearing in mind that squirrels can leap to great heights. I suppose it would be okay if (a) there was an isolated branch about a mile high on which to attach the line, (b) we had a tall enough ladder to reach the branch, or (c) I had an aptitude for climbing.

I found Chris’ second suggestion more appealing. Actually is was an idea thought up by my cleaning lady, which I dismissed as – er – rubbish since she knows nothing about birds or squirrels (apologies to Paola). Surprise, surprise, Chris came up with the same piece of information. Chilli Powder! In fact, one of the suggestions in the literature said the same thing. Chilli Powder! Apparently birds don’t mind the hot stuff but squirrels can’t stand it.

Today I bought my first jar of chilli powder. I didn’t realise there was more than one grade of heat, so I searched the supermarket shelf until I spotted one marked HOT. I couldn’t wait to try it out on the wildlife!

There are four feeders on the feeding station. One contains dried meal worm, one holds peanuts, and the other two are filled with peeled sunflower seed. I decided just to add chilli powder to one and leave the other as it was. I didn’t want to deprive the birds altogether if they didn’t like the hot stuff. So far, so good! The chaffinches aim for the chilli-free feeder, the bullfinches don’t mind it, and the goldfinches and greenfinches seem to love it. The squirrel, though, heads for the chilli-free feeder. After watching him for a while to be certain, I sneaked out and switched the feeders. It is obvious that he prefers chilli-free seed. Of course, the slightly reddened seeds gave the game away but secretly I hoped he was colour-blind.

After a couple of days I noticed that the birds definitely preferred chilli-free seed. Goldfinches and Greenfinches would have a few then transfer to the feeder the didn't contain the hot stuff. However, it's something new and they may just need time to get used to it. 

Decision: continue the watching brief until certain that the experiment is a success. If so then I'll fill all the feeders with hot chilli and you’ll probably hear me cackling as I do it. On the other hand, you might just hear a few sobs.

28 March 2015

Songs and Sounds on Saturday

Rod McKuen, American poet and songwriter, who died in January this year.

There is no single day or time
within the life
I've so far lived
that I'd have changed 
or altered

Possibly there are some days
I could have missed
and never missed,
but I suspect that I could not
have come down to this place
a different way.
As I suspect that being here
I don't as yet know where I am.
(taken from Rod McKuen's book of poems 'Seasons in the Sun')

23 March 2015


It was there, wedged deep in her imagination, as monumental a dwelling as any other she could remember; not monumental in the true sense, but remarkable in its importance. She could visualize the latticed casement-windows; the crooked chimney and its four pots, even in summer issuing smoke; and the old-fashioned roses around the low, warped door, its thorny offshoots stealing towards the brass horseshoe, displayed with a kind of imperious pride, if domiciles were capable of possessing such sentiments. The image was as true as any photograph; only, however detailed a photograph, it could not immortalize the smells of the place: the aroma of Weetabix and warm milk and honey that greeted each day, and the farmyard odour ever present beyond the cottage door. Ascending into the endlessly azure sky were two granolithic gate pillars, tops like pyramids and girths as wide, it seemed, as the chicken house. It was where she would climb to watch the cows come by for milking.
She allowed her mind to wander the surrounding sunlit lanes, hop-scotching shadows the way she used to, frequently interrupting the game to perform handstands against crumbling walls, or select the longest grasses to tickle her father's neck. And then, prompted by thoughts of her father and his favourite pastime, she recalled those restful periods when, surrounded by angling paraphernalia, she quietly watched the salmon leap.
Yes, it was there, immutably lodged in her imagination, and that's what she wanted to find; it was what she'd been searching for this past hour.

Vida Maitland reversed the Renault onto a bumpy dirt path and switched off the engine, thinking, in her frustration, that if anyone told her to move she'd probably explode. She had been driving from one coterie of cottages to the next, coasting the unnamed narrow lanes, none of which had passing places, and had even enquired in isolated shops, but no-one knew the location of the place she sought. Despondently, she unscrewed a beaker of orange juice and took a sip, seriously wondering if the journey had been a waste of time. Balancing the beaker on her knee, she leaned back and closed her eyes, willing the picture to return. Her mind's eye travelled the lanes, giving way at crossroads, unnecessarily since hers was the only car. It was then, during one of the mandatory pauses, that she saw where she had gone wrong. The signpost in the foreground was askew; it pointed straight ahead instead of sending her to the left: to Verdun Cottage.
Forgetting the beaker, she shot up and swiftly started the engine, unaware of  the orange juice seeping through her tights. She drove recklessly in her eagerness, bidden by memories to visit the cottage she remembered so well; to see the sheep and the goats, and the arbor with the overhead brush of honeysuckle, and the wilderness garden to the side of the farm, all set in the heart of pasture-land and encouragingly near the river.
A second signpost told her to turn right and this she did; and, as she rounded the corner, lo and behold, she saw it: Verdun Cottage, as beautiful as it ever was, but significantly smaller. She stopped the car and wrenched the brake, staring disbelievingly at the scene. The granolithic gate supports, the crooked chimney, and the door with the strong-smelling roses, were, after the enlargement in her mind, almost fairylike in size. The chicken house which she was sure had been at the side, by the back door which opened onto the farm, was now by the stone wall which ran along the lane. Slowly, she climbed out of the immaculate red Renault, and walked towards the restyled structure, looking for evidence of a busy farm; but all she could see were the relics of bygone days: a dilapidated tractor parked alongside a gang of rusted milk churns, a disused pig trough, and a roll of chicken wire with a duration of grass growing through.
'Not thinking of buying it, are you, m'dear?' The full-toned voice belonged to a wizened old man with a twinkling eye and a straw in his mouth.
Vida gulped, and incoherently gabbled something about visiting a childhood haunt. 'For holidays,' she whispered, unable to take her eyes off the bobbing straw; and, without another word being spoken, she knew she'd been right to come. Her memory had played tricks over the cottage, nothing was as she remembered, but the ageing farmer, with his white hair and unshorn chin, wearing the same impish grin and bearing the same, familiar, rustic scents, made the excursion wonderfully worthwhile. The crooked chimney might be crumbling, the roses might be holding the woodwork intact, and the monstrous gate pillars might be too big for such a bantam property, but this was where she wanted to be.
Impulsively, she reached out to touch the farmer's skinny arm. 'If you're thinking of selling,' she said, 'I'm definitely buying.'

21 March 2015

Songs and Sounds on Saturday

Ralph McTell, English singer-songwriter and acoustic guitar player, along with poet and singer, Rod McKuen (more about him another time), were favourites of mine over thirty years ago. Their music never fades.