We live on about 9 acres. A third of it is “manicured” (I use the term loosely) garden, a quarter is mini-parkland (grass and trees) and the rest is given over to paddocks. For want of any better names, we call them: mini paddock, where quite aptly our two mini Shetland ponies spend half of the day; big paddock – which runs to the south of our house and which needs a lot of mowing; and lower paddock, which as its name suggests, is on a hill and is therefore lightly lower than the level our house is on.
With all the grass and trees and nature around, we’re lucky enough to be deluged with Mother Nature’s many different varieties of plant and animal life; from the smallest of insects, to the larger of the mammals.
I usually wake at about 6 every morning. The best part of the day I argue, though S disagrees (vehemently). If I open the kitchen door out onto our side lawn the noise of the birds is quite something. My promise to myself, part of my summer bucket list, is to record the birdsong – I’ll post it if I get around to it. It is truly beautiful.
I get outside by about 8am, after school drop-off, when I go to feed the horses and muck out mini-paddock. Every day I get treated to something different.
On any given day I might see or hear:
- a deer or two, sitting at the bottom of our Bluebell Walk, under the trees. I try to be quiet and still, but after several moments of staring at each other, they take off. The apples in our orchard are almost ripe – they’re ready earlier than most, in August; so we can expect more deer in the next few weeks as they come scrumping.
- Cyril, our grass snake. I usually spot Cyril, as I like to call him, at least once a year. He first made his appearance on our nicely-mown lawn two summers ago, much to the horrified but curious amusement of T and t. He was quite thin, so maybe just a baby. He appeared as if he’d just dropped out of the sky, and I’m wondering whether that might have been the case. The buzzards and peregrine falcons we have around here would make short work of him; it’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think he might have fallen from an airborne beak. Last year, I saw him again. I heard a rustling in the rose bush next to our front door, an area which absorbs the heat from the sun like a frying pan. I bent to look closer, imagining a mouse. Imagine my surprise when this thick scaly body slid suddenly away through the leaves! This year, I spotted him sunbathing, coiled up like a circle on a scrubby piece of grass in Lower Paddock, then again slithering through the paddock into Bluebell Walk (twice this year!).
- A baby frog hopping onto my foot as I walk over the Croquet Lawn. We have plenty of frogs. If I leave the pool uncovered overnight I invariably find them in varying degrees of health, stuck in the skimmers. The ones I fish out alive, I rinse in fresh water to get rid of the chlorine and tuck back into the damp bushes.
- Squirrels. I love squirrels, but what I love even more are the signs that they’ve been munching. The floor of Bluebell Walk is littered at this time of year with gnawed down pine cones, from the evergreens that line the side of the paddock. Yesterday, one dropped at my feet, tossed away by a squirrel who was clearly done with it. This morning, there was a half-gnawed apple about 100 yards from our orchard.
- Butterflies. The paddock is alive with them at the moment, particularly what I think are Meadow Browns (Maniola jurtina), if my Butterfly Identification Guide is right. We also have Peacocks (see Caterpillars!) and various others. My project this summer is to try and identify them all.
- Stoats. We have a pair of stoats who steal through the garden looking for rabbits.
- Our fox who likes to help himself to a rabbit or two.
- Pheasants. We are overrun. Last season, the shooters didn’t seem to get very many and as a result this past spring we were overrun with pheasant nests (much to the Magpies’ delight. Several clutches of eggs were devoured by the Magpies.) But it looks as though some of those nests were well hidden as we have a whole gang of very young looking birds running around, learning the ropes from the older generations.
- Buzzards – they have a distinctive and haunting cry. Beautiful to watch as they glide through the sky.
- A red hot air balloon on early summer mornings – okay, so nothing to do with Mother Nature (unless you count the thermal currents they need to get airborne) – but still something to see, as the sun comes up over 500 Acre Wood.