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Ants, Snails And Grass

2nd of September 1998

At the moment the garden is full of ants, snails and grass! The ants are certainly making the Green Woodpeckers happy and their laughing calls are ringing out all around the garden. Ants are their favourite food and they have been enjoying probing a large nest near the edge of the lawn, giving me a nice view of these very colourful birds from my kitchen window. Woodpeckers have an exceptionally long tongue and are able to reach well down into the ants nest to get the grubs. However, the ants put up a good fight and we have seen the birds using their feet to wipe off ants that are obviously attacking their faces.
The blackbirds also make use of the ants, sunbathing on top of the nest so that the ants come out on the attack and spray their formic acid on to the birds. This drives parasites from the blackbirds feathers. If the ants dont seem quite cross enough, the blackbirds will peck at them to ensure a good spray!
The thrushes are enjoying the snails, though not quite as many as we would like! We dont use the blue slug pellets in the open garden because of the birds so it has been nice to open the curtains and watch a thrush beat a snail out of its shell on its stone anvil and then devout it for breakfast before flying up to our chimney pot for a song which drifts down into our living room. Our two pairs of thrushes seem to have raised their broods successful but there are more than enough snails to go round.
Meanwhile, the grass is driving me mad! I try to keep some areas fairly short but leave some patches to encourage different wild flowers. The yellow Meadow Vetchling and the mauve Tufted Vetch have both done well this year. So far it has been too wet to make hay of the long grass where the daffodils were and even with nine extra mouths to feed I have still spent too long on the lawn mower. The nine sheep have not been trouble free – mint sauce has been mentioned a few times – but I hope we have got the better of them now!
Wendy Bathurst

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