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Opportunity Knocks

2nd of September 2002

Life has been a bit hectic since I wrote my last notes. In the middle of June a high-pressure system came up from the Azores to settle over southern England. It was time to jump on the tractor and mow the hay down at the farm. I am not the best tractor driver in the world. I soon get bored of driving up and down the field and then an interesting bird comes along and my rows are no longer straight. This time it was a kestrel. We never see kestrels at home, so this was quite a treat. I imagine this one usually catches most of its prey on the verges of the A41 Kings Langley bypass, which cuts the field, formally known as Long Field, into two short halves. It was quick to see the opportunity of some easy prey. There are always plenty of voles in the bottom of a hay crop and the mower inevitably injures some of them: a handy bonus for the kestrel who obviously had a family to feed. It hovered above the row of hay I had just cut, its tail fanned out, before pouncing on the unfortunate vole with its wings half closed. Then it flew off with the vole dangling from its talons, down and along the bypass. It made seven or eight journeys before I had finished the field, getting ever closer to the tractor until it was so close that I could clearly see the dark bars on its lovely chestnut tail. This one was a female. The males have a chestnut back, but a grey tail. We were lucky with the hay, safely gathered in with no rain falling!

About five years ago we had a “big hole” dug with a JCB for a wildlife pond down at the bottom of the ride that leads away from the bungalow. With one thing and another we had never got around to getting the liner in it. How could we manage a 44foot by 44foot butyl sheet? Well the answer was we couldnt, so we finally got someone to do it for us. We had just the minimum amount of work done and have been working on it flat out ever since. Just like the kestrel, the heron was quick to spot our activity. The first evening that the under liner was spread in the hole, the heron took a slow leisurely flight over, just to keep his eye on things. Three days later and he was over again whilst I was up to my waist planting water lilies. The next day he was standing in it! This is a wildlife pond: a gentle saucer shape with 4 inches of soil over the liner and a pebble beach for the birds to bathe from. The plants will be a mixture of native and garden plants, the shape and the 4 inches of soil are the important things for the wildlife. The dragon flies and damsel flies have already arrived, but more of this to come,back to work now! Wendy Bathurst

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