Friday 30 April 2010

Having a wretched time?

I guess the last few postings may well lead everyone to believe that I am having a wretched time.

There is no doubt about it that for a couple of days at least my humour was anything but sweet. I did eventually knock on the big house door, the morning I came across three little stiff bodies on my first round. Three perfectly healthy lambs - lying dead. I knocked on the big house door and requested they looked further into a remedy my vets had vaguely mentioned. My mother would have been proud of me as I remembered my upbringing and my manners, trying to be courteous and managing to hide my anger. It was my last ditch effort to do my job to the best of my abilities, I was clutching at straws, remaining forever hopeful, unfortunately to no avail.

However, life is far too short to let such matters overtake ones sanity (my sanity has always been questionable anyhow). When working with livestock there are always highs and lows, it’s a fact of life, this low was preventable and that caused me much anger and frustration but there are far more positives in life to concentrate your mind on.

There have been some powerful highs – the hung lamb (big fat head sticking out of a ewes backside) which came out alive and she adored it, the gimmer I dropped down one morning from the furthest end of the hill, she was obviously struggling to lamb and I eventually got her into a net; the lamb had a leg back and she was tight, I eventually got her lambed and before I could place the lamb in front of her she licked my hand, sounds soppy I dare say but these cheviots are wild, gimmers (first lambers) more so, here was one prepared to ‘eat’ me in her impatience to get to her lamb, no need to put her in a parrack to calm down, no need to shut her in the net, just leave her at peace with her lamb and her natural kindness.

There was the twin lamb, probably unfortunate to have been the second born to a gimmer and overlooked in the proceedings. Lambed on a hard frosty morning, never licked and never footed, I honestly thought it was dead. It wasn’t, I stuck it inside my jacket and continued on my way. It went in the bottom oven of the rayburn at breakfast time and had rallied sufficiently to be given some colostrum before I headed back out. By lunch time it was footed and by night time it was making such a racket it got shoved out into a shed. It has since been set on to one of the field ewes (there are still 4 left to lamb), a real kindly ewe who adores this little mite, every now and again I pop my head over the wall and check how he’s doing, he’s doing just fine.

I am also extremely lucky to be lambing in such a beautiful area as this. I have a whole month to enjoy the ever changing scenery. I thought a few years back when I found myself lambing in the Breamish valley that I had landed in heaven, I believe I am a step closer in this area. It is breathtakingly beautiful.

The landscape is also quite diverse. Climbing out to 1400ft on the tops and down to grassland and burns (streams) in the bottoms, this also leads to a great variation in the flora and fauna to be found. I’ve noticed the primroses are beginning to show along the bank sides of the burns, the sparsely populated gorse bushes down on a neighbouring farm have been slow to come out but they are almost in their full glory. The daffodils lining the grass verges have finally given a tremendous show of colour and on a warm day the scent is quite pleasant wafting in the air as I drive past.

The birdlife is astounding. I have seen my first ever whinchat, a beautiful and striking little bird. There are the curlews, skylarks, meadow pipits, and even a pair of snipe ( this is dry ground and not ideally suited for snipe) out on the hill tops. There are also Ravens and Carrion Crows (corbies) nasty little blighters who can easily peck the eyes and tongues out of any living thing that finds itself unable to get out of their way, these birds are however useful for locating problems – bit like vultures I guess, can’t help but home in on something in distress – so I suppose you could say they have their uses, pointing me in the right direction occasionally.

Wheatears are dancing around any rocky spot, be it a rocky outcrop or a stone wall, they are in abundance all over the farm.

There is a woodpecker (greater spotted) at the cottage most mornings when I come in for breakfast, drumming away on a telegraph pole at the gable end, it amuses me due to the fact it likes to drum on the metal sign attached to the post, obviously realises the sound resonates far better off metal than wood.

There is a Luing bull in the field back of the cottage and again it amuses me to see the jackdaws ploating (plucking) his back until their beaks are full of red hairs presumably to be used to line their nests, he doesn’t seem to mind in the least, probably only too pleased to receive help in shedding his winter coat.

Birds of prey are in abundance, the area seems to be overrun with them. I have buzzards and kestrels nesting in the planting next to the enclosure the Crunchylaw sheep are lambing in. I also have buzzards nesting over the back. One extremely windy day my attention was drawn to the top of the Dod Law, the ground rises up like a huge carbuncle and above this there appeared to be a kite flying, I couldn’t help but wonder who on earth was braving these strong winds to launch a kite, binoculars to hand I soon realised I was looking at a Buzzard struggling to get airborne with a cleansing (afterbirth) trailing from its talons. Quite a sight.

This is the only place I’ve been at for a duration where you can look down on these birds and see them from a totally different perspective – quite a treat I can tell you and one which leaves me awestruck every time.

There are birds to be found at the water side, Mallards, Goosanders, Herons, Wagtails and my favourite, the Dipper.

During the spell I was on night shift I often had a Tawny Owl for company, never saw it but we had some grand conversations, cupping my hands together and blowing between the thumbs produced a hoot which invariably raised a reply and often brought the bird in closer.

Over the back where my twins are held in there are pheasants galore. The cock birds are resplendent in their mating plumage; they always fascinate me with their ‘ears’ which stand quite erect whilst in show off mode. There is one bird in particular seems to have a harem of five females and spends most of his time fighting off other suitors, there have been some true cock fights but to date he has always come out victorious.

Animal life is also never far away. I have never been in an area with such a population of hares, they are everywhere and a joy to behold. Almost every morning I have three deer for company on my journey over the back to Little Heugh, I’ve concluded they must be like the sheep and have their own little heft, if the weather is harsh I find them down in the bottom where more shelter is on offer. I rarely don’t see them, as with the hares they are always about.

Mr Fox has been spotted on three occasions, ’he’s’ a dark golden peaty coloured fella of a fair size. One morning he was jogging home at 6am as I headed out onto the Dod Law. I stopped the bike and sitting down wind of him I watched him sauntering along until he dropped into the planting on the edge of the enclosure the Crunchylaw sheep are lambing in, the same planting which is home to a pair of kestrels and buzzards. A couple of nights ago I set him up on the hill ground of the Crunchylaw, he sharp bolted out of sight over the hill top.

There was a stoat one afternoon, I was at the parracks skinning a lamb when a movement caught my eye and there it was, a stoat bouncing around, if I hadn’t had a dead lamb and hadn’t needed to set one on I wouldn’t have been at the parracks and wouldn’t have had the privilege of watching a stoat for a few minutes – there’s always positives to any negative!

There’s also the sheep, I really do admire the Cheviot breed, there is something about the feisty, determined little blighters that strikes a chord in my heart. They can be quite a challenge but a fulfilling one at that. A challenge which both Moss and myself rise to and enjoy.

So? Am I having a wretched time? Not at all, there have been one or two frustrations but then there always will be. To date I have never had to dry my coats, precipitation has been minimal, a rarity and one which I appreciate.
Posted by Picasa
I have to share with you the story about the above bird. It is a dipper, it also happens to be my favourite bird which stems back to a miss spent youth; the days when sauntering along the banks of the South Tyne River were more important than attending lessons in school. It was during these days that I became acquainted with the dipper and his cheery bobbing on stones, darting flight along the water and diving for feed into the river. I was fascinated by this little chap, a fascination which remains to this day.

Every morning I head out to the hill at about 6am, my first port of call on my journey is the Dod Law, as already said it rises like a huge carbuncle with one side of it being easier to view from off the road, so my first duty is to drive along the single track road to a turning point where I can view the west slope of this hill. Halfway along the road it runs parallel with the burn (stream) and every morning to date, without fail, on a rock jutting out of the water, is a dipper. Whether it be frosty or mild he is always there or there abouts. Now if that isn’t enough to set cheer into some ones heart what is? Every morning he raises a smile.


Emma Anderson said...

Fascinating post again, thanks. The lovely picture of the dipper makes me very envious. I travelled the upper Coquet on numerous days last summer and never had even a glimpse of one. I wondered whether, because there had been a lot of rain, the worst often followed by 'flash' floods coming down the valley, the nests had been washed out. Hoping for more luck this spring.

Tarset Shepherd said...

It is possible the nests would have been washed out, which is a shame as that is the best chance for us to get the pics, it also doesn't help if a year is missed on the breeding front. I actually cheated with this photo and went to a highly habituted area in the Peak District, where the dippers are so used to folks wandering around they don't care that you're pointing a camera at them. Unfortunately it was a flying visit and the weather broke but who knows? I might get back there some day!The trouble with taking photos is it is terribly time consuming! I wish you better luck this year Emma and look forward to seeing the results on your blog.