Breakfast visitors, bubonic plague and disturbing behaviour

I’ve mentioned my wildlife visitors before on this blog. This morning, after a very early stroll around Broadpool, Rufus and I headed back for breakfast. I put out the seed for the birds and almost as soon as I had gone indoors, the feathered guests arrived. I was able to get some nice photos of the sparrow and the wren, and later the fat pigeon. The blackbird family stayed at the top of the garden, and the magpie was a wuss and flew off every time a blade of grass moved. There was no sign of the frog, but he usually only pops his head out of the water at dusk.

Imagine my surprise and the innovate vocabulary that shocked even Rufus, when on returning to the kitchen to wash up I saw a rat on the wall, eating the remains of the birdseed. My first thoughts were of the camera (I am a dedicated photographer – I will probably photograph the inside of my coffin come the time). My second thoughts were of the imminent plague that was sure to start, and the buboles, and the sneezing, and the carts of corpses and the cries of ‘bring out your dead’, all of which were guaranteed to happen because I had a rat in the garden.

My next action was to let the rat know I was there and as soon as it saw me, it ran off towards the neighbour’s garden. I finished washing up and made sure Rufus was in. I started to think rationally, moving from how exactly I’d make a flame thrower to how much ammunition I had for the air rifle and finally to finding out more about Rattus norvegicus (the brown rat – I have to admit to being a little disappointed that I wasn’t faced with Rattus rattus – the black rat – as I’ve always loved the name). I looked out of the window again and Norvegicus was drinking from the bucket of frogs. I grabbed my camera for a great shot but, of course, it disappeared before I could get focussed.

I went searching on the internet for advice, fully expecting to have to get vermin control in.  I’m no amateur at getting information from the web. And I am not naive enough to take the first thing I find as the gospel truth. But the first site I found was entertaining in its panicky postings. It was a forum, and the original poster had seen a rat in her garden. The resulting responses ranged from ‘man-up’ to ‘shock and awe’ with many inventive (and highly dangerous) options in between. I finally settled on a combination of the Royal Horticultural Society site and the Animal aid site which seemed to offer level headed advice and some background information.

Apparently, the brown rat lives outdoors, hates anything new and almost all ‘infestations’ are as a result of humans feeding wild birds; birdseed is a favourite diet of the brown. It is neo-phobic; that means it’s intolerant of anything new. In other words, change it’s environment and it becomes uneasy and uncomfortable. Change it often enough and it will go away. The brown rat is not a plague carrier (that’s the black). You wouldn’t want to come into contact with it’s urine (but that’s true of any critters), but it isn’t the scary bringer of death that rumour and scaremongering would have you believe. And no, you probably are not within 20m of a rat as this is a myth.

If you’ve read my blog before, I hope you will have picked up that I don’t like to kill things out of hand. After all, spiders (I am an arachnophobe) are not out to deliberately harm me. So I always try to seek the least harmful solution to these situations. Rat poison was not an option, particularly with Rufus, next door’s cat and a fox to consider. So I decided on a programme of change.

First to go was the obvious rat run where I put the bird seed. There was a pile of bamboo that I was using to make fence panels as and when required. This was where the rat had disappeared into when it saw me. so they had to go. I wondered whether there was a nest there but I decided there wasn’t, as Rufus would have detected it long ago. It took me 15 minutes to clear them away and there was no sign of rat activity. Next to go was the big pile of pine branches and other trimmings that had accumulated near the house. This was waiting for disposal with my next door neighbour, who has a rubbish collection business. I had left it alone over the winter and in the spring wrens and a blackbird had nested there. Now they had flown the nest, I was happy to disturb the pile.

I was convinced I’d find something beneath the pile as Rufus had shown a lot of interest in the base of it recently. As I moved the branches to the side of the house, ready for collection, I found one of the nests still intact. It was made mainly of moss and grass and was quite solid, even after it had been abandoned for a while. It took me nearly an hour to shift everything through the side gate so that it could be picked up. And underneath – nothing.

During all of this, Rufus made sure the house was guarded against rat infestations by dozing near the front door. We all play our part in this house!

 

I ended the afternoon’s work by cutting up some logs for a friend’s wood burner. I think I managed to change the rat’s environment quite drastically over the two hours I spent in the garden. Combined with not feeding the birds for a while,  expect that the rat will not bother with my garden in future. But if it does, once I’ve got the photos, I’ll be dreaming up some more disturbing behaviours.

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Spring-ing

It’s time for cleansing. The sun is out and it inspires change.

No, don’t worry. I haven’t gone all hippy on you (well, no more than usual). I just find that feeling the sun on my face, looking at a cloudless sky and being able to enjoy an early morning without having to wear 17 layers of fleeces triggers some sort of renewal hormone in my brain.

I was out first thing this morning with Rufus and his real owner (I merely rent Rufus, of course, so that I appear to have a friend).  We spent a lovely two hours on the River Tawe, strolling up and down in the warm sunshine, stopping when we felt like it and, of course, throwing lots of stones for Rufus. We were early enough that for much of the time we had the river to ourselves. In the distance, a walking group appeared in a convoy of cars and set off for who knows where. By the time we were back at the car, it was still only just after 11am.

When we got home, I intended to watch the first Grand Prix of the season. I’ve been a motor racing fan for years but have become disillusioned with Formula 1 recently. However, this season promised to be different, as there had been a significant change in the rules resulting in radically different cars. A significant change for me was the prominence of the energy recovery system and the importance it plays in the performance of the car. Inevitably, this technology will filter down to the consumer and that can only be a good thing.

Instead both Rufus and I fell asleep. Not a reflection on the race but on my lack of fitness and Rufus’ tendency to cover 50% more distance than I do on walks.

But once I had surfaced, I felt ready to get on with some Spring stuff. There are two large fir trees in the garden and I’ve been planning to trim them for a while now. They block the afternoon sun and the night sky. So I had been building up to cutting the tops off. I’ve been put off in the past as I tend to leave it too late and they become a nesting place for birds. It seemed like a good idea to do it today.

I managed to trim the first tree and three quarters of the second tree before, to my absolute horror, I spotted a small white egg drop to the floor. It was quickly followed by a second, and the frantic fluttering of a pigeon. There, in one of the branches I had just cut, were the remains of a nest. The eggs were broken, the pigeon panicked and I was gutted. I should have checked before starting off, but in my defence, the trees were a dense mass of thick branches and it was difficult to get to each one.

I stopped, all the enthusiasm gone and as I cleared up, I saw the pigeon circling before it landed on a nearby roof. I took a quick look out from the kitchen, as the clouds rolled in to spoil the evening, and the pigeon was in the remains of the tree. I can’t look any more.

It needed doing. But I should have done it earlier.

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