Autumn comes to Beetley

Despite the unseasonal weather, (it was 24 C here today) it is more than obvious that Autumn has arrived. I spent a fair amount of time this week collecting the first fall of leaves and twigs from the oaks, as well as attempting to shift some of the many acorns. Another good few hours were spent trimming the leylandii hedges that shelter two sides of the garden. I had neglected them last year, and paid the penalty for this, with hard work. Standing some ten feet high, and almost five feet deep, this is not a job to be tackled lightly, or in bad weather. Most of the difficult bits have to be got at from the top rung of a ladder, with almost all of my body at full stretch, perched precariously on the bulk of the hedge, as I reach across. The thickest branches had to be dealt with by sawing, and each remainder would have made an acceptable Christmas Tree, for an average room. The unexpectedly good weather allowed me to get on with this job, which I could no longer put off. The end result is a satisfyingly neat double row of hedge, and more light allowed into the gardens of the neighbouring houses. I also have the scars to show battle was done, with marks from twigs, the strange redness of an allergic reaction to the pine needles, and muscles aching all over my legs and wrists.

It is getting foggy in the mornings, and dark earlier. By 7.30 in the evening, our lights are on, and by 8, it is completely black outside. The fields nearby are being ploughed, and at times the smell of the manure, and other fertilisers, is all-pervasive between here and Dereham. The leaves are turning; gold before brown, some pale and lifeless. Walking with Ollie today in the afternoon heat, we wandered in the direction of Gingerbread Corner. The vast acres of blackcurrant bushes have now been harvested; the fruit that was rejected by the farmer now fought over by hundreds of starlings. They in turn are mobbed by dozens of crows, swooping down from high nests in the Poplars lining the Holt Road, their cry of ‘caw-caw’ building to an unpleasant cacophony. Squirrels are much in evidence, rapidly gathering nuts to store against the coming winter. So many are scurrying around, Ollie is unsure which one to chase first, and just stands and cries in frustration.

Once at the plum orchards, lack of rainfall, and the cessation of watering by the farmer, shows in the remaining crop. This time of year normally sees many unpicked plums still hanging in plump clusters on the short trees. Today, all that was visible were hundreds of shrivelled and blackened fruits, dehydrated and dead on their stalks. A little further on, there is a pleasant area left fallow this year, home to attractive wildflowers, and recently, scores of sunflowers; not cultivated, just growing randomly. Their huge yellow heads, with the dark centres of seeds, helped to brighten a familiar walk. On inspection this afternoon, they have lost petals, the seeds are dry, and the heads are beginning to droop down, as if the flower is sad, or unwell.

This summer of mixed blessings will soon be just a memory. Clear nights, cold winds from the north, Halloween, Bonfire Night, and other seasonal festivities will replace the joy of light evenings, and wide-open windows. Autumn is here.

Birds don’t like cornflakes

When I moved here, and had a garden again, for the first time in twelve years, I resolved to be kind to wildlife, and to feed the birds. This took the form of flinging unwanted bread onto the lawn at first. It was well-received by the local Avian population, and quite soon, there were regular diners, waiting on the fences, and nearby rooftops, for my usual time of distribution. Some blackbirds even made their home in the hedges at the back, so as not too be too far from this bounty. Plump wood pigeons, looking like they were wearing well-filled, fancy waistcoats, would arrive in reasonable numbers, bullying each other out of the choicest crusts. Sometimes, great gangs of starlings would suddenly appear, clearing the whole lawn in a feeding frenzy, then speeding off, disappearing as quickly as they had arrived.

I soon wanted more. I wanted country birds. You can get starlings and blackbirds anywhere, I was after the chaffinch, and the tit, both blue, and great. A jay made a frequent appearance, all beautifully coloured plumage, and loud squawks. He was able to swallow large chunks of Gregg’s granary uncut at a stroke, and I had to start cutting it up smaller. Then we bought a wooden bird table. This is a hand-made affair, in stained boxwood, with a flat feeding area, and a pitched roof, presumably to keep the fodder dry. We purchased meal worms, to attract robins, and sunflower seeds, for the smaller birds I desired to see. The big pigeons managed to ease their bulk into the gap under the small roof, and polished it all off in minutes, leaving not a scrap for their smaller relatives. We then bought nesting boxes; two, with different sized entrances, suitable for small, and even tiny birds. They ignored them with contempt, as if they were tenth floor flats on the Stonebridge Park Estate; we couldn’t give them away. The next step was to up the ante, with a fancy item, grandly called a ‘Bird feeding station’, bought from Amazon. This was the Dubai of bird dining, on three levels, with built-in water feature, mesh seed trays, and the added extras of a fat ball holder, and metalwork seed dispenser. The pigeons were able to sit in the water, fouling it with their huge poos, as they scarfed down all the seeds, and other morsels placed around each level. The fat balls, getting no takers all season, rotted in their cage, like medieval prisoners on gibbets.

Then one day, I noticed something blue and yellow, fluttering in the shrub that I do not know the name of. (I actually don’t know the name of any of the bushes in our garden.) No, it was not a Swedish Flag, it was a tit, perhaps a blue, perhaps a great, I honestly can’t tell the difference. Then I saw more, flying at speed between the oak tree, and the unnamed bush. But they were not eating my lovingly prepared foodstuffs. Oh no, they were eating some sort of small insects that were crawling on the leaves nearby. Tit failure. We did have an occasional robin, but the last time he appeared, Ollie chased him off. So, we are left with the fat pigeons, strutting around like Town Councillors from a Victorian novel, and the blackbirds. I have cut down on the exotica, and though I occasionally put some bacon fat out, just in case, I am now back to bread. If they are bored with the uncut granary, it doesn’t notice; a fair sized wad of the stuff will disappear every day, no problem.

Three days ago, I found a load of uneaten cornflakes at the bottom of a family-sized box. I thought this just the thing for dietary variety, not to mention the beneficial riboflavin, and other essential vitamins. I scattered them on the lawn, now green again after the snow had melted, and retired inside to watch the feasting. Nothing, not a flake consumed, and they were Kellog’s too.

So, I have to conclude, that birds don’t like cornflakes.