Nature study

I haven’t mentioned Mary, the chicken who kept escaping from the henhouse. The reason I didn’t mention her was that I thought she’d been caught by a fox – I won’t keep you waiting for the good news: she hadn’t been.

After all those weeks of testing every inch, we thought, of the netting that replaces some of the greenhouse glass, I finally found a small area where it was a bit baggy. More so than a few days earlier; I had checked there. But I concluded that this was the only possible place and Wince nailed a strip of wood to hold it down. However, I couldn’t see Mary indoors or out. And Wince and I went to look at a tree that’s going to have a couple of branches removed and, as we watched, a fox ran out from a patch of nettles. I searched again for Mary and there was no sign, so drew the obvious conclusion.

This clearly was where she’d been getting out, but I didn’t see her again for a good fortnight. The other day, I was scattering treats for them and I spotted her. She’s got a distinctive bar on each wing and is bigger than nearly all the bantams, so how I’d missed her is a puzzle. But she’s alive, well and safe.

Sadder, though, the same day that Mary went missing (apparently), Wince was filling up the stacks of logs in our front porch and Wink’s back porch and he came to me – “are you good at identifying things?” I asked what, animal, plant or insect. An animal. He showed me a small, dead, floppy mammal that he’d found in the huge stack of wood in the barn. I stared at it and went through my animal knowledge in my mind. “It’s a puppy!” I said. We were horrified. It was small, black with a few white hairs on its chest and had floppy ears. We considered a fox but the ears were nothing like. Wince buried it and I searched for the mother but no luck.

The workshop (ex-workshop, it’s too full of logs for that use) has a chipboard ceiling that’s sagging in places and we could only think that the mother had had her pups in the roof space, which she’d reached from another outbuilding as the roof space runs the length of the barns. And then the poor pup had crawled along and dropped down and logs had fallen on him. Wince said he wished he hadn’t found him and I agreed. Today, he said that he’d been listening to a local radio podcast and, apparently newborn fox cubs are black, with floppy ears and can have white hairs on their chest. This makes altogether more sense, we just couldn’t understand a puppy. Any dog would come for help, even a timid one. Just as sad but – well, better than it being a domestic dog.

At present, I’m mostly giving away eggs. Three and a half dozen today, all laid in the last few days and I’ve still got plenty left. Thank goodness the chickens are all shut up still – I won’t let them out until they’re over their spring laying frenzy. I know we’ll get more chicks, but please not yet. The other morning, I went past the chickens’ shed and Polly was still on the perch. She’s an old girl and likes to be pampered. She sits on the food bin in the evening so that I can hand-feed her mealworms. On this occasion, I went to get a dish of corn for her, for breakfast in bed. A white chicken was squatting in one of the laying places. Not quite roosting, she was slightly raised from the ground. She gave a few chirps – not clucks or cries, chickenish gasps and raised her rear end a bit and I saw something white. Then she left the nest. There had already been three eggs there and the fourth was warm. I’m not sure that I’ve ever caught one of them laying an egg before.

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