What is it?
We have lots of blackthorn bushes in the hedgerows around the field, so of course make our own sloe gin. The thorny bushes have wonderful white blossom in the spring and as the sloes develop over the summer they turn from green to a dusky purple. We usually pick the ripe fruit in September, though local lore advises waiting until after the first frosts.
Gin. Any London Dry gin will do.
Sloes. Best picked in October.
Sugar. Plain granulated sugar.
To fill a 4.5 litre (1 gallon) glass demijohn: 1.2 kilogram sloes, 3.6 litres gin, 300 grams sugar.
Wash the sloes and remove any stems and leaves. Freeze them overnight then pour hot water over them to split the skins. Add the sloes and sugar to the gin, seal the container, give it a good shake to mix the ingredients. Store in it a cool dark place for at least six months, taking it out from time to time to give it another shake.
A look back at 2020: twelve views of Tipton’s Croft: one from each month of the year.
The pond is recovering from some work we did in the autumn and is now wider, deeper and has a proper island for our ducks. The recent rain has filled it to the brim and the field around it is slowly turning from mud to grass again. Things are looking a little bare at the moment (it is December after all) but we’re already planning for a spring of planting around the bank and by the summer it should be full of wildlife again.
Waiting for the wildlife to return
The two barn owls have now settled into the old barn owl box, having decided the other box isn’t quite up to their standards. The nights are long and we don’t see much of them but occasionally they come out together at dawn or dusk to survey their territory.
The two owls in the dim light of a winter dawn.
Today the barn owls have separated and are each staying in a different nest box. Not sure why: hopefully they’ll make up and will be back together tomorrow.
The pair of barn owls aren’t out hunting all night: we’ve found that they’re also spending a lot of time in another nest box which until now was empty. They may be checking it out as as an alternative nesting site, or hopefully they will use it as a daytime roost and keep the first nest box as their nesting site: that way we will see a lot more of them in the spring.
The female gives the male some attention, preening his flight feathers for him.
There isn’t much to do but smooch.
The pair of barn owls are spending a lot of time during the day with mutual preening and generally enjoying each other’s company. They’re not doing anything more: it isn’t the right time of year for that and they’ve only just met!
A lovely sunny autumn day last week.
We’ve had a good crop of pumpkins this year, way too much to us or the chickens to eat so have donated most of them to local schools and they’ve proved very popular on account of being somewhat larger than typical ones from the supermarket.
Hooty has a surprise for you. We shall reveal all very soon!
And here it is!
Hooty has a boyfriend! He’s the one spreading his wings, and giving her a hard time. Turned up this morning, perhaps rained out of wherever he’s been roosting. Not the time of year for nesting so she may have to put up with him mucking around all winter.
It’s not always bucolic beauty at Tipton’s Croft. Here’s part of the field after completing some essential drainage work. We’ll take the opportunity to spread some more wildflower seeds on the bare ground and in six months time it will look even better than it did before.
A late season cut of hay from the meadow (so that the wildflowers have had a chance to seed). Only twenty bales this year, due to the dry spring but it’s good to have the field being productive as well as being an oasis for wildlife.
Hiding in one of the outbuildings one night last week. See, it’s not all about barn owls!
The two fledgling stock doves couldn’t get out of the barn owl nest box (due to the entrance being too high up) so we took the side off to help them. Here’s one of them mustering up enough courage to make its first flight. Its nervousness may be partly related to the nest box being about twelve feet off the ground.
You can just make out the other fledgling on a branch next to the nest box. It had just made its first flight and was encouraging its sibling.
The barn owl is getting a little more confident, coming out of the nest box earlier in the evening to have a good look around before flying off for the night.
The empty nest didn’t stay empty for long. We only just had time to renovate the second owl box before this beautiful specimen arrived. He (or she, we can’t tell yet) is unlikely to be one of the youngsters who recently dispersed, may be one of the adults (though we haven’t seen them for months) or more likely a new owl seeking out its own territory.
After reviewing the video we think likely a new owl – the way it takes an interest in the camera makes us think it hasn’t seen one before.
And on even more reviewing, we think it is a female – the darker tail and a glimpse of black spots on the white chest. We’re going to set up a second camera on the outside of the nest box which should give a better view.
A few days ago we left food out for the barn owls for the last time: if they didn’t come for it we knew they had dispersed. The food didn’t go to waste though: the next morning a greedy buzzard saw to that.