The recent cold spell has tried to pause life here at Tipton’s Croft but spring can never really be stopped. The hedgerows are full of white blackthorn blossom and the bright green of hawthorn leaf is beginning to show through. The growth of grass has slowed down in the meadow but wildflowers are beginning to emerge, with traces of lesser celandine the first to appear.
The ponds are full of life with frog and toad spawn hatching into masses of black wriggly tadpoles and great crested newts seeking each other out. There are pairs of mallard ducks tentatively eyeing up the new island and a not entirely welcome heron visiting to sit in the shallows ready to pounce on anything that moves.
The owl boxes are sadly empty of owls, and proving rather too tempting to the local jackdaws and stock doves, so we may need to block off the entrances to keep the boxes prepared for any passing barn owl that is looking for a nest.
Independent young female, GSOH, good income (mostly field voles and mice), has own spacious home, looking for similar-minded partner for mutual preening on moon-lit nights. If he brings the food, she’ll lay the eggs. Offer open to single male barn owls only: no pigeons, jackdaws or squirrels please.
The first sighting of mating frogs: this pair of common frogs appeared this evening and are enjoying themselves in the rain. There are likely to be many more appearing over the next few days. Spring can’t be far away!
We haven’t seen the male for four days, and today of all days the female is all alone in the nest box. There’s still a chance he’ll come back (he might have found a new roost to spend the day in), but on Valentine’s Day he should really be paying his girl some attention.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!