Thursday, 31 January 2008

Fox Sings

Check out our singing hound. He loves opera and choral music most, but has started to find odd bits of pop that appeal too!

Howling Gales

The wind is howling outside and flurries of snow and hail keep drifting past the window. No training for us today, I called Peter, our trainer, and he said that it's pointless when the even the dogs can hardly hear the commands over the wind.

Quite a change from the weekend when Fox was playing out with our friend's kids Sara and Syd in the sunny back field.

This morning I woke to find the garden in disarray. The wind was so strong that it had lifted the spare fish tank that was sitting in a corner and smashed it in the middle of the yard! 9 lorries have overturned on the M6 and one driver killed. It's simply not worth leaving the house.

Yesterday I finally started having physio on my joints; I'm hoping to get back to running fitness eventually, I miss my fell runs and orienteering. However, it was all undone when a cable from a computer at work got twisted around my foot sending me sprawling and spraining my knee in the process. Knee is now swollen and rather black :o(

On the plus side, the sheep are all doing very well, if not terribly well trained. I tried Fox on them earlier this week. The good news is that he listened too me, took his correct commands and called off easily. The bad news is that the sheep still split into 3 and 5 and starburst all over the field at the slightest provocation. Work to be done I think.

Ruth and Hilary moved their fell ponies Briar and Roasanna to the land with the sheep on Monday, much to Fox's disgust! He's not a big fan of horses, although he prefers them when they don't have people sitting on them: that's just wrong as far as Fox is concerned.

Briar is the same age as Fox and is growing into a handsome young man now. Ruth took him to a show in the summer and we were all delighted when he went home with plenty of rosettes, much to Ruth's astonishment. Briar was rescued from a farm when he was 5 months old and Ruth bought him for less than I paid for Fox!

The sheep seemed similarly unimpressed and gathered to meet their new field mates with some suspicion.

It was soon forgotten when I produced a food bucket though. Rosy is quite determined when it comes to her feed and even attempted a little rock climbing in oder to get to it first.

Those hardly little Shetlands are looking very well despite the foul weather conditions, but then they do have plenty of grass to go at and plenty of shelter in their field. They looked very peaceful as they pottered about grazing.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Busy old day!

It has been a long but enjoyable Saturday. Last night our friends Paul, Steve and Andrea popped round for a beer, and left at about 1am (or at least Steve and Andrea did, Paul slept on the sofa) so we didn't get the earliest of starts to today. Despite the dismal weather however, I got up and took Fox out for a good long stroll. We wandered through the woods, Fox enthusiastically chasing after the scent trails of rabbits and deer, and I taking my time examining the footprints of the trail makers. I remembered that I had left a badger skull hidden in a wall somewhere nearby and so we set out to rediscover it. I soon spotted the gap in a wall that I had hidden it below and, sure enough, it was still there and intact. I pulled it out and examined it. Badgers have immensely powerful jaws and features of their skulls reveal the adaptations that make this possible. A large ridge down the top of the cranium allows a large surface area for the jaw muscles to attach to and a large space behind the cheek bone shows where that huge muscle mass passes through to join the lower jaw.
Badgers are real tough guys and, if hit by a car, that huge ridge of bone often prevents them from being killed if struck on the head. I accidentally hit one once and, when I got out of the car to either help or put it our of its pain, it simply got up, shook itself and marched off!

Fox and I strolled on and came to a spot where an old railway sleeper bridge had been swept away in floods a few weeks before. Thankfully the dead sheep that had been trapped underneath it had now been moved, but it was quite astonishing to see the position of this huge lump of wood and remember how high and powerful the river had been.
We saw that a brand new and bridge had already been installed in its place. No doubt the influence of the Penrith Anglers had something to do with this! You don't see many footpath bridges repaired so quickly, especially not in the middle of winter.

On our way home, my friend Kath called to request an opinion on a new dress and a hand feeding her horses. Happy to oblige, I headed into town, made all of the right noises about the dress (which is rather elegant!) and helped choose invitations for her forthcoming 30th Birthday Party.

Then we got back to our normal selves and treated ourselves to a visit to the Slacks Equestrian Supplies sale where Kath purchased a smart new rug for her rapidly growing colt Jack Daniels.

Donning our wellies, we stomped up to the horses field where we were keenly greeted by Fizz and Jack Daniels. Jack is getting really quite big now and will soon be leaving his mother.

By this time it was getting towards dark, but I had one more visit that I had been looking forward to making. Our new neighbours, Emily and Iain have a Border Collie puppy who is simply gorgeous, but a little mischief, just as Fox was.

I've been attempting to help by relating my experiences with Fox and putting them in touch with people and websites that helped me with the learning curve of owning and raising your first BC. It looks as though the new parents are coping very well with their energetic little bundle, as she looks really healthy and full of life. She will be much smaller than Fox was, but quite solid I think. She is beginning to show signs that her ears might end up pricked... but they haven't made up their minds yet!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Phew! Am I glad to be back home and knowing that I don't have to drive anywhere any time soon! 10 hours drive down to Southampton on Sunday then 8 hours back on Tues. At least the meetings (and beer!) in between were worth it. I traveled down for the national Water Vole Working Group and Water for Wildlife meetings where we discuss all things... erm... watery and voley!
Hot topics were changes in the eagerly awaited legal protection of WaterVoles, now finally about to become a reality, and the recommended muzzle velocity for air rifles used to kill mink (which means that I get to go rifle shopping!). We were also discussing Water Framework Directives and flood risk management: which brought us very neatly on to the subject of beaver reintroductions :o) Derek Gow and I managed to sneak out of the last talk for a sneaky pint... I mean... meeting!

After all of that sitting in doors it was good to get back to find out how the sheep were doing and get back in the field with Fox. Despite spending most of the last week staying with our friends and their four kids, he hadn't forgotten a thing and our trainer didn't believe that we'd not practiced. Here he is taking the sheep on figures of eight around the field.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Busy week this week, what with meeting in London, training and trying to finish reports.
I was representing the Wildlife Trusts on Wednesday at a meeting about indicator species that are used to judge the health of wetlands. The meeting was at the Institute of Mining and Minerals on Pall Mall. Very posh!

It was all very interesting and we discussed species that may be valuable to include in population trends that are provided to the government to aid decisions about action plans for wetland habitats.

I stayed with my friend Sophie and also managed to meet up with Andrew for a quick coffee. It was great to catch up and see London again, but I've no desire to move back there.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

This evening I've been going through the Christmas photos again and finally uploaded the Toon-Holden-Wilde Festive Feast. Ann and Steve kindly hosted the evening in beautiful style at their new house in Northumberland. What a feast it was too: free range goose from our local farm shop, lots of delicious veggies, Ann's home made gourmet ice cream and Oak and Elder Champagne.

Fox looked on hopefully as Chris carved the goose. I don't blame him, my mouth is watering again just looking at the photos!

Ann and Steve are now headed back out to South Africa on a photography expedition. Rat bags! Their website is at which I have to plug because they support my projects so much and get them lots of publicity... and they are the only photographers to take decent pictures of me (Ones that don't look as though they belong in a fat camp album!).
Have a fab time guys and we'll see you for another nice meal when you're home and have lots of new tales to tell of giraffes and natives.

What a very busy weekend, but all worth it. Five more ewe lambs on the land so now we have the beginnings of a proper little flock. These girls are from Jean Bennett's Sheilhope flock.

Yesterday Chris and I made the trek to Northumberland to pick them up in the Landrover. They traveled very quietly in the back and seem to have settled very quickly. They obviously know what a bucket is and all came running this morning for some feed, not that they really need it since there is plenty of grass for them.

It was very funny to watch them meeting their new flock mates. Rosy gave me a most disgruntled look of "what are they doing in my field"as the new girls were lifted out of the landie. Rosy, Rebbecca and Rachel went leaping around the field for a few minutes in a gazelle-like manner, but all seemed calm today. Not surprisingly Rosy seems to have maintained her top sheep position and is always in the lead as they follow me around.

These little sheep are 3 fawn katmogets and 2 moorits. I would really like to have as diversely coloured a flock as possible, and they are certainly looking the part now.

Jean has named them after places in Shetland, which is a really nice idea, and last year was her "G" year, so meet Gula, Geherda, Girlsta, Gletnen and Gruna. I'm yet to know them all individually. Fox was keen to get to work, but today he had to behave and content himself with watching. Luckily the new girls are used to being worked by a dog so shouldn't be too wild.

While Chris and I were out buying sheep, Wal and Analise were at work on the land putting up more fences. We've finally got the tup paddock finished and so I can look into picking up Scully (the tup that I have my eye on). I just hope that he is not already sold to someone else...

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Best training session yet today, despite the field resembling a quagmire!
Fox flanked beautifully, lay down when asked, kept out from his sheep and even called off without taking a cheap shot at diving back behind the flock. He didn't even take a break to talk to the girls... one of whom I later learned, was in season, so he was very good!
I am a very happy girl, I even gave him a tiny bit of haggis as a reward :o)

We zig zagged around the field, practicing keeping the corners of the little flock knocked in. Next week we'll be starting to learn to drive... practice, practice, practice now!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

What a horrible evening. Pitch black on leaving work, horizontal freezing rain and Chris feeling really poorly on his new medication. In need of cheering up so I thought I'd upload New Year's Eve and Christmas Party photos... just to make all of my friends love me!

Now now me rein-deers, just coz you've got antlers!

Oh dear, we do regress to infantile behaviour...
note the flying beer mat that appears to be stuck to John's chest...

And the one slicing Joe's nose!

Thankfully Wierdstring (minus poor Paddy who has a lurgy) provide distraction and liven up the evening...

But sadly there's no hope for some!

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Yes Fox, we're all astonished too! We went to sleep on Thursday night and woke on Friday morning to a winter wonderland. Then come Saturday morning it had all disappeared again.
At least we had fun while it lasted. This was Fox's first proper experience of snow and he loved it. It did prevent our sheep shopping expedition however. We'll just have to wait until next weekend.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Work for Fox today after two weeks of mostly slacking. We went for a training session with Peter Ellis who has the unenviable task of attempting to teach both of us to work sheep... together! Surprisingly Fox was looking pretty fine as usual as he drove the little flock of hebrideans and mules through the falling snow. It was really quite a pretty scene. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten my camera so here is a picture of our last time out.

Now I just have to get him working my sheep properly... hmmm, it all seems so easy in Peter's field with his trained hoggs!

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Chill out time! Thank goodness I took those extra days off.
Unfortunately the sheep managed to escape again so today wasn't quite so restful as it might have been. We've no idea how the hurdles in the fence gap fell down (they've stood through a few gales after all) but they did and the mischievous little woollies didn't miss the opportunity. After ascertaining that they were still on Wal's land, I allowed them their freedom for New Year's Day, waiting until I had an extra pair of hands before attempting to get them back (first attempts in the dark on New Year's Eve were fairly disastrous!). To my delight, they had obviously realised that the grass isn't that green outside their paddock and came running when I called them this morning. I can't wait until Fox is fully trained. He made an admirable attempt to get the sheep back for me, but it was getting really quite dark, I was rather wound up and Rosy, who was a pet lamb, proved a little too much of a challenge! She would have moved had he just a smidge more patience... and had I not passed my stress onto him causing him to push too hard. Ah well, you live and learn. Training tomorrow.