Along the Victorian avenue of horse chestnuts in Clarence Park, Wakefield, a handful of trees that have been lost over the years have recently been replaced. The park is named after the Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, grandson of Queen Victoria (and second in line for the throne), who planted a tree – a ‘white chestnut’ – here on Thursday, 30 April, 1891, using a sliver spade presented to him by Lady Green, wife of Sir Edward Green, M.P., of Heath Old Hall.
In the opening pages of The Wind in the Willows, the Mole ‘scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged’ his way to the surface. This winter there’s been a lot of scrabbling and scrooging around the lakes at Nostell Priory. Molehills have been popping up on verges, path edges and even under park benches, many of them just the size of a pudding basin but there are several that are the diameter of a dustbin lid, containing two bucketfuls or more of soil.
We’ve seen fieldfares using molehills as vantage points on the open parkland. Around the lakes, the resident robins often perch on them; they’ll give one that has been freshly excavated a close examination, picking out any food items (presumably invertebrates) that might have been brought to the surface.
Useful as they might be to some of the local birds, the mounds will present an obstacle when mowing starts again in the spring, so now is the time to rake them out. The freshly turned soil can serve as a mulch, bringing minerals back to the surface.
For regular-sized molehills a little footwork is all that is needed but for the mole-mountains there’s a garden power tool that can help. Leaf blowers can be eight times faster than traditional raking and sweeping and this morning one of the gardeners is using a powerful leaf blower to spread the earth of a mound over a lakeside verge. Noisy but effective!
10.30 a.m.: Four carrion crows are foraging towards the lower end of the parkland below the Obelisk Lodge at Nostell. I’m guessing that there are two males and two females because two of them are bowing and cawing: rival males. This genteel approach to courtship doesn’t last long.
The rivalry erupts into a scrap as the males go for each other. At one stage, one of the males briefly ends up on his back, defending himself with legs and beak. Despite the fracas, the foursome stays together as we walk off up the slope.
8.45 a.m.: We’ve been waiting to see whether the squirrel baffle on our new bird feeding pole would defeat a really determined squirrel.
After nibbling a few spilt sunflower hearts from the lawn beneath, a grey squirrel looks up quizzically at the feeders. Taking a leap at the pole, it gets to within a foot of the steel cone and hangs there for a moment until gravity kicks in and it starts to slide back down, like a fireman on a pole.
It scampers off towards the patio then climbs to the top of the cordon apple and looks back towards the pole. After checking out the patio table and discovering the odd sunflower heart that I’d spilt there, it goes over to the shed and climbs to the apex of the roof, to check out the challenge from another angle.
You can imagine the thought processes that it’s going through. It completes a circuit of vantage points by climbing the clothes pole and the crab apple (where it samples one of the squishy apples).
Then it’s back to the feeding pole for one last attempt. Taking a running jump, it succeeds in propelling itself right up into the cone. For a few moments all that we can see of it is a bushy tail, dangling and swishing slightly. That’s as far as it gets, then it lets itself gently back down to earth via the pole.
I think that now we’ll be able to go back to using plastic feeders, in addition to the robust ‘squirrel-proof’ metal feeders that we had to start using a year ago.
2.15 p.m., 29°F, -3°C: I’ve switched to fibre tip pen this afternoon; it tends to speed up my drawing as moves about so smoothly in any direction. That is just as well because the temperature has dropped below freezing so I can’t get too involved with the intricacies of the fronds of the male fern growing at the corner of the raised bed behind the pond.
A dunnock delivers its thin trilling song from a perch in the hedge. A female blackbird gives a scolding alarm call from the crab. There’s a rattly call from a mistle thrush. The redwing has been back, feeding on the squishy brown crab apples.
There’s a monotonous song from a wood pigeon. It’s a five note phrase, repeated two or three times, which The Handbook of British Birds gives as “cōō-cōōō-cōō, cōō-cōō “.
Making a note to remember the rhythm, I write ‘I don’t like plumbing’, but more memorable mnemonics that have been suggested are ‘my toe bleeds, Betty’, ‘take two cows, Taffy’, or ‘a proud Wood-pig-eon’.