Oct 212009
 
A herd of savanna elephants in Western Africa

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes we humans use expressions that, while they seem plausible enough on the surface, actually have no bearing on life in the real world.

We do this all the time, without ever questioning the validity of what we’re saying, and we perpetuate these misconceptions by using the same expressions with our children. They in turn will pass on these falsehoods to their children and so it will go on unless someone makes a stand and sets things straight.

Anyone who’s ever had mice in the house will know that the old adage "as quiet as a mouse" is a complete fallacy. Mice can, in truth, make an unbelievable racket for their size as they scurry around under floors and behind skirting boards; chittering, squeeking and scraping as they forage for stray crumbs. The pitter-patter of their tiny feet is surprisingly audible in the dead of night, and the conclusive snap of a mouse-trap is enough to wake anyone from their slumber. I’ve taken to using a different version… one that’s far more accurate than the rodent equivalent. I tell the girls they should try to be "as quiet as a pineapple". When was the last time you heard fruit make a sound?

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Sep 242009
 

Me rescuing Guster the woodpigeon from a watery fate Guster the wood pigeon was dead. There were no two ways about it… this was an ex-pigeon, a pigeon that had ceased to be.

The girls were sad… especially the little one. In the twenty minutes or so since they’d met (and named) Guster they’d grown quite attached to him.

When we found him Guster was in pretty bad shape. He was flapping about in the shallows of an inlet just off the path at Rineen Woods near Unionhall. He’d been attacked by a predator, probably a fox, and had feathers missing from his back and shoulders to reveal bare skin and some nasty looking puncture wounds. Floundering helplessly in the water, struggling to keep his head above the surface, he was a forlorn sight.

I sized up the situation as the girls pleaded with me to save him.

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Dec 122008
 

DSCN8281 Last week we finally got around to insulating the attic in our old schoolhouse. Long overdue… I know, but it was a mammoth task (you should see our attic, it’s beyond mental), and there always seemed to be something more pressing to attend to.

The first thing I notices when I climbed into the attic space was a HUGE pile of twigs, moss, newspaper dried cow dung and sundry other bits and pieces piled up next to the gable end. At first I couldn’t work out what it was. Then it dawned on me: it was a jackdaw’s nest.

(Photo: nine 40kg coal bags crammed full of twigs and other jackdaw related material that came out of our attic last week)

I’d seen the jackdaws coming and going all summer, but nothing could have prepared me for the volume of nesting material they’d managed to accumulate.bring through the narrow opening in the gable end. It was mini-mountain of nesting material. I filled nine 40kg col bags with it in total.

I’m loath to do it, but I think I’m going to have to block up the hole with mesh that’s too small for the Jackdaws to get through, but still big enough to let the bats in and out. I’m all for living in harmony with nature – but you have to draw the line somewhere….

Oct 032008
 

DNA Mollecule (Image via Wikipedia) There’s nothing worse than getting back into your car after going for a walk than finding that you or one of your passengers has trodden in dog poo.

The stench in an enclosed place is nauseating – and by the time you discover it the kids have invariably traipsed it all over the carpets, the seats, their clothes and everywhere else :-(.

Clean up after your dog

People should, of course, clean up after their dogs… but how many really do in Ireland?

Like most things here, the legislation is in place to prosecute dog owners who’s pets foul footpaths and public spaces… but the enforcement is woeful.

Is doggie DNA the answer?

In Isreael they’re taking the issue a bit more seriously… they’ve gone all CSI in the war against doggie doodoo! Seriously – DNA testing to match the poop to the canine in question and land the owner with a hefty municipal fine.

Now that’s what I call pro-active doggie detective work. So come on the Irish authorities… you’ve got some serious catching up to do when it comes to catching those canine culprits.

Sep 242008
 

Frida the baby ferret It was 4:30pm on a Friday afternoon. I was sitting in the office about to start writing this column when one of the twins burst in.

“Dad, can we take the ferrets for a walk?” she asked. I looked out of the window. For once the sun was shining. You’d be amazed at how quickly I can move when a viable opportunity to avoid work presents itself. I was out of the door in a flash, the laptop and the column forgotten.

We’ve had the ferrets for just over two years now… and they really are wonderful pets. They’re so much more fun than alternative small animal options: rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters.

Ferrets are naturally playful, inquisitive and affectionate. They ‘re predators… and like all predators (cats, dogs, lions, etc.) they get their energy in small, high-value doses. That means that, when they’re not sleeping (and they can sleep for up to 16 out of every 24 hours… which, I must admit, makes me a bit envious), they spend most of their time playing and exploring to hone their hunting skills. Compare that to a guinea pig, for example, which needs to spend every waking hour chewing frantically just to stay alive, and you’ll start to see what I mean.

A slightly more mature Frida exploring my desk And then there’s instinctive behaviour: when a herbivore hears a sudden noise it’s primary instinct is to flee, but a carnivore’s natural instinct is to investigate a potential meal. Both are thinking of lunch… it’s just that one is looking for its lunch while the other wants to avoid becoming lunch. So, guinea pigs, rabbits, et-al spend all their time running away, while ferrets tend to run towards strange sounds and actually engage in active play. When was the last time your guinea pig played chase with a feather on a string?

As for the supposedly vicious nature of these marvelous mustelids, I have to say it’s mostly a myth. Yes, they have the arsenal to inflict a nasty bite… but then so does your average dog, cat and even the aforementioned rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters if mistreated. Vicious ferrets are, by and large, mistreated ferrets, and as a general rule they won’t bite unless seriously provoked.

I went out to their large hutch/enclosure to fit their leads and harnesses (matching little red and black numbers) and after a bit of squirming, wriggling (the ferrets) and cursing (me) we were ready to go. Walking with ferrets is a slow process – especially when you’re heading down a country lane. They keep diving into the hedgerow investigating smells – mice, rabbits, rats, foxes, badgers and whatever else has crossed the path the night before. Their leads get tangled in the undergrowth and progress is… well, let’s call it gradual.

At this time of year that’s ideal, because ambling slowly along a hedgerow thick with brambles gives you ample opportunity to pick out the best of the blackberries. The crop this year is, admittedly, not spectacular – spoiled by rain and lack of sunshine – but there are enough around to make picking them worthwhile as you wait for a stray ferret to emerge from a hole in a drystone wall.

That night, as the bread machine beeped to tell me the jam was ready to pour into jars, I found myself smiling involuntarily. This is what country living is all about (strange looks from local farmers while walking the ferrets notwithstanding). There are a few things I miss about living in the city – largely involving more convenient access to products and services – but by and large the country wins hands down. At this stage I wouldn’t move back to the city for diamonds….