Quail diary

Quail for eggs — life in a London garden

Archive for the ‘The fox’ Category

Quail diary – 108. The End

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The fox struck in the night. Perspex clawed off, pegs chewed up, brand new stiff sliding door shoved open by a muddy nose. Poor Emmet, trapped by the insulation put in to protect her against the cold – how long did it take? She had only just gone outside again yesterday morning after a restive week in the loft, pacing the cat basket while the freezing nights passed over.

There’s no sign of blood. Not even a feather, just a great, triumphant dollop of smelly fox poo by the gaping doorway.

And now I am no longer a keeper of quail. I never thought the adventure would end like this… Sorry Emmet



Quail diary – 93. Tally-ho

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Fox in the park

Fox in the park

The fox was outside the french windows at 6am, munching cherries and firing the pips at the pots of still green tomatoes. I couldn’t find the camera until he’d ambled out of sight behind the bean stacks, of course. By then, he’d already looked in on the quail and passed on. The quail barely bothered to ungum an eyelid. Nice to know my handiwork holds firm – at least against foxes.

How do you curb the wild things when there’s an urban fox under every garden shed? Hens have been taken in the next street, and a white cat is reported missing, seen carried off by the cubs. Buff Boyfriend (Senior Teen’s, rather than Bantam Neighbour’s latest squeeze …) last week found one of the foxes about to take a chunk out of a drunk on the pavement up the road. In the afternoon. The drunk was most ungrateful when he called 999, and I was slightly put out myself at his evident assumption that foxes are rarer than drunks in these parts…

Bumble bee in foxgloves

Bumble bee in foxgloves

Meanwhile, squalor reigns in the garden. The big tidy-up for the new patio has been stopped in its tracks by discovery of a late stagbeetle larva curled under a crumbling log. Soon we’ll abandon the last of the luscious cherry crop to the thrushes and pigeons. Himself has started potting the surplus in brandy. Chris P. Byrd is plotting blackcurrant jam (and roast quail in cherry sauce). By next month we’ll be up to our necks in cooking apples.

Soon it’ll be time to lag the quail house again. Brrr. Eggs: 279

Quail diary – 91. Age cannot wither

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Quail and hen's eggs - in a surprising range of sizes

Quail and hen's eggs - in a surprising range of sizes

The fox cubs passed me in the road as I left the house at 6am for the station. They looked at each other, three lanky halflings, slim, fit, tireless, and loped on, blanking the scurrying middleaged human – as all teenagers do – with disdain. I could almost hear the grins.

All was quiet in the quail house. The remaining four birds eyed me tiredly as I checked on them before I went. Nights in inner London are hard, short and brutal in the cubbing season. The shrieks and partying go on all night. We all need a lie-in.

One of the quail has taken to laying very, very small eggs – a centimetre long. It is Emmet, or possibly Tom. Oh dear, does this mean another end in sight? Or is it just a bit of infinite variety?

Harass isn’t laying any eggs at all, of course. (“Lay ’em yourself.”) I think she’s on HRT. Well, she’s on something… She still hops up and down in the doorway every morning and evening, and fiercely insists on being fed by hand. Or else. You try being mugged by a quail at ankle height. It does nothing for the self-esteem.

Beyond the wire, fertility is rampant. The runner beans are reaching for the sky. The raspberries are bent double under their own weight and Mrs Blackbird is busy in the cherry tree, thieving fruit for a late brood. (“Your garden’s so fecund,” says Mrs Nextdoor, which I suspect is  polite for “overgrown, needs trimming, get your act together…”)

The quail are well and Pottingshedder’s gone to sea for summer.

Quail diary – 90. Hot, hot, hot

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Quail dossing about in the heat

Quail dossing about in the heat - Eggs? Lay 'em yourself

The quail are resting. The arrival of the flipflops in the run elicits no movement beyond a raised eyebrow (they do so have eyebrows). Eggs? Lay ’em yourself.

It’s too hot. Even the mice have pulled their loungers into the shade. The last of the quail house perspex came down weeks ago, allowing a zephyr of wind to play through the wire, but not even the permanent addition of a towel over the skylight can stop the temperature in the quail house rising to 30C at midday. The quail lie around in drifts in the dust. Only lettuce triggers any animation, and mealie worms, of course. And fresh water. Should I give them a paddling pool, I wonder?

Beyond the wire, the cherry tree drips ripe fruit, the french beans dangle in the first delicate fingers outside the back door, and new young raspberry canes are marching on the scorched earth where the lawn used to be. The waterbutt is long dry and any rehydrating of pots at sundown is from the tap, which the blueberries really don’t like. By now, there’s a promontory of tiny green apples around the quail house as the thirsty Bramley sheds some of its burden in little plops on the roof – it’s going to be a busy autumn for the freezer. All round the garden, frogs, butterflies and stagbeetles shuffle in the cool undergrowth. The cats are having a field day. Horrid creatures.

The foxes too are quite brazen, sauntering in and out of front gardens in broad daylight in mid afternoon, blatantly ignoring passersby. Got a gun in that shopping bag? No – just a cucumber? Well, push off then.  Of course, that’s London for you. Little Brother, who lives “out,” has a country garden hopping with cute, destructive bunnies and not a predator in sight. His beans, tomatoes and courgettes are growing up behind bars to keep the little teeth at bay.

His bees are feistier too – St Trinians to Bantam Neighbour’s little Madelines. Oh yes. Bees. Very now. He’s finished his bee-keeping course and been given a delinquent swarm to tame in a homemade hive. Some ask for a novice, you’d think. On the other hand, his Asbees may spit gum and buzz unprintably when inspected, but the frames are dripping honey after only a week… Go Little Bro. I’m drooling already.

Quail eggs: 244.

Quail diary – 70. See how they run

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Baby mice, seven days old, still blind but furry now

Baby mice, seven days old, still blind but furry now

The baby mice under the quail hutch are a week old, still blind, but now softly furry. They wriggle and squeak and wave little pink feet in protest when their snug nest is opened to the cold for the camera. Mum – of whom usually no more is seen than a tail vanishing up the string into the roof space – is exhausted, and they’re not walking yet. Two days ago she was briefly encountered zizzing in a peaceful, one-mouse sized hollow in the bag of spare straw. But the quail don’t seem to mind.

Redwing stripping Pyracantha berries in a London garden

Redwing stripping Pyracantha berries in a London garden

By next week the babies will be everywhere, which will give the covey something to tut about – if the Teens don’t forcibly adopt the family into Junior Teen’s bedroom first. Even the feed merchant admitted succumbing to the infants’ mousey cuteness. He took in a nest of pink jelly babies found between the stacks two months ago and now has a houseful – “some of them still in the cage” … Our cats would have conniptions.

Outside the run, the urban fox circles, licking his lips and treading great doggy paw prints into the snow. Judging by the marks on the back doorstep, he regularly peers in at us under the blind too. Which is unsettling. He’s a glowing advertisement for a diet of chip wrappers and dropped burgers.

Meanwhile, we’ve also been invaded by Redwings, quarrelling in small flocks in the apple tree and pyracantha. Supermarket shelves may be bare as farmers out in the frozen fields struggle to lift their carrots, but the wild things aren’t daft.

Or at least, not as daft as homo sapiens still struggling to take the temperature of her compost heap.

Quail diary – 69. A winter’s tale

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The bantams

The bantams are thirsty. Every night their water freezes, even in the emergency hopper slipped into the roost, and every morning they fall upon the fresh supply like smokers on their first espresso. They are still laying, despite the sub-zero temperatures, but the only sign of life from the bee hive beside them is the occasional little corpse pushed off the front step into the snow.

There are fox prints – and foxes – on the streets and in the gardens everywhere. The big daddy trotted past the front gate at 7.17am, buff and bushy, not turning a hair as I dug out the car. At night he and his urban chums sit in the park, in full view, and stare down late travellers. They should coco – I didn’t have a camera on me, much less a pack of hounds and a pink coat. It is Britain’s coldest winter since 1981, when my mum sent me food parcels at college, but not as cold as 1963, when the sea froze and a teeny me scratched across the ice on learner blades. Yes, distressingly I remember both.

In the quail house the water does not quite freeze each night. The quail sit serene on a foot of staw, like the princess on the pea, and the thermometer hovers around 0C, against minus 4C outside. The builders’ tarpaulin spread over the roof as additional insulation just before the last frost has proved a bit hit – particularly with the mice, who now hang out up there, out of reach of cats and foxes, running down the walls to plunder the quails’ food with a casual athleticism that makes a mockery of my efforts with the perspex. Like teenagers, they never go out. They’re probably up there now, scattering chewed millet husks and dirty socks.

How do they do that? Mouse in the quail house

How do they do that? Mouse in the quail house

Mouse in the quails' straw

Mouse in the quails' straw

Oh, and the rebuilt nest under the hutch squeaks when prodded. Some of the babies have evidently survived. I haven’t the heart to evict them. A strange wintry cameraderie abounds, embracing not just one’s chilled fellow men but even little cold mice.

Quail diary – 67. Happy New Year!

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The quail and their compost bin-cum-central heating

The quail and their compost bin-cum-central heating

New year’s day and the sun is shining through a sharp frost. It’s 3C in the quail house. The girls are tucked up in the warm, dark fug in the straw between the hutch and the rear wall, unmoving. They blink vacuously as the boots arrive; amiable but detached like maiden aunts on the third sherry. But they don’t get up. Not even when the mouse breaks cover from under the layers’ pellets, and hurls herself into the straw beneath their tail feathers. Hey, who ate all the pies? That mouse is getting fat. (“No exercise and too much food,” mutters Himself, glumly contemplating the excessive Christmas lunches still stockpiled in the fridge. What were we thinking?)

It is a month since the quail laid their last egg (no. 776), three months since the autumn equinox when they were supposed to stop laying, and nine days since we passed the longest night of the year on the way back into the light.  The days are lengthening again. Today the sun is 147,320,000 km away and closing. By January 10, next week, the days will be as long again as the last time the quail laid – 8hrs and 10mins, and the sun as near and the angle at noon the same. Will there be eggs? Quail like 12 hours daylight, which is not till the vernal equinox in March (20th). Still, mealie worms have been issued, just in case.

Of course, the bantams next door are still laying, summer and winter. Show-offs. Nine eggs since December 6, eaten fried with the last of the Christmas ham. Yum. Come on, quail. Pickled ones just aren’t the same.

Spring is springing. The blackbirds are stabbing at the thawing lawn for defrosting worms. The robin is carolling in the apple tree. Even the fox is back – paws on the back step, peering in through the french windows, to the consternation of the cats, who sit bolt upright on their tails before the glass, like Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee,  stunned to silence. He’s a big bugger. That’ll focus their minds as they poo on my bulbs. Happy new year!