Lamb Shoulder Technique

Common/vernacular names of beasties can be problematic and can become contentious. We have a particularly fine example in the world of dragonflies. Aeshna isoceles is popularly known as the Norfolk Hawker because it was, in the UK anyway, originally confined to the county of Norfolk. It’s UK range has now expanded to include Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Kent so Norfolk Hawker now seems less than appropriate. An alternative and better [IMHO] universally appropriate English-language name is Green-eyed Hawker because Aeshna isoceles does possess vivid green eyes when mature wherever it is.

The lesson to be taken from such examples is not to name things after attributes that may change, like geographic range, or attributes which are local to a particular area only. Aeshna isoceles is widespread in mainland Europe where Norfolk is irrelevant. Similarly, our so-called Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) dragonfly is not scarce in continental Europe.

I have fallen into a similar trap myself.

Last night, after our first BBQ since Xmas, we had charcoal-roasted a shoulder of lamb in the Weber and were left with the shoulder bone as fox bait. Francine had the seemingly good idea of separating the bait into the blade bone and the knuckle bone so as to try to make the foxcam entertainment last a little longer. I threw out some peanuts as well wondering if Broc might put in an appearance, too.

After the (bloody) neighbour’s cat had sniffed around, rather earlier than seems usual, at 22:30, dutifully Limpy turned up to investigate our offerings. Limpy is now walking very fluidly with no sign of any limp whatsoever. If he’s a he, he looks very sleek indeed. Limpy now seems an inappropriate handle. Silly me. 😀

Limpy (1 of 4)Limpy (2 of 4)[The fox formerly known as] Limpy wasn’t having any truck with Francine’s little ploy of dividing the two bones, either. He first sniffed at the blade bone, left it and went over to pick up the knuckle bone.

Limpy (3 of 4)Mouth now full of knuckle bone, [the fox formerly known as] Limpy sauntered nonchalantly back around to the blade bone and, with some difficulty so as not to drop the knuckle, succeeded in scooping the blade bone up into his mouth, as well. He exited stage left with both prizes.

Limpy (4 of 4)[The fox formerly known as] Limpy wasn’t finished yet. Forty minutes later he reappeared and sniffed around further down in the garden. He stopped at a couple of points chewing briefly. This is where I had scattered the peanuts.

Surprising? Well, maybe not, they are scavengers, after all. They do say that jam sandwiches are a successful way of administering drugs to foxes.

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Return of Limpy

… at least, I think.

Francine and I had doubled up on Saturday food purchases with the result that I had two chickens to deal with. I dealt with the first chicken by using the breasts for Cajun blackened chicken and freezing the leg meat (tagine, paella?). The resultant carcass went into my stock pot; freezer stock drawer now once again full.

Chicken #2 was larger. The breasts, along with a couple of sweet peppers that needed using, got used for chicken fajitas. The leg meat went into another freezer drawer hopefully destined for Pollo al ajillo, a Spanish garlic-fest of a chicken treat that we haven’t had for a while.

With a full stock drawer and not wishing to repeat myself, I decided to turn this second carcass into fox bait. I baked it in the oven for a while to give it some flavour. Clearly our foxes are spoiled rotten.

fox on carcass-3Limpy steadies it-1After the last couple of failed attempts with over boiled chicken followed by under-boiled wood pigeon, this time a specially prepared free-range chicken carcass, sourced from our monthly farmers market, did the trick. After one of our neighbour’s pestilential cats had turned up [not Tampon] and dismissively licked a bone or two, I was delighted to see that a fox pitched up shortly after midnight. It calmly sauntered about before going for the the easier leg bones first. Eventually it turned its attention to the main chicken frame, at one point holding it in place with a foot. This was interesting; I had fully expected a fox to grab the carcass and run off with it.

Limpy-1-2Our fox looked in good condition and moved fluidly with no sign of a limp. Having checked the markings, though, this is either yet another fox or it is Limpy with his gait fixed. I favour the latter. The shape of these leg markings and the dark patch on the side of the muzzle look good for Limpy. After all, the last time we’d seen him/her, which is a while ago now, the limp was certainly less pronounced.

Last night we recorded this main visit over several clips spanning 40 minutes as our welcome visitor polished off the various scattered bits of chicken. Although there was now nothing left, we recorded a further visit at 03:30 and I’m pretty sure this was also Limpy, perhaps returning from the night time excursion.

I wonder if I could buy a paintball gun for the cats? Bright pink might look quite fetching.

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Feeder Etiquette

On the two most recent occasions that I have put out some bait hoping to attract foxes, I have signally failed. [I just though I’d throw in a signally ‘cos it’s a funny word – well, I think so.]

First to be rejected was a pile of chicken bones that had, admittedly, been simmered for 2½ hrs together with onion, celery, carrot and bay leaf to make stock. Perhaps there wasn’t enough meatiness left?

Yesterday (Sunday), I had a blast from the past by making a Wood Pigeon casserole with forcemeat balls and I put out the pigeon carcasses, once again with no success, and these had definitely not been boiled to death. [In truth they could’ve done with a little more simmering.] I did succeed in attracting (bloody) Tampon the over-decorative cat but even he/she/it was unimpressed.

Our garden does get some different wildlife interest in February and March, though, for it is during these winter months that the regular resident garden birds are joined by Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) and Siskins (Carduelis spinus). It has been entertaining watching the way the various species behave at the sunflower seed feeder.

We always have three species of tits: Great Tit (Parus major), Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) and Coal Tit (Periparus ater). All of these, for the most part, fly to the feeder, nick a seed then fly away to cover to eat it. Just occasionally a rebel Blue Tit or Great Tit will remain at the feeder and chomp but it is the exception rather than the rule.

Goldfinches have a completely different approach. They fly in and occupy the feeder perches for minutes at a time, happily munching away, occasionally glancing disdainfully at other feeder visitors but mainly simply ignoring all others while they feed. Goldfinches are actually about the same size as a Blue Tit so smaller than some might think; the red mask makes them look a little fierce, though.

Siskins-201103The delightfully diminutive Siskins, on the other hand, don’t look at all fierce but they certainly behave aggressively. This seems especially true of the females. Siskins also like to occupy a perch for an extended period but whenever another bird approaches one of the other perches it tends to be greeted with a directed flaring of Siskin wings and an open beak. This is definitely fight not flight. [Here is a male Siskin above and female below.]

Siskin and friendI don’t generally like bird-on-feeder pictures but during our short spell of snow it was quite fun to snag a snowy feeder with an intimidating Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) sitting opposite a female Siskin, completely unfazed.

Where have all our foxes gone?

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Broc Shuns Lamb

Welcome February. February is very welcome after successfully suffering a dry January. I’m not sure what it has proved. It’s shown that I can go without a drink but it has also shown that I don’t particularly like doing so. 😀

Be that as it may, after a few days of not having any fox bait, last night we had a lamb shoulder bone left over. Having separated the two bones, I put them out at about 23:30.

Early morning signs were not good; the bones were still lying on the grass. I retrieved foxcam expecting to have recorded nothing but there was, surprisingly, a single video clip. On the thumbnail I thought it was Tampon, the (bloody) decorative cat, but no, it was Broc the (much more appreciated) badger. You must love a mustelid. 😉

BrocBroc entered stage right, wandered up to the lamb shoulder bones, sniffed, rejected them as a food source and exited stage left into our neighbour’s garden. With no light reflecting back from the nearside eye, I’m pretty sure it was the same badger as had previously visited. It seems that it isn’t keen on lamb. I have to say that there wasn’t a lot of meat left on the bones but I might have expected a little chewing activity.

I should’ve thrown out some peanuts. 🙂

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The Murk Clears

Foxcam’s last couple of outings have resulted in very murky, unclear images. I really didn’t think we’d had fog so I’ve been a little concerned. Last night, I had kept foxcam cool in the house and put it out early to acclimatize, then wiped the [so-called] lens down to remove any condensation that might have accumulated.

Having researched mange when Ratty appeared, we discovered from the National Fox Welfare Society that one way to administer their homeopathic medicine is via a jam sandwich. So, not having any meat scraps left over, we went with a jam sarnie made up of specially purchased, crappy Warburton’s bread slathered with left over cranberry jelly. I also threw out a pile of peanuts hoping Broc might be appreciaitive.

This morning I was at first gutted to see further murky clips begin to load. “Bother”, said Pooh, crossly. What on earth [whose earth, I don’t know] is causing this? I sat waiting for the long-winded loading to finish and saw that the last three clips were actually clear. So, it doesn’t seem to be a camera problem; it does look like atmospherics. The temperature had dropped to –7°C at one point.

CassidyOur first visitor, a fox, was not until 02:45. It was limping but wasn’t Limpy; this one was favouring its right rear leg very noticeably. What am I going to call this one, Cassidy? [Hands up if you remember Hopalong Cassidy.] Here’s a shot to show the lack of any clarity – and I’ve cleaned this up a bit. At first Cassidy seemed to ignore the jam sarnies and went for the peanuts. “Oi, those were for Broc”. 🙂

There was another visit by a very agile, wary-looking fox at 03:30. Without detail, matching to any previous visitors really isn’t practical. It was in good nick, though, but didn’t seem interested in the jam sarnies, two of which remained.

Fit FoxSo to the clear clips, recorded as late as 05:55. This was another fit fox and a very handsome specimen. My suspicion is that it’s a younger one. Other than the fact that I was back to recording clear video clips, which was something of a relief, the biggest puzzle here was that there were now no jam sarnies visible. What on earth had happened to them? There were some left at the end of my final murky clip and now there were none. Curious.

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Chicken Feed

After a few nights of lashing rain, we decided to put our chicken remnants back out again to see if the wandering waste disposers still loved us. The bait went out at 23:15.

I’m sure we had no fog or mist last night but the video clips that were recorded were decidedly murky – but at least there were some. I’m a little concerned but I’m hoping that it may be a general fogging of the lens caused by condensation having gone out from a warm(ish) house to slightly sub-zero outside. I did put the camera out early to acclimatize but I will try to remember to wipe the lens next time. Anyway …

One-eyed Brocreturn of BrocImage quality aside, I was delighted to see the return of Broc at 23:41. Broc sniffed at the chicken remnants but left them alone, wandering off towards the camera. Then I noticed something – only one of Broc’s eyes was shining back at me. One headlight bulb had blown. I revisited my record of Broc’s first appearance and, sure enough, the left eye didn’t reflect the (infrared) light. I hadn’t noticed in my excitement at that visit. This was certainly the same badger and it seems to be blind in one eye.

LimpyAt 00:45 a fox was discernible through the murk. As unclear as the image is, I’ve compared this to earlier clearer images and the black markings are enough to tell me that this was Limpy back again. Happily, his limp is now very slight, hardly noticeable.

StrangerLimpy seemed to polish off most of the chicken but apparently not quite. At 02:17 another fox turned up and grabbed a morsel. I don’t think there’s enough detail to compare well to other records but this was a very agile, perhaps smaller individual that crouched low as it ate. I don’t recall seeing that posture before. I must look harder at my earlier shots.

Impossible to tellWe weren’t done yet. At 04:11 the temperature had dropped to –6°C when the camera triggered again and just about recorded another fox visit. This time there was no sign of any eating having taken place so I imagine the chicken really was now all gone. Perhaps the scent lingered on the grass and attracted this last visitor. As you can see, there’s absolutely no point in my trying to identify this one. 🙁

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Filthy Night

We had a left over chicken carcass last night, which I put out in the rain at 23:30.

I think it rained most of the night. This morning the chicken, most of it anyway, was still lying on the grass, which is always a disappointment.

I retrieved the dripping-wet trailcam and towelled it off, expecting to find nothing. What I did find was that I’d switch it to still photo and 24hr mode to test it after the fog episode and forgotten to change it back again.

Crow Raider (1 of 2)Nothing had triggered the trailcam until 08:10 this morning and that suspect was a Crow. At least it wasn’t a (bloody) cat. Maybe the weather was too unpleasant for the foxes, or maybe the scent of food was masked by the conditions?

Crow Raider (2 of 2)The crow made off with a beak full but Francine retrieved the other remnants so we can try again. 🙂

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Grey Out

On Saturday we had used our lockdown exercise walk to wander into town for a raid on our monthly farmers market. It’s about a 4½-mile round trip, so a decent stretch.

I’ve become addicted to real ducks, ducks from the Franklins of Thorncote stall – aged ducks with flavour and …

<grump>
… not those Gressingham apologies for ducks that are so young they have breast cartilages rather than breast bones (which distort when cooked) … and which have less meat possessing noticeably less in the way of duck flavour.
</grump> [Apologies, technical XML joke.]

Anyway, I was sad to learn that said ducks seem to be a Christmas thing and that none remained. As an enjoyable alternative I snagged a pheasant instead; we haven’t had pheasant for ages and it would make a refreshing change. I was hoping that a pheasant carcass might also make a refreshing change for our wandering waste disposal operatives, the foxes. I put the carcass out in two halves just before midnight.

In the morning the first order of business, after tea of course, is to peer out of the window to see if the bait has gone. It had. Then, while the coffee is brewing it’s time to retrieve foxcam and hook it up.

Last night makes me think foxcam should be renamed fogcam. It had recorded six clips of murky grey. I didn’t recall it being foggy but (un)clearly some had arisen.

Eyes in the glooomIn four clips eyes could be seen shining through the gloom. Three of the clips, recorded soon after 01:00, showed what was just identifiable as a fox. Furthermore, we could see that the fox had been limping badly, showing more of a limp than we’d seen hitherto. It was favouring the same leg as Limpy who has either suffered a relapse or someone else is suffering similarly. The grey out is such that we’ll never know.

The final clip of glowing eyes, at 05:00, was that (bloody) cat Tampon, again. I do wish people would keep their cats, particularly overly decorative lumps, in overnight. 😀

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A Quiet Night

I put out three more of Aldi’s pork slurry sausages. I’ve taken to halving them crosswise in the hope that the pieces would be too thick for the pesky cats mouths.

When I retrieved foxcam I did have quite a few recordings, all but one of which frustratingly showed (bloody) cats;. We had two of the blasted things this time; Tampon had been joined by a local black and white pest. I don’t know if my ploy of leaving the sausage pieces thick helped but in any event the cats left them alone. I was suddenly reminded of an old sickly sweet Disney film with Hayley Mills called That Darn Cat. Maybe I should invest in night vision goggles and an airsoft gun.

BlacksocksThe one recording of any interest was at 02:20 when a fox entered from stage left and cautiously grabbed a chunk of sausage. This fox looked unfamiliar, the black marking on the muzzle was quite extensive with a point reaching almost to the nose. When comparing to my earlier gallery of rogues the most distinctive feature, however, was the  extent of the black on its legs – it’s forelegs were dark all the way up to the elbow equivalent and the hindlegs up to the knee equivalent. Following the Dances with Wolves lead, this has to Blacksocks, our fifth fox.

Blacksocks was very nimble and, I thought, perhaps a little smaller than others so I’m wondering if it might be quite young. Oddly, it didn’t return for any more sausage. It’s not, perhaps, keen on Aldi pork slurry and who could blame it?

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Surprise, Surprise!

I chucked a few sausages and chicken leg bones out last night for our wandering waste disposal operatives. My heart sank a little when, having retrieved foxcam, I connected it and saw that I had nearly 30 video clips. My immediate thought was, “oh no, Tampon the (bloody) cat again”. I set Lightroom winding through its import and went away while it built the thumbnail preview images.

Broc-4Disappointment swiftly turned to elation when I saw that our first visitor, at 02:35, had been a Badger. You little beauty! OK, not so little. It entered stage right and wandered on set [get it?] too close to the camera so somewhat out of focus, though with this lens it’s hard to tell out of focus from in focus. For seven 20-second clips, it presented me with little but Badger’s bum, as it snacked. I finally got lucky in the next two clips, though, and managed a profile.

Broc [well, that’ll do unless/until I get more individuals] munched a bit and wandered around the garden, squatted on one occasion and on another appeared to scent-mark one of Francine’s plants, unceremoniously dumping its bum on it. Great stuff, we’ve had Limpy pissing up the hydrangea and Broc sitting on another bit of greenery [don’t ask]. 😀

Nothing more happened until 04:25 when Ratty entered stage right and started munching on the few remaining chicken bones. I really didn’t expect any to be remaining at that hour.

Surprise for RattyRatty got surprised, suddenly turning to peer at our garden gate, beneath which a pair of bright eyes could be seen shining in the dark. Something was trying to squeeze through the space under the gate. Once again I suspected Tampon the (bloody) cat and once again I was quite wrong. I lightened and enlarged the image and could just about see that it was actually another fox. It didn’t succeed in getting through the gap so I’ll never know which/who.

SleekRatty scarpered at about 04:30. We’re not quite done yet, though. Another fox entered stage left just a minute or so later. This chap/chapess looked to be in prime condition, limp-free and with a wonderful bushy brush sporting an obvious white tip. This is our fourth fox which has to be referred to as Sleek.

I don’t mind more nights like that, except I was awake tossing and turning until 3 AM. [Note to self: start drinking again.]

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