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June 2023: "From A New Forest Inclosure” by Ian Thew

I don’t want to be found guilty of tempting providence but I think we’ve made it!!  At long last, spring seems to have arrived!! Through the window of my study I can see the beech trees are now in full leaf and the oaks are hurrying to catch them up.  The view down the grass ride to the Burley/Bolderwood track is now obscured by a wall of green – hurrah!! The little chiff-chaffs and the not-so-little cuckoos, both harbingers of spring, have been chiff-chaffing and cuckooing for some while now and, all around, the garden birds are showing signs of nesting.  The Mandarin ducks are, once again, visiting the pond but the drake is, more often than not, alone on the water; so I reckon his mate is already sitting on a clutch of eggs high up in one of the ancient trees in the neighbouring Forest.  Blackbirds, some of our earliest nesters, have mated and several pairs spend all their day on the lawn searching for and gathering food for their hungry chicks.  A pied wagtail and her mate are nesting in the ivy beside the patio doors which hasn’t gone unnoticed by the cat! – I wish them luck! And, meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Swallow have returned from their holiday in Africa and spend much of their time on the bars in the stable chattering away to each other.  I’m sure that they are surveying their nests of previous years and trying to decide on whether it will be a new-build or a refurbishment job this year! 

The chickens and the bantams have also been infected with spring fever and some time ago one of the little bantam hens decided to ‘go broody’ on eighteen eggs.  The Doting Owner of the Spoilt Pony duly noted the date and her head filled with visions of fluffy chicks in abundance.  As time went on, the fussy, Mother-to-be rejected an egg, then another; which was followed by another and yet another, until finally, about a dozen eggs remained.  On the duly reckoned 21st day the Doting Owner hurried down to the kitchen garden, where the bantam coop was located, to see what she would see.  But it wasn’t her eyes that made her heart flip; it was her ears that detected, before she arrived at the gate, the unmistakeable cheeping of a new born chick.  With her eyes fixed firmly and expectantly on the wire run which was some twenty feet away, she opened the gate to the vegetable garden and promptly trod on the first of her future stock which had, somehow, escaped from the run and was immediately inside the gate. She was devastated by her unfortunate accident and went on to discover another dead chick inside the coop that had, unfortunately, fallen from the nest box during the cold night and, unable to regain the protective warmth of the hen, had succumbed to the unseasonably low temperature.  Undaunted by these misfortunes, the resolute little bird sat on her remaining eggs for a further forty-eight hours until it was obvious that they were infertile. Undeterred by her lack of success, the would be Chicken Farmer placed a clutch of eggs from our Rhode Island/Sussex cross hens under the still-broody, bantam and another 21 days went by until, at last, success! Well, success of sorts – only one chick hatched from the entire bunch but it was healthy and lively and the little hen looked after it; and it thrived and grew and feathers began to replace the downy fluff of birth when disaster struck again – the mother bantam died! There was no explanation for her sudden demise but our single chick is now an orphan. It was my idea to name it ‘Lonely’ but this was rejected by the ‘Chicken Farmer’ in favour of a name more suited to its birthday which was on 5th April and so now little ‘Year End’ is part of our ménage. 

Must go now –before I get hen-pecked!

Ian Thew 

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