There is a lot to be said for waymarked or signposted trails – leave your map and compass at home and enjoy a wander, which we have signposted for you. Perfect for an Easter Sunday springtime ramble with Hanne and Max. I was excited to visit this somewhat longer 15km circular route I found on Holsterbo Kommune’s website which winds around Subbergård lake, not far from our farmyard home.
The path, which for the most, part doesn’t stray too far from the lake shore wanders through different habitats, from open heathland and grassland to both deciduous and coniferous forest and there is even a small taste of agricultural land. The weather was, as to be expected in spring, changeable, and we were rewarded with sunshine, rolling clouds and a fresh breeze as we walked.
There were plenty of signs of spring to be seen. The fluffy soft buds of the willow trees were bursting out, and I learned that these are known as “gæslinger” in Danish, which translates to baby geese – how adorable!
I was happy to find a small blanket (more like a rug) of early woodland flowers (Wood Anenome) and at one corner of the lake we spotted a small group of Greater Crested Grebes. To my surprise they were already beginning their exceptionally romantic courtship displays, which includes synchronised swimming, dancing, head shaking and giving each other gifts (mostly wet grass or weeds!). This is a must for everyone to see, and will melt the hearts of even the most cynical!
Anyone who has joined me on an outdoor excursion, is familiar with my slight obsession for poo and poo like objects produced by mammals and birds. The lake side walk offered me many chances to get up close and personal with various forms of excrement – how exciting! I spotted what appeared to be signs of fox, otter and possibly a bird of prey pellet (undigested bones and fur are coughed up by owls, falcons etc.). My favourite was a fox dropping filled with the blue / purple shells of many many beetles (see below). Remember to wash your hands before eating, if you do, like me, decide to play with droppings!
In the ruins of a monastery we also spotted signs of life. Stuck on to the white walls inside the strange shaped building, I counted the remains of over 20 barn swallow (landsvale) nests. It was all very quiet in the old building, but in no time at all the adult birds will reach Denmark, after flying a LONG way from Africa, and will start renovating their nests and starting families. It will get a little crowded in their I imagine! Keep your eyes peeled for returning swallows!
When the sun broke through the clouds we were greeted with many tiny voices singing from the trees. The air was filled with the songs of skylark, robin, wren, coal tit, chaffinch and chiffchaff to name just a few. We were lucky to make it back to the car, with heavy legs and sore toes before the clouds brought rain. I’m looking forward to visiting again and spotting more signs of spring and maybe even summer!
After four months travelling in South America we arrived back to Denmark in the middle of March. We are slowly adapting to the fresh spring weather (with a light sprinkling of snow yesterday), unpacking, sorting, washing and getting used to our new lives in Skive, where Rasmus’ parents live. We are very thankful to have a place to stay while we sort out the next steps in our lives. I am especially thankful we are living on a small farm, about 5km from the city, surrounded by nature and a host of farmyard animals, including a sheepdog (Max), 3 cats, 2 horses, 20+ chickens, 8 sheep and, at the last count, 8 lambs!
Our daily lives have changed drastically in the last few weeks; from sun cream, battling with Spanish and sightseeing to collecting eggs, feeding animals and playing fetch with a very eager sheepdog. We have, in many ways, gone from one holiday to another. Although I grew up in Ireland surrounded by pets (dogs, goldfish and hamsters), and I was very interested in horse riding for a few years in my early teens, I have never really spent much time with “farm” animals.
I have accidentally taken over the role as “fodermaster” (head animal feeder), which surprisingly takes up more time than I expected. My day is now filled with trips to the stables (and many changes of clothes) to provide food and water for a host of hungry animals. As it’s lambing season, the ewes are kept in the stable, both to protect the newly born lambs from the cold (spring takes its time to arrive here) and the possibility of predation from foxes or a passing wolf. Wolves have recently recolonised Denmark after 200 years absence!
All the other animals, except Magnus the ram, sleep under a roof. The horses, who spend there day out in the field retreat to the shelter of the stable overnight and the hens are tucked up in the hen shed by the time it gets dark. The cats are very happy cuddling up together on the straw bales while the dog get the luxury of sleeping in the house!
In the morning one of the first tasks is to fill the empty stomachs. The bleating sheep get very excited when they receive their corn mix and silage which keeps their jaws busy chewing during the day. Among the sheep there is one lamb, which at the start, didn’t thrive and grow like the others. We made the decision about a week ago to provide it with supplementary food, which it gets via a baby’s bottle. This task I have also taken on, one which gets me out of bed eagerly every morning! Little “Tiny” is growing stronger everyday!
Before being released back into the field the horses get a cereal snack and some silage to keep them happy. Releasing the hens is a slightly more tricky affair. They haven’t exactly learned where they are “supposed” to lay their eggs, despite many encouragements with a rubber fake egg (it does exist!). Each morning a single egg must be collected from behind the hatch, otherwise upon opening the hatch, the egg will roll outside and break.
That means that each morning I must make the somewhat treacherous journey through the hen house, between the two rows of clucking hens, complete with a puffed up cockerel, to collect that single egg. There isn’t much space in there and I must admit, it scares me a tad! Once that single troublesome eggs is collected the hatch can be opened and the chickens run to freedom (all be it limited!) where they happily peck holes in the compost from the day before.
I should probably mention that the animals are here as a hobby, not a business, and I can see the benefits of this! The animals provide you with endless hours of entertainment and company (especially the very springy lambs), ample opportunities for healthy outdoor physical exercise, a reliable composting service, food and wool!
I’m really enjoying farm life and hope I can incorporate some of it into my future life, where ever the road leads.
Over a month after leaving the jungle, I’ve managed to find the time to finish this post, or as much as I can from here (Bolivia), with limited Internet. I could add so much more, especially about the great people we met and non-avian experiences, but hopefully this will give you a taste of our experiences over the four wonderful weeks. Between January and February 2015 Rasmus and I spent a month in the rainforest, in the lowlands of Peru close to the Bolivian border on the Madre de Dios river, a tributary of the Amazon. With help from CORBIDI, the national organisation for bird ringing in Peru, we organised a stay of one month to assist with the ringing campaign carried out at ITA (Inka Terra Association). During that time we opened nets at six different sites in various habitats to determine the species present and examine the moult strategies.
All transport in the area is by boat and getting to our ringing sites was no exception. Above the boat is packed with equipment, tents, food, water and we were lucky enough to bring a cook too! We worked closely with Helmut, a biologist, who organised the logistics which included transport, accommodation, food, equipment and additional staff when required. The experience was unique in countless ways for us. It was all that we hoped for, as we were given the opportunity to actively contribute to biological research in the jungle. Our accommodation was basic but comfortable, with mosquito nets and cold showers, all you needed after a hot sticky day catching birds and warding off biting bugs. On many occasions we were based far from any form of shelter so we built our own temporary ringing hut in the woods, where we could shelter from the rain and enjoy breakfast(s) between net rounds.
As usual, nets were opened early in the mornings, and we carried out a few afternoon sessions too. We learned early on the disadvantage of opening the nets a few minutes too early, when we encountered some not too happy bats. It was a slightly nervous first encounter for me, but I survived bite free.
Bats were not our only concern when setting up and checking nets. At one site we unknowingly set up a net very close to a bullet ant nest. Bullet ants are known to have the most painful sting of all insects, which takes up to 24 hours to dissipate. We also encountered snakes, various biting insects and countless ant species during out net rounds to keep us awake. Wellington/rubber boots are essential dress in the jungle, both to keep your feet dry in the rainy season and for protection!
When a bird was captured the first step was to identify the species. With 1,800 bird species in Peru, and about 600 in the lowlands, this wasn’t always straightforward. Thankfully as time went on our identification skills improved. Once a ring was fitted we recorded moult, feather wear, reproduction status, age & sex where possible, wing length, weight and skull ossification. Thankfully my experience with European birds came in useful, but at times I felt like a beginner all over again! Before being released we took specific photos of the wings, head, body etc to support our records.
Towards the end of our stay we helped to carry out ringing in the forest canopy. It was in some ways an experiment and we used an existing set of raised platforms, bridges and towers at approximately 25m in height to set up the nets. Ringing in the canopy required a lot of patience, but we succeeded in capturing two birds in two days, maybe room for improvement!
During our stay we trapped over 120 birds (I need to compare my records with the official ones). The majority of the birds tapped were passerines in 7 different families. The most frequently caught were pipridae, furnariidae and thamnophilidae (more details in a later post, I hope).
Above a male Band-tailed Manakin about to make his escape. The male and female of Manakin species are highly sexually dimorphic. We also captured a variety of hummingbirds, which was a real treat for me. It took time to learn how to handle these tiny birds. We also ringed a number of pigeons (much to Helmut’s delight) and a variety of kingfishers, a single motmot and a single aracari.
This Lettered Aracari had an exceptionally strong and sharp bill – much caution was needed to avoid bloody fingers. As the majority of birds in the area are residents (non-migratory) we didn’t trap large numbers, which gave us time to carefully process each bird, and recaptures were relatively common. A large percentage of the birds were classified as first year (FCJ or FCF) and many birds showed signs of active reproduction. Over the next weeks and prehaps months, I hope to find the time among our travel adventures to review the photos and data collected and compare it with what has been published on moult and breeding in neotropical birds. Hopefully this can assist others working in this area in understanding the biology and life cycle of these amazing but lesser studied species.