Saturday, 2 March 2013

Still searching for Spring...

Well finally it is looking as though Spring temperatures might arrive this week, so until I can get out and get on with some gardening, here's some birds who have been visiting the garden this winter ~ 

Long-tailed Tits ( Aegithalos caudatus)
To encourage long-tailed tits try planting for an insect and butterfly/moth rich habitat. Plenty of roses, honeysuckle, willow and herbs. They like high food sources and so plenty of good scrubby cover and trees.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Love the Latin name of this little bird, which means a reclusive, cave dweller. They are insect and spider eaters so low ground cover perennials to establish a good hiding and foraging habitat and nesting boxes/old teapots hidden in ivy clad walls are an incentive to stay in the garden. 

Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)
To encourage blue tits try shrubs and trees for berries, insects and spiders like ivy and buddleja. They love high energy bird food but, like the long-tailed tits, it needs to be high and out of the way of predators.

Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
These shy birds love snails. Slugs and snails and insects. And berries. But mainly snails, which is probably not what any gardener wants to hear. You don't need to encourage slugs and snails but just stop killing them.  As organic pest controls go, thrushes and blackbirds have the added benefit of a beautiful song. 

Green Woodpecker (Picus viridus)
This is a real specialist feeder. They love ground feeding on ants and prefer woodland or forest nearby to your garden and grassy spaces with established ant colonies to dig into. My tip to keep ants out of the house and in the garden for the woodpeckers is to place a small container (I use an old jam jar) with some jam in it near the path they use to get into the house once they have woken up in Spring . Make sure it is secured and not a danger to you or your pets/children/wildlife. The ants will prefer it to the long trek into the house and just keep it topped up every now and then with a bit of jam. 

Organic gardening, less tidy gardening, more tolerance of weeds and seedheads and ground cover plants as well as mulches. Longer lawns, extended flowering season from annuals and herbs, single flowering plants as well more exotic double blooms, berries and native tree species.  All these things help to make a rich habitat for birds and make overwintering in our garden easier for them. 

For information on your garden birds try ~



Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Dead and Buried ( A Sam Hansome and Anne Talanted Cold Case Story)

Rain lashes the glass in wind driven waves as Sam nurses a mug of hot, sweet tea to his chest. Lyme Bay stretches out before him, a wild and seething cauldron as the storm races in, clouds piling up over the slumped cliffs to batter the conservatory of his bungalow with an onslaught of hail. As the night falls Sam can see several dark hulks moving closer into the bay, ships looking for shelter from the storm, their thin lights stuttering through the spray. He sips his tea and wonders what to do, until the storm dies down there is little chance of sleep. The large chalkboard behind him is wiped clean, no ongoing cases at the moment but the usual stack of files on the wicker armchair is weighted down with a worn ammonite. Sam reaches down and runs a finger over the ridges of the fossil. But work didn't appeal tonight. It was a night for watching the sea. Spring storms were always the best and, as a long blade of lightning slices the sky open, Sam settles into a nearby armchair and watches the show unfold across the bay.

Detective Inspector Anne Talanted impatiently scrolls through her numbers on her phone and taps on Sam Hansome's home number, perhaps he was there. As she strides towards her car she blips the key and mutters under her breath, 'Come on, Sam hurry up and answer. I really haven't got all day on this one.'
Sam wakes with a start. In the distance he can hear ringing. For a moment or two his eyes are dazzled by the bright sunlight pouring through the conservatory windows. He moves and groans, he must have fallen asleep on the chair, again. He gingerly stretches and rubs his neck, feeling his vertebrae crack as he straightens. By the time he reaches the land line in the kitchen, Anne has gone from impatient to angry. 'What the hell are you doing? I've been ringing for ages, what's the point of you having a work mobile if you don't keep it turned on!'
'Morning Anne...'
'Hardly bloody morning any more! I'm coming to pick you up en route to the site, I'll be about half an hour, you better be ready... and bring boots.'
'Nice to speak to you too!' Sam replies to the cut connection. Something had her riled. He glances at the clock, 11.30 am. She was right, it was barely still morning, he had better get a move on.
Twenty minutes later Sam steps out into the brilliant clear blue of a crisp February day. The bay is mill pond calm after the storm and high, thin clouds stretch tight across the sky. The ships are gone and there is a fresh, sparkly feel to the day. He watches as Anne pulls her car into the driveway and beckons for him to get in. He opens the rear door of the 4x4 and chucks his boots onto the floor and as he climbs into the passenger seat, she pulls away in a skid of gravel and mud.
'Woa! hold on, I'm barely in! That's my drive you're ruining, what's the rush?'
'There's been a washout. Up at the new bypass cutting. It's holding up the excavation and we've been asked to come and see if we can help.'
'A wash out? You mean up at Bycombe Down? I hadn't realised the bypass was going ahead yet. Wasn't there one of those protest camps up there?' Sam struggles to get his seat belt secured as an indicator on the dash pings at his ineptitude.
'You should try watching the local news Sam, it might help with the job! Well, to bring you up to speed. The bypass got the go ahead six months ago but it took several weeks for the bailiffs to clear out the protesters, then just before the diggers moved in a local historian found some Viking coins with a metal detector and a full scale archaeological dig has been going on ever since. Did you not hear about the big pit full of Viking treasure they found up there?'
Sam stares out the window at the rapidly passing hedgerows. The story rang a bell, somewhere, in the back of his mind.
Anne continues, her irritation beginning to subside as she starts to rationalise events in her mind, 'Last night, during the storm a large section of previously unexcavated chalk was washed out to reveal a bigger pit.'
'I'm guessing not more treasure?'
'No, lots of dead Vikings, one of them wearing Levi 501's and a black bomber jacket.'
'A protester?'
'No, too old for that. The local police contacted me this morning, the coroner thinks it's a body from about thirty years ago. No obvious signs of foul play. Doesn't match any of the missing persons on file. They want to offload it onto us as the site is so sensitive, before the media whip it up into something big and bring out all the protesters again.'
A little while later Sam and Anne are picking their way through the bulldozed piles of chalk and police cordons to where the new pit has opened up. A hundred feet away is a huddle of people round a snack van, drinking mugs of coffee and watching them. A policeman greets them, 'Those are the archaeologists, most are students from Bournemouth University, some are local volunteers. The coroner has released the body but I guess you'll want to see it in situ and before we send it over to your labs. Watch your step, the ground is very unstable after all that rain.'
As Anne discusses arrangements and paperwork with the police officer, Sam peers into the deep, ragged pit in front of them. On one side a huge uprooted tree has dragged away the topsoil, leaving a crater like hole. There are half a dozen skeletons just emerging from the raw chalk along with another body, this one fully clothed and almost mummified. Sam is suddenly aware someone is standing at his elbow. It is one of the archaeologists, coffee mug steaming in the cold air. 'Yes, 1980's I'd say, judging from the clothes. Poor sod. Well preserved in the chalk though, it's the high lime content, stops bacteria. Though how he got in that burial pit I don't know. This was pristine woodland when we arrived. We had only got as far as mapping this part of the site when that storm stopped us yesterday...'
'And you are?' Sam asks, wondering if he should know who this person was talking to him.
'Peter Baynette, Professor of Archaeology, I head up the unit working out here. Very unfortunate, if this turns into a murder investigation it could set us back months. We think the Viking remains are part of a raiding party working along the coast. There are some settlements farther up the valley that may have been their intended targets...'
'Fascintating and you say there was no disturbance before you started digging?'
'No, nothing obvious. But the rain must have got in somehow, maybe a chalk denehole nearby, or even earlier excavations for mining flint, washed it all out before we had a chance to...' But the Professor is cut short by the return of Anne and the policeman.
'I'm afraid you'll have to move back with other archaeologists, Sir. We need to recover the body now.' Anne smiles at Sam as the professor moves away. 'I'm going to get all their archaeological data sent through to us but it sounds like they were only just starting on this section. Did he have anything of interest to say.'
'Maybe, look Anne, I'm going to have a scout around and get some photos of the place. I think the archaeology is not connected to the body. The professor mentioned deneholes, maybe our body fell down one and it somehow connected to this burial pit or maybe someone just stumbled on a convenient hole to dump the body in, thirty odd years ago.'
'OK, but watch your step. They think the whole site is likely to collapse again.'

On the journey back to the FSS Sam and Anne lapse into a silence, eventually broken by Anne.
'Look, I'm sorry about being so bad-tempered this morning...'
Sam waits to hear the end of the sentence sensing there is more to follow.
'It's just... well. We've had a lot of bodies that are already dead and buried recently and I'd quite like it if we had a fighting chance of finding someone alive. You know what I mean?' Sam nods, knowing exactly the feeling of frustration and disappointment accompanying each new body. 'No hope of a happy ending for them.'
'Maybe not a happy ending but how about a bit of justice and a decent burial?' Sam asks, searching for a reason to give her. Anne sighs, 'That'll have to do I guess.'

More Hansome and Talanted Cold Case Stories here ~