Nature red in tooth and claw …

Nature red in tooth and claw …

August brings us sunshine and smiles in the stream…  and it also brings us the results of nature going about her quiet business.

This week, a tale of two watery juveniles who met their death, a kingfisher and an otter.

Guests on holiday at Watermill Cottages found the body of a beautiful kingfisher.  This year we’ve all been seeing them whizz up and down the stream, so fast, it seemed impossible that anything could stop them.  Its body wasn’t damaged, just the tip of its beak was bent.

We stood amazed at the biilliance of its plumage, stroking its darting, iridescent, gleaming, turquiose-blue and gasping at the burnt orange contrast.

The same day, other guests found half a body of an otter at the edge of the stream in the valley.  Again, they’ve been heard and seen all season.  What would kill an otter?  When we went to look nature had taken over and the carcass was gone – foxes, badgers, crows feasting as they tidied.

I rang Slapton Ley Field Centre and spoke to Nick Binnie, Reserve Officer, who gave me a fuller picture.  

There were three likely causes of the otter death.  Perhaps a juvenile otter had strayed into the territory of the Gara Brook otter family and had not picked up the scent of the spraint.  Spraint is how otters mark their territory – and they defend it viciously.

Or it had died of illness.  Or perhaps a female otter had given birth to three kits.  Nick told me that a female can only raise two kits to adulthood;  if she attemtps to raise three they all die.  So she waits until they are juveniles and then makes a decision which to abandon…. which is the weakest…  This is the most likely cause of death.  

Nick asked me a few questions about the kingfisher.  ‘Does it have a white tip to its beak?  if it does, then it’s a juvenule.’  I looked, and yes, it did have a white beak tip.  

‘The problem is, as with human juveniles, they have a taste for speed but are not yet experienced enough to navigate fully so there’s more likelihood of them crashing into things like windows and dying.’  

His other option, that perhaps a sparrow hawk had taken it and had been disturbed before plucking it, and had dropped it, seemed unlikely as there were no wounds to the body.

So now we know…                                                         
                                   … yet In animal classification, ‘Halcyon’ is the genus for kingfishers.  A word that also means ‘happy, joyful, carefree’, as in the halcyon days of childhood.  It comes from the Greek word for a bird which in legend is linked to the kingfisher. 

The legend says that the bird nested on the sea in winter, which it
calmed in order to lay its eggs on a floating nest.  It meant that the ancients expected two weeks of calm
weather around the winter solstice. This is why we use  ‘halcyon’ as a term for peace or calmness as well as joyful and carefree.

I can see why a bird of such beauty inspired legends and words.  It seems apt that it lived in our beautiful, peaceful and carefree valley.

 

Harry’s holidays…

Harry’s holidays…

 A grand old man, Harry is 14 and has spent every Whit week for nine years at Watermill Cottages.  

And although his back legs are not too steady these days, and though sleep is almost, not quite, but almost, more important than food – he is a Labrador after all – he always goes for his morning and evening amble down to the stream to cool his paws, sniff the air and catch the breeze.

 He loves scents and knows them well here, he’s at home in Barleycorn Cottage where he’s stayed every year for nine years.  It matters, as his eyes don’t see too well now.  His nose tells him who we all are!

As you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, Harry needs help getting out of the stream.  Out for him is always up on to the grass.  It most certainly is NOT up a plank of wood, onto a flat rock and then onto the lawn.  

‘Honestly, who do they think I am!’  gruffed Harry, as he deftly removed a burnt sausage from beside the bbq.

The Times recommends Watermill Cottages 23 May 2015

The Times recommends Watermill Cottages 23 May 2015

The Times recommends Watermill Cottages

The Times, to our delighted surprise, recommended us in its Travel Doctor column on Saturday May 23 2015.  

Watermill Cottages’ 20 acres of rural coastal retreat near Slapton Sands beach in South Devon’s AONB is perfect for families of all ages and sizes with plenty of dogs!

It was in the Weekend Section, which luckily Andy at Strete General Stores held for us on Sunday morning.

The Times quoted prices for May half-term 2016 for Rose, Quack and Barleycorn Cottages – the same price as 2015 – prices and availability for 2015 are on this link.  

For 2016 prices and availability please call us on 01803 770219 or email christine@watermillcottages.co.uk

Word has got out! 

April news – new field, ducklings, lamb report

April news – new field, ducklings, lamb report

 
April the first and it’s not a joke – this morning two bright yellow ducklings for Dark Green Duck, our first of the spring.   Mrs Duckel, the grey and white duck, looks on from her own nest – she has three weeks to go.

Field with a View 

We’ve recently added a six acre meadow for your enjoyment at Watermill Cottages – it’s at the top of the lane and has stunning views over Start Bay to the lighthouse at Start Point.  It’s great for sunsets (and eclipses) too.  

We’re planning a campfire place and rustic seating so it’ll be the perfect spot for family picnics and sundowners, never mind watercolours, photography, kite-flying (it catches the breeze), and rolling down the slope.  It’s a healthy stroll with the delight of walking down hill home to your cottage.

Sheep Report   Matilda is thriving (still on bottles), here she is with the cuckoo lamb from last year and Jesse the friendly Jacob ram who eats from your hand

Cuckoo lamb, Jesse ram and Matilda
Jesse

   

Bottte Feeding Matilda the Lamb

Bottte Feeding Matilda the Lamb

Matilda’s mum only has half a working udder so we’re bottle feeding
Matilda twice a day at Watermill Cottages smallholding and teaching her to eat lamb food… She comes
running and bouncing when you call her name… why does bottle feeding a
lamb make everyone so happy!

Teaching Matilda to eat solids is not easy – she is easily distracted and likes to jump for joy… the Belted Galloways, last year’s calves, are not impressed…  Matilda was born in mid-February, she’s thriving we’re happy to report.  She’s in the sheep shed at the moment but shall soon be in the field next to the kitchen garden, behind Barleycorn Cottage, where there’s plenty of fresh grass for a growing lamb and her mum.

   

Hens on wheels …

Hens on wheels …

checking out the ‘Hentrance’

John’s mobile hen house …

 A New Year and a new move for the chickens at Watermill Cottages …  

John has spent a few winter weeks in his workshop happily building a new mobile home for the hens. 

Yesterday they took a first look round.

It’s compact, warm, easy to clean (detachable roof and rear nesting boxes with lid), has light-sensitive door closing, and best of all, it’s on wheels.

The plan is to involve the hens in weeding and prepping the kitchen garden.  

We’ll move them over the lane and use electric fencing to keep them safe from fabulous and very friendly Mr Fox as they weed, fertilise and dig over some of the ground.

Happy faces all round (except for Mr F) and scrummy eggs and veg too.

ten rescued  ducklings

ten rescued ducklings

‘There are ducklings all over the lawn, quick come and help’ so we ran to the rescue ith buckets, fishing nets, wellies and anything we could find…  

A mallard had nested in a clump of pampas grass by the bridge,and her ducklings were leggily darting down the bank into the stream and being washed away.  they pooled in the eddies by the lawn, ran to the grass then back into th stream as we approached them.

The flow under the bridge was too strong for them to swim back upstream to their mum who called them to join her and the few duckling who’d entered the river well above the bridge.
 
We collected ten of them and put them in an open-topped box where we hoped thier mum might join them and encourage them out.  She didn’t.  So John rigged up the poultry heat lamp in the chickenarium he built for hen chicks last year and we made a warm nesting box at one end with a dog-bowl pool and food at the other.  They were there for a week before the whole construction was sodden – 
mallards ducklings love to splash!

They’re now in the dog kennel with a heat lamp and a large baking tray pool in the sunshine – it doesn’t matter how wet everything there gets.  We crush corn and pellets for them, give them grass too.  They are thriving! And very fast.

A few more weeks of heat lamps and they can join the muscovies and ducklings.  So far so good….  

It’s spring at Watermill Cottages!

February – walk round Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve

February – walk round Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve

Oh what a beautiful day!

For weeks, I’ve been meaning to walk round the National Nature Reserve (NNR) just down the lane from Watermill Cottages at Slapton Ley and today was the day, with the first spring birdcalls in the air and a beaming sun.

Slapton Ley towards Torcross

 

A fabulously crammed fresh crab sandwich and a cuppa at The Start Bay Inn at Torcross for lunch then a walk round the Ley – the colours, my goodness. 


 

And as I rounded a dip in th path at the edge of the lapping Ley, nine young swans preening – I couldn’t believe my luck.  Some of the young from last year – 2013 was such a good swan year.

view from hide at Ireland Wood

The view from the hide at Ireland Bay, round the walk from the bridge on the Slapton road is magnificent –  looking over reed beds to Ireland Farm which was evacuated in preparation for Operation Tiger in 1943, a rehearsal for the D-Day Landings in World War Two.  The inhabitants didn’t ever return.

boats beached at Slapton Ley

first celandine
over the ring seat to the monument 
commemorating Operation Tiger

A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) the Reserve is managed by Slapton Ley Field Centre and is home to otters, birdlife, butterflies, including bitterns, Cetti’s warbler and kingfishers.  The Gara brook that runs through the garden and valley of Watermill Cottages feeds the Higher Ley, which is why we take so much care of our land.


January = Brunch on the beach at Blackpool Sands!

January = Brunch on the beach at Blackpool Sands!

Every picture tells a story so I’ve kept the words to a minimum…

… a bright blue sky, sun dripping onto waves which were tipping onto beach…  kids, dogs (because it’s winter and you can…  from the end of March you can’t), smiles, walks…

 

… and a delicious bacon bap with local bacon and organic tea out of the breeze and in the sun at Venus Beach CafĂ©…

Venus Beach Cafe at Blackpool Sands

I felt like I’d been away on holiday – and I live here!