Demelza is due to come back on heat today and had it not been so drearily cold last evening, I might have separated these two then, but hoped they could wait safely until this morning.
In the early light I could see that Zella was shadowing Demelza's every move but she was not yet in standing heat. I took them some hay, for which Zella willingly came out of the paddock. They can graze neighbouring Flats 2 & 3 for a couple of days until Demelza is normal again.
Demelza can't help but try and mount Zella when she's on heat, which aggravates her sore old hind leg joints and I presume Zella's weight on Demelza as she mounts her, doesn't help either. Better to keep them away from each other until the urges pass.
As I walked out across the bridge this afternoon, a hawk flew up from the the feathers or fluff on the ground on the other side of the stream and I thought for a dreadful minute that the big soft rabbit might have become lunch.
But to immediately put my mind at rest, there it was, in an occasional shaft of sunlight.
The dead lunch was a Mallard duck.
In today's mail, a cheque from The New York Times.
I have long found publication thrilling. It may be because I live in a small, tucked-away corner of the world and being able to interact with a much wider part of it from here is great fun.
To have an interaction with an internationally-recognised bit of the publication world, even though it was only by the provision of one photograph, has entertained me enormously.
Goodness knows how much it might cost in transaction fees to bank this cheque. I sent them all my details, including my bank account numbers and still here is a cheque. More satisfying this way though, to hold the thing in my hand and record it, rather than just see a few numbers on a bank statement screen.
In the later afternoon we walked around the corner and caught a lift to town with Sandi and family, to go and watch daughter Jorja's performance in the finals of "Far North's Got Talent". Jorja certainly does, but wasn't a prize-winner on the night.
I was very glad to have taken ear plugs. Sunglasses would have been a good idea too, since someone had set up a randomly swivelling light to flash out across the audience in a blinding and increasingly irritating fashion. Why? Why would you do that?
Three new Pukeko chicks from the latest nest on the island.
In this picture there are two adults, at left and right, and the middle bird is the juvenile from the last clutch, also pictured last week.
The only value I can now glean from Meg's year on the farm, is her usefulness as a comparison animal with twin Gem.
They are identical in every respect other than their current pregnancy status: Meg (left) isn't; Gem (right) is.
Here you can see that Gem has a rounder left side, because there's more in her belly - the calf generally lies to the right, since the rumen, the large "first stomach" into which all the grass goes, is on the left. The characteristic bulge of the calf is the low roundness on the right side. But in a single cow from any herd, it would be difficult to say for certain that this appearance meant pregnancy. It is really only in this situation, where I have identical cows in the same mob on the same feed, that the differences can be noted with confidence.
In most of the rest of the herd at present, I can't see from the outside that they're pregnant, despite most of them now being only six to eight weeks away from calving. There is that lower bulge present at some times but I'm never really sure unless I see or feel calf movement.
For the last few years Stephan has been making cheese presses for Peter Niepel to sell on his Cottage Crafts website. But Peter is closing the website and business and when someone recently requested a cheese press, Peter rang Stephan to ask if could make contact directly and conclude whatever arrangements he wished.
Stephan doesn't particularly like phoning people he doesn't know so I rang the enquirer, who was out milking her cows and feeding her hens. Her partner insisted on calling out to bring her to the phone, while I protested that it wasn't an urgent call.
The first thing she asked was were we Ruth and Stephan from Diggers Valley? She was very excited about that being the case and called out to her partner that it was I he'd just been talking to! She had been a long-time reader of the Lifestyle Block Magazine column.
I remember feeling like that about Trisha Fisk, my predecessor in writing the column. And Renée, who has become our lovely friend, whose novels and plays we had been reading long before we met her. I once surreptitiously touched Julian Clary's leather jacket (having watched him on TV for years) and then sat on the warm bar stool he'd just vacated! (I think that kind of behaviour might be counted as stalking these days.) I get completely overwhelmed when I meet famous people and can't speak sensibly. Or sometimes even at all.
I took the young mob into the Bush Flat late this morning, then climbed over the fence into the Bush Hill reserve. I was, of course, looking for orchids.
This pile of crunched Kauri Snail shells (threatened, endemic), evidence of the numerous feral pigs in this area. The pigs are such a problem.
It's thick in here in places but the pigs seem to have been nearly everywhere.
Eventually I found a few orchid plants. I cannot tell what species this one is. It is growing in a much drier situation than the Corybas cheesemanii a little further down the hill, but is probably the same species.
I didn't even notice the difference in this leaf until I later examined the photographs.
It is not a species I have encountered before. Exciting!
It may be Corybas oblongus, but I'm not experienced enough to tell until it flowers, which I hope I will have the opportunity to see.
I made some careful observations (with some photos) of where I was, as I made my way directly back down the slope to the fence, then noted a particular tree where I'd climbed back over the fence. I should be able to find my way back to the plants again later. Note to self: carry marking ribbon in pocket on orchid walks!
On my way back home for lunch I spotted this fencepost at a very strange angle. The ground there is splitting as the bank, along with the enormous Totara tree growing there, is collapsing in to the stream.
After lunch and a sit-down I suggested to Stephan that we go for an exploratory walk around the Bush Hill reserve, since he hasn't serviced the traps there for a long time. We also wanted to check the state of the boundary fence, having been in communication lately with the Department of Conservation about their management of the Buselich Reserve and its need for a "fencing review", to ensure the exclusion of wandering cattle. I was hoping to find more orchids.
While Stephan made his way up the fenceline, cutting regrowth to make a clearer path and re-baiting traps with disgusting things from his bucket of bait, I took a more wandering path, looking for interesting things.
These birdnest fungi had spore capsules sitting around them where they'd been splashed out of the little bowls.
A tiny twig, with exquisitely detailed growths on its underside.
There is the occasional break in the canopy on the ridges and I looked back on a view we don't often see: our House paddock the green in the left foreground and the neighbouring dairy farm beyond.
These little black fungi look a bit like birdnest fungi but without the spore capsules and I can't find any reference to black ones, so they must be something else. Most of the things I find interesting are minute.
I found a few small Pixie orchid plants, with drooping flower stems, a habit I've not noticed anywhere before, but presumably the same species.
Stephan continued along the boundary, down to the corner where he had built the new fence most recently along the boundary with the 10-acre neighbours and I made my way down across the hill (with the help of the GPS, since without looking at it I kept going in the wrong direction) to come out where the pig trap is set next to the top of Mushroom 2 & 3.
I found some huge holes up in the bush, where underground water had caused great chunks of ground to drop down. In some places the trickle of water was visible before it disappeared again into a hole or crack several feet beneath the surface.
As I walked along the lane today one of the Plover chicks ran for cover in the long grass beside one of the drains. I watched the spot until I reached it, so I could have a close look at the little bird.
I gently picked it up, still just small enough to hold in one hand, stroked it then placed it gently down and it ran away into the Windmill paddock.
These birds are considered native, since they were self-introduced across the Tasman several decades ago.
Another twins comparison: Meg on the left, Gem on the right.
There is perhaps the slightest difference in the curve of the stomach, a bit more heaviness in Gem's, but not enough to indicate anything in any other situation than this, where the other animal is identical apart from her pregnancy status. Gem's udder may be a little fuller but it hasn't really started the marked change we'll see later.
On my way home I waded across the stream to the base of the Small Hill reserve area to see what might be growing there.
These filmy ferns grow in all our streamside bush reserves.
Two days ago, after resting it for 84 days since the neighbour's stray calf was in the Tank paddock, I set up an electric wire to keep the two bulls and steer where I could easily find them and brought them in to more feed than they've had for a while.
Today I went to check them and found both little bulls had gone through the wire, leaving the steer behind. I gave up on the idea, took the wire away.
I've spent many hours writing this winter, trying to catch up with these pages. I know there's a gap back at the beginning of this year but when I was writing one of those pages (still unpublished) I realised there was another gap back in December 2016 and some things happened then that are important in some later storylines and thus I have been reliving the events of several different times. So far there's a new page for the week beginning 10 December 2016.
The three new chicks are regularly out across the paddocks with their family. Here the juvenile older sibling is feeding one of the chicks.
The sparrow is on top of the chicken palace in the foreground.
Out the back I called the cows along the bottom of the Small Hill to the gate and along this short lane into the Big Back South. I sat on a big Totara log in the sunshine and watched them munch their way toward me.
These are the two sons of Nigel, William's big black rooster. Now they're nearly adult, they've been causing trouble amongst Elizabeth's hens so they've come here for us to choose which one to keep for our hens and which one to eat. There wasn't much difference between them.
On my return along the road from trying (unsuccessfully) to re-find and flag my latest-discovered orchid plants on the peninsula, I noticed a movement under some Nikau leaves in the ditch and out came this stoat! It was weirdly slow, must have been sick or injured and so I was able to catch and kill it. As I did so I was surrounded by an extraordinary odour, sort of sweetly perfumed but with an unpleasant tang. I couldn't think what it was until I walked away and was no longer engulfed by the smell. When I arrived home and bent to take off my boots, there it was again. I rinsed my boots off but it wasn't enough: the smell was in the house where my boots sat in the sun to dry.
The stoat, in its natural response to being caught, must have sprayed me with its scent. I realised it was probably on the legs of my jeans as well, so discarded them to the washing machine and sat for a while, bare-legged, until I could be sure it hadn't gone through to my skin, which would have necessitated a shower.
Stoats are the Terminators of the New Zealand bush: they kill any bird, are reportedly the biggest killers of Kiwi chicks when they're still small, will take any egg and will kill birds when they're sitting on their nests, killing the parent and the eggs or chicks beneath them. We see stoats from time to time, running across roads or tracks but most of them live invisibly all around us, taking their constant toll. We have traps set for them all around the farm.
I've been doing some hunting around my family tree. In te Ao Māori, the Māori world, the place to which one belongs is a crucial part of identity. Part of our Te Reo course involves learning how to describe those connections. While I belong firmly here, by birth and by association, my family origins are far away; and the other part of one's story is how one's people got here, to this land. Thus I have been finding out where some of my relatives came from long ago and when and how they came here. I discovered the names of my paternal great-great-grandparents, in a news report of the Pareora, which arrived in Port Chalmers in October 1877.
There were other branches of the family already here, so tracking down the right Renners was a bit of fun. This particular couple were married in Germany in June 1877 and my great-grandfather was born in Wellington at the end of the following February, so there was a narrow time-frame during which they could have made the 13-week trip around the world.
My father was very interestedly piecing together the family tree in his later life, when I had no interest in it at all. It would have been delightful to share some of that work with him now, when the internet makes so many records so easily available.
Gina 168 must be finding the now-active ticks very annoying and has obviously been rubbing her neck to scratch them off, also removing some hair.
There's not a great deal we can practicably do about the ticks, short of continual use of insecticide on the animals. I use it sometimes if there's an obvious problem - an animal a bit under the weather for any other reason will be more-than-usually affected by ticks, for example. I suppose rubbing your own neck raw could be considered an obvious problem. The insecticide is touted to be effective for up to six weeks but our experience here is that within three weeks, the ticks are back on the animals again.
I walk a lot at this time of year, attempting to fend off the winter blues. Of course that often means meandering through the bush.
After checking the cows I came back through the Bush Flat reserve, always interested to see if I can find more of the orchids I know to be there. These few plants were beneath some thickly-growing Totara and Kanuka seedlings.
I smelt the stoat smell in a couple of places. I have inadvertently become a stoat detector.
Under one of the huge Puriri trees on the margin of the reserve I found this pile of Taraire seeds, all germinating. The tree above must be a regular roost for Kukupa, the native wood pigeon, whose food is Taraire and other big drupes.
The stream, where it now flows through its new channel, has opened up the down-stream pool so that it is no longer possible to step across the water here.
Interestingly the hole in the bank doesn't seem to be getting much bigger but the water must come thundering through it to scour out this bit of the former bank. I'm never here when the water is at its highest, being disinclined to go out in the heavy rain. I must make more effort!