Tag Archives: nature

First Tick of the Season

13 May

Probably the only tick of the season. The last one I saw in Scotland was about four years ago, under embarrassing circumstances. My new boyfriend Bunty had taken me into the bonny Highlands to meet his mother, who lives in a beautiful wilderness, with numerous animals running freely around her cottage. She is generally in tune with nature. I was keen to impress her.

Her dog Pipkin liked me, which was a good start. I found a tick on Pipkin’s neck, and proudly identified it.

“A tick!” I said.

Bunty’s mother remarked that she has great trouble removing ticks, because it’s so hard to do without leaving the head in, which then gets infected.

“Ah!” I said. “I’m great at removing ticks.”

I told her about the pack of feral dogs I ran around with as a child in Greece, and about the enormous juicy ticks they would pick up from the marsh grass. I said I’d learned a foolproof technique from the locals for removing them, and I was well-practised. You twist it slowly clockwise, then quickly anticlockwise with an upward yank, and presto!

“I’ll remove it for you,” I declared, and before Bunty’s mother could stop me, I had grasped it and twisted its head off.

There was a long, difficult silence. Bunty’s mother was none too pleased. The subject of ticks has not been raised between us since. Unlike me, Pipkin survived her tick ordeal without any trauma at all.

This year’s tick was on the neck of our rabbit Broccles. It attached itself a few days ago, but after the Pipkin incident, I was leery of applying the Foolproof Technique. I googled for alternative Foolproof Techniques, and found an implement called a Tick Twister, which is allegedly the most Foolproof of tick devices out there. It arrived in the post today.

The trick is to slide the prongs under the tick, each side of its head, and then keep twisting till it lets go. This tick had got so fat on Broccles’s blood that I could barely wedge the thing under it, but in the end it was jammed in and I twisted the handle. Out came the tick, head and all – bish, bash, bosh. Tick Twister 1, Foolproof Technique 0. Broccles did a little frolic.

I have an exam in two days. It could be argued that I should be studying instead of writing blog entries about ticks. Then again, it could be argued that this counts as revision,* since my exam is on animal physiology, and I will need to use my knowledge of ticks in it. Here are some things I will need to know.

  • A tick has turquoise blood. Red blood takes its colour from the iron used to transport oxygen, but a tick’s blood uses copper, and so its blood is turquoise.
  • A tick has no veins in its body – instead, the turquoise blood washes freely around its organs. Even so, it possesses a heart.
  • A tick breathes through holes in its sides. The air passes through structures like bound pages, called book lungs. Covering a tick with Vaseline, as some people do, kills it very slowly by suffocation.
  • When a tick dies, the extensor muscles within its exoskeleton relax: it hugs itself.

I didn’t want to feel responsible for the tick’s death. Nor did I want it crawling back over the garden wall to attach itself to our pets again. To resolve this dilemma, I carried it into the field across the main road and released it among the grasses, where it hunkered down among the roots to digest its meal. There’s no way it will cross that road. It’s foolproof.

*Revision – UK term for exam preparation.


The Doorstep Angel

1 May

You know those stories where a couple lets a wayfarer stay the night and they kill their only goat to feed them, and then the wayfarer turns out to be a wish-granting angel? That happened to us. Only, we didn’t have a goat and anyway, she’s vegetarian and any goat living here would be part of the family. Bunty killed and stuffed a marrow instead.

We had been feeling fraught. I was behind with my studies, Bunty with his work. The house was a tip. The guinea pigs were still living indoors because we hadn’t had time to fix up their summer housing. Everything was getting on top of us and I had a deadline coming up for an assignment which required a familiarity with Excel – a programme I have never used. Then there was a knock on the door.

A smiling girl stood on our doorstep with a rucksack on her back. She asked if she might stay the night. Readers will know that our door is open to every creature needing a bed for the night, so, of course, we said yes. The girl’s name was Seraph. A Christian friend has remarked that you can’t get a bigger clue-by-four than that.

Over the marrow, it transpired that Seraph was familiar with Excel, and so after enthusiastically cleaning out the guinea pigs’ tower for us, she spent the evening walking me through the steps needed to produce graphs from tables. It was a huge relief. The cats showed their approval by standing on her.

A week later, she is still here. She has fixed up the animal housing,

Bathed the guinea pigs and released them into their new homes in the garden,

Dismantled and spray-cleaned the guinea pig tower,

Cleaned the house, told us stories, cheered us up, and gave us enough free time and energy to get out of the house and go sightseeing.

It’s mighty generous of this God fellow to bless us godless atheists like this. Our Doorstep Angel is looking for a job, and when she finds one, she will move on and leave us. We wish her well… and we are thinking of starting an angel sanctuary.

Duck Love

18 Apr

Yesterday when he was in the garden, Bunty saw a pair of mallards waddling down the road. Cars shot by heedless of them, as they began to cross.  Bunty contemplated vaulting over the fence to usher them back to the verge, but feared he would panic them and drive them in front of a car instead. Then, a car hit the female duck. The driver had slowed down, but not enough. The bumper clipped her head, knocking her unconscious.

Bunty collected her from the tarmac before another car ran her over, and carried her carefully into the house. She came round as they reached the kitchen, and struggled to get out of his hands. Her wings and legs seemed strong and healthy, so Bunty took her to a corner of the field beside our cottage and placed her on the grass. She waggled her tail, found a place to settle down, and remained there for the next few hours, her head tucked under her wing.

Bunty told me all about her when he picked me up from college. We gazed at her over the garden wall, and she lifted her head briefly to look back at us. In the late afternoon, she perked up and began pottering about in the floody puddle nearby. She showed no interest in flying away, or in walking far, and we felt she was probably still concussed.

Things were looking positive until dusk fell, and torrents of rain came  battering the stone walls of the cottage. I messaged our local bird nerd Gillian to get advice. Gillian suggested keeping her indoors for the night, in a warm dark box, with the addendum that if she was difficult to catch, she would likely be fine outside. We made a box cosy with hay and climbed over the garden wall. The duck was gone.

We got a torch and searched the field, the lane, the hedge and the main road. There was no sign of her. The fact that there were no feathers left in the field suggested she had not been attacked, and had probably flown away. I was pleased, and so was Gillian, but Bunty fretted about his duck. He wanted to know for sure what had happened to her.

The next morning, on his way to the car to drive me to college, he paused to scan the field for her.

“Hey!” he said.

She was waddling toward us, with a drake in tow – perhaps the one who had been crossing the road with her. Upon sight of us, they both took to the air. There was clearly nothing wrong with the duck’s wings.

They returned to the corner where Bunty had first placed his duck. While she settled down to rest, the drake stood on the alert nearby, eyeing me with suspicion.

It is afternoon now, and they are still there. It appears that Bunty has two new best friends. He has thrown them some bread in case they get hungry. It’s important to feed one’s guests.