Wildlife adventures

In spite of dire warnings about Arctic winds and a return to frost, this week has stayed warm and sunny. The dandelion wars continue, but I seem to be slowly wearing them down and the cats are spending as much time as they can outside, especially the Princess, who considers it her divine right to be out patrolling her kingdom during all daylight hours.

The downside to this is, of course, that they are attracted to any passing wildlife and I don’t mean in a fluffy, ‘come and say hello’ sort of way. In particular, our house and garden attract a lot of birds. Earlier in the year, the tits and finches stripped the pampas grass bare in their search for nesting material. It was like cat TV – they were fascinated (as was I if I’m honest – it vanished before our eyes). Then one of our neighbours mentioned the starlings nesting in our eaves, which we hadn’t even realised at the time. We have at least 3 nests, and we are going to have to do something about it later in the year when they have gone, but for now, we are doing our bit for the declining starling population. And at least they are safe from the cats up there – even the Princess hasn’t made it on to the main roof yet – although they are both often to be found a-quiver on a windowsill indoors, watching every bird come and go as they feed their chicks.

We take such pleasure in watching the cats play, but we try to forget that all play is merely practice for their hunting instinct. Sadly, we were reminded this week, when the Princess proudly came home with a poor sparrow, which counted as our first (known) death. This is the distressing side of sharing our lives with outdoor cats, and one I am keen to minimise if possible.

I was less than impressed, then, when I saw the Calamity Cat watching something on the lawn which I hoped and prayed was just a leaf. On closer inspection, however, I realised she had found a frog. Unsure if it was still alive,  and hoping that it was just being clever enough to be playing dead, I removed Calamity, to squawks of indignation, and called to D, who was busy up at the working end of the garden.

“What do we do with it?” I asked. “We can’t leave it  here for the cats.” D wasn’t sure either, particularly as we have no pond and we didn’t think our neighbours had either. We gently touched it, to see if we were too late, then jumped nearly as much as the frog, when it leapt away from us. In the end, we managed to put it in some dense, ground cover plants to give protection from both sun and cats, and hoped for the best. I really hope it got home safely, wherever home is.

We encourage the cats to stay in the gardens at the back of the house (good cattage, remember?) as there is a road at the front (albeit a quiet one), which is quite often used by a local farmer with a passion for speed-racing in his tractor. Calamity is happy to oblige, as finding her way to the front would take more energy and brain power than she is prepared to expend. Sadly, the Princess has other ideas and has discovered she can reach the top of the wall linking the house and garage, fit through the gap and out to the big wide, dangerous world at the front of the house. One day we had opened the garage door, blocking her exit, so she had to think a bit harder and work a bit more but, after the cogs spinning so hard you could see it on her face, she found a solution. She jumped as far up the wooden shed as she could get, climbed the rest of the way like Spiderman and then sauntered over the roof on to the roof of the garage. From there, it was easy to jump from the front of the garage on to the fence and away. Whoever said that cats aren’t natural problem-solvers clearly never met our Princess. The other day, though, we spied a baby sparrow through the front window sitting on the road and, still distressed from her kill the day before, I put my foot down. 3 times I brought her in and 3 times she defied me and went straight back out there again. The fourth time, I had had enough. This was a sparrow I was going to save. I hardened my heart and, no matter how she cried, I kept her inside. The following day, the sparrow had gone and I am choosing to believe that it survived to rejoin its family.

I have a feeling it is going to be a long summer …

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