We have a bit of a love-hate relationship with mice in Helmickton. On the one hand, they're an infernal nuisance when they get into the shed and greenhouse, chew expensive things like hessian groundsheets and Hubcap's best waders, and get into bags of seed and scatter the fouled contents all over the floor. On the other hand, they're remarkable, agile, cunning little mammals - and beguilingly beautiful, like this poor baby - one of the tiny tender snacks Henry Wowler keeps catching, bringing into the house and (usually) eating down to a bloodstain and the odd slimy organ or eyeball he can't quite manage. However, somehow this unfortunate mouse-child managed to evade the Jaws of Death and hide until Henry lost interest and fell asleep, whereupon I found it on the living room floor, still alive and apparently intact, an adorable ball of grey fluff with feet several sizes too big for it. It didn't try to flee or fight when I picked it up and, as you see, squatted on my hand long enough for me to fumble my phone out and take a picture before letting it go in the back garden.
It was such a sweet little thing I hoped it would survive, so I put it in the sheltered place where our previous mouse resident had lived before finally falling victim to the wretched cat. Thinking it would probably be thirsty and hungry after its ordeal, I put down a handful of seeds and nuts, a bit of the birds' suet-block, and a few drops of rainwater cupped in a holly leaf. It managed to drink a little, as you might be able to see in the other picture, and had a half-hearted nibble of a seed; but it seemed to be stumbling and blundering about in a daze instead of (as I expected) immediately darting for cover, and barely seemed to recognise the food. I wondered if it might be in shock and hoped it would recover as the day wore on; but alas, there's no happy ending to this mouse's tail... I went to look for it as soon as I got home from work, and to my sorrow found it dead, crouched in almost the same place where I'd left it that morning. The only consolation is that it'll provide an easy meal for one of our local crows or magpies - but I really wish Mr Wowler wasn't such an adept and enthusiastic hunter.
Having just enjoyed the rare coincidence of a Bank Holiday and lovely weather, Hubcap and I made the most of it working and playing at Beckside. On the work side, we mowed the field and orchard, and cut some paths through the meadow areas so that we and our guests can walk through without disturbing the wildflowers and creatures that live in the long grass. Then we treated ourselves to a few cold beers in the shade of the oak tree, and just watched and listened to everything going on around us. It's wonderful to see the site developing though another season, although one of the developments is a little sad: our friendly pheasant Dullard has been ousted by a younger, larger cock, who has taken up with one of Dullard's fine daughters from last year. The interloper doesn't yet know us well enough to come waddling up clucking for food, and when I tried to throw him some, I was amazed by the way such a big, brightly-coloured bird could melt into his surroundings and simply disappear... but I hope he'll eventually learn to come to Mick's whistle like his predecessor (who we think has moved to the woods on the other side of the beck).
On the play side, now that the beck has receded to its normal levels after all March and April's heavy rain, Hubcap had a lovely time plodging about collecting new life for our tiny pond. He was delighted to find that, thanks to lots of work by Wakefield Council and the Friends of Newmillerdam, the water is now of sufficient quality to support a huge crop of frog and toad tadpoles - more than he had seen in decades. So we transplanted a half-dozen lovely healthy toad-poles to join a couple of newt tadpoles in our pond - the adults and larger juvenile newts we started with have all climbed up the ramp and gone off to live in the long grass, but we hope they'll return in due course to spawn. He also caught a little roach (pictured) but that was returned to the beck - unlike the female stickleback he managed to fish out of a small landlocked puddle, who has become the sole piscine inhabitant of our pond until we can find her a mate. And among the myriad invasive mussel species, he was very pleased to find a native swan mussel (also pictured), who has also joined our pond-life to help keep the water clear - together with a few tiny clams, a caddis-fly larva, several stones covered in water-plants and swarming with water-lice and stone-fly larvae, a reed, a bunch of water-cress and some nice nutritious mud.
I must have spent a good hour kneeling over it, totally riveted by the spectacle. The pond has changed enormously over the few weeks since we installed it; the bottom is covered in mud and bits of organic debris, the pond-weed is growing, and the sides have turned into green algae fields, marked by tracks where the snails and tadpoles cruise around munching. It also now contains lots of things we didn't put there, like midge larvae (which Mrs Stickleback will eat), some black things like animated full stops, another very active little black creature about the size of a mung bean - and an aquatic spider! Thinking it had fallen in by accident we 'rescued' it and put it on the bank - only for it to dive back in and clamber down the algae-covered side until it disappeared into the depths - most definitely a swimmer by choice rather than misadventure. What a remarkable little world it is... so many creatures living happily in an old Victorian sink. I can hardly wait until we get the two larger ponds Hubcap is planning so that we can increase our acquatic bio-diversity even more!