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Sunday, 2 September 2018

Summer of 2018

Work has continued at Rais this summer, despite me not being there and of course the incredible heat wave that I have completely missed - typical!
Ant, Simon, Helen, Flee and Tracey have regularly been working at Rais as well as spending camping weekends and hosting visitors in my absence. I can't thank them all enough, not only for the work of course, but also for the photos and the snippets of news which brighten my days.
Simon tells me that the usual summer job of bracken pulling was not quite as big a task this year, and in the wayleave in particular the amount of bracken was greatly reduced. It seems that a combination of the previous year’s hand-pulling and the grass getting really established now has made a big difference. The areas more recently cleared of rhodie, on the east side of the wood, are still quite dense though - which is as to be expected when you suddenly allow sunlight to hit the ground for the first time in decades. Let's hope more wildflowers are also awoken from their forced slumber due to light deprivation.
The prolonged hot, dry weather would have affected all the flora and fauna throughout the wood, but the grass in the wayleave has survived well. The stream eventually ran dry and the trees suffered with the heat, shedding leaves to conserve water as necessary.  I wish I could have seen it, but Simon says at some times there seemed as many leaves underfoot as there are in autumn - so the canopy is also noticeably thinner than previous years. I am sincerely hoping the drought hasn't claimed our sapling oaks that were planted last year to fill the gaps left by rhodies.
Whilst I am out in Zambia, fighting a war against the tsetse flies, it seems the hot weather has caused a similar war at Rais with their cousins, the horse flies. Apparently all the woodland workers and visitors alike have had their fair share of attention from these bloodsuckers. So I feel somewhat a part of the woodland suffering out here even though I am not there in person.
Along with the bracken clearing, the ongoing job of digging out rhodie roots has also continued, although understandably mainly in the shadier areas due to the extreme temperatures. Housekeeping tasks during the good weather have included adding chicken wire to the deck, which will hopefully make it less of a slip hazard during the winter, and a second extension to the wood store to increase the amount of firewood that can be kept dry.
After several years the mice have finally discovered that the sheds contain an almost unlimited amount of food and eaten their way through the plastic storage containers so all the food has now been moved into metal storage bins, much to the dismay of the mice!
Now the summer is starting to draw to a close the last bracken will shortly be pulled for this year and after that the rhodie clearance will no doubt begin again in earnest.
So as we head into my favourite season in the UK, I am missing home more than ever. I miss the autumn colours and whilst I am enjoying amazing African sunsets right now, autumn is the best time of year in the UK to see incredible cloudscapes at dusk.
It's harvest time, a time of nuts and berries, bonfires and blankets. A time to forage, fatten, store and preserve in readiness for the cold winds and frosty air.  The temperature here in Zambia is easily topping 30 degrees every day and will be climbing still for the next few months.... where the mercury will be doing the opposite back home.
By the time I board that plane bound for Heathrow next January, I will have spent the best part of a year exploring the lowveld of South Africa, the Mashatu reserve in Botswana, Makuleke concession in northern Kruger and the Kafue national park in Zambia. What an experience, a dream fulfilled.  The knowledge and understanding I have acquired has also given me a thirst to explore every inch of Rais when I return. I want to know as much as I can about our own ecosystems, in the same way I now know so much more about the African natural world than I could ever have imagined.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Notes from Simon in my absence - thank you for the updates

8th Jan - Ant did lots of rhodie chopping over by the top shed and I had a big burn of the piles we had already. There were a couple of small trees down from all the wind, one of which was right on top of Xayahs tent from Christmas, good job she wasn't in it!
22nd Jan - The weekend was terrible weather, rain Saturday morning and all day Sunday but I did manage a couple of hours at Rais on Saturday afternoon (I needed some time outside after a week of planes and hotels).
29th Jan - It was a productive weekend, if rather slippery and muddy at Rais though. There was another big fire and lots of rhodie chopped and burned. I had saved the steep bank down to the stream by our tent to clear this week in order to give the legs good workout before skiing and that definitely worked, I'm quite achy this morning! As we were leaving Tracey slipped, in the wayleave by the fire and went down quite hard, landing on her camera. It was quite a knock but she was up and ok almost immediately and drove home ok. I think she's feeling a bit sore now but seems like no major damage done luckily. It's definitely a reminder to take care.
2nd Feb - The first snowdrop came up at Rais.
27th Feb - Had a good weekend, properly cold, barely above freezing but sunny and dry. Cleared masses of brambles from the wayleave by the dam towards the shower and more rhodies by the hive.
9th March - A lovely day in the snow. I had noticed the owl box was occupied for several weeks and was quite optimistic as there were several small white feathers on the ground around the base of the tree. I finally had a proper look this weekend only to find...Squirrels! Grrr! So they were evicted on Sunday, it may be a bit late for the owls now.
30th March - More rhodies cleared and Ant managed to break both forks getting roots out!
Easter Weekend - The weather forecast for Friday and Monday was grim, continuous rain both days, but Saturday and Sunday looked ok. I went up on my own on Saturday and reorganised the log store a bit, to move all the green wood to one place, and then carried on clearing rhodies up by the cars. It's pretty difficult going up there. When I left I got the car properly stuck in the mud, a winters worth of parking has taken it's toll and it's really slippery. Eventually I had to get Helen to come and pull me out in the z4! On Sunday we carried on chopping and burning and pretty much finished the clearing to the boundary by the cars. That will be the end of the chopping season for now so the birds can do their nesting thing! Ant didn't stay over, it was pretty cold and wet, but I did with Flee and Tracey and we had chilli and wine and chilled out by the fire (chilled both in the sense we were relaxed, and rather cold! :)) Monday was as wet as promised so we just had breakfast and headed home. A really nice weekend all in all. I did get the car stuck in the mud again when it came to leaving even though I parked on the other side of the space so I think the next project is going to be getting something down to make the parking a bit better.
9th April - We'd agreed it was getting close to the end of the rhodie chopping season so Thursday evening after work the weather was good, and it's finally light enough, so I went to Rais for an hour to work on the rhodies down by the shower. I made good progress but remembered once again, painfully!, that the shower bridge is really slippery. Ouch, one brazed shin and one very wet boot!
Helen came up on Saturday and we cleared the gully behind the yardarm and found a very leggy rose bush in the process, looking forward to seeing it flower. Spring has definitely arrived. Finally.
20th April - When I got back from a work trip to Brazil, I had another lovely sunny Sunday at rais, getting rid of a huge pile of rhodies we cut a couple of weeks ago up by the cars, I'm amazed how much space was hidden behind the rhodies up there, it looks so much better.
May 11th - Bank holiday weekend at Rais and the weather was fantastic. Warm and sunny all weekend. Ant and I had a huge fire on Saturday and burned all of the stumps and rhodie brash, I always seem to be having these big fires on hot sunny days! We also found a new visitor to rais… a rat! he was all over the peanuts in the holder by the wood store and totally unconcerned we were standing right there. Ant had a shot at him but we don't think killed him, but we didn't see him again after midday so at least it made him more cautious. Flee and Tracey arrived for the evening and we had a nice chilled time round the fire.
I did go to Rais on Monday evening to see if I could lure that rat out, and then shoot him! but there was no sign of him and all I managed to do was lose my fold up glasses! I did eventually find them again after an hour and a half of searching and with a bit of help from Ant on Tuesday lunchtime.
May 29th - Bank Holiday weekend and the weather was fantastic again, May has been very unusual! it was 25 degrees + and sunny with little wind all weekend so I had to stay at Rais Saturday night. Ant, Flee and Tracey were off at the boat show and Helen was walking, so it was just me, and it was a real contrast to last week. It was nice though, in a different way. I did some clearing by the shower, those brambles grow quick! but it soon got too hot so I pottered around by the yardarm. Fixed the cracks in Cassius, inside and out, went round and cleared all the bramble and stingers by camp and made a first attempt at wrapping chicken wire round the yardarm deck planks. I think it has come out well but will be interesting to see what the others think. Had a nice evening by the fire (not that I needed one it was that warm) and headed home Sunday lunchtime.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Testing out the Coolpix in-camera timelapse feature

...and shovelling barrow loads of ashes and coal from the fire area on the wayleave to coat the really muddy paths down around camp.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Samhain and Birthday weekend

Swedish log fires - chopped ready for Yule
Another huge bonfire made light work of yet more Rhodies, as four of us spent a sunny afternoon around Samhain chopping and feeding the fire. Unfortunately we were not able to get the chipper started, as it would have been idea material to cover the muddy paths with at this time of year. Will try again next time and in the mean time use the mound of coals as path liner instead - the route to the loo is treacherous... especially after a few glasses.
The wayleave has all been strimmed for the winter, and the firewood store extended to give us another dry-ish place to stack the logs in preparation for Christmas.

This weekend we took the bird boxes down for cleaning and to have metal plates put over the now-enlarged holes in an attempt to stop the woodpeckers from raiding the nests for chicks all summer long. The tawny box will be cleaned out in-situ in a couple of weeks time to be sure the last set of Stock Doves have vacated.
new fire store extension
We cleared out the big wooden storage boxes and made space for buckets of dry short logs for Cassius and even gave him another crackfiller round the back. My new ultra-powerful torch lit up the inside of the oven and showed it to be in quite a good state... no internal repairs needed at the moment.
The old drum BBQ that served as the ideal hostess trolley last yule, sadly hasn't fared so well and is now destined for the tip with its bottom now sporting a gaping rusty hole... so an alternative solution will have to be found - keeping all that food hot, and ready to serve together at the end of December is not an easy task.
We stayed over on Saturday night and had a good giggle in the Yardarm keeping warm by the firepit with nips of decent whiskey and a few bottles of vino.
Thank you to all who stayed and/or popped in to say happy birthday (or in Paul's case, slid in on his arse) - it was much appreciated - as were the pressies... so spoilt and so lucky to have such awesome friends. 

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Another month zips by...

fungi in the kitchen
...and it seems the work is magically getting done behind our backs. Thank you to Simon and Helen for the awesome Rhodie clearance going on at the top of the wayleave. Holiday trip last week on the canal boats took most of the crew out for 2 weekends, but we will be back to help out with the burning this Samhain weekend - we promise!
The clay base needed a second session of puddling and smearing a couple of weeks ago, but I am hoping it will be all good for the yule time camp now without too much work.
The dam however is not fairing so well and frustratingly for all of us, but especially so for Flee we can do nothing more than keep plugging the holes and hoping it seals itself with the weight of the autumn rains and the debris that will no doubt we swept down into it.