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  1.  

    We had only been living in the Hebrides for a few years when we discovered a visitor hiding under the kitchen sink. Alerted by our daughter and the suddenly anxious behaviour of the two resident cats, Mike got a torch and shone it around, and the beam caught the glint of a big yellow eye. Someone didn’t want to be seen.

    After a day or two, our visitor moved into a position - still under the unit - where we could see him. He was a big feral tomcat, a stocky, handsome animal with pale tabby-like markings on his thick fur. We don’t have wildcats in the Hebrides, but this one looked like he had some of the genes. He also had a terrible gash running down over his left eye, which was closed up while the other one glared at us. We called him Tigger.

    This impressive animal had worked out he needed a safe hideout while he healed. He had picked a home that was cat-friendly and had a large, safe, dark area to hunker down.

    Once we had made visual contact, we started to put food down, although we weren’t sure how a cat used to living wild would take to Whiskas. Turned out he didn’t care - he was very hungry; the first few days, he ate very cautiously and we could only see his head. Gradually, he got more confident and was more relaxed about accepting the food. We could see the gash over his eye begin to heal.

    wildcat

    We got to the stage where we could risk chatting to him, and once or twice we even managed to scrat the top of his head. By this time, he had both eyes open and was looking a lot healthier. We began to hope he might stick around.

    And then one morning, after about ten days, he was gone. He used our facilities, accepted the food, got strong and well and vanished back into the wild. In all the time he stayed with us, he never made a sound, just looked uncomfortable about having to ask for help, and grudgingly tolerant of our fascinated attention. Often missed - never forgotten.

    The picture is the closest image I could find to how we remember him!

  2.  

    Things have been quiet on the building and landscaping front since the onset of the laying season and the urgency of the biological imperative to reproduce - even though the prospect of ducklings is sadly unlikely in an all-female community.

    ducks ditch forewoman

    The forewoman of works, aka the little brown duck, presented one morning a few weeks ago with a bad limp, and immediately sequestered herself in the small enclosure built by a non-duck last autumn. A trip to the vet produced a diagnosis of either a sprain or a break, so the forewoman of works was sent home following a shot of anti-inflammatories and another one of antibiotics.

    hens

    The ducks have proved themselves to be amenable tenants on the hill, sharing their nesting facilities with the hens - there are two handsome nests, one at either side of the entrance - and mucking in at feeding time with both hens and geese. Our initial worries that the lame duck - sorry - might become a target of unkind interest proved unfounded.

    communal egg-laying

    The invalid settled herself near the shed and the pond and trusted us to provide food while she healed.  She had company - the hens pecked by, the geese regularly inspected the facilities, and all her sisters came to visit and keep watch.

    geese preening

    A formidable nurse/bodyguard combo emerged in the black duck, who sat with her more often than the others, saw off anyone who came too close, and generally watched over her, especially when she was moving around and testing the injured leg.

    ducks six

    Nobody messes with the black duck. At egg-collecting time, the other ducks flee the nest at the first sight of a human hand. The black duck doesn’t. On the one occasion we tried to move her, she launched a spitfire pecking attack and performed an aggressive whirling action on the nest with all her feathers standing on end. Having assumed the proportions of a capercaillie and the demeanour of a Ninja, we backed off respectfully and conceded the eggs. Her feathers subsided, but she kept up the glare until we crept away.

    ducks pond 2

    Thanks to the support of her community, the forewoman of works has now made a full recovery. She is back at the head of the charge for breakfast, leads the chorus, and is obviously planning a winter schedule of project improvements to the secondary pond by the willows, and the stepped bathing areas in the ditch, currently screened by attractive ferns.