Living on the very edge of Henley on Thames we are closer to the countryside than to the urban area. We also have quite a large garden with two ponds (one with fish and one without), a number of mature trees, a couple of flower beds, a large vegetable plot, three apple trees and several 'natural' areas of uncontrolled growth. Consequently we get wildlife in our garden.
Until February 2010 we would probably have said that the most important creatures in our lives were our flock of chickens. However, since 2009 we have had Lily who occupies our attention much of the time. Lily is a 'retired' racing greyhound. We adopted her from the Retired Greyhound Trust. Lily (racing name Lily's Return) is actually a failed racer because she would not chase - not something we have seen any evidence of! She is absolutely lovely and we are besotted with her. She is still very playful, far too sharp in taking advantage and certainly very quick on her toes. However she can also be a bit of a 'diva' and unpredictable around what she will cooperate on - she certainly keeps us on our tows!
Moving on from Lily, we have kept back garden hens for over twenty years. The membership of the flock is fairly slow in changing - our hens seem to live for up to 10 years. However, in 2009 we decided to double the flock, and purchased eight ex-commercial hens. A red mite infestations of biblical proportions wiped out a number of the hens so now we have four of the ex-commercial Warrens, U-Hu. a Cuckoo Marans, Jane, a Cuckoo Leghorn, Myrtle, a Brown Leghorn and a Brown Leghorn cockeral - Little Red Rooster (see picture right) - keeping them all in order. He has nearly died twice but has been brought back from the brink.
We receive regular visits from a pheasants - both cocks and hens. The cock pheasants are beautiful creatures with fantastically varied feather colours and patterns and bright red heads. They seem to spend much of the time throwing themselves against our patio doors presumably in the mistaken belief that the reflected images are rivals. Doh!
Every Spring two ducks appear in the garden for regular visits, landing on the big pond and then generally lazing about the vicinity for several hours before flying off again. They may be a breeding pair with a nest nearby because after about four weeks they disappear until the following Spring. We also get very rare visits from timid little brown partridges.
The Chiltern Hills were one of the areas targeted in a highly successful programme of re-introducing Red Kites to England. We see these lovely birds swooping and gliding over the garden almost every day - often in pairs although increasingly in greater numbers. They only eat insects and carrion but are a target for dog fights with the local crows who clearly feel they present a threat to their territory.
The garden is generally busy with a lot of the usual bird activity. All the usual suspects are here but we regularly see green woodpeckers, tree creepers, sparrow hawks and jays. We also have a growing number of magpies who have taken up unwelcome residence.
We used to get deer coming into the garden but the rebuilding of the fences has put an end to these visits. The local cats, who used to use our garden extensively, have now backed off since Lily's arrival. Otherwise the usual wildlife of squirrels, slugs, snalis, mice and rats prevail. And talking of rats, every now and again we have to deal with them coming too close to the hens. The last attack was sustained but we finally overcame them.