What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Total Eclipse of the Coop

Last Friday morning here in our small damp little island and for just over an hour we all enjoyed a rare an unusual spectacle – the sun shone. Even rarer than that, we had a solar eclipse. It wasn’t a total eclipse, but at 95% it was still spectacular. We were all quietly enjoying a bright sunny morning.  Spring was in the air.


my beautiful Mother’s Day daffodils


naughty Lucas up on the table catching a few warm rays


the Gillybirds busy in the coop loving the brightness

Gradually the moon’s shadow moved over the sun and by 9.30 am the sky was still bright blue, but it was really dark.  The bird’s were singing their twilight song, it was most peculiar. How scarey it must have been for people centuries ago who didn’t know what was going on. It must have really freaked them out. Fortunately by around 10.30 the sky was back to normal and the moon had moved on.

We had all been well warned to not look directly at the sun during this event. Back in 1999 I observed our last eclipse through a pin hole made in a shoe box. For me, eclipse fashion hadn’t moved on much so I once more donned the shoe box on my head and it worked very well.  The youngest Gillyboy was provided with welding goggles in school. They also projected the sun’s image through a colander onto white paper to get multiple images. 

all the best dressed eclipse watchers wear shoe boxes!

I watched the hens closely to see if they would head off to bed due to the failing light, but they just carried on scratching and pecking as is their usual morning routine. Not fazed by the solar event at all. 


  If you want to check when an eclipse will be coming your way this NASA solar eclipse calendar is really helpful.Looks like Antarctica is the place to go if you want to make it a regular experience. 

Local BBC coverage has some great photos too. 

I didn’t capture any images worth sharing. Social media was a busy place to be on Friday morning and it was fun to watch the event as others were witnessing it (or not, if it was cloudy where they were).

I wonder what we will at be like when the solar eclipse next comes to these shores in 11 years time. Older and hopefully wiser. 

Gillyboy number 3 celebrates his 17th birthday today. Next time he will be 29! 

And my dear friend CC told me, in 11 years time she won’t even be as old as I am now.  That’s friends for you😛🌒

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Hurricane Gonzalo brings an End to Autumn Glory

It has been a most glorious autumn. Dry, bright, sunny, warm, long golden days. The trees have really been showing off.

We’ve had beautiful walks kicking through piles of pretty leaves

And making long shadows in the early mornings. Long legs, small dog!

All my spring bulbs are planted and our new garden has had a few extra weeks to get established before winter sets in for real.
Harvest was celebrated. This year I followed a rainbow theme on the Communion Table running the spectrum of red to purple in fruit, vegetables and flowers. It was only during the worship service I realised I had forgotten to cut open the water melon for the reddest of reds! Oops.


All the golden glorious-ness however came to a very abrupt halt with the stormy arrival of the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo which created such havoc in Bermuda. The heavy rain and wind cleared our avenue of trees of their leaves in a couple of hours.
Now the clocks have turned back. British Summer Time is over.
The hens rise after 7am in the murky dawn and tootle off to bed around 5.30pm.
Days are getting shorter. It’s less than 9 weeks to Christmas!


A Golden Season


Yesterday I spent the afternoon with my dad’s leaf blower, clearing up the last of the leaves to fall on our property and getting tidied up for the arrival of winter. It is hard to believe that Sunday is December 1st! The Gillybirds have had a lovely mild, bright and mostly dry autumn. We have moved the coop, but on sunny days when they are free ranging they head back to their old favourite spots in the sun for a pleasant time of dust bathing. The dogs and I have enjoyed pretty walks along paths strewn with golden leaves, and only in the last week with the arrival of a light dusting of snow have we had to get our thick coats and mittens on.
As other friends have been clearing their gardens the hens have scratched their way through piles of nasturtium leaves- thank you to W and S for those. Colonel Saunders has molted a little, and egg production is on average two daily rather than three, but sometimes only one. Most days the girls are let out at 7am, it is still dark and they grumble a little, but the past two Sunday mornings they have taken their revenge by making a spectacular riot before 6.30am. I am not amused, and I suspect, neither are our neighbours. But at the other end of the day they are tucked up safe and warm by 4.45pm. It’s a short day when your body clock is regulated by sunlight. Thankfully, with all there is to be done in anticipation of the Festive Season, we can switch on the lights and keep going until a much later bedtime.
Bright sunshine and low winds in Ireland this year have combined to produce one of the most spectacular autumns in years. In September, the weather was drier than normal and temperatures reached a high of almost 24 degrees Celsius. In October, temperatures were above average. Hours of sunshine were also above average.
Writing for the Irish Times, expert horticulturist Eileen Murphy, from Teagasc Horticultural College at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, said that when autumn begins, the shortening days and lengthening nights trigger a reaction in deciduous trees. A protective barrier forms between the tree and each of its leaves, so that when the leaves fall the tree is not exposed to disease. “That happens every autumn and it has happened this autumn,” Ms Murphy said.
Inside the leaf during the day, the process of photosynthesis using water, carbon dioxide, sunlight and green chlorophyll creates sugars, and those sugars are normally transported to other parts of the tree. But when the tree has already created its protective barrier, the sugar tends to be trapped in the leaf. Daytime sunlight and cool nights cause the leaf to turn the sugars into a red pigment, anthocyanin.
“Normally in Ireland we get dark autumn days so there isn’t an awful lot of sugar produced and there isn’t a lot available to make the red pigment,” Ms Murphy said. “But this year we’ve got a very good, prolonged period when it is sunny enough for sugar to be produced and it’s trapped in the leaves and it is producing the red pigment.”
The visibility of autumn colour can also be shortened by high winds and stormy weather, but conditions this year mean trees have managed to hold on to their leaves much longer. And I have tried to capture some of this beauty on camera.





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Holidays are bad for you, it’s official!

As sure as one report tells you that coffee drinking is good for your health, within a couple of cups of the brown stuff there will be a damning report warning imminent death from caffeine. So for the sake of balance today’s post is why holidays can be bad for you.
Paradoxically, it’s when we start to relax away from the stresses of everyday life that we might fall prey to infections such as cold and flu. Even on your last day at work, you might notice the tell-tale tingling nose and sore throat starting.In everyday life, our body produces hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which help keep our body in balance at times of stress and maintain normal immune function.
However, once on holiday, our stress hormone levels generally decline, which might lead to a weakening of the immune system and an increased susceptibility to infection. This would help to explain my father’s annual dose of Christmas ‘flu.
Add to that travel sickness, upset tummies, prickly heat, itchy mosquito bites and sunburn it is no wonder that when I open my case at our destination I feel like a travelling pharmacy with lotions and potions for everything including possibly the Black Death.
On day 8 in our Portuguese paradise here are some of our petty complaints-
Bugs not generally bother me. But maybe it’s the heat here makes them stronger, harder, faster, noisier, more menacing. Mr Gillybirds caught a magnificent black iridescent bee complete with 1cm stinger this morning. On one of my many lengths of the pool a 8cm bright green grasshopper floated tranquilly past me, which fortunately I didn’t swallow. The wood lice are armour plated. And don’t start me on the ants. Of all sizes and speeds. And they all bite. The teeny tiny ones seems particularly nippy. I read that the combined weight of all the humans on the planet is equal to the combined weight of all the ants on the planet. I believe most of them have come here to vacation.
How I wish there was a machine in the airport like a body scanner that doused children in sun cream which lasted for your entire holiday. It is a constant battle to protect the Gillyboys lily white skin from the harsh sun especially when they are in the pool so much. As well as medicine I have pretty much every sun factor cream/spray from factor 10 to factor 50, waterproof, sand proof, for face, for sport, hypo allergenic, non greasy…the best investment is solar shirts which are factor 50 skins which they wear in the water to protect their little white bodies. Despite wearing factor 30 cream littlest Gillyboy is scoring highly on the Freckle-ometer! But they look so cute.
To my shame even though we have been holidaying here almost annually since 1999 my Portuguese vocabulary is extremely limited to hello bom dia, thank you obrigada, milk leite, various food items necessary to survive. My favourites are cogumelos(mushrooms) and Peru which is turkey in English. Amusing that it is the name of a country as well. Add to that saida or exit and that is about it. I do remember many years ago when littlest Gillyboy was a cute chubby baby and Portuegues old ladies would pinch his fat cheeks saying multo gordo which we discovered when buying milk means full fat!
Little Drives
Mr G has always been a great one for taking detours off the main road just to see where he will end up. I don’t share in his exploratory whims. A trip out the other night ended up fifty minutes and 30km in the wrong direction away from our destination, with the chilly atmosphere in the car not entirely due to the air conditioning.
I’m not homesick, but leaving two young men at home just as one is starting his first proper job has, on reflection, not been the best timing. On the plus side they are managing to feed both themselves and the hens, and the oldest Gillyboy has had to learn to iron shorts for work. I can track their movements on social networking sites as well as phone calls. And there have been a few Instagram pics of the Gillybirds too. Thanks Miss L for those.
It has been a lot hotter here than usual. Even the locals are complaining. A least we are on holiday and can cool off by wearing as little as modesty allows and swim to cool off. They have to keep working. Even at night there is no relief. Ironically at home they are having a heat wave too. I can predict it will come to a rainy end as our plane lands back home on Sunday morning.
As with every tourist destination there are shops on every corner selling cheap tat irresistible to boys with pockets full of euros. Yuk.
A good cup of tea
Obviously I am hard to please. As some of you know I am fussy about mugs (must be white inside) and fat content of the milk (as little as possible). So there won’t be a good cup of tea until we get home. Enough said.
So is there any benefit to going on holiday at all?
A Dutch researcher Nawijn says: ‘The maximum benefit of a holiday is two weeks after coming home. After that, people are not any happier than they were beforehand.’ People who have holidays booked but had not yet travelled tend to be happier than people who had not gone on holiday. ‘People who have a great holiday may start to remember why they’re alive, only to be thrown back into the living death known as working life,’ says clinical psychologist, Oliver James.
So looking forward to Monday morning then…..


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Ladybird, Ladybird


Mr Gillybirds, and the two younger Gillyboys have spread our wings and flown to a warmer climate and the warm hospitality of Grandma for ten days. The Girls have been left in the care of the older boys, with a comprehensive list of what to feed to whom, and when. (let’s hope the lists don’t get mixed up)
In the absence of hentertainment, if you’ll pardon the pun, I hope you will tolerate a few blog posts on non-chicken related topics. Funnily enough though as I sit in the shade by the pool here in the Portuguese country side barely five minutes pass without the triumphant sound of a laying hen or a raucous rooster from Grandma’s neighbouring pollo. Makes me feel right at home, apart from the delightful wall to wall sunshine 🙂
I love ladybirds. the Woodland Trust identifies 23 different species of colours from red, orange and yellow through to black. Some live in trees, some only on a specific variety of Scottish Heather, but all, like the bee population, are declining rapidly in number. The ladybird population of the UK has come under threat. There are a number of reasons for this – pesticides killing their food source (a ladybird has a 60 a day aphid habit), destruction of their habitats due to urbanisation, the introduction of the aggressive non native Harlequin Ladybird, only first spotted as recently as 2003, and the wet year of 2012 and long winter of 2013.
With the thought that every cloud has a silver lining, the orange ladybird, who is less pretty and more hairy than her red sisters, has thrived in the damp conditions as she diets on mildew.
Sadly the two spot ladybird population has declined by 45% since Harlequins came to the UK eating their food and taking over their habitat (come to think of it, that is exactly what we have done to Grandma this week!)
Nowadays scientists refer to ladybirds as lady beetles.
But why ladybirds anyway? They are neither like a lady or a bird.
Legend has it that crops in Europe during the Middle Ages were plagued by pests, so the farmers began praying to the Blessed Lady, the Virgin Mary. Soon, the farmers started seeing ladybirds (or our North American friends would call ladybugs) in their fields, and the crops were miraculously saved from the pests. They associated their good fortune with the black and red beetles, and so began calling them lady beetles. In Germany, these insects go by the name Marienkafer, which means Mary beetles. The 7-spotted lady beetle is believed to be the first named for the Virgin Mary; the red color represents her cloak, and the black spots represent her sorrows.
The Gillyboys are fascinated to learn that ladybirds bleed from their knees when threatened.
A ladybird’s smell is both toxic and rank. Startle a ladybug, and the foul-smelling fluid will seep from its leg joints, leaving yellow stains on the surface below. Potential predators may be deterred by the vile mix of alkaloids, and equally repulsed by the sight of a seemingly sickly beetle. Ladybug larvae can ooze alkaloids from their abdomens.
Also, as nature often declares their bright colors warn predators to stay away. Like many other insects, ladybirds use colouration to signal their toxicity to would-be predators. Insect-eating birds and other animals learn to avoid meals that come in red and black, and are more likely to steer clear of a ladybird lunch.
Dr Helen Roy of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has introduced an app, iRecord Ladybirds, to enable anyone who spots one to identify it and record where and when it was found. This is to monitor the decline of the seven spot ladybird and the two spot, insects which are truly loved by gardeners and children alike. So far 10,000 people have responded. Despite many searches sadly I have yet to find even one!


Two spotted ladybird

20130705-143133.jpgand the baddie of them all, the Harlequin ladybird

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Red Weather warning

20130118-120616.jpg Here in our damp, grey corner of the island we were issued with the most serious weather warning last night- RED- rather ironically for the white stuff- snow. It’s coming! The Gillyboys went to bed all excited, perhaps a snow day off school and sledging down the hills I sledges down as a child.
What did we wake up to? Yet more rain, heavy grey skies, how disappointing! It’s now lunch time and while there is a snowy tinge to the rain,
it’s still over 4 degrees though if the weather satellite picture above is to be believed those just a bit west of here are already in the midst of a white out.
Of course as well as ensuring the boys took gloves and hats to school I am concerned for the Gillybirds well-being. I let them splash around the garden this morning while I affixed yet another tarp on the coop roof . The Eglu does appear to be well insulated, it is up against a high wall for shelter and the tarps should keep some of the rain/snow off the hens. They do appear fairly wet and bedraggled most days, I’m sure I wouldn’t like to be wearing the equivalent of a damp duvet all day but they are eating well, laying well and happily chased me round the grass this morning.

I put down fresh sawdust and lots of leaf litter for them to scratch through in the few hours of murky daylight left before they hop up the ladder into bed around 4.45pm.
I haven’t seen much of a stretch in the day just yet but I did see daffodils in bloom in a neighbour’s garden. Hopefully the snow forecast is a brief tussle with winter and spring will soon be on the way.
In the meantime I spotted this on The Poke (very funny website) giving a “weather warning” about the coming blizzard. I can identify with most of it!


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