Borstal Heath Wildlife Blog

Wildlife enthusiasts in the depths of the West Midlands just trying to do the right thing!

Whale of a Time September 9, 2012

Filed under: Science,Wildlife — bhwb @ 9:31 am
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Cattle Prod

We are very upset here in BH to hear about S Korea’s plans to start whaling.  I wonder if we can help?  The Borstal Heath WhaSp (Whale Spearing) Group really does understand the basic human desire to hunt large prey, bring them down and revel in bloodlust – its only natural!  But being committed to the preservation of wildlife we have come up with a community friendly way of doing all those things and not harming any cetaceans in the process. Perhaps if the whaling nations had a go at our activities then the problem could be solved?

This is what we do.  At a given secret signal (which I am afraid must remain secret for reasons which will become obvious as you read on) the WhaSps gather on a dark night when there is no moon in Burt “The Only Gay in the Village”  Winterbottom’s shed.  We dress in black and wear slippers so that we can creep along the silent streets undetected.  Burt then works out the exact time for an evening of hunting. It is based on a complex formula taking into account the state of the moon, the constellation of Leo and the tide times in Prestatyn.  Why Prestatyn?  Well BH, as you know, is landlocked and we have no tides of our own, however most of us spend our summer holidays in this rather lovely N Wales town, so it seems like a good a place as any.

When the time has been fixed we all select our weapons (cattle prods) and rather like the Three Musketeers we form a circle, hold them upright with the tips touching and chant our motto “All for one, one for all, may the blubber rise and fall!”

The night itself is very exciting.  It is usually a Friday or Saturday when the BH chip shop is packed.  We WhaSps position ourselves behind recycling bins and lamp posts and wait.  Our signal is a war cry from Burt and as all the blubber buckets of BH waddle out of the chip shop we race towards them, prodding like mad and whooping in delight.  My you should see the mayhem!  Burt may proudly hold the title “The Only Gay in the Village” – though to be honest I doubt this is true – but boy  is he fierce with a cattle prod.  He is the founding member of the BH Embroidery Group but is ruthless. It is  most stimulating to watch these vast mammals floundering helplessly on the pavement.  In one particularly ugly scene last whaling night Beefy Betty crashed down onto poor old Beryl’s ginger pussy.  That would have satisfied the bloodlust of any hardened whaler.

Of course no harm is done.  Later that night, when we have finished collecting the last few “whales” from casualty, we WhaSps and whales all meet at the Dog and Fiddle for a bonding pint and all is forgiven.  How we laugh!  Even the poor puss recovered, although she seems a little bent if looked at from certain angles.

And isn’t WhaSps a good name – we really are rather a nuisance!

Actually the BH WhaSps Group will be going to the 2 day WhaleFest on the weekend of Sat 27th and Sun 28th October in Brighton.  30 years on from the start of Save the Whale this should be quite an event and well worth celebrating.   We have been invited to showcase our alternative whaling activities there, so do come along and have a go yourselves – no charge.  Beefy Betty and Mike the Mountain have offered their services, which is jolly sporting of them.  They will trott around a room and “whalers” will line the walls and try to prod them to the ground.  Not as easy as you might think!  They are surprisingly nifty.

And by the way, if any whaling nations would like to discuss with us how to adapt wonderful event to their own cultures (not everywhere has chip shops I’m told) then please do get in touch, we can use BabelFish for translation.  Happy Whale Free Hunting!


Ant Antics September 8, 2012

Filed under: Science,Wildlife — bhwb @ 6:25 am
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Annie Ant in training

We were very excited to read recently about the proposed experiment at York University which hopes to attach small radio receivers (well they wouldn’t be big would they!) to the back of wood ants to find our more about their secret lives.  I wonder if they got the idea from us – the “Borstal Heath Ant Group (BHAG).  Locals joshingly call us the Old BHAGS – they do tease!  So how come a prestigious university could be inspired by a humble wildlife group in the remotest corner of the West Midlands?  That I cannot answer but  the York project bears a striking resemblance to an experiment we carried out last year.

Many a long winter’s evenings has flown by as old BHAGs mused on the life of Lasius niger, or the common garden ant.  We were very keen to know about their lives under the patio – it was time to find out for sure!  Our very own geeky wildlife lover “Techy Terry” set about the task and spent hours devising a unique method of attaching a GoPro camera to the back of Lasius niger.

Terry personally trained one ant he called Annie to come back to his house after a day carrying the camera.  Not easy as you can imagine – ants are very single-minded creatures – but Terry has winning ways with many animals.  (Teaching Beefy Beryl’s ginger pussy to leap through a ring of fire was one of his many triumphs.  Although it was more black than ginger by the end of a training afternoon).

You can imagine how excited we all were when the great experiment began for real.  At dawn Terry whistled down the garden path and within seconds Annie appeared. If an ant can pant with expectation then I am sure that is what Annie was doing!  Terry gently placed the GoPro on Annie’s back with a special “ant mount”and we all strewed rose petals on the path towards the garden gate.  “God speed dear friend!” we shouted and Annie set off.

It was a surprise to see that Annie didn’t disappear down a crack but headed resolutely off to scout for new food supplies for her colony – common behaviour for Lasius niger in the early summer months when the Queen is madly laying eggs.  How exciting! we thought, where can she be going and what new scientific information will be revealed?  We sat back to wait.

Later that afternoon we gathered in Terry’s kitchen ready to hook the GoPro to the computer.  We were almost overcome with emotion.  Annie did re-appear, a little late, and proceeded to collapse on the living room floor and expire from exhaustion.  The mood of delight dissipated immediately.  What on earth had happened to our dear friend?  There was only one way to find out.

Terry flicked Annie into the bin and we attached the camera – the sight that met our eyes was  – well – shocking.  Annie had innocently found her way into Marg Crutchley’s kitchen in search of vitals and inadvertently recorded on film her entertaining a visitor.  Modesty and discretion prohibit us from showing the footage – suffice to say for someone who has had two hip replacements she is remarkably flexible. Some of the BHAGs think her companion is Dodgy Dave, our new vicar, but the image is indistinct and blurred– and surely not!

The most terrifying part however is when Marg suddenly spies Annie and my goodness does that woman have a temper!  Howling with fury she proceeds to chase the poor beast around the kitchen – how that little ant managed to race out of the kitchen door and into the garden before Marg’s large Doc Martin boot splattered her into oblivion we’ll never know.  No wonder she died of stress.

So ended the Borstal Heath Ant Group’s first attempt at ant tracking.  We plan to re-do the experiment next year when we have fitted a large, ant-defying barrier into Marg Crutchley’s kitchen.  Terry is already training a new recruit – Adam – because we are adamant that this time all will be well.  (Get it adamant Adam ant – gosh there’s life in the old BHAGs yet!).  If any of the York University group would like to contact us to find out about Terry’s marvellous techniques we’d be delighted to share our experiences (but not the video!)


Our “Farewell Festival” September 7, 2012

Filed under: Wildlife — bhwb @ 5:24 pm
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Swallow eating Fly Pie

Swallows Travel To and Fro  – by Robert Louis Steveson

Swallows travel to and fro,
And the great winds come and go,
And the steady breezes blow,
Bearing perfume, bearing love.
Breezes hasten, swallows fly,
Towered clouds forever ply,
And at noonday, you and I
See the same sunshine above.

The beginning of September is tinged with both joy and sadness here in BH.  Sadness as swallows gather on the telephone wires before heading south for their winter roost.  An icon of summer is leaving the blue skies over the West Midlands, and as they depart, the colour drains to a dishwater grey.  Winter is approaching.  However sadness is replaced by joy at the prospect of the annual “Borstal Heath Farewell Festival.”  If you have never joined us for this one, do take a detour off the M6 sometime – it really is worth it.

The day starts at dawn with Marg Crutchley calling us all to gather in the nearby fields.  She does so by walking the streets banging a dustbin lid with the leg of her cat.  It makes quite a sound! I must point out that the cat is deceased of course!  She had Tiddles embalmed by a passing Traveller a few years ago, but sadly he was no expert and the stuffed moggie quickly fell into bit parts.  Still, always resourceful is our Marg.

Gathering together as daylight strengthens we BH locals are overcome with grief at the thought of departing swallows, leaving us yet again to the rigours of winter.  The crowd is convulsed by a collective outpouring of despair, and quiet sobbing is gradually replaced by outright wailing and howling.  It is certainly therapeutic! Some joshingly say we can be heard as far away as the Bull Ring in Birmingham!

The local RSPB rep says he is touched by our obvious love of summer migrants but he does have some reservations about phase 2 of the Farewell Festival.  He is quite vociferous in his view that the “Fly Pie Fly-By” must cease.  A complete over-reaction I say!  What harm is there in taking lumps of “fly pie” and catapulting them towards the sitting swallows in a gesture of wanton abandon.  “Go – fly if you must, and may a fair wind speed your journey!” we cry. Just a spot of harmless fun to brighten a mournful morning – and maybe the flies provide a spot of extra nourishment – if the swallows catch them…

Alan Sproggit is our local provider of said marvellous “Fly Pies.”  The pies are made of real flies – bluebottles in fact – collected by us all over the summer, fished off cow pats and jam sandwiches, and stored in a large jar.  He then bakes them in a delicious dense pudding which is cut into bite sized portions especially for this great event.

It takes skill honed over years to aim at a small swallow on a long thin wire 30 feet in the air I can tell you.  And we hope the lumps of black will tempt the travellers to have a last nibble before their long, arduous journey over deserts and oceans.  Some do seem to enjoy it – see photo above.  However, we are a bit naughty in that a prize is awarded to the person who manages to knock the most swallows off the wires!  Modesty prohibits me from dwelling too much on my unbroken record last year of 11 in half and hour!

Mr RSPB is adamant this must stop, and doesn’t seem swayed by our argument that most birds (and a few locals!) recover consciousness in 10 minutes and fly off in rather wobbly fashion, so no harm is done.  It is most amusing!  He is threatening to bring the police this year to confiscate the pies.  He’ll have to contend with the wrath of Alan if he does.  Alan may only weigh 7 stone and is 4 foot 10 in his platform shoes but he can pack a punch if his expertise is not appreciated.

The lumps that fall to the ground after catapulting can be eaten by competitors, but NO sneaking a nibble before they have been hurled at the wires.  Anyone found guzzling before hurling is immediately disqualified.  Ask Beef Betty.

So, this year’s “Farewell Festival” could be quite exciting as Alan squares up to Mr RSPB and many locals are determined to break my record of 11 swallows.  Do come along – what fun!


Greeting from the Borstal Heath Wildlife Bloggers

Filed under: Wildlife — bhwb @ 4:58 pm
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Hello!  We locals here in Borstal Heath in the West Midlands have decided to start a blog to tell fellow wildlife lovers about our many and varied activities.  We are only a small village but we try to do our bit for wildlife and the environment – as well as have fun.  We hope you enjoy reading about us and please let us know your activities too.

Cheers m’dears



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