Wild life

Animals, birds and suchlike on the canal/river.


We got a puppy!  Pat has been wanting one for years and I’ve resisted as I’ve never been a dog person, mainly because I’ve never had a dog, as opposed to not liking them.  I’ve always held them a bit at arms length in that nervous way that people who aren’t familiar with dogs do.  I like them, but I’m worried they might bite my face suddenly.  Or if I stroke them that they might do something sudden and unexpected and I might lose a finger.  Thinking about it, it’s now clear to me that this is because I have had no intimate experience of dogs as pets until now. 

In Brazil as a small child dogs were ONLY guard dogs.  Growly dark shadows kept in kennels on a chain at the back of the dusty garden and let out after all the doors to the house where bolted and everyone was in the bedrooms upstairs.  Not surprising then that I’ve always seen dogs as suspicious, double agents… hmmm- you might be all cutesy and fluffy here in England BUT I’ve seen your tropical kin prowling the gardens after dark, yelping and howling, waiting for some bony intruder ankles to chomp at.  There were no doggy cuddles on the sofa in my childhood.  (In fact the only pets I’d had before this were some tortoises when I was about 4 years old.  I do remember loving those tortoises but apparently I showed it in a strange way by turning them all upside down and wandering off.  I must have thought it was funny, or maybe I just didn’t want them to escape.)

But now we have Fergus!  Fergus is a Scottish dog, which is why we called him Fergus.  He is a Border/ Lakeland Terrier cross. This meant nothing to me just months ago, and now I’m all over the dog breeds.  Pat decided to bite the bullet and get the pup around mid-December when we heard that there were some available at the bargain lockdown rate of £350,000!  Well, we thought, we’ve got nothing else to spend our money on at the moment so we might as well buy an entity, a living entity in animal-form and frankly £350,000 pounds is nothing when you consider the fact that you are acquiring an actual life.

So when lockdown was announced on whatever date that horrendous day was- Dec 31st or something- Pat announced that he would go and fetch the pup in a week or so.  This news, along with the prospect of homeschooling in the dark for probably 200 days (January is my least happy time even when there isn’t a pandemic on) prompted over 2 weeks of anxiety, dread and stomach cramps. I might sound light-hearted about it but it was genuinely frightening to me to entertain the idea of bringing a living creature into our lives in this hideously precarious time and I pretty much turned to mush.  Pat was very steely about the whole thing, determined and a bit distant which made me confused at the time.  So off he went on his Friday afternoon road-trip to the Scottish border for an overnight in a travelodge followed by another 6 hour return drive back.

For 24 hours the kids were beyond excited, leaping about the place while I drank a lot of rescue remedy (why do they make those bottles so small?)  Pat meanwhile made it to ‘Bread and Beer Cottage’ (yes!) the wild home of Fergus and his siblings, where the pups lived amongst the chickens.  The breeder turned out to be a Deerstalker and apparently these dogs are excellent hunters!  So useful that will be for us!  When the apocalypse comes we will be basically self-sufficient.  Fergus was not the pup we had baggsied but the seller had two pup sales fall through so Pat was able to take his pick of the three.  Of course he picked the one fashioned most in his own image; scrappy, orange-faced and cheerful.  (Since then, the two of them have been grooming in each other’s image, Pat’s beard is bushier and Fergus’s ears are hairier).

Fergus is shaping up to be a right little river dog.  He is hardy and friendly and curious.  Everyone who meets him is immediately charmed and he is already a local celebrity at the park where he rolls around on his back letting all the other dogs lick him.  I’m becoming all tuned in to dogs and their world and I can even put my hand right in his mouth and he has a very gentle chew on it, which is very sweet.  And when I meet new dogs now I have an air of dog-person as I confidently stroke them and ask appropriate questions about their heritage (to the owners not the dogs).  If they jump up at me, I am not phased.  

Meanwhile, it’s interesting how much chat English people have when it comes to dogs.  My mum has always complained about how nobody talks to each other ‘here’ but that’s because she’s never had a dog!  All these years and we had no idea that the gateway to community integration was just a furry-friend away.  Even though this is a lockdown (errr) it’s practically a carnival in the park on a Saturday morning, especially at the moment with all the new lockdown puppies around.  Who needs the Sambadrome when you’ve got Westerly Ware?  (sob sob…)

Anyway, Fergus is a great addition and even though I nearly divorced Pat that week, I am pleased to say I may forgive him for fetching that waggy bundle of fun just in time to distract us from the endless Covid winter days.

RIP cheeps

I saw them all again today, paddling about in the distance.  I grabbed the binoculors to spy on them as I was very excited to see their progress.  I counted, 1,2,3 ducklings, 4,5 6, oh- and the last two?? Here they come- right behind!  But no.  Only one more came. Seven in total.  I guess Cheepy was not destined to live a life on the ocean wave.  So long, old Cheeps.

so long, cheeps

Last night as we left the boat for east london the tide was very high.  We wondered how Cheepy would ever make it back to the world of wildlife, so treacherous it is.  And as we wondered this, lo and behold, we spied the entire Cheepy family, (well, depleted family), balancing on some sort of floating platform in the water- pecking and scrabbling they were.  It was kind of a relief to see mother duck- we realised this might be our big chance to get Cheepy rehabilitated into the wild, especially as he had been doing so well lately.  The problem was, Mother duck and co were all in the middle of the river, tidal water all around, and we didn’t think Cheepy, in his condition, stood a chance of making it across the waves to be reunited.  Then, when the duck family got off the floating mound and swam back to the reeds by the banks we realised that this really was our big chance.  From the banks we could put Cheepy down to re-join his family (remember how he needs lubricating by the mother or else he’ll drown etc) and then he wouldn’t have to swim solo.

So Pat (he’s always the active one) seized the opportunity, ran back and collected the little guy.  It was pretty tense- as Pat came running along the ramp, Cheepy in hand, the mother and ducklings gathered together and swam back to the floating mound.  ‘Shoot!’ we thought, this is gonna be trickier than we thought.  But, AH! The laws of nature had already a plan in place. Cheepy, from his temporary box home, starts to Cheep loudly.  And of course, mother duck, from her floating mound, suddenly stretches up her long neck in response, ears pricked. (If indeed, she had any- which I guess she does, just not sure where she keeps them.. in her beak maybe? or by her little beady eyes?) She them cheeps loudly back and suddenly, nature takes over.  In she dives off the platform, into the water, and all the while cheeping and swimming, she makes for the little cheep somewhere on the banks.  Meanwhile all the remaining ducklings tumble off the mound, spluttering and wriggling following mother duck.  Pat places Cheepy on the step (see below) and before we know it, they’re off, in convoy into the river.

BUT, will Cheepy keep up? Will his rehabilitation period have sorted him out?  Or, as the runt of the litter, will he be swiped off the block at the next hurdle?  NOW, it is out of our hands, and our wheelhouse (which is a good thing because actually having a pet Duck is not brilliant- they quack all the time and poo everywhere and want to swim but can’t until they wait long enough for their feathers to be ready).

on the mend

Cheepy seems to be doing surprisingly well.  I just spoke to someone from the ‘rehabilitation’ place and she advised warmth- put a hot water bottle in there to keep it cosy (if it’s looking ill- but to be honest, I think Cheepy’s on the mend).  I’ve put a very shallow saucer of water in there for him to drink, and Pat has gone off in search of ‘chick crumb’ which is apparently the best food for it at this stage. She also said that if the mother really has gone off (which the mother has, because the tide is strongly going off down river) then our duckling wont be able to swim.  Ducklings need their mothers to lubricate them so that they can swim in the early stages. Without that lubrication, they drown.  So for now, Cheepy’s going nowhere.  And then the final thing she said, which made me most amused, was that if you can, put a feather duster in there!  That reminds them of their mums.  Aren’t animals great?!

I just went in to give it some more cosy down-feathers from the nest and it was very animated, cheeping away and even ran towards me when I took the water out.  To be honest, it looked like Cheepy had attempted to go for a swim in the saucer, because most of the water was on the outside of it.  I’m not convinced it needs a water bottle any more, however I’ve put one next to the box on the side where Cheepy’s leaning.  I think strength is restored.

Pat is trying to imprint on him, he’s been looking deep into Cheepy’s eyes and saying ‘who’s your daddy?’.  This is worrying.


I just called the RSPB and I need to keep the duckling ‘comfortable’ until it’s mother returns (if indeed she ever does).  And if she doesn’t I can take it to a duckling rehabilitation centre!! HA! I LOVE BOAT LIFE!  The lady also told me to keep the duckling at arms length as it is so young that there is ‘the nasty possibility that it might imprint me’!!  Is this really so bad?  A little ducking to follow me everywhere I go.  How sweet!  I can hear Cheepy cheeping like a wild thing already- recovery seems to be happening.  Oh, how lovely!