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I don’t know what I’m doing

This week: I don’t know what I’m doing; First Floof update; Saving seeds; Is it an Etruscan?;

Floof is getting bigger
Floof is getting bigger

The weather has been hot again all week, with more hot weather to come.

I am irrigating every morning, getting up early and watering from 05:30. By 9 am, it is too hot to be outside.

This time of year, siestas are compulsory. We even have road signs to remind visitors!

Siesta time
Shhhh! – Siesta time

It isn’t laziness, it is just sensible. If you are up before 5am, and in the afternoon the temperatures are above 35°C, a nap for an hour is both refreshing and necessary.

I was doing some work just after sunset one evening this week. Outside my study window, there was the golden afterglow across the length of the northern horizon.

My windows are open 24/7 but with mosquito netting to prevent insects coming in. Outside I could hear my local “Little Owl”, Athene noctua, was squeaking from somewhere very close.

However even though I could see a lot in the twilight, I couldn’t see the profile of this small owl. Then suddenly it flew into sight and sat bobbing up and down and squeaking on the wire close to my window.

I watched for minutes, sitting completely still as the owl darted away from the wire and then flew back to eat something it had caught. All the time it was squeaking too.

Then suddenly it became aware I was sitting no more than 10 meters away watching and it flew off.

I continued tapping my computer keyboard but reflected on one of the many pleasures of living in the Mediterranean Basin – just being able to enjoy everything around my home.

I don’t know what I’m doing…

But I’ve done something right!

Gardening and horticulture is about planning. Planning can be for the short, medium or long term, however most of mine tends to be medium to long term planning.

I have a mature Nettle Tree which I want to remove.

This is a “weed tree” that has been allowed to grow out of a wall and is now dislodging stones.

Nettle Tree growing in a wall
Nettle Tree growing out of a wall

Whether you define a “weed” as “right plant, wrong place”, or “cut everything down and what grows again is a weed”, this tree meets both the definitions.

It has small, insignificant, unscented flowers which once fertilised produce berries. Birds like the berries, eat them and then drop the seeds all over.

The seeds readily germinate around my home and this quick growning tree can rapidly grow from a seedling to a three metre sapling in a single season.

So I need to remove it from the wall. However, whenever I remove a tree I always plant at least one to replace it.

As our climate shifts to being more tropical, I would like to have some Jacaranda Mimosifolia and also Delonix Regia, the Flamboyant Tree.

Delonix regia
Delonix regia – The Flamboyant tree

My attempts to grow Jacaranda from seeds have been an abject failure, but that is another story.

Planting 10 Delonix seeds, I had six grow. One reached a metre tall, but when I moved it into a large pot last winter, it never recovered from the shock and died.

Of the five small seedlings I had, four also died over the winter for an unknown reason. Just one sprouted again this spring, that is until this week.

I noticed that in the small pot a new seed was growing. The first two large cotyledon leaves appeared, then a couple of days later the unmistakable leaves of a Delonix.

Delonix regia seedlings
Delonix regia seedlings

That threw up a decision which needed making.

Do I very carefully try and separate them into two separate plants, or transplant both together and see if they grow.

I decided that because the new seedling was only just over a week old, it would not have a well developed root system yet, so now was the time to separate them.

At the same time I would move the one year old plant into a larger pot.

The separations and transplanting has gone well. I now need to watch over them until they establish in their new homes.

It will be a couple of years before they are large enough to plant out.

First Floof update

It is incedible how fast Floof has grown. He is now exercising his wings and is clearly at the point of flying. But what comes next?

As his adult feathers develop, he is taking on the markings of a Scops owl, so I presume that is what he is, or is Floof a she?

It will be a few more weeks before I can be sure.

Floof at 6 weeks old +/-
Floof at 6 weeks old +/-

Scops owls and their North American cousins, the Screech Owls all have disruptive camouflage plumage. This allows them to roost in trees during the day and become invisible to predators.

Accepting Floof is a young Scops, then he should migrate in September to Sub-Saharan Africa.

A wide awake, alert and inquisitive Floof this morning – 6th July

We are still discovering much about bird migration. How they do it is little understood.

Is it completely “hard wired”, as instinct like Cuckoos, or as in some species, the theory is there, but young birds need adult help to train them?

Scops Owls are listed as a “Species of least concern” under the IUCN list. So that means there is little research that has been carried out into the birds.

Scientists focus their efforts instead and understandably, on species in danger of extinction.

There is little migration data available for Scops.

My Springwatch calendar includes the first Scops owl calling.

Springwatch data for the Scops owl
Springwatch data for the Scops owl

The first arrival has been remarkably consistent, with me hearing the call around the 20th March.

In 2023, I had a Scops around my home with a very distinctive call, sounding as though it had a very sore throat.

Usually the calls are clear and precise, almost sounding electronic, however this one was considerably off key. Consequentially I was noticing his unique call until the 28th September, when I presume he left. He has come back again this year.

So I have an arrival period from the third week of March, followed by calling and breeding, then a departure up to the third week of September. But exactly where our birds go is not known.

There is a year round resident population in southern Italy, however from the only tracking data I can find, very few Scops have been tracked (only 95 in total mapped) and none from the eastern Adriatic.

Scops owl migration map
Scops owl migration map

I have tried to make contact with a number of ornithology organisations in Croatia, to see if someone would “ring” Floof, and even attach a GPS tracker.

Sadly and as is usual here, all my emails and messages have been ignored. Even the University in Zagreb cannot be bothered to reply.

We simply do not know exactly where our summer Scops Owls go in winter.

It is known that Scops owls over-winter across sub Saharan Africa from Guinea and the Gambia to Ethiopia. But how many Scops and from where, only travel as far as southern Italy, Tunisia and coastal Algeria, is simply not known.

Scops known wintering grounds
Scops known wintering grounds

Saving seeds

This week I have been doing odd jobs. Darting outside if a cloud appeared or when there was a refreshing breeze.

One job was to repair the mosquito netting on one of the outside screen doors.

Repairing a screen door
Repairing a screen door

The mesh had been damaged by felines climbing on it. It was not a long job to use my staple gun to tension and re-fix the mesh and then to re-hang the door.

I regularly mention weeds because they are a problem for me. But not every weed is a problem.

Throughout the year I have flowers in the gardens and orchards, which are Balkan natives and are self seeded. One in particular is the wild Gladioli, Gladiolus italicus.

Wild Gladioli
Wild Gladioli

I have delayed laying carboard in one area of the Top Orchard because I wanted to harvest the seeds and corms from a patch of these flowers.

The seed pods have dried and I saw this week that they had started to open.

Wild Gladioli seed pods
Wild Gladioli seed pods

With a pair f scissors I cut off all the flower stems and saved them in a paper envelope. Then I dug up all the corms I could find.

Gladioli seeds and corms harvested
Gladioli seeds and corms harvested

I will plant the corms in the autumn, somewhere where I will enjoy the flowers in the spring. The seeds I will spread alongside paths near my home because they are a local wild flower.

Another local wild flower is Honesty, Lunaria annua. In the spring this biennial plant has vivid magenta flowers, but now it has the moon shaped seed heads that give it its Latin name.

Honesty seeds
Honesty seeds

These are another local plant that I collect the seeds from, to spread and encourage more to grow.

Is it an Etruscan?

I could hear lots of rustling on my terrace just after tea on Thursday and when I looked I saw Živa hunting in the leaves and branches of my Passionflower.

Then as I watched, a tiny brown shape erupted from the greenery onto the terrace, followed by the feline.

Živa is not too bothered if I intervene when she has prey and was happy to let me pick up the creature from between her paws. It was a Shrew.

A Pygmy Shrew
A Pygmy Shrew

I took the photograph then let the shrew go in undergrowth whilst the feline wasn’t watching me, taking her in for some food afterwards.

I know I have shrews because various felines have brought them in for me before. However these are the only occasions I have seen them.

I’ve not seen hide nor hair of them anywhere in the garden or orchards. But clearly they are there somewhere.

According to the books, there are two very small shrew species resident in the Mediterranean basin, the Eurasian Pygmy Shrew, Sorex minutus, and the Etruscan Shrew, Suncus etruscus.

They are only really possible to positively identify post mortem and then by examining their teeth.

The Etruscan Shrew is the smallest mammal, with a body length of just over 2 centimetres. This specimen had a body length of 2.5 cm.

Reading up about the differences between the two, I am leaning towards it being an Etruscan Shrew, but I’m never really going to know…. NCG