Letting the hens out for a run does concentrate the mind on how cold it still is. The Systems Administrator released them after tea, and they didn't want to go back into their run until close on seven, and then only with some persuading. By the time they allowed themselves to be safely locked up I was back to wearing full thermals, and the SA was looking frankly pinched. They had a very jolly time for the first couple of hours, scraping around at the bottom of the garden where they can't do much damage, but were then insistent that they wanted to dig up my newly applied Strulch in the rose bed under the veranda. As I crawled under the roses on elbows and knees to chase them out I was pretty sure that Vita Sackville-West had not had to resort to such antics.
The old lady Maran completed her afternoon's entertainment by breaking into the dahlia bed. I fixed the black bird netting along the front yesterday before we let the chickens out, so that they would not scrape around in it destroying the tulips and any emerging dahlia shoots. The old lady, however, had hopped over the two foot wall at the back of the bed to gain entry, or at least that's how she got out again when discovered by the SA. Chickens, I have said before, are brighter than many people give them credit for. Being able to plan a detour to get to a desired destination when the direct route is blocked requires a certain amount of brain power, the more so when the goal is out of sight during the roundabout route, and the old lady can't see over the wall.
The alternative explanation for how she ended up in the dahlia bed would be that she just randomly jumped on the wall and then discovered to her surprise that the delicious mixture of tulips and Strulch lay below her so hopped down the other side. She might have. Chickens do like perching on things as well as scraping around in straw mulch. Sometimes they perch on the wooden breakwater dividing the middle of the turning circle. I would have to provide a variety of perches around the garden and count how often they climbed on to each of them, then see if there was a bias towards the wall that cut them off from access to the dahlias, but I'm not going to. I remain convinced, though, that chickens are brighter than many people think. Or at least, the ones that make it to an advanced age while being allowed to free range for some of the time are.
Last night's camera session produced nothing at all, leading the SA to check on the camera set-up and discover that the cheap batteries we were using weren't suitable. Too many amps and not enough volts, or the other way round, and rechargeables would be better. Fortunately we have lots of the recommended type of rechargeable battery, only they weren't charged. This technical glitch means that I have to take the result of previous nights that have produced few photos with a big pinch of salt. The rabbits may have been there but not triggering the camera. I have cracked and set the traps again, this time baited with carrot and leek flavoured rabbit treats bought from the local garden centre. Who knows, the smell of high calorie cereal snacks might prove irresistible. They have ignored fresh carrots, celery and apples, and I'm hoping the blackbirds won't go for rabbit food.