Saturday, 27 February 2010


Last year at this time, I was waxing lyrical about the Green Shoots of Recovery (HERE). This year, we could hardly see any signs of Spring as we walked around the 'Bogwash' and Through Peewit Carr. There was however, the first glimmering of life on a Willow tree as it just started to show the first signs of it's furry 'Pussy Willows'.
Everywhere is so wet, so cold and so muddy that it is difficult to get enthusiastic about the coming Season. We will see what happens next week.
whatever happens, one thing can always be relied upon. That is the belligerence of the Coots on the 'Bogwash'. They were still squabbling this morning.

Thursday, 25 February 2010


With the weather getting worse as we get nearer to Spring, we opted for, what we thought would be a drier walk into town. Not so dry as it turned out, as it started to rain on our way home. Typical!
On a better day last week, we walked around Shipley Hill and I was intrigued by the grey-green lichen clinging to the bare branches of (I think) a young Oak tree (Quercus robur).
There are many different lichens in Britain and I have mentioned a couple in previous blog entries, but this is one I hadn't identified before. It turned out to be known as Oakmoss or Evernia prunastri.
This species of lichen is in fact commercially important. It is collected and in great quantities and used in the perfumery industry. Various extracts are taken from Oakmoss and , if you have ever heard that your perfume has 'woody' notes, it is possible that the 'woody-ness' comes from Evernia prunastri. Who would have thought?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


This morning, following a phone call yesterday afternoon, we set out once more for Tesco in Toton, to collect my specs.
I didn't hold out too much hope for a successful outcome, so it was with a feeling of dread that I approached the optician section of Tesco. The young chap who brought my specs to me doesn't inspire much confidence either. Every time I have seen him, he seems to have another facial piercing and an even more surly expression.
But, guess what! The specs were OK and I could see clearly again. What a relief!

On our way home we were stunned to see a group of Council workers re-painting the road markings. Not such a surprising thing, you might think. But, these fools were actually painting the lines on top of all the loose stones and chippings which cover the roads at the moment - the result of the harsh winter weather. The road surface is so bad and so full of pot-holes that you can hardly refer to it as a road at all, more like a rough countryside track. And yet, there they were, painting lines! The word 'stupidity' doesn't come close to doing justice to such a mind-numbingly ridiculous and costly thing.

Once again, I feel the onset of Victor Meldrew as I turn my eyes skyward and utter those immortal words "I don't believe it."

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


This morning saw us trotting around the water-logged paths of Straw's Bridge and getting 'looks' from the Canada Geese (Branta candensis) who were disgusted that we hadn't brought them a bag full of bread.
Native to the arctic regions of Canada, these large, well-known birds were introduced to Britain as ornamental waterfowl on the lakes and ponds of the well-to-do.
In their native lands Canada Geese are common on the dammed lakes made by beavers and they are rather smaller than their European cousins. Our Canada Geese are generally sedentary birds (although some may move to favoured, secluded waters in order to moult in safety). In their native country however, they are far more migratory, flying to the more temperate southern parts of their range in order to avoid the worst of the Arctic winter.
Noisy and gregarious, these magnificent birds remain a favourite of town and country - even if they get a bit grumpy if you fail to come up to scratch with the bread bag!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Winter Light

Not much of a walk again today, just 'round the block' as it is still femur-shatteringly icy under foot and we didn't want to risk a break. So, to fill the gap, I've put together another short video of some of my photos, this time of the snowy conditions and I've set them to the music of Sarah Brightman singing Winter Light. How appropriate!

Hopefully we will get a better walk tomorrow, although, if all goes well, we should be going to Toton again tomorrow, to pick up my new specs, so we'll have to wait and see.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


More snow was forecast for today, so we were expecting to wake up to a sprinkling of the white stuff. I got up to make coffee at 8am and couldn't believe my eyes. About 4" of snow had fallen and was thickly covering everything.
Almost magical to look at, it was clinging to the branches of the trees and looking like a wonderland once more.
Once again, the palm in the back garden was drooping with the weight of the snow which clung there, occasionally letting some snow slide from it's leaves, 'plumping' to the ground.
I thought we had seen the last of the snow for this year, but it seems to keep turning up again and again.

Saturday, 20 February 2010


Malcolm and I, had a good walk back to Sam Bailey's garage late yesterday afternoon and were pleasantly surprised with the outcome of the MOT. So we breathed a sigh of relief and signed the Visa slip.
This morning was very cold and still frosty under foot as we set out for a walk around Shipley Hill to take another look at the blooming snowdrops.
Trying to dodge the weekend cyclists, joggers and horse-riders, it was nevertheless very pleasant in the sunshine and fresh air as we trudged up the hill and into the woods atop it.
It is nice to see that the delicate little flowers are beginning to show their full potential. It is nicer still to see that the Daffodils and Bluebells are also beginning to push through the leaf litter. But for the time being the Snowdrops have the stage to themselves - and there can be no more deserving star.

Friday, 19 February 2010


It's that time of year again! We took the car to Sam Bailey's Garage this morning for it's annual MOT and service. Expecting a large bill later today when the full horror of keeping driving is revealed. We'll see what transpires.
After taking the car in, it gave us a great opportunity to have a nice walk home along the Nutbrook Trail. Having had a good covering of snow again yesterday and through the night, it made for a cold, but bright walk.
The trail uses the old railway lines which were used in times gone by, by the various mineral and mining companies, as well as the enormous iron works which dominated the area.
The old bridges and waterways are still to be seen along the way. It seems a world away from the old industrial past as you walk along, until you get to the modern industrial units alongside the ancient infrastructure. Dilapidated canals, feeder channels, rails, bridges and cuttings are all around and all filthy in the mud and slush.
Further along our walk this morning - in all about 4.25 miles - we came to a more open aspect as industry gave way to farmland. There, in the snow, stood a sorry-looking horse, covered with it's blanket. There are parallel undulations in the fields around this area, which show up well in the snow and I wonder if they are evidence of even more ancient 'ridge-and-furrow' farming.
All to be done now, is to await the call from the garage and to learn the size of the bill, then it will be a walk back along the trail to collect the car.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

All change

Very wet under foot, dull, damp and generally miserable today. So, instead of wading through the mud and puddles of Shipley Park, we took a quick traipse around town.

Looking at the garden when we returned home, I thought things needed a change, so decided to move our garden arch (over which we grow grape vines), a little nearer the patio. What a job! Digging down a few inches, the hole immediately filled with water, the mud was clinging to my shoes and I had a very critical audience - Oscar the cat from next door had popped over to see what all the fuss was about.

Half an hour later, I had moved the arch and the grape vines , filled in the holes and left the lawn looking rather like a First World War battle field. Time for a glass of wine and a bit of lunch.

With no country walk this morning and therefore no photos taken, some beautiful music to listen to instead. I have always loved Ralph Vaughan Williams and to my ear, the most wonderful of his works has to be Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Here, I've set the music to a few photos of Shipley Park (in sunnier times). I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

More Attenborough

Following on from yesterday's post, here are some more pictures of our walk around the Attenborough Nature Reserve.
One of the more numerous birds to be found bobbing around in the water, are the Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula). Small and neat, these are common ducks in Britain and are frequently to found nipping in and out among the Mallards.
The Tufted Duck is a 'diving duck' and gets it's food by swimming under water after small molluscs, aquatic insects and plant material.
On our route back to the car, we stopped to look at some Goosanders (Mergus merganser). Large and very streamlined, these are also diving birds. Goosanders belong to a group of waterfowl known as Sawbills due to their bills having a serrated edge. The saw-tooth edge to their bills enable these birds to catch fish with deadly accuracy. Unfortunately, these birds were not too keen to be photographed and stayed at a distance.
The male bird is unmistakable with it's white body plumage and a very dark greenish head - which looks black at this distance. The Female is a much more drab grey with a reddish coloured head.
While we were looking at another group of Goosanders, we were surprised to see an animal which was new to us both. Suddenly, about 6ft away from us, a brown, furry mammal swam by. An American Mink (Mustela vison). Sadly, by the time we had seen it, it was too late to take a picture. It climbed out of the water and disappeared into the brushwood on the bank. It's presence was, even then, given away by the squabbling noises it was making with another mink in the bank.
Lastly, we returned to the visitors centre - packed with children as it is a school holiday, so you can imagine we didn't stay very long in there!
Outside the visitors centre, there was another exotic bird dabbling around in the muddy waterside. A Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea). Mostly vagrants or escapees from bird collections in this country, they originate in Asia. Such a pretty bird, somewhere between a Mallard and a goose in size, this one was taking a great deal of interest in me as I took it's picture, determined to show off it's 'best side'.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Another trip into Toton this morning, to have my eyes re-tested at Tesco. It appears that the optician made too great a change to the prescription in my right eye and has now corrected it and sent the specs away to be changed. So, we will see what happens when they come back!
Not wanting to waste the morning completely, we decided to take a stroll around the Attenborough nature reserve nearby before going to Tesco. Seen here in a Google Earth view.
The area is a watery paradise for birds and animal of all kinds. The first of which were making quite a racket out on a small island in one of the lakes. Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) are a rather vocal bird, especially at this time of year when their thoughts turn to romance. The call of the Lapwing give it it's other common name of Peewit. It is also known as the Green Plover and is still fairly common throughout Europe although very vulnerable to encroaching human activity and the destruction of it's habitat.
As we continued on our way we heard the goose-like honking of Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea) roosting in a tree. These large wading birds seem a little strange perched in trees, but are quite comfortable there. Their displaying and calling pointed to the fact that they too had seduction in mind.
Avoiding the puddles and mud - of which there was plenty - we were afforded a fine view of the coal-fired power station at Ratcliff. The steam and smoke from it's chimneys were forming vast clouds which drifted over us. Strangely attractive in it's industrial vastness.
More tomorrow....

Monday, 15 February 2010


A miserable day today. Dull and overcast, slight drizzle and still cold. No walk this morning, but a quick dash into Toton to take my new specs back to Tesco as I cannot see through the right-hand lens! Why can no-one get anything right any more?
Back home and it's time for cleaning again, so it's out with the vacuum cleaner and on with the mob-cap. Such a scene of domestic bliss!

Having been told I will have to return to Tesco again tomorrow at 12.20 pm for a re-test and needing some cheering up I thought it would be nice to have another video of bird song to lighten the day. None could lighten it more than the sounds made by the most amazing bird mimic in the world, the Superb Lyre Bird of Australasia. What a magnificent creature!

Saturday, 13 February 2010


The birds were singing once more this morning as we set out for our morning 'constitutional'. Weekends are not normally our favourite time for a walk as you are constantly harried by joggers and cyclists, but this morning was not too bad. We had to get out of the way of four cyclists and three joggers, a couple of which mumbled "cheers mate" as we stepped aside. What ever happened to "thank you"? Why does everyone have to say "cheers mate" these days? As Malcolm and I always say, "I am NOT your mate, never have been and never will be".
As we trotted around the 'Bogwash', there were several fishermen talking together and sipping tea from insulated mugs. They talked in very loud tones about the length of those that got away, each one determined to trump the others with a bigger and better one. The sub-text of these posturing, macho conversations would have give Freud enough material for several theses.

Enough of this. Here is another video of bird song. We were treated to the delightful sound of a Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)in full flow as we returned home. One of the most beautiful sounds in the world. Enjoy!

Friday, 12 February 2010


Once again, this morning, we set out in optimistic mood for a wander down past the 'Bogwash' and on to Straw's Bridge. The sun was trying it's best to peek through the clouds and it was a couple of degrees milder than of late.
The birds seemed to have a notion that Spring was in the air. Th Chaffinches were singing their hearts out, the Goldfinches twittered in the treetops and Dunnocks piped their high-toned song in the sunshine.
Within half an hour, the clouds gathered and the rain started to fall. Suddenly the birds were quiet - as were we!
To continue on the Chaffinch theme, here is a video of one, with the song too.

The Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) is one of Britain's most common birds. The Latin name "coelebs" means 'bachelor' and reflects the fact that they tend to form single sex flocks and for some time it was thought that they were in fact separate species.

Thursday, 11 February 2010


Soon after posting yesterday's blog entry, it started to snow. Then it snowed a bit more. Then it 'chucked-it-down' for a few minutes. Most of the snow didn't settle, but, this morning we woke to a dusting all over and a frozen ground surface. Perfect for walking where it has been too wet to tread for the last few days.
This being the case, Malcolm and I set off for a walk up Shipley Hill to see if the drifts of snowdrops were yet in evidence. The sun was doing it's best to thaw the ground and it was starting to get a little wet under foot once more.
The Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are not yet in full bloom - maybe the cold snap of the last few days has set things back a bit - but the green shoots are pushing up in great abundance.
In a few places, chiefly where the sunlight manages to creep through the tree cover, there are a small number of flowers beginning to open.
It was a bit tricky trying to spot the flowers amongst the dead leaves, dusting of snow and the dappled light, but there they were, few in number, small in stature, but big in their intent to herald the Spring.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


Off to Tesco at Toton again this morning to pick up my new specs. We took the opportunity to do a little shopping while were there - it's almost impossible not to do some shopping! My new specs will take some getting used to as the right eye seems rather blurred and they make me feel as if I am about 8ft tall, but I'll persevere and see what happens.
So, no walks this morning (other than up and down the retail aisles of Tesco). Back home for coffee and to look out at the flakes of snow which are chasing each other around the garden, before settling on the ground.
The forecast for tomorrow is good, so we will hopefully get a longer walk then.
Here is a funny video to be going on with. I must thank my Aunt Mary in Portsmouth for introducing me to 'Simon's Cat'. I hadn't heard of the site since she mentioned it a few weeks ago, but it's well worth a look.. Anyone who has ever had a cat will recognise every aspect of these vignettes.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


I have been trying to get a good photo of some tiny birds which visit our feeding station daily. So small and so active, they are extraordinarily difficult to photograph, as I have found out. I have captured a couple of pictures this morning however, neither of them are very good as you will see, but here they are - The Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus).
Looking like a tiny, feathered ball-and-stick as they flit around the branches, they are only 13 - 15cm long, including the tail, which in itself, accounts for at least 7cm.
Their nests are fantastic constructions of moss and spiders' webs. The webs make them rather elastic and they can expand to contain a large number of birds. Up to twelve chicks plus the adults can squeeze into these nests, making them rather crowded places.
During the winter months, many of these tiny birds will, sadly succumb to the cold, but to try to counter this, they will huddle together in large numbers to keep warm, sometimes re-using the nests for added shelter.
Not actually a member of the tit family, they are thought to belong to the exotic, North American Babbler family.

Monday, 8 February 2010


The forecast last night, said today would be colder, but brighter and dry, so of course, it was just as dull and trying to snow. Why we pay for the 'Met Office' I don't know. We would be just as well informed if we were to consult a piece of seaweed and a pine cone. Anyway, we trudged in the cold around Straw's Bridge and thought how much worse it would be if were ducks and had to spend the winter bobbing around in the icy water. The Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) don't seem to mind the cold water, or the very sloppy mud on the banks.
The mud has turned to, what looks like potters' slip clay. I wonder if it's good for the feet! It seems to be causing this female no problem, despite being all over her feet - and her bill too.
The bare branches of the shrubs around the pond are covered in bright yellow Lichen (Xanthoria parietina). This gives a certain amount of colour to the otherwise wintry greyness.
Lichens are fascinating things and are known in almost every part of the world. This, Foliose or 'leafy Lichen' is common in Britain and was once thought to be a cure for jaundice - due to it's yellow colour.

Sunday, 7 February 2010


Another exceedingly dull day. Optimistically, we set out for our walk around the 'American Adventure', ignoring the darkening skies. Of course, by the time we were half way around our walk, it started to spit with rain. Ten minutes later, it started to come down a bit harder and after another ten minutes, we were putting our hoods up and I was tucking my camera into my coat to keep it dry.
One, most welcome sight however, was the appearance of the first catkins on the Hazel trees (Corylus avellana).
Hazel nuts are supposed to impart wisdom and inspiration according to folklore and if the brothers Grimm are to be believed, Hazel branches are the best thing for warding off serpents and other 'creeping things'. So, good job we didn't come across too many 'creeping things' this morning, or I would have been tempted to try it out! Nice to see the first signs of the approaching Springtime.

Saturday, 6 February 2010


Another short walk this morning as it is still so wet under foot. The peace was disturbed again this morning by people jogging, cycling and generally getting in the way. Do they not realise that Malcolm and I have sole right to the paths around this area...?
Trying to ignore everyone else, we strode along the side of the Manor Floods. Here the peace was also being shattered by the coots which were squabbling and fighting amongst themselves as usual. Among them all - and also trying to ignore all the fuss - was a lone Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus).
Shy and not too keen to have it's picture taken, it swam quickly away as I approached, but at least didn't dive to avoid me.
An expert swimmer and diver, it's main food is small fish and aquatic insects. Found almost everywhere in Britain, this is the most common and largest of the European Grebes. It is also the most 'showy'. In it's winter plumage, it is much bore drab-looking than it will be in a few weeks time when it will once again put on it's full, spring dress.
Numbers of these birds in Britain, are swelled during winter as European birds fly in to avoid the worst of the savage weather. The population regularly reaches about 20,000 individuals at this time of year.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Still Wet

Another wet day. We woke this morning, wondering what to do as we didn't fancy walking around in the mud.
Malcolm had the idea that, as it was 'that time again', we should take a trip to Toton, near Nottingham and get my eyes tested at Tesco. So, off we went and while I was being scrutinised and having wind blown in my eyes, Malcolm took himself off round the store to do battle with the other customers.
I made up my mind a couple of years ago, never to set foot in Specsavers again after they made a 'mess' (polite wording to avoid shock!) of my eye test and the subsequent manufacture of the specs. Malcolm had a good experience of Tesco opticians, so that's good enough for me.
I opted for the two-pairs-for-one option with photochromic lenses in one pair, so it's now a waiting game until I get the call to tell me the glasses are ready. Fortunately, I haven't yet reached the point that Dame Hilda Bracket has got to in this short video.....

Thursday, 4 February 2010


Too wet for a country walk this morning, so we decided to 'take the bull by the horns' and brave Tesco. It was very muddy under foot as we skirted around the industrial estate which backs onto both our estate and the Country Park, near to the 'D.B.C. Bogwash' as Malcolm calls it - seen here, a couple of days ago as we passed it when the ground - and some of the water surface - was frozen.
The lake, actually called Manor Floods, is always packed with mallards, coots, swans, tufted ducks, moorhens, gulls, etc. At this time of year the coots are beginning to notice the lengthening days and are obviously looking forward to the Spring. As such, they are starting to squabble amongst themselves and cause much disturbance on the water, not that the mallards take a great deal of notice of them.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


Yesterday, having delivered Malcolm's mother and her friend to the airport for their holiday, we spent a rainy day visiting my mother in King's Lynn. After all that rain, we woke this morning to a very frosty scene. This meant we were able to take a longer walk around the country park as the otherwise muddy terrain was frozen solid. We were joined this morning by Kay - a friend of ours, who had seen us walking past her house on our way out and came along for the walk.
The frost was thick on the bare bushes, highlighting their outline and looking very severe.
Some of the plants which retain their leaves through the winter look beautiful as they too are edged with the frost and are made to stand out against the dark soil and dead, dry grasses.
The Blackberry bushes also have some leaves still clinging to the stems and the frost which clings to them is every bit a 'sharp' as the thorns which adorn them, making them appear all the more unwelcoming. Al a far cry from the warmth and sunshine of Benidorm!

Monday, 1 February 2010


Just a quick post today with a short slide-show video of some of my pictures of Benidorm. I recently downloaded a new piece of software called Photo Story 3 to create these films/slide-shows, having always used Microsoft's Moviemaker in the past, so this my first attempt at using it. The music is Recuerdos de la Alhambra, written by Spanish guitarist, Francisco Tárrega in 1896 and involves the very challenging technique of 'tremolo' where a single melody note is plucked repeatedly by the ring, middle and index fingers in rapid succession, while the thumb plays the counter melody on the bass strings. Very difficult!