Friday, 31 December 2010

Out With It

Well, that's another one done with.  2010 has almost breathed it's last, so it's time for a brief look back at the year.
It has been a great year for additions to my 'life lists'.  I have added several species to the birds' list including the fantastic Great Reed Warbler which made it's summer home amongst the reeds of Straw's Bridge.  The Waxwings of course, caused much excitement a few days ago as did the Squacco Heron, Purple Swamphens, Black Terns, Caspian Terns, Waxbills and Fan-tailed Warblers in Portugal.  The Rock Bunting in Benidorm was a good 'tick' back in March as were the Red-whiskered Bulbuls which added a little exotica to the already exciting list of Spanish 'ticks'.
Lots of new ticks on my list of plants too, with 47 more species than there were this time last year.
What a year!  Lets hope 2011 will see even more ticks - and I don't mean the one's which latch on and suck your blood!
A Happy New Year to all who deserve one!

Thursday, 30 December 2010


Still dank, dreary, misty, damp and generally 'not nice' today.  Malcolm and I had a quick walk to Tesco for a few 'bits' before trudging back through the gloom, it will be nice to get back to walking through the countryside.
The year is fast waning and thoughts are turning to what 2011 will bring.  Good things, we hope.  These little fellows seem to have had some Christmas cheer...
Lets hope tomorrow is brighter and drier and we are able to get out and about a bit - although the weather forecast doesn't look very promising!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010


It's a bit of a 'Pea-Souper' today.  The fog came down yesterday afternoon and grew thicker and thicker as the evening wore on.  By the time our friends arrived for their usual Christmas visit last night, it was almost Dickensian and not easy to drive in.
This is the view from our front window a I write this.  It's damp and miserable, so no walk in the country again this morning, just a quick jaunt into town after doing the cleaning.  Not nice, but it has a look of a cheap horror film and mysterious stillness about it.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Other Side

Well!  We have emerged, unscathed on the other side of Christmas and with the snow almost all gone and the temperature now struggling a few degrees above freezing, things have started to return to 'normal'.
Not much in the way of walks over the festive period, so not many pictures to post.  So, here are just a few, taken from our front window, in the gloom, of the Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus) which have made the feeders there, a regular visiting place.
We have counted nine of these tiny birds at any one time although only eight appeared here (not good news as they suffer terribly in this cold weather).  Weighing in at only a quarter of an ounce each, they are very sociable and huddle together in numbers to keep warm during the Winter months.
Not actually a member of the Tit family (Paridae), they are more closely related to the Babbler family of birds (Timaliidae) and are the only representative of that family to be found in Britain.  Looking like a feather-covered ball-and-stick, they are so tiny, so cute and lovable, it's a wonder to imagine how something so small and vulnerable, manage to survive in the kind of weather we have experienced lately.

Friday, 24 December 2010

One More Sleep

With just one more sleep 'till Christmas, It's all getting too exciting and I think I will have to have a lie down.  The hot coffee, mince pie and apricot brandy which went down very well after our jaunt into town this morning, were most welcome and certainly helped to 'set the scene'.
No pictures today, despite the Waxwings turning up in our neighbours' garden (too much excitement), but a traditional favourite poem.....

A Visit from St. Nicholas 
By Clement Clark Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads:
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon, on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below;
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled and shouted and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall!
Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So, up to the house-top the coursers, they flew,
With a sleigh full of toys and Saint Nicholas, too.
And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
Down the chimney Saint Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle;
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight:
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Here's wishing you a very Merry Christmas.
Stephen & Malcolm

Thursday, 23 December 2010


Just a quick jaunt out and about this morning as we took our two mothers for a little retail therapy.  On the way home again, we were treated to the sight of a good 50 Waxwings feeding in the Hawthorn trees near home.  Once again, proving tricky to get a good picture of as they always seem to be in the wrong place (or is it ME in the wrong place) at the time.  For birds so well known for their toleration of humans, these are being very skittish.
Just as you point your camera, off they fly to another tree.  It's so frustrating.
This last picture shows how they get their name.  The bright red, wax-like 'droplets' on the wings show quite well if you click the picture and get a closer look.  Still beautiful and still twittering about, they are quite stunning.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


With the snow falling once again, it looks like we will certainly have a white Christmas.  As it was snowing when we set out this morning, we decided just to pop to the Post Office to pick up a package which we missed being delivered yesterday, then to Malcolm's Mum's to have coffee with our two Mothers.
So, no pictures this morning, despite there being about 50 Waxwings again, feeding on the Hawthorn berries nearby, it was too snowy to take a photo.  As a result, here is a collage of images from the snowy weather this year.  Click it to get a larger version.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


The Winter Solstice will happen tonight at just after 11.30pm.  The point in time when the northern hemisphere of the earth is tilted furthest away from the Sun.  This year, the Solstice has happened at the same time as the lunar eclipse last night, making it extra special.  Long been the time of great rejoicing and feasting, it was traditionally a time for looking forward to the longer days to come and a time to make merry in order to 'cheer up' the cold Winter days.  The festival of Brumalia, celebrated by the Romans at this time of year, was hijacked by the early Christians and turned into Christmas.  It is also thought to have been the celebration of the birth of the Roman God 'Mithras'.
But for now, here is the folk-rock band Jethro Tull's take on the Solstice Bell with their hit from 1977. 
 Happy Winter Solstice!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Hard Frost

Just a quick walk this morning as we were going out for lunch, as well as the fact that it was so cold.  Still seven degrees below freezing when we got home, our faces were numb with the cold.  The slight mist only made matters worse as it clung to the twigs and frosted them ever more thoroughly.
Looking out over Shipley Park, it was definitely a wintry scene.
Almost monochrome in nature, the colour seems to have been frozen from the countryside for so long now, it's difficult to remember how green it usually is.

Saturday, 18 December 2010


Another bitterly cold morning as we set out for our walk today.  Covered from head to toe in several layers and looking, once again, like animated bundles of clothes, we decided to do the same walk as yesterday, but 'the other way round'.  Another 5 miles in the icy weather and another set of rosy cheeks when we got home.
There is still a little snow on the ground and it's still very hard-frozen under foot, so it's good to make the most of the frozen ground, in order to walk in places which are normally too muddy at this time of year.  The farmland of the area is being grazed, not by the cattle, which have been moved to slightly warmer barns, but by Canada Geese which have arrived in some numbers.
The standing water which has flooded some of the ground around Straw's Bridge, is frozen solid, but there are some strange and wonderful shapes to be found in the ice.  Here for example, cracks in the ice look like lightning has struck this sapling producing a weird shape , echoing the tree itself.
Red was the title of today's blog entry and now we get to the point.  Redwings (Turdus iliacus) are the smallest members of the Thrush family and arrive from their breeding grounds in the far North, to take advantage of our berry crop each Winter.  A handful of Redwings breed in the Northern-most parts of Scotland, but most will make their home in Iceland, northern Scandinavia and the Baltic states.
Common at this time of year in Britain, they are surprisingly difficult to photograph being so shy.  It seems that as soon as you point a camera at them, off they fly.
The bold, pale stripe above the eye is a good identifying mark, separating them from the more familiar Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) which can look very similar in the winter light.  A better look will show the red patch under it's wing which gives the bird it's name.  If you can get that close!
These are the best photos I have been able to get so far, but we'll keep trying.

Friday, 17 December 2010


What a contrast from yesterday.   This morning was bright, sunny, freezing cold and just the thing for a long walk through a frosty and, after last night's flurries, a snowy countryside.  This was the scene along the old West Hallam Colliery site.  Icy, but beautiful.
As we passed the farm, a family group of Chickens was to be seen scratching around the field.  The Cockerel was a magnificent sight in his best plumage.
He was particularly proud as he was joined by his 'harem' of hens.
The swans on the lakes of Straw's Bridge were not too impressed by the ice covering the water.  They were even less impressed when they realised we hadn't got any bread for them.  This youngster was particularly photogenic.
Another Young swan was having a hard time walking across the Ice.  It looked a little disconcerted as a cracking noise accompanied each step it took.  Malcolm and I can remember this young swan 'when it was still an egg' at the beginning of summer,  seen HERE as it was swimming with it's parents and siblings soon after hatching.
The snow flurries yesterday have left a dusting like icing sugar over everything.  Maybe it's a preview of things to come. With more forecast, we may yet see a white Christmas.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


It was a horrible, grey, drizzly, damp, cold, nasty morning.  When I woke up at about 7.45, it was still dark and just the sort of day to stay in bed.
Abandoning all hope of a walk this morning, we waited until after lunch and then 'braved it' for a quick walk to Tesco.  By the time we got back, it was colder and had started to sleet.  So, we got home damp and cold (but laden with a few decent bargains).
Now, as I write this, it's snowing properly, but not yet settling.  Been here before I think!
During the last load of snow, a Heron was to be seen standing on a neighbouring roof, looking a little out-of-place and confused by the snow falling all around it.  Poor thing!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

More to come

Well  according to the forecast, it looks as if we might get some more snow soon.  The odds of us having a white Christmas are shortening by the day and the Waxwings are still around as we saw this morning.  There are Redwings, Fieldfares, Song and Mistle Thrushes stocking up on berries for the cold weather to come, in the hedgerows and the Sparrows, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and Long-tailed Tits are all busy on the fat-balls.  It's all go!
Anyone will tell you, I love the snow and can't get enough of it and, looking at this video, it looks like I'm not the only one....  Even I don't get this excited!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


Everything was grey this morning.  The sky was an even grey colour and rain threatened all the while we were out on our walk.  Most of the ice has now gone, but in places you still had to be very careful where the ice remained, waiting to up-end the unwary.
The Manor Floods were strange.  Ice still covers most of the surface, but a thin film of melt-water covered the ice giving it an odd, grey, misty look.
Heading home (still watching where we put our feet), we were watched by another grey thing.  This time, a Grey Squirrel was keeping it's beady eye on us as we passed.
I think the squirrel was hoping for some food from us, but I'm afraid it was disappointed.
On a more sombre note, all the Waxwings seem to have moved on now.  Not one was to be seen this morning.  It all goes to show how you just have to be in the right place at the right time.

Monday, 13 December 2010


A few more pictures today, of the wonderful Waxwings.  The full name of these birds is 'Bohemian Waxwing'.  This is not a reference to it's homelands, but to it's wandering, 'Gypsy' habits as it looks for food sources.
The English name 'Waxwing' refers to the small, waxy structures at the tips of the secondary flight feathers.  These are thought to look like sealing wax and add to the colourful display along with the yellow tip to the tail, yellow on the wings and general pinkish hue.
The shaggy crest on it's head - larger in the male - gives an exotic appearance and the black 'bandit' mask and chin seems to set it all off beautifully.
The bird in the above picture (bottom right) is displaying wonderful dexterity as it tosses a Hawthorn berry into the air before catching it again and swallowing it whole.
Last picture for now, showing the birds' acrobatic abilities and a good view of it's triangular (rather Starling-like) wings.  You could never get bored with these gorgeous, entertaining birds.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

High Excitement

This year has been a very good one for sighting Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) in Britain.  These exotic-looking birds arrive each year along the North and East coasts of Britain, from their breeding grounds of Northern Europe, usually in quite small numbers.  But, occasionally, if weather conditions in their native lands are very poor and their supply of berries to eat during the Winter fails, then larger numbers migrate south and west towards Britain.  This is referred to as a 'Fall' of Waxwings.  This year has been one of those years.
Malcolm and I have been looking out for these magnificent birds for a few weeks now and I have been keeping an eye on different bird-watching web-sites to see where they have been spotted, so imagine my delight when some had been spotted on our estate, close to where we live!  We have missed them a couple of times during the last week, arriving after they had flown off, but this morning, we hit lucky.
It is sometimes the case that when looking for a bird you have never seen, you will eventually see a large flock of them and this morning was no exception.  There must have been well over 100 individual birds feeding around the Hawthorn trees and flitting off to rest in the Ash trees nearby.  Their Twittering calls filling the air as much as the birds themselves.
They did however, remain frustratingly high up in the branches and hidden by the twigs.  So, good pictures were not easy to get.
What beautiful creatures they are.  And what a stir they were causing.  Several people had stopped to look and take pictures.
It was definitely the Hawthorn berries which kept their attention as they gorged themselves on the small, red fruits.
One more picture for now.... Hopefully more to come and hopefully the sun will be out next time so I can get some better and brighter pictures - it was just too dull this morning.  What a wonderful new 'tick' for my life-list.  I can't stop smiling!

Friday, 10 December 2010


This morning saw the temperature well above freezing for the first time in about a fortnight.  This has led to a fairly rapid thaw and in turn, even more treacherous walking conditions.  As Malcolm and I set out for town this morning, we had great difficulty remaining upright as a thin film of water covered the still ice-covered pavements.
As we have not had a country walk this morning and therefore have not taken any pictures, here are a few from previous, more snow-covered days.  First, a shot of our neighbours cat 'Oscar', heading home from his wanderings around the hedgerows.
More snow...
And yet more snow...

It looks as if there will not be any more snow for a while, so you have to make the most of it while it lasts.  Maybe some snow will hang around, as my Grandmother would have said, 'waiting for some more'.  Lets hope so!

Thursday, 9 December 2010


Malcolm was promised a day out for his birthday (poor old thing!) but the weather has been too bad to venture very far since the big day itself.  Today however, we took the bull by the horns and decided to take a trip out to Matlock.  It's been a long time since either of us has actually walked around the town, so after chipping the car out of it's block of ice, off we went.
It is often said that town centres are dying and that the 'out-of-town' shopping centres are the cause.  I have an alternative theory.  Town planners and especially those who are in charge of the traffic flow through towns, are far more to blame.  These days, it is so difficult to actually get into most towns to do some shopping, that it is far easier to chose an out-of-town area.
Matlock is a prime example of this.  The town centre has been 'improved' so it is now only possible to get to it from the north - not so good for those of us who arrive from the south!  These so called improvements have completely bunged up the town centre with traffic lights, roundabouts and one-way systems, so that now, almost nothing can move - even when there is not much traffic because of the weather.  What it must be like in the summer, I tremble to think.
However, we did eventually manage to find a car-park in which we were able to park (none of them had been cleared of snow and it was impossible even to get in most of them), and we set out for a walk around the town.  What a disappointment it is.  Like most small towns, there's nothing left to attract the shoppers.  We couldn't even find a post-box in which to post a letter!  Even the local ducks looked unimpressed..
The views out of town were good - if you could see past all the clogged-up traffic.  Up the hill towards Riber Castle the snow highlighted the scene.
From one of the bridges across the Derwent, it looked just as chilly.
The river was flowing fast as it passed under the bridge but there was till ice on the rocks below.  Not a day for a paddle!
So, hot Coffee and a Brie and Cranberry Panini at Costa before getting back to the car and coming home again.  But as Malcolm said, at least it was nice to get out and about.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


Another beautiful morning for a walk through Shipley Park.  Taking advantage of the still frozen ground, we decided to walk up Shipley Hill, around the old hall site and then down and round the old theme park, a walk which is not so easy at this time of year when it's not frozen as it gets a bit muddy.  But what a view from atop the hill.
It's still very much a snowy scene as you can see, but with the promise of slightly higher temperatures over the next few days, it doesn't look like it will stay snowy for much longer.  So, for now, let's make the most of it while it lasts.
Heading back, the view over towards the Power Station of Ratcliffe-on-Soar proves how much extra power is needed during these cold spells.  The smoke and steam are billowing out at an alarming rate.
A little further on and a small bird which could probably do with a little warmth of it's own.  A stunningly colourful, male Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), sat watching us walk by keeping it's distance as they usually do, but looking beautiful in the pale sunlight.
Back home and another bird was doing it's best to keep warm.  This time it was a male Blackbird (Turdus merula), sitting on our fence and helping himself to a large number of Pyracantha berries.  He was popping them down like a child with a tube of Smarties and looking rather pleased with himself.