Monday, 28 February 2011


Monday is the day for taking our friend Winnie shopping.  So no walk through the park this morning - and a good job too with the drizzle falling and the thermometer following suit.  What a miserable day!
No pictures, no witty anecdotes, just drizzle.  Oh well, there's plenty of room for improvement.  Lets hope the rest of the week proves a bit better.

Friday, 25 February 2011


A mild, but dull morning, but the signs of Spring are still growing day-by-day.  This morning, the Hawthorn bushes around Straw's Bridge were beginning to open their buds.
The freshness of these new leaves is a joy to see after the Winter and this wasn't the only sign that things are heading in the right direction.  A little further on during our walk, we found a Forsythia tree spilling out of someone's garden and it too was bursting to see in the Spring.
This time, the flowers, Not the leaves were the first things to see and they made a bright addition to the dull day.

Thursday, 24 February 2011


This morning, as we picked our way through the mud and muck around Shipley Lake, we were delighted to see a lone female Goosander (Mergus merganser) swimming along in the distance.
These birds belong to a group of waterfowl called Sawbills.  The name comes from their thin, serrated-edged bill which they employ to great effect in catching fish.  Belonging to the same family as ducks, geese and swans, they resemble, but are not true ducks.  The females are sometimes known as red-heads as they have a chestnut-coloured head and grey body.  The males are quite different and far more showy in black and white with a red bill.
Looking away from the water, the woodland is beginning to show more signs of Spring.  This time, the Lords-and-Ladies are now showing above the leaf-litter.  Looking forward to the flowers to come.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


The weather was still damp and grey and miserable this morning, so we walked the same route as yesterday - but the other way round.  The nature reserve known as Pewit Carr is fully saturated at the moment.  Water flows from one pool to another and even ducks have taken to dabbling in the thick undergrowth.
The Alders which are so typical of this kind of landscape, are opening their pendulous catkins and the Willows are beginning to sprout and burst forth with the promise of Springtime.  For the time-being however, rain drips from the trees and plops into the pools disrupting the reflections within the woodland.
Nearby, those Willows I mentioned, are dotted with dew which glistens in what little light there is.  Glorious in the dull weather, but how much more sparkly would they be in sunlight?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


Dull, damp, misty, miserable and dreary. These are the words which sprang to mind when we set out this morning for our walk.  A few spots of rain fell on us, but never amounted to very much, so, throwing caution to the wind, we set out round Straw's Bridge and Pewit Carr.  As we passed the 'Bogwash', the unmistakable sounds of a fight came to us across the water.  The Coots were at it again.
Like large, black, feathery balls of fury, the birds swam toward each other, displaying and showing off their bottoms.  Feathers were fluffed, heads were kept low to the water and the fight began.  Turning face-to-face, they sat back on their tails presenting their feet and began kicking and scratching.
Soon, others joined in.  One seemed to be taking on the role of referee before also joining in the fray as the water splashed around and the squabbling intensified.  It was all rather entertaining, like watching stupid, posturing teenagers spilling from a town-centre pub on a Saturday night.  Too much excitement for one day, so we went on our way and left them to it.

Sunday, 20 February 2011


20th February has been a funny day through the years.  For instance, it was on this day in 1673 that the first wine auction took place in London.  The United States Post Office was formed on this day in 1792.  In 1921, the film "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse", starring Rudolph Valentino, was released and ten years later, Patricia Baer was born in Derby.
Later to become Malcolm's Mum,  Pat is today celebrating her 80th birthday at the seaside - somewhere!  Lets hope she's looking a bit more pleased than in this picture...
"Happy Birthday Pat"

Thursday, 17 February 2011


No-one can miss the Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) swimming around on the lakes at the moment.  As usual, they are quick to notice any person walking past and head for them in the hopes that they might be thrown some bread.
As we stopped to take their picture, the air of expectation reached fever pitch and they started to leave the water and 'rush' us - despite the fact that we had no bread.
Moving on, the trees and bushes are all starting to show more signs of Spring.  Buds are beginning to show and in a few cases are already opening.
These buds are from a large Dog Rose shrub this morning and prove that Spring is just around the corner.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Ear! Ear!

There were some strange fungal growths on a couple of trees atop Shipley Hill yesterday.  Brown, gelatinous and oddly-shaped, these fungi are commonly known as Jews' Ears (Auricularia auricula-judae).
Commonly seen on dead Elder trees, in these 'politically correct' times, they are increasingly called simply 'Ear fungus' or 'Jelly Ears'.  Despite their rather off-putting appearance, they are in fact edible when cooked and are quite commonly used in far-eastern cuisine.  They can be found all year, but most frequently in Autumn and late Winter.
They are used medicinally as a treatment for colds, sore throats,  sore eyes (as a poultice) and jaundice.  Very useful!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.... as the song goes.  This morning, the blood was cooled a little too much as the quantity of mud to be found as we strode up Shipley Hill, was almost overwhelming.  Shrugging off the mucky conditions underfoot, we decided to check on the progress of the Snowdrops on the hill - and we were glad we did.
Small patches of white blooms slowly gave way to larger swathes...
... and, finally, to great carpets of Snowdrops almost glowing in the gloom under the trees.  Dotted among them, the first Daffodils are beginning to show their heads above the ground and a few are starting to display a little yellow in their buds.  The Bluebells are also just showing above the leaf litter, but both they and the Daff's will have to wait for the moment as the stage is dominated by the Snowdrops.
The forecast was for rain spreading in by the afternoon and, unusually, it seemed to be right today as the first spots tarted to fall as we turned for home.  The view across Shipley Park towards our estate and the town was rather grey and sombre as the clouds rolled in.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Snowdrop Time

Taking our good friend Winnie shopping this morning, we were delighted to see the huge quantity of Snowdrops which are adorning her garden at the moment.  These small, white members of the Amaryllidaceae or Lily family, are always good to see as they herald the advent of Spring.
These particular specimens were pictured last year in the woods atop Shipley Hill - we haven't been up there for a few days as the weather has been too wet and the ground too muddy, but we're looking forward to seeing the carpet of white again this year.  Lets just hope for drier weather.

Saturday, 12 February 2011


I have already mentioned the Hazel catkins which are decorating the trees right now, but there are more catkins to be found.  Some of the more common are those belonging to the Common Alder (Alnus glutinosa).
The dangling catkins are, as with the Hazel, the male flowers.  The female flowers are smaller, more rounded and resemble fir-cones.
Alders grow in moist soils all over Europe and are a great favourite with several small members of the finch family.  Especially Siskins and Goldfinches.  Belonging to the same family as the Birches, they grow to around 60-90ft, very rarely over 100ft, but mostly much smaller.  The roots of the Alder tree engage in a symbiotic relationship with a nitrogen-fixing bacteria called Frankia.  This relationship enables the tree to obtain nitrogen from the soil, while the bacteria are 'fed' with carbon from the tree itself.  The nitrogen-fixing quality of alders (rather like members of the pea family), naturally fertilizes the soil surrounding them and therefore is very important to other plant species.

Friday, 11 February 2011


Not a social network, but the sounds of Spring which greeted our ears as we walked around Peewit Carr and Straw's Bridge this morning.  The birds seem to be going crazy with the arrival of milder temperatures and they are all eager to let everyone know about it.  Great Tits, Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Robins, Dunnocks, Wrens, Coots, Mallards and Tufted Ducks were all twittering, singing, chirping and quacking their delight as they sense Spring in the air.  Even the Crows were joining in, but their guttural cawing doesn't quite reach the vocal gymnastics of a Song Thrush.
The red-stemmed Dogwoods around Straw's Bridge are beginning to show a sprouting bud or two, but they are so covered by lichens, that it's tricky to see the buds.
In some places, the lichens cover the stems so much that you can't even see the red bark of the tree.
As we walked back home, we were delighted to see a small flock of about 15 Waxwings, still flitting about in the Hawthorn trees.
Still a stunning sight, they were adding to the bird-song of the countryside with their quiet, high-pitched, jingling, twittering calls.  It can't be long now until they get the urge to leave us and head for home in the far north of Europe and I, for one, will be very sad to see them go.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011


A short walk this morning as the weather was not too good, but yesterday, with the sun shining and the sky blue, we set out for a walk around Shipley Lake.  It's very nice to see the first stirrings of Spring in the hedgerows.  Among the most noticeable are the Hazel trees (Corylus avellana), decorated with dangling catkins.
The catkins are the male flowers and hang below the branches ready to disperse their pollen on the wind to fertilize the female flowers.
The female flowers are much smaller and far more difficult to see.  Looking like tiny strands of red wool attached to the branches of the tree, above the hanging male flowers, they benefit from closer examination.  From these small, red bunches of threads, will eventually spring forth the Hazel nuts at the end of Summer - still a few months away yet!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Odds and Ends

Just a few odds and ends today to finish with our trip to Lanzarote.  On our last day, we had a couple of hours to kill before being picked up to go back to the airport.  So, not wanting to waste this time, we made up a large bread roll each, took a small bottle of red wine and set out for a last stroll along the seafront.  The sun was shining and it was lovely and warm when we sat in a small park, to enjoy our rolls and wine.  But we were being watched!  Dozens of large caterpillars were busy chomping on the leaves of the Euphorbias planted in the garden.  Brightly coloured and, no doubt, poisonous to anything unwise enough to have a go at them, they turned out to be Barbary Spurge Hawk Moth caterpillars (Hyles tithymali).
Some exotica was also to be found along the more domestic streets of the town.  A few, tall Coconut palms were waving their fronds n the breeze, giving a more Caribbean quality to the scene.
Everywhere you go on the Canary Islands, you will find remnants of bygone times in the shape of old, abandoned windmills.  Not the familiar windmills we have in Britain, but more skeletal mills used in times gone by, for raising water, powering mill-stones and small machinery.  Some still manage to turn when the wind is strong enough as this one did on the seafront near the end of the prom. Although, it no longer serves any purpose other than as a reminder of simpler days.
Just time for one last look at the volcanic landscape before returning to the airport for our trip home.  Another lovely holiday.  Where to next....?

Monday, 7 February 2011


On the Tuesday of our holiday, we woke up to threatening skies.  We had had a spectacular downpour the evening before.  It didn't last long, but it certainly dropped a lot of rain on us.  Tuesday however, saw an even greater downpour.
Again, it didn't last long and the sky soon cleared allowing us to get out and about once more.  As we walked along the seafront, we were surprised to see a 'line' in the water which separated the blue sea from a pale, brown area closer to shore.  As the sea had been a bit rough, we thought the brown water was from the sand being whipped up.
We soon found out that this was not the case.  As we approached one of the usually dry streams which empty into the sea, it became abundantly clear that the colour in the sea was coming from mud being washed down from the hillsides.
It was clear that the torrent had been much worse at it's height.  Debris covered the promenade, manhole covers had been lifted and rocks and silt had been piled up by the water.  This was where the muddy rain water emptied into the sea, turning it a pale coffee brown.
We were told later that about 11 litres of rain per square metre had fallen in the space of only 10 minutes - about 49,000,000 litres over the town of Costa Teguise alone!  No wonder everywhere was so wet and muddy!

Sunday, 6 February 2011


There were not many plants in flower at this time of year in Lanzarote.  One plant which seemed to be in flower all over the place however, was a small, white-flowered Heliotropium erosum.
Another common plant which had a few flowers adorning it's spiny branches, was the yellow-flowered Launaea arborescens.  The fleshy leaves of this plant make it ideal for coping with the hot, dry conditions of this part of the world.
Closer to the ground was the creeping plant known as Fagonia cretica.  This too has small spines all over it and some rather handsome, small, violet, five-petaled flowers with yellow anthers.  These Fagonias can be found all over the place, sprawling over the volcanic gravel and rocks.
Two non-native species next, starting with a very common tree called an Arboreal Tobacco or Nicotiana glauca.  Native to South America, this has become a very common sight all over the islands as well as the warmer parts of the Southern European mainland, planted as an ornamental tree along streets and roads where the long, yellow, tube-shaped flowers make a good show.
Lastly, a plant which is native to South Africa.  Well known for it's medicinal and cosmetic properties, this is a member of the Aloe family, Aloe arborescens.  This particular species is just as useful as it's more commonly known cousin Aloe vera - which seems to be in everything these days from skin preparations to exotic juice drinks. The bright flowers of this one, make a nice show, planted along the roadsides of Costa Teguise.

Saturday, 5 February 2011


Sunshine is in short supply this morning.  The wind is still blowing, the rain has started falling (horizontally in this wind).  We did however, see plenty of the sun in Lanzarote.  Some of my favourite pictures were of the sunrise...
... and the sunset...
... both of which we could see very well from our apartment.
The sun was shining brightly as we looked around the Castillo de San Gabriel - although this situation didn't last all day.  But it did provide a good backdrop to the bell cupola on top.  Why would a small castle have a bell on top? To ring for help or as a warning maybe?   Hmmmm!