Saturday, 31 December 2011

Looking Back

Well, there goes another one.  Almost as soon as 2011 crept up on us, it's all over bar the shouting and 2012 is snapping at our heels.  So, with all the TV and radio programs summing up the year and looking back at what has, or might have been, I thought I would do something similar.
It's been another good year for 'new species' ticked off (or, more accurately, added to) my life-lists.  Most have been, as usual, noted in foreign parts, during our holidays.  Starting with plant life, in Lanzarote, we saw Agave attenuata and 'Filao Trees', Crassula ovata, Echium bonnetii, Euphorbia balsamifera, Heliotropium erosum, Kleinia neriifolia and Launaea arborescens among many others.  Madeira was also good for 'new species of plants most notably Calico Flower (Aristolochia elegans) and Mountan Ebony (Bauhinia variegata).  The fluffy Kapok Trees were also a first for me.  The fabulously red flowers of Erythrina crista-galli were note-worthy too.
Closer to home, my mother's garden proved interesting with Asian Pokeweed and Buckwheat plants springing up from nowhere, and Shipley Park proved equal to the challenge too and I was able to tick off a few new species here too including Hedge Bedstraw, Long-stalked Crane's-bill and the beautiful, little Fairy Flax.
As always, the bird list has expanded a bit too.  We started with Barbary Partridge remaining frustratingly far away, in Lanzarote in January.
There were Pain Swifts in Madeira, Red-Rumped Swallows in The Algarve, A Madeiran Kestrel and Madeiran Grey Wagtail (technically only sub-species, but still worth noting) and Canaries.  Although, not all the birds we saw in Madeira were classed as 'ticks', however colourful they were.
Most recently, we saw Lesser Redpolls almost in our own back yard, while walking round Shipley Park.
Our Trip to The Algarve proved to be good for invertebrate ticks too with Red-winged Grasshoppers, Bath White Butterflies and Crimson-speckled Moths to add to the list.
Capping them all however, who can forget the 'Greater-Spotted, Pain-Enduring, Brave-Faced and very rare species known in these parts as Malcolm and his plaster....
Well, enough is enough and I think we've all had enough of 2011, so bring on 2012 and lets hope there a good number of new ticks to be added during the coming year and many fewer trips to the doctor to be jabbed with a needle..!
Happy New Year.

Friday, 30 December 2011


we just managed to get a walk this morning, in between the rain.  Indeed, we just got home when it started to rain quite heavily once again, so that was some good timing.  Our walk took us along the Nutbrook Trail past Kirk Hallam, not a path we take normally as we have often had problems with the young offenders students (!) at Kirk Hallam School who take great delight in hurling either abuse or rocks at passers-by.  But, with it still being school holidays, we braved it and what a good thing we did.  as we walked along, my attention was drawn to what I thought was a very large sheep.  It wasn't.
Turned out, it was an Alpaca (Vicugna pacos)!  Not the thing you expect as you walk along a Derbyshire footpath.  What's more, it wasn't alone.  There were four or five of these rather handsome animals.
Looking a little shabby in the very dull, damp weather and plodding around in the very muddy field, they still managed to look beautiful with their long eye-lashes and smart 'hair-cuts'.
Originally from South America, they are a smaller relative of the llama and a member of the Camel family.  They are bred domestically for their fleece which is highly prized to make high quality wool for knitted garments.  Very social creatures, they are often to be seen among flocks of sheep as they make very good guardians, aggressively chasing off small predators, kicking, spitting and biting anything which may pose a threat.
What a great and exotic addition to the local fields and what a change from the usual ponies.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

In Between

I always think this is a strange time of year.  Neither one thing nor another, stuck in the middle, not quite sure of anything, drifting between the festivities of Christmas just gone by, while looking forward to the celebration of New Year just round the corner.  At the same time looking back at the year past, while looking forward to the year to come.
It's always more tricky when, as has been the case for the past few days, the weather has not been conducive to a good, head-clearing walk in the countryside.  Again this morning, the wind is blowing, the temperature has taken a turn lower and the rain keeps falling at regular intervals, making things feel even more dreary.
Looking at the raindrops as they cling to the windows, they look like tiny lenses producing hundreds of minute, upside down images of our surrounding environs.  Look carefully and you can see the houses opposite - in miniature.
Here's hoping that after a coffee, a click about on the computer and lunch, we will be able to get out and about if only for a short walk.  If the showers stop!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Eve

Well, only one more sleep 'till Christmas and all is festive.  Even the dogs we met on our walk this morning were all in high spirits, no doubt aware that something was happening and there is a treat or two under the tree for them.  Pam Ayres always has a good way of putting things, so here is her Christmas poem...

Goodwill To Men - Give Us Your Money

It was Christmas Eve on a Friday
The shops was full of cheer,
With tinsel in the windows,
And presents twice as dear.
A thousand Father Christmases,
Sat in their little huts,
And folk was buying crackers
And folk was buying nuts.
All up and down the country,
Before the light was snuffed,
Turkeys they get murdered,
And cockerels they got stuffed,
Christmas cakes got marzipanned,
And puddin's they got steamed
Mothers they got desperate
And tired kiddies screamed.
Hundredweight's of Christmas cards,
Went flying through the post,
With first class postage stamps on those,
You had to flatter most.
Within a million kitchens,
Mince pies was being made,
On everyone's radio,
"White Christmas", it was played.
Out in the frozen countryside
Men crept round on their own,
Hacking off the holly,
What other folks had grown,
Mistletoe on willow trees,
Was by a man wrenched clear,
So he could kiss his neighbour's wife,
He'd fancied all the year.
And out upon the hillside,
Where the Christmas trees had stood,
All was completely barren,
But for little stumps of wood,
The little trees that flourished
All the year were there no more,
But in a million houses,
Dropped their needles on the floor.
 And out of every cranny, cupboard,
Hiding place and nook,
Little bikes and kiddies' trikes,
Were secretively took,
Yards of wrapping paper,
Was rustled round about,
And bikes were wheeled to bedrooms,
With the pedals sticking out.
Rolled up in Christmas paper
The Action Men were tensed,
All ready for the morning,
When their fighting life commenced,
With tommy guns and daggers,
All clustered round about,
"Peace on Earth - Goodwill to Men"
The figures seemed to shout.
The church was standing empty,
The pub was standing packed,
There came a yell, "Noel, Noel!"
And glasses they got cracked.
From up above the fireplace,
Christmas cards began to fall,
And trodden on the floor, said:
"Merry Xmas, to you all." 

"A very Happy Christmas to all who deserve it." 

Friday, 23 December 2011

Waxing on

A day for reflection today.  We were to have a walk with our friend Kay this morning, but before we got out, it started to rain and it has hardly stopped all day.  So it's a perfect time for looking back at the blog for last year at this time.  The temperature was a good ten degrees colder then and we were still in the clutches of the 'big chill'.  As a result, we were experiencing a 'Waxwing Winter'.
This year, not a single Waxwing to be seen.  Clearly, they're staying put in their northern European homelands rather than flying all this way.
But, what wonderful birds they are and how privileged we were to see them this time last year.
On a more festive note, excitement is setting in (in me anyway, Malcolm's still not exactly full of 'Ho-Ho-Ho') and as there are only a couple of days left until the big day, here's a joyous little Santa...

Thursday, 22 December 2011


It was a warm and sunny walk around Shipley Lake this morning.  Decked out in our coats, Malcolm and I soon began to wish we had not worn so many layers.  I took some binoculars with me this morning to see what I could see on the lake and in the surrounding trees.  I had seen a couple of days ago that a small flock of Lesser Redpolls (Carduelis cabaret) had been seen feeding in the Birch and Alder trees and I was just telling Malcolm to keep his eyes peeled, when there they were.  About half a dozen of these delightful little birds were acrobatically feeding in the very tops of a Birch tree.  Sadly, no photo opportunity this time as they were so high up and so small among the twigs, but another good 'tick' for my life list and one which brings my list to 200.  More info on Lesser Redpolls can be had by clicking HERE.
Turning my binoculars toward the water, there were dozens of Gadwall still in residence as well as Widgeon, Mallard, Tufted Ducks, Mute Swans, One Canada Goose, a few Cormorants, numerous Gulls and Coots.  The lake is becoming a real haven for wildfowl of all types.  Far off (why are they always so far away?) were a group of around 12 pairs of Goosander (Mergus merganser) drifting about on the water.  The males are stunning in their black and white plumage, even from a distance.  Again too far away for a photo, but good to see nonetheless.  So, just one picture today of a female Pochard (Aythya ferina) which always seems to be present on 'Swan Lake' at Straw's Bridge.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011


The Winter Solstice occurs at 5.30 tomorrow morning.  The sun will be overhead around the tropic of Capricorn and will be at it's lowest point in the skies of our northern latitudes.
After a night of rain and rising temperatures, the weather had cleared enough for us to get a good walk this morning.  Indeed, as we walked towards the lakes of Straw's Bridge, the sun came out.  This caused the millions of water droplets attached to the trees and grasses, to sparkle.
A tricky subject to take photographs of and one which has not come out too well.
As the mist began to rise, the sparkles got better in the very low sunlight.  Beautiful!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Dirty Day

There was little in the way of festive cheer this morning as Malcolm and I walked around Straw's Bridge.  As Malcolm said, it was a 'dirty day'.  Cold and raw, the rain began to fall on to the frozen ground making it treacherous to walk on.  we didn't hang about too long.  The lakes were frozen hard, which came as a bit of a surprise to us as the temperature in our garden hadn't fallen below -1C.
Dull as it was, there were still lots of birds on 'Swan Lake' including - as usual - plenty of Black-headed Gulls.
Most of the Shovelers I mentioned the other day, had gone, but three male birds were still in residence and still swimming round in circles searching for food in the freezing waters.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Fowl Play

No walk this morning (we had a little more shopping to do), so instead, here's the latest offering from Simon's Cat.  Any pet owner can identify with this scenario!

Friday, 16 December 2011


A very chilly walk around 'Swan Lake' this morning, revealed a bout ten, small ducks swimming in circles trying to sift some food from the surface waters.  They were Shovelers (Anas clypeata).
Sadly, these rather beautiful little ducks, stayed frustratingly near the middle of the lake, making it difficult to get a good photo.  The Male is (as is so often the case) by far the more colourful with his bottle-green head, snow-white front and rich, chestnut flanks.  The Black-headed Gulls were interested in these unusual visitors.  This one seemed to be very curious.
With their faces in the water, swimming round and round in circles, stirring up the mud to sift out invertebrates, they were hiding their over-sized bills.  If you get to see the bill, you get the impression that they are front heavy and likely to pitch face-first into the water, but the bill is a rather specialised means of 'shoveling' the muddy water in large quantities to extract whatever is edible therein.
Wintering numbers in Britain, increase from summer levels of about 1,000 to 1,500 pairs, to over 15,000 individuals.  Of which, we were fortunate to have about ten on 'our' lake this morning.  Beautiful!

Thursday, 15 December 2011


Having heard this lovely piece of music on Classic FM the other day, I thought it might go well with some of my 'seasonal' pictures.  So, here it is... 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Winter Light

Mention has been made of the sun hanging very low in the sky at this time of year.  This was made abundantly clear yesterday as we picked our way through Pewit Carr.  The remains of the Nutbrook Canal have been sadly lacking in water of late, but the canal was flowing well again yesterday and as we crossed the footbridge which marks the point of long forgotten lock gate, the sun crept through the trees to dazzle us.
We were doubly dazzled by the sun reflecting off the water too.  The cold, Winter light makes the bare trees look rather skeletal.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Water, Water.

Along with quite a lot of the country, we had a bit of a deluge last night.  So, it was with a great deal of care that Malcolm and I picked our way around the paths of Straw's Bridge and Pewit Carr this morning, avoiding puddles and mud.  After the driest few months for over a century, the rain is a welcome sight and it has added a couple of inches to the water level in 'Swan Lake'.  Walking through Pewit Carr, the low sun looked very watery as it tried to shine through the bare branches of the Willows.
Water dripped from the trees and flowed through the undergrowth, draining into the lakes and marshy Carr, before helping to refill the Nutbrook and the canal.  With more forecast for the rest of the week, we may yet see the lakes back to their usual levels.

Friday, 9 December 2011


There wasn't going to be a 'post' today as I had not taken any photos this morning when out on our walk.  But, this afternoon, as I sat at the computer, the skies darkened, then, with the sun low in the west, a strange, orange glow appeared in the sky as a squally shower began to fall.  This led to a lovely rainbow forming.
This strange meteorological phenomenon was made all the more ethereal by the colour of the cloudy sky behind it.  In Roman mythology, the rainbow was thought to be a pathway from heaven to earth, made by the goddess Iris.  If our old legend of there being a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow has any truth about it,  I shall dispatch Malcolm to have a good look in the Elder tree opposite our house as that was clearly where this particular rainbow ended...
..........Ah well!  No gold.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Christmas Cards

Well, that's it!  All of our cards have been posted (not many in fact) and we now set ourselves to waiting for the  retaliation cards to arrive.  William Connor puts it so well.....

A considerable amount of strategic planning is required to ensure that maximum effect is gained from sending Christmas cards. Timing, size and quality are of paramount importance.

Sending Christmas cards too early is not only ineffective but can be humiliating for the sender. It reveals one's position, discloses the size and quality of card, exposing oneself to the possibility of a devastating counter-attack. On the other hand, a very late Christmas card runs the risk of negating the recipient's ability to respond, and reduces one's total card count.

It is certainly better to be on the early rather than late side, for the get-in-quick Christmas card sets the pace and compels the opposition to reply. It is a brave opponent who will respond with less than an equal-to or better-than card.

The next thing to understand is the value of size in Christmas cards. Important people, or at least people who think they are important, send big and important looking Christmas cards. This makes the recipient feel small; which is precisely what is intended. This can be quite costly, but usually worth it.

There is also a place for very small and/or very cheap Christmas cards. They imply bad taste, poverty or disrespect to the recipient, and will guarantee deletion from their Christmas card list. These are particularly effective for terminating pointless long term Christmas card exchanges with people like the Fanshaws you met in Torremolinos in 1976, and can't even remember what they look like anymore - or was it Benidorm?

First-time Christmas cards sent on impulse to recently made friends should be avoided, for they can have devastating consequences; like those nice Watson people you met in Benidorm. Whilst it might be a nice surprise to get a lovely card in return, you might not be very pleased when they arrive at your front door on Boxing Day - or was it Torremolinos?

How eloquent!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Timing was everything this morning.  After breakfast, we looked skyward and tried to work out if we were going to get wet if we ventured forth.  As the skies were reasonably clear at the time, we decided to 'brave it'.  It's a very windy day here today and as we set out it was bright and sunny.  Good timing!
A short way into our walk, a squally shower closed in on us and for a short time we were pelted with rain, sleet and hail.  The hail stung our cold faces and we took on the look of someone thinking 'what the hell are we doing walking in this?'  Bad timing!
Soon, the clouds blew away and we were once again walking in the sunshine.  A bit further on, we encountered a small flock of Siskins feeding on the Alder seeds above our heads.  Good timing!
I pointed my camera at them to attempt a few shots.  I managed to get one (not very good) picture before my batteries succumbed to the cold and that put an end to any more pictures.  Bad timing!
Off around Straw's Bridge lakes before heading for home and the warmth of a good cup of coffee.  We managed to get all the way home as the skies once again blackened, the wind increased and things looked bad.  But we got inside and the coffee made as the heavens opened and we were lashed again with sleet and hail.  A final bit of Good timing!

Monday, 5 December 2011


There was a chill wind blowing across the 'Bogwash' this morning and we had to take a little more care than usual while walking, due to the patches of ice.  A few stray drops of sleet managed to find our spectacles and annoyingly settled on them, but the sun shone on us.  The Coots were busy fighting on the water - it seems that's what they do best - scratching and clawing at each other while the Swans, Moorhens, Grebes and Ducks took no notice.  Round to the Straw's Bridge lake and things were a little more relaxed.
The Coots here were not fighting.  As usual, preening and feather maintenance were the order of the day between bread-bag excitements.

Saturday, 3 December 2011


After spending an interesting time cleaning the house, it was a quick walk this morning, as usual, via Malcolm's mum's house to feed 'ger' pigeon.  Still there and still looking for it's daily ration of wholemeal, this little charmer is becoming quite tame.  Not tame enough yet to take the food from my hand, it nevertheless has taken to sitting on the feeding dish as I break the bread into it.

Friday, 2 December 2011

White Front

The day before yesterday, there was talk of a small group of White Fronted Geese (actually 4 of them), seen on Shipley Lake.  With this in mind, Malcolm and I set out this morning with binoculars in hand to see if we could spot them.  Ever optimistic that they would still be there.  Ordinarily there would be lots of Canada Geese swimming about on the lake and sometimes a few Greylags too, but this morning, not a single goose to be seen!  Not so much as a Canada Goose.  Plenty of Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Mute Swans, Cormorants, Gulls, etc.  But not one Goose.  Typical!
Turning for home a little disappointed, we were nevertheless impressed by the cloud formations as the sun struggled to break through.
There's not much warmth to be got from the sun at this time of year and it always seems to be 'in your eyes' being so low in the sky, but it's still nice to see.  Home for a hot coffee I think.....