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I saw the light

Today’s guest picture comes from Dropscone who is enjoying a city break in Edinburgh with his daughter Susan.  They climbed a hill and got this splendid view of Princes Street.

Edinburgh

I heard some rain when I woke up in the middle of the night but by the time that we got up in the morning, the weather had returned to the calm, dry state to which we have become accustomed recently.

It was above freezing so after breakfast I cycled along to the producers’ market at the Buccleuch Centre and stocked up on good things.

There was time for a coffee and a look out of the window when I got back.  The garden was knee deep in robins…

robins

…or possibly one robin running around very vigorously….

robins

…though I definitely saw two different ones on the lawn….

robins

…at the same time.

robins

They seemed to be happy enough to share the space and were even walking off together when a third robin arrived and chased them both away.  This action was too quick for my shutter finger though.

Pairs of birds were the flavour of the day.

starlings

Two iridescent starlings

two goldfinches

Two goldfinches. The one on the right is wondering how the one on the left got into focus.

two goldfinches

They came down for a snack

I didn’t have long to hang about though as Mrs Tootlepedal is going to spend a week staying with her mother in the south and I had to take her to Carlisle to catch a train.  Well, I would have taken to her Carlisle to catch a train if we hadn’t found out that it was cancelled when we got to the station.

The overhead wires had been damaged further to the south and things looked pretty grim for the traveller.  We had arrived in plenty of time to catch the non existent train and luckily, she was directed onto a train to Preston leaving in five minutes and told that she would be able to change there and continue her journey south.

I waited until the train came in and waved her off.  The station at Carlisle is undergoing a complete roof rebuild and the platforms feel rather eerie at the moment.

Carlisle Station

I got home safely and even though she had only been gone about an hour, I was already so bored that I washed the car…

Clean car

I put this picture in for its rarity value.

…though I didn’t go as far as cleaning the hubcaps.

I might have gone for a short pedal but I had an appointment in the Market Place to sing some carols as part of the goings on to celebrate the switching on of our Christmas lights.

There was all sorts of fun.

This is my flute pupil Luke disguised as a turtle being embraced by his mother.

Luke as a ninja

You can see Spongebob Squarepants in the background and Buzz Lightyear was about too but quite what they had to do with either Christmas or Langholm was a secret that was not divulged…..but they were having a good time.

There was a good turnout of carol singers and we sang several carols unaccompanied until a section of the Town Band turned up…

Langholm Town band

… to give us a boost.  They had been playing at the producers’ market in the morning and then at Gretna Village in the afternoon so they had had a busy day of tootling.

Billy, the compère for the occasion made announcements and Scott, the minister, blessed the tree…

Billy and Scott

…and finally the great moment came and the lights were switched on.

Christmas lights

The large crowd cheered appreciatively and after a close up of one of the light panels that go across the street….

Christmas lights

…I headed for home.

The town bridge was lit up and made a pretty sight….

Town bridge lights

….as I approached the suspension bridge to cross the river.

The suspension bridge was lit up too for the first time this year but funds hadn’t been sufficient to stretch the lights the whole way across…

Suspension bridge lights

…so crossing the dark middle section might have required an act of faith but when you actually got onto the bridge, the way was clear…

Suspension bridge lights

…and I crossed fearlessly.

After a final look up the river from the middle of the bridge…

Langholm River Esk

…I went home, filled with the spirit of the season, and made myself some fish and chips for  tea.

The leaves of the day are Mrs Tootlepedal’s leeks just waiting to be turned into soup…

leeks

…and after yesterday’s feast of flying chaffinches, this was the best that I could do today.

flying chaffinch

Naked cycling

Today’s guest picture is a taster from Sandy’s visit to the other side of the Atlantic.  He claims it is Las Vegas but I seem to have seen that statue somewhere before.

Las Vegas

Our spell of calm, dry weather continued today with the added benefit of temperatures remaining well above freezing.

I had a gently full day which started with a visit on my slow bike to the High Street to take some folded picture cards to the paper shop.  I continued in a circle past the cash machine and our corner shop, topping up with necessities at both.

I then spent some time looking out of the kitchen window.  I set the camera up on a tripod and waited.  Normally going to the trouble of putting the camera on a tripod means that there will be no birds to watch while it is up and just recently, birds have been hard to find anyway so I wasn’t very positive.

For some reason though, today was the day and there was steady procession of obliging chaffinches, coming and going….

flying chaffinches

…for the whole time that I was watching.

Each chaffinch took up a different position as it approached the feeder…

flying chaffinches

…and I clicked away happily.

flying chaffinches

It came as quite a surprise when one actually paused for a moment on the feeder.

chaffinch on feeder

I could have done with the weather being a bit brighter….

flying chaffinches

Photoshop provided me with some imaginary sunshine for this pair

…but otherwise I couldn’t complain.

The chaffinches kept coming.

chaffinch

And all the chaffinch pictures above were taken in a four minute period.  Sometimes I wait for ages and no flying birds are available.

After a while, other birds arrived and the feeder became a centre for cross cultural conversation.

goldfinch, blue tit and chaffinch

I had a cup of coffee with Mrs Tootlepedal, did the crossword and then pottered around putting on cycling gear and pumping up my tyres until I finally got out for a ride just before midday.

I took the well travelled route across the hill and down to the bottom of the Canonbie bypass, returning by the old A7 and managed to maintain a very steady and respectable (for me) speed throughout.  I didn’t stop for any pictures but I had to stop whether I liked it or not when my front mudguard finally broke catastrophically.  I have been patching the mudguard up with tape for some time but this fracture was fatal and I threw the thing away in a handy litter bin and cycled home with a naked front wheel.

Naked wheel

I will have to do something about this because cycling on wet roads getting soaked by a shower of my own making is not among the things that I find attractive.

After lunch and shower, I visited the offices of our local paper.  On my way, I was waylaid by a couple of vocal robins.

robins

After continuous publication since 1848, our local paper, The Eskdale and Liddesdale Advertiser is facing closure later this month by its present owners, a Carlisle local newspaper group.  The editor is trying to ensure that the extensive photographic archive stays in the town so I went to see what the Archive Group could do to help.

After a constructive conversation, I went off for a short walk in the gathering gloom.  As I passed the ducks on the Kilngreen, they took exception to my presence and dived off into the river.

mallards

On a grey day, I had to find any colour where I could.

shrub on Kilngreen

A shrub on the Kilngreen

moss on wall

Moss on a wall

There was certainly hardly any to be seen on the Lodge Walks….

Lodge walks

…or on the hills.

Timpen

A little brightness was provided by a snowberry bush on the bank of the Esk.

snowberry

When I got home, I thought of making crumpets to cheer myself up  but it seemed like a rather elaborate process so instead, I made some dough in the bread machine which turned into bread rolls later in the evening.

In the meantime, a good dish of macaroni cheese for my tea made up for any crumpet deficiency and the evening was rounded off very well by a visit from Alison and Mike Tinker.

Alison and I tinkled and tootled away cheerfully and occasionally correctly on electric harpsichord and flute and then we joined Mike and Mrs Tootlepedal for conversation.

Any day with a pedal and a tootle is a good day by definition but when it is a dry, calm day in December with added chaffinches and conversation, it is a very good day indeed.

The leaves of the day are provided by a lithodora, looking healthy beside our drive…

Lithodora

…and the flying bird is one of the obliging chaffinches trying out a new “no tail” flying style.

flying chaffinch

Two good visits

Today’s guest picture is another from my sister Mary’s visit to Greenwich.   You get a  good view of the London money grubbing machine behind the palace from the park there.

Canary Wharf from Greenwich Park

We had another calm, dry day and it was well above freezing so I had a choice of going for a morning pedal or going up to the Moorland bird feeders with Sandy.  As my legs were noticeably remembering that I had gone out cycling yesterday, I decided that the bird watching might be the thing to do.

I had time to look at our own garden birds before I left and was pleased to see a brambling among the usual suspects.

brambling, coal tit and blue tit

The decision to go to the hide at the bird feeders….

Laverock bird hide

…and spend an hour looking down this rather unprepossessing glade….

Moorland bird feeders

… turned out to be a very good one and Sandy and I were royally entertained by birds large and small.

There were pheasants of course….

Pheasant

pheasants

…and tits, finches and robins….

chaffinch, robin and coal tit

…visiting the tree stump just outside the hide.

And of course there were woodpeckers too.

woodpeckers

It was quite hard to get a woodpecker picture as there always seemed to be another one chasing off the one you were trying to shoot.  There were moments of peace and quiet though.

woodpecker

And on this occasion there was some icing  on the cake as well.

We not only saw a tree creeper….

tree creeper

…which crept up a tree and disappeared…

…abut we also we saw a nuthatch.

nuthatch

In fact the nuthatch appeared so regularly that we think that there must have been at least two on the go…

nuthatch

…as they appeared on both sides of the glade.

nuthatch

Whether it was one, two or three birds, it is always a great delight to see a nuthatch which I think is one of the most elegant of small birds so Sandy and I were in a very good mood when we came back for a cup of coffee.

I didn’t have long after coffee as Mrs Tootlepedal and I were going out for lunch but I found enough time to make up some cards for the newspaper shop to sell on behalf of the Archive Group.

Mrs Tootlepedal has been volunteering at the Buccleuch Centre and she was so impressed by the look of the food there that she took me out to lunch to try it.  She was right to be impressed as it was very good.

After lunch, we drove off to Lockerbie to catch the train to Edinburgh.  It was a gloriously sunny day by this time so the drive over the hills was a pleasure in itself.

At this time of year, Edinburgh is in the dark by the time that we get there so playing inside is the thing.  Matilda was in fine form and she and Mrs Tootlepedal and I built a bridge out of blocks.  This was a developing project which started small enough for a Dinky toy to get under the bridge but, as time went on, it was raised a bit and toy dogs and cats went through, then diggers and dumper trucks and then Matilda herself crawled through and in a final superb moment, her father managed to slide and slither his way underneath the edifice to universal applause.

After tea, Matilda and I played snap in an expansive way which involved quite a lot of running around (by Matilda) shouting, “Snap!” and laughing loudly.

The evening finished with some more considered play as shapes were pushed through matching holes on a block where Matilda was supervised by her mother Clare.

Matilda

You can catch a glimpse of the bridge in the foreground

Our journey home was uneventful and I will sleep well tonight after such a vigorous time playing.

The disappearing flying bird of the day was one of the woodpeckers being chased off this morning.

flying woodpecker

From feast to famine

Today’s guest picture comes from my daughter Annie in London, hundreds of miles to the south of us.  She wants to point out that it was very cold down there this morning.

frozen London leaves

We might have been forgiven for feeling a bit smug when we saw her picture because it was a comparatively warm day here with the temperature well above freezing from dawn until dusk and likely to stay so for tomorrow as well.

On the minus side, the birds had abandoned the garden almost completely and there was hardly a seed eaten all day.

I had arranged to have coffee with Dropscone and I didn’t see a bird worth snapping before he came.  He is playing slightly better golf at the moment so he was more cheerful about his game than he has been lately.  He and his daughter Susan are going on a short city break in Edinburgh tomorrow and as Mrs Tootlepedal and I will be there too, visiting Matilda, Edinburgh will be unusually busy.

I did see a bird after he left (to go and play golf).

robin

And it got a bit nearer later on.

Robin

But that was about it.

I didn’t have long to watch the birds, even if there had been some about, as I wanted to take advantage of the warmer weather (6°C) to get some miles in.

I had a quick lunch and set off on the fairly speedy bike.  The roads were clear enough to let me do a circular ride with confidence that I wouldn’t find any icy spots.  The trouble with setting out straight after a meal though is that your system is too busy digesting the food to give you much help with the pedalling but I stuck to the task and things settled  down after a while.

With the light wind behind me, I enjoyed the return half of the journey.  I had a camera with me but didn’t stop because even at 6°C, cycling is quite a chilly business.  Because you are well wrapped up from the cold, you tend to work up a light perspiration so if you stop for too long,  you get very clammy and that makes for chilly riding when you start again.

However, a little burst of sunshine when I was only a few miles from home suddenly lit up a section of woodland in such a striking way that I was forced to a halt and get out the camera.

Hollows

It was very annoying to find an electricity pole in the middle of the view.  If it hadn’t been there, it would have looked like this…

hollows

…but you can’t do anything about this sort of thing and just have to put up with unwelcome intrusions into your pictures..

There was another pole in front of the Hollows Tower too…

Hollows Tower

…but it couldn’t spoil the soft light which made the scene an enchanted one for a few moments.  By the time that I got home, after 31 miles, the clouds were back in force and it was so gloomy that Mrs Tootlepedal came in from the garden where she had been working and joined me for a cup of tea and a mini Jaffa cake.

I had planned to get a short walk in after my pedal and perhaps find a flying bird but it was far too dark for that so I did some music practice instead.  After yesterday’s 170 pictures, I only took seven in total today so the conscientious reader can only be grateful for that.

In the evening, I went off to a Langholm Sings choir practice and we had a very good session.  We have a concert with our local orchestra on Sunday and we are reasonably well prepared for it (I hope).  Time will tell.

The leaves of the day belong to a very healthy looking wallflower which seems impervious to frost.

wallflower

The flying bird of the day (the only one I saw) just qualifies as the chaffinch hasn’t quite reached the feeder.

chaffinch

 

 

 

 

Making the most of it

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Mary.  She took a trip down the river in glorious weather to visit the newly refurbished Queen’s House at Greenwich.

The Queen's House, refurbished and recently re-opened, Greenwich

We had another fine, calm day here, below freezing at the start and never getting very warm in spite of the sunshine.  I didn’t have the chance to do anything interesting after breakfast as I had to drive to Dumfries to visit the orthopaedic outpatients department at the Infirmary.  They had summoned me for a appointment without telling me why and I was interested to find out whether it was my new knee or my old hip which was of interest to them.

I was seen very promptly and it turned out that that my knee was the object of their concern but after an x-ray and a good chat with the head nurse, I was given the OK to carry on as I have been and I went off fairly relieved.

It is not far from the Infirmary at Dumfries to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Caerlaverock and as it has a cafe, I thought that I would see if I could spot a few birds and have my lunch there.

It is not hard to see birds at Caerlaverock as they have a large pond where they feed the birds twice a day.

Folly pond caerlaverock

They use the large funnel in the foreground when they want to collect birds for ringing.

In spite of the sunshine, there was still ice on the pond.

A whooper swan

A whooper swan among the icebergs

A whooper swan

Another whooper swan shows off its ring

But there was plenty of open water too which allowed for this….

Canada goose

A Canada goose creating a stir

…and this…

mute swan

A mute swan stretches its wings

…and this.

whooper swan flexing its muscles

And another swan flexes its muscles

And there were displays of goose yoga too.

canada goose

As well as the swans and geese, there were a lot of ducks about.  A lot of them were mallards but there were many widgeon too…

widgeon

…which are very pretty birds.

There are good views of the surrounding countryside as well as the pond from the top floor of the hide.

Caerlaverock

I left the hide at the pond and walked down one of the long tracks….

Caerlaverock track

…which run between high banks to keep the paying customers from upsetting the wildlife.   There are occasional small hides along the way and from one of them, I got my first good look at just a few of the many thousand barnacle geese that overwinter at Caerlaverock.

barnacle geese

As I got near the hide at the end of the track, I was given a hard stare by a Hebridean sheep.

hebridean sheep

I was interrupting its lunch.

From the two storey hide at the end of the track, I could get a good view over the fields and marshes to the Nith Estuary with Criffel beyond….

criffel

….as well as another of the viewing points for visitors.

Caerlaverock Tower

 

I watched the geese in the fields for a while and looked in vain for a peregrine falcon which I was told was in the area and then walked back to the centre for a light lunch.

After lunch, I returned to the pond hide.

Other ducks were to be seen.

tufted ducks

Male and female tufted ducks

There were teal and scaup as well but not in range of my camera (or my eyesight).

By far the most numerous ducks were the widgeons which came and went in waves….

widgeon

widgeon

There was great excitement at the pond when the two o’clock feed took place.

feeding time at Caerlaverock

The seed tempted a widgeon to come out of the water near the hide.

widgeon

At one moment, with a great roar like an aeroplane taking off, the barnacle geese rose from the field behind the pond in a great mass.

barnacle geese

I was reminded of the starlings at Gretna as they swooped and swirled about…

barnacle geese

…before flying off over our heads into fresh fields.

barnacle geese

I took the hint and made my way back to the car and drove home.

Mrs Tootlepedal, who had been volunteering at the Buccleuch Centre cafe over lunch, was watching the Powell and Pressburger film of the Tales of Hoffman when I got home but when Mike Tinker came round to enquire after the state of my knee, she joined us and we enjoyed a cup of tea and a Jaffa cake or two.

You may well feel that there have been a bit too many Caerlaverock pictures in the post but since I found that I had taken 170 shots when I put them on the computer, you have got off lightly but I had to spend a lot of time going through them and that took up the rest of the afternoon.

As I finished off with a splendid meal of bacon, eggs, baked beans and fried bread for my tea, I felt that I had made the most of what could have been a rather boring day driving to Dumfries and back.

No flying bird of the day today as there have been far too many already so a Canada goose stands in as the posing bird of the day.

Canada Goose

Today’s guest picture was sent to me by my friend Bruce.  He assures me that it shows a fine example of a Hutton’s Unconfomity.  He thought that I would be impressed.  I was.

hutton unconformity

I had a full but, at the same time, calm day today.  The temperature got up to a toasty six degrees but I couldn’t make the most of it as I had to take my turn in the Welcome To Langholm office in the Market Place.

I had time to look at the birds for a moment or two before I went up.

goldfinch

The blue tits are happy to eat the seeds…

blue tit

…or the fat balls, depending on which are free.

blue tit

The chaffinches and goldfinches won’t go into the cage at all.

Robins will try both…

robins

…but spend a lot of time making up their minds.

I have put out as few frosted apples which escaped the apple picking but they are not drawing large crowds.

robin ignoring apple

Tourists were in short supply when I got to the Market Place but I did sell a leaflet and a booklet to a visitor so it wasn’t all bad.  I also got connected to a wi-fi hotspot and managed to put some pages of the newspaper index into the Archive Group database which was a great bonus.  I would have done even better at this if I had remembered that peering at a computer screen goes much more satisfactorily when you have got your computer peering glasses with you.

I had a snack lunch in the tourist office so that when I got home, I was able to put on my cycling gear straight away and go off for a gentle pedal.

I was thinking of doing a circular ride today as the roads seemed to be frost free but after going three miles, I discovered that I had forgotten to put on my helmet so I went back and got it and then pedalled up to the top of Callister and back to make up my twenty miles.

It was getting gloomy by the time that I returned and there was no chance of a walk with a camera so the blog is fairly photo free today.

My flute pupil Luke came and we spent the time recording him playing one of his favourite tunes and then after tea, I went off to play trios with Mike and Isabel.

After warming up on a Quantz sonata, we turned to Mozart.  Our new Mozart trio is very hard work but we played it all through, though not without having to stop from time to time to consult the Sat Nav to see where we were.  It is tough going but rewarding as the music is lovely.

My twenty miles today took me up to 3900 miles for the year so there is only another hundred to go to hit my target.  I need another few ice free dry days before New Year to get there and with 30 days still to go, it should be possible….but our weather is always unpredictable and there have been Decembers in past years when the bicycle has never got out of the garage at all.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch, sneaking past the feeder pole.

goldfinch

Jack Frost relents

Today’s guest picture was sent by my sister Mary in response to my plea and is another of her excellent series of Regents Park studies. She plays tennis there nearly every week so she has ample opportunity to catch the gardens in all seasons.  This was yesterday.

Regents Park

There was no frost on the ground when we got up today but it was still calm and fine and so for the first time for a week, when Mrs Tootlepedal went off to sing with the church choir, I got the bike out and went off for a pedal.

On the precautionary principle, even though the temperature was just above four degrees, I went up and down the main road to Mosspaul on the grounds that it has been regularly gritted and there would be no danger of hitting a surprise icy patch round a shady corner.

I pedalled the eleven miles north, uphill and into a light wind, at a stately speed and arrived at my turning point in exactly an hour.  I was hoping to do the easy eleven miles back at 20 mph but I let my mind wander over one section and ended up missing my target by a minute or so and averaging a meagre 19.6 mph.  This was a bit annoying but the annoyance was outweighed by the pleasure of getting back on the bike.

What was a bit more annoying was the fact that I couldn’t make full use of this rare cycling day as we had to go to Carlisle after lunch for some shopping and a choir practice.  But then, you can’t have everything.

I did have time to make some lentil soup for lunch and have a look at the birds. Since it was a calm day. I tried to take some calm portraits.

goldfinch

A goldfinch enjoying a snack

chaffinch

A chaffinch saying grace before tucking in.

robin

One of the robins posing

There really are a lot of blackbirds flitting about the garden at the moment and it is rare when you can’t see one.  This one was standing on the hedge….

blackbird

….looking at this one which was also standing on the hedge about four feet away.

blackbird

I was tempted into the occasional action shot but it was very calm action.

chaffinch in cruise mode

A chaffinch in cruise mode

There were occasional burst of sunshine and I caught a chaffinch with the very embodiment of a twinkle in its eye.

chaffinch

The lentil soup turned out well thanks to additional red and yellow peppers and a carrot, not to mention a touch of smoked paprika.

After lunch, there was just time for a quick visit to the garden where I liked these grasses….

grasses

…and was spied on by a pair of beady eyed jackdaws in the walnut tree.

jackdaws

Then it was off to Carlisle to get some dates and cheese (and some other less interesting food) before going to the choir practice.

This turned out to be a very good session with some useful technique lessons being squeezed in among the fine tuning of our concert songs.  Now the problem is to remember what we were taught and then to remember to put it into use next time we sing.  Easier said than done.

Both Mrs Tootlepedal (who doesn’t look a day older) and I enjoy watching Strictly Come Dancing on the telly and we were very pleased that the worst dancer was finally eliminated from the show tonight after having been preserved by whimsical voters long after his sell by date.  After recent shock election results, this was a relief.

The leaf of the day is a soggy lamb’s ear….

stachys

…and the flying bird of the day is a sunlit chaffinch (with a goldfinch jumping before it got pushed).

flying chaffinch