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Calm after the storm

Today’s guest picture comes from my Somerset correspondent, Venetia, who was wandering across the Somerset levels at East Lyng when she was passed by a freight train.

East Lyng train

From our point of view, it wasn’t much of a storm yesterday but it was certainly calm and sunny when we got up this morning.  From a cycling point of view though, it was too cold and our pond was frozen over.  Under these circumstances, I was more than happy to spend a little time drinking coffee and nibbling treacle scones with Dropscone.

A goldfinch on the plum tree really caught the morning sun but equally a goldfinch found the concomitant shadows on the feeder.

goldfinch and greenfinch

While we were chatting, a great tit dropped by and hung around for a moment or two.

great tit

After Dropscone left with golf in mind, I took a quick turn round the garden…

hellebore, daffodil and wallflower

Hellebore, daffodil and wallflower enjoying the sun.

…cleaned and oiled my bike chain and set out for a cycle ride.  The temperature had risen to a safe level by this time but to compensate, the sun promptly went in.  There was a forecast of possible light rain later so I stuck to a fairly dull thirty mile circular route and stopped from time to time to look at three trees.

pine tree near Dunnabie

A fine tree by a heavily patched section of road on the way to Waterbeck

tree near Dunnabie

A battered tree against an unwelcoming cloudscape

Near Sprinkell

The Tour of Britain peleton once squeezed past this tree along this narrow road.

A bit further along the same road, I stopped to take a picture of the burn in a little valley below me as I climbed a hill after crossing it on a small bridge…

near chapelknowe

…and I would have enjoyed the view even more if I hadn’t been well aware that in half a mile or so, I was going straight back down another hill to cross the same burn again.   That is cycling though.

The first ten miles of the trip were quite hard work with several climbs into the wind but thereafter I had the benefit of a most friendly breeze at my back and no steep hills so that I enjoyed the last twenty miles a great deal.

I stopped as I crossed the road bridge over the Irvine Burn three miles from home and looked at a little farmer’s bridge a few yards up stream…

Irvine Burn bridge

…and then I crossed the farmer’s bridge and looked back at the road bridge which at one time was crossed by  the  A7 to Langholm…

Irvine Burn bridge

…and then I turned round and stared open mouthed at the vast embankment which carries the new A7 and which must have a little hole at its foot to let the burn through.

Irvine Burn bridge

As a driver, I like the new road on its embankment and as a cyclist, I am grateful to it because it allows me to cycle up the old road in peace.

When I got back home, Mrs Tootlepedal was busy working in the garden and in spite of a light drizzle which started almost the moment that I got off my bike, I walked round the garden with my camera in hand.

The ice on the pond had gone and at least some frogs had survived.

frogs

Although new floral developments have been slowed by the recent poor weather, one crocus had defiantly opened up its petals while all the rest remained closed for business.

crocus

Mrs Tootlepedal’s avenue of snowdrops along the back path are still looking well…

snowdrops

…and they put thoughts of black and white flower studies into my head.

snowdrops

snowdrops

Almost everything looks interesting if you peer closely enough.

The drizzle didn’t come to anything so I thought that I might go for a little walk but then I had a second thought, watched a bird or two…

chaffinch and siskin

A chaffinch and siskin perform a balancing act

….had a cup of tea and a shower and did the crossword instead.

After that, the day ground gently to a halt.

We are going to Manchester for a couple of days tomorrow, both for a short break to take in a show and see the city and to sing with the Carlisle choir in a competition and I may well take the chance to take a day or two off the blogging treadmill while I am there, giving both myself and the patients readers a well earned rest.  I may succumb to temptation but if you don’t see a post for a day or two, wish us luck in the competition and be prepared to see some city pictures when we get back.

The plant of  the day is a blushing Euphorbia…

Euphorbia

…and the flying bird of the day is a siskin.

siskin

 

There is no guest picture today because I do not have one and so a gallery from the Moorland Feeders will take top billing instead.

coal, blue and great tit

We were threatened with wind, rain and snow as storm Doris came to visit us today but after a night of rain, we were largely untroubled by her  during the day.  Since there was heavy snow to our north and gales and flooding to our west and south, once again we seem to have got off lightly.

It was quite wet when I went up with Sandy to help him fill the Moorland Feeders but in spite of the rain, we spent a little time on the hide.  We weren’t rewarded with anything special in the way of interesting birds but there was constant activity so we weren’t bored.

Among the throngs of great, blue and coal tits, siskins and chaffinches, we noticed a greenfinch and a woodpecker or two…

woodpecker and greenfinch

…but this bedraggled pheasant really summed up our visit.

soggy pheasant

Sandy stayed for a cup of coffee when we got back and when he went off, I spent a moment or two looking at our own birds….

blue tit

…and was pleased to see that some pink pellets had tempted a blue tit to come to the feeders.

Mrs Tootlepedal and I spent quite a lot of time considering whether it was a good idea for Mrs Tootlepedal to brave the floods and snow and travel to Edinburgh to see Matilda but as the Edinburgh train service was disrupted by floods between Carlisle and Lockerbie, we thought that it would be wise not to risk it and she went off to Carlisle in the car to do some useful shopping instead.

While she was out, I went for a short walk to check whether the repair at Skippers Bridge had survived its first angry river test.

It had.

Skippers Bridge repair

I am sorry about the branches in front of the bridge but it wasn’t a day to get too close to the water’s edge!

Skippers Bridge

Seen from the downriver side, you realise how much of the force of the river hits the central pillar when the water is high.

On my way down to the bridge, I kept my eyes open.  I usually look at walls and rocks for my lichen shots but today I was looking at trees and saw both script lichen, probably on a beech…

script lichen

…and this fine colourful selection on a silver birch tree trunk.

lichen on birch

There was plenty of water that was not going down the rover.

flooded gate

On my way back from the bridge, I walked up through the oak and birch wood…

oak tree

…and this gave me the chance to look back down on the bridge from above….

skippers bridge

…and it also took me past a wall where I could be sure of seeing some blue green algae (which is often yellow).

The New Hampshire Gardener had a wonderful picture on his most recent post showing how unexpectedly fluffy this algae is and I wanted to check this out.  Although it was very damp, our algae looked quite fluffy too….

blue green algae

…though my pictures weren’t very good.   I will come back on a better day and have another look.   It is very educational reading other people’s blogs and I learn something on most days.

After playing about with the buttons on my camera on my last walk, I met another wall further on today on which gave me the same colour effect but without any pressing of buttons on my part.  The wall really does look like this.

red brick

My walk had been remarkably pleasant in spite of a light drizzle and I took a last look at the river before I crossed the suspension bridge…

River esk in flood

…and went home for a nice cup of tea and a slice of toast and marmite….and a final look out of the kitchen window.

goldfinch and chaffinch

Mrs Tootlepedal got back safely from Carlisle which was encouraging as later in the day, Susan arrived to take me down to the city  to play with our recorder group.  The day had calmed down completely by this time and there was even the odd star to be seen.

We had a good play, followed by an excellent biscuit with our tea and drove home thoroughly relieved to have avoided any of the scenes of storm related accidents and disasters being shown on the news programmes.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch in the drizzle.

flying goldfinch

I have raided my brother’s visit to Exeter for another guest picture today.  He had rather gloomy weather for the trip but managed to get out for long enough to photograph a new bike and pedestrian bridge over the river.

The river and a handy new foot/bike bridge

Today was the last of my visits, for a while  at least, to the Moorland Feeders to act as a fill in feeder filler as the regular workers are returning from their long  weekend in New Zealand shortly.

I went up with Mrs Tootlepedal.  She kindly acted as assistant filler but it was a rather chilly and wet morning so we didn’t stay long.

I sat in the hide for a moment or two and very much surprised a woodpecker when my camera flash went off unexpectedly….

woodpecker

…which was a pity as it was right in front of me at the time.  It left in short order.

I watched a succession of tits visiting the nuts…

coal, blue and great tits

…and admired the delicate gradations of colour on the backs of  the blue and great tits.

tit colours

On our way home, we stopped to look at the work on the damaged cutwater of Skippers Bridge and were very surprised to see that it had been finished…

skippers Bridge repair

…and very neatly too.

skippers Bridge repair

It may get tested as we have heavy rain forecast for tonight.

After a cup of coffee, I went out into the garden and picked a couple of leeks and then made some leek and potato soup for lunch.

By this time, the rain had stopped and there was even a little sunshine so while I was cooking, I was entertained by the birds.

siskin and chaffinches

Very entertained.

chaffinches flying

I did think of cycling after lunch as the better weather continued but it was quite windy and as I haven’t done much walking lately, I decided that a walk might be better value.

Before I left, I was drawn to the pond by the mellifluous croaking of the frogs.  They were in affectionate mood…

frogs

…and one in particular tried to catch my eye with some elegant throat puffing.

frog

I tore myself away and walked down to the river to see if I could spot an oyster catcher or a dipper.  An oyster catcher on a rock in the Esk was most co-operative….

oyster catcher

…but although I saw two dippers as I walked up the road beside the Ewes Water, they were both obscured by branches and I couldn’t get a good shot.

I walked up the track from Whitshiels,  hoping to find a British Soldier lichen or two on a gatepost where they usually live and was pleased to see that they were still there.

British Soldier lichen

The red spots are tiny so I was even more pleased to find some helpful light when I got close.

British Soldier lichen

I walked on up the hill in a very cheerful mood and thanks to the sun lasting well, I took far more pictures than I should have with the result that this post has gone a bit over budget as far as images go.   Still, it was a good day for taking pictures so it would have been a pity not to take a lot.

The views were good….

Ewes Valley

…and I played around with the camera settings to give a bare tree a slightly mysterious feel….

tree at Whitshiels

…and thinking of my black and white flower challenge tried the same settings on a gorse flower.

gorse

I am getting a few ideas.

On my way back to the town, I watched buzzards and hunted in vain for frogs in the quarry puddles as well as checking out the moss on a stone wall….

moss on wall

As I came down past the golf course, I saw a very colourful shed which I have never noticed before.  I don’t know whether it is new or whether I have just been unobservant hitherto.

shed beside Kirk Wynd

No camera tricks there.  It really is that colour.

The colours on the shed made me think of the camera colour picker though and I took this shot of the ninth green on the golf course….

ninth green

…before dropping down into the Market Place.  For once, there were no cars parked in front of the  new tourist information centre where I often volunteer in the summer so I took a picture to show it in all its glory.

Welcome to Langholm

It’s quite hard to miss.

By the time that I got home, the sun had gone and after taking a picture of a hellebore in the back bed…

hellebore

I cheated by holding its head up.

…I set about the first compost sieving of the new season with Mrs Tootlepedal.  We were dealing with a bin of substantially aged kitchen compost and it was so well rotted and friable already that it hardly needed sieving. It was a gentle start to the composting year.

Some drizzle tried to discourage us as we worked but we looked it sternly in the eye and it went away.  As it went, Mike Tinker arrived.  He came just as we were stopping for a cup of tea and so he joined us and we enjoyed some good conversation with our biscuits.

After he left, I went through the pictures while simultaneously practising the choir songs for Sunday.  It worked surprisingly well and I think that I might well have got them off before the big day.

In the evening, I went out to sing with our Langholm choir and had an enjoyable warble but I took care not  to sing too loudly.  My voice is feeling the strain of the constant practice a bit and it would be very annoying to arrive in Manchester with the songs learned but with no voice to sing them.

The two flowers of the day speak of spring; the daffodil is from the garden and the crocus from the bank of the Ewes at the Kilngreen.

crocus and daffodil

The sunshine today was really lovely and it looks as though we might escape the worst of the winds during Doris Day tomorrow, although it is due to rain a lot.  We are keeping fingers firmly crossed.

Meanwhile, the flying bird of the day is a gloriously sunny, fully streamlined goldfinch.

flying goldfinch

Song cycle

Today’s guest picture is another from my brother’s visit to Exeter.  It is self explanatory. (Just in case it isn’t self explanatory, here is a link.)

exeter customs house

We had a pretty strong indication from the Met Office that it was going to rain in the afternoon.  This meant that if I wanted a pedal, I would have to get organised a bit better than usual and get out promptly after breakfast.  To my surprise, I did get organised reasonable promptly and  if I didn’t get out strictly after breakfast, it was at least before coffee time when I hit the road.

In view of the impending downpour, I didn’t hang about taking pictures and increasing wind, often a sign of rain here, towards the end of my 25 mile trip encouraged me to pedal a little harder with the result that I got home just before the rain started in earnest.

There was the merest drop or two of rain by the time that I had put my bike in the garage so I got a quick walk round the garden.

I tried out a camera/lens combination which I hadn’t used before and got rather unsatisfactory results but one or two at least showed what I was pointing the camera at.

crocus

The Camera Club has a challenge to produce black and white pictures of flowers for next month so readers may expect a few trial efforts from time to time.

crocus

Hmm.

There were lots of very unsatisfactory pictures of crocuses on the camera card so I put another one of them through the photo editor….

crocuses

…in an effort to make the best of the bad job.

I don’t think that that camera/lens combination will reappear, or not at least until there is some much better light.

All the same it was good to see the crocuses were appreciating the 10°C temperature even if it wasn’t sunny.

Mrs Tootlepedal was volunteering at the Buccleuch Centre coffee bar so I went in to have a bit of lonely lunch and a look out of the window.

Chaffinches circled the feeder….

chaffinches

…and I took a couple of portraits as they settled down.

angry chaffinch

This one was not a happy bird…

chaffinch

…but I thought that this one looked quite philosophical as it was buffeted by wind and rain

A set of rather severe looking siskins turned up with no time for socialising or fighting.

siskins

The day got gloomier and gloomier so I put the camera away and settled down to go over the songs for the choir several times in an effort to get them solidly entrenched in what remains of my brain.   There is no doubt that in my case steadily advancing years have taken their toll on my memory.  In my youth, I passed all my exams on memory skills alone without bothering to understand much of what I was writing down but now it is a struggle to learn twenty lines.

Annoyingly, as I sing through the songs concentrating on correcting any lapse from my last go, I make a different mistake each time.  It is very frustrating.  Mrs Tootlepedal came along  and that lifted my mood.

The rain is pounding the windows of the house as I write this in the evening but we are being offered the chance of a little sunshine tomorrow which will be welcome.  In contrast we are being offered the fourth named storm of the winter on Thursday with the strong possibility of gales and even snow.  The storm has been named Doris.  This will presumably make Thursday, Doris Day.  Whip crack away!

I was looking through the pictures which I had taken at lunchtime when I came across this interesting composition.  I took me some time to work out how a bird might have three claws on a perch and simultaneous open and folded wings!

chaffinches

I got there in the end.

The flying bird of the day is another of the chaffinches as I didn’t have much choice today.

flying chaffinch

Oh the Deadwood Stage…….

Overshooting

Today’s guest picture was taken by Mike Tinker when he was visiting a zoo in New Zealand.  Neither Mrs Tinker nor Mrs Tootlepedal are flattered in any way.

Mrs T

The day started very grey and drizzly and I was more than happy to spend some of the morning sampling Dropscone’s scones with a bit of Cumbrian honey to add flavour while we drank a cup of coffee or two.

Before he arrived, I had started the day by going up to the Day Centre after breakfast to collect the key for the camera club meeting in the evening.  This required the use of an umbrella and I was surprised when I got back to find that there was enough light to see a bird or two approaching the feeder.

siskin

It was breezy enough to slow down even the siskins as they came in to land which made my job a little easier.

The rain sometimes came with a bit more force but it didn’t discourage the birds today.

flying chaffinch

The day began to brighten up a little after coffee and I arranged with Sandy to go for an excursion in the afternoon.  In the meantime, I cycled round to the shop for some supplies and on my way back I saw this touching scene on our neighbour’s fence.

collared doves

It stayed dry so I was able to wander round the garden, where in spite of the morning rain, there were definite signs of longer days and warmer weather to be seen.

crocuses

_dsc2297

hellebore and rhubarb

I was just daydreaming on the subject of rhubarb crumble when my train of thought was disrupted by loud sounds from the pond.  It was alive with frogs….

frogs

…. literally heaving with them.

frogs

I counted fifteen frogs in our small pond.  It is an annual source of wonder to me that so many frogs return to our pond at the same time as each other.

Now we just have to hope that we don’t get a hard frost to undo all their hard work.

Sandy duly appeared after lunch and we decided to go up to the Laverock Hide at the Moorland Feeders to see what was going about there.

The sun came out while we there and although there was a strong enough wind blowing to make me very glad that I wasn’t out on my bike, the birds weren’t discouraged and we were treated to a constant stream of visitors to the feeders.  The hide itself was quite busy too and five other people came in and out while we were there.

Between the frogs in the morning and the birds in the afternoon, I managed to take far too many pictures and had a struggle to look through them all later on.  These are just a few from the hide.

I always enjoy watching the greater spotted woodpeckers tuck into the peanuts.  They show great concentration on the task in claw.

woodpecker

Siskins on the other hand, are often distracted by squabbling.

siskins

Some less frequent visitors were to be seen…a couple of greenfinches….

greenfinches

…and a lone brambling.

Brambling and blue tit

Sharing with a blue tit

The largest number of birds on the feeders was made up by coal, blue and great tits which swarmed over the feeders in waves.

great tits

Three great tits

One old friend gave me a sideways look.

pheasant

We left the hide and went down to the river at Hagg-on-Esk to see if there were any waterside birds to be seen but we were disappointed and came away with only a few river views for our trouble.

The sun had gone behind a cloud as we walked up stream…

River Esk

…but it came out again as we walked back down.

River Esk

When we got back to Langholm, Sandy went off to do some decorating and I settled down to practise a song or two for next Sunday’s competition.  Mrs Tootlepedal joined in and we made a merry noise.

In the evening, I met Sandy again at the Camera Club meeting.  Thanks to business commitments, illness and holidays, we had a reduced attendance but once again there were a lot of interesting images to admire.  Our two new members are keen on something a bit different and we have been challenged by them to produce a black and white image of a flower for next month’s meeting, preferably without using any of the automatic features on our cameras.

By chance I took this shot today while I was out in the garden.  It was nearly in black and white…

snowdrops

…but I will have to try to do a bit better to meet the challenge.

The flying bird of the day brings back back memories of a miserable morning after a very pleasant afternoon and evening as far as the weather went..

flying goldfinch

 

Today’s guest picture was sent to me by my sister Mary.  It shows a fine arum lily given to her at Christmas by one of her nephews and his wife.

Arum lily given at Christmas

We had a much brighter day today but it was too full of activity for me to enjoy it photographically to the full. Being Sunday, I prepared a meal for the slow cooker while Mrs Tootlepedal went off to sing in the church choir.

I had the camera set up on a tripod beside the kitchen sink so I was able to click away as the onions were sweating in the pan. By and large, there were only chaffinches to look at but they came in at a steady rate…

chaffinches

…both male….

flying chaffinch

…and female.

flying chaffinch

There was one interloper, a very rare example of the backward looking siskin family…

siskin

I didn’t have much time for bird watching as I needed to get out on the bike as soon as possible if I was to get any miles in at all because our Carlisle choir practice was starting at one o’clock.

Luckily conditions were friendly and I was able to enjoy 20 miles, popping up and down the Wauchope valley, being careful not to get marooned too far from home.  I didn’t have much time for photos but a set of colourful lichens on a wall have been catching my eye on recent rides so I stopped to record them today.

lichens

The bright colour and fruiting bodies of a lichen on another stone looked worth a portrait of their own.

lichen

Finding myself three miles short of my target as I passed my house for the second time, I carried on through the town and out on the north side where I cast a longing look up a very inviting road…

A7 north

…before reluctantly turning for home.

I was quite excited, when I got there, to see that the better weather had brought some improvement to the crocuses….

crocus

Nearly out

crocus

Actually out

…but I was even more excited to hear the real sound of spring from another quarter.

frog

The frogs are back.

Mrs Tootlepedal had seen ten a little earlier but this was the only one showing by the time that I looked.

During the rain yesterday, I had used the bread maker to make dough for bread rolls so we able to have a light lunch of rolls with various fillings and then set off for Carlisle.

The practice took the form of a ‘singing day’ where rehearsals with our regular conductor are interspersed with sessions in small groups with visiting singing teachers from Glasgow.  Since it lasts for five hours, it is very hard work but because I was lucky enough to be in a group of only two, I got a lot of personal advice which was very useful….and much needed.

As far as learning the four songs goes, I am pretty well there but with a number of rough edges needing to be smoothed off.  Unfortunately though, a section of eight bars in one of the songs was a total disaster for the whole tenor section and we have been sent home to study them hard.  With a week to go, we are hoping that all will be well in Manchester next Sunday.

The flying bird of the day is a female chaffinch (hooray).

flying chaffinch

 

 

 

Today’s guest picture was one that I meant to use some time ago but forgot.  It shows a clock on the University Hospital tower in Manchester.  My brother took it in early January.

The Hospital tower

I was pleased to have a guest picture with some blue sky in it today because there was not the slightest hint of blue here.  Indeed the clouds were so low that you could hardly even see the sky.

If it wasn’t raining, it had just stopped or was just about to start again so we didn’t go out any more than we had to just to  complete a couple of essential tasks.

By teatime, Mrs Tootlepedal felt that we had rather rather wasted the day but if ever a day deserved to be wasted, this was it.

Trying to catch birds in the morning was a rather depressing business…

flying chaffinches in rain

…and after a blurred attempt or two, I gave up.  Even at midday, a bird had to be standing very still to get a result….

blackbird

…and the birds were being very unhelpful anyway.

chaffinches

Under the circumstances, we took our exercise vicariously and watched some indoor athletics on the telly.

Quite a few of the many spare moments of the day were taken up by going through the songs for our Carlisle choir.  We have got our final practice before the competition tomorrow and I feel sure that our conductor will be happier if we know the songs.

I would be happier too but it is much easier knowing the songs in the peaceful privacy of your own home than it is when you are under the eagle eye of the conductor who is distracting you by waving his arms about furiously and at the same time the basses are bellowing in your ear.

We have had a relatively dry and warm winter so far and we have to expect a few gloomy days and since the south westerly winds that have brought the clouds and rains have also kept the temperature up, we probably shouldn’t complain too loudly for fear of upsetting those who have had much worse weather than us.  This seems to be pretty well everyone else in the world, judging by news reports of excessive heat waves, heavy snow and torrential rain.

The chaffinches in the plum tree took things very calmly.

chaffinches in plum tree

The best I could do for a flying bird was this.

flying chaffinch in rain