Breaking the barrier

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony who spotted the navy sailing up the Forth yesterday.

Another frost free night here was followed by a dry morning with a reasonable, but not jacket shedding temperature.

As we had things to do in the afternoon, I went off for a fairly early cycle ride. Because I didn’t have a lot of time, I followed my familiar route down to Canonbie and back, and kept an eye for wild flowers as I went.

Just as I got near to the bottom of the by-pass, a big splash of white caused me to apply the brakes. It was some fine stitchwort, standing tall in the verge.

My next pause was caused by what I think of as grass…

…and some research suggests that it might be Timothy. I would be happy to be corrected by a knowledgeable reader (or two). It is all over the verges in several places.

I am a lot more confident about silverweed. It grows so close to road edges that it is hard for a cyclist to miss when its flowers come out. These were at the Hollows and you can see the tarmac in the corner of the picture.

It was good to see new growth, but further on at Irvine House, growth of roadside young trees is soon going to spoil one of my favourite views up the river.

I had to hold my camera above my head to take this picture.

My breathing wasn’t at its best today, and I struggled to keep my pace up, but a couple of judicious rests for a minute or two got me going again, and I arrived home in fairly good order.

Mrs Tootlepedal was busy in the garden and I joined her for a while. We were very pleased to see that the dandelions were at last earning their keep and providing facilities for visiting bees.

I noticed ferns unfolding in the back border.

I did a little weed killing with my flame wand on the drive and two paths, and then went in to get changed and have lunch.

And, naturally, checked on the birds as I went past the window.

It was a day for spotting redpolls.

They must be nesting nearby because we are getting a steady stream of them visiting the feeder every day at the moment.

After lunch, we drove to an industrial and retail estate on the outskirts of Carlisle and did some shopping.

This may not sound like much, but it was the first time that we have done this for some months and it felt quite strange. Mrs Tootlepedal bought something to help with painting a bedroom window, and then went into a hobby shop to get material and a zip for a dress for our granddaughter Matilda to wear at a dance competition.

While she was in the shop, I had a look around the car park and was pleased to find that I had my camera in my pocket. You never know when you will need it.

It is probably a lesser black backed gull like the ones I often see near the suspension bridge in Langholm. It was standing on top of a tall lamppost, looking imperious.

Mrs Tootlepedal got her material and then we went into a M&S foodhall next door and did some impulse buying. Buying cheese and coffee beans off a shelf and not online was a novel experience.

The wisdom of getting my cycling done in the morning was confirmed when it rained on us as we drove home.

However, the rain didn’t last and after a cup of tea and a slice of sourdough bread (another impulse purchase) and home made strawberry jam, I went out for a short walk to check on the state of the suspension bridge and to see if I could find any waterside birds while I was out.

I don’t know what work they are going to do on the bridge but it obviously needs this imposing superstructure built over the new town end of the bridge…

…and some hefty clamps on the suspension wires.

While I was out, I admired cheerful cherry blossom in the park…

…and saw two oystercatchers, one on the church wall and the other lurking beside the river.

Upstream from the bridge, two goosanders were to be found beside the water. Unusually, they didn’t immediately sneak away as I approached. I was able to watch the female do a little grooming and then slip down a rock and take up a comfortable position, half an and half out of the water.

The male did nothing.

At the Kilngreen, an old friend was stalking worms in the grass…

…but he obligingly posed for a portrait too.

Two mallards passed by. The male was still talking.

There were no black headed gulls about, and a crow had taken their place on the fence post across the river.

I drifted across the car park to buy a small ice cream cone from Pelosi’s van and while I was eating it, I went back to the river and added to the afternoon’s bird count by first seeing a grey wagtail…

…and then a little wren hopping along the far bank of the Ewes Water.

The light was too gloomy for good pictures but I have put them in just to show what was going about on a May afternoon.

I walked round the new path on the Castleholm, hoping to see a tree creeper or a nuthatch to add to my bird collection but I had to settle for conifers sprouting…

…willows leafing up…

…and laurel flowers going over.

I got home in good time for the regular sibling Zoom.

I made too much cauliflower cheese for my evening meal and may have considerable difficulty getting up the stairs to go to bed tonight.

The flying bird of the day is a siskin, flitting from the willow withies onto the feeder.

Delayed gratification

Today’s guest picture comes from my Welsh correspondent Keiron. Injury is keeping him off his bike at the moment, but he still managed to get out and enjoy this nice waterfall at Ynysarwed.

We had another warm night here, followed by another warm day, and this time there was no rain to spoil the morning. There was however, a brisk wind and my original plan to jump on my bike shortly after breakfast and go for a long pedal was put on hold. My knee is still not quite up to full function, and pedalling into a brisk wind for some miles is not recommended as part of the cure.

I opted for going to the shop for supplies and being useful in the garden. I dug a hole for a flower that Mrs Tootlepedal was transplanting, did some shredding and deposited the shreddings under a hedge as mulch, and finally used the mower to clean up all the moss that had been left on the lawns by the pecking jackdaws.

In between times, we had coffee in the garden (without Margaret today), and I wandered about taking pictures.

We are in a bit of a gap between the tulips and what comes next. There are signs of what is coming and there are even one or two tulips still waiting to come fully out…

…but there are other flowers about. The trillium is terrific this year and an ajuga that our neighbour Liz gave us is doing well too. It is an unassuming flower at first glance but it repays a closer look.

And I always enjoy the strangeness that is a euphorbia.

It is hard to tell what exactly is going on with this variety but a hoverfly…

…was happy to visit.

The feeding frenzy of the small birds has calmed down a bit as the better weather has arrived, but the feeder was still quite busy today, with a greenfinch soon shifting a siskin off its perch…

…and then ignoring cheek from another siskin.

The forecast was for the wind to drop during the day but for rain to arrive later on. It was a matter of trying to get out late enough on my bicycle to take advantage of the falling wind speeds, but early enough to avoid the incoming rain.

In the end, after lunch and another look at the birds…

…I got out in the afternoon and set off to see how far my legs would take me.

I went over Callister and down to Waterbeck from whence I took the direct route to Eaglesfield. I looked back from the hill out of the village and got a fine view over a small racing stable.

I haven’t used this road much in past months as it has been in a poor state of repair, but the road menders have been at work and it was in much better condition today. There was even a gang of workers improving a section near Eaglesfield village today.

I stopped on the way to admire a stand of trees beside the road.

It was reasonably warm at just under 15°C (60 °F) in the middle of the ride, and I was made even happier when I turned on to the old main road south having gone through Eaglesfield and found the wind that had been against me for 13 miles was now helping a bit.

The old main road which has been overtaken by the opening of a motorway running along the same line, is now a quiet route with a cycle lane along most of it. It also has a good number of wild flowers in its verges. There was a fine show of dandelions under a bridge at Kirtlebridge…

…although they are starting to go over and the clock is ticking for them.

I saw my first red campions today…

…and some cowslips too…

…which were quite easy to spot.

I had thought of going down to Gretna and even visiting England to extend my ride, but as I got near to Kirkpatrick Fleming, it seemed to get a little colder and it looked rather grey to the south. I didn’t want to get rained on, so I turned off at the village and headed straight over towards Langholm.

I passed more colourful flowers in the verge on this road, but I think that they were garden escapes as these were Spanish bluebells and not the native variety…

…and this was not familiar to me at all.

But it was good to have colour in the verges so I was quite happy to see them.

Having looked at the noble fir in the park on my last walk, I stopped to look at its relative, the Korean Pines, in the churchyard at Half Morton. They form a boundary between the older and new parts of the graveyard.

The first developing cones that I met were still green…

…but round the corner, there were older ones to be found as well as more early developers.

They are amazing little trees with every inch absolutely covered with needles, flowers and cones.

Helped by the favouring wind, I made good speed on my way back to Langholm and didn’t stop again for pictures. I covered thirty two miles, not as much as I had hoped for at the start of the day, but as it was 32 miles at just over 13 mph in light winds and for the greater part in warm sunshine, I was quite content when I got home.

I hadn’t been home long when Mrs Tootlepedal emerged from the greenhouse with a very rare visitor in her hand.

Some research suggested that it is ruby tiger moth, which is described as fairly common although we have never seen one before.

I just managed to get the picture as Mrs Tootlepedal opened her hand and the moth flew off.

The threatened rain took its time and arrived much later in the evening so I was able to have another garden wander where the berberis flowers caught my eye.

A cup of tea and a slice of toast, followed by a shower, and then an evening meal of corned beef hash seemed to fill up the rest of the day. I did have time to make a first effort at recording my contribution to the Carlisle Community Choir’s new virtual performance. Could do better, will try again.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch which is having words with a siskin.

Footnote: the jackdaws were back and have pecked up the front lawn again.

Return of the pesky peckers

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Susan. She may live in a big city but she can still find lovely flowers to enjoy like this Choisya close to her home.

We had another warm night and another warm day here, and another set of rain showers to go with it. The garden and the gardener are not complaining about the rain, the cyclist is more ambivalent.

Choosing the best time to go cycling between the showers was tricky but I had arranged to have coffee with Sandy and I didn’t get up early enough to out before coffee, so the morning was ruled out and I did useful shopping tasks instead.

And looked at the birds, where goldfinches and redpolls could be found on the feeder.

The redpolls were females without the showy red breasts of the males.

A siskin had to wait on a willow withy for its turn.

A shower of rain just before coffee time was unsettling, but it cleared away and I had time for a walk round the garden before Sandy came. Mrs Tootlepedal has recently laid out some money on pansies to go round the chimney pot outside the kitchen window. I think that it was money well spent.

She had also spotted the first azalea buds of the year…

…and we are keeping our fingers crossed that they don’t get destroyed by a late frost as happened last year.

I checked on the tulips and was surprised to find a hoverfly on one when I looked at the picture on my computer in the evening. I hadn’t noticed it when I took the picture.

The later tulips are lovely.

It was a busy social morning, as I not only had coffee with Sandy, but then went on to have coffee with our neighbour Margaret. It was her ninetieth birthday today and we enjoyed cake with our coffee to celebrate this auspicious occasion.

I intended to go cycling after this, but by the time that I had had another look at the birds where the siskin’s time had come…

…and the redpolls had to take their place in the queue…

…it had started to rain quite heavily. I decided to have an early lunch and take my chances afterwards.

This worked out quite well, and I got almost all the way round my usual Canonbie 20 mile circuit before another shower came along. Because of the fear of impending rain, I didn’t stop a lot for photos but I noticed the first crosswort of the year…

…and thought it worthwhile to record the fact that we are getting greener every day by taking a picture of the old main road at the Hollows…

…and a view of the River Esk from the Hollows Bridge.

Although it was raining when I arrived home, it soon stopped and Mrs Tootlepedal was able to show me exciting developments in the garden. She is intending to create a mini wild flower meadow on the drying green and to that end, she sowed yellow rattle before winter. Yellow rattle is a parasite on grass and makes ground more hospitable for wild flower seeds. She was very pleased therefore to find quite a lot of the yellow rattle sprouting.

Wild flower seeds will now be sown.

I looked around and saw more euphorbia madness…

…and other slightly damp pleasures too.

I am going to have to put my lawn tidying skills to use again as the pesky and persistent peckers returned to the task of digging up the lawns.

After a shower and a cup of tea, it looked as though it might stay dry for a bit, so I went for a short walk to see how the bluebells were enjoying the warmer, wetter weather.

Bluebells don’t like a lot of shade so it is not great news for them when the leaves are fully out on the trees. They are coming out…

…but there is obviously still enough light about to keep the bluebells happy under the trees….

…and as a bonus, I got a brief glimpse of sunshine as I walked up the bluebell path.

I passed the first flowers on the wild garlic on my way to the bluebells…

…and wood sorrel and wild strawberries on my way back.

I checked on the Noble Fir in the park and it was laden with both male and female flowers.

Many people pass this tree without looking up and never see these delights.

I got back in time for the regular Zoom with my siblings and Mrs Tootlepedal, and then a meal of fishcakes and Brussels sprouts rounded off a very enjoyable day.

The flying bird of the day is one of the jackdaws who was busy chasing off a competitor.

Footnote: very sadly we found that the baby blackbird, which I photographed on the nest yesterday, had fallen to the ground overnight and was lying dead on the concrete outside the garage this morning. Blackbirds usually bring up more than one brood each year, so we may still see new baby birds in the garden this year.

Warmer

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Mary. Like my sister Susan, she visited Kenwood House recently. She chose this wonderful copper beech as her subject for photography.

After a comparatively warm night, we had a warm day. It wasn’t very warm, just about average for the time of year, but it shows how cold it has been that when we went outside, it felt positively balmy.

The forecast was for showers later, so I managed to get out for a 20 mile cycle ride down to Canonbie and back and still be home in time for coffee outside with Mrs Tootlepedal and Margaret.

My legs were shocked by this early effort and my average speed was unimpressive. I didn’t stop for views or flower pictures as there was nothing new to see today. My only stop was at the Hollows and Gilnockie Bookstop (that is not a spelling mistake)….

…a mini book repository in the bus stop shelter in the village.

After coffee, I had a walk round the garden.

Tulips are still a feature…

…but other flowers can be seen too, both where they have been planted…

…and in the paths in the vegetable garden.

Then I set to work using the lawnmower to clear up the mess left by the jackdaws on both lawns yesterday. They had pecked up an amazing amount of moss.

The middle lawn looked quite respectable again when I had finished…

…so I wasn’t best pleased when Mrs Tootlepedal spotted that some jackdaws had returned to the scene of the crime in the afternoon.

During the pecking, there was an outbreak of violence…

…but order was soon restored and the pesky birds went back to making more work for me.

The weather was not quite good enough to persuade all the tulips to open…

…but it shouldn’t be too long now.

The two families of blackbirds keep the garden full of birdsong…

…and I caught a glimpse of a youngster waiting for worms in the nest by the garage.

My favourite blackbird view of the day was this mother on the fence.

After lunch, I caught up with a little business on my computer, checked on the bird feeder (not so busy today)…

…and then enjoyed a quiet sit in the peace of the greenhouse with Mrs Tootlepedal while it rained outside.

I went back in, leaving Mrs Tootlepedal in the greenhouse as the rain got heavier, and joined the virtual choir practice with the Carlisle Community Choir. I have got a week to record my contribution to the next virtual performance and I am quite pleased to find that I have at least memorised the music and words, something that I often find a struggle.

It was Hen Harrier day today, rebranded as Skydancer Day. Mrs Tootlepedal had watched the online event in the morning. It featured a well made short film about the Langholm Moor buyout in which a picture of Mrs Tootlepedal wearing her home made harrier T-shirt last year made a fleeting appearance. It seemed a good idea then, after the choir practice, for Mrs Tootlepedal and I to drive up to the moor to see if we could see a hen harrier or two.

We had planned to park at the White Yett and walk down the road, but when we looked back after going a few yards, the cloudscape looked thoroughly alarming…

…so we went back into the car and drove down to “Harrier Corner” where a large lay-by lets bird watchers park in safety.

As it hadn’t started to rain, I took a short walk along the road while Mrs Tootlepedal watched a stonechat from the car.

I enjoyed the view down the Little Tarras valley…

…and was pleased to find that there was enough water to make small streams run…

…as we have been dry enough for fire to be a hazard in recent weeks.

There were things to look at beside the road as I walked back to the car…

…but there was no sign of any harriers.

We were just getting ready to drive home, when Mrs Tootlepedal spotted a bird flying across the road in front of us. It wasn’t a harrier but it was the next best thing, a short eared owl. Although it was some distance away, it stopped for long enough on a young tree to let me take a picture or two.

Then it took off and we watched it quartering the ground in search of prey until it flew above the horizon and disappeared over the other side of the ridge.

We drove home very satisfied with our brief outing and found ourselves in a heavy shower which we had just missed while we were on the moor.

We have another reasonably warm day in store for tomorrow, but once again modified by a brisk wind and frequent showers.

The flying birds of the day are a joint effort by a siskin and a goldfinch.

Moss mayhem

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Susan. She came across this very elegant bench on a visit to Kenwood House in London.

After what is supposed to be the last of a long series of cold nights, we got another cold morning with added rain. However, as I write this in the evening, the temperature is as high as it has been all day (50°F, 10°C) and the era of frosty nights is finally over for a while at least. As the garden needed the rain, we are hoping that the next few slightly warmer, wetter days will see plants that have been waiting in the wings, burst on to the stage.

We got a shock when we looked out of the window after breakfast. An army of intruders was vandalising both lawns.

It was a gang of jackdaws…

…digging up the lawn to get at leather jacket grubs (we think). Whatever it was that they were eating, there were a lot of them about and the jackdaws kept busy for most of the morning.

Mrs Tootlepedal kept busy too, painting a bedroom window. I installed a new router for our internet. This was a nervous business, but everything went smoothly and we managed to connect our various appliances to the new gadget without difficulty. The new router has even made writing this blog a slightly quicker process. This is very welcome .

It rained fairly gently all morning and most of the afternoon too, so there was no cycle ride or walk and my camera only got used for looking out of the window. There were many, many birds for it to look at, and the seed in the feeder went down at an alarming rate.

Chaffinches battled over a perch as the seed reached the bottom…

…and a siskin ignored an incoming chaffinch when the feeder had been refilled.

The traffic was so heavy that two birds found themselves gripping the same perch at one point.

Goldfinches clung on to whippy willow withies in the brisk wind as they waited for their turn..

I made some potato and onion soup for lunch and while it was cooking, I went back to watching the birds again.

A male redpoll appeared on the feeder pole…

…and it looked so handsome that I took another picture of it…

..before it dropped down to join a greenfinch on the feeder.

Our smallest and largest regular visitors to the feeder made a good contrast.

By the time that I looked at the birds again after lunch, the seed had gone down again and the rain was beginning to take its toll…

…though a sparrow looked a bit more waterproof than the greenfinch.

I did some singing practice after that as we have another virtual performance with the Carlisle Choir coming up, and my voice is rusty from lack of use. I have another few days to get it in order.

The rain faded to a drizzle as the day went on, and finally gave up altogether just in time to let me get out for a three bridges walk before our evening meal.

It was still very gloomy but the cherry blossom beside the river brightened the day up…

…and the blossom itself was very fine.

Although the light was poor, bridges turned out to be good spots for seeing birds today. I saw a goosander from the Town Bridge and an oystercatcher from the Sawmill Brig…

…and in between, I passed a pair of chatty mallards on the Kilngreen.

Views were not available as the hills were covered in low cloud…

…so I concentrated on some very welcome greenery among the trees. Spring continues to arrive.

The strong winds of the morning had dropped away, and it was a treat to be out in the calm, damp, early evening, surrounded on all sides by new growth and the calls and songs of birds.

When I got to the Scholar’s Field, I was greeted by the amazing corydalis which grows out of a crack in the wall there.

The jackdaws have left our lawns in quite a state…

…especially when you consider that I scarified that lawn myself a couple of days ago. I will have to go and collect up the moss as soon as there is a dry moment tomorrow. If there is a dry moment tomorrow that is, because the forecast is a bit gloomy as far as more rain goes.

Fortunately, Mrs Tootlepedal has taken out a month’s subscription to Eurosport, so we will be able to spend any rainy afternoons watching the Giro d’Italia bike race for the next three weeks. It is inspiring to watch really good cyclists at their peak. The winner of today’s short 5 and a bit mile individual time trial completed the course in under 9 minutes! I make that well over 30 mph.

The flying bird of the day is one of the peckish jackdaws.

An adventure

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. He found a really lovely patch of bluebells on his walk today.

We had anther chilly night here which only just stayed above freezing, and it stayed pretty cold in the morning. The forecast suggested changeable weather all day but offered a dry spell after breakfast for a while. Encouraged by this, Mrs Tootlepedal set out, with me in tow, to cycle up the top of Callister, round the Westwater forest tracks, and then back down the road again in time for lunch.

We don’t have mountain bikes so we just took the bikes we use for shopping which meant walking up a few of the steeper hills. Although we have walked round these forest tracks, we hadn’t cycled round them before and it was open to question as to whether this was entirely a good idea.

More questions arose soon after we set out from Langholm when it started to rain, and indeed there was a hint of snow too. We persevered though, and by the time that we had got to the top of Callister, the bad weather was behind us…

…and as we left the road and took to the forest track…

…prospects looked not too bad.

As we went on, if we looked over to the south, it appeared that several nasty looking showers had passed us by…

…but our way ahead looked dry….

…and finally we got to a bit of downhill which was most welcome.

The forest is still quite young so we could see our track through the trees round the head of the valley in front of us.

We stopped there for a while to enjoy a banana and a date to give us the strength for the return journey along the other side of the valley. The cycling conditions varied a bit but the bikes coped very well…

…and there were always some ominous looking dark clouds about to make sure that we didn’t take too long about the trip. I didn’t stop to take many pictures but the moss caught my eye and the many self seeded spruce trees on at the side of the track showed that spring is springing.

Before our final (cautious) descent back to the road, we got two fine views, first into the valley ahead of us…

…and then into the neighbouring valley of Cleuchfoot.

Although the pedal along the forest roads had been fun, it had been bumpy and hilly so it was with some relief that we hit smooth tarmac and found the wind helping us back down the road to Langholm.

At just under sixteen miles, it was the longest ride that Mrs Tootlepedal had done for some time, and she was very pleased to have suggested the trip. I thoroughly enjoyed it too and it is a tribute to the solid back tyre (no pneumatic tube inside it at all) on my shopping bike that it got me round quite comfortably.

After lunch, we did some gardening, and some quiet sitting in the warmth of the greenhouse listening to the blackbird singing above our heads.

I sieved some more compost, catalogued the tulips…

…checked two of the espalier apples for apple blossom and the cow parsley for promising buds.

Then I went in and looked at the birds for a while.

I really like the look of the new willows round the feeder….

…and the birds seem quite happy with them too.

I made a lamb stew for a casserole, and then I got a bit restless. After fidgetting about for a bit, I went off for a walk out along the Murtholm and the road to Broomholmshiels and back to Langholm through the woods.

Once again, there were black clouds in the offing…

…but once again, I was lucky and the showers passed me by.

In the sunshine, I saw colour in the trees on the other side of the river…

…sparkling wood anemones beside the track…

…a very surprising row of daffodil survivors against a background of young birches at Broomholm…

…as well as flower heads on the wild garlic in the riverside wood, wood rush beside the road and any amount of primroses on banks.

The sun went in for a lot of my return journey home but it shone on the gorse. It is too early for leaves on the oaks, and the mature birches were not as green as I had hoped. There are some very old oaks there.

When I got back to the river in the town, the cherry trees on the bank made for a cheerful sight.

I made Mrs Tootlepedal and myself a cup of tea when I got back, and then it was time for the regular sibling Zoom, followed by lamb stew for the evening meal.

After a final chilly night tonight, the weather is supposed to get considerably warmer, so I hope that there will be a lot of new growth everywhere to photograph in the coming week. It would be nice to get out without having three layers of clothing on.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.

Running scared

Today’s guest picture is the third and last of the inviting gates and doors that Venetia discovered when she visited that garden at Whatcombe in Somerset.

Once again we had a frosty night here (min 25.5 °F ), and once again we had a chilly morning. It was dry though, and the wind was brisk and nippy but it was far from a gale. Once again, I managed to get out on my bike before coffee time. With the temperature only just making 40°F (4.5°C) as i set off, I was well wrapped up. Unlike yesterday, there was no sun to warm me up and taking my gloves off to take pictures was not an attractive possibility so my camera stayed firmly in my pocket as I went round my familiar 20 mile trip to Canonbie and back. It wasn’t a clear day at all, so I couldn’t even see if there was still snow on the Lake District hills.

I did stop a couple of times on my way back from Canonbie when I had warmed up a little. They have finally almost finished work on the new Canonbie Waste Water Treatment site, a project that has been in development for what seems likes decades. It is a very neat construction but as you can see, they obviously feel that it has to be screened by exceedingly dense rows of new trees.

When I got to Irvine House, I was struck by the progress that the Jack by the Hedge is making. It is bidding to take over the world.

A little shower of mixed hail and sleet discouraged me from any more photographic activity, though the sun came out just as I got back in time for a quick walk round the garden before lunch.

I found that Mrs Tootlepedal had already voted in the Scottish Government election. Feeling full of energy after this good deed, she was proposing a cycle trip round the forest track at Westwater, a fifteen mile outing. I was up for it but when I cycled along to the Buccleuch Centre to place my vote in the ballot box after lunch (and a check on the birds)…

…I was nearly blown off the road by a heavy gust of wind. Cycling back home, it was obvious that the wind had got up a lot since my morning rid. As there was a possibility of rain too, we decided to postpone the cycle outing and do some gardening instead.

I used the time to get some more moss out of the front lawn with our electric powered scarifier. In spite of a bit of light rain, I got the machine to work and it did a good job…

…and helped by Mrs Tootlepedal, I cleared the moss off and then mowed the lawn to give it a finished appearance. It is only a small lawn, but we got five wheelbarrow loads of moss out of it. If there was a market for used lawn moss, I would be rich.

Moss is almost impossible to compost in a standard compost pile so Mrs Tootlepedal took a sackful and she is going to see what happens if you keep it hermetically sealed for a year.

As I mowed the lawns, the weather gods had their bit of fun by making the sun come and the wind drop. It was too late though, and we will cycle round Westwater another day.

I needed a sit down after the lawn work and I found another insect on the doronicum beside the new bench.

Insects are still scarce. Later on we saw a lone butterfly flutter across the garden, and a single bee working the dandelions in the vegetable garden.

After trying the new bench for a while, I went in and picked up my bird camera…

…and then went out to record the many blackbirds about in the garden. There was a lot of competitive singing and collecting worms and grubs to feed the young in the nest in the clematis.

Then I sat on the bench outside the kitchen window. This gave me a fresh angle on the bird feeder.

The birds were not bothered that I was sitting close to them and clicking away.

Suddenly it was time for a cup of tea and some ginger biscuits.

Since the sun was still out, I decided to go for a little walk to stretch my legs and ward off some unwelcome lethargy which was creeping over me.

I started by crossing the suspension bridge.

This was more significant than you might think, as the bridge is going to be closed from next Monday for several months for some long overdue repairs. I wonder how often I will automatically walk down Caroline Street on my way to the High Street before I remember that the bridge is closed and I will have to use the Town Bridge instead.

As I walked over the bridge today, a pair of goosanders swam underneath it.

The bank on the far side of the river was rich with Lady’s Smock.

I followed the goosanders down the river and felt that spring is finally arriving…

The water in the river is still low, so after I had crossed Skippers Bridge, I scrambled down the bank to stand on the stones beside the water and look at the bridge from the upstream side for a change…

…and I took a special picture for my cello playing friend Mike who is interested in water levels..

I saw a sandpiper on the opposite back, and it would have been nice to stop there for a while to try to get a good picture of it, but black clouds were looming up. I wanted to avoid getting wet if I could, so I set off along the Murtholm track.

There were more signs of spring beside the track…

…but sadly, the sun had gone behind the clouds by the time that I got to the bluebells. They are coming along well…

…and should be at their peak next week with some more rain and some genuine warmth on the way.

The clouds had not yet produced rain so I finished my walk by going along the track from the Stubholm, past a fading blackthorn…

…and taking the Gaskells Walk path through young birches.

This got me out onto the road at the Auld Stane Brig and I walked back to the town at a good pace as spots of rain were beginning to fall.

My last shots of the day were a tiny ivy leaved toadlfax flower next to an impressively hairy Herb Robert plant on a wall near Pool Corner.

Mrs Tootlepedal had purchased an individual steak pie from the butcher for my evening meal and I felt that I had earned it.

The flying bird of the day is a siskin seen from the bench outside the kitchen window.

A sign of the times

Today’s guest picture comes from Venetia. It shows another of the garden doors that she met on her visit to the NGS garden at Whatcombe.

Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that we had another sub zero night followed by a very cold morning.

The cold night hadn’t discouraged the hedgehog and our trail camera found him/her pottering about beside the greenhouse at ten o’clock last night.

Although it was cold, it was fairly sunny and dry, and as there was no danger of ice on the roads, I managed to leap up after breakfast and get out for a cycle ride before I had even had a cup of coffee.

I had a quick look round the garden before I left and was pleased to see an insect on a doronicum as they have been very scarce…

…but I was even more pleased to see an orange tip butterfly fluttering about. It kindly settled on a hosta leaf to take in the sunshine, but sadly, it didn’t open its wings fully out. It did open them just enough to show why it is called an orange tip.

In spite of the benign looking views as I headed up towards Callister…

…it was very chilly, especially as I was pedalling into a keen north westerly breeze. My back, with the sun shining on it, was quite warm, but my front was freezing.

Things got better when I changed direction, and I found the wind behind me as I crossed the bridge at Linnbridgeford..

It was a clear day, and I could look across the whole of the county to see Criffel in the distance on the other side of the Nith Estuary.

Things are slowly greening up…

…but there is some way to go before I will be cycling through an all green tunnel at Solwaybank.

I was on the road down to Canonbie when I got a surprise. This was not what I expected to see when I looked across the Solway to the Lake District Hills.

I hope that any walkers on the fells were properly equipped.

Wild flowers in the verges, apart from dandelions, were few and far between so I was stopped in my tracks by a burst of yellow. Disappointingly, it turned out to be a field escape bunch of oilseed rape, but there was a little patch of what I think is stitchwort beside it.

The dandelions were doing a good job of directing cyclists round the corner when I got to Hagg-on-Esk.

In spite of the sunshine, pleasure in the 25 mile ride was modified by the chilly wind and I was pleased to get into the warmth of the kitchen when I got home.

After lunch, Mrs Tootlepedal went off to be part of a group escorting a distinguished visitor and his wife up to the moor to have a look around. As she left a sprinkling of rain encouraged me to get the washing in but it didn’t last long.

When she returned, she reported that the party had been caught in a short but heavy snowstorm while they were up there. Not a flake of snow had fallen in the garden while she was gone.

I had been able to watch the birds at the feeder in the dry.

The feeder was busy and a rare great tit visitor got so frustrated that it dived down to get away from the crowd.

Goldfinches wasted time squabbling instead of getting on with eating..

Mrs Tootlepedal’s new willows seemed very acceptable to the birds.

I had a moment to sieve a batch of compost before Mrs Tootlepedal came back and as usual, I had a look around while I was out in the garden.

There is not much progress, but new tulips are coming out from time to time.

…but primula, magnolia and clematis are not doing so well. The primulas keep trying but several heads get knocked back by every frosty night, the magnolia has a lot of flowers but most have brown patches on their petals, and the lone blossom on the garage clematis has not been joined by any others yet.

I keep dead heading the daffodils, but some are lasting well.

And the blackbird keeps singing.

Mrs Tootlepedal spotted him feeding young in the nest which is hidden in the garage clematis today.

The evening turned out to be the best part of the day as far as the weather went. I should have gone for a walk after the sibling Zoom, but I was overcome by that sitting down feeling, and only managed to look at a greenfinch and a sparrow on the feeder pole…

…and admire the neat work that Mrs Tootlepedal has made of the new bed beside the drive.

The mini greenhouse is protecting some self seeded poppies. The rest of the bed is planted with vincas.

Looking at the forecasts it seems that we have got two more chilly nights to come before a spell of definitely warmer weather. On the downside, there is rain in the forecast for every day for the next week. At least things should start to grow. Mustn’t grumble.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch going at full throttle.

Less rain, more wind

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew. He was pleased to find that recent rain had refreshed the Markeaton Brook in Derby. He tells me that although it looks very bucolic, it is actually running through the heart of the city

We had a miserably cold start to the day, with a cruel northerly wind making it feel colder than it was. It wasn’t at all warm to start with.

On a brighter note, Mrs Tootlepedal had her hair cut professionally for the first time for ages. The result was very smart.

We had coffee indoors, and although we did get out into the garden, we didn’t linger too long. I did some dead heading and compost sieving while Mrs Tootlepedal distributed some decorative bark about.

I had a look round for new flowers and found brunnera and trillium coming out, and I saw that old favourites hellebore and lamium are still doing very well too.

The rain had filled the pond and pond skaters were enjoying themselves.

It was a lot warmer being inside and looking out at the birds.

A greenfinch turned up in a sunny moment and as time went on, chaffinches tried unavailingly to get a seat at the table.

With rude siskins about, chaffinches queued up when a perch was free…

…and then became just as rude as the siskins.

Photographing pot plants indoors was warmer too.

I had got rather low by yesterday evening, after a day of being stuck indoors. During the lockdown I have become a bit addicted to my daily exercise outdoors, and miss it when I can’t get it. As a result, in spite of a showery forecast and a chilly wind, I went out for a walk in the afternoon. It certainly wasn’t an attractive day for cycling so walking was the best option.

I met my friend Gavin, who was also out for his daily walk, and we admired the green of the willows and poplars beside the church and the pink of the cherry beside the Esk.

I stopped to photograph a pair of goosanders on the Esk…

…while he walked on in the hope of finding a dipper at the Sawmill Brig. When I caught up with him, he had had to make do with an oystercatcher. At this point, he went his way and I went mine.

He went up the Lodge walks. My route was to the Hill Mill Brig and then back towards the town along the Baggra. I passed lichen, hawthorn, marsh marigolds, and moss and more lichen…

…and with a little sunshine and the wind now behind me, walking along the Baggra was a pleasure. I looked back as I got near to the end of the track.

I turned up onto Castle Hill, and after a shirt climb, I took the track round the contour of the hill. When I looked back over Langholm, I was very happy to see definite signs of trees with leaves in the foreground…

…and there were more when I looked ahead along the track.

This so cheered me up that I was almost able to ignore the light rain which had started as soon as I had got to this exposed section of my walk.

However, I was soon walking in the woods and only the odd clearing with added bluebells…

…took me out into the rain again.

I followed the forestry tracks until I got to the track above Potholm where I joined the road down to the bridge over the river. On the farm wall above the bridge I saw my first Welsh poppy of the year and from the bridge itself, I saw my second sandpiper.

As I walked along the road back towards Langholm the rain persisted for a while, but I was distracted from it by lots of lichen when I looked at the wall beside the road, and occasional lambs when I looked over the wall..

Luckily the rain didn’t persist, though it stayed rather grey and damp. As I had my walking poles with me, I ventured along the narrow and sometimes rather exposed path cut into the bank above the river down to the Duchess Bridge.

At the bottom end of the path, there was a wonderful display of wild garlic.

In spite of the rain, the path was still very dry and I got safely down to river level where I crossed the Esk twice, once by the Duchess Bridge and then back by the Jubilee Bridge. In between, I walked down the Lodge Walks (with added colour today) and then round the new path on the Castleholm.

I had a check on the Noble Firs there, and found that a lot of the male flowers had now gone and the female cones were developing nicely.

My route had been well chosen for shelter from the wind, and as the rain had not been very heavy and didn’t last too long anyway, I was able to enjoy my seven and a half miles without qualification. I felt a great deal better for the exercise.

I ate three of my ginger biscuits with my post walk cup of tea so I am not sure that it will have done much for my weight loss programme.

While I had been out, Mrs Tootlepedal had gone down to the river and acquired several willow branches. She used these to replace the buddleia branches which we had stuck into the ground around our bird feeder to offer the birds a bit of protection and a perching place while waiting.

She hopes that the willows may root. They certainly look better than dead buddleia branches.

The change didn’t put off the birds and soon after I had refilled the feeder, three greenfinches arrived…

…and goldfinches and chaffinches tried the willows as leaping off places.

As the evening went on, we got the best weather of the day and Mrs Tootlepedal cycled down to the co-op to do some shopping. It was too late for me though and I just enjoyed the sunshine vicariously without going out into it.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch full of determination this morning when the buddleia was still in position.

Wet but welcome

Today’s guest picture shows the regular East Wemyss walking partners of our son Tony.

The forecast promised rain and wind but there was a moment without either after breakfast, and Mrs Tootlepedal seized the opportunity to cycle up to Wauchope Schoolhouse and back. The rain had just started by the time she returned, and then it didn’t let up until after our evening meal. Our local weather station reported that three quarters of an inch rain fell during the day. This is by no means a large amount, but it will freshen the garden up and bring things along.

On the down side, it was cold all day with the temperature actually dropping as the day went on. I nipped round to the shop after breakfast but otherwise, I stayed in.

This made for a dull day with only the birds to keep my cameras interested.

A blackbird was singing in the rowan tree again when I went out to the shop…

…and a siskin had the good sense to get to the feeder before the rain started.

After that, the rain came down and the birds turned up ready for an argument.

The feeder was busy and a siskin had to hang about.

At times there was a siskin overload.

We had coffee indoors and then Mrs Tootlepedal, who was in a very active mood today, drove off to visit a garden centre. I cooked some ginger biscuits while she was gone. As I had plenty of time, I weighed each ball of biscuit dough and ended up with a very evenly sized tray of biscuits.

They don’t taste any better for all being the same size, so I probably won’t bother with the weighing again, but it was visually pleasing.

After lunch we had an entertaining Zoom session with our son Alistair and our granddaughter Matilda. Matilda read us a story from the Beano, a children’s comic, and in a sign of the times it featured Hannah the Hacker saving humanity from enslavement by robots by using some cunning coding.

After the Zoom, I went back to watching the birds for a while.

They were wetter now.

A chaffinch gave me two contrasting poses on the feeder pole.

At the feeder itself, there was a lot of action again.

…but this quieter picture summed up the day well.

I needed a bit of action myself but didn’t fancy getting cold and wet ,so I resorted to a doing an hour of pedalling on the bike to nowhere in the garage.

By the time that I had finished, evening meal preparations were required, and following that we enjoyed the regular zoom session with my siblings.

The rain had stopped as the Zoom ended. I made a token gesture and went out into the garden for a few minutes before our evening meal.

It was good to see properly wet soil in the vegetable garden…

…and new tulips are coming up to replace the red ones which are going over in the bed at the end of the lawn.

A white dicentra has arrived, looking a bit soggy after the rain.

There was another flower to photograph when I went back inside. Mrs Tootlepedal has been nurturing a geranium which she had taken in from the garden for the winter, and it has just produced a flower. It will have to warm up a bit before it goes out again.

There is more rain to come in the week ahead and it is not going to get much warmer, if at all until the weekend. “Ne’er cast a clout till May is out” will be the order of the day it seems.

The flying bird of the day is another goldfinch.

Footnote: Yesterday’s post of April header pictures has been generally welcomed, but unfortunately many readers, perhaps those who get email notifications in particular, must have not realised that it wasn’t the proper post of the day, with the result that Sunday’s diary post only got two thirds of the usual visitors. If you like bluebells and missed the post, you can find it by clicking this link: Blue Sunday