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Archive for November, 2011

Since readers have not been sending me enough interesting  (or indeed any at all) pictures, I am reduced to putting in one of myself.  To avoid this sort of thing, send me pictures suitable for picture of the day.

After the strong winds and rain of the previous few days, it was a pleasant surprise to wake up to a sunny day with not too much wind.  Dropscone and I had a very pleasant pedal round the morning run as a result.  The recent rain had done a good job of cleaning up the roads and the wind stayed light until the last few miles when it was behind us.  We cycled with one eye on Dropscone’s heart monitor and with great self restraint, we managed to ensure that it only went over his top limit by one beat and only for a very short time at that.  He reckons that he is back to about 95% fitness so that is good news.

More good news is that we finally finished the last slices of the birthday cake with our coffee.  It was still very tasty even after a week and a half.

It was lucky that we cycled early in the day because the weather got progressively more windy as the day went on and the sun soon disappeared. Once again this made for rather grainy bird pictures.  There are still some sparrows about but chaffinches are in the majority most of the time at the feeders.

chaffinch

A chaffinch sitting still

chaffinch flying

On some days there are almost as many goldfinches but there is still obviously plenty of food around outside gardens.

Flaps down for the chaffinch. I like the "Look Mum, no hands", goldfinch

Chaffinches coming and going

Now that the plum tree has lost all its leaves, it is easier to see the birds feeding and waiting.

goldfinch

Some with more patience than others

goldfinch and sparrow

One of the few sparrows shares with a goldfinch

A commenter on the blog said that I must have a lot of patience to take the bird pictures but it is more that I have plenty of opportunities to take them.  All the photos in today’s blog were taken within eight minutes.  There is a constant show going on out there.

comings and goings

No bird stays long on the feeder...

goldfinch and chaffinch

...though some try to.

A typical collection on the plum tree

A typical collection on the plum tree

We are still waiting for the arrival of siskins and bramblings but the weather has stayed very warm and frost free.  The snow had come by this time last year.

Apart from cleaning my cycle chain, which was filthy, I spent a leisurely afternoon putting a week of the E and L into the database and preparing for the Archive Group AGM.  In the end we had nine members at the meeting and strangely we were all in agreement that we had worked really hard during the year and done a splendid job.  It was agreed that the proposed oral history project was very exciting and we are looking forward to hearing more about it.  I hope the funding can be raised for it as it will be a big disappointment if it doesn’t come off now.

By the evening the weather had turned to heavy wind and rain with the addition of a single loud crack of thunder.  Mrs Tootlepedal is secretly pleased because she wants the window to be leaking when the builder comes so that he knows we are not making it up.

This month has been a month of two halves as they say.  I cycled nearly every day in the first half and quite sparingly in the second half.  We would like the wind to drop.  It seems to have been blowing for two weeks now.  Of course, it will probably get quite chilly when it does drop but you can’t have everything.

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Today’s picture was sent to me by Bruce who is holidaying on the east coast at North Berwick. He was taking his dog out for a walk and he tells me that minutes later, it was lashing with rain.

NORTH BERWICK

Here the day started with even more wind and rain than yesterday and at breakfast time, water was once again coming in the window and down the chimney.  Later in the day, our joiner came round and removed the wood from the top of the window frame and was easily able to see the source of that particular dampness.

dampness

Ross points the finger at the guilty raindrop

We hope that opening up the space will let things dry out in there and avoid the possibility of dry rot.

The builder who pointed our wall and put a new lintel in above the window is coming to look at things on Thursday and we will see what he says.  Our architect is disappointed, though he says that he realises that he is probably not as disappointed as we are, and is going to consult with other experts.  We hope for a dry, windless winter.

Mrs Tootlepedal went off to work early in the morning and I enjoyed a luxurious bath with bubbles while I did the crossword before rising for a cup of coffee and a look out of the window.  It was so gloomy that I couldn’t get enough shutter speed on the camera to make much of birds in flight.

goldfinch surprise

This goldfinch was surprised to find a chaffinch in the goldfinch bowl

Goldfinch blur

This one arrived with a blur of wings

This was about as good as I could do in the gloom.

flying goldfinch

Down below a great tit hung on to the swaying peanut feeder.

great tit

This is the first I have seen for a few days

Further down still, the ground crew were hard at work.  I counted fourteen goldfinches on the ground, on the feeder and in the tree at one time.

ground crew

goldfinch crowd

In the afternoon I was visited by a retired professor of sociology at the University of Essex who had come with a project manager to test out the possibilities of basing an oral history project in Langholm.  This would be a companion to a sociological research thesis on Eskdalemuir which had been done in the late forties and published fifty years ago.   Arthur had come round to the meeting as well and we were both very enthusiastic about the project.  If the project gets local support and raises the necessary funding from the Heritage Lottery, it will use local volunteers (with requisite training) to conduct interviews as widely as possible in the town and the surrounding rural areas with a view to publishing an illustrated reflection on Eskdale.  He showed us the result of such a project in Wivenhoe in Essex called ‘Sea Change, Wivenhoe Remembered’ and it is an impressive 160 page, handsomely illustrated book.

I will put the project to the Archive Group members at our AGM tomorrow and I hope that they will receive the idea warmly.

The professor is called Paul Thompson and he is distinguished enough to have a Wikipedia page.

In the evening, I went to Carlisle with Susan, who has returned from Abu Dhabi, and we enjoyed a thoroughly good play with our recorder consort.  We surprised ourselves by how well we rattled through some tricky pieces. Not every recorder night is so successful.

We are hoping for a drier day tomorrow.

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Dreich:  Definition: A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich.
cage
We had all those and windy too.  It was merely drizzly as Dropscone and I set out for the morning pedal and at one moment as we went round, there was even a glimpse of a scrap of blue sky.  That was just a tease by the weather gods and as we neared home, the rain started in earnest and we had to change and shower before we could sit down to coffee.  I summoned Arthur to join us because we needed extra help in the cake demolishing department as Dropscone had kindly brought some scones round with him.  Whatever else the party did, it certainly hasn’t helped my weight loss ambition which is now in reverse gear.
What with cycling very slowly and taking our time over the coffee and conversation, it was almost time for lunch before the coffee guests departed.
The bird life was conspicuous by its absence and at one time this chaffinch was the only visible visitor.
lonely chaffinch
There wasn’t enough light to take good action shots even if there had been any action to shoot so I settled for a static goldfinch.  Its eye doesn’t look too good.
goldfinch
I saw this dunnock scratching about underneath the feeder and once again the camera makes it look a lot brighter than it was.
dunnock
The dunnocks scurry about in the undergrowth and I don’t think I have ever seen one on a feeder.
And that was the excitement of the day.   Mrs Tootlepedal found a gap in the rain to go for a brisk walk and I did some paperwork in preparation for the Archive Group AGM which is on Wednesday.  In years gone by, we used to be able to get through the whole meeting in two minutes but now we are a registered charity and we have to have properly elected trustees, it sometimes stretches out for up to fifteen minutes.
I have acquired a new pupil who is learning to play the fife which is used by the Langholm Flute Band.  She is already a musician so she just needs some embouchure tuition.  She came this evening and was followed by my flute pupil Luke.  He once again gladdened my heart by showing every evidence of sound practice.
In the evening I put  another week of the E & L into the database.  We have put ten thousand entries in this year which is the most we have ever done in a single year.
The forecast for tomorrow morning is for 50 mile an hour winds accompanied by enough rain to get an official bad weather warning.  Dropscone has just rung to say he is not going to cycle tomorrow.  He is a very sensible chap.  I have got some visitors coming down from Edinburgh.  I hope they get here safely.

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Today’s picture shows a goldfinch enjoying the morning sunshine. You can see the brisk breeze ruffling his feathers.

goldfinch in sun

We got up very early as Mrs Tootlepedal was going on an embroiderers’ outing to Harrogate and were sad to find that the fireplace was damp after the rain and wind of yesterday.  The leak through the window looked to be curable but water coming through the wall or down the chimney is more of a problem as this was what the recent works were supposed to have cured.  Perhaps if the wall gets a chance to dry out, things may improve.

After Mrs Tootlepedal left, I retired to bed and read a book.  The weather outside was gorgeously sunny but still very windy so I gave the bike the go by once again and contented myself with looking at birds.

As I came back from the corner shop, I noticed this flock of homing pigeons catching the light as they wheeled in the sky:

pigeons

The feeders were busy with the usual suspects.

Chaffinch missile

goldfinch flying

..and one surprise.

starling in prison

I was intrigued that the starling got in and amazed that it got out again

sparrows on the wing

chaffinch aerobatics

I had a light lunch (which might have involved finishing off one of the outstanding cakes) and then went for a walk.  My knees are not at all sound so I tried to pick a walk which was far enough to be interesting but not so far as to hurt.  It’s a delicate balance.  As an aside, my sister Mary told me on the phone today that I might think that I had aches and pains now but I should see what it’s like when I’m seventy five.   I resolved to enjoy my walk.

I went out onto Meikleholm Hill which has the advantage of being close to our house and providing good going underfoot.

Meikleholm Hill

The weather was sunny but not convincing as there were a lot a dark clouds around.

I looked back over the town as I got near the top of the hill.

Looking over Langholm

The great things about the four hills that surround the town is that they are easily accessible,  quite steep and not too high which means that in a very few minutes after leaving home, you have gained quite a lot of height and are provided with excellent views in many directions.

There are quite a few houses with PV solar cells on their roofs in the town now and I passed one on my way onto the hill.  When I reached the top, I could see our local windmills were doing good business in the brisk winds too.  I like the idea of carbon free energy production even if the means of collecting it are not carbon free to make in the first place.

windmills

The views continued.

Esk valley

Looking up Eskdale

A lot of the lower slopes of the hills are covered with trees.

Castle Hill

I followed a relatively new access road which has been put in by the Water Board down through the tree belt to the Bentpath road.

road

From the road it was a short walk home.  I was in the shade of the hillside but out of the wind and as I was dressed for chilly winds, I was pretty well cooked by the time I got home.  I stopped to cool down beside the Scholars’ Field.

Castle Hill from the Scholars' Field

I was visited by my friend Arthur who was seeking some technical help with a computer task and we sat down to have a cup of coffee.  My daughter Annie gave me a very expensive packet of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans for my birthday and I am eking it out for as long as I can make it last by drinking a thimbleful at a time.  We thought it was extremely tasty but somehow you feel it is a bit wasteful to drink something so costly just one time and then it is gone for ever.  By rights you ought to be able to savour it for a long time.

When Mrs Tootlepedal came back from Harrogate, she showed me a fine looking stack of coloured felts which she had purchased.  She told me that they would meet a need in her life*.

We then went out to the Buccleuch Centre to see an excellent illustrated lecture on Langholm’s past featuring people and places from 150 years ago to the present day.  I thought I caught a glimpse of a blog reading Canadian exile in one of the slides.  Billy and Dave, the presenters, were in fine form and the evening was both instructive and thoroughly amusing.  They gave the work of the Archive Group some warm words which was very pleasing too.  There was a large and attentive audience which quickly corrected any oversights or errors in the commentary.

I shall find out tomorrow whether I walked too far today.

*A long felt want, I presume.

 

 

 

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Today’s picture shows Mrs Tootlepedal in the arms of her father.

Mrs Tootlepedal

It was her birthday today and she hasn’t changed a bit.  Unfortunately it was a dreadful day of rain and gales and not suitable for driving long distances, let alone cycling so a proposed jaunt was abandoned.

I made her a special plate of birthday porridge, paused to watch a few birds in action….

Action at the seed feeder

Chaffinch action at the seed feeder

Sparrows showing that they can get in a whirl too

Sparrows showing that they can get in a whirl too

Goldfinches at the niger seed

Goldfinches at the niger seed

greenfinches below, goldfinches above

Greenfinches below, goldfinches above

Greenfinches

I was pleased to see the return of the greenfinches.

Sparrow going chaffinch coming

Sparrow going, chaffinch coming

sedate goldfinches

Sedate goldfinches. I like to think of these as two old birds shaking their heads at the impetuousness of youth.

…and then for a special treat I took Mrs Tootlepedal off for a visit to a municipal dump that we hadn’t visited before.  This one was in Carlisle and we were very impressed by the good organisation and the courtesy of the staff.  We also fitted in a visit to a coffee shop, a book shop, Marks and Spencers, an art supplies warehouse (to get some things for Jean) and an optician to hand in unwanted spectacles.  While we were in the coffee shop, we met one of the fellows who would have been cycling with me today if the weather had been reasonable.  He was very sad as he had had to swap cycling (good) for Christmas shopping (tedious).

Carlisle was in Christmas mode and looked pretty cheery in the terrible weather.

Fairground organ

This fairground organ was playing fit to bust

roundabout

Fun for all ages

I was particularity taken by the stall selling traditional English Christmas food:

crepe stall

How times have changed.  Probably, in this case, for the better.

I like the modern tendency to use lots of little lights in street decorations.

light sculpture

We got home in plenty of time for Mrs Tootlepedal to watch Strictly Come Dancing on the telly.  This is her favourite programme and I enjoy it too.  I followed this by watching two episodes of The Killing, series 2, in Danish with subtitles.  This is my favourite programme so we were both happy.  I am trying to persuade Mrs Tootlepedal to knit me a Scandinavian type jumper for Christmas.

For some reason, the demand for fat balls has fallen off considerably among our bird visitors lately.  It saves me money but I would like more visitors.  The tit family are among my favourite birds to watch.  They are a bit scarce at the moment.

blue tit

A neighbour told me a day or two ago that her garden was full of coal tits just now.   These are our coal tits and I want them back.

I would like to say that the decision not to try to bicycle 70 miles today turned out to be a very sound one.  The wind isn’t set to drop much in the next few days so it is lucky that I am well up on my annual mileage.

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Today’s picture is another from Dropscone’s golf trip.  He was complaining that there were far too many bird pictures and not enough golf pictures on my blog.  Notice Dougie’s ability to golf with a cigarette in the mouth.Dougie

Dropscone rang me up to ask if I was cycling.  I had had a look out of the window and it was not raining and the wind didn’t seem to be too bad.  The temperature was above freezing (4C) so I thought, ‘Why not?’

The reasons for why not soon became apparent after we had set out.  It started to rain and the rain was cold.  A mile or two further on, the wind really started to blow and it was strong.  After eight and a half miles Dropscone’s chain jumped during a gear change and became absolutely jammed in his front cogs.

These seemed good reasons not to have gone.

The MTRS was called out and while she was driving down to pick up Dropscone, I turned tail and pedalled back home with the wind behind me.  In fact by the time I got home, the sun was out even though the wind hadn’t dropped.  All this made it even more unfair that the lashing rain and gales persisted as Dropscone waited for Mrs Tootlepedal to arrive. Still we managed to regroup and enjoy our coffee and mature birthday cakes.

The light stayed good after coffee and the birds were very busy.

mean sparrow

The sparrows were back and looking mean

hanging chaffinch

A chaffinch hanging about

goldfinches lining up

There were goldfinches lining up

greenfinch

And a little fluffed up greenfinch appeared

chaffinches in a row

There were chaffinches in a row

I waited quite a long time for the one on the left to look the same way as the other two but it wouldn’t budge.

Although there are no flowers in the garden at the moment, one of the side benefits of the party is that the house is full of little vases of flowers which my daughter bought to decorate the place.

flowers in a vase 1

flowers in a vase 2

flowers in a vase 3

flowers in a vase 4

I'm not entirely sure that I go for green flowers. They seem to miss the point a bit.

flowers in a vase 5

They certainly brighten up the house on these gloomy days

I went up to the town to do a bit of business after lunch and I saw this:

November tree

This sight brings out the old curmudgeon in me in spades.  When I was a boy, you used to look forward to Christmas but now you can’t avoid it for weeks on end.  The magic of the winter solstice, that darkest day when you’ve got through another year and the light is coming back again, is lost in a haze of electricity and advertising.  Grump. grump, grump.

To cheer myself up, I went to watch the gulls at the Kilngreeen.  I love to see them in flight.

gull flying

The autumn scene has been well and truly blown away now and the Castleholm is on winter mode.

Castleholm

The only really bright spot around is the magnificent cotoneaster in the Clinthead garden.  I hope to see interesting birds there when it gets colder.

cotoneaster

In the evening, we were delighted to welcome back Mike and Alison Tinker after their visit to New Zealand to see their grand daughter.  Although they were suffering from travel fatigue, Alison managed to play the harpsichord part for a couple of sonatas with me (Parcham and J B Loeillet).  This was a real treat and afterwards we heard terrible stories of the devastation of Christchurch after the earthquake there.

I would like to thank those who sympathised with us about the leaking window.  We are hoping that it is a window specific problem and that the roof repairs will turn out to be useful.  The forecast here is for severe winds and rain for the next few days so I expect the familiar drip, drip will be loud in the land again soon.

The worst thing about the weather is that some friends had organised a party of ten or eleven local cyclists to come with me tomorrow on a celebratory 70 mile birthday bike trip but sadly, the prospect of cycling in 40 to 50 mph winds with accompanying heavy rain has caused the jaunt to be cancelled.  I hope for a kind weekend soon so we can try again.

 

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Today’s picture, taken yesterday by Dropscone on his golfing jaunt to Craigielaw on the east coast, shows veteran golfer George Sadler in full flow on the tee.

George

Dropscone said it had been fine but windy for his golf but it was nothing to the wind  here which has been extremely gusty all day.  I did think of cycling during in one lull but by the time I looked out of the window again, the lull was over and so was any thought of going out to face it.

Dropscone was unavoidably detained at home so I invited Arthur and Bruce to come round and share in the task of wading though the cake mountain.  The bonus for inviting Bruce was the company of his furry friend, Duncan.

Duncan

We did good work on the cake demolishing front and even Mrs Tootlepedal joined in when she returned from a short spell at work.

After our visitors left, I had leisure to stare out of the windows and in spite, or perhaps because of the stormy conditions, the feeders were a hive of activity.

goldfinches in dispute

Goldfinches were out in force

The goldfinches seem to rank above chaffinches in the pecking order.

goldfinch in chaffinch out

That having been said, the chaffinches certainly got their share of the seed from the feeder when the opportunity arose.

chaffinches in and landing

There were a good many chaffinches content to live off scraps on the ground under the feeders.  I hadn’t realised until I bought a camera just what a handsome bird the male chaffinch is.

male chaffinch

Once again I should note that the camera and the photo editing program make the day look a lot more pleasant than it was.  For some reason though, the light was a lot better for catching birds in motion today than it was yesterday although both days felt much the same.

The female chaffinch is not so showy but has a charm of its own.

female chaffinch

I wonder if this one is a young bird.  It has a childlike air about it.

I have put the fat ball fortress back on to discourage jackdaws from taking them all and I was surprised in the midst of all the flapping to see a robin sneak into the cage.

robin in fortress

It looks as though it needs a good feed.

For the first time in the day, a few sparrows returned to the feeder while I was watching and I expected the chaffinches to leave in disgust but oddly, they weren’t discouraged at all.

sparrow on chaffinch coming

chaffinch and sparrows

chaffinch landing on feeder

There was just as much action at the nyger seed feeder.

goldfinches in the air

The chaffinches and sparrows can’t use this feeder as their beaks are too stubby.

goldfinches at a niger seed feeder

The goldfinches love this stuff

The competition grew so fierce that one gave up and resorted to eating peanuts.

goldfinch on peanuts

goldfinch mob

You can see what I mean about the fierce competition

I got some use out of a miserable day by putting a week of the E and L into the database and testing the capabilities of my new scanner.

Really bad news

As I sat down to write the last bit of this blog after returning from the Archive Centre, I began to hear the familiar splat of water on the windowsill in the front room.  Whatever our recent work may have done, it has not cured that leak.  As I write, Mrs Tootlepedal is sending an anguished e-mail to the architect.   It is a foul night with rain and strong winds and our mood easily matches the night.

This is a pity as I had come home feeling cheerful after a good night’s work with Jean and Sandy at the Centre, followed by our usual refreshment at the Douglas.   Sandy said to me as we parted that he thought the weather would test the new works and I had laughed gaily and said that the rain was not nearly bad enough to give us trouble.  Pride comes before a fall…..and the windy, wet weather is forecast to continue for a few days yet.  Dash.

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