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Archive for February, 2012

Today’s picture of Mont St Michel comes from Dropscone’s recent holiday in France.

Mont St Michel

There was still a marked absence of sun here today but Dropscone made a welcome re-appearance after breakfast, ready for the morning pedal.  We went round the usual route at a gentle pace as Dropscone has done very little cycling lately and  I am still far from my best.  There was a moment when we could see a ray of sunshine on a distant hill but Langholm was back to its usual cloudy self when we arrived home for coffee and scones.

In fact it got gloomier as the morning went on and there was very little opportunity to take good bird pictures so I took some less good ones instead.  It is frustrating when the birds are posing well but the light is against you.

starling and chaffinch

This starling and chaffinch looked a bit like Good King Wenceslas and his page to me.

The siskins were out in force again today.  I wonder if these are winter migrants and are stocking up ready for a journey home.

siskins, greenfinch and chaffinch

A chaffinch tries to find a space in the yellow tide. That's a greenfinch at the back.

flying siskin

Another siskin vainly hopes the greenfinch will leave.

chaffinch and siskin

Another hopeful chaffinch gets told where to go.

siskins

The female on the left did literally boot the male off the perch half a second later.

You would imagine that the birds would be quite used to me going in and out by this time but they still scatter as soon as I come to the door.  At least, most of them do.  Some siskins are made of sterner stuff and here are two holding the fort whence all but they had fled.

siskins

The female is wondering where everyone else has gone.

I put out some delicious new stuff on the flat feeder.  It said on the bag that it would attract robins and blue tits.

rook

That's a very big robin.

I didn’t have long to look at birds because I had noticed on my spreadsheet that after the morning run, I had completed 187 miles in February and it seemed a pity not to get it up to a round number so I went out again after lunch to do the remaining thirteen miles.   The wind was quite strong and uphill and against it, the six and a half miles took me 36 minutes.  I needed a rest so I stopped to take this picture at my turning point.

Tree on Callister

The clouds were quite high today which made a change.

It took me 22 minutes to get home.

When I got back home, I had no time for bird watching as I was due to help Arthur move his computer into his new house.  As this involved moving his computer table as well, there was a good deal of huffing and puffing as two crocked old men carried it up a steep flight of stairs.  We got everything re-connected and successfully booted up but Arthur still needed to contact his internet supplier to get his ADSL line working.  This usually means many hours and probably tears so I made an excuse and left.

I received a call from the agent of the damside ducks who told me that they were not at all happy with yesterday’s picture so I got then to pose for a better one when I got home.

Damside ducks

By the time I got in and had a cup of tea, it was too dark for any more photographs but it didn’t matter because either the furniture shifting or the cycling had left me too tired even to think of lifting up the camera so I sank into a chair and had a little snooze instead.

I finish with yet another frog picture.  Our life is lived out to the accompaniment of perpetual frog purring in the pond at the moment.  It is a very restful sound.

Frog

A frog in reflective mood.

 

 

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Today’s picture from my sister Mary in London shows a squirrel doing I am not quite sure what.

I have bitten off more than I can chew

It was another day of low cloud but, once again, warm and with light winds so ideal for a gentle therapeutic pedal.  Dropscone is back at home but was unavailable for pedalling pursuits so I went round the morning run by myself.  My aim is to pedal at about 14 mph until I am back at full fitness and I managed 13.9 mph today so that was very satisfactory.  What was not so good was the total lack of view.  This was looking back from the top of the hill at Tarcoon.

From Tarcoon

It was not much more exciting than pedalling on the bike to nowhere in the garage.  I did catch a glimpse of some belted Galloways at the farmers equivalent of a bird feeder.

cows

But that was the high spot of the ride.  It wasn’t too bad back in the garden as this picture of a rook, taken before I set off, shows.

smart rook

So frantic is the action at the feeders that I will need a very sunny day to do it justice but once I again, I tried to capture the flavour of the day.

a siskin says what it thinks

A siskin says what it thinks to a chaffinch while a goldfinch looks on.

another vocal siskin

Here another vocal siskin speaks to another chaffinch.

Having managed  to snap four different species on the feeder yesterday, I managed four of the same today.

four goldfinches

A chaffinch eyes four goldfinches

At the fat ball feeder, some sparrows led a more leisurely life.

sparrows

Signs of spring are all around.  The stock of wet crocuses waiting for a bit of sunshine increases every day…

crocuses

…and some miniature daffs have sprung into life.

small daffodils

The frogs are keeping busy doing what frogs do in the spring.  This one had enough energy left to go for a little swim.

swimming frog

..and my next door neighbour is feeding these two ducks in the dam behind the house in the hope of seeing ducklings there again this year.

duck pair

Mrs Tootlepedal was at work again today, covering for a sick colleague (not a great advertisement for a doctor’s surgery) so after lunch, I got the slow bike out and went for a photographic wander.

I was looking for the goosanders but they weren’t about and instead I shot the Kilngreen heron in flight.

heron flying

This is a very obliging bird.

I saw a dipper at the sawmill bridge and obviously nest building is the order of the day (unless it was just trying to turn over an old leaf).

dipper at sawmill

I went on down towards Skippers Bridge at the south end of town to see if the goosanders were there.  They weren’t but the weather took a turn for the better and there was even a hint of a watery sun so I went on along the Broomholm road heading for the Moorland bird feeders.  I saw another dipper below Skippers and it too had a beak full of nest stuff.

dipper below skipper

I stopped half way up the hill to take a picture of Broomholm Island bridge.  The advantage of winter, as I have remarked before, is that it makes it easier to see things clearly when there are no leaves in the way.

Broomholm Island bridge

Sadly, by the time I had puffed up the hill to the feeder station, the cloud had come down again so there were no decent photographs to be taken.  I pedalled back to the town and then went on up the Lodge walks to Holmhead to see the snowdrops that Sandy had put in his blog a day or two ago.  They were stunning.

snowdrops at Holmhead

I went back to the main road and pedalled up to the High Mill Brig where yet another dipper was in evidence.  The light had got quite gloomy by then…

cloud on Castle Hill

Cloud on Castle Hill

… so I gave up and headed for home.  I ended up having done ten miles and today’s total of just over 30 miles was easily my best for a single day in February.

In the evening I went to Carlisle to play recorder.  Susan was catching up at work after her holiday with Dropscone so I went by myself.  We were only four because the other Sue was having a birthday meal so once again we got out some music that was new to us as well as more familiar pieces and enjoyed a fine session of playing.  Jenny provided us with pecan biscuits to go with our post playing cup of tea and they turned out to be very fine too.

There is no  sign of sunshine in the five day forecast so we will have to make do with warm weather and fuzzy photographs.

 

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Dropscone has sent me today’s picture.  It was taken on his French holiday and shows the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach.  He advises me to think on this, get a sense of proportion and stop moaning about sore ankles.  Fair enough.

D-Day Landings 2012 100

I will moan about the weather though. It was another very cloudy, gloomy, damp day.  I didn’t go cycling as I was feeling the results of two days pedalling on the trot and as Mrs Tootlepedal was out at yet another choir practice, I took the opportunity to do some heavy resting.  As always, resting didn’t preclude frequent peeps out of the window and today’s busiest birds in the first part of the morning were siskins.

column of siskins

siskins scrapping

They were too quick for the camera in today's poor light.

siskin angle

They came from all angles

Once again, the feeders were very busy and provided me with a never ending variety show.  I managed to collect another shot of  four different species on the four seater feeder.

four seater species

Greenfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch and siskin

It is surprising how much resting you can do when you have got your eye in and I am getting a bit worried in case it is habit forming.  The birds kept me popping up and down out of my chair though.

chaffinch with seed

This chaffinch took a very vigorous approach to seed snatching. This is costing me money.

one leg chaffinch

A nonchalant one-legged seed raid here.

bramblings

The bramblings are not in such a rush.

As well as bird action, there is a good deal of froggy business still going on.

frogs

They come in a variety of shades.

Once again, I counted over forty chaffinches feeding or waiting to feed but only two sparrows.  This was one of them.

sparrow

I tried to take a shot that truly showed the traffic and I think that this one has got pretty to near to it.

traffic

A greenfinch is a rock of stability in an ocean of chaffinches.

After lunch, I had to go and see my physiotherapist.  She lives near the Solway Firth so I left with time in hand to go down to the sea shore to see what I could see.  I saw the sea…but not much else because there was a fine drizzle and the clouds were only just above sea level.

Powfoot

The Solway is very shallow and when the tide is out, there is nothing to see but mudflats.  Today, the tide was in.

tide in at Powfoot

Peering through the gloom, I saw a flock of birds flying by.  We think that they are oyster catchers.

sea birds at Powfoot

We are not entirely confident about our identification and if Dr Barlow is a reader today perhaps she will be kind enough to help us out.  We were even less confident about the second flock that passed.  Can they be lapwings?

birds at Powfoot

I got my ankle strapped up by my physio and some good advice into the bargain.  Gentle cycling is recommended which is a relief and all we need now is some gentle cycling weather to go with it.

In the evening my flute pupil Luke came and I am trying to teach him the hardest lesson to learn of all, how to practise.  It is so easy to practise doing something wrong and so hard and time consuming to practise doing something right that is  quite easy for a teacher to knock the enthusiasm out of a pupil which I am trying hard not to do.  I am a bit obsessed by this, as no-one taught me how to practise when I was young and I have spent a lot of my life doing things badly because I never acquired the patience to practice how to do things well.

And this chaffinch agrees with me.  See how hard he is concentrating.

chaffinch

 

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Today’s picture, from my daughter’s recent outing, shows a building in London known as the Shard.  She likes it.  She is in a minority.

shard

It was a mild, very cloudy, slightly damp day again today.  As I had offered to go and fill the feeders at the moorland feeder station, I was a bit disappointed as it was not a photo friendly day at all.  I took a picture of an early morning pair of siskins in our garden before I left, just to put some colour into the day.

siskins

Then I put my wellies on and drove to the feeder station.  The feeders needed filling and when I had finished, I did a bit of lurking in the hope of seeing some interesting birds.  It’s always fun to see a woodpecker and today I saw two which was a bonus.

two woodpeckers

I had shifted one of the peanut feeders nearer to my lurking point but the woodpeckers disobligingly ignored it and stuck with the further away one.

woodpecker and blue tit

I like the blue tit having a peer from above to see what is going on.  It wasn’t any less gloomy up at the feeders…

misty view

…so pausing only to take a fuzzy shot of another pair of matching siskins…

siskins

…I came home.

The queues at the feeders in our garden were even more relentless today than usual.  I would have thought that with the warmer weather, there would have been less pressure on them but it seems to have increased over the last two or three days.

feeder action

I refilled the big feeder three times during the day such was the demand.

Mrs Tootlepedal went to church to sing in the choir while I was up at the feeders and when she came back, she rushed out again to an antiques and collectors fair in the Buccleuch Centre.  I am an antique but not a collector so I left her to it.  She came back with a very pretty little Caithness glass vase and put some snowdrops in it to show it off.

Caithness glass

I had a light lunch and went off on the speedy bike to see if I could cycle two days running without coming to harm.  I avoided any steep hills by heading south down the A7 and boringly went straight down for ten miles and then turned and came straight back again.  There was a steady drizzle but the wind was light and it was quite a pleasant outing (but with no opportunity to use the little camera).  To keep the pressure off my swollen ankle, I used a low gear and kept up as quick a cadence as I could manage and I was surprised to find that I did the journey in only a minute over 15 miles an hour without putting any pressure on my breathing at all.  Maybe I am better than I feel.

I certainly felt quite well when we drove down the same road to a garden centre later in the afternoon.  Annoyingly it became apparent that half a mile beyond my turning point on the bike, it hadn’t rained at all.   Mrs Tootlepedal bought a Christmas box (Sarcococca) which has a wonderful scent.  I bought a small amount of a fancy bird food to see how it goes down and a large chuck of sheep’s milk cheese.  We both were very happy with our purchases.

Dropscone is back in the country after his holiday in France and should be home tomorrow.  I am looking forward to going round the morning run with him as soon as the weather permits.

I end with a greenfinch photographed in poor conditions this morning.  He looks as cheerful about the weather as I am.

greenfinch

 

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Today’s picture shows the comprehensive signposting which my daughter Annie encountered on a walk along part of the inner of two circular routes round London.

green chain walk

Hard to get lost

The sun of yesterday had disappeared this morning and the crocuses had shut up shop again.  I was quite cheerful because it had stayed fairly warm (8°C) and it wasn’t too windy.  I had my eye on a bike ride but I didn’t rush out which gave me some time to look at large visitors to the feeders.

jackdaw

It is amazing how well balanced he/she is when you look at the complicated claw gripping arrangements.

We had a great many rooks today for no evident reason.

rook

two rooks

The larger birds don’t like landing directly on the flat feeder and hop down from the bench back to the bench arm and then onto the feeder in little steps if they can.  Here’s a rook on the last hop:

jackdaw hop

And here’s a wood pigeon:

wood pigeon

There were some smaller birds about too.

chaffinch

a sparrow

A sparrow on a bush at the front gate

After lunch, I roused myself into action and took the speedy bike out for a test run.  The forecast was a 20% chance of rain and a light wind but on this occasion it was a bit of an underestimate as the wind was rather gusty and it rained gently from five minutes after I left to the moment I got back.  I wasn’t wearing my wet weather gear and by the time I had gone six miles up the main road towards Hawick, the rain was getting heavier and the clouds lower so I turned for home and tried my luck up the Wauchope road.  It was better but still wet so I just went as far as Wauchope Schoolhouse.  I had my little camera with me but the weather was not  helpful for snapping and I didn’t want to stop and get wetter than I had to.

When I got back to Langholm, a couple of circuits of the New Town  took my distance up to twenty miles and I called it a day.  Between the earlier freezing weather and the recent aches and pains,  I have put on half a stone and I am getting out of condition so it was a bit of a battle with the bike rather than smooth pedalling.  It will take some time before I am back to last year’s fitness.

When I arrived at the house, I found that Mrs Tootlepedal had braved the light rain and done some good work in the garden.  She has prepared the strawberry bed and put in ten strawberry plants.

strawberry bed

It may not look much now but we hope it will be a riot by summer.

The strawberry bed has been much enriched by manure from the manure mine and the soil looks good.

There are some nice dark blue crocuses waiting for a sunny day in the bed at the end of the drive.

crocuses

I took a picture to show the home of the frogs.

pond

It gets very full of frogs. I counted fourteen the other day.

Only one stayed visible as I approached…

frog in pond

The line across the water is the reflection of a power cable overhead.

…It is easier to get close to them in sunny weather for some reason.

That was the excitement for the day.  The wind is supposed to get up over the next few days so I may not be pedalling again for a bit as I don’t want to have to try too hard when I go out at the moment.

Question: Can you have too many chaffinch pictures?

Answer: Don’t be silly.

chaffinch

 

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Today’s picture features Guthrie on his very first walkies.  He brought Bruce with him.

Guthrie goes for a walk

Everyone in the town was pleased to see the sun back today after a very gloomy week.  I was considering doing some resting on my bike but the sun was accompanied by a vigorous and chilly wind so I decided that once again coffee and crosswords were the order of the day.  Mrs Tootlepedal was off at work too so I was undisturbed except by the large chattering hordes of birds outside the kitchen window.

I tried not to take too many pictures but I did get a fleeting chance to catch the four seater feeder with a different bird on each seat at last.

Finch city

Finch city: gold, green, chaff and brambling (it's a finch too).

I couldn’t resist this rook hoovering up seed.

rook hoover

And I enjoyed this rather dissolute looking jackdaw tucking into the fat balls.

scruffy jackdaw

These jackdaws are no fools and you can see how it has pulled the lid of the container so it swings towards the side of the fortress.  Mrs Tootlepedal came back for lunch just in time to disturb a small herd of jackdaws at the flat feeder.  They literally flew off in all directions.

jackdaw flight

The yellow crocuses are beginning to put on a real show…

yellow crocuses

…and the blue ones loved the bright sun.

blue crocuses

They will probably shut up shop again if the sun doesn’t shine tomorrow.

Mrs Tootlepedal went back to work and rather than sit about the house on my own, I took the car up to the White Yett.

Ewes valley

The coo, low winter sun picks out the dimples in the skin of the hills up the Ewes valley

It was bitterly cold in the wind on the top of the ridge so I lingered long enough to take a photo of the McDiarmid memorial…

McDiarmid memorial

It is in the shape of an open book

…before heading down to the shelter of the Tarras valley on the other side of the hill.  I added another bridge picture to my collection…

Tarras bridge

…but I didn’t stop long because I wanted to see if the dipper was still in the same place as yesterday.

I stopped at the White Yett on my way back to admire the windmills whizzing round in the brisk wind.

Timpen Hill from the White Yett

It felt  glorious in the sun after the recent gloom but the camera shows how little light there is at this time of year, even on a really nice day.

The dipper was there.  I think it was collecting nesting material because it wasn’t actually dipping.  In an obstinate way it was standing in a very shady part of the river.

dipper

I was surprised to see how brown it is. They look black when they are dipping.

While I was on the Kilngreen, the heron rushed up and demanded a close up.  I obliged.

heron

A passing gull got into the act as well.

gull flying

Gulls are like sparrows and chaffinches in that they tend to be ignored a bit because they are so common but like sparrows and chaffinches, they are handsome birds.

I took a picture of an oyster catcher but because they were making so much noise last night while I was trying to go to sleep, I haven’t put it in.  That’ll teach them to keep quiet.

I took a picture of the sawmill bridge as a comparison with yesterday’s cloud covered shot.

sawmill bridge

When I got back to the house, a steady volume of croaking alerted me to frog action in the pond.  I crept up, camera in hand.

free frogs

Then Guthrie came to tea.  This was a very pleasant surprise.  We used to have a border terrier ourselves and I am very fond of the breed.

(Curmudgeon alert!) In the evening Mrs Tootlepedal and I went to the Buccleuch Centre to hear a concert by a group of three singers called ‘Tenors Un Limited’.  The name was a bit misleading because one of them turned out to be a baritone.  They were very passable singers but the show was rendered appalling by being over-amplified and reverbed to a intolerable degree.  They had a synthesised backing track and a piano and when they were all in full swing, it was like some terrible medieval torture.   They sang an eclectic mixture of stuff, O Sole Mio, Gershwin, Nessun Dorma, Funiculi Funicula, Sting and some songs they had composed themselves.  Apart from three vocal solos, it was all in a rather rough and ready three part harmony and it got very tiring so I was pleased when they stopped.  They had a fine pianist who was under exposed.  Apart from the Sting arrangement which was irredeemable, there was the bones of a jolly good evening in there under all the racket.   I have to say that many of the audience enjoyed it a lot.  I presume that in general they weren’t music lovers. (End of curmudgeon alert.)

During the day, I was pleased to see a blue tit around. We hope the nesting box will attract one.

blue tit

While I was having tea with Guthrie, a great tit appeared as well so maybe we will be lucky.

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Today’s picture from Susan from Seville shows workmen knocking oranges out of the roadside trees and sweeping them up for disposal.  It’s a marmalade maker’s nightmare.  They need clean pavements and safe roads though.

seville oranges

It was far from sunny here today and for the third or fourth day running, the town was shrouded in low cloud.  On the plus side though, it wasn’t raining.  Mrs Tootlepedal went off to work at the Health Centre and I settled down to another morning of coffee and crosswords.  It’s tough work but I coped very well.

I went out to fill the feeders and took a picture of the snowdrops which are now in full bloom.

snowdrop

There was quite a lot of croaking from the pond but the light was against me and once again, I couldn’t creep up on the frogs without them disappearing with a rather charming plop.

I am trying to limit my widow gazing in order to rest the wrist but the birds are irresistible when they are in full flow.

goldfinch melee

long queues

As you can see, there were a lot of goldfinches about today.  I took a flying brambling picture which didn’t come out brilliantly but I include it here because they are hard birds to catch on the wing as they don’t do hovering very much.

brambling flying

I picked a couple of leeks from the garden and made a pan of leek and potato soup for our lunch.  Mrs Tootlepedal had to go back to work after lunch and I was so bored that I put the camera in its bag and went out for a short walk.  You can have too much resting.

I walked down to the river where I met my friend Grant, a keen photographer, and an oyster catcher pretty well simultaneously.

oyster catcher

I like oyster catchers but Grant, who lives just behind where this picture was taken, hates them.  They fly up and down the river in the middle of the night giving out very loud calls, making his sleep difficult.   He would shoot them in a different way.

I crossed the Langholm Bridge and went down to the Kilngreen where I saw a female goosander paddling about.

female goosander

She was rather restless as I approached and I would have needed better light to get a sharp picture.  It was still rather overcast to say the least.

low cloud on Castle Hill

I was pleased to see the heron and it obligingly flew down to the river and posed on a rock for me.

heron

There were plenty of ducks about which is not surprising as at least three people came down to feed them while I was there today.   I rather liked this group of hopeful lads hanging around with a bird.

mallards

The oyster catcher, obviously feeling the bad vibes coming from Grant, flew up to join me at the Kilngreen.

oyster catcher

I can see some of the little automatic cameras having a fine time trying to remove red eye from this picture.

I crossed the sawmill bridge and was on my way home when a van drove up and disgorged a flock of canoeists so I waited for a while to record their departure.

getting ready

Getting ready

portage

Portage

launch

Launch

acclimatisation

Acclimatisation

And off they go

And off they go

I think they are probably bound for Canonbie where the van will collect them.  I did think of jumping in the car and following them but I had already taken 70 pictures during the day and I felt that was already more than enough for the wrist resting situation.

When I got home, I was visited by the daughter of a fellow bed and breakfast provider who was looking for advice on finding pictures from the Langholm Archive collection and by coincidence we were joined by Maisie’s grandfather and we enjoyed a cup of tea.

Sandy wasn’t available (visit his blog to see some wonderful snowdrop pictures) and I decided that my wrist wasn’t up to an evening’s typing so Jean and I didn’t go to the Archive Centre as usual but I did go up and do a little housekeeping and then I came home again without any refreshment.

While I was crossing the sawmilll bridge in the afternoon, I saw a dipper dipping but too far away sadly for a good photo.  I’ll get that dipper in my lens one day.

dipper

 

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