Archive for Feb, 2013

Today’s picture from my brother Andrew’s recent visit to Singapore shows that they have an ‘Eye’ there.  They seem to have sprung up everywhere.

The Eye lit up

We don’t have an eye in Langholn, just one or two swings in the play park but we do have sunshine at the moment and we are very grateful for it.

Once again the early sunshine brought a sharp frost with it and the temperature had only struggled up to 3° by lunchtime.  Mrs Tootlepedal  went off to work again to cover for a sick colleague and I am hoping that her earnings will be able to keep me in the style to which I have become accustomed.  As it was too cold for cycling and I wanted to appear useful, I got out the ironing board and did my best with a couple of shirts and two pairs of trousers.  I have long been of the view that if the people who designed clothes had to iron them themselves, in general clothes would less stylish but a lot easier to care for.

As the sun was not high enough to take useful shots through the kitchen window, I went off to put another week of the newspaper index onto the database and only after that did I sit down for a coffee and the crossword.   After I had finished the coffee (but not the crossword) I retired upstairs to look out of a higher window.


A brambling on the plum tree


A siskin in characteristic pose on the peanuts

I have waited a long time to catch a chaffinch flying off the plum tree and today I got two birds with one shot.

flying chaffinches

The chaffinches were flying in all directions in a very busy way.

chaffinches flying

And they weren’t standing on ceremony either.  They were standing on each  other.


I did a little more work and then took a turn round the garden before Mrs Tootlepedal returned for her lunch.  I got two close ups.



Mrs Tootlepedal was working a full day today so after lunch, I got out the fairly speedy bike and set off to do the twenty eight miles which would bring my total for the month up to 400 miles.  I did consider a hilly route but wisely settled for a second run round the relatively undemanding circuit which I had done with Dropscone on Monday.  This time I took sandycam with me and stopped once or twice to take in the scenery.


A busy tractor near Gair

It was spraying a fountain of muck which would have brought a tear to Mrs Tootlepedal’s eye.

liquid gold

Liquid gold

The wind once again was behind me for the first fourteen miles and across and against for the second half of the trip but it was quite tolerable except that it made that part of the journey rather chilly in spite of the sunshine.

I made a second stop to catch a couple of decorative donkeys at Glenzier.


At least I think that they are donkeys.

Once I had gone through Canonbie, I found myself on the banks of the Esk exactly opposite to the spot where Sandy and I took some photos yesterday.

Esk at Byreburn

I parked the bike on the Byreburn Bridge….

Byreburn Bridge

…and hummed a few bars of ‘I have looked at life from both sides now’ before pedalling on.

I had hoped to get to a spot at Irvine House, which I have photographed before, while the sun was still shining on it but the low winter sun beat me to it and had moved up the hill before I got there.

Shadowy hollow

I’ll have to start earlier next time.

I looked the other way to catch some sunshine.


Behind the house on the hill you can see the first serious clouds that we have seen for a couple of days.  At least they promise us a slightly warmer morning tomorrow.

I got home safely and had time to walk round the garden while the sun was still shining.  I found another close up.


I think that this colour is my favourite among the crocuses.

No sooner had Mrs Tootlepedal returned from work and had her tea than she had to go out again for a rehearsal for the Sound of Music so we hardly spoke today.  I too went out with Sandy and Jean to do some work at the Archive Centre.  Sandy was in a very jovial mood because one of his photos had been highly commended in the competition at Selkirk.  Considering that there were entries from six clubs, to come in the top five was a feather in his cap and he was tickled by it.  I had not troubled the judges.  Sandy has some very nice pictures from our jaunt yesterday on his blog.  There are several pictures there which I wished that I had taken myself.  As always, I live and learn.

Our visit to the Archive centre was made very unsatisfactory by a misbehaving computer which meant that we worked at a snail’s pace and it was fortunate that the Douglas had a very drinkable beer on tap to soothe our rage.

The flying bird of the day is a standard chaffinch flying in one direction.

flying chaffinch



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Today’s picture illustrates the general unfairness of life.  It shows that spring has already come to my sister Mary’s garden in London in fine style.

rhododendron on 27th Feb 2013

We haven’t got spring here although there are odd hints of it about but we did have another wall to wall blue sky day.  Clear skies at dawn tend to mean cold starts and it was minus two degrees when we got up.

Mrs Tootlepedal was called in to cover for a sick colleague at work and I added a few credit points to the ledger by cleaning the front stairs when she had left.  It was too cold to cycle seriously and I was pleased to get a call from my friend Jean alerting me to the presence of goosanders on the river.  I jumped on my bike and went to see.


There were goosanders there.

female goosander

The hairstyle of the female goosander never fails to make me smile.

They are nervous birds and they didn’t hang around long when I started snapping away and soon flew off.

flying goosanders

As a thank you to Jean for taking the trouble to ring me up, I invited her round to look at some photos.  She is a keen and skilful painter and I was able to print out half a dozen photos that she thought that she might use as a basis for a painting.  If she does use them, she has promised that I will get to photograph her paintings of my photographs and if I do, I will post the results.

I spent the rest of the morning preparing music for the choir.  It is possible to download sheet music from the web quite easily but it is still a time consuming business to make thirty copies of everything and then collate and staple them so I didn’t have a lot of time to stare out of the window.  The strong sunlight and shadows made it easier to catch birds in the plum tree rather than in flight when I did.

Plum tree medley

Sparrow and jackdaw above and green and goldfinches below.

Once the sun had hit the feeder, I enjoyed this fierce greenfinch and brambling encounter.


When I was finished with the music, I went out into the garden and dug up some leeks but I had to go to the shop to buy potatoes to go with them into the pot to make some leek and potato soup for my lunch.  It tasted good with a bit of bacon thrown in for added flavour.

After lunch, Sandy came round.  Wednesday is his day off and he had spent the morning introducing a new young(ish) volunteer to the delights of photo scanning and processing for the Archive Group collection.  It is very pleasing to get new people interested in the work of the group.

He had taken some night pictures at the White Yett yesterday evening and had managed to leave a glove up there so our first trip was to recover the glove which we found with the help of some advice from this dog’s owner.

Kenny's dog

The only clouds in the clear blue sky were coming from the keepers who were burning off the old heather to encourage new growth.  Every hill top seemed to have its own fire.muir burn

This has to be done at this time of year when it is dry and before the ground nesting birds have started to build their nests.

Although there was very little wind, there was just enough to bend a column of smoke.


Sandy’s sharp eyes picked up a low flying jet in time for me to get the camera up.  You will see that I really do mean ‘low flying’.

low flying jet

You can’t get much lower than that.

Leaving the hill top, we went down to the other end of Whita to see what we could see at the moorland bird feeder station.  The answer, as far as I was concerned, was not much and this blue tit and coal tit were the most interesting birds that I saw.


We didn’t stay too long and drove on towards the Hollows.  We parked the car and walked across the Hollows bridge and along the west bank of the river so that we could see the Byreburnfoot bridge from the far bank.  It turned out to be less than satisfactory because of the trees growing on front of it but it is still a commanding bridge even though it no longer carries a through road across it.

Byreburnfoot bridge

The riverside here was absolutely beautiful in the winter sunshine and my camera couldn’t really do it justice.

A riverside dwelling

Esk at Byreburn

Once Sandy had managed to straighten up….


…we strolled back to the Hollows passing a well maintained fishermen’s hut.

fishing hut

Before we reached it,   we dropped back down to the waterside to get a shot of the Hollows bridge from below.

Hollows Bridge

I have walked, cycled and driven over this bridge hundreds of times (it used to be in my way to work) and I have always assumed that it was a single arch bridge but close examination revealed a second arch.

Hollows bridge

That goes into the category of ‘you learn something every day’.

The buildings that you can just see through the bridge are a water mill which is still in operation though I don’t think that they grind corn in it.


Hollows Mill

We climbed back up to the road and after a brief detour to snap Hollows Tower….

Hollows Tower

The modern cottage at the front can be rented as a holiday home.

..we headed home for tea and a biscuit.

Sandy couldn’t stay long as he is going up to Selkirk tonight to visit their photo exhibition.  We both have photos entered in the competition but I am not expecting to win any prizes as this is a quality event.

I couldn’t go with him as Mrs Tootlepedal and I were going to our choir.  I was supposed to be doing the conducting as the MD was away but a car breakdown meant that he couldn’t  get far and in the end I conducted the first half and he dealt with second half of the practice.  This is quite satisfactory as doing the whole evening is tiring and I enjoy a little singing.

During the day, after the sun had warmed the garden up and the frost was gone, I noticed that a little clump of early crocuses had come out.  The lone cream crocus under the bird feeders had also done its best.


The gardener was hard at work…


..watched with interest by a robin.


We all agreed that this was a good day in every way and we will remember it when the rainy days return.

The flying bird of the day is a diving brambling heading from the top of the plum tree to the feeder.





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Today’s picture, sent to me by Bruce, shows his wife and faithful dog perched precariously in that limbo which is neither in England or Scotland.

bridge at Kershope

We had another wall to wall day of sunshine today and as the wind was slightly less rigorous than yesterday, it felt a little more pleasant to be out.  I wanted to let the day warm up a bit before cycling and Dropscone was agreeable to a later start so we forwent the usual coffee and scones and started out on our pedal at coffee time instead.   This gave me some time to walk around the garden first.


A dunnock thought that eating food was more important than flying away and let me get very close.

raspberry bed

The raspberry bed was looking well tended after Mrs Tootlepedal’s ministrations yesterday.

When I went back in, the bramblings soon gathered under the feeder.


I was feeling quite perky when Dropscone arrived so we went for a rather more generous ride than our usual morning effort.  We headed up to and over Callister and then went down to Gair and on to Chapelknowe, using fourteen miles of  the route that was used by the Tour of Britain before last.  We were probably going a bit slower than the pros.

These first fourteen miles had the benefit of the wind behind by and large but the fourteen miles home by way of Canonbie weren’t too bad at all. Then  as Dropscone remarked, anything would have felt better than the stiff winds of Sunday and Monday.  This was not a hilly ride which was lucky.

When I got home, Mrs Tootlepedal was in active mode and suggested a cycle ride so I kept my cycling gear on, had a couple of slices of toast and raspberry jam (home made of course), took a quick glance out of the window…

A tower of chaffinches

A tower of chaffinches

…got out the slower bike and pedalled off with her.  She had chosen a pretty strenuous little ten mile route, another circle, this time to the north.  A stiff climb in the first mile or so made me quite happy to stop and take a picture as I had put sandycam in my back pocket for this ride.


Our route led us mostly through unforested country but there is a new track beside the wall in the top right of the picture so I imagine that new forestry planting is on its way.

While I paused to take the picture, Mrs Tootlepedal shot off down the  other side of the hill we had just climbed.

Mrs Tootlepedal

I followed on as best as I could.  Our route took us past James Ewart’s racehorse exercise track which seems to sprout more railings every time I go past it.


It is set in a sheltered corner of the valley.


We crossed the River Esk and puffed up the hill to Henwell.  I have certainly taken a picture of the cottage here before but it is one of my favourite views so I make no apology for taking another one today.


Once we gained the summit of the Col du Sorbie (175m) we stopped to admire a low flying military transport plane. ..

aeroplane over Ewes

…and the expansive view of the Ewes valley.

Ewes Valley

From here it was all downhill  (well, nearly) until we reached home.

There was a brief pause for a cup of tea and a sustaining biscuit before we went off to collect some manure from Mrs Tootlepedal’s manure mine.

While she delved, I took a couple of pictures.

A gate in a sylvan setting

A gate in a sylvan setting

open gate

I looked back through a gate which I photographed last week.

Ever thoughtful, Mrs Tootlepedal collected a special bucket of prime muck to give to our friend Mike Tinker because it was his birthday and there can be no better present for a gardener than a bucket of well rotted farm manure.

We took the rest of her collection home and put it to good use.  Here we can see the gardener fettling up the strawberry bed.  I am hoping to be able to make plenty of jam this year.

strawberry bed

And so the day had slipped away having fun and it was soon time to go to Carlisle for some recorder playing. Dropscone had told me that Susan has a heavy cold and is not well enough to come so I had to drive myself down this week.  The playing was as enjoyable as ever.  We are playing a very short programme as part of a church choir concert in Langholm in April and we have decided what to play and we had a useful practice of the three pieces before going on to play just for fun.

Jenny, our hostess, had a young  German guest staying with her.  He had come over from Lille in France to buy one of her late husband’s collection of lutes.  I suppose there probably isn’t exactly a flood of good second hand lutes on the market and he seemed very pleased with his purchase.  He also put us to shame with his excellent command of English.  He was very impressed by our post-tootling cups of tea and biscuits.

In between the pedalling and the tootling, I did notice a flying chaffinch in the sun.

flying chaffinch



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Today’s picture, taken by my friend Bruce on an excursion earlier this week, shows a slight leak in some water works creating an ice sculpture by the roadside.  It goes to show that despite the sunshine, the mornings are still pretty chilly.

ice sculpture

We had another day of dawn to dusk sunshine, with a chilly start and a slight warming as the sun rose.  A brisk north easterly wind made sure than we didn’t get too comfortable and shed any clothes.

When Mrs Tootlepedal went off to her church choir practice, I thought it right to get on my knees too but eschewing anything spiritual, I spent the time scrubbing the kitchen floor.  I scored some credit for doing this but that was set against a mountain of debit in not doing it more than once every ten years.  While I was in a virtuous mood, I also put a week of the newspaper index into the database,  cycled up to the High Street to order more bird food and then went to help my friend Arthur solve one of those niggly computer problems that come to baffle people who don’t play on their computer every day.

All in all, I thought, a useful morning.  Then I made it even better by lending a hand in the garden where Mrs Tootlepedal was spreading muck and compost on the raspberry bed, pruning the gooseberries and generally getting things ready for the new season.  My role was compost carting and pruned cane shredding.  Nothing is more satisfactory than seeing some of the compost made last year being ready for use.

I found a moment in the midst of all this activity to look out of the upstairs window.


A brambling in the plum tree enjoys the morning sunshine

chaffinch getting stick

A chaffinch gets a verbal warning while still some distance off.

chaffinche getting stick

This one got closer before getting the abuse

Generally it was a day for widespread wings.

widespread wings

We went in for a late lunch and then, while Mrs Tootlepedal returned to her gardening activities, I got wrapped up and set off on the fairly speedy bike to battle with the wind.

I chose to go out to Paddockhole first.  This gave me 10 miles with the wind behind me as a gentle warm up.  I had to make an enforced stop on the top of Callister when a glance down at my bike computer to check my speed showed that it wasn’t there any more.  Luckily it had fallen off only a few hundred yards back along the road and I found it and replaced it quite easily.

I only stopped once more to catch the first lamb that I have seen this year taking in some rays in a well sheltered paddock at Dunnabie.

spring lamb

From Paddockhole, I headed north up the valley of the paradoxically named Water of Milk.  Owing to the stiff hills and the strong wind, I was more tempted to stop for the occasional photo opportunity on this part of the trip.

The valley of the upper reaches of the Water of Milk

The valley of the upper reaches of the Water of Milk. The road can be seen snaking along the side of the hill on the left of the river.

I couldn’t resist yet another gate.


The blue string is obligatory.

It is a lovely part of the country and as I took it slowly into the wind, I had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.  I was pleased to pass a farm that had figured in the newspaper edition of 1884 which I had been working on in the morning.

At the head of the valley, the road crosses the watershed before descending into the valley of the River Esk.


An unfenced road, my favourite sort. The verges are still very soggy though.

The view from the top of the hill looking north showed the hills of Ettrick still holding a fair bit of snow.

Ettrick hills

I was grateful for some of shelter from the trees as I left the moorland and plunged down into the valley.


This is Bailliehill

From here, the last ten miles home were not as badly affected by the wind as I feared and I completed the 26 mile journey in 5 seconds under my target time of two hours.   It was a real treat to do a good circular ride rather than the poky out and backs that I have been doing lately.

Mrs Tootlepedal had just finished her gardening when I got home and we enjoyed a celebratory cup of tea and biscuit with a slice of her walnut and banana cake.

I had a quick look round the garden for any new signs of spring and found a couple more potential crocuses.

potential crocuses

I just had time for a refreshing soak in the bath before my flute pupil Luke came and once again showed that he knows how to practice properly as he had made more progress.  I have every hope that he will sail through his forthcoming grade exam.

After that it was time for tea and then a  trip to Newcastleton with Sandy for a camera club meeting.   I had put in one or two rather feeble efforts for the competition because I had been in a rush to get material ready and Sandy had put in none so we weren’t surprised not to trouble the judge.  He was a painter rather than a photographer and it was interesting to hear his take on the entries.  I have learned a lot  about photography by going to the camera club meetings and I shall try to make a better effort in the competitions next year now I know what to do.

Our way there and back was illuminated by a gloriously bright full moon and I nipped out into the garden to take a quick snapshot of it when I got home.

full moon February 2013

300mm, f40, 1/800th, ISO 2000: frame cropped but moon not enlarged.

The good light in the morning let me catch a crisp flying chaffinch.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s picture came to mind when Dropscone and I were drinking a plain cup of black coffee from simple tea cups.  They do these things differently in France as this picture from his recent holiday shows.

ife in France

Pretty to look at but could you actually spoil it by drinking it?

We had yet another dry day today and although it was still hovering only just above zero when we got up, the bright sunshine more than made up for that.  I was considering my plan for day, which included a lazy breakfast, maybe a cup of coffee or two and then a pedal when the phone rang.

It was Dropscone.  I was amazed for as regularly as clockwork on a Sunday morning, Dropscone plays golf.  On this occasion though, owing to the ill health of  two of his regular companions, he was left with no one to play with so his mind had turned to pedalling.   My plans underwent hasty revision and I finished my breakfast quickly and got well wrapped up to face the chilly wind instead of lazing about.

It was just as well that I did get well wrapped up because our chosen route up the A7 to the Mosspaul Hotel was straight into the wind which was blowing quite briskly.  Still, we put up with the extra effort as we knew that we would be rewarded by a strong following wind on the way home.  Life is often not quite organised in the way you would like it to be and by half way down the road home, the wind had dropped and by the time we got back to Langholm, it had disappeared completely.  We felt that we had earned our cup of plain coffee…..and a treacle scone or two.

Mrs Tootlepedal had just come back from singing in the choir church and found herself very disorientated with Dropscone and treacle scones appearing in the kitchen on the wrong day entirely.  It will probably put the whole of next week out.

I hadn’t taken my camera with me on the bike but when Dropscone left after coffee, I put it in my back pocket and set out for a small bonus ride up the Wauchope road. The wind had got up again and I was pushed along by it on my outward journey.  It was still  a lovely day and I stopped from time to time to take a picture on my way.


A field squeezed in between the road and an escarpment.


Some of our local residents

It has been so rain free lately that the roads are getting quite dusty with the remains of the grit put on in frosty conditions.  I could see that a party of cyclists had preceded me up Callister.

Making tracks

I got to the top of the hill, looked around…


To the west down towards the Solway


To the east at my road home.

… and set off back down the hill.  This time, of course, the wind didn’t drop and I had to push hard to get back.  Still, as I read in Gerry’s blog that he had had to face 50 kph winds on a recent long ride, I shouldn’t complain.

I just had time to watch a bit of the track cycling world championships on the telly when I had sat down before the Scotland-Ireland rugby match came on.  I mistakenly decided to watch this too and it turned out to be a very bad match only redeemed by the fact that against the run of play (to say the least) Scotland won.  Still, they have have played quite well and lost so often that playing badly and winning made a welcome change.

I felt that I had rather wasted a good sunny day for photography by sitting too long either on my bike or in my easy chair so when the game finished, I went for a short walk.  The sun promptly went in.

I chose my usual route past the Kilngreen and around the Castleholm.


The gulls were at their posts again.


Except this one which had abandoned its post in the hope of breadcrumbs.

a pair of oystercatchers

A pair of oyster catchers.

It was a bit late in the day for views and landscapes without an evening sun to light them up so my eye was drawn to details as I passed them.

fence posts

A pile of fence posts in the Estate’s yard

fence posts

The same pile seen from the other end


A good selection of moss and lichens on the wall opposite the yard.

aerial fern garden

An aerial fern garden

mossy trunk

What stops the moss growing all round the trunk?

school fence

The school fence could do with a lick of paint.

spring moss

Moss showing signs of spring on a tree branch

There was still enough light when I got home to have a quick turn round the garden to search for more signs of spring.  I found some definite potential.

spring flowers

From top left clockwise: pulmonaria, winter aconite, daffodil, crocus

Although I had to fill the feeder several times, I didn’t find any time to stare out of the window today and this flying chaffinch was the only garden picture that I took all day.

flying chaffinch

Sandy has put up a post with some very nice archive pictures as well as some excellent views from our outing yesterday.













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Today’s picture is another from my sister Mary’s recent riverside walk and shows a gull making its escape from the Tower of London.

Tower of London

We had some hints of sunshine when we woke this morning, combined with some hints of snow to go with it.  In the end we got neither to any great extent, although the occasional breath of snow floated out of the sky without coming to anything.

I got up reasonable early and set off over the hill to Newcastleton armed with two bottles of wine and a jar of marmalade.  I stopped en route to capture one of my favourite roadside streams as it burbled down the hill.

Langholm moor

The view from the top of the hill near the county boundary was expansive.

view from the moor

You can just see the Solway Firth in the distance.  It will appear again later in the day.

The reason for my trip to Newcastleton was to attend the Liddesdale Camera Club coffee morning where the wine was bound for the raffle and the marmalade for the sales table.  I thought that the turnout of fifty coffee drinkers was good but the organisers had hoped for rather more.   It seems that coffee mornings are all the go in Newcastleton and act as social occasions as well as fund raisers.

I had a cup of coffee and bought some rock buns and drop scones from the sales table before I made my way home.  I made another stop on top of the hill on my way home.  I was intending to do quite a bit of photography while I was out on the moor but the really chilly wind persuaded me that hanging about at 1000ft above sea level was not going to be much fun.  I took one photo….


Looking down across two ridges at the windmills which we usually look up to.

…and got back in the car and headed down to the town.  I paused for a moment of the Kilngreen and someone came along at just that moment to feed the ducks….


…but the gulls had other ideas about who was going to be feed.


I tried this one in black and white.


Spot the gull’s heads if you can

It was still pretty chilly and so I soon got back into the car and scuttled back to home comforts and warmth.

Mrs Tootlepedal was busy making a sturdy wooden framework for netting to form a cage for her sweet peas.  In recent years her peas and sweet peas have been heavily attacked by sparrows as they start growing and this is a serious attempt to keep the little blighters out.  Part of the problem is that some fool has been enticing birds into the garden with bribes of free food.

The birds in the garden were as hungry as ever.

goldfinch and brambling

A goldfinch and two  bramblings beat the chaffinches for once


The bramblings were in control of the floor space too


A goldfinch waits his turn in the plum tree.

I had intended to go to Newcastleton with Sandy but he had slept in and even a phone call had not wakened him. He surfaced later in the day to ring me up and we arranged to go down to Gretna to see the starlings because a friend of his had reported that they were quite spectacular.  Before he came, I had time to get the slow bike out and do a ten mile ride.  Once again, riding with the wind behind wasn’t too bad at all but coming back into the wind was a bit on the chilly side.

I found time to stop for a gate (or two)…


A gate in the modern style

…and a look at the Wauchope in mild mood.


Sandy duly arrived and we set off for Gretna by way of Milltown of Sark where we visited the small graveyard where Kinmont Willie is buried.  He was the subject of a daring rescue from Carlisle Castle in 1596.  The graveyard is rather neglected …

Milltown graveyard

…and the resting place of Kinmont Willie is not known.  In spite of signs warning us of imminent squishing by falling gravestones if we were foolish enough to enter, Sandy and I walked round this ancient burial place.  Most of the stones were hard to read but this one at the far end of the yard was impossible.


There was some fine carving on the stones and some elegant if largely unreadable writing too.

Sark stones

The wall surrounding the graveyard was well marked too.

wall at sark

We returned to the car and crossed briefly into England before crossing back into Scotland.  This is a wonderful part of the world for cloudscapes and the drive was a treat in itself as we looked at some stirring views over the Solway plain.


We were headed for the Solway shore and we couldn’t tell whether it would be sunny or cloudy by the time that we got there.  In the event, we were in the shadow of the clouds but the sun was out not far away.


The tide was well out to day and we were able to walk across the foreshore to take some pictures.

solway shore

I had a graduated filter with me and this seemed to be a good time to try it out.  The results are very marked.  Here are two pictures taken from the same spot at the same time looking towards the west.

Brow Houses

When the tide is in all the grass in the foreground is covered.

The filter will obviously be very useful when I have learned how to use it to its best advantage.

We left the shore behind us with one last look back…

Cloudscape over Solway

…and headed on to where we hoped that we would see the starlings.  We had found the right place.

starlings at Rigg

We were given a thoroughgoing demonstration of formation flying.

starlings at Rigg

And even a fly past in a jet plane.

starlings at Rigg

So as not to tax the patience of those who have seen many starling pictures already, I have placed some others after the flying bird of the day at the end of the post.

We didn’t wait until the flock had gone to its final roost as the cold was freezing our fingers and making photography uncomfortable to say the least.

One event occurred while we were watching the birds which is worth reporting.  We were standing with cameras in hand when a car drew up.  The window was wound down and the driver said, “Oh you should have been here yesterday.  There were far more birds about then. It was much better than this.”  His body is buried neatly behind a nearby hedge.

We arrived home feeling very satisfied with our little excursion and resolved to have at least one more visit to the starlings of Gretna before the murmuration season is over.

Sandy left to go to a concert of rock and roll at the Buccleuch Centre while I had a good rest as I seemed to have had quite a full day.

The flying bird of the day is a strange headless and bodiless gull seen this morning at the Kilngreen.


Here are the bonus starling pictures:

starlings at Gretna


starlings at Gretna

starlings at gretna

starlings at gretna

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Today’s picture shows Maisie doing her best to make up for the crisis in the bee community.

Maisie as a bee

Our garden would have been no place for a bee this morning as it was another cold, grey and dry day.  The main feature of the garden was an endless procession of finches visiting the feeders.  It was a pity that the light was not good enough for crisp photos to record this but I tried all the same. Things were so busy that one chaffinch decided to break the habits of a lifetime and enter the fat ball fortress for a snack.

chaffinch in fortress

For some reason, although sparrows and even starlings will go through the bars, finches other than siskins hardly ever venture in.  This may be the first picture I have taken of this happening.  The bird didn’t stay in long and no other finch tried the same thing, even when the feeder was at its busiest.

They seemed to be happier to wait for scraps to fall from above.


Every seed that fell from the feeder was eagerly snatched up.

In addition to the plum, the variegated elder was heavily used today as a spot to sit and wait for a spare seat at the feeder.

chaffinch in elder

After I had whiled away the first part of the morning by letting breakfast time indistinguishably merge into coffee time, I finally got my act together and went out for a pedal.  Dropscone was off playing golf somewhere and it was too cold for Mrs Tootlepedal’s taste (besides, she had a lot of sewing to do) so I was on my own.  The thermometer showed a measly three degrees and I wrapped up very well indeed, leaving only my nose peeping out, and set off up the Wauchope road.

It turned out to be quite pleasant as a light wind was at my back and I pedalled out to Waterbeck village in good heart.  I stopped just before the village to admire some fine trees at the roadside….


..and catch a glimpse of the church where if everything goes to plan, the choir will sing in a concert in May.

Waterbeck Church

From Waterbeck, I took the road  on to Paddockhole and stopped to capture a new bridge just before I joined the Lockerbie road.  I was surprised when I got down to the side of the stream to find this…


Not our usual style of bridge at all.  I suspect a collapse and rebuild.

Looking upstream at the eroded bank you can see how thin the topsoil is round here.  It is a miracle that hill farmers can make a living at all.

thin topsoil

When I got to Paddockhole, I stopped to nibble on a nutritious energy bar and amused myself by photographing the mixture of lichen  and moss on the bridge parapet before setting off home.

Paddockhole bridge

The trip home was both harder and chillier, with the wind now against me but I completed the 25 mile trip in good order though I was glad to get a hot shower to warm me up.

A note for readers in the UK: the farm at Dunnabie on my route has recently started selling their own meat from the farm and today they had a noticeboard outside the farm entrance which pointed out that all their meat was home bred and none of it was thoroughbred.

While I had been gone, the feeder had been emptied again so I filled it up and watched a stream of chaffinches head towards it.


There were males…

male chaffinch

…and females…

female chaffinch

…and greenfinches too…


…and most frequently lots of chaffinches at once with added siskins.


I enjoyed this shot of a chaffinch head to head confrontation and I have put it in in spite of its poor quality.

chaffinches head to head

Mrs Tootlepedal tired of sewing in the end and went off to Hawick to do some shopping.  I managed to resist the exciting chance to join her and settled down to deal with my correspondence and put another week of the newspaper index into the database.  Outside, things were getting desperate in the search for stray seeds.


A brambling gets the jump on the opposition.

Mrs Tootlepedal returned safely and after our tea, we were joined by Mike and Alison, the hopeful bee’s grandparents, and I enjoyed playing both flute and recorder with Alison at the electronic harpsichord.  I have had a good musical week with four nights out of the last five spent in very enjoyable communal music making.  On top of that,  I have been out on the bike on thirteen of the last sixteen days so winter is passing as well as can be expected at the moment.

Among the throng of chaffinches, I was able to pick out a flying brambling of the day.




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