Archive for Mar, 2014

Today’s guest picture shows Hardwick Hall, a fine Elizabethan house,  which my brother visited last week.

Hardwick Hall

Here, we had another day of second hand continental weather with the sun trying its best to peek through an enveloping haze.  The up side was that it was pleasantly warm and by the afternoon it was the kind of day that definitely makes you feel happy just to be walking about in the garden.

Mrs Tootlepedal rose early and went off for her very last morning at work at the Health Centre as she has finally retired.  I took the opportunity to go for a twenty seven mile cycle outing which started with the wind behind and finished coming straight back into it.  The route was very roughly triangular and thanks to the wind, the second side was completed at a lower average speed than the first side, and the third side at a lower average than the second.  I was pleased when I finally got home having taken two hours to plough round the course.

I made myself a cup of coffee and stared out of the window.


A jackdaw stared back


It found it hard to get settled on the fat ball feeder and soon flew off.

I was pleased to see another of the infrequent redpolls.  A chaffinch wasn’t so glad.

chaffinch and redpoll

I roused myself up to wander round the garden and met up with a very welcome bee while I was out there.


I went back in and  just had time to get a sour dough loaf started before Mrs Tootlepedal returned for lunch, rather uncertain whether to be pleased or sad about being retired and in the end settling for a bit of both.

She decided that a cycle ride would be the thing to mark the first day of retirement so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and visit the cycle shop in Longtown by car and a garden centre by bike as part of the outing.

She had time to do  bit of gardening before we left and was watched very closely by a fearless blackbird looking for worm opportunities as she dug over a border.  As soon as I appeared with a camera, it took refuge in a bush…


…and wouldn’t come out again.

We drove to Longtown and I picked up some degreaser for my bike at the bike shop.  I was so impressed by how clean they had left my bike after its recent service that I am resolved to try to keep it sparkling.  On past form, this resolve won’t last very long but I am going to try.

We parked the car in the town and set off on a gentle eight mile circular tour.  We started by passing Arthuret Church…

Arthuret Church

…which is  a very substantial place of worship for a rural parish.

Wikipedia tells me that: “This church was built as a result of a national fundraising ordered by James I in 1607 because the existing church had been frequently devastated by Scots reivers and to benefit the parishioners who were mainly rejecting Christ’s teachings. (James also employed more direct methods of improving the morals of the area, hanging notable reivers from both sides of the Border and deporting the Grahams of the Esk valley en masse to Ireland.)  Part of the sum was stolen and this delayed the construction of the new church.”

Our route then took us onto a short section of the National Cycle Network which follows the trackbed of an old railway line across the river Lyne.

Bridge over Lyne

I took a view from the bridge to show that in spite of the sunshine, the haze was still keeping views down to a few hundred yards.

View river Lyne

We crossed the A7 and headed out to Alstonby Grange whose owner has exemplified the maxim of ‘where there’s muck there’s brass’ by making a substantial business out of hiring out portable toilets.  This theme was echoed by the fact that every field we passed seemed to have have had muck spread on it so we were never short of atmosphere as we went round.

The roadside verges round the Grange were bright with celandine.


I thought that they looked very pretty but Mrs Tootlepedal takes a gardener’s view of them and just regards them as a pernicious evil, pretty or not.

As we turned back towards Longtown, we crossed the river Lyne again and I was able to show Mrs Tootlepedal the rock formations beside the bridge.

River Lyne

A close up shows the layers of sedimentary rock which go to make up this little cliff.

River Lyne

Our next stop was the garden centre at Whitesyke…


…where as well as some light refreshment, we acquired two small plants.  These were packed neatly into the bike bags…

bike bags

…and we headed back to Longtown where we packed the bikes into the back of the Kangoo.  They fitted very neatly too.

bikes in kangoo

The plants were taken out when we got home.

euphorbia and heuchera

Euphorbia and Heuchera

It was still such a good day that I got out the mower and removed some of the grass which is obstructing the view of the moss on the front lawn.

After one last look at the  tadpole melee in the pond…


…I went back inside and had a good sit down.  It had been a tiring day.

In the early evening, my flute pupil Luke came.  His grade examination is next Friday and he has been working hard at his pieces and his scales and if he plays as well as he did tonight, he should have no trouble passing.  Most importantly, he has done very well to improve his breathing.

After tea, I went off to play trios with Mike and Isabel and in spite of both Isabel and myself being rather tired, we managed to get through several pieces well enough to give ourselves a very satisfactory musical treat.

Today’s two cycle outings took my total for the month to 444 miles and has kept me on my schedule for an average of 14 miles a day for every day of the year so far.  Long may this continue.

The flying bird of the day is that lone redpoll as it passed the fat ball feeder.








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Today’s guest picture comes from Amy, one of my correspondents, who saw the picture of the hawk in our garden earlier this week and has kindly sent me a picture which she took of a sharp shinned hawk in her garden in Michigan (I think) last year.


I was hoping for a sunshine breakthrough this morning but like yesterday, it was very hazy again today.  The weather people say that we are getting second hand air from the continent at the moment instead of our usual sea washed stuff from the Atlantic which may explain it.  The benefit is that it is fairly warm and not raining so we shouldn’t complain.

Mrs Tootlepedal went off to sing in the church choir and in a rather unimaginative way, I pedalled off up the same road as I did last Sunday, though not so far.  Once again, the brisk wind was in my face and it was hard work climbing the modest 600ft of ascent in the ten and a half miles to the top of the hill at Mosspaul.

Still, what goes up must go down and the trip home was a treat.  In a statistical coincidence, I took exactly half the time to get back as I had taken had to get out….and in another coincidence, I went at exactly twice the speed too (22mph).

Mrs Tootlepedal was back from church and busy in the garden when I arrived home.  I cut back a fuchsia as my small contribution to the work and took a couple of flower pictures in the faint sunshine just to brighten a dull day.


New primroses are flowering all over the place.


My current favourite daffodil.

In spite of the hazy conditions, it was grand to be out in the garden in springlike warmth but I didn’t stay too long. I dug up a leek and went in to cook some soup for lunch and took the chance while things were simmering to watch a chaffinch land on the feeder.

chaffinch landing

A safe arrival looks as though it might be in the balance…

chaffinch landing

…but everything turned out well.

Mrs Tootlepedal’s work in the garden will provide me with many photo opportunities later in the year but it does tend to keep the birds off the feeder in the meantime so I didn’t have much chance to catch an interesting shot today.


Siskins are the birds least bothered by working gardeners.

Because we were going to do some shopping in Carlisle before going to our choir practice there, we had to leave quite soon after lunch and I had no more chances to take pictures.  The shopping was useful and the choir practice hard working and enjoyable but both were uneventful.

Because the clocks went forward last night, we arrived home in daylight but after a heavy week of acting, Mrs Tootlepedal finally succumbed to a little fatigue and didn’t go out into the garden again.  There was still enough light for me to catch a beady eyed visitor to the feeder area.


…before putting the tea on to cook.

In spite of not providing much to snap or to write about, it has been a very enjoyable day.

I did find one amenable flying chaffinch.

flying chaffinch



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Today’s guest picture, sent by my sister Mary, shows the Earl of Pembroke, Chancellor of the University 1617-30, in a design by Rubens, looking very pleased with himself in front of the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Rubens outside the Bodleian

It was an almost sunny day today.  All day it looked as though the sun was going to burst through the thin clouds but it never quite made it wholeheartedly.

Nevertheless it felt a good deal warmer than it has lately and it made quite a difference when I went out on my bike to repeat the double trip to the top of Callister and back which I had done on Thursday.  It was just as windy or even windier today but the extra warmth made pedalling a pleasure and although I didn’t seem to be trying any harder,  I took thirteen minutes less to do the 25 miles today than I did on Thursday.  Roll on summer.

When I got home I walked round the garden where Mrs Tootlepedal was working and shot one old friend…


A crocus surviving in a sheltered spot

…and one new arrival.


The first sign of a tulip this year.  Something has been eating its leaves.

After lunch, I went out with Mrs Tootlepedal to do some bird watching.  First we went to the moorland feeders.  Unfortunately, there was another photographer there already with his camper van parked right in front of the gate with a huge lens sticking out of the window.  Mrs Tootlepedal stayed in our car with binoculars in hand while I sneaked past the camper van  and got behind the screen.  Unsurprisingly, the birds weren’t very interested in coming too close to the camper van and I didn’t have much to look at.

Great tit

A great tit came close and gave me a sideways look.


There were several woodpeckers about but they stayed well away from me.

Only the pheasants weren’t bothered by the van at the gate.


I gave up quite soon and went back to the car.  Mrs Tootlepedal, unlike me, had been having a grand time watching lapwings on the hill and hen harriers in the sky above.  I got a glimpse of a harrier before it flew off.

hen harrier

Although there was blue sky about, the weather was very hazy and the hilltops were covered in mist…..

hazy weather

…so we drove round to the other side of the hill to see what things were like there.  They were just the same.  It looked as though it was sunny but it wasn’t.  We did catch a glimpse of a bird of prey not far off…

bird of prey

…but I am not convinced that this was another harrier.

It was very windy as well as being hazy so once again we didn’t stay too long and were soon back home.  Mrs Tootlepedal who had been gardening for most of the morning, went back to work again.  She is waging a war on celandine which is threatening to overwhelm one of her borders.  While she was at it, she trimmed and cleared and thinned and did many other wonderful things.

I rang up Sandy and went for a walk with him round the Becks.

The light wasn’t great but it was warm and sheltered and the walk was very enjoyable in itself.

Becks walk

There was a moment of sunshine but we were in a wood at the time.

There was plenty to look as as we walked along the Becks road.

There were strange signs…

sick pole

I didn’t realise that the pole had been ill.

…beautiful lichens….



…colourful conifers…


…and of course my favourite bridge view.

Auld Stane Brig

We visited the old Wauchope Graveyard on our back along the Wauchope road.  It is now closed and the gravestones are in many cases quite neglected.

Wauchope Graveyard

Because they are carved from different sorts of stone, there are many different lichens to see.  Here is just a small selection.

lichens and algae

The middle one is an algae not a lichen


We fell into conversation with a couple who were out walking and the lady showed us some very nice pictures which she had taken with her phone camera.  We suggested that she should get some of them printed and put them into our exhibition in June but contrary t0 all the evidence of the great number of pictures which she showed us, she said that she wasn’t really interested in photography.   Ah well.

They walked on and Sandy and I stopped to lift one of the small sheets that have been put down on top of a wall to offer protection for slow worms.  I was surprised to see that there were a couple of young worms there.

slow worm

We arrived home ready for a cup of tea and a biscuit.   I would have offered Sandy a crumpet but somebody had eaten them all already.

In the evening, Mrs Tootlepedal went off for the final performance of her show and I stayed in and watched bits of  two rugby games on the telly.  One had the commentary in Gaelic and the other in Welsh so I didn’t understand a word of either.  I didn’t feel that this was a great loss though as I could see what was going on perfectly well for myself.

The flying bird of the day is a siskin at our own feeder.




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Today’s guest picture once again comes from NZ  but this time not from my neighbour Liz.  It shows Maisie in the garden reading a story to her littler sister Frances.  It was sent to me by Jennie, Maisie’s mother.

Maisie reading

Here, another cold, grey, windy day easily persuaded me to let Dropscone battle round the morning run by himself and judging by his expression when he arrived carrying treacle scones, I had made a good decision.  At times, coming back into the east wind, he had had to cling on to the handlebars to stop himself being blown off the road.

While I was waiting for Dropscone to arrive, I got the electric mower out and mowed the drying green and the grass round the greenhouse.  Mrs Tootlepedal was out while I did this and was a bit sad to find that I might have mowed over some fritillaries.  Needless to say, I was a bit sad too when I found out.

After our rather meagre Lakeland daffodil experience on Wednesday, I took the opportunity to photograph a few of our own clumps.



Wordsworth would have been pleased.

Although the flower garden is basically yellow and white at the moment, here and there other colours are to be found.


The flowering currant is currently flowering

My plan had been to have an easy morning, eat treacle scones and go for a walk or a short pedal after lunch but once again the weather took a hand and dashed my hopes with heavy rain.  I turned my hand to having a bit of crumpet making practice instead.  I didn’t use the sourdough today as I wanted to concentrate on getting the pan and rings sorted out.  I found the right pan for the job and got the heat about right too and some of the results almost looked like crumpets.


Crumpets, for those who are not familiar with them, are simply an excuse for eating large amounts of butter.  You toast the crumpets lightly before eating them and the melted butter runs into all the little holes on the surface.  I may not be producing crumpets that have that truly professional look but there is nothing wrong with the taste.  Now that I have a better idea of temperature and batter consistency, I will try again with the sourdough.

I was thwarted by the rain in my plans to walk about taking truly interesting pictures of stuff but watching the garden birds was quite exciting in itself today.  We had a visitor who stopped for longer than usual.

male sparrowhawk

An adult male sparrowhawk had come to have a look around.

The squeamish should skip the next picture because the hawk returned a short time later and having sized up the job, picked a small bird off the feeder with grace and speed.

male sparrowhawk

It returned once again later in the day but without catching any prey this time.

The small birds were amazingly unruffled by all this and were back at the feeder within minutes of the hawk’s departure each time.

The experience hadn’t done anything to improve their manners.



siskin and chaffinch shouting

There were some more restful moments.

chaffinch on bench


And sometimes a look was all that was needed to keep other birds at bay.

I managed to find things to do indoors to while away the day while Mrs Tootlepedal went shopping in the afternoon and in the evening, we both went to the Buccleuch Centre,  Mrs Tootlepedal to perform in the cast of Me and My Girl and I to be part of the audience.  The show was very enjoyable, being well acted and sung and very competently staged.  There was none of that audience nervousness that you sometimes get when watching an amateur performance of a musical. From my point of view, it was a little curious as owing to a shortage of males in the cast, Mrs Tootlepedal appeared dressed very convincingly as  a member of the men’s chorus.

By coincidence, I took a picture of a pot of violas this morning that she had been given exactly a year ago as a thank you for helping with the costumes then.  They started in the house, have been in the garden and have now returned indoors.


The gift that keeps on giving.

The strong winds are set to continue for some time but at least it seems that it is going to get a bit warmer over the next few days and it isn’t quite so miserable battling the breeze when it isn’t freezing cold as well.

The flying bird of the day was nearly the sparrowhawk….


…but my shutter finger was too slow and so a chaffinch it is once again.




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Today’s guest picture is another from my neighbour Liz’s tour of NZ.  She is being very good about supplying me with guest photos while she is there.  This is the beach at Napier.


Dropscone was  busy this morning and Mrs Tootlepedal went off to work so there was nothing for it but to go for a cycle ride by myself.  There had been a hint of sun about when I got up but when I set out on the fairly speedy bike after breakfast, it didn’t linger for long and the brisk and chilly east wind made cycling hard work.

I have been feeling a bit tired for a few days so I split my ride up into two repeated sections of six miles out and six miles back.  The outward trip today was gently uphill and with the wind helping and thus the return trip was gently downhill but against the wind.  I like to think of such a day as a match between Aeolus, the god of wind and Isaac Newton, the provider of gravity, with me playing the role of the football.

The first twelve mile lap was a 1-1 draw with Aeolus kicking me gently up the hill but although gravity is described as a weak force, Newton still had enough defensively in hand to make me work hard.  On the trip back, a nudge from Newton helped  to get my speed up but Aeolus wasn’t giving in and I had to pedal down all the hills just to keep going.

Aeolus was in unforgiving mood though and upped his game up for the second half.  Although I was able to go a little faster up the hill, the journey back showed just how weak a force gravity is and Newton was very little help as I puffed and spluttered my way home.  2-1 to Aeolus.

All this left me little energy to do anything but stare out of the window.  The show was lively enough to cheer me up.

And of course the sun came out once I had got off my bike.

There was the usual coming and going.


I had to have a second look to check that that wing really does belong to the lower chaffinch.

chaffinch approaching feeder

A trial of wills.

goldfinch and chaffinch

Half a second later, the goldfinch yielded to the chaffinch.

The latest report of the RSPB garden bird survey shows that goldfinches are becoming more common in gardens, presumably thanks to feeders like mine, so I celebrate this fact with a goldfinch portrait.


Chaffinches are still the most common bird in our garden at present…


Calling the shots

….but there are plenty of goldfinches and siskins about as well.

chaffinch. goldfinch and siskin

Other birds are in short supply but we do get regular visits from jackdaws….


They like the fat ball feeder.



We also have blackbirds about but they don’t come to the feeder.  An occasional robin is to be seen.


This one was scavenging for fallen seeds.


By lunchtime I had  more or less recovered from my kicking by Aeolus and Newton and my plan was to do a bit of work and then go for a walk with camera in hand.  Unfortunately by the time the work was finished, heavy rain had started and any idea of a walk was washed away.

I returned to the computer and put the accompaniment for a movement of a Loeillet sonata that I am playing with my flute pupil Luke into my music program.

The rain stopped when it was too late for a walk.

I am not usually very pleased to see cats in our garden but at the moment, they are quite welcome…


Sizing things up this afternoon.

…as we have seen a baby rabbit a few times recently and we hope the presence of the cats will scare it away for good.

In the evening I went with Jean and Sandy to the Archive Centre where among other index entries we came across the story of a man who in January and February of 1887 wheeled his wheelbarrow from Dundee to London and back again in 45 days, passing through Langholm as he went.  Either he or the wheelbarrow must have been very well oiled as this is some feat with a distance of about 900 miles to be covered.

The flying bird of the day is that popular feathered friend, a goldfinch.

flying goldfinch


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Today’s guest picture is another from my neighbour Liz’s venture to New Zealand.  It shows Tane Mahuta, thought to be the oldest Kauri tree in NZ  at 2000 years old and with a  height of 51.5 meters and a girth of 13.8 metres.

Tane Mahuta

Yesterday I had suggested a jaunt to the Lake District to Mrs Tootlepedal for today and she received the idea with enthusiasm as she thought that she would like to visit the very spot where Wordsworth and Dorothy saw the ‘host of golden daffodils’.

The forecast was quite good and so my theoretical plan was to leap out of bed at half past seven and go for a cycle ride before breakfast, leaving us plenty of time for our trip.  In the event,  I managed to bring the plan to fruition, amazing both myself and Mrs Tootlepedal.   It was a beautiful morning and although the temperature was only a meagre three degrees C, the cheerful sunshine kept the frost off the road and made pedalling a pleasure.

As we set off, the sky began to cloud over and sadly the best of the day had already gone as far as the weather went.   It stayed dry though and the sun shone for brief periods from time to time.

Our target was the shore of Ullswater…


…one of the larger lakes in the Lake District.  As you can see , it had got quite cloudy by the time that we arrived.  Wordsworth’s host of daffodils turned out to be rather more of a smattering than an army….

daffodils at Ullswater

…though I think they will look a bit more impressive in a few days time.  We drove on to Glenridding where we parked at the pier and had a coffee.

The gloomy weather should have stopped me taking too many pictures but it didn’t.





I had hoped that the hills might be capped with gleaming snow but there was only a scattering on the very tops of the bigger hills.


We considered taking a trip on the lake steamer but decided that it was too chilly and opted for a walk instead.

Our route took on us well made paths and tracks up one side of the Glenridding Beck and down the other.

We climbed steadily and we soon able to turn back and look at the lake below us.


We crossed the beck by a fine wooden bridge…

Bridge over Glenridding Beck

…and ate a sandwich beside the stream there.

Glenridding Beck

The walls and rocks in the area were covered by a flourishing green lichen for the most part but there were one or two others about.  Here is an example of the common green one with a rarer grey brown one beside it.

green lichen

The were many picturesque views to be had and I always enjoy one with a Scots pine in it.

Scots pine at Glenriddin

It was a real pity that the sun remained hidden because a bit of brightness would have made for some stunning views.

We walked further up the valley on the far side of the beck until we arrived at the Youth Hostel which is on the site of an old mine.

Greenside Mine

Greenside Mine

Some of the old stone work is visible

This is Greenside Mine, an old lead mine which produced lead and silver between 1690 and 1960.  This was as far as our legs would carry us uphill and so we turned to walk back down the track to the lake.

We passed several little terraces which must have housed the workers in the mines in days gone by.  They seemed mostly to be holiday homes now but they were very neatly looked after.

aubretia at Glenridding

Walls hung with aubretia

The valley was typical of the Lake District with small fields beside the stream and rough pasture further up the hillsides.


On the other side of the Lake, we could see a snowy ridge.


It was a lovely walk but after three and a half miles and 550 ft of climbing and descent, we were very ready for a cup of tea in the village when we got back.   We may still have a few miles left in our cycling legs but our days of striding up hills are long behind us and this length of walk, with its varied views and continual points of interest, was just the thing for us.

We drove back by way of Dockray and were able to stop for one last look at the lake before we went over the hill.


When we got home, I was happy to see that the birds had survived my absence for the day.


You can see that the goldfinch on the right is hopping mad because the other one has got the coveted twig top spot.

As a mocking coda to our rather grey outing, a beautiful sunset developed over Langholm  as Mrs Tootlepedal was getting ready to go off to strut her stuff at the Buccleuch Centre.


Spring watch:  On our way down, we had stopped in Carlisle for Mrs Tootlepedal to buy some knitting wool.  I was struck by a beautiful willow across the road from where the car was parked and I have paired it with a golden burst seen on our walk later in the day.


The flying bird of the day is an RAF helicopter flying low over the lake as we had our coffee.  It may have been on its way to a mountain rescue job.




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Today’s guest picture, sent to me by my daughter Annie, shows a tree surgeon cutting up the eucalyptus tree that was blown over in their garden by the recent gales.  Sadly, it makes for poor burning so all of it will go to shredding.

tree surgeon

After two days of sunshine in Langholm, the meteorological authorities, fearing an outbreak of unconstrained merriment of even riotous jollification, put the sun away this morning and covered us up with a safe grey sky to keep us in our place.

Luckily, they had put away the strong wind too and Dropscone and I went round the morning run in our fastest time since December last year.  As we set off, Dropscone noticed this new outbreak of primroses in our drive.


They have come to join the fine display in the bed beside the greenhouse.


There were other new flowers about today.  Here are two colours of aubretia on the other side of the greenhouse.


Apart from the morning cycle, I didn’t do very much today as it was rather grey and uninviting for a walk but I did find time to make a sourdough loaf and have a first go at some sourdough crumpets following a suggestion from Jennie, Maisie’s mother, from New Zealand who is a sourdough enthusiast.

Sourdough crumpets are a good way to use up any spare sourdough starter and are remarkably easy to make, even for me.  I made  a small batch to see how they went and they tasted very good. More will follow.

I also walked round the garden looking at daffodils.  The lighter wind helped them to stand a bit taller and the lack of sunshine actually made it easier to photograph them.  Mrs Tootlepedal likes daffodils and has quite a few varieties.  Here are most of the ones that are out at the moment.

I don’t know the names of the daffs but the first two pictures show miniature earlies.



The next three are taller.




She has the standard version as well.


Needless to say, I did a little bird watching and welcomed a lone brambling back late in the day.


The down side of the siskins, as I may have mentioned before, is that they are very wasteful nibblers.  The sunflower seeds are just a fraction too big for their dainty beaks…

siskin nibbling

…but luckily the chaffinches work hard to keep things clean under the feeder.


They were busy in the air too.


This female isn’t going to stand on ceremony, she is going to stand on another chaffinch.

Some were more restful.


The birds have had to be on their toes lately as a sparrow hawk is making frequent visits to the garden.  It tends to flash by before I can pick up my camera but I got a glimpse of it today, lurking behind the branches in the walnut tree.


The temperatures through the day are rising and I thought it was time to turn my thoughts to the lawns.  I got the mower out and gave it enough care and attention to get it moving after its winter snooze and then perpetrated some random acts of violence on the moss which has taken over from most of the grass.


Distance lends enchantment to this view of the moss pasture.

Add in some crossword time,  a few moments to clean the transmission on my speedy bike and pump the tyres on that and the slow bike,  a visit to the corner shop to replenish my cheese supplies, an interval to exchange a few words with Mrs Tootlepedal and have a cup of tea with Mike Tinker, who paid us a visit, and the day was well filled with undemanding activity suitable for an elderly person.

It was rounded off with a chauffeur (Susan at the wheel) driven trip to Carlisle to play with the recorder group.  The playing was very enjoyable and we even found a piece or two which we have never played before to entertain ourselves with.

A chaffinch is flying bird of the day.

flying chaffinch



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