Archive for Feb, 2015

Today’s guest picture is a deeply weepy  shot from Regents Park.  It was one a recent set taken there by my sister Mary.

Regents parkAfter a couple of reasonable days, the Met Office foreboding came true today and we started with a cold, grey and windy day and ended with a slightly warmer, much greyer and very wet and windy day.

I am still acting as substitute feeder filler for Gavin who is disporting himself in the Californian sunshine so my only outing of the day was to the Moorland feeders.  I was joined by Sandy after I had filled the feeders and we spent some while sitting in the hide watching the birds.  The light was poor but there were plenty of birds to watch.



Two pheasants pretending to be chaffinches

great tit

A great tit showing just how windy it was

blue tit

And a blue tit sensibly keeping its head into the breeze

Sandy came back for coffee and we discovered that all three of our сafetières were in the washing up machine on a long programme so we had to make the coffee in a jug in the old style,  It tasted very good all the same.

The influx of siskins into the garden has discouraged the chaffinches and for most of the day, the feeders were covered in the little yellowy green birds.

siskinsI did venture out into the garden to see if the daffodil had made it into flower in February.  It had tried hard but it hadn’t quite arrived.

daffodilThe frogs are back in the pond after a few cold mornings but the water has become so clear that they can see me coming and crash dive before I can draw a bead.  There was only one today with its back to me.

frogThe siskins were as quarrelsome among themselves as ever…

siskins…even though there was almost always a spare perch to be had.

They arrive on the feeders with no hovering so it is quite difficult to get a flying siskin shot when the light is poor and I just missed the chance to get a flying hawk shot for the second time running…

sparrowhawk…much to my annoyance.

It was such an unforgiving day that I gave up any thought of cycling or even walking and after some sporadic and unfocussed flute practice,  I spent the afternoon sunk in a stupor in front of the telly, wasting my time watching rugby matches.

As I write this, the wind and rain are howling round the house and we are grateful that our new wall is well wrapped up behind its scaffolding covers.

It is supposed to be the official first day of spring tomorrow but the forecast makes it seem unlikely that I will be out at dawn dancing on the lawn to welcome it.

In the absence of hovering chaffinches or obliging sparrowhawks, a very fuzzy siskin appears as flying bird of the day.


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Today’s guest picture is another from my brother’s visit to Haarlem.  It shows a very elegant brewery sign.  He remarks that there were over 100 breweries in Haarlem.

haarlem breweryThe Met Office had been full of gloomy warnings of frost and icy roads for this morning but once again, they were too pessimistic and we had the merest breath of frost which soon disappeared and we were left with a very reasonable day, although there was a persistent and chilly wind to remind us that we are still in February.

After breakfast, Mrs Tootlepedal went off to record the readings of the newspaper for the blind.  This was a rather sad occasion as our friend Arthur Bell, who has organised and funded the process for many years, had died during the week so the reading started off with a little eulogy for Arthur.

No sooner had she got back than she left again.  This time she was off to Edinburgh for her weekly visit to Matilda, the WGSP.  I was left to watch the builders and joiners at work.  They did well.

Outside end wall

The outside wall has had its first coating.

end wall inside

Inside, a new window has been fitted and the frame for the inner skin is up.

The building of the hearth and chimney are the next big tasks.

The comings and goings of the men put paid to much early bird watching so I went round the garden searching for signs of spring.  There were some.

We are very excited about the daffodil’s chances of coming out before March.  (It has one day left.)

daffodilIt’s bright yellow was echoed by a siskin catching a rare ray of sunshine on the plum tree.

siskinThere are a fine selection of potential crocuses to be seen.

four crocusesAnd promising buds too.

budsI picked up a snail shell, probably dropped by a bird on the lawn.  Its colour and pattern appealed to me.

snail shellI had taken a few pictures of some routine siskins and was checking them on the camera screen at the kitchen window when an unusual movement distracted me.  I looked up and got a surprise.


The siskins had nipped off too sharply for the sparrowhawk to catch one.

It looked a bit disappointed by that.

sparrowhawkTen minutes after it had flown off, the siskins were back again…

siskins..but keeping a wary eye out.

I had a bowl of soup for my lunch and as it had warmed up to a reasonable 6°C, I put on my cycling clothes and set off for a pedal on the fairly speedy bike.

The keen wind was in my face as I pedalled up my regular route and the six and a half miles up to and over Callister was hard work but equally, the six and half miles back was a treat.  The thirteen miles went so well that I turned round when I got to Langholm and went up to Wauchope Schoolhouse and back again.  The result was very satisfactory from a mileage point of view.

garmin 27 Feb 15

My friend, the late Arthur Bell, always used to say that it wasn’t worth getting a bike out for less than twenty miles and while I don’t necessarily agree with that, it was a suitable tribute to his memory that I managed that crucial distance today.

The speed wasn’t quite so pleasing but it was windy and I am far from being fit enough to battle up hill and into the wind.

You don’t need to be fit to pedal downhill with a brisk wind behind you however so I enjoyed that part of the trip very much and even got my new knee over thirty miles an hour for the first time ever.  I haven’t been venturing too far from home as my surgeon advised me to remember that if you go too far, you still have to come back but today’s ride has given me the confidence to try for a longer circular ride as soon as I get a suitable day of weather.

The light had faded by the time that I got back and most of the siskins had left as well so I only found one to photograph.

siskinAfter the effort of pedalling, the rest of the afternoon was not enlivened by anything that might have resembled activity.

Mrs Tootlepedal’s train of choice back from Edinburgh was cancelled and she had to catch the next one.  This was unfortunate as we had tickets for a concert at the Buccleuch Centre but in the end she was able to join Sandy and me and a friend at our table only a few minutes after the concert had begun.

We were seated at tables in what the Centre calls cabaret seating for a performance by a fiddle group from Selkirk, helped out by our local folk group, Langholm Folk.  The Riddell Fiddles, who are part of a fiddle learning group,  were accompanied by three guitarists, a very good double bass player and that rare thing, an unobtrusive but skilful drummer.  Together they made a very cheerful sound and as I love Scottish, Breton and Swedish fiddle music, I was well satisfied with their performance.  Langholm Folk were in very first rate form too so the whole evening was good value.

I was almost able to use the sparrowhawk as flying bird of the day….

sparrowhawk…but I shot a moment too soon and in real life it is still standing on the feeder…

sparrowhawk… which explains its funny looking claws.

So the flying bird of the day is an undistinguished siskin.


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Today’s guest picture shows some colourful ducks and ducklings (or perhaps geese, I can’t tell) which my sister Mary met in Regents Park.

Regents park ducksIt was a day of meteorological contrasts with spells of sunshine mixed with fierce showers with the whole day overlaid with a very brisk and chilly wind.

I managed to find a reasonably dry spell to go up to fill the Moorland feeders.  I was standing in for Sandy who had work commitments.  Even in the chilly wind, the hide was quite warm and I sat there for longer than I intended.  There were plenty of birds to watch although there were no surprises.  I took a few pictures.

chaffinches and greenfinches

Chaffinches and greenfinches share the seed at the high table.

blue tit and great tit

While a blue tit and a great tit hang about together.

I tried to catch birds in more natural poses but they weren’t very helpful.  A blue tit did her best.

blue tit

When I got home, I found that there was more action there than at the Moorland feeders.  The siskins had arrived in numbers.



A lone chaffinch soon got the order of the boot.

I didn’t have long to look at them though as Mrs Tootlepedal and I went off to visit a garden centre to stock up on bonemeal for the forthcoming season.  We stopped on the way to try to get my pair of computer spectacles fixed by the optician in Longtown.  They were suffering from having had some fool sit on them and it turned out that I had snapped a tiny screw in half in its socket and they weren’t readily repairable.  Thin wire will have to do until a new pair is needed.

The road to Carlisle at Sandysike was surrounded by flooded fields after a heavy night’s rain and as we came up to the bridge over the River Lyne, the flooding had reduced the road to a single lane. We safely negotiated this hazard and had a light lunch at the garden centre before driving home through yet another very heavy shower.

By the time we had got out of the car, the sun had come out again so I got out the slow bike and cycled back down the road to Skippers Bridge to have a look at the river there in the sunshine.

When I got there, the track up to the old railway looked so inviting that I was nearly tempted to go for a walk….

Walk seven…but good sense and some looming clouds curbed my enthusiasm.  I turned back to the river.

Skippers BridgeWith the next shower coming up fast, the light looked interesting.

Langholm DistilleryI went up to the Town Bridge….

meeting of the waters…and got home just in time to avoid getting thoroughly drenched.

When the shower had passed over, it was time to go to visit Mike and Alison for a delicious slice of cake (or two) and some tasty ginger biscuits on the occasion of Mike’s 70th birthday.   He was very cheerful for a man of his age.

We walked home feeling very well refreshed and I sat down to put another week of the newspaper index into the Archive database and this got me completely up to date with the data miners at long last.

In the evening, I went up to the Archive Centre with Sandy but once again a defective wi-fi hotspot prevented us from getting any work done so we gave up and retired to the Eskdale for a pick me up before going home.

The skies cleared and the temperatures dropped as the evening wore on and we are promised frost tomorrow.  Spring will have to wait a bit.

The flying bird of the day is one of the many siskins.


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Today’s guest picture comes from our neighbour Gavin, who is currently in San Francisco.

He tells me, “This is Oracle, the USA entry for the 2015 Americas Cup. It passed our tourist boat today going at full speed with 2 speedboats tailing it and it was almost flying. I have never seen anything without an engine going so fast (except perhaps Tootlepedal on his bike coming down Callister).”

OracleMuch to my surprise, I woke to a bright sunny morning with a very gentle wind.  I am not quite sure what happened to the miserable weather we were promised but I was so pleased to see the sunshine that I got up into my cycling clothes and went out for a pedal after breakfast.

There was just a hint of the recent bad weather on the top of a distant hill…

snow on the hills….but my immediate surroundings were very cheerful…

Blough road…and even some fluffy low lying clouds didn’t look very threatening.

Wauchope hillsIt was a chilly 3°C when I set out but it was pleasant enough cycling along with the sun on my back.  I took things easily, going twice up to Wauchope School and back and adding two circuits of the New Town.  This gave me a nice round 15 miles for my outing, a new best distance for my knee.

As soon as I got home, I was joined for coffee by Dropscone.  He had only arrived back in Langholm in the early hours of this morning after a marathon drive from the south coast of England so he hadn’t taken advantage of the cycling weather.  This had given him time to produce the finest drop scones to go with our coffee that I have ever tasted.

The sun was still shining when he left so I took a tour round the garden.


There were crocuses in flower on every side


The snowdrops have really enjoyed the weather recently and are looking at their very best.

The birds were back but not in great numbers as there was quite a lot of action from the builders this morning.

siskin and chaffinch

Even with plenty of spare space, a siskin can’t resist being rude.

Clouds were gently covering the sky but they didn’t look threatening so, after a quick shower, I went out for a walk to make the most of the unexpected good weather.

I took a familiar route along to the Kilngreen and back round the new path across the Castleholm.  There were old favourites at the Kilngreen….


A ménage a trois in the mallard world.

black headed gull

A passing black headed gull

…but three oyster catchers added a touch of novelty.

oyster catchersThey are striking birds.

oyster catcherWith no oysters to be caught round Langholm, I gather that they eat worms among other things.

I took a few pictures as I walked along .  As usual some lichen caught me eye.

tree lichenI was also taken on by this very complex pattern in an exposed tree root by the path.

tree rootI had seen a robin or two flitting about but none stopped to have their picture taken until I met this one singing in a tree in Mike Tinker’s garden….

robin…when I stopped there to chat to Mike.  He has been poorly and was out testing the air.  He kindly showed me round his garden and I enjoyed his contorted hazel.

contorted hazel

You can just see the female flower among the catkins if you look closely.

He also had a couple of very pretty hellebores.

helleboresWhen I got home, I found that the builders had cut one of the big stones from our old hearth into a suitable size for the new fireplace.

fireplace stoneIt is going away with the other side stone and the lintel to get some specialist cleaning from a firm in Appleby.   Our new stove has arrived, the end wall is ready for rendering and the roof will soon be finished so we are getting more excited by the day.

This particular day got steadily greyer (and warmer) as time went on and after a pedal and a walk in the morning, I idled the afternoon away  It was raining lightly by the time that Mike Tinker came round for a cup of tea as part of his rehabilitation.

The rain didn’t discourage a redpoll from paying us a flying visit.

redpollAfter some delicious home made fish cakes for tea, Mrs Tootlepedal went off to a meeting and I went to our local community choir practice.  There was a good turnout of singers and we worked hard though as far as the tenors went, some more work may will be necessary before we have mastered the pieces.

I could hear oyster catchers calling as I walked home.  They are pretty birds to look at but riverside householders can get very annoyed by their strident cries during the night.

A chaffinch beat the gulls to the position of flying bird of the day.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture is another from Mary Jo in Manitoba.  She was so sympathetic towards Mrs Tootlepedal’s gingerbread problem that she sent me this picture of an absolute disaster in her breadmaker department.  She adds that she couldn’t throw it out out for the birds as it might have killed one if she had hit it.

breadmaker disasterIt was another grey, wet and if anything, even windier day today.  To break the monotony, we had a really heavy hailstorm in the morning…

hail on lawn….and a serious flurry of snow in the afternoon.

Mrs Tootlepedal was not amused to find that the hailstorm co-incided with her shopping trip on her bicycle.  The experience was painful as well as soggy.

The birds were not discouraged though…

busy feeder…and more and more came during the day…

busy feeder…from all sides.

I used the absence of cycling or walking opportunities to put another week of the newspaper index into the database before lunch and then made a rather watery soup.

After the afternoon snow flurry, the sun came out and I guessed that there might be half and hour or so before the next shower so I wrapped up well and scurried round Gaskell’s Walk.  There could not have been a greater contrast to the weather of a few minutes earlier.

WauchopeIt was some degrees above freezing and the snow hadn’t settled at all on the streets though there was just a glimpse of a little lying on the higher hills beyond the town.

snow capped peaksThere was plenty of water running down the Wauchope after the rain and it gurgled away below my path through the wood.

wauchopeBecause of the possibility of another hail or snow shower, I didn’t linger on my way but when it looked as though the sun would see me home, I did stop once or twice to add to my many bridge pictures…

Becks Burn bridge…and my moss collection.

mossI saw some good looking clumps of daffodils poking their heads up beside a mossy wall…

Daffs and moss…and in the sunshine, it felt as though spring was getting really close.

When I got back, I noticed that after a day to check them out, there was at last a demand for stale gingerbread scraps from the jackdaws.

jackdaws.I did find some daffodils which were well and truly out but they were in jug of water on the kitchen counter as Mrs Tootlepedal had purchased a bunch of stems which the warmth of the house had brought into flower.

daffsI put a second week of the newspaper index into the database later in the day and judging by the forecast, will have plenty of time to out another one in tomorrow.

The end wall has now reached the roof level and all that remains is for the roof to be re-tiled to meet the end wall and we will be sealed up again.

end wall

The new window on the ground floor and the roof gap upstairs.

There is a lot of work still to do both for the builders and the joiners with a window frame to put in, floors and the roof to be finished, a fireplace and chimney to be built and all the internal lathe and plaster work to come but we are able now to imagine the work being completed and living in a leak free house.  It is a good feeling.

In the evening, Susan kindly drove me to Carlisle and we enjoyed a good play with our recorder quintet.  We even found some pieces to play which we had never played before. This was an extra treat.

Because of the frequent showers, a flying bird was hard to come by and I only managed to catch one when it was very close to the feeder.

flying chaffinch

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I am breaking with my usual practice of having a single guest picture by having two guest pictures today as I thought that they make an interesting contrast.  They were both taken today by a Mary but they are world’s apart. 

The very efficient snow clearing routine in Brandon came from my correspondent Mary Jo in Manitoba and the beautiful sunshine in Regents Park came from my sister Mary in London.  My thanks to them both.

removal equipment in manitobaQueen Mary's Garden, Regent's ParkWe were somewhere in between the snow and the sunshine here with a miserable wet and windy day that wasn’t much good for anything at all.  It was always grey but sometimes grey without rain and sometimes grey with heavy rain.

My morning was cheered by a visit from Scott, the minister.  We tested some slices of an experimental gingerbread loaf that Mrs Tootlepedal had made and it says a lot for his Christian forbearance that he had a second slice.   Mrs Tootlepedal thought so much of it that I found the remains of it scattered on the lawn for the birds.  The birds thought so much of it that it was still there at the end of the day.  She made a delicious walnut loaf this afternoon.

While I was chatting to Scott, a flash of unusual colour caught my eye (not that I would be rude enough to watch birds out of the window while talking to a guest of course) and I leapt up to record a rare visit to the plum tree of a brambling.

bramblingIt soon came down to the seed feeder.

bramblingI like these colourful winter visitors and I hope to see more.

After Scott left, I walked up to the town to book a visit to the garage for our new second hand car.  I am double checking that there are no secret faults in it though it seems to drive very well.

When I got back, the feeder was playing host to a quartet of siskins.

siskinsThe good timing of my walk up to the town became apparent two minutes later when the skies opened.

siskinsI made the best of this wet weather by putting a week of the newspaper index into the Archive database and then after lunch, I went back up to the town to play trios with Mike and Isabel,  We played a mixture of trios and sonatas with piano and cello accompaniment and found a lot to enjoy though there were moments when we ground to a halt and had to restart.

It was dry when I got home and there was just enough light to have a quick walk round the garden to look for signs of spring.

primulayellowThings are beginning to look promising.

The prettiest flowers of the day were inside the window and not out in the garden.

snowdropsI’ll have to clean that window tomorrow.

The weather turned to rain again and I put another week of the newspaper index into the database.   If the rain keeps up, I will soon catch up with the data miners.

In the evening, my flute pupil Luke came, although he should perhaps have stayed at home as he had a cold.  Nevertheless, he worked hard and played very well.

As I had not done anything very active during the day, I got myself dressed up as a real cyclist after our evening meal and spent just under an hour on my bike to nowhere in the garage.  Looking at the forecast, this rather boring exercise may be repeated over the next few days.

We had an exciting day as far as the end wall went with both joiners and builders on the go and it should not be too long before it has reached the roof.

I just managed to catch a chaffinch in a less grey moment as the flying bird of the day.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture is another from my brother’s tour of five Dutch cities in January.  He took some lovely pictures on his trip and this one shows Haarlem in the mist.

The main canal surrounding Haarlem, in a fogIt was a very interesting but equally, a very uneventful day today.

The first matter of interest was the arrival of large numbers of birds in the garden.  I had to refill the feeder for the first time for ages.  I counted over thirty birds on the feeders or waiting in the plum tree at one time.  It was a pity that the light wasn’t in the mood to make taking pictures fun but it was still fun watching the action.

goldfinch, chaffinch and siskinA flock of goldfinches accounted for most of the birds but there were several siskins and our resident chaffinches too.

goldfinches, siskingoldfinches and chaffinchgoldfinches and chaffinchThere were peaceful moments among the mayhem on the feeder….

goldfinches and siskins…and in the plum tree.

goldfinches and siskinsIt was fun while it lasted but a  sparrowhawk passing through a couple of times and then steadily increasing rain soon put paid to bird watching.

Mrs Tootlepedal came back from her church choir and we had time for the briefest of early lunches before it was time to set off to our Carlisle Choir’s singing day.  The reason for the early start was the presence at the practice of three fine singers who gave us some very useful lessons in warm ups and singing technique.  We spent four and half hours singing and it is a tribute to our tutor that my voice was working better at the end of the session than it had been at the start.

Our musical director is determined to get the best possible sound that he can from an open entry choir like ours and the tuneful and stylish blend of the sopranos and altos as they sang their parts of one of our pieces at the very end of the day shows that he is on the right track.

There had been a threat of snow as we drove down to Carlisle in sleety rain with the temperature at 1°C but when we came to drive home, the temperature had shot up to 6° and although some snow had fallen near Langholm, it didn’t give us any trouble.

The forecast for the coming week consists of one Icelandic depression after another sweeping over the country so moments for both cycling and photography will be at a premium.

It had started to rain before I tried to get a flying bird of the day.

flying chaffinch in rain

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