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Archive for March, 2016

Today’s guest picture is another from Fiona’s visit to the Washington Wildlife Park.   It’s a striking bird, I think you’ll agree.

lego bird

March, as it should, went out like a lamb and we enjoyed a sunny and calm day from start to finish.

I had a busy morning so it was just as well that I wasn’t in need of any extra cycling miles as it would have been a pity to miss such a good cycling day if I had needed some distance.  As it was, Mrs Tootlepedal and I went up to fill the Moorland feeders after breakfast.  This is usually Sandy’s job on a Thursday but he is still hors de combat so we filled in for him and were pleased to do it on such a fine morning.

The usual suspects were grateful for the bird food…

chaffinch and woodpecker

A near chaffinch and a distant woodpecker

…but I was pleased to catch a glimpse of a wren as well.

wren

Mrs Tootlepedal scanned the skies for hen harriers while I watched the small birds but she hadn’t seen any by the time we left for home.

We saw a jackdaw when we got in.  It was collecting a stout twig for a nest but it dropped it just before I took its picture.  This may account for its wistful air.

jackdaw

We also met our neighbour  Gavin, back from America.  He arrived in perfect time for a cup of coffee and one of Dropscone’s  fabled scones.  Dropscone himself had brought the scones round and we enjoyed listening to a mixture of foreign travel and golfing tales as Dropscone had played his first full eighteen hole round of golf since his accident a couple of days ago.

A passing greenfinch listened with close attention.

greeenfinch

When the coffee drinkers went, Mrs Tootlepedal and I went up to the High Street to collect the Camera Club pictures from the Moorland Festival exhibition and then returned to to the garden.

It was looking good in the sunshine.

crocuses

The bees were enjoying the crocuses too.

bees

Mrs Tootlepedal has been very busy recently with a big project.  She has been digging things up, shifting piles of stones and heaving tree stumps out of the ground…

stones and tree stumps

…and planting box hedge plants to remodel the space at the back fence.  The old fence will go and a new hedge and grassy bank will soon take shape.

Back fence

I did some gardening too but on a more modest scale…

strawberry bed

…as I weeded half the strawberry bed….with the emphasis on weediness.  I leave the heavy work to Mrs Tootlepedal.  I pruned the gooseberry bush too just to show willing.

In spite of the weather tempting me to go out, I put another week of the newspaper index into the Archive Group database after lunch and only then did I go out for a walk.

My target was Castle Hill to the north of the town and I was hoping for some good views.

I passed Mr Grumpy on the Kilngreen on my way.  He wasn’t going to step aside for anyone.

heron

The path up the hill was reasonably dry but it has been much trampled by cattle so it was hard going.  Still, the joy of our local hills is that you don’t have to go very far to get a good view.

View from Castle Hill

The sweeping curve of the Esk valley lies to the north west

Langholm

The town lies to the south

And my zoom lens can pick out the Kilngreen and the town bridge.  Mr Grumpy can’t be seen though.

Kilngreen and town bridge

A tempting ridge leads on to Potholm Hill…

Potholm Hill

…but a shortage of time and some gloomier weather up the valley…

Esk valley

…persuaded me that a quick route home might be the best thing.

I walked back down to the Castleholm through the woods…

woods

…enjoying some birch polypores…

birch polypores

…and a fine pine tree..

pine tree

…before waiting for a while to see if I could spot a nuthatch or two near the Jubilee Bridge.  I could but they were not in a helpful mood when it came to posing and this was the best that I could do.

nuthatch

They have a nest here though so I should be able to get better pictures next month.

It is not a long walk to the top of Castle Hill and back but it took me a long time and I just had time to look through the pictures and eat a few fish cakes for tea before Susan came to pick me up to go to Carlisle to play with our recorder group.

We had an enjoyable play with a mixture of ancient and modern pieces and this was followed by a cup of tea with some really excellent biscuits so the day ended on a high note.

The flying bird of the day is a black headed gull, spotted on the Kilngreen during my afternoon walk.

black headaed gull

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Today’s guest picture comes from a visit by my Newcastle correspondent to the Washington Wildfowl Centre (the real Washington, not the one in America).  It was ideal as one of her children is a wildlife fan and the other likes Lego.  Win, win.

Washington wildlife centre

I am trying to make inroads into my newspaper index backlog by making sure that I put a week into the database before I am allowed out on my bike.  I managed to put a week in this morning and then make bread and go for a routine visit to the health centre before making some vegetable soup for lunch so there wasn’t much time for pedalling…or looking out of the window.

goldfinches

A sober minded pair of goldfinches taking things quietly.

It wasn’t that there weren’t a lot of birds about….

plum tree chaffinches

…(I counted 32 in this shot (including our brambling) and it was like this for most of the day) it was just that I didn’t have time.

I finally got the bike going after lunch.  The forecast had suggested that there might be some heavy showers about so I was very flexible in my route planning.  This was just as well because there were some very black looking clouds about when I got 10 miles out of the town.

gloomy weather from Gair

The advantage of cycling over walking in this sort of weather is that you may have the legs to outrun or dodge some nasty looking weather so after a quick stop to admire a gorse bush…

gorse

…I picked a route that looked to pass between a couple of the least aggressive looking rain showers.  It worked out well because after a fifteen minute splash through rain, I came out on the other side into first a light drizzle and then some pleasant sunshine.

I kept a weather eye out for any more threatening formations and picked a route that got me home dry.  It wasn’t always a certainty…

View from Corrie's Mill

Both shots taken from the same spot. I had come from the blue sky and was heading towards the black clouds.

…but some careful zigzagging brought me out above the Wauchope valley with four miles to get home in beautiful sunshine.

Wauchope valley view

I even had time to stop and admire some wild flowers in the verge.

celandine

I was pretty pleased with my navigation as I had expected a thoroughgoing soaking more than once on the way round but I was even more pleased to find that the 35 miles had taken me up to exactly 500 miles for the month.  I haven’t managed to hit this magic figure since September last year and indeed only managed it that once in the whole of 2015.  Perhaps this is an augury that we are in for a better year of weather in 2106.  I hope so.

Feeling that the post would be a bit colourless, I popped out into the garden to take a couple of flower pictures before tea just to brighten things up a bit.

grape hyacinth

primula

I had time for a shower and a quick meal and then we went off to a practice for our local choir, Langholm Sings.

We were delighted to welcome two new members to the choir and I was particularly pleased as one of them was a tenor with a nice voice who can read music.  Such people are very scarce.

We had a useful practice and got through a power of work so that rounded of a busy day very well.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.

flying chaffinch

An update on my son Alistair’s health:  He went to the doctor who diagnosed (this is the technical term) ‘gunk’ in the bottom of his lungs and gave him some big pills. The medicine is working and he is feeling quite a bit better.  He very much appreciates the kind thoughts that have winged his way across the ether.

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Today’s guest picture comes from a flying visit to York by my brother.  He felt that the York Art Gallery is built very much in the style of a railway station.  This is probably appropriate for the city which is the home of the National Railway Museum.

York Art Gallery

Sandy is recovering slowly from his operation but is not able to walk far or drive yet so I started the day by giving him a lift to the health centre and we followed that up by a restorative cup of coffee and a hot cross bun.

We were visited by our lone brambling while we sipped and chatted.

brambling

When I had taken Sandy home, I had a walk round the garden.  The continuing low temperatures (there was ice on the car windscreen when I went to fetch Sandy) are not doing anything for the spring growth but the daffodils are battling bravely…

daffodils

…and other plants are doing the best that they can.

chinodoxa and crocuses

More chinodoxa are coming and many crocuses are hanging on well past their sell by date..

I stopped wandering around and sat down to put a week and a half of the newspaper index into the Archive Group database.  The edition recorded the founding of the Langholm Golf Club and for the first time golf clubs were advertised for sale in the town. It is sobering to think that otherwise sound people have been wasting time on the golf course ever since.

After lunch, I took a moment to notice a busy group of siskins…

siskins

…before getting ready to go for a cycle ride.  I was just taking the fairly speedy bike out of the garage when a heavy shower and a blustery burst of wind made me put it back in again.  I retired to grapple with a tricky crossword until he rain stopped.

It wasn’t long before I was on my way but with dark clouds looming and a brisk wind blowing, I settled for three sheltered seven mile laps of my ‘outdoor gym’ up to Wauchope Schoolhouse and back.  I nearly settled for just one as it rained for a lot of the first lap but it stopped before too long  and the sun came out for the second two laps.

After a cup of tea and a slice of sour dough bread and raspberry jam with Mrs Tootlepedal, who had been hard at work in the garden, I set out for a quick walk along the river.

A pair of oyster catchers were in the same place as before, one having a bath and one keeping a look out.

oyster catchers

The look out was up to the job and as I tried to creep up on them, they tiptoed delicately away.

oyster catchers

I walked on over the bridge and onto the Kilngreen, where an indignant sparrow gave me a very hard stare for invading his space.

sparrow

A few yards away, a pied wagtail was enjoying the evening sunshine on a rock beside the river.

wagtail

I was hoping to see a dipper but I had to make do with another pair of oyster catchers…

oyster catchers

…unless it was the same pair again and they had flown up river and got ahead of me.  This lot flew past in close formation when I came near them.

oyster catchers

The evening was the best part of the day by far and I paused on the sawmill bridge to look back down river…

Langholm Bridge

…and then took the new path round the castle to the Jubilee Bridge.  There were various pine cones to be seen…

pine cones

…and of course various pine trees too.

pine trees

It was no hardship at all to be strolling along the path.

New path

After crossing the Jubilee Bridge, I noticed a fallen tree and was struck by the fact that it was still very much alive in spite of being horizontal.

fallen tree

I had a closer look at the buds.

fallen tree

If I had fallen over, I might have got discouraged but this tree was looking very perky.

The spells of sunshine and showers have been very disconcerting for a committed meteorological moaner like myself.  Just as I am working up a really good rant about the wind and the rain, the sun comes out and I get a lovely walk.  The cool variable weather is set to continue so I suppose I must learn to be grateful for the good moments and ignore the bad.  It is certainly a lot better than the continual wind and rain of the winter months.

The flying bird of the day is a chubby chaffinch who looks as though he has been visiting the feeder a lot recently.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture shows a very striking bald eagle which Fiona, my Newcastle correspondent met.  I expect that she had her children with her too.

Bald eagle

Like yesterday, it was a day of sunshine and showers again today which made planning a bit of a lottery.

I was busy in the morning making sour dough bread and slow cooked beef stew, followed by a visit for coffee from Dropscone.   In a mentally dislocating manner, he had brought Friday treacle scones with him although it was Monday.  They tasted just as good though.

The frequent light showers interrupted my time spent staring out of the window…

goldfinch in rain

A goldfinch battles through the rain

…but didn’t discourage the birds from coming  to the feeder….

siskins

A full house of siskins

…although several visits by the sparrowhawk during the day did discourage them.

sparrowhawk

It took a dim view of me taking its portrait.

The birds return remarkably quickly after the hawk has gone.

We are running an equal opportunities feeder here.

chaffinches

Male and female chaffinches are equally welcome.

In between showers, I wandered round the garden.  The ripples of spring are apparent.

primula and euphorbia

Signs of progress from primula and euphorbia

hyacinth and scilla

But no more movement from grape hyacinth and scilla

However, there is definite progress on the frog front.  The adults have gone but the tadpoles are showing wriggly signs of life.

tadpoles

There are daffodils on all sides and they should be in their full glory soon.

daffodils

The primulas are working hard…

primulas

…and the prize goes to this bunch which Mrs Tootlepedal transplanted recently and which are obviously happy in their new home.

primulas

My back is rather sore at the moment, probably because of the exercises that I am doing to help my hip so I am going to give up the hip exercises for a while and see if things improve.  It will be rather annoying if I can’t do the hip exercises as they have been very good value.

The sore back made me choose a cycle ride after lunch rather than a walk.  Dr Velo is very good on back pain and not only makes it go away while you are cycling but also lessens it after you have stopped.

I tried to find a moment when the sun was shining and it wasn’t raining and I was largely successful as I was only rained only once and for a very short time at that.  I couldn’t do anything about a brisk wind though and struggled out for ten miles at just under 10 miles and hour into the wind and floated back at 17 mph with it behind me, whistling popular airs as I went along.

Because of the wind, I was happy to stop for a photo or two on the way out.

I went look for an alder tree to see if I could see a male catkin and a female flower.  The catkin was easy enough but the female flower needed a calmer day and a steadier hand.

alder

I noticed a very colourful rock on a wall and wondered if it had been painted.  It had….but by nature not man.

Bigholms wall

I thought that it was worth a closer look.

lichen

The pattern of sunshine and showers continued and as I was sitting at the computer sifting through the day’s pictures after the pedal, I heard the rain and saw the sun.   That meant one thing and I rushed upstairs.

rainbow

I needed a wider angle lens to catch the whole bow.

I moved along and saw the end coming right down to the ground.  Someone in Caroline Street must be the happy owner of a pot of gold.

rainbow

I would have liked the picture better without the wires across the middle.  Photoshop obliged.

rainbow

That’s better.

In the evening, I went across to Lockerbie to collect Mrs Tootlepedal from the station there.  Once again sunshine and showers came with me and the drive was a visual treat and a pothole nightmare at the same time.

Coming back with Mrs Tootlepedal, the rain stayed off and with the sun now behind us, I could see the potholes earlier so I had more time to enjoy the light, at first golden and then pink as the sun set.

The stew turned out well, the bread less so but as I have Mrs Tootlepedal back home, nothing can mar my sense of contentment.

The flying bird of the day is that persistent sparrowhawk, making off with empty claws, (not a brilliant picture but a welcome change from the incessant chaffinches).

flying sparrowhawk

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The guest picture of the day is a picture taken by my daughter-in-law Clare of her daughter and our granddaughter Matilda getting in some training for the Grand National of 2036.

Matilda

Since it was a holiday weekend, Mrs Tootlepedal had expressed a wish for an outing and  she got her wish in an unexpected way.  We were just sitting down for breakfast when our younger son rang up to say that he was so poorly that a visit from grandparents to entertain Matilda would be greatly appreciated.

We needed no second bidding and after a look at a pigeon…

pigeon

…and a survey of two new flowers…

pulmonaria and grape hyacinth

Pulmonaria and grape hyacinth, neither fully out but both trying hard.

…we set off to drive to Edinburgh.  The forecast of sunshine and showers was fully realised and we had some beautiful views from time to time and drove under more rainbows than we would usually see in a month.

When we got to the house, we met Matilda and Clare on the doorstep.  As we didn’t wish to add ourselves to those suffering from the winter vomiting virus, we left Alistair to his lonely suffering and went off shopping for lunch.  By a fortunate co-incidence, Clare’s sister, who lives not far away, was on holiday and had kindly offered us the use of her house as a refuge so we went there for the rest of the day.

We had lunch and waited for a shower of rain to pass over which it duly did.

We were in Leith, the port of Edinburgh, and after Matilda had completed a few pages of her novel…

Matilda

…and tried out unsuccessfully for the role of Easter bunny…

matilda easter

…Mrs Tootlepedal and I took her for a walk down to the dock side.  Mrs Tootlepedal did the pushchair pushing, Matilda did the snoozing and I did some snapping as we went.

We crossed Leith Links and there was no doubt that the sun was shining on Leith this afternoon.

Leith Links

Our walk took us past some imposing buildings and it was obvious that you were nobody in Leith architectural circles if you didn’t have a cupola or a clock tower or both.

Leith building

Leith building

Leith building

Leith building

Of all the clocks we saw, only one clock showed the correct time.  It was on a façade which at first sight had two clocks.

Leith building

…but closer examination showed that the face on the right was a record of wind direction.  I have never seen something like this before.  Being in a seaport, it is probably quite natural though that the wind direction should be thought important.

There were some interesting things to be seen on the sides of buildings too.

leith

The frieze on the left apparently celebrates child labour and the coat of arms on the right is of a Masonic Lodge.

As we approached the harbour, we saw signs of old and new together.

Leith docks

The docks were looking splendid in the sunshine.

Leith docks

And I admired the no nonsense approach to naming buildings there…

Leith docks

…as well as the very big pieces of kit that were dotted about.

There were some odd looking boats to be seen…

Leith docks

This one seemed to have a heliport on its nose.

…but we couldn’t see the most famous boat there as the Royal Yacht Britannia was cordoned off behind security gates.

There have been a lot of efforts to refurbish the land round the docks as the import trade has dropped off over the years.  The Scottish Parliament’s civil service beaver away in these nice new offices….

Scottish executive

And if you peer through the girders of the bridge over the mouth of the Water of Leith, you can see some smart housing in the background.

leith docks

The docks and harbour  themselves are very impressive.

leith docks

We pushed Matilda three and a half miles and there was so much interest on the way that we could have spent all day looking around.

We crossed the Water of Leith higher upstream on our way home.

Water of Leith

It really was a lovely day for a walk.

When we got back, we had tea and then the ladies, old and young, risked visiting the house of the sick and I drove back home, leaving Mrs Tootlepedal to stay the night at Clare’s sister’s house and be helpful again tomorrow.   The news from the invalid was that he might be a little better but he wasn’t certain about that.  As anyone who has had the winter vomiting virus will know, it is no laughing matter at all.

I got home safely and will arrange to collect Mrs Tootlepedal tomorrow or the next day.

As you can imagine, flying birds were not easy to come by so a floating bird will have to do for today.

leith swan

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Today’s guest picture is another from my ex colleague of her sister’s visit to Iceland.  It is a place I visited in 1963 but only for an hour and a half and at night so I may have missed sights such as these.

Iceland

After a very passable start to March, our weather reverted to type today with strong winds and persistent rain.  This was a relief in some ways as the unusually good recent spell had been making people nervous.   At last we can get back to our national pastime of complaining about the weather again.

I didn’t have any great plans anyway as I was due to go and collect Sandy from hospital after his hernia operation.  He rang me up and we agreed a time.  I was nice and prompt and he was dressed and ready to go.  All we had to do was to wait for his medicines to come up from the pharmacy.

We waited.

We went downstairs to have a cup of coffee and a slice of cake….and waited.

In the end, I went off for a walk round the hospital grounds and Sandy kindly did the waiting for both of us.

It wasn’t raining in Carlisle so I enjoyed my stroll.  There were bedding plants to enjoy…

Carlisle Hospital

….and large clumps of daffs…

Carlisle Hospital

…and a walk past the old hospital building.  There is nothing like a Greek temple to make you feel better.

Carlisle Hospital

My walk was perfectly timed as the medicines arrived at the same time as I did.

This is a note to local users of the hospital who are always complaining about the lack of parking: if you want to get parked, be there on Easter Saturday.  There was only one car in the whole of the lower car park!

As soon as Sandy got into the car and we headed for home, it started to rain and it didn’t stop.  Not the best welcome home for an invalid.  He is not at his peak and has to rest and not drive for a while so a spell of bad weather may be just the thing to persuade him that staying indoors is a good scheme.

It certainly kept me indoors for the rest of the day.  Whether it was the damp weather or old age, I felt pretty tired so I wasn’t unhappy to do nothing.  I did look out of the window once.  The rain hadn’t put the birds off.

goldfinch

A soggy goldfinch looked back at me.

There was plenty of action during the few moments that I was watching…

busy feeder

busy feeder

busy feeder

…but not much light.

We are promised more wind and rain for tomorrow so pictures of spring may be put on hold for a while.

A chaffinch was the only half  quarter decent flying bird I could get today.

flying chaffinch

 

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Today’s guest picture shows Scarborough Bay where my brother was enjoying enough sun to bask  (but not enough to swim).

Scarborough

I had carefully studied the weather forecast for today and it suggested that if I rose early, ate my breakfast promptly and got out on the bike in good time, I would enjoy pleasant sunshine and light winds…and then when I had gone twenty miles to the west, I would be able to turn for home and have a strengthening wind behind me for the trip home.

It sounded too good to be true.

These plans are easy to make and easy to break but for once, I actually followed this one to the letter.  The morning sunshine made the old gravel pits at Longtown fairly sparkle.

Longtown

The road at Gretna was lined with celandine.

celandine

And when the time came to change direction at Annan, the wind duly strengthened and blew me home under the little railway viaduct at Kirtlebridge.

kirtlebridge viaduct

Although the traffic was light and I hardly saw a lorry all day, the back roads were busy with tractors making the most of the good weather.  I saw my first rolled field at Eaglesfield, always a good sign of spring.

rolled field

Altogether it was a very good ride and the 45 miles had the added benefit of taking me over 400 miles for the month.  This is a psychological boost with a few days still to go.

Those interested can find more details of the outing by clicking on the map below.

garmin 25 Mar 2016

When I got home, I found that Mrs Tootlepedal was also making good use of the weather and had spent the morning in the garden on a major tidying and re-organising mission in the bed at the end of the drive.  She is going to plant it with flowers for cutting for the house this year.

I did my bit by digging out the last of the old kitchen compost and distributing it on various beds in the vegetable garden.

The birds were as busy as Mrs Tootlepedal.

busy feeder

I had a look round for some flowers and found some old…

hellebore and crocus

…and some new.

daffodil

There are a lot of other flowers almost out so I hope to get some more photographic excitement the next time we see the sun.

Leaving Mrs Tootlepedal to her toiling, I went for a short walk in the hope of seeing some of the riverside birds.

Before I saw any birds, my eye was taken by a sprig of delightful blossom beside the river.

cherry blossom

I didn’t need to go very far before I saw a pair of oyster catchers on the stones beside the Esk.

Oyster catchers

For once, they didn’t scamper off and this time they let me get quite close.

Oyster catcher

I like the subtle contrast in colours between the legs, the beak and the beady eye.

On the other side of the town bridge, a wagtail was wagging its tail on a rock in the Ewes.

pied wagtail

As I was snapping away at the wagtail, a pair of dippers flew past me but they were gone before I could turn round.

I shot a duck by way of consolation.

mallard

I continued my walk onto the Castleholm.   There was lots to look at.

moss and heather

hazel and bramble

I crossed the Castleholm and walked up one side of the river, over the Duchess Bridge and back down the other side.

Esk paths

It was a lovely spring day as you can see.

Mrs Tootlepedal was still slaving away when I got back and she might have been there still had not Dropscone arrived in the hope of a cup of tea and bearing a very competitively priced turnip which he had bought this morning as a gift for the household.  He is a thoughtful chap.

During the day, I had rung up Sandy to find out how he was and received some disappointing news.  He had been all ready to leave hospital but as he got ready to go, he was attacked by such a burst of pain that the doctors out him back to bed again.  I am going down to fetch him home tomorrow if all goes well.

Talking of medical matters, my younger son thinks that I ought to have mentioned that he has been laid low by a terrible cold and has been quite poorly.  I make up for that omission now. Aaah.

In spite of the sunshine, the frogs seem to have deserted the pond for the moment and this was the only one I saw all day.

frog

The frog spawn seems to be developing well though and I hope to have tadpole shots before too long.

For some reason both Mrs Tootlepedal and I felt a little tired after tea and we spent the evening sitting very quietly and  doing nothing.

The flying bird of the day is the two obliging oyster catchers.

flying oyster catchers

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