Archive for Nov, 2017

Today’s guest picture finally reveals Bruce’s horses in all their beauty.  They are the Kelpies at Falkirk  and well worth a visit if you haven’t seen them yet.  They are huge.


Our spell of sunny weather continued and the drop in temperature continued too, with the thermometer struggling to get over 2°C today and a brisk northerly wind making it feel even colder.

I went for a short walk in the morning, wearing several layers of clothing but still feeling a chill if I was out of the direct sunshine.

I was pleased to come out of the woods beside the river and get onto the track…


…along the Murtholm fields.


The light was golden once again but the sun struggles just as much as I do to get up in the morning so we are living in a world of long dark shadows.

Still, some recent tree felling means that I got a much better view of Warbla as I walked along than used to be possible.


The strong sun and dark shadows make taking photos of ‘things’ difficult.


The contrast is too much as the two pictures from and of the Skippers Bridge show.

skippers bridge

The lichen on the bridge parapet was easier.

skippers lichen

skippers lichen

There was plenty to choose from.

I climbed up the wooden steps from Skippers Bridge onto the old railway track and made my way home past an old oak…

oak tree

…and the view from the Round House…

View from Round House

When I got home, I found that our new neighbour Irving had got someone to trim down the top of the holly tree at the end of his garden.

holly tree clipping

It still looks as though there is plenty of room for birds in it.

After lunch, we set off to drive (very carefully) to Lockerbie to catch the train to see Matilda and her parents.

As I was waiting on the platform (the train was a few minutes late as usual), I noticed the clocks on Lockerbie Town Hall.  It is good to have several clocks to help you tell the time but it would be even better, I thought, if they both showed the same time.

holly tree clipping

The train journey was very smooth and comfortable and I took the time to shoot three shots through the window as we travelled.

At the top of Beattock summit, we pass through a perfect forest of windmills….

view from train

I read on the internet that there are over 200 windmills on this stretch  of hills and there are few hills untouched.


A little further on, I saw a small amount of snow on the Tinto Hills.


We arrived safely in Edinburgh and were warmly welcomed by Matilda, who regards flash photography with justified suspicion.

Matilda and Al

However, she borrowed some dice from her father and we enjoyed rolling a couple and counting the total spots shown.  She has promised to teach me the rules for shooting craps soon.

After some more play, Al and Clare and Matilda took Mrs Tootlepedal and me out to a very nice Italian restaurant on Leith Walk and treated us to a splendid joint birthday meal.

Feeling very well fed, Mrs Tootlepedal and I walked off a few calories on the way to the station and caught a very punctual train back to Lockerbie.  As the thermometer was showing 0°C when we got to the car, we took a slightly longer but wider and smoother route home.

I failed to take a flying bird of the day and don’t have anything to put in its place.  Oh the shame.

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Today’s guest picture from Bruce got a little closer to the horse in the field.  There turned out to be two of them.


The forecast was right and we had another sunny day but it was even colder than yesterday and struggled to get above 3°C all day.

Mrs Tootlepedal and I gave up any thoughts of gardening or cycling and turned our thoughts to an expedition.  After mulling over the idea for long enough to have had coffee, watched a couple of birds….


This is the same robin taken seconds apart

dunnock and greenfinch

Dunnock and greenfinch

….made some lentil soup and eaten it for lunch, we finally got organised and set out on a triple target adventure.

Target one was the excellent nature reserve at Eskrigg near Lockerbie.  It has two hides.

We went to this one first.

red squirrel hide Eskrigg

The red squirrels don’t actually hide in the hut but I am sure they would if they could open the door.

We didn’t need to wait for more than a few seconds before they appeared on the scene.

red squirrel

red squirrel

The trouble with red squirrels is that it is impossible to stop taking pictures of them so I left Mrs Tootlepedal in the hide enjoying their antics and walked along to the other hide which is at an old curling pond, now restored as a nature place.

There was a little ice on the pond today but not enough to stop a couple of swans having a swim.

swans eskrigg

I got settled into the hide and hoped for a glimpse of a woodpecker or a nuthatch.  Unfortunately, another photographer was trying to get a shot of a jay and was walking around outside the hide in his search.   This didn’t encourage other birds to come to the feeders.

I saw a plenty of interesting fungi on the trees outside the hide….


…and a blackbird…


…and a great tit and a robin…

great tit and robin

….which I might easily have seen in our own garden.

I looked down the pond for a while.  It was very pretty but had nothing more interesting on it than some mallards.


I didn’t see anything novel on the pond or the bird feeders so when a squirrel turned up at the bird feeder there…

red squirrel

…I took the hint and went back to join Mrs Tootlepedal in the squirrel hide.  There were squirrels on every side and it was a pleasure to sit and watch them.

Some kind person had left a plentiful supply of nuts about and the squirrels were tucking in.

red squirrel


red squirrel

A regular visitor came in and told us that she had been there two days ago and had seen even more squirrels than we saw today but when she had visited yesterday she had found two keen photographers with big lenses there and absolutely not a squirrel to be seen so I guess that we were lucky today.

The light was beginning to fade and we still had two targets to hit so we didn’t stay too long.  We walked out through the woods…

wood eskrigg

….and were soon on the road to Gretna.

It was a perfect evening for seeing the starling murmuration and we got to the spot where we had seen then a couple of weeks ago.  There was already another car there and soon afterwards three more arrived, including a fellow camera club member from Langholm.  One of the newcomers told us that last night she had seen the flock coming down into this tree right in front of us.

tree Gretna

So we were all set, the sky was clear…

sunset Gretna

…with just a few clouds to the south to make it interesting.

clouds gretna

Behind us, a brilliant moon was out….


…so everything was just as it should be….

…except for a complete and baffling absence of any starlings murmuring.  A few tiny flocks passed us going north and that was it.  Not a whisper.

We waited until it seemed too late and then drove north in the hope that the murmuration might be there.  There was not a single bird to be seen anywhere.

We abandoned our second target and turned to the third, the purchase of suitable welly boots for Mrs Tootlepedal at the Gretna Gateway shopping experience.

The experience was good for us as a pair of reasonable priced wellies were acquired but, like the starlings, there was a noticeable absence of other shoppers enjoying the fairy lights.

Gretna gateway

Still, as the great Meatloaf used to sing, “Two out of three ain’t bad” so we drove home fairly cheerfully but wondering where all the starlings had gone to.

In the evening, I went out to a Langholm Sings practice.  This was slightly handicapped by the absence of the accompanist but we got some work done and with one practice still to go, we might just be ready for our concert.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch taking a sideways look at the world.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s picture comes from my friend Bruce who saw a horse in a field across a canal.  We will get closer to it tomorrow.


We had another near freezing but sunny day today and it was most frustrating.  I have hardly done any cycling this month, what with bad weather and a long and irritating cold so I have been hoping to put a mile or two in before December comes.

Thus I spent a lot of today anxiously looking at the thermometer and frozen puddles in the drive, hoping that the thermometer would rise and the puddles melt.

Neither happened and the thermometer stayed stuck at 4°C and the puddle stayed frozen.  I am very aware of being a great deal more fragile than I was ten years ago when 4° would have been an invitation to go out for a pedal and a gentle fall wouldn’t have been too serious.  I have fallen off more than once in ice and snow but time passes and joints and bones are not what they were so I have become risk averse.  99% of a trip might be ice free but that 1%, a shady corner on a damp stretch under the trees, might be just enough to spoil things.

So I had coffee with Sandy, looked at a bird or two…


A greenfinch enjoying the sun


And a robin feeling the cold in the shade

…and then went for a short walk before lunch to give things a chance to warm up.

Pool Corner was very peaceful…

Pool corner

…but the larches on the bank behind it are almost at their very last gasp.

Pool corner

In the absence of leaves, I looked at branches….

bare tree

…and walked up the track onto the lower slopes of Warbla from where I could see a few views for a small amount of climbing.

monument from Warbla

Meikleholm Hill

Castle Hill

Where the sun hadn’t reached, the frost remained and reminded me of why I wasn’t out on my bike.

frozen leaf

If I had a serious mountain bike, winter riding would be more possible but I don’t have one and skinny tyres make ice a threat.

After lunch, I looked hopefully at the thermometer again and then went for another short walk in a rather grumpy state of mind.

The blue flash of a kingfisher, a very rare sighting for me, as I went along the banks of the Esk cheered me up and after crossing the Langholm Bridge, now back to complete calm after the recent rains…

Langholm Bridge

….I walked along the Kilngreen beside the Ewes Water….


…and communed with the ducks.


Mr Grumpy saw me and decamped to the opposite bank of the river.


I too crossed the river.  The low sun shining through the moss on a wall caught my eye…


…and I caught the eye of a sheep.


I was on the same bank as Mr Grumpy now.  He looked ready to flit back to the other side at a moment’s notice so I left him alone and walked on….


…under the trees and into the sun.

tree in low sun

I passed the castle ruins…

Langholm Castle

…and found myself in the shadow of our hills as I walked up the river Esk to the Jubilee Bridge so that the only sunlight was now in the branches of the trees above my head.

sunny branches

The temperature was already dropping when I got home but where the sun had struck the soil in our garden, it had made it soft enough for Mrs Tootlepedal to plant a few more tulips and I spiked some of the middle lawn.

As the light faded, Eric, a fellow member of the Langholm choir tenor section, turned up and we had a useful practice together.  Christmas concerts are looming up and all the practice that we can get in is useful.

The day rather fizzled out after that and in spite of the two walks and the singing practice, I was left with the strong feeling that it had been wasted.  As the next two days are forecast to be sunny but even colder, I fear that any dream of cycling miles in November will have to be abandoned.

There is always the gym…..aaaargh!.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch, caught at a busy moment on the feeder.

flying chaffinch



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Today’s guest picture is another from Wilden Marsh’s Mike Griffiths.  This shows the Church of England parish church of St Andrew in Kingham, Oxfordshire.  It has a 14th-century Perpendicular Gothic west tower with a 15th-century top. The chancel was rebuilt in 1688.

The Church of England parish church of St Andrew has a 14th-century Perpendicular Gothic west tower with a 15th-century top. The chancel was rebuilt in 1688.

It was cold and wet in the morning so I was happy to have Dropscone to come round and brighten my day with scones as we drank our coffee.  He had tried to play golf in the cold weather at the weekend but had found that nine holes was more than enough.  It hadn’t been him that I had photographed on the course on Sunday.

After he left, I had a moment for some bird portraits….




…and then it was time to head for England and a lunch with our friend Sue, the container lady, who lives on the last outcrops of the hills above the Solway Plain.

She has a busy bird feeder outside her kitchen window too…

Sue feeder

..and there was a constant stream of tits, sparrows and nuthatches while we were there.

Her container is well settled in…..

Container and compost

…although getting it into perfect order has taken up so much of her time that compost making in her neat set of bins is behind schedule.

After an excellent chicken stew for lunch, we headed out for a walk.  The forecast had threatened snow but we enjoyed bright sunshine for most of our stroll up the hill to towards Talkin Fell and back down again by way of the River Gelt.

We started with blue sky but with the short days upon us now, we finished as the sun had just set behind the hills.

bare trees

Sue had been at a wildflower class in the morning and had been studying lichens so we took some of the opportunities to stop and look at lichens offered by walls, boulders and trees beside the track.


There was no shortage of examples.

This was a new walk for us and we were unprepared for the glorious views it revealed when we lifted our heads from the lichens and looked around as we went along.

The track started off through woodland….

Talkin Head

…with views of delightful little nooks and crannies….

Talkin Head

…before it let us enjoy the sight of the rich farmland spread out below us.

Talkin Head view

As we got higher up the hill, we could see the hills of the King’s Forest of Geltsdale ahead of us at the northern end of the Pennine chain.

Talkin Head view

Behind us lay the wide expanse of the Solway plain and we could see Criffel, a hill on the Nith Estuary near Dumfries, 40 miles away to the West.

Talkin Head view

We were entertained by raptors floating above the fell (out of camera range), a curious cow in a field….

Talkin head cow

…and a mystery bird in a bush.

bird in bush

We couldn’t identify it with confidence but we wondered if it might be a fieldfare.

On the top of the hill to our left stood an array of tall cairns, not some prehistoric construction but much more modern.  If we had had the time and energy to climb to the summit of Talkin Fell, we could have looked back and seen the Langholm hills in the distance.

Talkin Head

The light, when the sun came out, was fantastic.

Talkin Head

When we got to the end of the track, time was a bit against us so after a last look at some picturesque pines on the horizon….

Talkin head trees

….we left the hilltop for another day and turned back to drop down into the valley of the River Gelt.

We passed a lonely tree…

Talkin head tree

…beside a ruined cottage and then turned into the sun as it was setting…

Talkin head track

…passing the cows on the other side….

Talkin head cow

… and slipped and slithered along the wet track until….Talkin head track

…we had plunged down to the River Gelt and the Hynam Bridge, saying goodbye to the sun for the day as we did so.

Hynam bridge, River Gelt

The walk back to the car took us through some well managed woodland with exciting fungi all around…

gelt wood fungus

…but as the light had gone by this time, a flash was needed to capture this tiny example.

We got safely back to Sue’s where we were regaled with tea with excellent ginger biscuits and interesting conversation.

It was only a three and a half mile walk but in the scale of value for such a walk, it easily scored 11/10 and we will make every effort to go back and walk there again, this time with more daylight available and a picnic in hand.

I had had the forethought to cancel my usual Monday evening flute lesson with Luke so we were able to drive home at leisure, reflecting on a thoroughly enjoyable day out.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch from our own garden.  I am going to take my bird camera with me on my next visit to Sue.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture comes from my Somerset correspondent Venetia.  She had got up early to watch the starlings taking off from her local nature reserve but found that a swan had got up even earlier.

swan at dawn

I got up rather later than I meant to and found that Mrs Tootlepedal was already downstairs.  As it was her birthday, I took the opportunity to give her a present.  With characteristic skill and sensitivity, I had bought exactly the right gift for her, a book of woodcuts that have illustrated the Guardian newspaper’s nature notes over the years.

It is only fair to note that my ability to hit on exactly the present that she wanted may have been assisted by her telling me both the title and the author of the book.  It is the best way.

After breakfast, I made a venison stew for the slow cooker while Mrs Tootlepedal went off to sing in the church choir and then Tony and Marianne, our visitors, kindly gave me a lift up to Whitshiels so that I could start a walk from there while they tried to find an old school friend of Tony’s.

I had to keep my eyes down more than I would have liked on my walk as it was quite icy and slippery underfoot in places but I was able to stop and look about.

I saw some old friends on my way round…

British soldier lichen and tree

A few lonely British soldier lichens on a  gate and a favourite tree.

ewes view

The view up the Ewes valley, topped off by some wispy clouds

Craig windfarm view

The view up the Esk valley showing how low the sun is at this time of year, with dark shadows a permanent feature.

ice art

There was not as much opportunity for arty ice shots as I had hoped.

Ewes view

And the cloud was still sitting on the Ewes Valley hills when I had a second look later on the walk.

Whita tree

The last time that I passed these trees, it was late afternoon.  They looked more cheerful but less dramatic this morning.

Esk and Ewes panorama

The views from the lower slopes of Whita are extensive. (Click to enlarge if you like.)


It may not have been a good year for cycling but it has been a great year for hawthorns.

frozen gate

The gate at the top of the golf course.

frozen puddle

A shot which summarises our recent weather very neatly.  A large puddle, frozen over.

third tee golfers

Hardy golfers peering anxiously into the sun to see where a drive up the third fairway had gone.

View from 1st tee

This was the view they would have had when they started their round on the 1st tee.

Caroline Street in sunshine

And this was the view that I had as I got to the end of my walk.

It was just a short walk as we had visitors but it was most enjoyable.  Cold and sunny but not too windy and firm under foot. Ideal.

When I got home, I made some coffee and then set up the camera at the kitchen window.  Tony tried his hand at catching a flying bird or two with success.

chaffinch and greenfinch Tony

I got too ambitious with a greenfinch close-up and missed the action…

busy feeder

…but when I pulled back a bit, I saw a goldfinch literally bending over backwards to be unwelcoming.


I settled for the quieter shot….


…and found a robin keeping a weather eye out.


After a snack, Tony and Marianne headed back to Edinburgh, aiming to get there while the light was still good as the road conditions might be tricky in places.  It was very kind of them to come down for a double birthday celebration.

And after a light lunch and some hard song practice (both hard practice of songs and practice of hard songs, since you ask), Mrs Tootlepedal and I headed off to Carlisle to have a sing with our Carlisle Community Choir.

The practice paid off but some of the songs are slightly beyond my level of competence and much more practice will be still be needed.

On our way home, as it was a birthday, we stopped and brought some chips from the chip shop to go with the venison stew.  This was an inspired choice as they turned out to be a perfect accompaniment for an excellent stew.  (I had bought a more expensive than usual cut of venison at our producers’ market, another good choice).

Our short spell of chilly dry weather has ended for the time being and rain is pattering on the windows again as I write this in the evening.

The flying bird of the day is a reliable chaffinch.

flying chaffinch




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Today’s guest picture come from Mike Griffiths of Wilden Marsh who found the Avon at Stratford looking very beautiful on a recent chilly morning.


Mrs Tootlepedal woke me up with a merry cry of,  “Come and look at the winter wonderland!”

It definitely was quite wintery when I looked at the garden out of an upstairs window….

snowy garden

…but I felt that the actual amount of snow to be seen on the hills….

Whita in winter

…fell a somewhat short of the official winter wonderland standard.

And although it stayed pretty cold all day, there was no snow to be seen on our hills at all by lunch time.

I might have seen more snow if I had gone for a drive to the north but we had our son Tony and his partner Marianne visiting and they had expressed a wish to go to Carlisle to visit the Christmas Market there so we drove south in brilliant sunshine instead.

The Carlisle Christmas Market was the second mild disappointment of the day, although we did find a stall selling cheese and honey so it wasn’t a complete write off.  We had a cup of coffee and a toasted tea cake in a cafe instead and after some very minor shopping, Mrs Tootlepedal and I headed for home while Tony and Marianne roamed the streets of Carlisle in search of adventure.

Marianne likes lentil soup so I made a pot of soup when I got home and while it was cooking, I looked out of the window.  No hawks today but plenty of birds.


A goldfinch tucks in


A robin makes off

busy feeder

A goldfinch arrives at the top floor of a full feeder.

busy feeder

Another tries the ground floor with no success.


They kept trying….

feeder arguments

….and trying…

feeder fury

…and this led to some fun and games both on high and below.

goldfinch hanging on

The goldfinch at the bottom hung on upside down for quite a time before going off in disgust.

I had a bowl of the soup for my lunch and then Mrs Tootlepedal and I went off to the Parish Church to hear an organ and flute recital in aid of a fund to renovate the church organ.

The recital was give by Ross Luesher, a local lad who became the resident Organ Scholar at Glasgow University and has ended up working for a prestigious firm of organ restorers in  Holland.

He assured us that the organ, built by Henry Willis & Sons in 1893, was in urgent need of restoration but you would not have known it from listening to his skilful and nimble playing.

I was especially delighted that he had brought his partner, Liese Claesen with him as she is a wonderfully expressive flautist and played one of my favourite Handel Sonatas accompanied by Ross on the organ.  (It was the one in F)

Ross Luesher Liese Claesen

As well as playing, Ross told us a bit about the organ and at one point stood on his stool and reached up and removed one of the big pipes above the keyboard.  He then blew on it and produced a fine note to show that it was still working.  A restoration in the 1970s had taken the whole set of visible pipes out of action.  He hoped that they might be reinstated in the forthcoming restoration.

It is interesting that Liese, who was playing what in effect is a single 2ft organ stop could be easily heard playing above a machine with a thousand pipes.  And to me, at least, she was far more musical and lovely to listen than the machine, however delicately it was played by Ross.  Of course in Ross’s solo pieces, the organ was sometimes a lot louder than any flute could be and that is the point I suppose.

Tony and Marianne had come home by the time that we got back.  They had enjoyed some good snacks at the market on a second visit so they were quite happy and I was happy because they had enjoyed my lentil soup too.

We then sat down and watched a very unlikely rugby match in which Australia pressed the self destruct button in a manner which I had come to believe in recent years was the sole copyright of the Scottish Rugby Union.  It is not often that Scotland scores 50 points against a major test playing nation.  In fact it is so rare that in some strange way I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I should have, because it didn’t seem entirely authentic.  There is no satisfying some people.

In the evening, Tony, Marianne, Mrs Tootlepedal and I went out to the Douglas Hotel where we enjoyed a thoroughly good meal and a welcome drink.  That was the second treat of the day.

The flying bird of the day is not the cleanest picture that I took but I like the pattern on a goldfinch’s wings when they are spread out.






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Today’s guest picture comes from my flute pupil Luke’s mother, Sharon.  She drives up past the Gates of Eden to work and stopped to take this fine picture early this morning.

snowy scene from Sharon

I had hoped to see a little snow myself today as we had driven through some on our way home last night but we got up too late and any snow that there might have been had vanished from the hills around the town.

My cold has pretty well disappeared at last but I am not back at full perk yet so I was happy to use the excuse of freezing temperatures to lounge around in the morning, taking the occasional look out of the kitchen window.

A greenfinch looked disgusted to find that it was sunflower hearts yet again in the feeder menu…

Warbla view

…while chaffinches arrived to sample the seeds without complaining.


This one is about to receive a buffet from a much smaller but very determined siskin.

chaffinch and siskin

Towards lunchtime, the sun came out and lit up a robin in the plum tree.


It also made it easy for the sparrowhawk to see the birds on the feeder and so we got a visit from this one.  To save the squeamish from awkwardness, I have photoshopped its prey out.  Lovers of nature red in tooth and claw can see the full picture at the end of the post.


After lunch, I weighed up the delights of a cycle ride at 4°C in a chilly wind as against a walk up a hill with a chance of seeing some snow in the distance and decided to go for the walk up Warbla.

Sadly, there was not a flake of snow to be seen on any of our hills, near or far but I enjoyed the walk anyway.

There were small trees with threatening clouds behind them….

Warbla tree

…and bigger trees with not such threatening clouds….

Warbla tree

…and little trees with berries….

Warbla tree

…and bigger trees with views.

Warbla tree

It was a good day for views and  thanks to being a bit short of puff, I stopped to look at quite a few of them on my way up.  (You can see me in the bottom right of the shot.)

Warbla view

I met no one on my way up the hill but the feeling of being a lonely explorer battling against the elements was slightly diminished by finding a car parked beside the mast at the top of the hill.


Still, the need for access for maintenance to the equipment does keep the track up the hill in good condition so I didn’t mind too much.

And the views from the top on a fine day always make the walk worthwhile.  A reader recently stressed the importance of trying to have interesting skies in landscape pictures and I think that today, I was provided with plenty of good skyscapes.

Warbla view

A little alternation of cloud and sunshine can produce very pleasing effects.

Warbla view

I came back down the rather muddy track and turned off to walk down this delightful short cropped grassy path to join the Wauchope road at the Auld Stane Brig.

Warbla view

The larches at Pool Corner are coming to the end of their run after putting on a very good show again this year.


When I got home, I found Mrs Tootlepedal hard at work in the garden, planting out tulips beside the middle lawn.  This meant displacing some other bulbs which I found a home for near the back fence.  It was rather chilly and the ground was soggy so I may not have made the best job of planting them.  It is a pity that most gardening seems to require bending over and thus suits people like Mrs Tootlepedal with low centres of gravity more than it does me.

The evenings are really drawing in now, with less than a month to go to the winter equinox, so it was a great treat to receive a visit from our older son Tony and his partner Marianne who had come down to help Mrs Tootlepedal and me to celebrate our birthdays.

The pleasure in their company was enhanced by a couple of delicious duck dishes from Marks and Spencers ready meals department which they had brought with them.  These went into the oven with some potatoes from our  garden and we had an excellent meal of roast duck and roast potatoes.  As this was followed by ice cream and peach slices, I take leave to doubt that any millionaire or potentate dined better than us tonight.

After our meal, we sat down to watch an excellent film on DVD which our daughter Annie had given to Mrs Tootlepedal so the day ended well on the credit side of the great ledger of life.

My portrait skills are poor but I am trying to improve so I took this picture of Marianne, Mrs Tootlepedal and Tony.

Marianne, Mrs Tootlepedal and Tony.

I can see that getting three noses equally spaced, on the same line and all at the same angle will require some person management skills.  I will try again.

Warning: Squeamish readers should look away now.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch….


…and a non flying bird is the unfortunate goldfinch that the sparrowhawk snared with its talons this morning.

sparrowhawk with prey



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