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Archive for Mar, 2018

Today’s guest picture comes from our friend Bruce who managed to be on the platform at Lockerbie Station when an excursion train drawn by no less then three locomotives (two steam and a diesel)  went through.  Good skills.

steam train

The lyrics of the song Autumn Leaves contain the lines:

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song

…and today in the absence of Mrs Tootlepedal and in spite of it being nowhere near autumn (and the day actually getting two minutes longer), it felt very wintery here indeed, with a cold and strong wind making life outdoors unpleasant.

I had to go up to the Moorland Project bird feeders to act as a fill-in feeder filler for Gavin, who is wisely sunning himself in Spain, and there was a little added drizzle while I was there to make sure I got on with the job at speed.

I did take a seat in the hide, having put a little seed on a tree stump very close to the window,  The seed bore fruit in a manner of speaking…

chaffinch

…and I got some good close-ups with my new zoom lens.

siskin

I was surprised to see so many birds about as there really was a fierce wind blowing and I can’t really see how birds weighing only a few grams can fly through conditions like that.  They must be very aerodynamic and/or have a great power to weight ratio.

The wind was certainly ruffling a few feathers.

siskin

The stump was attractive to both chaffinches and siskins but my big lens was too big to get them both in at the same time so I had to turn to the Lumix, which I luckily had in my pocket, to show this scene of peaceful co-existence.

siskin and chaffinch

A little further away, a great tit enjoyed the peanuts.

great tit

More bird watchers arrived and I was quite pleased to use this as an excuse to go home as even in the protection of the hide, it was a very cold morning to be sitting about.

Luckily, I had an excellent and tricky crossword to pass the time when I got home and that took me up to lunchtime, with a short break for bird watching through the kitchen window.

I was further away from the birds here.

chaffinch

…and there wasn’t the same peaceful co-existence either.

chaffinch

I was feeling a little tired so I was quite happy to use the weather as an excuse to stay indoors for most of the day but I did go out after lunch to attend a short organ recital given by Henry, our church organist and choir leader.

henry at organ

Henry putting away his music at the end of the recital while his page turner looks on.

It included a piece by Messiaen which I wasn’t expecting to enjoy much but which turned out to be very interesting.

The recital was in aid of the organ restoration fund and it had drawn a small but appreciative audience.  As the bill for the restoration is over £150,000, there is quite a bit of fund raising still to go.

When I got back, the sun was out so in spite of it still being very chilly, I did a little preparatory work on one of the new raised beds and it is now roughly in position.

raised bed

It is shorter and narrower than the old beds.  This will make it easier for the gardener to get access to the whole bed without treading on the soil or tripping over in the paths between the beds.

I took a picture of a daffodil just to cheer myself up as nothing new had come out in the garden…

daffodil

…and then I went in to get warm again.

The flying bird of the day is a garden chaffinch.

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Today’s guest picture comes from Dropscone’s recent holiday trip to Mablethorpe.  He was gratified to find that they had erected a fine carving of him in honour of his arrival.  (He doesn’t usually wear the crown when he comes for coffee.)

mablethorpe

The forecast had been for snow, rain and strong winds so we were pleased (but not totally surprised) to find the sun shining brightly when we got up.  Even with just a light breeze, it was pretty cold though.

The weather made a drive to Carlisle pleasant enough except that it was for the purpose of putting Mrs Tootlepedal on a train to London.  She is going to visit her mother for a while and she will be sorely missed here.

I combined  my taxi work with a little shopping and got back to Langholm in time for lunch.

Then I combined making a cheese toastie with looking out of the window.

It was a mainly chaffinch day today…

chaffinch

…though a goldfinch turned up and tested out the fat balls which I have recently added to the bird feeding supplies.

goldfinch

It didn’t stop.

There was plenty of chaffinch action….

chaffinches

…though the little blighters would persist in being just off the edge of the frame.

_DSC2693

Every now and again, one did hit the centre of the viewfinder…

_DSC2691

….and possibly another chaffinch half a second later.

After lunch, I cast a speculative eye on the weather and thought that I might risk the 40% chance of rain offered by the forecast and do a brief five miles up and five miles back along the Wauchope road.

It started to drizzle almost as soon as I had set out but I persevered in the hope that it would stop.  Then it started to rain quite hard but once again I persevered in the hope that it would stop.  After I had done three soggy miles, it did stop. The sun came out.

I looked behind me….

rain cloud over Wauchope

…and decided not to go back the way that I had come but to take a wide circle round to the right under that blue sky in the hope of dodging the black cloud.

This turned out to be a very wise decision and I enjoyed a rain free ten miles back to Langholm.

There were quite a few threatening clouds about so I pressed on but after they all passed me to the north, I felt confident enough to stop for a photo opportunity at Irvine House…

Irvine House bridge

…just to show what a nice day it was.

I looked at the wall beside the road.

lichen

Half a mile further on, I looked back across the Esk valley…

view of Eskdale

I made one last stop when I found a small bunch of coltsfoot beside the main road.

coltsfoot

My timing was good because not long after I had got home, another heavy shower drove me out of the garden.

Before the rain came, I had had time to notice the first chionodoxa of spring….

chionodoxa

…and then the second, third and fourth ones too.

P1080538

I checked on the frog spawn in the pond and in spite of some frosty mornings, it looks as though there is a strong possibility of tadpoles surviving.

tadpoles

Time will tell.

A moment of sunshine tempted an unwelcome visitor to take a nap on a flower bed.

cat

I wouldn’t mind if it didn’t keep trying to catch the birds at the feeder.

Between cats and sparrowhawks in the garden and pesticides in the fields, little birds have a hard time.

I started work on getting the new raised beds into place and in between showers  this afternoon, I made some progress.

Having received some excellent pizza making tuition from my son, I made one of my own for my tea.

pizza

It was not quite up to his standard but it was quite tasty.

In the evening, Mike and Alison came round and Alison and I played some music while Mike sipped an exotic beer and watched Gardener’s World on the telly.  This was their first visit for some weeks as they have been in New Zealand visiting family and it was good to get back to playing again even though I was rather rusty.

The flying bird of the day is one of the many chaffinches.  There was no other choice today.

flying chaffinch

 

 

 

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Today’s guest picture is another form Irving’s Highland fishing trip.  As well as an old bridge, he caught a new one too.

oykel bridge

After some days which have had hints of spring about them, we had a return to cold weather today.  As the sky was blue and the sun was out, this was a bit of a disappointment and I had to waste quite a lot of the glorious sunshine while I waited for the temperature to get up to a measly 4°C before I could go out for a quick pedal.

I managed 14 miles and this happily just took me just over the target distance of 350 miles for a calendar month.  I am still well behind my annual target but at least March didn’t make things worse.  I have cycled 200 miles on the slow bike since the demise of the fairly speedy bike and this is a tribute to the surprisingly good ride provided by the solid back tyre even on our bumpy roads.

All the same, I am looking forward to the new bike.

In spite of the chill, it was a lovely day for a pedal…

Arrisgill Burn

…but I couldn’t stop often as I was pushed for time.  I was looking out for alder catkins but it looks like a bad year for them and they were rather sparse.   These ones look healthy enough but they were quite lonely.

alder catkin

I made the most of the catkin stop by looking across the road at the ruined cottage.

blochburnfoot cottage

I have been told that it is home to a barn owl family and is being left undisturbed for that reason.

And I always like to look at a wall while I am in pause mode.

lichen on wall

I got home in time for lunch and a quick look at the birds….

goldfinches and siskins

Siskins and goldfinches in harmony today

chaffinches at feeder

Chaffinches coming and going

….but soon it was time to go out again, this time by car to Lockerbie Station to catch the train to Edinburgh for our weekly visit to Matilda and her parents.

The visit went well and included a trip to the park (well wrapped up) where we played football, hide and seek and some of us enjoyed a vigorous go on the swings.

matilda

“Push harder, Granny”

matilda

“Wayhayeeeeee”

Once again we had a delicious meal before catching the train home and the only fly in the ointment was overtaking the gritting lorry just before we got back to Langholm.  There is a hint of snow in the forecast for tomorrow morning.

I hope that it is only a hint as I have got to take Mrs Tootlepedal to Carlisle tomorrow to catch another train.  We have had quite enough winter this year without getting any more at this late date.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.

flying chaffinch

 

 

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Today’s guest picture comes from Irving who has been fishing in the Highlands.  He doesn’t tell me if he caught any fish but at least he made this very nice capture of the old bridge over the River Oykel.

oykel bridge

I had a varied day today including cycling, walking and singing and among the skills required was an ability to work out when it was going to rain and then to avoid being caught out when it had started.

It looked as though a morning bike ride would be best so I set off to go round my familiar Canonbie twenty mile route while hoping for the best.  It was not warm at about 6°C and a brisk north westerly wind made it feel cooler still but I was well wrapped up and enjoyed the ride, especially the bit that was downhill with the wind behind.

While I was at the highest point of the circuit, I remembered that my neighbour Liz had seen a ditch full of frog spawn on the hill while she was on one of her recent morning walks so I stopped to look at a water filled ditch beside the road and found that this too was filled with frog spawn.

frogs spawn

Sadly for the prospect of tadpoles, it looked as though the morning frosts may have been too harsh but there were certainly a lot of possibilities as the ditch was full of spawn for about twenty yards.

I didn’t stop again until my legs called for a break at Irvine House.  Cycling downhill and downwind may be fun but the reverse is hard work.

I had time to admire the walls on both sides of the road while I got my breath back.

mossmoss

Once I got home, I wasn’t surprised to find Mrs Tootlepedal hard at work on her new bench area project and after a quick look at some cheerful flowers…

bright flowers

…I made a record of the work in progress.

new bench

Over lunch, I had a look for some bird action but there wasn’t a lot going on and this blackbird was the only good shot that I had.

blackbird

Rain showers came and went and then it seemed dry enough to go out so Mrs Tootlepedal went back to the bench project and I took a little walk to look for riverside birds.

Almost as soon as I had set out, the clouds thickened and light rain appeared as if by magic so although I could see the welcome sight of the first daffodils along the river bank…

daffs by Esk

…the fidgety ducks, gulls and oyster catchers didn’t make good subjects and I had to look for something that was closer and standing still.  Regular readers will know that I find it hard to walk past a wall.

spleenwort

moss

I walked up to the Lodge and was impressed as I always am by this fine hedge.

Robbie's hedge

 

The rain had stopped but it was still cloudy although there was some sun catching a hill over there…

sun on Clark Fell

…and catching a branch down there…

mossy branch

…but not where I was walking.

The path along the river to the north looked deceptively inviting with the promise of sunshine…

Pheasant hatchery path

…but I went the other way into the clouds because I was on a mission to look for these….

hazel catkin

…and having found them to look for these too.

hazel flower

This is a female hazel flower and it is tiny so I was pleased to see not one but two…

hazel flower

…but these were the only two that I could find.  There are very few catkins at the moment so maybe there won’t be many flowers this year either.

It soon started raining again and I found a damp blackbird looking a bit fed up when I got back to the house.

wet blackbird

As it was raining, even Mrs Tootlepedal could be tempted into the house for a cup of tea and a biscuit and while we were inside, I set up the camera at the kitchen window.  The RSPB had published the results of their garden bird watch this morning and there had been a lot of talk about how well goldfinches had done in the count as they have become adept at using garden feeders.  I was therefore hoping to some on our garden today and I wasn’t disappointed.

goldfinch

They were not backward in coming forward to have words with any siskins in their way…

goldfinch and siskin

…but a siskin doesn’t take kindly to this sort of thing…

goldfinch and siskin

…and one of them soon resorted to violence to make the point.

goldfinch and siskin

The rain stopped and Mrs Tootlepedal went out again and not ,long afterwards, I went out too to record very satisfactory progress.

new bench

This is only a preliminary sketch as the paving has to be completed and a new bench is on order to replace the old one which has come to the end of its time.  All we will need then is some good weather to let us sit out on the bench and look at the garden.

I had an appointment at the health centre and it rather summed up the day that I cycled up to the town in bright sunshine and cycled back in a combination of bright sunshine and quite heavy rain.

And there was no rainbow.

In the evening I went to a Langholm Sings practice and had a very enjoyable time going over some familiar songs which we are digging  out for our summer concerts.

It wasn’t raining as I walked up and it wasn’t raining as I walked back but the oyster catchers who had been too quick for me in the afternoon were flying overhead and laughing loudly at me.

The flying bird of the day is not a goldfinch but a chaffinch wearing an identification ring.

flying chaffinch

 

 

 

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Today’s guest picture is a reminder of a sunny day just past and shows an unusual view of the Benty bridge and church.  It was taken by my friend Bruce and stars his wife, Lesley as ‘The Lady on the Bridge’.

benty bridge

The sun made infrequent appearances today and in between the sunny spells, there were frequent showers of light rain.  It made planning a day difficult.  However, it was reasonably warm and the wind was light so cycling and gardening were on the menu.

The minister dropped in for coffee, his coffee radar being perfectly attuned.  As he brought a couple of eggs from his large flock of chickens with him as a gift, he was even more welcome than usual.  He is a keen cyclist and naturally our conversation turned to cycling.  When he left, Mrs Tootlepedal was so inspired by his cycling efforts that she got her speedy bike out.  I pumped up the tyres and we pedalled off to Wauchope Schoolhouse and back, her first bike ride since New Year’s day.

Needless to say although it was fine as we set out, it rained quite heavily when we were two miles up the road.  Luckily, it soon stopped and we had a gentle and pleasant ride.  Since the weather was good when we got home and I needed the miles, while Mrs Tootlepedal turned to gardening,  I set off again to do the journey again.

It soon started to rain again.

Once again it stopped and I pedalled on.  I passed a small landslip, a common occurrence on our steep banks….

landslip

…and which once again shows how shallow the soil is on our hills.

Thanks to quite a bit of rain lately, there was a good amount of water coming down the Wauchope.

wauchope cascade

Yesterday I had seen seated cows and today it was the turn of the sheep to sit down.

sitting sheep

I didn’t stop for too many pictures as I didn’t want to get wet again if I could help it.

I ended up doing six and a half miles with Mrs Tootlepedal and seven and half miles by myself which, while not a great distance, at least got a few miles in on a damp day.

I set the camera up at the kitchen window while I was having lunch and had a look at the birds.  We had a good variety.

Sometimes there were siskins…

siskins

…and there was a good number of goldfinches…

goldfinches

…and of course there were chaffinches…

chaffinches

…but our most interesting visitors today were a pair of lesser redpolls.  Here is one showing why they got their name.

redpoll

At this time of year, they have very red breasts too to show themselves off.

redpoll

They are very small birds, much the same size as the siskins and make the chaffinches look big by comparison.

redpoll and chaffimnch

I had a walk round the garden after lunch.

I was most impressed by how much moss there is on our azaleas.

moss on azaleas

Each plant seemed to have a little clump of moss at its branch junctions.

I liked the range of colours of the moss on our old pile of stones.

moss in garden

We wouldn’t mind though if it stopped raining for long enough this summer for a lot of the moss to get discouraged and die away.

There were more signs of spring to be seen.

lilac buds

It is not too long before it will be lilac blossom time.

In the afternoon, Mrs Tootlepedal got really stuck into the business of making a new seated area next to the middle lawn.  I went for a walk.

I have seen two very impressive displays of British Solidier lichen in America recently on blogs from Gunta and the New Hampshire Gardener  so I went along beside the park wall to see if I could find any there.

There were some to be seen but they were very tiny…

cladonia

As you can see, they hardly poked their heads above the surrounding moss.

I couldn’t find an army of them but there was enough for a small troop.

cladonia

Our friend Mike Tinker, who is a fern enthusiast, has promised to take me out on a walk to try to teach me to distinguish between varieties.  I look forward to it as there are a lot of ferns out there.  I passed some today.

ferns

Did I mention that it started to rain almost as soon as I set off on my walk?

Still, it was only light rain and I was pleased to see signs of wild garlic emerging….

garlic

…as this is a marker for the start of the wild flower season.

It wasn’t a day for views and I was happy to get some shelter from the trees along the Beechy Plains.  I was looking for birch trees in particular to see if I could spot any script lichens.  It turned out to be quite easy as almost every birch I passed seemed to have a patch…

script lichen

…or two.

script lichen

Mrs Tootlepedal was still working hard on her seating area when I got back but she came in for a cup of tea and a biscuit to get out of a heavier shower of rain before going out again.  There is a difference in height between the main lawn and the seating area and she has been swithering between a step, a slope or a dugout area, all of which have good and bad points about the construction required but after some experimentation today, she has settled on a step.

I look forward to seeing the results.

While I was out cycling yesterday, the man who made our new compost bins arrived with some new raised beds for Mrs Tootlepedal’s vegetable garden….

new veg beds

…and they are waiting to be installed.  You can see that the old beds are past their best.  It will take a lot of labour to get the new beds set up but Mrs Tootlepedal is not afraid of hard work and I am always available to do a bit of supervising.

I did some lawn spiking today in the hope of encouraging a blade or two of grass to grow among the moss.

I ate the minister’s eggs as part of a mushroom omelette for my tea.  They were very good.

The flying bird of the day is two chaffinches.  I couldn’t choose between them.

flying chaffinches

 

 

 

 

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Today’s guest picture comes from  Dropscone’s recent seaside holiday on the east coast.  He climbed a dune to look at the beach and saw five people, two dogs and half a million razor clam shells.

razor clams

We had a third and bonus sunny day as the weather turned out better than expected.  It was frosty again at dawn so I was happy to entertain Dropscone (and scones) for coffee while the temperature climbed slowly up to cycling levels.

Before coffee, I had an early walk round the garden with Mrs Tootlepedal and we saw the first bumblebee of the year.

bumble bee

It was so bright that it was hard to miss.   I think that it is probably a tree bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum.

After coffee, Dropscone went off to play golf and I looked out of the kitchen window while making some carrot and parsnip soup for lunch.  Rather to Mrs Tootlepedal’s surprise, the parsnips came out of the vegetable garden after a hard winter in pretty good condition.

Rather to my surprise, there was a steady supply of flying chaffinches and some convenient sunshine for them to fly in.

We try to run a gender neutral blog so here are male chaffinches, both horizontal and vertical…

flying chaffinches

…and females with wings in and out.

flying chaffinches

Flying birds are like buses, sometimes you don’t see any and sometimes they all come at once.

After lunch, I went out for a pedal.  Because my throat was still a bit rusty, I started carefully but it soon became obvious that cycling was doing no harm so I put a bit of effort in.  For once, the wind was light and I enjoyed every mile of my usual twenty mile trip to Canonbie and back.

There were a few signs of life in the verges at last.

dandelion

I stopped to admire a handsome tree at the Bloch….

bloch tree

…and some cows in a field who were happy to sit for a picture.

cows

This one took her duties very seriously.

cow

In times past, I would have been worried to see cows lying down as this was thought of as a sign of impending rain but this is a myth and the sun stayed out for me, giving me a fine view of the northern English hills in the distance.

view from tarcoon

I took another picture of the lambs at the Hollows.

lambs

Who could resist them?

When I got home, I found that Mrs Tootlepedal had been very hard at work in the garden on her new design for the middle lawn and its surrounds.

new garden plan

It takes a lot of skill and energy to lay paving stones.

I had a look round while she toiled.

The winter aconites were soaking up the sun..

winter aconite

…and a welcome hint of a flower or two could be seen on the drumstick primulas.

drumstick primula

Dr Tinker, who was walking his daughter’s dog, Bob arrived in nice time to join us for a cup of tea and half a dainty cake.

In the evening my flute pupil Luke came and we made some progress which was helped when I found out that it wasn’t us but the computer that was making a mistake in one movement of the sonata we were playing.  GIGO.

I was expecting to go and play trios in the evening but the playing was cancelled so I went off with Mrs Tootlepedal to see a screening of Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Buccleuch Centre.  I didn’t know what to expect but in the event, I liked the slightly stylised  production a lot.  The setting, costumes and lighting were unfussy and bright (a very unusual thing in modern productions as far as I can see) and you could hear every word spoken. As the words are by Oscar Wilde this was a Good Thing.  What came over very clearly was the relevance of the play to Wilde’s own life and this gave genuine pathos to a witty production.

The flying bird of the day is one of the busy chaffinches and for once, the photograph has not been cropped at all which shows how favourable conditions were this morning.

flying chaffinch

My twenty miles today got me over three hundred miles for the month of March.  This is as much as I did in the first two months put together so things are looking up a bit. 

 

 

 

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Today’s guest picture comes from Venetia’s recent trip to America.  As well as wild life in Wyoming, she saw still life in Thousand Oaks.

Thousand Oaks

We had a second fine sunny day today, frosty at dawn but warm enough for the rest of the day to make being outside a pleasure.

So it was a pity that it coincided with the one day of the week where thanks to choirs, we spend a lot of time indoors but these things  can’t be helped so we enjoyed the singing and we enjoyed the sun.

After the church choir, Mrs Tootlepedal made a chicken stew in the slow cooker and then found some time for gardening while I sneaked out for a dozen miles on the slow bike just to keep the miles ticking over while the sun shone.

I stopped for a view at the Bigholms…

view at Bigholms

…and as well as admiring the fine tree in the view…

tree at Bigholms

…I took a picture to show how thin the soil is under our scenery.

peat at Bigholms

The dark layer is peat.

While I was stopped for the view, I looked at a concrete fence post beside the road as I don’t like to waste a stop if I can help it.

lichen at Bigholms

I had a look round the garden when I got in and noted that a little bunch of the miniature Tete a Tete daffodils has come out…

jetfire daffodil

…though we are still waiting for the main daffodils to do their thing.

The crocuses were enjoying the sun…

crocuses

…but there was nothing new to see so I went inside, had a shower and set up the camera at the kitchen window.

The feeder had been unoccupied while Mrs Tootlepedal worked nearby but when she came in, visitors arrived.

chaffinches

They were mostly chaffinches, flying in….

flying chaffinch

…from the plum tree and…

_DSC2560

…sometimes getting into arguments with each other.

flying chaffinch

Sometimes a goldfinch stood in their way…

flying chaffinch

…and sometimes a greenfinch…

flying chaffinch and greenfinch

..but it was good to see the feeder busy.

I didn’t catch a flying greenfinch but I did notice one of the few goldfinches arriving.

flying goldfinch

I didn’t have long to enjoy the birds though as the moment to leave for Carlisle and our choir came all too soon.

We had our substitute conductor again this week as our musical director was busy with one of his many other duties and she gave us a thorough workout.  It was made all the harder from my point of view as my voice, which had been a bit husky in church, took a turn for the worse and I croaked my way inelegantly through the practice.

By the time that we had got home, I was even croakier and wondered whether I had picked up some unhelpful ailment but a couple of paracetamols and a plate of Mrs Tootlepedal’s excellent chicken stew improved things a lot.  I am hoping that all will be well in the morning.

I was even more perked up when I discovered that I had got a worthy contender for the position of flying bird of the day.

flying chaffinch

 

 

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