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Archive for Dec, 2018

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Mary and shows that she was in the right place at the right time to catch the sun illuminating a dogwood in Regents Park.

burning bush

December ended as it has been going on recently with a dry, mostly grey and reasonably warm day.  I was taking a break from cycling so I enjoyed the final coffee and scones of 2018 with Dropscone.  He had not lost any of his scone making skill over the holiday period so this was a good way to end the social year.

Along with Dropscone, we were visited by more birds than we have been seeing lately which was also welcome.

Goldfinches were queuing up to get a seat at the table…

many flying goldfinches

…and competing fiercely for the privilege.

flying goldfinches

Sometimes they let their good manners slip in their anxiety to snatch a sunflower heart from the feeder.

stamping goldfinch

And all too frequently, seeds went flying in the midst of all the excitement.

flying bird seed

Although it was pretty grey, it was a pleasant day so after Dropscone left, Mrs Tootlepedal and I went for a walk in the woods.  To give ourselves a good start, we drove a mile or so out of the town and parked next to a large fallen tree that had been sawn up and left beside the road.

Where the trunk had split, it was covered  in white fungus.

rotten tree

We walked up the track past the Longwood fields and passed many trees, some that stood proudly…

Longwood tree

…and some that were curiously knotted and twisted.

twisted tree

When we got to the woods, there was fungus, both big and small to be seen…

fungus in woods

…a dingly dell to cross…

dingly dell

…and a track through the old oak wood to follow.

oak wood

We were only out for a short walk so as soon as we got to the top of the oak wood, we headed back past a river of moss….

river of moss

…and made our return journey downhill through a birch wood that has grown up beside the oaks.

birch wood

We were going to take a diversion on our route back to the car by going along the old railway line, but fallen trees provided an obstacle….

old railway

….that was too low to crawl under and too high to jump over so we retraced our steps and went back by the path along the field.

This gave us the chance to enjoy the sight of a chestnut tree standing in a very neat pool of its own leaves.

chestnut with leaves

When we got back to the road, I took a moment to check out a favourite mossy wall…

mossy wall

…which was rich in interest…

lichen and moss on wall

…for those who like this sort of thing, among whom is numbered yours truly.

We had a walk round our garden when we got home and I was pleased to find that the sweet rocket had managed another flower or two, a single snowdrop was showing a touch of colour and a groundsel was growing in the drive.  The groundsel pleased me for its little patch of colour…

three late flowers

…but Mrs Tootlepedal was not so happy about it and it soon suffered from being comprehensively weeded.

After lunch, the last of the duck soup, a weak sun appeared for a while and illuminated a dove and a pigeon in the plum tree.

dove and pigeon

It also lit up the holly in our neighbour’s garden.

bright holly in garden

I did think of going for another walk to take advantage of the sun but I dithered a bit and by the time that I came to make a decision, the sun had gone and the clouds were grey again.

This was the moment that a robin came out.

robin on chair

I spent so much time thinking of things that I might do in the afternoon and so little time in actually doing anything useful that it was time for the evening meal before I knew it. Still ending the year on a restful note was no bad thing and I should be full of pep when 2019 arrives tomorrow.  Here’s hoping.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the patient and forbearing readers of these posts over the past year for their company which makes writing and taking pictures very rewarding.  I would like also to express special gratitude for those who add their many kind, amusing and useful comments.

The honour of being the final flying bird of the year has fallen to this goldfinch.

flying goldfinch

I don’t usually end with a quote but I think think Robert Burns speaks for many when he wrote to the wee. sleekit, timorous mouse words which apply just as well to the politics of 2018 and 2019:

“But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!”

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Today’s guest picture is another from Joe and shows our daughter Annie crossing a bridge in the highlands when she came to it.

highland bridge

I was anxious to make up for the defect in my spreadsheet calculations by having a 30 mile plus cycle ride today so I was pleased when I got up to find that the temperature had stayed at a very temperate 9°C, the wind wasn’t whistling and the rain was staying firmly in the clouds.  Under the circumstances, I left Mrs Tootlepedal to represent the family in the church choir and set off to visit a well known bench in Newtown, twenty miles away.

I reached the bench without any undue excitement….

Newtown bench

…had a drink and a few raisins and set off back home again as it wasn’t a day to linger about taking in some rays.

I stopped at the bridge over the Esk in Longtown..

Esk at Longtown

….out of respect for my legs which were muttering under their breath at this point.

And got home in good order after finally (and definitively) reaching 4000 miles for the year.  My secret target had been 4200 but the pulled leg muscle in November put paid to that and 4012 miles will just have to do.

It was made up of 153 rides with 320 hours in the saddle, meaning an average distance per ride of 26.2 miles at an average speed of 12.5 mph.  As 827 of the miles were done on my slow bike while I was waiting for my new bike to arrive, the average speed for the new bike will be a bit higher than that but not a great deal.

It was still warm and dry when I got home so after a nourishing plate of duck soup and some bread and cheese, I went out for a walk with Mrs Tootlepedal.

We chose a modest two bridge walk up one side of the river and down the other. Mrs Tootlepedal strode out bravely, ignoring the trees leaning over the path….

Riverside path with Mrs T

…and the ones that had leaned finally and fatally in the woods along side.

fallen trees beside the river

This bank of the river spends a lot of its life in shade and the trees are very mossy to say the least.

mossy tree

But they are very much alive and the catkins and buds on a birch beside the Duchess Bridge were looking very healthy.

birch catkins

We crossed the Duchess Bridge…

Duchess Bridge

…passed a fine show of ferns…

ferns

…and walked onto the Castleholm track through a gate with a garden of moss on the gatepost.

moss on gate close up

Looked at more closely, the moss seems rich and lush.

moss on gate

Further on, the trunk of a Scots pine showed evidence of wear and tear…

pine tree trunk

…and a fallen birch was playing host to a splendid set of birch polypores.

birch polypore

To my eye, this tree on the bank of the river had the look of a samba dancer with a skimpy backless costume of fern.

tree with ferns

We crossed the Jubilee Bridge and took the track behind the school where we came across what looked at first sight to be a shrub in full flower…

pernettya bush

Mrs Tootlepedal’s sharp eye noticed that the colour came from berries and not from flowers….

pernettya berries

…and she correctly identified it as a pernettya, presumably a garden escape.

Although it was still quite early when we got home, the gathering gloom made taking pictures of birds on the feeder impossible so I didn’t even check to see if there were any about and it wasn’t long before the curtains were drawn and we settled down for a quiet evening at home.

Mrs Tootlepedal cooked gammon and egg for tea and it was very satisfying to have a serving of home grown marrow on the side.  The marrows were picked a long time ago and have survived very well in a cool place with no special care required.

In the absence of a garden bird, the non flying bird of the day is one from the Castleholm.  It sang very loudly and continuously as we walked down the path but it was too far away for a good identification.  We wondered if it might be a blackbird or a thrush.  Any suggestions would be welcome.

singing bird in tree

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Today’s guest picture comes from Dropscone.  He sent it to me to show that his daughter Susan is not just a fine recorder player but a good cook too. This is her beef Wellington.

Susan's beef wellington

We had another warm and dry December day here but the 35 mph wind in the morning was a forcible reminder that we should not expect too much good weather in the winter.

I had plenty of time therefore to watch birds through the kitchen window as I idled the morning away but once again birds were in very short supply and no photo opportunities beckoned.

The wind eased off a little around midday and as my cycle stats spreadsheet told me that I only had twenty three miles to go to reach three hundred miles for the month and that at the same time I would hit a significant annual target too, I decided to get my bike out and battle with the breeze.

I thought that skulking in the valley might be the best policy so I started by cycling up to Cleuchfoot along the Wauchope road with a view to doing two or three repetitions in the valley bottom depending on the weather.

The Glencorf Burn never fails to please me as I cross over the bridge on my way to Cleuchfoot…

Glencorf burn

…and I was fully expecting to cross it again in a short while.  However, by the time that I got back to Langholm after eight miles, the wind had dropped to a very tolerable level so instead of coming back up the Wauchope road, I cycled straight through the town and took the main road north.

The sun was out and the traffic was light and I headed northwards in a cheerful mood.  It is a very scenic route and there is plenty to look at on the way.

I stopped at Ewes Church….

ewes kirck

…where the church bell hangs in a tree and not in the bell tower.

ewes kirk bell

Behind the church, one of several little glens winds up between the hills.

Ewes kirk vallwy

At the next gap in the hills, a stone tells of a vanished tower and an intrusive apostrophe.

little monument

This is the valley where the tower once stood.

Little valley

I went as far as the old toll house at Fiddleton….

Fiddleton toll

…and took a look round at the hills at the head of the Ewes valley.

To the east…

Fiddleton hills 3

…to the west….

Fiddleton hills 2

…and to the north.

Fiddleton hills 1

And then I headed back south to complete a most enjoyable 25 miles.

The only flower still in bloom in our garden is the winter jasmine…

winter jasmine

…but there are plenty of signs of potential flowers to come.

december green shoots

Once inside, I was happy to find that Mrs Tootlepedal had made another pan of duck soup so I had a late lunch and looked out in hope of seeing a few birds.

I did see a lone greenfinch…

greenfinch

…but it wasn’t in any danger of getting knocked off its perch by the crowd.

I was so pleased with getting to three hundred miles for the month and hitting  a significant annual target that after a shower, I sat down at my computer to put my twenty five miles into my cycle stats spreadsheet and do a bit of gloating.  The smug look was soon wiped off my face though as I discovered an error in a vital column which meant that although I had indeed hit the 300 mile mark for the month, I was still thirty miles short of my annual target.  Oh catastrophe!

Mercifully, the weather forecast predicts reasonable weather for tomorrow but it will be a shock when the legs find out that that they have to go out again.  I hope that they won’t complain too much.

Along with the lone greenfinch, a single chaffinch flew by and it takes the honour of being the uncontested flying bird of the day.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture is another one from Joe and Annie’s recent Highland holiday and shows what you get if you arrive at the top of a mountain, namely a view of more mountains.

top of mountain

Our welcome spell of relatively mild weather continued today but once again, the morning was very grey and there was even a little drizzle early on.   I was very happy therefore to entertain Sandy to a cup of coffee when he came round to collect the Archive Group projector and a copy of a 1967 parish magazine for scanning.

Sandy and I haven’t been going for any walks lately because he has been having trouble with his feet and as I enjoy these walks, I was glad to hear that he is going to seek medical advice.  I hope that he gets good treatment and that we will be able to resume some walks again early next year.   He taught me almost everything I know about photography and it is always an education to see what he sees when we are out and about.

Scott, our ex-minister, has obviously lost control of his coffee radar since he has left Langholm as he arrived for a surprise visit only after Sandy and all the coffee in the pot had gone.  I wasn’t even able to offer him a cup of tea as I was changed and ready to go out on my bike when he came.  At this time of year, there is no time to spare as it gets dark so early so I left him chatting to Mrs Tootlepedal and went off pedalling into the distance.

It was still very grey and as I went over Callister, I was swathed in low cloud.  it wasn’t long though before the clouds began to lift….

clouds lifiting off windmills

…and there was a good patch of blue sky in the direction that I was heading.

tree at Giar road

There had hardly been any birds in the garden in the morning so I was pleased to come across a great flock of starlings near Waterbeck.  They rose like a vast animated carpet from a field as I passed.  By the time that I had got my camera out, many of them had settled in some trees.

starlings at West Craigs

I was soon pedalling along in what passes for bright sunshine in the winter and although some of the remaining clouds looked a bit sinister, I had sun with me for the rest of my ride.

cloud and sunlight

As well as the big flock of starlings, I passed a large array of hundreds of geese in a field near Chapelknowe.  I think that these are pink footed geese which visit Scotland for the winter from Greenland and Iceland.

geese in field at Chapelknowe

My legs were in a helpful mood today and after a hard working first ten miles with some climbing and the wind against, the last 20 miles of my ride were much flatter and with a friendly wind now assisting me and my legs in full working order, I fairly whizzed along (by my standards).

I stopped for a breather at Half Morton with ten miles to go.  There is a convenient wall there for propping up bikes and riders, not to mention a fine tree to admire.

tree at Timpanheck

My final pause was to take a view, a favourite not just because  of the neat framing of the hills round Langholm but also because when you see it, it means that there are only five miles to go to a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.

Low cloud over Langholm

I found Mrs Tootlepedal at work in the garden when I got home and there were a few chaffinches on the plum tree too.  Mrs Tootlepedal soon went in and the dratted chaffinches remained firmly stuck in the tree and only came down to the feeder when the light had gone too far for decent photography.

chaffinches in plum tree

In the evening, we were visited  by Mike and Alison, as is customary on a Friday, and since Alison’s injured shoulder is still preventing full piano playing, we settled for some wine and beer drinking and general conversation instead of music.  The early renewal of Friday evening music making is another of my New Year’s wishes.

The lack of flying birds is getting to be embarrassing and I didn’t get one at all today.  If there was any flying, it always seemed to be right behind the feeder.

invisible flying bird

 

 

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Today’s guest picture comes from Matilda’s father, Al.  He took her, her mother and some of her Christmas guests to see the light show at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens where they entered the cathedral of light.

cathedral of light

There was not much light of any sort in Langholm this morning when I set out after breakfast for a relatively early bike ride.  It was warm (8°C) but grey and although I could just see my favourite tree when I went over the hill at the Bloch…

misty tree at bloch

…I couldn’t see much at all if I looked at the other side of the road.

no view at Bloch

Under the circumstances, I kept my camera in my pocket for the rest of the trip and concentrated on trying to get my legs to be more co-operative.  They were in a bolshie mood though and I couldn’t even get my average up to 13 mph.

All the same, I was very pleased to be cycling on a relatively warm and quiet day in December so I wasn’t grumbling.

I was a bit annoyed though when the sun came out not long after I got home.

The chaffinches seemed pleased.

busy chaffinches

cheerful chaffinch

But once again there weren’t many of them about and those that did come, didn’t stay long.

A few sparrows graced the feeder….

three sparrows

…though not all of them were in prime condition.

scruffy sparrow

I couldn’t hang around to watch the birds or go for a walk in the sun because it was the day to go to Edinburgh to visit Matilda and her other grandparents.

The train was late as usual and to make matters worse, it was absolutely full before the fifty people waiting on the platform at Lockerbie got on so we had to stand in cramped conditions for the hour it took to get to Edinburgh.

We had plenty of fun when we got there, playing two board games with Matilda and doing a jigsaw puzzle too before her other grandparents arrived.

Then there was a dancing display and an evening meal before it was time to catch the train home.  This one was on time and had plenty of seats so the journey home was a marked improvement on the journey up.

All the same, it was quite a tiring day so I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

The flying bird of the day is one of those busy chaffinches.

flying chaffinch

 

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Today’s guest picture comes from Dropscone and shows the bridge over the Tay.  He visited Dundee with his daughter Susan earlier this month.

Tay road bridge

We had another grey day here but marginally less grey than yesterday and as it was warmer, it was quite welcome.

After breakfast, Mrs Tootlepedal and I went up to the Laverock Hide at the Moorland feeders.  I was acting as a fill-in feeder filler for Bob who was away having festive fun with his far flung family.

The feeders needed filling and almost as soon as I had finished, they became very busy.  There may not be many chaffinches in our garden but there were a lot of them here.

There were a lot of pheasants too and this pair was having an ill-natured squabble outside the hide…

sparring pheasants

…which was causing some distress to a watching chaffinch.

wary chaffinch

Apart from the chaffinches, there were not a lot of other birds about, though I saw one distant woodpecker…

distant woodpecker

…and a small but noticeable selection of blue, coal and great tits.

moorland feeder great tit, blue tit and coal tit

I was very pleased to see a good number of birds about, even they weren’t very interesting but the light was rotten and if I had seen any interesting birds, I might not have been able to get decent pictures.  The flying birds were just a blur.

moorland chaffinches

We had coffee when we got back and then I went out for a short pedal.   It was breezy and I wanted to go shopping later in the afternoon so I settled for three seven mile repetitions in my outdoor gym, the road to Wauchope Schoolhouse and back.    This may sound a little boring but the challenge is to try to go a bit faster on each lap and I managed to increase my speed marginally on the outward uphill trips but the effort was too much for me and I was slower rather than faster on my third downhill leg and just failed to hit the magic (for me) 14 mph average speed.

Still, the challenge made the ride interesting and I didn’t waste any time trying to take good pictures in unsuitable light.

I had a look round the garden for any sign of colour when I got home but all I could find was this fairly bright box ball recovering from a severe pruning..

box ball

Mrs Tootlepedal had created a delicious duck soup for my lunch and after supping a bowlful and having a shower, I went off with her to do a bit of shopping in Carlisle.

I had in mind to replenish my stocks of dates and prunes and other dried fruit and would have done so if the shop we were visiting had been open but it wasn’t so I didn’t.

Mrs Tootlepedal had a particular shade of paint in her mind and we were quite excited when her shop turned out to be open but less enthusiastic when just about the only shade of paint that they didn’t have among hundreds on display was her desired one.

We drove home in a subdued mood but were cheered up by watching an excellent running of the King George VI steeplechase at Kempton Park on catch-up TV.  Mrs Tootlepedal’s fancy came a close second.

With both our choirs in recess at the moment, we were able to  have a quiet night in and the restful evening was very welcome.

No flying bird today, but a rather wary chaffinch from the Moorland Feeders is standing in.

Laverock hide chaffinch

 

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Today’s guest picture from Joe comes from his Highland holiday with our daughter Annie and shows a deer taking a breather before getting ready to pull Santa’s sleigh.

Joe's deer

In a contrast to yesterday’s wall to sunshine, we got wall to wall mist today…

Christmas day view

…so it was lucky that it was Christmas Day and there was feasting and general jollity indoors to pass the time.

While preparations were being made for roast duck and all the trimmings, I cast occasional glances out of the window.  It was far too gloomy for good pictures but I could record the welcome visits to the feeder of an occasional siskin and greenfinch…

siskin and greenfinch

…and although we couldn’t run to a partridge in our pear tree, we did at least manage the nearest thing to two turtle doves that is available round here.

pair of collared doves

After a Christmas lunch that could best be described as very full filling, I decided that if I was going to eat any more, I needed a walk.

It was very gloomy indeed outside…

black day from park bridge

…and I needed my flash to show the moss on a tree trunk along the river side.

moss with drops

I walked up the track to Stubholm and was surprised to see a fallen tree.  I didn’t think that we had had bad enough weather to cause a collapse like  this.

fallen tree on Stubholm track

Once at the top of the hill, the views were even more circumscribed, with ghostly animals and buildings in the fields….

view of field from stubholm in mist

…a very limited view of the town….

view of town from stubholm in mist

…and no view of the hills at all.

view from stubholm in mist

Once again my flash came to the rescue and added a little colour and seasonable sparkle to my walk…

park wall grass baubles 2

…as the park wall once again held items of interest to the passer by.

park wall grass baubles 1

I got back in time for afternoon tea with tasteful canapes, ginger biscuits and Christmas cake in company with Mike and Alison.  Alison’s shoulder is recovering slowly but it will be some weeks before our Friday evening music making is resumed.

There followed traditional sofa slumping in front of the telly and as we had eaten very well already, the evening meal was abandoned for selective grazing of left overs with a modest helping of plum pudding to round things off.

Thanks to the wonders of telephony, we had conversations with family members all over Britain so we were not short of seasonal good wishes and all in all, it has been a very satisfactory day.

There is no flying bird of the day today because of the gloom but at least a seasonal robin popped up to pose for the occasion.

robin on back of seat

 

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