Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Today’s guest picture comes from my brother Andrew in Derby.  They had a spot of snow there.

Derby snow

We had a spot of snow too but not nearly so much as they did and this was the scene that welcomed us when we got up this morning.

snowy lawn

The chaffinches watched the continuing arrival of more snow rather morosely.

chaffinches and snowflake

And the daffodils and crocuses looked a bit oppressed.

daffs in snow

We went off to church where there was a rather diminished choir and came back in a mini blizzard but luckily the snow didn’t stick…

snowy lawn

…and the road surfaces must have been quite warm because in spite of the thermometer staying at a miserable 1 degree above freezing, the snow on the roads melted and we felt that it would be completely safe to drive to Carlisle after lunch for our other choir.

Over lunch, I kept and eye on the bird feeders.  The feeder  traffic was totally chaffinch.

Sometimes they all watched what was going on with interest…


…and sometimes, eating was  more attractive than watching squabbling…


…and sometimes there was so much going on that a bird simply couldn’t watch it all.

flying  chaffinch

In the snow below, a steady stream of visitors provided interest.


Two old friends, a robin and a dunnock…


…and two less frequent visitors, a wood pigeon…


…and a collared dove.

collared dove

A blackbird kept everyone in order,  a teacher perhaps in a former life.


The roads stayed clear and the trip to Carlisle was completed satisfactorily.  We had a substitute conductor today as Andrew had another choir’s concert to worry about.  Alison has taken us before and she is very good but as she thinks that we are bit better at picking things up quickly than we actually are it was a challenging session for someone who had not sung one of the pieces before and the other only once some years ago.

But it was all good fun.

Mrs Tootlepedal had prepared an evening meal in the slow cooker so we had a warm welcome home.

We have one more cold day in store and then things should warm up again.  Considering that in the south and west of the country roads were closed because of the snow, we seem to have got off lightly again.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.  It had to be as there were no others.

flying chaffinch



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I have run out of new guest pictures so I am returning to my Somerset correspondent Ventetia’s trip to America.  She was driven along some beautiful  but slightly scary roads.


While we didn’t go quite as far as the guest picture, we were visited by some very unwelcome snow here and the temperature only just crept above zero all day.

flying chaffinch

The snow was mostly very light but as it was accompanied by a brisk and bitter wind, we viewed it largely through our windows.

I did go out to take two views of our completed bridge.



Severe critics have complained that  the gap below the railings on both the right and left sides are big enough to let a small child through but these are people who have no bridge of their own and are jealous of ours.  A child needs a little adventure in its life.

Marching bands, acrobats, peers of the realm and assorted reality TV celebrities are being lined up for the official opening.

While I was out, I admired the winter aconites which are looking promising…

winter aconites

..but even winter aconites need a bit of help from the elements to come into full flower.

The birds were grateful for some food on a chilly day…

flying chaffinch

…and chaffinches in particular turned up in large numbers.

flying chaffinch

But the odd greenfinch….

green finch

…and goldfinch was to be seen too.

flying goldfinch

Over lunchtime, I watched Scotland making very hard work of beating a good Italian side  in their final match of the Six nations rugby tournament and then, as the sun had come out, I went for a walk to recover from the excitement of a tense finish to the game.

It looked like a wonderful day…

Esk view of George Street

…but in the brisk wind the “feels like” factor was well below freezing.  I was hoping to see some waterside birds but they obviously didn’t care much for the cold either and I had to settle for some gently paddling mallards…


…and a herring gull on a rock in the river.

herring gull in river

Among dozens of black headed gulls, we seem to have only two resident herring gulls.  They like standing in the middle of the rivers.

You can see why I often like to walk along the Kilngreen….

Sawmill Brig

… and over the Sawmill Brig and up the Lodge Walks…

Lodge walks

…but even in when the sun was out, it was a bit of a penance today.  I only met one other walker and that was our friend Gavin.  He was also recovering from the stress of watching Scotland play.

Some cheerful moss on a tree stump…

moss on tree stump

…and a large and aged bracket fungus on a dead branch…


…gave me some thing to look at as I went round.

And I took a good look at a large tree on the other side of the playing field…

licheny tree

…which at first sight might look as though it had started to have some early spring foliage on it.

A closer look showed that any vibrancy in the colouring didn’t come from the tree but from its guests.

licheny tree

It is covered from head…


to toe in lichen and moss and has so much vegetation on it that it should be declared a national park in its own right.

An onrushing blizzard of light snow hurried me home but it stopped as I got to the house and the sun came out again.

This pattern continued for the rest of day with enough snow to start lying as the evening got colder.

It is due to keep snowing on and off through the night and tomorrow is going to be close to zero again (it is -2C as I write this) but with luck, there will be no travel problems when we want to go to our choir in the afternoon.

It doesn’t feel very much like four days before the vernal equinox though.

The flying bird of the day is one of the black headed gulls from the Kilngreen.

black headed gull


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We had such a grey day here that I badly needed something bright for the post so today’s guest offering is another of Tommy cycling in the South African sunshine.  Lucky chap.

tommy in SA

The only colour in the garden today was provided by a few stubborn daffodils who defied the cold and the wind.


It was very depressing after having had a few nearly decent days to go back to mean, cold and nasty weather again.

The birds had to hang on to the feeders…


…and take great care getting on  to the perches.


The encompassing gloom was cheered by the arrival of Dropscone with treacle scones and Sandy to help eat them with our morning coffee.

We were also pleased to see the return of the dam bridge repairers with the new railings, ready to be installed.

Sandy and I arranged to go for a walk after lunch and he duly arrived and drove us down to Canonbie where we parked at the Hollows and walked along the road to the Byreburn bridge.

In spite of very poor conditions for taking pictures, the wall along the old road provided us with plenty of temptations to get the camera out.

fernsmoss on lichengorsemoss and fern

When we got to the Byreburn bridge, we left the river Esk and followed the track beside the burn…

Byreburn track

…with plenty to see as we walked up to the next bridge.


A hint of the coal seams which were mined in days past

fairy loup

The Fairy Loup

fairy loup

The Byreburn

byreburn bridge

Here we left the shelter of the woods and took to the road to make a circular route back to the car.

Once again, there were things to look at as we went along…

gate at Claygate

Gate of the day being threatened by encroaching hedges

gilnockie schoolhouse

Snowdrops at the old school house

Near Gilnockie station

Neatly trimmed hedges, often a feature of our back roads.

…and things looking at us…

mean sheep

…with a very hard stare.

As we got down the hill back towards the Hollows, Sandy noticed a tree beside the road which looked as though it had been the victim of a very bad sewing job by some dendrological Dr Frankenstein…

tree with ivy

…and I enjoyed the sight of a clump of hardy trees hanging by their toenails to the bank high above the river Esk.

Hollows Bridge

We had thought that we might get blasted by the cruel wind as we walked back along the road but by happy accident, the wind was directly behind us and the whole walk was remarkably comfortable considering the conditions.

The Hollows Bridge is hard to see from the road so the best that I could do was to peer through the trees…

Hollows Bridge

…but the consolation was the sight of the little stone carvings which keep appearing on the wooded knoll beside the river.   This set were new since I had last been here.

Hollows Bridge statues

When we got home, the bridge railings had been installed but not quite finished so I took a temporary shot of each side…

dam bridge repair railings

…and then forgot to come out later to take the finished article.

I will try again tomorrow.

In the evening, Mrs Tootlepedal and I went out to a concert in the Church which was raising funds for the restoration of the church organ and the refurbishment of the social club in the town.

The concert featured brass and pipe bands, guest singers from Hawick and a fine selection of local talent.  I am not an out and out fan of pipe bands playing indoors but the concert was thoroughly enjoyable all the same and only the attendance was a bit disappointing.  I hope that those who couldn’t come had something better to do for they had missed a treat.

On a grumpy note, it went on too long.  Two and a half hours sitting in a church pew is enough to let the iron enter anyone’s soul.  I may have remarked before that I have never heard anyone come out of an amateur concert saying, “That was too short.”

Still, it proved that we are not short of musical talent in the town.

The flying bird of the day matches the weather.  Rather a poor effort.


The weather is due to get worse.




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Today’s guest picture shows Langholm exile Tom getting ready to set off on the Capetown Cycle Tour  a few days ago.  He tells me that it is 109 kms around the peninsula, with great views but the route is hilly.

Tom biking in SA

He suggested that it might be just the thing for me next year but I fear that the bus fare to get there might be a bit steep too.

I should have been able to excite readers with a selection of exciting bird and frog pictures but I took the card out of my camera and put it down somewhere so sensible that I can’t find it all.  You will have to imagine the birds and frogs and this shouldn’t be too hard as they will be much the same as ever.

I had a quiet morning as Mrs Tootlepedal went off early  to visit Matilda in Edinburgh and I retired to bed until lunch time as I had had  a very poor night’s sleep.

The fact that it was raining all morning as well as being cold and windy made staying in bed seem like a really good idea.

In the afternoon, I went to Carlisle and discussed bikes with the bike shop man.  He showed me a picture of the crack in the fairly speedy bike…

cracked bike

…which looked quite serious to me.   It is possible to get an aluminium frame crack welded but I am not going to do it because if one has appeared, it seems likely that another one might follow it.  The bike has been bumping over our rotten roads for many years on high pressure tyres and I feel that it doesn’t owe me anything and can be gracefully retired.

Besides, it is exciting to be contemplating a new bike, even at my age.

Oh, Mrs Tootlepedal has just come in with the camera card which needed her skills to be found.  Here is a late bird and frog show.

A happy frog…


…a cautious chaffinch…


…and a chaffinch catastrophe.  Ouch.


Back to the story in Carlisle:

After doing the new bike contemplation, I went to the station to meet Mrs Tootlepedal.  She had had a day of misfiring transport links with late buses and a missed train but had still managed to have an enjoyable lunch with Matilda and her father.

The reason for the early start and return was the need to be present as our Carlisle choir sang in the Carlisle Music Festival.  We were entered in two classes for open choirs, one with seven entries and one with four.  Rather to our surprise, we won the larger of the two classes and came second in the other.

The shield for the winning choir was enormous….

choir at Carlisle music festival

…which was only fair because our choir is enormous too.

choir at Carlisle music festival

This is about half of them.

Our very talented conductor can be seen in the back row looking justifiably proud of his work.

What with considering a new bicycle and singing in the choir, the day ended a great deal better than it had begun.

I even caught a flying bird of the day while I was having my sardine sandwich for lunch.




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In contrast to yesterday’s Antiguan sun, today’s guest picture shows a typical day in Derby.  My brother Andrew was suffering in the rain there a couple of day ago.


We had another very welcome dry day here today and things are even beginning to hint at drying out a little.  A bit more warmth would help the process.

A brisk wind also helps and we got that today, the downside being that it was a pretty chilly breeze and it made the day which was theoretically warm at 10°C feel a good deal colder.  Still, it was a useful day for a pedal and some gardening so we were happy.

My fairly speedy bike was still in the bike shop so I went out on the slow bike and stuck to skulking 18 miles twice up and down the Wauchope valley, as far out of the wind as I could stay.

I was impressed by the dedication of a flock of sheep to getting their strength up and stopped for a shot…


…and as I always look closely at a wall when I am leaning over one to take a photo, I took some lichen pictures while I was at it.

lichen on wall

I like the variations in colour, shape and style that the lichen on our roadside walls provides.

Otherwise, I kept my head well down in the crosswinds on the ride and didn’t take any more pictures.

When I got home, Mrs Tootlepedal had completed some errands round the town and was busy gardening.

She is very pleased with the early crocuses this year and so am I.

There are some brighter ones about…


…but the bulk of the flowers are a delicate pale violet and I like them both for themselves and when they mingle with the snowdrops.


And because I like eating it, I was very happy to see that the rhubarb is looking very promising.


Then I went inside and looked out.  The kitchen makes a warm and comfortable bird hide and supplies good coffee too (Rwandan today).

I looked high…


…and low.


After lunch, I went off for a walk.  It had been gently sunny while I had pedalled along in the morning but the clouds had come over for my walk and it was a grey afternoon.

Pathhead track

Snowdrops provided some cheer both at the start and near the finish of my walk.


On grey days, I tend to keep my eyes on the foreground and ignore the views and there is always something to help to pass the time.

This wall provided a home for some luxuriant moss.

mossy wall

And a birch tree had a neat circle of script lichen.

script lichen

As always, walls are a never ending source of delight and today I came across a growth which I hadn’t seen before.  It is the coral like structure on the left in the panel below.  I think that it must be lichen but I am by no means confident about that.

lichen on wall

On the other hand, I am confident about this.


This is definitely cladonia lichen.

I had already stopped at a promising piece of wall before I had noticed the tiny spots of red so either my lichen radar is improving with practice or I was just lucky because I didn’t see any more along the the wall.


It really is very red indeed.

I started and finished my walk with a visit to the Kilngreen in the hope of seeing some oyster catchers.

There was a pair at the Meeting of the Waters when I was on my out but they flew off with a gull before I could get too close…

oyster catchers

And there was a pair (probably the same pair I would imagine) in the same place when I came back an hour later and they flew off again, first to further up the bank of the river…

oyster catcher

…and then again to join the gulls on the fence posts.

Luckily one of them flew right past me.

oyster catcher

When I saw that I wasn’t going to get close to them, I took a shot through an arch of the Langholm Bridge which gave me a lot of pleasure even on a grey day.

Langholm Bridge

Mrs Tootlepedal was busy in the garden again when I got back and I fell easily into a supervisory role.  It is a suitable role for me as it doesn’t involve doing anything else but walking around and saying, “That looks good.”

In the evening, I went to sing with our local choir and enjoyed myself not least because I am sitting next to my cello playing friend Mike who is an excellent singer and keeps me right.

He remarked that he and his wife have been enjoying the frog pictures on the blog so here is one from today, especially for them.


The flying bird of the day is a black headed gull which  flew by while I was tracking the oyster catchers.  It has almost got its spring black head.

black headed gull


Oh and the title of the blog refers to a telephone call which I received from the bike shop this evening to tell me that the fairly speedy bike has got a two inch crack in the frame so it is time to say farewell to an old friend. Mrs Tootlepedal pointed out that it is just as well to discover a crack like that when it is in the bike shop and not when you are going down hill at 30mph.

I don’t remember exactly when I bought the fairly speedy bike, a Giant SCR, but I must have had it for over ten years so it will have done about 40,000 miles at least.  It has been a good servant, comfortable and reliable and I will be very happy if my new bike turns out to be as good.

I am going to look at getting a replacement suitable for a elderly gentleman with no great bike handling skills but who enjoys getting a few miles in over a year. Like Two Ton Tessie O’Shea used to say about herself, it will be built for comfort more than for speed.  I know my limits now.


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Today’s guest picture comes from Mary Jo from Manitoba.  From Manitoba but not in Manitoba as she has taken a break from endless winter to catch a ray or two in Antigua.  It looks like a good decision as more snow has arrived at home.

Mary Jo's holiday

We had a generally sunny, almost totally dry day here which was very welcome.  A nippy wind kept us from discarding many layers of outdoor clothing though.

I started the day by going to a warehouse on the banks of the Wauchope to collect some bags of potting compost for Mrs Tootlepedal and I admired one of the many little Wauchope cascades as I waited for  the compost treasure house to be opened.

Wauchope cascade

When  I got back to the garden, a song thrush was living up to its name by giving a recital from a branch of the walnut tree.


Down below a blackbird was engaged in a worm hunt.


And in the pond, frogs were being shiny.


Dropscone dropped in (with scones) for a cup of coffee and I got an update on a Scottish Golf meeting which he had attended where revolting members had gone against the wishes of the executive.  That is par for the course these days.

While we sipped and chatted, a robin flew in.


After Dropscone left (to go and play golf), I joined Mrs Tootlepedal in the garden only to be greeted by some rain.  Luckily, it didn’t last long and after this shock, the day behaved itself admirably.

All our neighbours were out in their gardens too and Mrs Tootlepedal took the opportunity to pass a surplus rhubarb plant across a fence to Irving and Libby who are establishing their new garden.

I wandered around counting bees….

bees on crocus

…and finding that there were a lot to count.  I was trying to catch them while they were still flying with variable success…

bees on crocus

…this one seems to be flying with one wing and resting with the other.

Still, it was very encouraging to see so many bees among the crocuses.

The frogs were providing a musical background for the bee hunt and I went to visit them too.

Some were getting together….


…and some were just thinking about it.


After lunch, I put on some cycling clothes, went outside and tested the wind and then went back in and put another layer on. Then I got the slow bike out and went off for a gentle pedal with pictures in mind.

I didn’t go along the Wauchope road as I usually do but went up the Esk valley towards Bentpath.  This route is very up and down and luckily gives me plenty of excuses to stop for a photo as I go along.

It was a glorious day for being out and about but in spite of the sunshine, there were still traces of snow about….


Just before I reached the village of Bentpath, I passed a hare which had been run over by a car and got a bit of a shock when there was a tremendous flapping of wings and crying and mewing as two buzzards rose up and flew above my head.  Usually buzzards just fly off quietly when anyone approaches but the reason for their agitation became clear when I saw this:

buzzard on road

I take it that is a young buzzard and the cause of its parent’s excitement.  I passed it by and went on for a good few yards before looking back, expecting to see the parents swoop down and go off with the youngster but nothing happened.

There was no sign of the other two birds and the buzzard on the road stayed stock still even when a car could be heard approaching.  I waved the car down and it slowed and passed within a few feet of the bird which didn’t move an inch.

I was considering my options when another car approached.  Once again, I waved it down and its driver summed up the situation very well.  He drove up to the buzzard, stopped and sounded his car horn gently.  At this, the buzzard flew off and normal service was resumed.

I pedalled on but not before admiring a tree, wall and gate composition on the other side of the road.

Benty gate

I crossed the bridge over the Esk at Bentpath…

Benty bridge

…but couldn’t get a good view of the bridge because of the scrub beside the river.  I couldn’t get a very good view of the church beside the bridge either because the powers that be have thought it best to put as many posts, wires and road signs in front of it as possible.

Westerkirk Church with poles

It would be nice if they could all be made to disappear but the camera never lies…

Westerkirk Church without poles

…or does it?

I pedalled on and just as I was wondering if they still kept alpacas at Georgefield, I got the answer in the middle of the road.

alpaca on road

As I didn’t want to chase it along the road, I was worried about not being able to get past the animal but the alpaca took the matter into its own hands and trotted past me into its own farmyard.

Having been delayed by a bird and and an animal, I was expecting to be waylaid by a fish later in the journey but they kept themselves to themselves and I managed to get home with no more alarums and excursions.

I recrossed the Esk by the Enzieholm bridge and headed back down the valley.  I got a better view of the Benty bridge…

Benty bridge

…and spotted a pair of oyster catchers beside the river nearby.

oyster catchers Benty
I have cycled over the bridge across the Boyken Burn at Old Hopsrig many times but never stopped to take its picture before.

Boyken Burn bridge

As usual, I had a look at the bridge parapet to see if there was any interesting lichen or moss there and was very surprised to find a tiny but perfectly formed tree growing in a gap between stones.

Boyken Burn bridge tree

The route I was taking has been used for many hundreds of years and I could see the site of a hill top iron age fort at Craig.

Iron age fort

When I got home, needless to say I found Mrs Tootlepedal hard at work in the garden.  She had planted out her primroses but hadn’t been able to put them all where she had planned because, rather unexpectedly, some winter aconites had poked their heads above the soil.

winter aconite and primrose

Still, that is welcome problem to have and she found a home for the primroses elsewhere.

By this time, even on a fine day, the light was beginning to fade and the temperature drop so we went in for a cup of tea and a slice of toast.

We are expecting a light frost tonight but we are keeping our fingers crossed that it is light enough to do no harm.  It is the price to pay for a bit of fine weather at this time of year.  (A quick look at our local weather station tells me that it is zero degrees C  as I write this.)

In spite of the fine weather, I didn’t manage to get a picture of a flying bird today so I have had to make do with this big bird scraping the roof tiles of our neighbour.

low flying plane





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Today’s guest picture comes from our neighbour Bruce.  He had ventured as far as Aberdeen where he saw this pillar box.  Reading the crest on the front which says Edward VII,  he reckons that it has been standing there for over 100 years.

aberdeen postbox

After some slightly warmer weather, we reverted to type and it  struggled to get over 5°C and because the air was quite damp and the wind was coming from the north east, it felt quite chilly all day.

But it was dry and the wind was light so I got out the fairly speedy bike to have a last ride on it before it went in for its service.  We had plans for the afternoon so I rather boringly went round my customary short 20 mile run through Canonbie.  Since the route was familiar and the skies were leaden, I didn’t intend to stop to take pictures but I almost always carry my camera and I couldn’t pass these characters at Canonbie without stopping for a snap.

canonbie cow

canonbie cow

And my favourite….

canonbie cow

…there is an eye there if you look very closely.

I had just arrived home when the minister, with his coffee radar in perfect working order, arrived.  He told us that he had done a 60 mile sportive in Yorkshire on Saturday and considering that he has done hardly any miles on his bike this winter, he was very pleased to have got round in good shape and at a decent speed.  Kudos to him.

When he left, I had to clean my bike to make it respectable enough to go to the bike shop and then I cleaned the bird feeders and then took a moment or two to look around.

However, the light was so poor and the flowers in such a sulk that there was nothing to see so we went off for our outing.  We combined dropping off the bike at the bike shop with a visit to a garden centre for lunch and then a bird feed emporium to buy more seed.

I took the opportunity to buy a new helmet when I was in the bike shop.  I tried many helmets on but they didn’t fit at all well and woggled about on my pointy head.  In the end, the only one that fitted well and was light and comfortable was also among the most expensive.  I bought it anyway because a comfortable and light helmet is worth a lot

When we got home, I had another look around and this time there were many frogs to be seen.


And a lot of frogs spawn.


Mrs Tootlepedal embarked on some gardening work and I tested the compost in Bin D to see if it would sieve.  It did and I was able to spread a little about on one of Mrs Tootlepedal’s new beds.

Mrs Tootlepedal reported that the sparrowhawk had paid three visits to the garden in the morning so it was not surprising that there weren’t a lot of birds about today.  One blackbird caused a stir when it flew up on to the kitchen windowsill and stuck there, frozen into immobility.  Even the arrival of the window cleaners couldn’t persuade it to move and in the end Mrs Tootlepedal went out and shifted it by hand.

blackbird on windowsill

On a nearby bench, another blackbird expressed concern.


I don’t know what had happened to it.  It wasn’t trembling and I wonder if it had seen its own reflection in the window and was baffled about what was happening and where to go.  It flew out of Mrs Tootlepedal’s hand so it wasn’t fatally injured.

The few male chaffinches which came to the feeders were looking very bright.

chaffinch and siskin


But they were not as bright as some gaudy primroses which Mrs Tootlepedal purchased the other day and which are waiting to go into the garden.


The colour will be very welcome.

In the evening, my flute pupil Luke came and we had a good time playing a Haydn sonata.

After tea, I went off to play trios with Mike and Isabel and although as Isabel put it, we had some room for improvement, we enjoyed the playing a lot.

The absence of birds and the gloomy light made finding a flying bird of the day very hard and this was the best that I could manage.

chaffinch and siskin








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