Archive for the ‘Singing’ Category

Today’s guest picture comes from our son Tony.  On a clear day recently, he was able to look across the Forth and see North Berwick.  We haven’t organised a holiday there for this year yet.  This may be the closest we get to it.

north berwick

On a normal Sunday at this time of year, we would go to Church to sing in the church choir in the morning, and then go to Carlisle to sing with Community Choir in the afternoon.  Thanks to the dreaded virus, both church and community choir are closed for the foreseeable future and time hung heavy on my hands.

Mrs Tootlepedal was busy with community buy out work, but I just mooched around feeling hard done by, not even being able to raise enthusiasm for a walk or even compost sieving.

On the bright side it was another sunny and dry day (after another frosty start) so I did wander around the garden where I found a lot of the potential tadpoles developing well.

developing tadpoles

The cold mornings are not encouraging new growth so I had to make do with daffodils…

daffodil in sun

..and chionodoxas for floral cheer again.

chionodoxa clump

The silver pear is offering signs of hope…

silver pear march 22

…and a single flower on the head of a drumstick primula hinted at good times to come.

first primula flower

Mrs Tootlepedal and I were sitting on our new bench enjoying the warmth of the sun when we heard the buzzing of a bee.  I rushed to get a camera but only managed a very fuzzy shot of the buzzer.

faint bee

Any bee is welcome though.

Taking a last shot of a fancy cowslip, I went in to make lentil and carrot soup for lunch.


After lunch, I stirred myself enough to get my bicycle out in the hope that the good Dr Velo would offer a cure for my blues.  It was not very warm in spite of the sun and the temperature was still in single figures, but the wind wasn’t too bad.

The blue sky was almost cloudless and the good doctor soon began to work his magic, helped perhaps by the fact that I had chosen a very easy route, my favourite Sunday ride down the main roads to the Roman Wall and back again.

As I passed the junction at the start of the Canonbie by-pass, I thought that I heard people hooting at me but when I looked up, I saw it was a skein of birds flying overhead.  I stopped and got out my camera but they were well past me before I could press the shutter.


I cycled over the bridge at Longtown and was pleased to see that work has started on repairing one side of the bridge at least.

It is not  a very photogenic ride but a bright bracket fungus on a tree stump did make me stop…

barcket fungus newtown road

…and I was happy to see young lambs at the far side of the field.

two lambs

It was a clear day and I could see the final fling of the northern English fells in the distance.

north england hills

I got to Newtown, my twenty mile turning point, and was glad of a rest to eat a banana while sitting on my customary seat…

newtown bench

…and admiring the daffodils round the old village drinking fountain.

newtown pump with daffs

The wind had been in my face the whole way down so I was fully expecting the weather gods to play their usual tricks and either change the wind direction or let it die away completely on my return journey.

On this occasion though they were at their most benign, and after taking 90 minutes for the southern leg, I only needed 79 minutes for the return to the north.

I paused for this fine English tree…

longtown road tree

…and for the Welcome to Scotland sign at the border.

welcome to scotland

It is not an impressive gateway to our beautiful country, comprising as it does of a scruffy lay-by, two litter bins and a slew of ill matched road signs.  To add to the lack of warmth in the welcome, the illuminated digital sign up the road was telling people to stop doing all this travelling around anyway.

“Ceud mìle fàilte” as they say.

Mrs Tootlepedal had had a busy afternoon split between business and the garden but she had finished by the time that I got back so I nodded at a blackbird perched on the greenhouse…


…and went in to join her.

Mrs Tootlepedal hunted out some more of her chicken cacciatore and we had it with rice for our tea.

I had tinned peach slices with Mackie’s excellent ice cream for afters, and that rounded off a day that ended with me feeling much better than when it had begun.

I had thought that the skein of birds that flew across me when I was cycling were geese of some sort but a closer look on the computer showed me that all my flying birds of the day were not geese but swans.

gaggle closer

It’s not often that all your geese are swans.  It was lucky that I saw them because there was hardly a bird at the feeder all day.

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Today’s guest picture comes from  my Manitoba correspondent, Mary Jo.  I think she must have moved on from Australia to New Zealand because today’s picture shows the Rakaia Gorge, which is in the South Island.  It was raining when she took the picture.

rakaia gorge nz

Today was a busy day but it will give rise to a brief post as camera opportunities were few and far between, not to say nearly non existent.

We went off to church in fine weather and returned in a  rain shower.  In between, we had quite a long service and a short choir practice so this did not leave me much time to watch the birds before an early lunch.

There were not many birds to watch but those that came still gave me great enjoyment.

A goldfinch got in among….

siskins and goldfinch

…the familiar crowd of siskins.

four siskins

The sun came out and a chaffinch came too.

siskins and chffinch

I put this picture in just to show that a siskin can eat a seed without dropping it.  This is a very rare shot for that reason.

single siskin not spilling food

The necessity for my early lunch was caused by a ‘singing day’ with our Carlisle Choir.  It is called a singing day but it is really a singing afternoon as it lasts from 1.30 to 5.30.

I went down by myself as Mrs Tootlepedal had other calls on her time and managed to purchase some cheese, sourdough bread and coffee on my way.

The singing afternoon was very enjoyable and useful too.  We are singing in a local music festival competition next Thursday so we did a lot of work on the three songs we are doing, but we also had a couple of technical workshops which should improve our singing if we all remember what we learned.

We could hear another sharp shower battering on the windows while we sang, but the rain passed and I drove home with a beautiful sunset lighting my way.

It was a very satisfactory afternoon and it was made better when I found that Scotland had beaten France in the rugby international.  I had been quite happy not to watch the game as I had expected us to lose.  I can watch it calmly on catch-up now and claim that I always knew that we were going to win.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch, not the best, but the only one I got today.

flying chaffinch

Footnote:  There are have been several reported cases of the coronavirus in Cumbria so it may be that things will start to get cancelled if more cases are confirmed.  It would be a pity if all our hard work for the music festival comes to nothing, but we shall have to wait and see what happens.

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Today’s guest picture is another from our neighbour Liz’s walk with Riley,  As well as the waterfall, she saw some very early primroses, sheltering beside the stream.

liz's primroses

We saw the return of grey and windy weather today which was a disappointment after our dry week, but at least the forecast rain didn’t arrive until after dark.  This meant that I was able to walk to the producers’ market at the Buccleuch Centre without getting wet.

Mrs Tootlepedal was already there when I arrived, as she and her fellow worker Margaret had set up a stall and were canvassing support of the community land buy out  They were being successful at enrolling more supporters and I purchased meat and fish so we were all quite happy.

When I left, they were still working hard and I thought that I should follow their example and do some work too when I got home, so I put another week of the newspaper index into the Archive Group database.

Then I made some lentil soup for lunch and while it was cooking, I had time to watch the birds.

The feeder was quite busy…

busy feeder siskins

…although the strong winds were making life hard for this goldfinch on its stalk.

ruffled goldfinch

Heading straight into the wind, another goldfinch aimed for aerodynamic perfection.

determined goldfinch

The bright red breast on this redpoll was another sign that spring is definitely here in spite of the gloomy weather.

redpoll in mating colour

I took this picture to show that the redpoll is a tiny bird, the size of a siskin and much smaller than a goldfinch.

redpoll goldfinch siskin

There was the usual amount of siskin squabbling going on and I liked the pained expression on the face of this chaffinch as he had to put up with more gratuitous abuse…

shocked chaffinch

…though I suppose that bad manners and tweets are no novelty these days.

For lunch I enjoyed some haggis from the market with my soup and Mrs Tootlepedal enjoyed some somosas.  Then, as it had still not started to rain, we got into the car and drove up to the Laverock bird hide.  The larch glade at the hide has been threatened with felling because of larch disease, but it is still standing and while Mrs Tootlepedal scanned the cloudy sky for raptors (in vain), I went in to look at smaller birds.

I could hardly hear myself think because of loud noises and when I checked, I could see that frogs were busy in the small pond beside the hide.

two frogs laverock

The peanut feeder had been freshly filled and I was entertained by a steady stream of great tits, blue tits and coal tits.

great tit, coal tit, blue tit laverock

A greater spotted woodpecker landed on a nearby pole and started giving it a good pecking.

woodpecker laverock hide

I could easily have sat there longer with so much to look at…

tits at laverock hide

…but I had promised Mrs Tootlepedal a walk, so we left the car at the hide and walked off along the road down to the river.road from laverock hide

Even at this time of year, there are subtle colours in the trees to enjoy…

tints on trees in winter

…and the road soon enters a wooded section with a fresh set of colours…

woods beside rashiel road

…and tantalising glimpses of old walls across the valley.

view across tarras

And where there are trees, banks and walls, there are interesting things to look at…

lichen, moss, fern rashiel road

…so even on a grey and windy day, it was not a dull stroll.

The Tarras water was very calm when we got to it.

Tarras wter near Rashiel

When the road got to the bridge across the river, we kept to the same bank and walked along the track towards Rashiel.

There is a curious mound near the house which might be an esker, left after the ice age…

mound at rashiel

…or might be a man made construction.  It is hard to tell.

It is in the middle of an otherwise flat area.

tree at Rashiel

We retraced our steps to the hide where I showed Mrs Tootlepdal the frogs.  The light on the ruffled water made it look as though the frog had been frozen in plastic and was struggling to get out.

frog in rough water

Mrs Tootlepedal was much struck by the endless procession of small birds to the feeder…

laverock feeder

…but in the absence of any more obliging woodpeckers, we didn’t stay too long and got home in time for a nice cup of tea.

The recent windy weather has battered our little fruit cages quite a lot, so Mrs Tootlepedal, with some help from me, went out to stiffen their resolve with a screwdriver.

After that, there was nothing for me to do but practice hymns and songs for the choirs tomorrow and try not to get too upset while watching snatches of the rugby on the telly.

The wind is howling and the rain is hammering down as I write this, but it is supposed to stop before tomorrow morning so I am hoping that the forecast is right this time.

A chaffinch, keeping its head up in case of a rude siskins, is the flying bird of the day.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture once again arises from my brother Andrew taking his son on vigorous hill walks to help Nick prepare for a trek in Nepal.  Ignoring Storm Jorge’s strong winds, they battled up to the top of Bunster Hill and enjoyed this splendid view of the junction of the Rivers Dove and Manifold (and some traces of the recent flooding).

Manifold and Dove rivers

I did no hill climbing today, or indeed any exercise of note at all, apart from walking to church in the morning.  To be truthful, I walked back too, but that still didn’t amount to much.

I had felt so much better after my restful day yesterday that I decided that some more of the same would be a good idea.

I wasn’t entirely idle as I made a beef stew with carrots, turnip and parsnip for the slow cooker in the morning and a loaf of bread in the bread maker in the afternoon.

In between, I did some archive group work on the computer and watched the birds.

We have a small but select supply of redpolls at the moment…

redpoll looking round

…of which I approve, though I am not sure that this siskin is so keen on them.

redpoll and siskin

We had a good few chaffinches around and the siskins definitely didn’t approve of them…

siskin and chaffinch

…and any chaffinch approaching got a dusty welcome…

siskin blasting chaffinch

…and was quite likely to be blown away by the ferocity of the welcome.

siskin shouting at chaffinch

These goldfinches were more relaxed when a siskin approached them.

siskin threatening two goldfinches

I had a look round the garden before lunch but it was very cold in the brisk wind so I didn’t loiter and this encouraging azalea bud was the most exciting thing that I saw.

azalea bud 1 March

I was soon back inside, drinking coffee and watching the birds again.  A dunnock lurked among the flower stems…

dunnock among the plants

…and a pigeon arrived for some fallen seed…

pigeon head and shoulders

…while up above a goldfinch checked the feeder for aggressive siskins before venturing down.

quizzical goldfinch

After lunch, we went off to Carlisle to sing with the community choir there.  We were early so I had time for another look round the garden with my phone camera in hand before we left.  This time some flowers caught my eye.

Mrs Tootlepedal has cleared some old dead stems from around the pink hellebores to give us a better view of them from the kitchen window.  They looked unusually cheerful about this, I thought.


The first pulmonaria flowers have also appeared.


When we got to the choir, we found that our usual conductor Ellen was not there and we were inclined to be a bit disappointed, but she had sent down a really excellent substitute, Andy.  He was in tremendously energetic form and passed on some very useful techniques for improving our singing at various points in our pieces as well as jollying us along to produce some really whole-hearted choral efforts.   We all left the practice feeling uplifted by the warmth of his personality on a cold day.

The drive home had two good points about it.  Firstly, it was still light the whole way home, and secondly, the starlings were in fine form overhead as we drove through Longtown.

The stew turned out well and it rounded off a day which was a great improvement on the one which dire forecasts of the malevolence of Storm Jorge had led us to expect. The forecast for next week suggests that we will have nothing more than a mild breeze until next weekend.  Some relief from strong winds will be very welcome.

The flying bird of the day is a chaffinch.

flying chaffinch

Footnote: After my two quiet days, I am feeling pretty well, so I hope to be more active tomorrow.

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Today’s guest picture is another from camera club member Simon.  He took a walk along the old railway line to Longtown and managed to find himself under three bridges at the same time, the main road, the old railway and a footbridge.

simon's bridges

The weather, which likes to have its little joke, decided that a day when there was no time for  walk and when Evie was due to go home would be just the day to put on a show of sunshine after a week of more or less continuous rain.

Now I like a joke as much as the next man, but even I thought that this was going a bit far and allowed a smidgeon of bitterness to enter my soul.

Leaving Mrs Tootlepedal and Annie to combine Evie care with talking to the project leader about the proposed community land purchase, I went to church where a diminished choir and a service with few hymns made for a thin singing experience.

As we were preparing for Annie and Evie’s departure after lunch and I had to some shopping, there wasn’t even a lot of time to look at birds when I got back.

Still, it was good to see them perching in the sun.

sunlit siskin

sunlit robin

sunlit chaffinch

When I went out into the garden for a moment, I turned my eyes to the hills and wished that I had had time to climb.

Castle hill with Cattle

In the garden, there were still no frogs to be seen but the first of the miniature daffodils has come out…

miniature daffodil

…the chives are looking promising…

chives early

…and the rhubarb is developing.

rhubarb developing

I used to think that hellebores were a bit dull but in recent years, I have changed my mind.

hellebore backlit

Back inside, there was another moment to watch the birds.  The sunshine hadn’t improved their manners at all…

two siskins vs chaffinch

…but at least one chaffinch made it safely to the feeder and enjoyed a seed.

sunlit chaffinch looking round

After lunch, I had a quick look to see if the sun had brought the crocuses out…

open crocuses

…and then it was time to pack Annie, Evie, the pushchair and an enormous case in to the car and pray that the Zoe would behave and take us to Carlisle.

The Zoe behaved impeccably and we arrived at the station in plenty of time and found that the train was more or less on time.  These days the railway experience wouldn’t be the same without some excitement, so a train from another railway company got stuck at the platform at which our train was due to arrive.  With a couple of minutes to go, there was a rush of pushchair, case and passengers over the footbridge to catch the down train from the up platform.  All was well  though and we got Annie, Evie, the case and the pushchair onto the train and it pulled out on time as we shed a tear and waved goodbye.

It really was a lovely day in Carlisle as they left…

citadel in sunshine

…but we ignored the lovely day and headed indoors to our Carlisle Community Choir practice.  Fortunately, it was a very good session and the tenors recovered some of their self esteem after last week’s travails.

And even better, it was still light as we drove home so we were able to watch a pretty spectacular starling murmuration over our heads as we went back through Longtown.  If we get a decent day, we will try to go down to see the starlings with camera in hand next week.  There seemed to be a lot more birds than when we watched them a month ago.

The house seems very quiet.

The flying bird of the day is a choice between this rather impressionistic study of a goldfinch…

impression of flying goldfinch

…and this neater but duller shot.

flying goldfinch

Take your pick.

I have time on my hands tomorrow: the forecast is for sleet and snow.  Ha ha.

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Today’s guest picture is another from Dropscone’s Amsterdam trip.  He took a tour of the canals in the city while he was there and saw the the Muziektheater, which is called now The National Opera and Ballet.


We are beginning to have only a distant memory of the sun and it was no surprise to wake to another very grey, windy and wet day today.  It doesn’t make for good photographs or interesting outings.

In years gone by, I could rely on a busy feeder to keep me entertained on dull days but there was only a lone dunnock to see…

dunnock on tray

…before we walked through the rain to go to church.

The choir sang a couple of extra hymns for an introit and an anthem so we were kept busy today.  As it was Candlemas, the church was was bright with twinkling candles and this gave the service a cheerful feel.

It was still raining, but not so heavily, as we walked home and the rain was light enough to let me walk round the garden before settling down to coffee and the crossword.

The lone crocus had been joined by two more….

three crocuses

…and when I looked around, I found a larger clump in another bed.

lots of early crocuses

There is still some way to go before our daffodil gets a friend.

bunch of daffs

I did think of going for a walk in my new waterproof coat but the rain persisted for longer than my determination to enjoy the fresh air did, so I took vicarious exercise by watching heroic young women cycling through appalling mud in the under 23 Women’s World Cyclocross Championship.  Anyone who calls young people “snowflakes” should be made to watch this footage by law.

I wasn’t entirely idle.  I looked out of the window from time to time too.

Siskins arrived.

two soggy siskins

The shot below shows the fine rain that continued all morning.

siskin in rain

Quite a little crowd of siskins arrived in the end…

siskins on feeder

…and monopolised the feeder again.

siskins on feeder in rain

The dunnocks kept an eye out for fallen seed…

dunnok on tray rim

…though it was sometimes hard to spot them against the background of winter vegetation.

dunnock on plants

A lone goldfinch flew down out of the mist to land on the plum tree…

goldifnch in the mist

…and a chaffinch came too.

chaffinch in wet plum tree

The chaffinch didn’t venture up on to the feeder…


…but stuck to some ground level scavenging.

After lunch, we went off to Carlisle, with Mrs Tootlepedal at the wheel.  As well as going to the choir we made good use of the energy expended in getting us there by calling in to pump up our tyres in Langholm, recycle paper, card and milk bottles in Longtown, and do some cheese and honey shopping in Carlisle.

We still got to the choir on time.  We spent the first half of the session practicing a piece where the tenors have the melody for a good part of the time.  This is very rare and made us a bit nervous. Fortunately, it was not a very difficult number so we didn’t disgrace ourselves.   We weren’t big headed though, and we still talked to members of the other sections at the interval.

We are having to learn three pieces by heart for a competition in March and when we tried one after the interval, it was heartening to find that I pretty well knew it already.  Only two to go!

I had prepared rolled shoulder of lamb and veg last night, and Mrs Tootlepedal had put this into the slow cooker in the morning so we had a good meal waiting for us when we got home.  To add to the feast, she also made an  apple crumble with some of the last of our apples from last year.  There will be enough for one more crumble.  We had to buy onions today for the first time for five months so we are entering the ‘hungry gap’.  Fortunately our corner shop is on hand with supplies.

The flying bird of the day is one of the siskins.

flying siskin

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Today’s guest picture comes from camera club member Simon.  He lives in Canonbie and took a walk to visit the old railway bridge over the Esk below the village.  He sent me this picture to add to my bridge collection.

railway bridge kirkandrews

I followed doctor’s instructions to have a quiet day in again today, and the pain that such slightly boring activity brought was alleviated by the fact that it was a dull, windy, grey day outside in the morning and it got worse and wetter in the afternoon. I wasn’t missing much.

My brain is not quite at its peak so I spent some time making bread twice. The first time was a complete failure because I think that I didn’t make sure the the paddle in the bread maker was securely in position and I ended up with a very curious but definitely dead concoction.  The second effort was more successful.

I made some soup for lunch which worked at the first time of asking.

There weren’t a lot of birds about today but a couple of siskins did appear on the feeder…

two siskins

…although the light was so poor that I couldn’t take a good picture of them.

Our garden residents put in an appearance, with a dunnock…

dunnock on tray

…and a blackbird on the tray…

blackbird looking around

…and the robin on a hedge.

robin on hedge

A dunnock kindly tried some trampolining to keep me entertained…

dunnock trampolining

…but mostly I kept myself occupied by doing some Langholm Archive work.  I put a couple of weeks of the Eskdale and Liddesdale Advertiser index into the database and tried to make some progress with my PHP problems.

Reading the manual made my head hurt so I phoned up our younger son and called for help.  He is a computer programmer to trade and had written a lot of the original code for the affected pages.  He generously offered to help and at the time of writing the repairs are going well and most of the repair work has been done.  Mrs Tootlepedal is going to make a sticky toffee pudding to take up as a reward tomorrow.

In the evening a friend came round for a little singing practice and I demonstrated breathing techniques with such enthusiasm that I had another dizzy spell and alarmed her considerably.  You might think that I should be old enough to be sensible but you would be wrong.

However, I recovered after a few minutes and was able to eat the excellent evening meal which Mrs Tootlepedal had provided.  As it involved bubble and squeak, I was pleased not to have missed it.

I am going to have another very quiet day tomorrow with light breathing only.  It is going to be wet and windy again which will help.

A siskin is trying to see where the flying bird of the day went.  I didn’t see it either.

siskin with head screwed on


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