Posts Tagged ‘siskin’

Today’s guest picture comes from Mrs Tootlepedal and shows two fragments of the steampunk embroidery that she enjoyed so much yesterday.  The artist is Jan Johnson.

steampunk embroidery

We had the first genuinely warm and sunny day of the year and it was ideal for gardening and cycling so it was unfortunate that it coincided with our Sunday day of two choirs with no time for anything else but singing.

It was very welcome all the same and gave a really good lift to our spirits.

In between the church choir and the Carlisle community choir, there was time to look out of the window and walk round the garden.

Once again the garden was full of siskins….


…but among the familiar sights and sounds, the first redpoll of spring appeared as well.


Out in the garden among the crocuses…


…fresh buds are a pointer of things to come.

spring buds

….and today we had many added bees…

bee on crocus

bee on crocus

…and the frogs in the pond were purring away.

frogs and spawn

They had been busy.

frog and spawn

Some were all for togetherness…


…while others preferred to hide their light under a bushel.


We had to work hard in both choirs as two of the hymns in the morning had no less than seven verses and it was the last practice before a competition for our Carlisle choir in the afternoon.

The forecast says that we should keep clear of frost for the next few days so I am hoping to get out and about on the bike but it will have to be on my slow bike as the fairly speedy bike is going in for its annual service tomorrow.

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







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Today’s guest picture is an impressive sea cave from Dropscone’s Irish holiday.


Our thaw continued and there was no snow to show on the lawns when we woke up.  It was still fairly chilly and grey with occasional rain so we are not breaking out the spring champagne yet.

It took the siskins a bit of time to get to the garden this morning but there were plenty of them when they finally arrived….

siskins and goldfinch

…with the occasional goldfinch and chaffinch trying to gatecrash the party.

siskins and chaffinch

There were no blackbirds or robins in sight when I looked out of the kitchen window but I did see a lone dunnock.


I don’t know if the low level birds are put off by the siskins, who are quite noisy or whether they have found somewhere else to go for the time being.  Life is full of inexplicable mysteries.

After coffee, I girded my loins and got my cycling gear on and of course, it immediately started to rain.   I had a marmalade sandwich while I waited and when the rain stopped, I set off.

The rain started again.

But it didn’t last and by the time that I was three miles up the road, things looked a lot brighter.

Bloch view

I thought that this narrow back road over the hill down to Canonbie might be clear of snow so I pedalled on cautiously and apart from some wind-formed snow sculptures beside the road at Tarcoon…

snow at Tarcoon

…there was little snow to see let alone to worry about.  As the sun had come out, it wasn’t a bad day for a pedal at all, though the brisk and chilly wind made me grateful to be very well wrapped up even in the sunshine.

I was quite keen to get home before any more showers arrived so I didn’t stop for any more pictures.  Although the skies clouded over before I got to Langholm, I arrived home dry and cheerful

A quick walk round the garden revealed crocuses trying their best…


…and a pond full of frogs.  They all dived under the water as I approached except this one who waited for a portrait.


It is a source of wonder that a frog’s eye is so prominently reflected on the surface of the pond but it can be a bit annoying for the happy snapper.

It wasn’t hard to see a lot of moss almost everywhere I looked in the garden.

It was on trees, piles of stones….

garden moss

….paths and lawns.  It sometimes feels that if we don’t get a good long dry spell sometime soon, we will gradually be engulfed under an inexorable tide of moss.

After lunch, a man arrived and hitched up the dam bridge repairers’ tea shack and office to his pick up…..

dam bridge repairs

…and drove off with it.   The road closed signs were also removed during the morning so we are almost back to normal again.  Just the railings to come.

It was a bit gloomy outside in the afternoon so Mrs Tootlepedal thought that a walk might be more cheerful than scratching around in a cold, damp garden and we went off to view the felled wood at the Becks Burn.

Of course, there was moss to look at on a wall as we walked along…

moss on wall

…and we liked the very vivid green of the expanding layer around the edge of this clump.

As we walked up through the field from the road, we could see that the Beck’s Burn was running freely with a combination of melted snow and rain…

becks burn bridge

…and Mrs Tootlepedal, who hasn’t visited the felling before, found that the view ahead was dramatically changed.

becks burn wood

We went up for a closer look, passing a striking tree stump on the way.


A bench had been placed on the edge  of the felled area.  If it was me, I would have turned it towards the view of Warbla to the left but as it was…becks burn wood

… it was looking at this.


Not the most exciting view in the world.

As it started to rain, the prospect was even more gloomy than usual.

On the far side of the burn, Mrs Tootlepedal spotted the steps and railing that were part of the walk through the wood before the tree eaters arrived.

becks burn wood steps

I wonder if they will try to re-instate the walk when the felling has finished.

We didn’t stop to explore further because of the drizzle but as soon as we turned for home, it brightened up again…


…and we got home just before the rain re-started.

We passed this rather  artistic tree stump on our way.

mossy tree stump

We had paused to chat to a friend in the street outside the house when we were interrupted by a huge flurry of wings and an entire flock of siskins rose out of our garden and flew off.  It was an impressive sight as there must have been well over 50 birds.

In the evening, I went off to sing with Langholm Sings, our local community choir.  We spent the evening singing operatic choruses in preparation for a concert with our local orchestra next month.  These are fun and quite difficult to sing really well (perhaps because everyone thinks that they know them and they don’t pay enough attention to the score) but they are not as satisfying as singing ‘proper’ choir pieces in four part harmony.

There is a possibility of more snow overnight but we hope that if it does snow, it won’t come to much.  Fingers crossed again.

It was too gloomy for good solo flying bird of the day shots so a sparring duo has got the honour instead.

chaffinch and siskin


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Today’s guest picture comes from our daughter Annie’s recent working trip to Berlin where she spotted a familiar landmark.


Aided by temperatures just above freezing and some overnight rain, the snow continues its retreat from the garden.

lawn with snow melting

I had to go to the dentist after breakfast but it was only for a check up and I was passed fit for duty and no work was required.

I had look round the garden when I got back. There are signs that given a bit of sunshine, the crocuses may have survived the snow…


…and there was a clump of what looked like fresh frog spawn in the pond.

frog spawn

It was a drizzly sort of morning but it was enlivened by a large flock of siskins which invaded the garden.

They sat on top of the walnut tree and made a fearful racket with their chattering…


…they flew down and filled the plum tree…


…and they crowded together to pick up fallen seeds below the feeder.


There are always plenty of fallen seeds when siskins are about as they are messy eaters.  It is not necessarily their fault as they are tiny birds and the sunflower hearts are quite big.

busy feeders

There were a few chaffinches and goldfinches about too but the vast majority of the visitors today were siskins.  I counted over fifty of them at one time.

They did some steady eating in the rain…


…and a lot of quarrelling…


…and were not afraid to put the boot into a much larger goldfinch if one stood in the way.

siskin attacking goldfinch

Sometimes the goldfinches fought back…

goldfinch attacking siskin

…but there were also moments of ecumenical avianism.

busy feeder

Mrs Tootlepedal was helping at the Buccleuch Centre coffee shop over lunch so I hoped for the best weather wise and went to see if the Wauchope road was snow free on my fairly speedy bike.

The road was clear but the weather wasn’t…

Callister road

…and after five miles up to Callister in the rain, I got fed up and went home and had lunch.

Mrs Tootlepedal returned from the Buccleuch Centre and when we took a turn round the garden, it was plain that the rain had stopped so rather to my own surprise, I got my bike back out and went off and did another ten miles up to Callister and back in grey but dry conditions.

Loyal readers may remember that the rear view mirror fell off my slow bike on a ride a few days ago before the snow came and I was unable to spot it in the grass beside the road on my way home.

I was hopeful that the snow might have flattened the grass enough to make the mirror visible as I went up today and my hope was justified.  I saw the mirror lying on the verge.

I was pleased with that fact that I had spotted it but less pleased to find that a car had run over it and it was broken beyond repair.  I have ordered a new one.  Thanks to general decrepitude, I can’t bend my head round to look behind me without falling off my bike and a mirror is thus a necessity.

The bridge builder had been busy all morning on the the dam bridge repairs and by the afternoon, the bridge was open to traffic.

dam bridge repairs opening

We are still waiting for some new railings but that is merely cosmetic so it seemed only right to have a grand opening ceremony.

I hadn’t heard anything from the Queen in London and the Scottish First Minister is busy arguing about Brexit so we had to make do ourselves…

….and you can see what an impressive occasion it was.

The two nymphs of Wauchope Street, Mrs Tootlepedal and Mrs Ewart held the ceremonial ivy while the Queen of Wauchope Street, Mrs Margaret Hogg did the honours with the kitchen scissors.  Riley, the terrier, kept a watchful eye on proceedings to see that protocol was fully observed.


The ivy was cut and Liz presented Margaret with a grand bouquet of flowers…

dam bridge repairs opening

…before the procession moved off over the bridge…

dam bridge repairs opening

…in pursuit of a nice cup of tea and a biscuit in Wauchope Cottage.

We may have to do it all again when the new railings come.

After this excitement, Mrs Tootlepedal went off to do some more helping out at the Buccleuch Centre and the rest of us had a much needed rest.

It looks as though we are going to avoid any more serious snow for the next few days but with light rain almost every day and temperatures no higher than 7°C until the middle of the month, we are not stocking up on sun tan lotion just yet.

The flying bird of a rather gloomy day is one of the many siskins.







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Today’s guest picture comes from my Somerset correspondent Venetia’s trip to Yellowstone.


Although when we woke up, there was still a lot of snow about in the garden today…

snowy garden

…with a bit of luck there will be a lot more green about when we wake up tomorrow as the temperature hit 7°C by the afternoon and should stay above freezing all night.  If the forecast rain arrives, most of the snow should be gone soon.

I was able to walk up to the Archive Centre after breakfast to do a meter reading without treading on any snow in the streets and Dropscone also did the same when he came round for coffee.  He had used some Irish flour left over from his holiday for his scones and it produced very tasty results.

During the morning, the dam bridge was the scene of great activity.

First men cleared the snow…


…and then they trampled about in a reflective way before deciding that the hard core laid by the builders before the snow had now belied its name and become so soft that it all had to be dug up.


This didn’t take long and soon a large lorry was disgorging barrow loads of tarmac which were spread, rolled,  spirit levelled and rolled again….


…until the bridge looked like this.


All it needs now is some railings and we will get our street back again.

During the morning, we also got some birds back in the garden in spite of the noise from the bridge builders.

After some almost totally chaffinch days, we got a better variety of visitors.

green finch



There were quite a few chaffinches still, with this one looking a bit disgruntled about the fair weather visitors, I thought.


The amount of wet weather that we have had over the recent years can be gauged by the quantity of moss on the plum tree branches.  The whole garden is getting gradually covered in moss.

A number of chaffinches both female….

flying chaffinches

…and male…


…made spirited efforts to win the coveted title of flying bird of the day.

After lunch, I rang up Sandy to suggest a walk only to find that he had been laid low by a bad cold.  I had had an ambitious walk in mind but under the circumstances, I just went out for my familiar short three bridges stroll.

I had hoped to see herons, dippers, wagtails, ducks and gulls but in the end only saw mallards…


…who seem to be pairing up for the spring…


…and a good supply of black headed gulls, some of whom are beginning to show where they get their name from.

Most of them were playing musical fence posts….


…but some flew about in a more helpful way.

black headed gull

It is interesting (to me) to see how differently coloured the same sky is when photographed  from the same spot within minutes.  A few degrees of turn from the photographer is all it takes.

The thaw is producing odd results.  In this view….


…the grass was green and the hill was white but further along my walk….


…the grass was white and hill was green.

The hint of blue sky in the first picture was just that, a hint and didn’t come to anything sadly.

Snowdrops along the Lodge walks have emerged more or less unscathed from under the snow .


I didn’t linger long on my walk as the going was often rather unattractively slushy underfoot so I passed up many moss opportunities but this lichen garden on a single branch stopped me in my tracks.


When I got home, I noticed that, like the snowdrops, a daffodil in our garden which had been in flower before the snow came had survived to bloom another day.


I was unaccountably tired when I got in and was not as disappointed as I would normally have been to find that our usual Monday night trio playing had been cancelled as Isabel, like Sandy, had a cold.

We really need some warm, sunny weather and soon.

My flute pupil Luke came and he too was suffering a bit from the long spell of miserable weather and we were not at our best.

In spite of the efforts of the chaffinches, a black headed gull appears as flying bird of the day.

black headed gull




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Today’s guest picture comes from my Somerset Correspondent, Venetia.  Her aeroplane was obviously efficiently de-iced at Schiphol because she has sent me this icy picture from near Bedford, New Hampshire in the USA.  (I wonder if she bumped into a noted gardener while she was there.)

Bedford New Hampshire
We had a frost, snow and ice free day here today which was very welcome.  We couldn’t entirely escape the rain though.

Even if the day had been fine,  I would have had a rather limited time photographically as I went off with Mrs Tootlepedal to sing with the church choir in the morning and the Carlisle Community Choir in the afternoon, leaving little time for anything else.

I did get a moment after church to watch the birds.

When I first looked, siskins were in charge of the feeder…


…but it didn’t take long until some goldfinches loomed up.

siskins and goldfinches

One even got a toehold for a brief moment.


It got dislodged but was soon back trying again.

siskins and goldfinches

Away from the turmoil above, a robin quietly enjoyed the ground level refreshments.


Later on, goldfinches found themselves in control of the perches…


…and roles were reversed when a siskin had to look tentatively around for a free place.

siskin and goldfinches

I didn’t have much voice today and as I was the only bass present in the church choir, I didn’t add a lot to the proceedings.   I enjoyed myself  all the same.  Things were better at the  Carlisle choir where I sing tenor, as there was more support and the conductor went as far as to say that the tenors sounded quite good.

We were chuffed.

On our way to the choir, we stopped off at a well known food shop and topped up on the bare necessities of life.  We now have adequate supplies of tea, coffee, cheese, dates, prunes and cherries so we will not starve.

However,  since Mrs Tootlepedal had made an excellent beef and vegetable stew in the slow cooker which we ate for our tea when we got back from Carlisle, there was in fact very little chance of us starving anyway.

The flying bird of the day is a standard chaffinch.

flying chaffinch

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Today’s guest picture shows the delightful Obelisk Thatched Cottage at Hopetoun, South Queensferry, near Edinburgh.  It was spotted by our son Tony.

Thatched cottage

In spite of trying to get some high quality relaxation in the last two weeks and not actually doing very much on many days, there has been enough excitement to keep me feeling a little less than 100% so I took the opportunity of vast quantities of Winter Olympic fun on the telly to have a very quiet morning in today.

I did look out of the kitchen window at lunchtime to check on the birds.  The usual suspects were about.

goldfinch, siskin and chaffinch

There were a good number of siskins on the feeder at one time and I was impressed by the tenacity of one of them when there was no official perch available.


After lunch, I decided that the day was too good not to go for a cycle ride, the first for a fortnight.  The thermometer showed 6°C so there was no danger of ice and after a heavy shower in the morning, the weather looked reasonable.  I haven’t checked out my fairly speedy bike yet so I got out the slow bike. This was probably a good idea anyway under the circumstances.

As you are not supposed to re-use a bike helmet after it has been banged in a crash and my special biking spectacles were ruined, I had to wear my old mountain bike helmet and some ski goggles.    No one laughed as I set off but that was only because no one saw me go.

selfie ski mask

I was grateful for the protection of the ski goggles because there was a strong and very nippy wind blowing in my face as I went up the Wauchope Road and the goggles certainly keep you very snug.

The sunshine was very welcome but there was enough snow left on the distant hills to remind me that the recent chilly weather had only warmed up a little bit.

view of wauchopedale

The goggles didn’t help when I was taking pictures so I don’t know what I was intending to shoot when I took this one…


…but I liked the result in a strange sort of way when I saw it on my computer.

I think that I was trying to take this picture….

view of wauchopedale

…to show the cloudscape. Luckily the clouds stayed away and I got round dry.

I cut my customary 20 mile Canonbie circle down to 16 miles.  This was more than enough on the slow bike and a windy day.  I seem hardly to have cycled at all in the last three and a half months so I am by no means pedal fit.

I was quite happy to stop for a photo op  or two when I got down to the Esk Valley.  This is Hollows Mill….

Hollows Mill

…which has got both a  working water wheel and an Archimedes screw, thus getting the best out of traditional and more modern technology.

A few hundred yards further on, I stopped at Gilnockie Tower….

Gilnockie Tower

…a fine example of a peel tower.  It has recently become the home of the Armstrong Clan Association and the interior has been extensively restored, with work still ongoing.

Although not fully finished, it is open to the public and I was given a brief tour by Miriam, the helpful guide.

Gilnockie Tower Miriam

As you can see from the external windows, the tower has four upper floors.  The ground floor was used as a store for cattle in the event of a raid.

The first floor is the main hall and has now got a modern stove whihc was keeping the place a lot warmer than it would have been in previous centuries.

Gilnockie Tower

The floor above has been restored as a bedroom.  It has an original discreet privy…


…and a newly made four poster bed.


I went up as far as the third floor, which will be a children’s activity room, and admired one of the new windows.  This gives an idea of the thickness of the tower walls…

Gilnockie Tower

…and also offers a splendid view of the Esk.

Gilnockie Tower view from window

As my distaste for heights makes the joy of climbing up narrow spiral staircases lessen considerably after several flights, I didn’t go to the top floor but you can see a piper who didn’t have my phobias if you visit this link.

There is a very entertaining video on the site which shows the castle and its site to the best advantage.

Leaving the tower, I cycled on past Irvine House….

Irvine House

…and so came home  at the dazzling speed of exactly 10 mph.  But at least I didn’t fall off.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been busy in the garden working on the new plans for the middle lawn and flowerbeds.

lawn improvements

When I got in, I spent a moment or two looking at the birds.  Greenfinches fly in a gloomy sort of way even on a sunny day…

flying greenfinch

…and they don’t look much more cheerful even while they are enjoying a free meal.


My various cuts have healed up so I was able to enjoy the luxury of a shower which was very welcome.   All I need now is some light winds and warm days and I will be back in full cycling mode.   Mind you, I am well behind my targets.  I should have done at least 400  miles by this time of year (I did 570 by the end of February last year) but I have only done 200 miles so far.  I may have to do what the government does when it fails to hit its targets.  Change the target.

In the evening, I made baked eggs in spinach with a cheese sauce for our tea so all in all, in spite of a slow start, it turned out to be quite a good day.

The flying bird of the day is a siskin.

flying siskin



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Today’s guest picture comes from former Archive Group member Ken who has gone back to the east coast where he is celebrating the twentieth birthday of the ‘Angel of the North’.

angel of the north

It didn’t snow today.  This was quite unexpected but to make up for it, a shrewd and biting wind made going outside a bit of a trial.

I had to go out after breakfast for a final visit to the health centre for a look at the scratches and grazes on my arms from the bike tragedy.  Like my face, they have healed up well and I was pronounced fully cured and discharged.  Hooray, I can have a bath or shower at last.

It was sunny when I walked across the suspension bridge on my way to the centre and I spotted four white dots on the river gravel.  I only had my phone with me and this is what it saw.

oyster catchers

If you look carefully at the end of the gravel, you can just make out that the white dots are four oyster catchers, the first that I have seen this year.

To our great relief, the bridge builders returned and started work….

dam bridge repairs

…..and to our great amazement, a new tea shack and office appeared as well.

dam bridge repairs

Upon enquiry, it turned out that the junior worker had broken the key in the door yesterday and so great was the security of the triple lock that the whole container had to be taken away to get it opened up again.  Meanwhile, a substitute had been delivered.

On my way back into the house, I walked past a pile of stones in our back garden which had come from the repairs to our house wall three years ago.  It shows how well moss grows in our climate.

moss in garden

The roads were still icy in places so I stayed in and got my bigger lens out and peered at the birds through the kitchen window.




A lot of siskins turned up after a while and started quarelling.


Rather annoyingly, our water supply first reduced itself to a trickle and then gave up entirely.  Water is one of those things that you don’t realise how much you need until you don’t have them.

We naturally assumed that it was the bridge builders who had done it since they cut the pipe not long ago but they protested their innocence and it was true that the pipe looked untouched.  In the end, a water board man came round in the early evening and solved the problem by turning on a stopcock which a person or persons unknown had turned off at the end of our road.   First our phone and then our water.  Can we put out a plea for people not to turn off our utilities.

Anyway, while we were waiting for the water board man to come, I went shopping in the town and then took a diversion on the way home.

I got a rather distant view of a single oyster catcher as I went along the river.

oyster catcher

I was disappointed that the other three had gone somewhere else.

I am learning how varied mosses are and trying to find out what to look for in a moss so I was pleased to find a good example of two different sporangia side by side on the Castleholm wall.

moss  sporangia

The ones on the left, standing up and brown and the ones on the right, hanging down and green.    I still can’t tell you what the mosses are but it is a start.

There were ferns on the wall too.

fern sporangia in sori

This might be a broad buckle fern but there are a lot to pick from.

Later on, I saw some ferns on a tree.  They look similar but when you look again, you see that they might be different.

fern and sori

This might be Dryopteris carthusiana,  spinulose woodfern, but then again, it might not be.

I am having a lot of fun looking at mosses and ferns and lichen.

I realise that not all readers might share my enthusiasm but when you are retired, you have plenty of time to look around.


Oh look, some more mosses, one creeping along the wall with stealthy fingers and one standing up straight with interesting cups.

It was pretty chilly….

snow on Timpen

….so I didn’t dawdle too much but I did stop for some snowdrops near the Lodge….

snowdrops castleholm

….and a hint of spring.

hazel catkin and bud

We were very pleased when our water came back on and we were able to do the washing up and make a cup of tea.

I went out as usual to take a picture of the bridge works at the end of the working day.  They are busy preparing to connect the bridge to the existing road.

dam bridge repairs

In the evening I drove to Carlisle to play with our recorder group.  Susan didn’t come with me as she is preparing to go to Ireland with her father and some of her siblings for a holiday tomorrow.   I hope to get a picture of two from them while they are away.

The recorder playing was most enjoyable as Heather brought her keyboard round with her and we played sonatas for two or three players and B.C. instead of our usual consort music.

It made a refreshing change.

I was so busy peering closely at the birds today that I forgot to take a good flying bird of the day and this was the best that I could find when I looked on the camera card.

flying chaffinch

And I cycled two hundred yards to the shop and back, the first time I have been on a bike for a fortnight.  The shop was closed by the time that I got there but I enjoyed the cycle ride!


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