Cornwall, Ecology, nature

It’s a Miracle, but not in Cornwall

It may look like Cornwall but you can tell it’s not Cornwall because there aren’t any people, police, naval ships, radar installations, helicopters or motorcades. And no G7 demonstrators — a beach near my daughter’s Cornish home has been piled high with the undead bodies of middle aged ladies dressed as dead mermaids! All very artistic. No, this is Wales, this week at Cwm Tydu and I had no idea that this part was so beautiful.

Rain Forest!

One or two midges by the stream and butterflies in the meadow. Best of all (you may remember how long I hunted these last year) there are choughs! Spotted by chance and very active probing for ants on the grazed sward, just as they like it, courtesy of wild ponies.

Its a shame their bills and feet are so muddy, you can’t see how vibrantly red they are. Never mind — the news is good about these rare birds because the previous day we saw a chattering of them swooping above Bird Rock, north of Aberystwyth showing the splayed, finger-like feathers at the ends of their wings– seems their numbers may be on the up.

Mud is the order of the day — here one of the many house martins at Aberaeron harbour is collecting mud to build his house.

The common whitethroats are displaying.

Everywhere there is the hum of bumble bees making the most of this years blooming of the dog roses.

This one has so much pollen in her sacks it is a miracle that she can still fly — but then wild life is full of miracles.

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adventure, Birds, Scotland

Mull

Mull is one of the nearer Inner Hebrides islands off the west coast of Scotland and must have had a long, lonely winter with travel restricted and it’s normal waves of challenging weather piling in from the North Atlantic. As we had travelled northward, although already mid-May, there was snow on the tops of the hills from the Lake District onwards.

To reach its weather scoured hillsides we took the ferry — sadly confined to our vehicles — we could only look up at the sky but the skies in Mull say everything!

View back towards the mainland.
Greeted by the harbour hoodie!
We pass the photogenic hulks and the Sun comes out for a moment!
Generally it is chilly — but the restless climate is never the same for more than 20 minutes!
This red dear stag is waiting for his antlers to grow and is the reason the fences are all six feet high!
There is an icy blast — here’s Linda, dressed appropriately and keeping moving…
Looking brighter?

So we attempted a long held ambition of mine to visit Iona, a smaller island off the southern most tip of Mull, famed for its spiritual intensity (and corn crakes –double whammy!)

Waiting for the ferry — actually they are pretending not to be interested in Robson Green in his new fishing togs (over Bill’s left shoulder) about to be tossed in the elements to make a film about lobsters.

The area on Iona covered by iris beds where the crakes used to hide and make the tourists jump with their strange calls seemed, to our birders, much reduced from their previous visits — there seemed to be very many sheep and the sward everywhere we looked had been grazed to within an millimetre of its life during the long winter. Doubly disappointed we did not stay long.

Bill, having given up on the corn crake, looks for something more transcendental!
Back on Mull — every cloud… the kiosk on the quay — note the 1/2 lobster and chips — we had scallops and chips (to share) — very good!
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adventure, Travel

Scotland awakes!

Just returned from a long awaited tour of Scotland and the North-east — booked 2 years ago and generously kept open until restrictions were lifted — we were on tenterhooks until the very last minute as Miss Sturgeon would not give the go ahead until a couple of days before we were due to leave — in consequence it was very quiet, no one else seemed to have realised it was open. Under the circumstances that suited very well!

First to Troon to stay with old friends and to look for the black guillemot in Troon Harbour, and what did we find? Seals — one luxuriating in the warm fishy shower provided by a fastidious fisherman cleaning out his hold —

— disporting herself in the soft foam like a L’Oreal advertisement only pausing to snap up the occasional lump of dead fish.

Harbours are strange magical places — full of ghosts that drift in and out on the tides –always looking towards the weather which usually threatens ominously.

Only partly materialised — the phantom crane in Ayr harbour — come to think of it there was a strange chill in the air!
The skeleton dock and the mysterious black guillemot, that somersaulted like an Olympic swimmer doing a turn, showing his scarlet legs then disappeared for ever.

That night, storm clouds gathered over Arran as four adults from two households (and from 3 different nations of the UK — which complicates things enormously) gathered and without guilt or fear of prosecution — the future was bright!

Next stop: Mull.

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Birds, Ecology

Cuckoo!

Just after dawn this morning we witnessed something very odd and heartening.

Everyone knows how the wicked cuckoo preys on the poor little birds (reed warblers, dunnocks, meadow pipits), laying an egg in their nests which hatches into a monster that evicts the other natural nestlings and grows huge on the tireless efforts of the adoptive parents.

This morning we heard the first cuckoos, up in the forestry. There were two males vying for territory, skirmishing in the treetops. Here is one.

The two birds had quite distinct calls so we could monitor their conversation! Both had the striped breast that is said to mimic a sparrow hawk — a cunning ploy to frighten the prey hen bird from her nest and give the female cuckoo time to lay.

The little birds out and about today were mainly willow warblers and robins but whichever they were some of them were not afraid of the cuckoos.

In fact groups of little birds were attacking the relatively huge cuckoos and driving them off their perches so… Not just feckless victims!

Heroic little birds.

Robin
Willow Warbler
Grey Wagtail with attitude!
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Humour, Medical

NHS’s famously flexible workforce

When I was a houseman my legs were blebbed and bubbled by the bites of the fleas from the feral cats that lived within the hospital grounds — but things have moved on.

Hospital cats are now more professional — they have come in from the cold, are properly trained and equipped, have regular health checks and probably mandatory immunisations (long before the other staff!)

The thing about cats is that you cannot exclude them if they don’t want to be excluded and some cats just have a vocation! So the NHS works with them, not against them.

Somewhere in Britain, probably everywhere in Britain, Buster here (or a cat like him) guards the confidential waste in the office of the emergency department. He keeps his wits about him as he dissipates the stress of staff, his mouth shut, the perfect confidential mentor and counsellor but as a member of the occupational health psychiatric team, as you can see, he does have his own panic button.

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Ecology, nature

Orgy on the Waun

Lovely day in Mid-Wales with a strange sound drifting over the forestry pond — like softly spoken geese. Not geese, not any bird, certainly not cicadas on this chilly, bright spring day. They are the muted tones of amorous amphibians — lovelorn toads!

Thirty, maybe fifty, in the pools of sunshine around the margins of the upland pond.

The smaller, more numerous, males clinging,piggy-back, onto the fecund females, bulging with eggs. Others joining in and some with their heads above the water calling.

See the strings of fertilized eggs and (below) an exhausted male!

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seasons

Spring Water!

There is still a lot of water all around us, the land drains and the rivers fill.

Spring is suddenly upon us and the fields are filling up with weary ewes with new lambs — still very young and keeping close to their mothers.

The reservoir is full to overflowing and the water pounds down the River Clywedog, below the dam.

A place for dippers in the summer but not today.

Up above the dam on the reservoir the water bailiffs plough the surface with their extraordinary craft — seeding the waters with trout, scooping them out of the tank and gently laying them in the water — quite large fish, refreshed while in the crowded tank by a constant stream of water.

Further up the bank the bird wardens are sorting out the nesting sites before the return of the ospreys. The woodpeckers are drumming and the blue tits are whizzing about in couples.

Back at the farm we have a new species on the bird-feeder!

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Corona Virus Lockdown

The Beginning of the End!

Although many of us have now had our Corona Jab it is pretty clear that until everyone is immunized, or has survived the real thing, this virus will remain ready to pick off the vulnerable. Things are not going back to normal immediately. But we can start to think about the reduction in restrictions. I can think about a walk with a friend and wonder how long it will take to get a hair appointment. We can look forward to seeing our grandchildren in the garden and we can look forward to some better weather!.

Covid-proofed Butcher — I didn’t have his confidence when I forgot my mask and went into the chemist with my face covered with a duster.
Always Covid-ready now.

In some ways it will be scary when it all ends — the everyday pressures will build up again — the outside calls on our time. The visits to friends, the entertaining, the volunteering, getting things done — the new barn — Sunday lunch for the family — outings with the children –gardening — sorting out the dentist — the eye test — the gammy knee! All the things that have been simmering on the back burner while we have been grumbling about our winter lock-down — while I have been quietly writing, reading, and painting!

So I have finished Bill’s portrait — his mouth isn’t quite right — he should have been wearing his mask.

Soon all that free time will evaporate so today I took the first step towards getting my next book published — writing a synopsis, looking for an agent, covering letters etc while I still have the time. We’ve all got to finish our lock-down projects before it’s too late!

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Birds

Bird-feeders

During this cold weather there is a lot to be said for getting the birds to come to you rather than plodding about the countryside wondering where they have all gone. They are not stupid — they are on the feeders! This year we are blessed with several greater spotted woodpeckers — this is a male with a red flash on the back of his head — the females have only red under the tail. They have been drumming for over a week now so we know spring is coming!

This nuthatch is Bill’s favorite — calling from a tree if the feeder is empty!

In Wales the feeder is surrounded by a miasma of flitting great tits and blue tits with the occasional coal tit, siskin and, if we are lucky, a mob of visiting long tailed tits. Our gold finches have gone somewhere warmer. There are chaffinches too and a robin who has learned to perch.

In the East Midlands, Bill’s feeder is also used by the ubiquitous tits but dominated by green finches and gold finches. Each bird feeder gives a snap-shot of the local bird population. There are chaffinches and a pair of bullfinches.

Beneath the Welsh feeder the swelling flock of pheasants are excavating, ekeing out a living from the rejected sunflower seeds — the nuthatch is very picky! They are very hungry since the gamekeeper stopped feeding them but have had the good sense to move up the valley, away from the guns. In Kettering their niche is occupied by a fat wood pigeon and they all bicker with the resident squirrels!

Following my recent freezer debacle I put some rapidly defrosting pheasant legs in view of the bedroom window (don’t worry, they were shot in the valley — no bio-hazzard). Within a couple of hours there were 8 buzzards circling above. Here is one of the two that were on the ground.

It is not just the feeders that the small birds visit — they like the spiders webs on the window frames, a long tailed tit was knocking on the window recently

Long tailed tits are very difficult to photograph — this wonderful picture is by Wildlife Terry (CC0 1.0) I think they are enchanting.

This blackbird forages on the bank opposite my study window giving me the evil eye and sometimes flying at the window — it’s not me he hates but his own reflection!

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Climate, seasons, Sheep farming, Wales

A Wind of Change!

As snow and ice cover the eastern counties of Great Britain, Wales is bathed in celestial light — for a trice.

It’s chilly with a strange east wind (of change, perhaps). The prevailing wind here is nearly always wet and westerly — it brings our weather from the Atlantic and snow storms from America — not so today, its coming from the Urals (I’ve got my Russian hat on.)

The sheep have not been gathered in, against the storm, but wait in disgruntled groups for fresh silage, the sweet smell of which precedes the shepherd on the crisp cold air.

Our valley is muted in the winter shade but the tops are bright, scoured dry by the icy wind.

which sends the turbines spinning and brings the snow ever closer — unless it all drops on England first!

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