Thursday, 28 February 2013

Snowdrops

Nothing much needs to be said about this morning's walk up to Shipley Hill.  The pictures say it all as the sun shone on the drifts of snowdrops in among the trees.
 Getting down to ground level, you were almost surrounded by these little beauties.
 It goes to show what a little sunshine - in such short supply lately - can do for the woodland floor.  Carpets of Snowdrops bring a lift to the end of February.
Absolute stunners!
Daffodils next - but we need to wait a few more days before they start to make an appearance.  So for now, more Snowdrops.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Crested

A lovely, but still rather chilly walk this morning over to Osborne's Pond, revealed one of Britain's most beautiful birds.  Swimming about on the pond was a Great-crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus), now sporting the red and orange head-plumes which give it the name.
Even in the dull weather (before the sun came out this morning), the colours on the crest were almost glowing after the winter and it's more drab black, grey and white.  With a winter population of about 19,000 individuals and a breeding population of about 9,400 pairs, they have come back from the brink of extinction in the UK to become probably our most common Grebe.  Their destruction was caused by them being hunted and killed for their elaborate head plumes which would adorn the hats of 'ladies' in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It was the plight of this bird which led to the foundation of the RSPB.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Black

Among Britain's most numerous birds and certainly one of our most easily identified, is the Blackbird (Turdus merula).  With a population of up to 15,000,000 individuals, they are common in our gardens, both in town and countryside.  This male bird was picking around under our hedge this morning, searching for scraps of fat-ball which were being dropped by the Sparrows above.
The males live up to their name and look rather exotic in their black plumage with that wonderfully coloured bill.  But the females, being drab and brown, really don't seem to warrant the name.  Feeding on berries, worms and insects, they have a varied diet which is one of the reasons why they do so well and are able to stay put all year round.  They have the most beautiful song well known to us all.
Blackbirds were once eaten in Britain (along with most other small birds) and were even placed, still alive, under the crust of a pie before being served to the gentry in medieval times.  Probably where the old nursery rhyme 'Sing a song of sixpence' comes from.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Mapperley

Taking advantage of the dry weather, we set out this morning for a walk through Shipley Park, along Slack Lane and out towards Mapperley Village before returning via Shipley Hill.  It has been a long time since we have been out to Mapperley and all was peaceful on the reservoir.
A few more Goosanders were to be seen swimming about in the distance and the ubiquitous Coots were fighting noisily among themselves.  Taking a panorama view of the reservoir shows how dull and wintry things still look.
Trudging up Shipley Hill, the woodland floor revealed several clumps of Snowdrops lifting their white flowers to the stirring and freezing breeze.  One or two Daffodils were also beginning to show a little colour in their flower buds, promising more colourful things to come.

Monday, 18 February 2013

1,000

What a milestone!  This is the 1,000th post on this blog and who would have thought that I would still be sharing all this rubbish with all and sundry for so long.  It all started on 27th October 2008 with This.  And here we are four years and four months later with today's offering.

It was a nice walk this morning round Shipley Hill and Osborne's Pond.  When we got there, it was nice to see a small group of Goosander (Mergus merganser) swimming about in the middle of the lake.
In all there were about five female birds and four males in the group and all were keeping frustratingly far away.  In the dull light, it was tricky to get a decent photo, but they are such beautiful birds it's always worth a try.  The males are striking with what seems like black and white plumage - their heads are actually a deep, velvety green colour and they have a reddish bill.  The females are often called 'red-heads' because of their more ruddy colouration.  First recorded as a breeding bird in Britain in Perthshire in 1871 there is evidence of them being in Britain at least 150,000 years ago during the penultimate period of glaciation.
Overwintering birds boost the population to about 12,000 individuals.  Fewer than half that number stay in Britain to breed.
I mentioned the Hazel catkins dangling from the branches last Friday.  Well, today i went searching for the female flowers among the catkins.  Very small and easy to overlook, they are in fact rather beautiful when you can track them down.  About the size of a grain of pudding rice, they are red and not very 'flower-like' at all, but they will produce the familiar hazel nuts later in the year.
That's all for the thousandth post.  Here's to the next thousand...!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Catkin

Many trees use catkins as a means of distributing their pollen.  Long, thin clusters of male flowers are a welcome sight and sign that Spring is coming.  Usually, these catkins dangle from the tips of twigs and branches in order to catch the wind and spread tiny specks of pollen in the air.  Right now, the catkins belonging to the Hazel and Alder trees are starting to open and show some colour in the drabness of February.
These particular catkins belonging to a Hazel (Corylus avellana) growing at the boundary of Shipley Lake, were catching the sunlight yesterday morning and their greenish-yellow colour was lovely as they danced among the red stems of the Dogwoods growing around them - particularly with the blue backdrop of a sunny sky.
Spring really is coming.... hang on in there!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Water, Water

Yesterday afternoon, the snow fell thick and wet and carpeted everything again.  This was the scene from our window...
By this morning however, things had warmed up by several degrees and during the night, the snow had turned to rain resulting in a vast amount of water everywhere and very little snow left.  As we walked around Shipley Park to Osborne's Pond, we were forced to splash through puddles, slush, mud and worse!  When we got to Osborne's Pond, the overflows which are normally fairly dry, were gushing with water.
Built to feed the old canal network this reservoir still overflows into a concrete channel which drops down to the lower reservoir known as Coppice Lake.  Through the trees the geese and ducks were making a lot of noise, unable to waddle up the channel due to the torrent rushing down.  A few patches of snow were clinging to the undergrowth, but not for much longer with the temperature still climbing.
Osborne's Pond itself was fairly peaceful, although the coots were still arguing among themselves.  A lone, male Goosander was swimming about in the distance too.  Beautiful in the long-awaited sunshine.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Tuftie

A bitter wind kept us 'fresh' this morning while we walked to Straw's Bridge via Pewit Carr.  Pausing to look at the ducks on Manor Floods, there were a number of Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula) swimming about on the patch of open water which had frozen over.  Once again, everything was looking rather drab and monochrome.
Among the Tufties were the usual suspects.  Coots, squabbling among themselves, several Black-headed Gulls and a pair of Great Crested Grebes, just beginning to show a little colour again in readiness for spring.  But the Tufted Ducks were what I pointed my camera towards.  Despite the gloom and the first few flakes of snow heralding more to come this afternoon, they were busy dabbling about on the surface for what food they could find.  The only colour to punctuate the scene was from their bright yellow eyes and the male birds' blue-grey bill.
Tufted Ducks are on the RSPB's Amber List as their numbers have declined between 25 and 49% over the last 25 years and their European status is 'unfavourable'.  But still there are large numbers to enjoy and our over-wintering population is said to be around 110,000 individuals.  They're always entertaining to watch too.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Snow Scene

Following a rather miserable and drizzly day yesterday, we woke to a very wintry scene this morning.  Walking into town for a little shopping, we took a circuitous route though the golf course and got some nice views across the 'greens'.
Not that there was much green to be seen this morning.  It all looked rather monochrome as we trudged through the slush.
Thankfully, there were no golfers about today.  Usually, you take your life in your hands if you walk along the footpaths hereabouts and run the risk of being concussed by golf balls.  But today, no such danger threatened - just the danger of slipping in the mud.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Snowdrops

With a scientific name (Galanthus) coming from the Greek for 'Milk Flower', the word Snowdrop seems rather more appropriate, especially when the weather is as chilly as it was this morning.  But, it's that time of year again, when the woodland around Shipley Hill is beginning to carpet itself and brighten with the appearance of these delicate little flowers.
So far, the flowers are remaining closed and dangling from their grey-green stems like small, white light-bulbs catching the breeze and nodding among the dead leaves.  There can be few more 'English' sights than the appearance of the Snowdrops each year, but they are in fact not native.  It is thought that they probably come from  Eastern Europe and were introduced to Britain in the sixteenth century.  Be that as it may, they are still a wonderful sight and we look forward to seeing them all opening their flowers in the next few days.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Songs

The mornings are beginning however slowly, to 'draw out' and we have been waking up to the beautiful singing voice of a Song Thrush over the past few days.  Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) numbers are falling rapidly in the UK and as such are on the RSPB's 'Red List' making them among the most threatened birds in Britain.  So, with that in mind, it is even more wonderful that we have a pair visiting our garden every day to pick up the bits of Fat-ball which the Sparrows have dropped.  So far, I have only been able to capture a couple of pictures out the window and even then, not very good ones as it's been too dark.  This is about the best so far.
Smaller and more finely spotted than it's cousin the Mistle Thrush, the Song Thrush is well named as it's sweet voice proves.  It's habit of repeating short phrases throughout it's song, helps to set it apart from a Blackbird's song.  This singing ability was also part of the bird's downfall as until the nineteenth century, they were regularly caught and kept as cage birds.  Their further decline today, is more to do with loss of farmland habitat caused by those so-called 'guardians of the countryside', the British farmers, as well as domestic cats, illegal hunting and trapping around the Mediterranean, slug pellets and road casualties - knocked down as they use the hard road surface to break into snail shells.  With all that working against them, it's a wonder there are any left at all.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Mute?

During our stroll around Straw's Bridge this morning, we were impressed by the Mute Swans swimming around there.  The icy wind was blowing across the water, chilling us to the bone but the swans were unconcerned - until they attempted to take off for another lake.  One swan gave up and touched down a few yards further on.  The others managed to execute a sharp turn and got just enough height to clear the tree tops and depart.
Famous for being among the heaviest flying birds in the world, their title 'Mute' is not really warranted.  They do in fact produce a soft, grunting, 'snort' and they were all demonstrating this quite freely this morning.
There can be few birds more graceful and magnificent than a Mute Swan.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Orzola

Near the Mirador del Rio, the small port town of Orzola is where the ferry to La Graciosa is to be found.  The rugged coastline has been built by volcanic eruptions like the rest of the island and here, the rocks have a very sharp, ragged edge to them.
Looking out to sea, the cliffs on which the Mirador is to be found, are both beautiful and awe inspiring with their coloured layers.
The open Atlantic comes crashing in to break on the rough coastline and one gets a restricted view of La Graciosa peeping round the headland.
While we wandered around the area, we were occasionally spattered with the sea spray as it crashed along the coast line - rugged and wild.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Mirador

At the north end of the island of Lanzarote, there is a tourist attraction which takes the breath away.  Called the Mirador del Rio, this is a viewpoint built on a cliff-top over 1500 ft above the sea.  Originally it was a defensive battery with guards watching over the straits between Lanzarote and the island of La Graciosa.
The cliff escarpment is called Risco de Famara.
The visitor's centre, built by the famous local artist C├ęsar Manrique has walkways which cling to the cliff face and give a vertiginous view straight down to the beach and the salt-flats below.
La Graciosa, the island across the strait is a volcanic piece of land rising to 873 ft ad looks like an idyllic desert island.  No motors are allowed (except very few vehicles allowed for special purposes).  What few roads there are, are not good and vehicles needing repair have to be ferried across to Lanzarote.
The view from where one can sit with a coffee, is as I said, breathtaking.