Saturday, 14 March 2015

Waterbirds in the Picture!

We have a lot of water in and around Tamworth – rivers, canals, lakes, ponds, streams, drainage channels, worked-out gravel pits, old quarries… Which means we have a wealth of water birds. I’m getting better at identifying them, but I’m not much good at capturing them on camera – birds are not very co-operative about having their photo taken! But I was quite pleased with the ones I took earlier this week, and I thought I'd share them for a Saturday Snapshot.
I'm just quackers about ducks!
As you might expect, mallards are ten a penny everywhere you go, but even though they’re so common, I always enjoy watching them. I love the iridescent colours of the drakes’ plumage, and the glorious markings on the females – from a distance they look brown and drab, but close to they’re a riot of patterns, in more shades of brown and beige and cream than you’ve ever dreamed of.
This Canada goose was just raising his wings as I took this.
And there are masses of Canada geese, all very vocal, and not a bit shy. To be honest they can be a nuisance, and occasionally seem quite threatening, because they get so used to people feeding them, that every time they see someone they rush up, demanding titbits. It's a shame, because bread (which is what they usually get given) is bad for all waterfowl - it doesn't meet their nutritional needs, and can cause wing deformities, which prevent birds flying.

Mute swans look so ungainly when they walk on land, but as long as they stand still
they still look beautiful.
There are beautiful, graceful  mute swans who tend to keep themselves to themselves. When I first came to Tamworth there were lots of swans in Tamworth - the town had one of the biggest swan populations in the Midlands, but I think the numbers have declined over the years, although the geese have increased.
A moorhen - this photo is a little blurred, but I rather like it. The moorhen was racing along the bank,
and it shows the green legs, and the red beak with the yellow tip. 
Then there are moorhens, which have greenish legs, and red marks on the face and beak, and yellow tips and end of the beak.

And a coot, with its white beak and white mark on the head.
And there are coots, with white beaks and head marks.

Birds perched on a kerb in a carpark by Borrowpit Lake, Some kind of gull
I think - not tern, because their tails aren't crossed.
Various gulls and terns flock to Tamworth, filling the air with their raucous squawks, and their acrobatic antics, and perching in the most unlikely places.
Blobby bird... An out of focus tufted duck. I do wish he'd stayed still, just for a moment!
Sadly, at the moment there’s no sign of the crested grebes I saw last summer, but I did spot a pair of tufted ducks, which are not exactly rare, but are nowhere near as common as mallards, and are certainly much shyer. As soon as I pointed the camera at them they took off at a great rate of knots, and this was all I managed to get… a blobby bird!
AI guess these hybrid ducks are oddities, but I think they are beautiful.
I had better luck with these beauties, two of our hybrids. They’re a cross between mallards and other waterfowl, and there are a few of them around. I’ve featured them before, because they fascinate me. Over the last few years they’ve bred, and I think these are descendants (if that's the right word) because they are lighter, with more colour variation.
An oystercatcher! In landlocked Tamworth!
Now this is the bird I was really excited about, because I’m positive it’s an oystercatcher, which is amazing, since they are coastal birds, and we’re about as far from the sea as you can get. It’s very distinctive, with those red eyes, feet and legs, and that red beak, which must be as vicious as it looks because it can break open oysters. Apparently they do breed on inland sites, by water, and then they eat earthworms – this one was digging his beak into the damp earth when I spotted him, and it seems to have some brown soil stuck halfway up the beak. If anyone can confirm my identification  of this bird I would be grateful - and if I'm wrong I'm sorry!

Herons are so amazing, with those long spindly legs and their elegant
necks, but they're deadly hunters, spearing fish and small mammals
with their sharp, pointed beaks.
Finally a grey heron. Isn’t he gorgeous? I am so pleased with this picture – you can see the feathers really clearly, and that wispy ‘beard’ beneath his beak. There are quite common really, but some of them look very scruffy indeed, while others are kind of faded looking. But the colours and markings on this one are particularly crisp, bright and clear. Herons look incredibly elegant  with their long, spindly legs, and graceful necks, but they are savage killers, and their sharp, pointed beaks like a spear to catch fish and small mammals.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mommy Reads, and you'll find all kinds of photos there, from all around the world.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Seagulls and Crab Pots!

Well, Christmas and New Year have been and gone, and the world is slowly getting get back to normal. We had some snow on Boxing Day, then the temperature plummeted and everything was covered in ice and thick frost, until yesterday, when it got a little warmer, but very windy. So, somewhat perversely I suppose, I’ve got some nice, cheerful, sunshiny piccies for my Saturday Snapshot! These were taken in Brixham, on a lovely sunny day back at the end of August when we were kitten sitting for our Elder Daughter and her Boyfriend while they went on holiday – they acquired two little black cats after they’d booked their trip, then found the local cattery was full up…  So, of course, it was Mum and Dad to the rescue, and we had a wonderful (but unplanned) stay in Devon!
A view of Brixham - isn't it beautiful?
While we were there we had a day out in Brixham, which is a beautifully unspoilt little fishing town, and isn’t really ‘touristified’, if you know what I mean, and we thoroughly ourselves. As we arrived the first thing we noticed was the picturesque row of old, brightly coloured, fishermen’s cottages up on the cliff (though I doubt if many fishermen live in them these days).
The Golden Hind - at high tide she floats but, as you can see, it wasn't high tide!
 Then, in the harbour we spotted a full-size replica of the Golden Hind, the ship in which Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe back in the 16th Century (I know, I’ve already seen one reproduction of it at Southwark, in London – there are obviously a lot of them around!). Apparently, this particular vessel is here because in 1963 a TV series about Drake was filmed in and around Brixham, and this is a replica of the replica used in filming, because the first one was destroyed in a storm… confusing, or what?
Trying to be arty and get a close-up of the masts and all
that rigging. 
The original Golden Hind (Drake’s flagship – there were four other ships in his fleet) was launched as the Pelican, but was renamed to honour the wealthy patron who provided most of the funds for the expedition. Officially the brief, as explained by Queen Elizabeth, was to explore new lands and ‘find out places meet to have traffic’, which I gather means discovering new opportunities for trade. But unofficially the Queen had let it be known that she wanted revenge on the King of Spain for ‘divers injuries that we have received’.

A Brixham seagull. There are gulls everywhere!
So Drake and his crew had carte blanche to harry the Spanish, and that’s exactly what they did. They set sail in 1577, and the Golden Hind made it back three years later, laden with riches looted from Spanish treasure ships. The Queen was delighted – and no wonder, because she got half the proceeds. Drake made his fortune, was knighted, and became a national hero.

A fire juggling pirate.
Brixham seems to have a long history of piracy, smuggling and the like. When we visited there was some kind of pirate event going on, with children (and adults) dressed as buccaneers, and there were market stalls, street theatre performers, and all kinds of activities going on.  It gave a real carnival atmosphere to the day, but we never did discover what was happening – there is a proper Pirate Festival every May, so it can’t have been that!

A wall of crab pots..
Fishing has always been important for the town. From the Middle Ages right through to the 19th century it was the biggest fishing port in the West Country, and it’s still a thriving, working fishing port today. The quays around the harbour are piled high with nets, ropes, pots, baskets and all kinds of paraphernalia to do with fishing, and it all looks just as you imagine it should.

... And a close-up. I was trying to be artistic - again!
 Brixham, apparently, was famous for its fast-moving, powerful sailing boats, which were able to trawl for fish in the deep sea, in all weathers. Several of them, with their distinctive red sails (dyed with local ochre, which helped protect the canvas against sea and weather damage), have now been restored, and provide cruising holidays and training expeditions. We had hoped to see some of these Heritage ships in the harbour, so we could get a good look, but they were all out, and we were a bit disappointed - until we spotted this glorious craft sailing past in the distance, and felt as if we'd been transported back 150 years or so. We were really thrilled to see this - much better than looking at one in the harbour!

Red sails in the sunshine!
Doubtlessly, WW2 buffs will know that the Americans trained in Brixham  prior to the D-Day landings, as part of Operation Overlord, and the 'slipway and hard' that they used is now officially ‘listed’, and there is  a blue plaque explaining how troops and tanks left from here bound for Utah Beach, and convoys followed loaded with supplies and equipment. 
A D Day landing - A reminder of World War II.
There's a big, modern marina as well, and all alongside the quay, nestling up against the cliff sides, are little gardens, created by local volunteers as part of a Pride in Brixham project, and there were people fishing for crabs with string and bits of bacon, and I do wish we'd had a go at that - next time, perhaps!
Garden by the sea... One of the gardens created for the Pride in Brixham project.
The town itself was lovely, with some nice little independent shops - and a statue commemorating William of Orange who landed at Brixham in November 1688 with his Dutch army during the ‘Glorious Revolution; when the Catholic King  James 11 was forced to abdicate in favour of his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William..
Crowned with a seagull! I accidently deleted my photo of the e statue of
William of Orange in Brixham, so I've borrowe this one, from the site.
You’ll find more photographs, and details of how to participate in Saturday Snapshot at Melinda’s site, at West Metro Mummy Reads.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Hooky Happiness

Ta dah! My first effort at designing a crochet blanket.
This week's Saturday Snapshot is an update on a blog piece I posted in August last year showing a piccie of a Work in Progress for my Younger Daughter. At that point she and her Boyfriend were just about to move to a flat in London, and they wanted a cuddly crochet blanket  big enough to wrap around them both as they sat on the sofa - even though they didn't actually have a sofa at that time!

They wanted something bright and cheerful, in Superman colours, which is not necessarily my usual style, but I was happy to oblige. I decided on granny squares, because they're quick and easy, and I love making them, but I didn't want my usual random effort with a mish-mash of different colours and yarns in random squares or stripes. No, I wanted something clever, with a properly designed pattern, and I had in mind a central panel, of blue and yellow squares, edged in white, surrounded by lots of red (YD's favourite colour) with yellow and blue stripes all around the edge.
Work in Progress!

I originally planned one shade of red for the main part of the blanket, but it was very red indeed, and I was afraid it might be too dominant, especially as red is not my favourite colour (but YD loves it, and that's the main thing, because it is her blanket, after all). Anyway, I added a second, slightly darker shade (like a nice dark, red wine) to give a bit of interest, and I really liked the effect. It wasn't my usual palette at all, but I loved working with these colours because they were so cheerful and uplifting. 
Woollie wonders... Vibrant colours for a crochet blanket.
The worst bit was trying to fathom out how many different squares I could produce with four colours (two blues and two yellows) for the central panel. However, YD's Boyfriend, who is a real whizz at maths, came to my rescue,  and explained that I would end up with 24 different squares, which really surprised me - I never dreamed that so many variations could be created from just four colours. Apparently it's all to do with something called factorial notation (hope I've got that right), and there's a magical formula for working this kind of thing out. I never knew numbers could be so fascinating - or so useful for arty-crafty stuff!

Thready, steady, go... Stitching in the loose ends.

In the end it turned out that 24 little squares didn't make a big enough panel, so I doubled up and made two of each design. And I was amazingly well organised, and made a chart, listing the colour patterns for each square, and ticked everything off as I went along, so I didn't lose my way and end up with lots of the same block, and none of another! Then, once I'd stitched all the pieces into shape for a rectangular panel, I just kept hooking round and round and round until it was more or less the right size, then made a pretty, loopy, shell-like edging, and ta-dah, it was finished - apart from all the loose ends which had to be stitched in... Hundreds of them... I always promise myself I'll do that as I go along, but I never do, and I always regret it!

Earning my stripes!
It took an awfully long time, and used an awful lot of wool (I wish now I'd kept track of the amount) and there was quite a bit of unpicking and redoing as I went along, and I had no idea how big it should be, so I kept laying it out on the bed - I figured if it covered a double bed it was OK! And, of course, I had other sewing/woolly projects on the go at the same time, so there were periods when I didn't anything on the blanket for quite a while, and sometimes I wondered if it would ever get finished. But eventually I stitched the very last loose end in just a couple of weeks after YD and her Boyfriend bought themselves a bright red sofa, so between us our timing was pretty good.

My blanket (I still think of it as mine) now has pride of place draped over the sofa, and, though I say it myself, it looks absolutely fabulous. And I know self-praise is no recommendation, but I feel very proud of my achievement.

Cosy comfort.... I draped the finished blanket over our sofa, and liked it so much
I was really sorry when I handed it to my Younger Daughter!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Reindeer and Candles

Look what I saw yesterday – reindeer!!! At the local garden centre!!! I was so excited when I spotted them I felt as if Christmas had already arrived. There were two of them, in a pen, outside with all the plants, and they looked beautiful, although it does seem sad that creatures which roam wild and free in a land of ice and snow should be cooped up on a bed of straw in an alien environment for people to look at. But I daresay this duo were bred in the UK, and have never been further north than the Midlands.

I went with a friend I hadn’t seen for a few weeks, so we treated ourselves to a snack in the cafĂ© – coffee and a huge Christmas tree shortbread for her, and tea and a toasted cheese sarnie for me. I almost wished I’d had the shortbread, but I was hungry, and the sandwich was yummy. Then we mooched around, looking at all the wonderful Christmas displays, which featured lots of penguins, and glittery baubles, and twinkly lights. Part of me always thinks stuff like this is very commercial, and it’s not what Christmas is all about, but it looks so magical, and is such fun.

And there were stacks of pretty, useless things, and tables full of festive jams, chutneys, sweets, cakes and wines. And, of course, there were lots of plants, including Christmas cacti and poinsettia. I was determined not to spend money on things I don’t need, but my resolve wavered, and I bought a box of spiced orange tea lights because I love the smell!


Monday, 1 December 2014

My Week!

Oh dear, I was going to be so good, and blog every other day, and it’s been over a week since I last wrote anything here, so I’m going to post some words and pictures about my week. Let’s start with last Sunday, when the Man of the House joined me for a walk along the Coventry Canal. We went up as far as Fazeley Aqueduct, which runs over the River Tame. And you can look down and see water below you, as well as the water beside you, which always amazes me. It was a very grey drizzly sort of day, and there were raindrops hanging everywhere, so I took this picture of raindrops hanging from one of the metal work on one of the beam bars at the lock - not my usual style of photography, but I am trying to get some different and more un usual shots, instead of landscapes and flowers. 
Raindrops on metal... I liked the way the drops of water contrasted with
the rusty marks on the metal handle.
Then we went into town and treated ourselves to Sunday lunch, and had a wander round. Children were singing in the Market Square, as part of the celebrations for the Christmas Lights ‘Switch-On’, and there were craft and food stalls selling all kinds of goodies, including these home-made pies, which the Moth (the Man of the House, remember!)
We were assured that no penguins were hurt making this pir!
We  were a little alarmed at the Penguin Pie, but it turned out to be filled with fish and penguins eat fish, so I guess it’s pie for penguins, not pie of penguins! Penguins seem to be everywhere at the moment, so I dug out an old Jean Greenhowe knitting book with patterns for these…
Right, which penguin shall I try and knit?
Actually, I prefer crochet, but these are kind of cute, and I’ve always meant to have a go at them, and I’ve got black and white wool in the stash, and some knitting needles, so perhaps now is the time to knit a penguin!

I’m trying to walk every day, so on Monday off I went to Warwickshire Moor, one of our local ‘wild spaces’. It’s a small remnant of what was once a large area, and it’s not how I think of a moor at all – we’re definitely not talking Dartmoor here! It lies alongside the River Anker, and there are lots of little pools, and streams and drainage channels, with reed beds, and grassy areas, and a small wood. In summer it’s glorious, with masses of dragonflies and butterflies and all sorts of other insects, and a lot of the water dries up. But in winter every little dip and hollow fills with water, and the land oozes water with every step you take, but there’s still plenty to see and enjoy.
The viewing/dipping platform is usually well above the River Anker,
but there's been a lot of rain, and the water is very high.

Mud, glorious mud.... Wellies might have been better!
 On Tuesday I woke to a different world – there had been a hard frost overnight, and everything was encrusted with thick, white, icy crystals, while all the puddles had frozen solid, and everything was festooned with cobwebs which looked as if they had been spun from twisted cotton threads. They were unbelievably beautiful, so I grabbed the camera, and went out for a walk to snap them – and I got some jolly strange looks and comments from people who obviously thought I was a madwoman!  
A cobweb, covered in frost.
Sadly, by the next day the temperature had risen, all those magical cobwebs had vanished, and the weather was back to a grey, murky, misty, drizzle, so I walked to Lakeside (another of our little ‘wild spots’) looking for some colour to brighten the day. And I found it! Golden leaves glowed through the mistiness, and all kinds of red berries positively shone through the gloom in the most cheery fashion you could imagine. And I met lots of dog walkers, who all stopped for a chat, and one of them recommended other places to walk, and another told me about Thailand, where he used to work, so it turned into a very sociable morning! 
A rosy view of life... There were lots of rosehips, in all shapes and sizes.

Bright and shiny holly berries. 
Thursday was Oxfam day, and I was busy in the Lichfield Books and Music Shop – I only walked as far as the bank and the sandwich shop.
Me and my Oxfam brolly pictured outside our lovely shop earlier
in the year - but I've used it so yuo can see how nice our shop is.
However, on Friday I donned my walking boots again, and the Moth went with me, down through the Castle Grounds, which are beautiful at any time of year, and into town where we browsed around the shops, and ended up enjoying a restorative lunch in Wetherspoons before wending our way home!
Tamworth Castle.
For some reason Saturday was a ‘bleh day’ when I lacked the energy and enthusiasm to do anything, and when nothing seemed to go right, so I sat crocheting a blanket, which is now big enough to go over my knees while I work, and is all snuggly and comforting!
Snug as a bug in a rug... Or a blanket!
And that brings us back to Sunday again, and a walk round Alvecote Wood, which is one of my favourite places. It’s a patch of ancient woodland, full of dappled light, which always makes me think of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, ‘Pied Beauty’. There’s a wildflower meadow, and pools, and all kinds of plants, fungi, birds, insects and other wildlife, and it’s very beautiful, and very peaceful. Owners Stephen and Sarah, bought the wood after falling in love with it seven years ago, then acquired some adjoining land, and planted new trees. They’ve won environmental awards for the work they do to preserve and improve the area. This was their last Open Day of the year, and the wood will be closed to the public until the new programme of Open Days gets under way in the spring.
If you go down to the woods today...

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Mushroomy Things!

This was on an old tree stump.
Oh dear, late again... This is supposed to be a Saturday Snapshot, but I'm having a Sunday Snapshot this week instead, because Blogger had a hissy fit about uploading piccies and came to a full stop every time I tried to do it. Fortunately it seems to be working OK this morning, and it's still Sunday in some parts of the world, so let's go for it!
And this was on the same tree, but I'm not sure if it's the same species or not.
I think they look some alien life form which might crawl off across the landscape!
Has anyone else noticed how many fungi seem to be around this year? There are more than I ever remember seeing before, and there seems to be variety than I’ve spotted before. Everywhere I’ve walked this week I’ve seen mushroomy things… In hedgerows and meadows, and on trees and tree stumps, in all sorts of shapes and colours and sizes. They are quite spectacular, and somehow rather alien and a little sinister I think – probably because so many of them are very poisonous.
Same tree again. The tree has been split, and there's a great hole that's got protective wire mesh across
it, for safety reasons perhaps, or to stop people shoving rubbish in in it.
Personally I’ve got no intention of foraging (there’d be no going back if you get it wrong!), and I buy my mushrooms in the supermarket, or from the greengrocer, so I know they’re safe, but I do think it would be nice to know what these strange plants are. I've been using my photos to try and identify them, but I’m none the wiser than I was to start with!
I spotted this in the grass and leaves at the base of a hedge on the canal towpath.
I think, it's a shaggy ink cap.
Actually, I haven’t even got that right, because fungi are not plants, although that’s what I was led to believe when I was at school. In those days we were told that fungi were non-flowering plants but, apparently, modern science shows that the molecular structure of fungi is different to plants or animals, so they are now in a class of their own.
No idea what this is - the top is all folded, and looks a bit like gills - very odd!
As well as mushrooms, fungi include yeasts, mould that grows on rotting fruit and the infection that causes athlete's foot! According to the British Mycological Society fungi are used to make bread, cheese, wine, beer, soy sauce and Marmite. Fungi also help make coffee, flavour chocolate and put the bubbles in lemonade – but, sadly, the website doesn’t explain how these things are done.
These were growing in the cleft of quite a big tree, and there were masses and masses of them.
However, it does have lots of information about fungi – for example the bit which you see above the ground is known as a fruiting body, which produces spores, which are like seeds, but so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye. But below the ground there’s a much larger section (bit like an iceberg I guess) consisting of lots of fine threads that group together to form a branching network called a mycelium. And when conditions are right mycelium group together to form the fruiting body (I'm not a scientific sort of person, so I may have misunderstood this bit, but I think I’ve got that right).
And a close-up!
Fungi are good for the environment because they break down decaying plant and animal matter, producing food which is absorbed by the fine hair-like filaments.
I assume this is some kind of bracket fungus, on a dead tree stump.
I’d always been under the impression that fungi are very simple organisms, but from the little I've read this week they strike me as being very complex, especially their adaptability and the ways they reproduce. 
Same stump, but I think this a different kind of fungus - they look different at different stages of
 development, which adds to the problems of trying to identify them!
And I was surprised to discover that so many of them seem to be beneficial – even the ones which are inedible. Apparently, most plants have some kind of fungi living on their roots, and this is usually beneficial to plant and fungus.
And yet more fungi on the same stump - it was very big, but it was absolutely smothered in
fungi, as well as mosses and lichens.
Amazingly, they're used in all kinds of industrial processes, including the production of  pesticides, weedkillers and antibiotics (penicillin is a mould, after all, so I suppose I should have known this). 
These were growing all around the base - for such a small stump it supported an
incredible amount of life!

You'll find more Saturday Snapshots, and details on how to take part,  on Melinda's blog over at West Metro Mummy Reads.