Monday, February 23, 2009

Signs of Spring

These are some of the snowdrops that can be found along the roadside near our house. The daffodil spikes have started to poke through as well. The early ones may bloom at the end of next month. This winter seems to be a particularly long and dark one. I find that I have turned to thoughts of travel to get me through until the weather warms up and the ground dries out.

When I was a child, I used to go straight for the comic section of the Sunday paper when it was opened up after church. It was for me and probably still is for most Americans, the best part of any Sunday paper. Peanuts, Family Circle, Blondie, they're tops! In the UK there is no comic section in the big weekend paper. After recovering from the latest culture shock, I had to learn to find fun in another section of the paper whilst I had my morning cup of tea. I found respite in the travel section. I really can't resist it now. I will bypass the lead story, ignore the oh so worthy family section and set the real estate section straight on the recycle pile ( we are not ever moving). I go for the section with the big photograph of a sunny, sandy beach on it. Inside there are stories of glorious little cottage hotels in Cornwall with views of the sea and freshly baked everything. There are full page ads for trips down the Mekong in Vietnam and a piece about a family with small apple cheeked tots having a glorious time in a static caravan in Brittany.

I end up my journey through this week's travel section with a look at the bargains to be had in the back. I must say that the bargains are starting to look ever so slightly full priced. For the three of us to fly to Thailand (my current desired destination) it will cost about £600 each!

I have had Thailand on the brain since the middle of January. It was then that I started taking vitamin D supplements to counteract the lack of sunshine on my pale white skin. I always joke to resident (and bronzed) locals when we go for our two weeks of holiday in places that have proper sunshine that it takes a week for my skin to go from blue to white and a second week for my skin to get from white to red.

The desire to go to Thailand was not helped at all by the fact that we were sent a postcard from a Thai friend inviting us to join her on a dive trip in April. The dive trip itself was very inexpensive and the thought of being on a boat in the Andaman sea for four days is quite sustaining, it's just getting there is the thing . . . .
The summer and our holidays are still a few months off yet. So today as I get ready for work and while I'm driving up the M74, in my mind I am diving head first into a warm clear sea. I'll be floating in that easy way you can in salt water and letting the sun soak into my bones.

If anybody knows of a way we can get to Bangkok airport in July for LESS than £300 please let me know!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tracking the Wildlife

Now that days are getting a little bit longer, it is no longer too dark to walk the dog after work. Both Polly and I really need the exercise and I was pleased to get up the road this evening and to our favourite walk by the duck ponds. Snowdrops are poking through last year's fallen leaves and one can almost feel the sap rising. I know there is always the threat of late snow at this time of year and we will certainly have more frost, but it feels that the teeth have been knocked out of winter.
The light on the hills behind the house was particularly lovely.

There is a lot of sticky red mud this time of year and the old pink wellies get called into service.

I saw loads of signs of British mammals on this walk. First there is this well used path. I can't tell if this path belongs to badgers or a foxes. Both these animals like to follow the same path when going about their daily business. This particular path comes out of the trees, across the grass, under the fence, across the road and into the next field.

After the path, the first mammal tracks I saw were the deer tracks. There look to be about four does and one big buck. I have taken photos of both doe and buck tracks so you can see for yourself how easy it is to distinguish between the doe and buck tracks. doe tracks
doe tracksa buck hoof print

I took the photos of hoof and paw prints next to my hand so that you could get a sense of scale. You can see that the hoof print of a buck is much deeper in the soft mud and has the two distinct heel marks behind the hoof.
I found badger tracks tonight. I've not seen badger tracks up there before. This is a poor specimen of a badger track, but you can see the claw marks plainly.
This is a fox print in the mud. Very similar to a dog but smaller and more delicate and quite different to the badger.
Compare it with Polly's big muddy paw print
Then there are my welly tracks.

I saw our barn owl again just as I was almost home. Even though I had the camera, I still wasn't fast enough to get footage. It's such a beautiful bird,

It was a lovely walk and I look forward to many more of them this spring.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Six Swans

Dumfries & Galloway is home to an important site for overwintering wildfowl. Loads of swans and geese from places further north like, Siberia, Iceland, Greenland, Norway etc. . . come to our coast to wait out the winter. Fields of barnacle geese and pink foot geese can be seen as I am driving around the countryside doing my job. Any inland body of water will be found with overwintering swans on it. These birds are here to eat the grass that still manages to grow in January because of our moderate temperatures.

On the road between Lockerbie and Lochmaben goes across the Annan River and there is an old humpback bridge. You know the one? It's right near the Lockerbie Cheese factory. It is a one lane bridge and when one gets up to the bridge, quite often there is a little wait at the light installed there. When all the traffic going in the opposite direction goes by, then it is your turn to go over the bridge and continue your journey. not my photo

While I was waiting at the light on Wednesday, six swans few over my car. What a sight! It made me gasp. I did not have the camera with me. Even if I had the camera with me, I don't know if I could have been fast enough to get the shot. They were flying low as if they were getting ready to land on the river and went just over the roof of my car. It was such a gift to see these majestic birds in formation and so close!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Still Walking That Dog

It started to snow just before three this afternoon. Any news that I've heard has forecast lots of snow. I thought I had better get the dog out there for her exercise before the snow started in earnest. Just as I was setting out, I saw the barn owl again. There is one, possibly two living in the barn next door to us. I wasn't fast enough with the camera. Trust me, the owl is gorgeous and looks huge from this distance.

On the way to our favourite dog walking spot I stopped by our neighbour's house and dropped off some things I had picked up for them during the week and collected a new jar of marmalade. Our lovely neighbour makes marmalade a couple of times a year and we always get a jar. It is vastly superior to shop bought marmalade.
Here is an early rhododendron blossom.

The old well behind their house.

The road up to the pond.

Frozen tracks in the snow:

There were pheasant all over the place. It seems as though there wasn't a square foot up there that didn't have a pheasant track on it.

The delicate paw prints of a fox. There were loads of fox tracks. I didn't think there were so many.

Oddly, there were no deer tracks today.
The duck pond was frozen over. Polly started to walk out onto the ice. I don't know how thick the ice is. I had visions of her going through and me having to go and get her so I called her back as soon as I noticed what she was doing. There was a confused heron flying nearby. Sorry Mr Wading Bird. You're going to have to look elsewhere for stuff to eat. The food here is under ice.

I kept thinking that in a few short weeks, winter will be over and this place will be overrun with spawning frogs and toads.

In the meantime, it is still firmly winter. It's a shame that at 3 pm it is already too dark on this bit of footage for the falling snow to be seen.
video

Polly and I had a nice walk in the quiet and lightly falling snow. She does this mad thing where she runs on ahead and then come back to be at full speed. You can see hints of this great trick of hers in the video. It always looks as though she is going to crash right into my legs. As she has the head of a full sized bull terrier, a full on collision would knock me flat. She always swerves at the last possible moment. The trick I have found is to pause or stop momentarily just before she gets to you as she goes right on by. If you step to one side to avoid the oncoming doggy locomotive, you run a much greater risk of collision.

I am writing this about three hours after our walk. The sun has set and the snow has stopped. There isn't nearly enough snow for a snow day but there is still the threat of more. I get the feeling that winter isn't quite done with us yet.

Friday, February 06, 2009

I Didn't Even Notice!

More than three years ago (January 30th to be precise) I began this blog with this post. Time and more than 55 thousand visitors later, I'm still here.

Even though I have not posted as often as I would like at the moment, I'm still here!

I love the fact that I've made new friends and reinforced bonds with old friends through this blog.

This is the list of jobs to be done in the garden three years ago:

  • 1. post order for seeds
  • 2. spread dirt pile evenly across the vegetable plot and re-cover
  • 3. replace broken panes of glass in small greenhouse
  • 4. move strawberry bed into the light
  • 5. buy a new lawnmower
  • 6. prune the rest of the roses and spray them
  • 7. plant the rhubarb in a nice spot
  • 8. paint the hen house
  • 9. fix the broken hinge on hen house door
  • 10. tidy up the greenhouses and wash the glass

I find it odd that only numbers 2, 7 and 5 were done and don't need to be done again. The other seven either haven't been done or need to be done again.

I hope that in three years time, I am still here and still blogging!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Another Trip to Arran

I know I've written about going to this island before! This time it was different. No really! I took George with me this time AND the weather was awful! The weather wasn't so bad that the ferries wouldn't run, but the stormy seas made the ferry roll a bit. While we were waiting for the ferry, George and I ate some E. Lots of E! We ate some other letters of the alphabet as well, but we focused most of our efforts on the letter E.
Once we were on the island and I had finished my work we set about seeing the sights. It was too stormy for the seals to be viewed. I'm sure they hide when I come to the island with other humans. I only ever see them when I go to Arran with just Polly for company. Again we bought soap, cheese and chocolate but we also met up with one of the islanders.

I called the day before and made arrangements to meet up with Sean Ferris a member of the Arran Subaqua Club. George and I met up with Sean in a little cafe at the end of Lamlash pier where divers, fresh from the boat and still in their dry suits are more than welcome! I was SO pleased I did this. Sean was so full of information and offers of assistance when asked about diving on the island. He had printed out a depth chart for Lamlash Bay and another section of water, just south of Lamlash Bay that has a spectacular dive associated with it. I got to keep these charts!!

Sean's enthusiasm for diving on his little island was boundless. It turns out that we have a common interest in nudibranchs! (small world huh?) Sean is also keen to see the rare and endangered basking sharks that can be found around Arran in the summer. He has said that he'll text me if any show up this year. What a guy!This is the office for the ferry across to Holy Isle. This office can be found at Lamlash Pier mere steps away from the cafe where George, Sean and I had our tea.
This is Lamlash Pier - with Holy Isle just off in the distance. I've never been there.
If one looks a little to the left while standing near the pier one will see the part of Lamlash Bay that has been designated as the no-take-zone!

I didn't take a photo of Sean for the purposes of this blog. I didn't want to confirm any growing suspicions he may have that I may be a nut job.
I did try to take some photos of this miserable looking flock of oystercatchers with their cormorant buddy and some unidentified wading bird. It was hard to get a picture with the camera I have, a lack of a tripod and sideways rain. The flash kept highlighting rain drops. Here is the best of the bunch.

I reported my meeting with Sean to the rest of our dive club in Dumfries. It has rekindled an interest in a diving weekend in Arran with members who have dived in the waters around the island in the past. Just now, the water is too cold for me, but I am really up for a diving weekend in the summer!