Monday, July 29, 2013

Successful Swallows

Now that we have no cats, the birds at Whitelees are free to nest in the garden without being predated by our pets.

There have been swallow nests in our tool shed for years.  One nest is near the door next to a rafter and the other is balanced on a florescent light fixture.  The poor swallows that survived long enough to build them, were never successful at raising any chicks.  The workbench in the tool shed made a far too convenient hunting platform for our cats.

This year a pair of swallows decided to risk things and try one of the nests again. I saw the swallows darting in and out of the tool shed and I wondered if they were brave enough to try again.  Putting my hand up there, I felt eggs.

There isn't enough room for me to stick my head up there and look in, but I can put my smartphone up there and snap away.    Using this method, I was able to monitor the progress of the swallows without disturbing them too much.  In the end there were three eggs in this nest.
Pretty speckled swallow eggs

I was worried that they were never going to sit on these eggs and hatch them out.  I never saw any adult swallow incubating or brooding on the nest.  Even so, the eggs did hatch.
Scrawny newly hatched swallows
The chicks hatched during a lovely hot spell here in SW Scotland.  Tiny hatchlings always look so delicate and fragile. Because I felt so protective of them, I wouldn't let anybody close the door to the tool shed once the eggs had hatched.  Even though they could probably get in through the huge gap at the bottom of the door, I wanted the swallows to have open and free access to the hungry chicks.  If we were robbed, then so be it.  I was quite willing to sacrificed our possessions so that these wee birdies had a chance.
A few days after hatching they were all gaping mouths.  If we walked in to get the lawnmower this is what we'd see.
week old swallow chicks

A week later they look a bit bored.
Then they developed a distinctly grumpy look.Later on it gets very crowded.
It really looks as though there is no room in there.  This photo was taken two days before the three swallow chicks fledged.

This morning, the nest was empty
Oddly tonight the swallows were back in the nest.  I don't know how this works, but tonight after the first day of flight, the young ones are back in the nest above the light fixture.

When we first bought this place, there were three or four external swallow nests.  The nests were abandoned as the cats learned to get on the roof and make swipes at the birds. I am thrilled that we have been witness to the arrival of three new swallows.  I really hope this years brood make it down to sub-Saharan Africa and back again next year.  It would be wonderful if the old nest sites are reestablished.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Return of the Sparrow

Before Christmas we got two new kittens, Otis and Lola.  Lola was run over two days after her first set of vaccinations.  We took the decision that our home with its increased traffic is not safe for cats and gave Otis away to a friend.  That is the end of cats living here and a halt to the expansion of the pet graves under the juniper tree.

As sad as this news was for us, it certainly has had other benefits.  I cleaned and refilled the bird table and moved it under the trees and nearer a window.  On the first of the year, I started a log of what is seen out the window,  

writing down the birds that I see in the order that they are seen.  Anytime that a new species shows up or an especially delightful sighting happens, that entry is highlighted in yellow.   I increased what I was offering the birds.  I figured a wider variety of bird food would naturally bring a broader selection of species.

When the red squirrels showed up, I put those in the log as well, marking the entry in pink.  Okay, so they're not birds, but they are rapidly disappearing from Great Britain as the North American grey squirrel takes over.  Two miles away a grey squirrel has been seen.  I fear it is only a matter of time before we lose our native red squirrels to the more robust grey ones.   As it stands now, red squirrel visits are a daily occurrence, but I'm still thrilled each and every time I see them.

There have been some new species to my life list this year.  I had to grab for the field guide when red polls, stock doves and black caps showed up, sending me into nerdy bird watching rapture.  The red polls continue to visit on a semi-regular basis.  Long-tailed tits were hit and run feeders in the winter.  A small group of about six birds would visit the fat balls hanging in the trees for a few minutes and then leave as quickly as they showed up, thrilling me if I was there to see it happen.

Last week a jay showed up to dine on peanuts, gaining a big yellow highlighted mark in the book.  It is a very shy bird and will fly off if it thinks it has seen me. The swallows here at the house were late coming back from their winter home in South Africa .. . and there were only a few.  For a long time there was just one chattering on the phone line and I was so worried that we may be seeing the end of swallows here.

Yesterday I noticed that the two nests in the tool shed had fresh mud on the edges and I've seen a couple of swallows zip in and out of the nests.  Lets hope they're successful breeders this year.  

Today was a very special morning, I saw a sparrow on the bird table.  I'm sure you're thinking . . . really, you're excited about a sparrow?  Really?  

There has been a significant decline in house sparrow populations in the UK and what used to be a very common bird is in trouble.  Certainly house sparrows have not been seen at our house in more than 15 years.  So this morning when I saw a lone male house sparrow at the bird table, I marked the sighting in yellow in my log and woke The Man of the Place to tell him the news.

Other declines are evident. There are no lapwings in the field this year.  It used to be that we would see a couple of breeding pair, looping around in the sky.  The cry of the curlew that nests near the burn has diminished and I haven't seen a single song thrush hopping across the lawn.  With the steady loss of bird life upsetting me, it is so lovely to see hope being heralded by a lone sparrow visiting my bird table.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dressmaking and Tailoring

I used to make some of my own clothes.  I learned to sew when I was young girl.  My freshman year in high school, I made a prom dress.  I wasn't old enough to have a date and go to the prom, but I was on the refreshment committee and would be required to wear a dress that night.

I still sew from time to time but here in the UK, fabric shops are very rare now.  Making things isn't nearly as fun as it used to be.  Cloth costs more and is harder to come by.  It is less expensive to buy a cheap top at the supermarket than to buy the materials and notions needed to run it up myself.   How does that make sense?

I have recently completed two baby quilts for my lovely grandsons.  It has reignited the satisfaction I get from sewing.
I still look at garment construction when I shop.  How close together are the stitches?  Are the buttons going to stay on?  Hems secure?  My current annoyance is with jeans for women that are made of the flimsiest material.  Jeans made of denim coloured dress material will not stand up to working outside.  Why can't we have jeans made of good old heavyweight denim?

I know how to lay out a pattern and make simple garments, but I want to add to my skill base.  I would like to be able to alter the pattern to fit my odd shape.  I want to be able to make a pair of trousers.  Wool trousers that are fully lined would be nice. 

Some of the finest wool fabrics in Europe are woven right here in my part of the country.  Couture houses have their materials made near by.  I can buy the ends of rolls and factory seconds from the mills that produce cloth for design houses like Dior and Chanel.

I'm going to see about enrolling this week.  More on that as we go along.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Back to the Birds

At the beginning of the year, I started a little project.  I filled up the bird feeders then sat down at the window and watched to see what birds came to visit the feeders.  I made a note of the birds that visit the feeder and in what order I see them.
Red poll, siskin and goldfinch
I offer a couple of different foods.  I have peanuts, sunflower hearts, niger or thistle seed, mixed seed and suet balls.  I figure the wider the variety of foods being offered, the wider the variety of birds.  From time to time I throw some raisins out there and the occasional crust of bread.

Now that it has been a few months in, I can see trends.  There are two new species that I've never seen before let alone seen in my garden.  At some point I'll count up the annual list and see what we've got.  One sitting saw fifteen separate species of bird visit our garden. 
Great spotted woodpecker - female

I'm making a note of them in a spare annual diary that I had left over from work. I write down what I've seen each day.  When a new species shows up for the first time, I highlight it in yellow.   I also note when the red squirrels visit.  They are not birds, but they are rare little beasts and deserve mention.
pheasant family - regular visitors

I'm still waiting for swallows in the garden.  I've seen them for a few weeks in other parts of Dumfries & Galloway but not HERE.  I am also waiting for thrushes.  We usually get them in the summer, hopping across the lawn.  I expect the swallows and thrushes any day now.
female pheasant trying to get the suet balls
This is really fun. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


Five short weeks after the arrival of Lennox, we have another addition to the family.  Please join me in welcoming Jack to the world!

He as born on the 10th of April  . . . .eventually.  It took his poor mother 36 hours to deliver him  and in the end he showed up in the traditional way.  Both mother and baby, though tired and bruised by the whole ordeal, were fine.
I now have two beautiful grandsons.  Both sets of parents are doing amazing jobs with their little ones.  The mothers are intelligent and sensible.  They research everything.  I was clueless when my first babies were born.  These little ones have such a head start on things.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Now that photos of my new grandson are allowed, here he is.

As Nana, I think he is perfect. "Nana" is the tag I am hoping for.

This is my eldest son, Ian holding his hours old son.  They seem to be having a lovely moment.  I hope they have hundreds of those.

Here's our little peanut!

Early reports are saying that he is the right sort of baby.  Quiet, calm and alert.

I am already besotted.  I meet him on the 20th when I fly to Chicago for a solid week of Lennox time.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Welcome to the World

Yesterday in Chicago, my lovely daughter-in-law after an epic labor of over 24 hours brought Lennox David into the world.  He is perfect.  He weighed 6lbs and 4oz at birth. 

My son wept openly when his son was born.  I would have loved to be nearer as all of this was happening.  I'll see them in two weeks when I go for a quick visit.  I will bring presents and help where I can.

I am not authorized to post photos of the little guy at this time.   I will post photos when it is properly sanctioned.

That's me  a grandmother now.  It also bumps my mother up a grade to great grandmother.  Yipee! I love babies and I love that my family continues to grow and I don't have to do anything! 

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Sneaky Week Away

Before the mayhem of Christmas took us over completely . . . . . .  Wait, let me go back a little bit.   In October I felt things were starting to get on top of me.  Work was non-stop and family life was in turmoil.  I tried all the normal stress relieving techniques but they weren't cutting through this particular clump of stress. My left eye started to twitch, a clear indicator for me that I was losing the battle.  I said to The Man of the Place that I was sinking.  I told him that my eye had begun to twitch and that I wasn't sleeping all that well.  I needed a bit of help.  God bless him.  He booked us a vacation.  The day after he booked the vacation, my eye stopped its annoying twitching.  Just having something to look forward to helped to lower my stress levels considerably.

He found us a bargain at the Dive Show in Birmingham.  We got a very good deal with flights, accommodation (with all our meals) and diving all wrapped up in one neat package. That was through a small travel company that specialises in dive trips, Sportif Dive Holidays.   Sadly our youngest boy couldn't join us, he had university exams to take.  So, it was just the two of us.  We haven't had a vacation alone together in . . .over twenty years!  We have always had children with us. Not having any of the boys with us was a concept that unsettled us at first.  If the kids can't go, should we just put it off until they can come along?  Nope - it was just us.  We have made one more step toward being empty-nesters.   Once I got my head around that concept, the holiday started to shine a little brighter.

We were off to Egypt for a week of non-stop diving.  Egypt has the best scuba diving within our budget.  The Red Sea offers some of the best diving there is to be had on the planet.  The turmoil that Egypt has been facing in the last year or so has not affected the diving too terribly.  There were only few divers, but that could have had something to with the fact that this was the week before Christmas.
Diving every single day of the holiday was just what the doctor ordered.  I never tire of it.  I love the sea.  When I'm not IN the sea, I can be found, looking over the edge of the harbor into the water to see what I can see.
Lemon goby
whip coral goby
I got to see my favourite fish, the Lemon goby, spotted some whip coral gobies - at about 2cm they aren't easy to see.
blue fin trevally
Indian mackerel 
Look at the blue of this blue fin trevally!  I wish the photo were in focus and framed better, but you can at least get an idea of the amazing colour of them!
This holiday was made possible because of a direct flight from Manchester to Marsa Alam airport by Thomson holidays.  This route had been cancelled for a bit and we are so thrilled that it has been reinstated.  We couldn't have gone otherwise.  The flights leave Marsa Alam back to the UK leave Egypt about 6 pm.  This means that divers can dive on the last day of the holiday and still have a good 24 hours between last dive and the flight home.

We have been diving exclusively with one company over the years, Emperor Divers.  The dive guides love the sea as much as I do and though they dive in the Red Sea for a living, they are still enthusiastic about each dive.  We could go unguided but I found that my friend Tracy, one of Emperor's instructors and guides is such a genius at spotting the things I like to see (little stuff) that I prefer to dive with her.
juvenile axilspot hogfish with giant moray
I squeezed in as many dives as daylight and the dive boats allowed.  The last dive on the last day was my 200th dive.  It was a lovely dive with a couple of  giant moray eels.  This one had a juvenile hog fish acting like a cleaner fish next to him.  I couldn't get the entire eel in the shot as it was so massive - close to 2 meters - but you can see how beautifully it was marked.   In addition to the treats we saw below the waves - Emperor Divers laid on an extra special treat in the dive boat that was used on this last day.
Emperor Elite
We were welcomed aboard the Emperor Elite, Emperor's platinum service 32 meter premier liveabord dive boat.  Holy smokes!
Man of the Place in the ship's dining room
I really tried to be cool and nonchalant about the whole experience . . . but I failed.  I was properly thrilled and snooped around the whole boat, taking photos.
I wanted to get photos of the cabins to show that there really is plenty of storage on board.  Divers seldom have a lot of personal luggage to stow anyway, but it is nice to know you have a couple of places to put your things. If you notice the table between the two single beds has a small fridge below it!  Just out of sight is a telly and the door to the bathroom.  Each room has their own.
Double cabin
This is mummy and daddy's cabin.  Loads more room!
Tracy and The Man of the Place with lovely coffee
I showed a shot of my husband walking through the dining room, but what I failed to show was the coffee and tea making facilities in the corner of the room - that had a barrista!  There was somebody there to make us really nice coffees.
dive deck
Out on the back of the boat and the dive deck, there was space enough for two zodiacs.  These essential little RIBs help the crew hook the ship up to mooring points as well as drop of and collect divers from the sea.
Ship's library

top deck of Elite
Need a place to write up your logbook in comfort? You can do that in the ship's library or if you want fresh air, try the top deck where there is a Jacuzzi!  Because we were on this ship in December, most of us opted for the comfy seats inside.  For us, it wasn't cold, but it was nicer inside.  I like the fact that if it is high summer, you can have a bit of shade on the top deck.
Me and Luke
I have declared that if my numbers ever come up on the lottery, I am making a couple of trips on this lovely ship.  One trip with my dive club and one trip with non-divers.