From the vaults: A crisp walk (29/11/2010)

A crisp walk, plus a gear test (of sorts)

I’d started this entry at a time when we had yet to get any of the snow which was arriving by the skyload elsewhere; a couple of flurries and the odd dusting were all we’d seen. I have mixed feelings about snow: I love it on the hills and in the woods; not so keen when it hits the roads and car parks.
 
We’d not escaped the sub-zero temperatures though; even the daytime readings had been struggling to make zero, so it’s been time to bolster up the layers, appreciate the landscape on the move and cut the pauses to a minimum. The birds have been hammering the feeders; and occasionally each other when the queue doesn’t move quickly enough.
 
Overnight, and again during today (Tuesday 30th), we’ve had the first proper falls of the winter; light but sustained, and with the promise of more to come. So the pictures are no longer typical of the scene outdoors …
DSC02410The solitary wagtail – usually to be found inspecting the grit on the roof of the outhouse – put the untidy table manners of the goldfinches to some advantage; hoovering up the escaped sunflower seeds in company with a robin, a few chaffinches and a posse of dunnocks. Despite the diversity there seemed to be no significant disagreements at ground level.
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Which was not the case a few feet above, where goldfinch, great tits and blueys jockeyed for control of the feeders, spilling plenty and only rarely agreeing to any inter-species sharing or armistice. A low-level pass by the local sparrowhawk did briefly leave them all looking suitably chastened.
Sunday’s outing, a relatively windless but bitterly cold afternoon, provided the opportunity to try out a new pair of mittens. Mrs B has suffered long and silently (well, maybe not entirely silently) with cold hands, so I’d treated her to a new pair of Trekmates Dry Snow mitts. I’ve had a pair of the Trekmates Dry Gloves for some time now and found them to be very warm and roomy enough to accommodate an additional liner on the really cold days. The mitts however are of a different order of warmth altogether.
 
In the event, Mrs B – happy with her existing liner/sheepskin mitt combo – declined the offer of the new kit, so I tried them out myself. The inner is in the form of a glove (separated fingers), with the outer being a mitten; the fill between the two is Primaloft. The effect is a bit like putting your hand into a glove already inside a tea cosy; if anyone reading this is plagued by cold hands then I’d certainly say they’re an option worth considering. Obviously the loss of dexterity when it comes to operating a camera can be an issue; opening a box of tic-tacs is pretty much out of the question.
 
I hadn’t realised, until I was looking for a link to post, that they had featured in a short (but expert) review on the TGO site: (here)

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(Above) The very last seconds of the weekend sun

From the vaults: Changing places (20/11/2010)

Changing places…

The birds have either moved or are on the move; whether they’ve relocated to a more sheltered spot just around the corner or upped sticks for a winter in Senegal, they’re no longer to be found where they were last time we looked. Places which were hotbeds of activity just a few weeks ago are eerily quiet. It’s as if there was a close season on certain parts of the heath and among particular types of vegetation. It was the same a year ago.

Elsewhere, in the woods in particular, familiar haunts are being reoccupied; and by the same species, possibly the very same individuals, we would see there as last winter approached. The mixed flock of long-tailed, blue and great tits moving through and around the same tight cluster of trees, when there are thousands of others to choose from; suggesting that there is something to their liking in the vicinity of those particular branches at this time in the natural cycle. The long-tailed tits in particular seem to be in a state of constant movement, probably less random and more structured than it appears to the human eye; like animated and colourful shuttlecocks. The single goldcrest which was their habitual companion twelve months past is yet to reappear; in so far as it’s possible to be certain where something as small and mobile as a goldcrest is concerned.

The ravens, last seen and heard around Easter time, are back and making their presence felt; they appear to have a regular beat, a favoured side of the hills, and to have returned to it. No blackcaps or bullfinches as yet, but it would be a strange winter without them.

So we get to enjoy someone else’s birds for a while, and ours provide variety and entertainment – hopefully in exchange for hospitality – elsewhere. It’s a good arrangement.

From the vaults: Getting there (eventually)… (17/11/2010)

Getting there (eventually)

Words of wisdom are a scarce commodity; often wasted on the likes of me; so it’s comforting to know that, at least on the odd occasion, a penny drops. Jim Perrin often talks of our “own square mile” (‘ei filltir sgwar’ I think it is in Welsh, although I’m open to correction) and the rewards to be had from getting to know it more intimately. I thought I understood; I didn’t, and now I’m finally beginning to.

Writing about it, even in the erratic, scattergun, manner of this blog has helped; if only to the extent that I’m now more inclined to note things; jot them down before they slip irretrievably from my ill-disciplined mind. I’m seeing changes I would previously have overlooked; not just the usual seasonal shifts but year-on-year variations; this year’s spring compared with that of 2009, and – presently – this autumn contrasted with autumn of last year.

Where autumn last was benign and still, the leaf fall extended as varieties almost took turns to shed, this years was swift and decisive; colour change and defoliation accelerated by the effects of blustery wind, rain and an abrupt fall in temperatures. It has been as grim as last year was pleasant. But not everywhere, by all accounts …

I’ve been surprised by reports from elsewhere suggesting that this has been a protracted season of glorious and subtly changing colours, extending over many weeks and already being referred to as comparable with the very best. The kind of autumn in fact that we seemed to enjoy a year ago when others were less fortunate. While this year’s colours were unquestionably spectacular, the display locally was brief, the wind across the hills brutal and the transition into clinging, foggy, damp seemingly irrevocable. It looks like it’ll be boots, insulated gloves and hat down over the ears for a while now; but it’s the only way to learn.