From the vaults: The end of winter (punctuation pending) – (29/02/12)

Undecided whether to go for the emphatic ‘End of winter (exclamation mark!)’ or opt for the flexibility of the weasel option and use a question mark instead. How long would be considered reasonable to agonise over “!”or “?” ?.

“It’s as if the world is waking up” exclaimed the redoubtable Mrs B, not for the first time revealing the poetic soul nestling beneath her firebrand exterior. And she was right, that’s exactly how it did feel.

I like to divide the year up into four precise quarters of three calendar months each. There’s no rationale to this other than it giving me a simple system I can cope with (and something to hold onto when the days are at their shortest). March, April and May are the spring months; June, July and August those of summer; September to November defines the limits of autumn, leaving December, January and February as winter. That being so, the 1st of March heralds the arrival of spring, if only in my head, and today is the day when winter bids us goodbye (having already had an extra 24 hours, this being a leap year).

Digressing here, and it’s probably too late to change the system now anyway, but delaying spring by a full day every four years seems to me a perverse thing to do; other than it providing an extra day of winter training in an olympic year.

p1060472The birds seemed in no mood to wait any longer: long-tailed tits, always moving, so difficult to photograph; woodpeckers, of which we heard many and saw only a couple; a single, unmistakable yellowhammer, and a woodland flock of a variety as yet unidentified: possibly hawfinch, but they don’t look quite right in the book. As with the long-tailers they were unwilling to pose for a picture and a fuzzy image, shot at a distance, is inconclusive. ‘Inconclusive’, what a splendidly versatile word that is: politicians, lawyers, inept photographers – we’ve all resorted to ‘inconclusive’.

Anyway, unless Hogwarts can come up with a new spell – Sharpus Resolutionum, or something like that – the contents of the photograph will remain…well, unresolved.

The little cluster of mixed bulbs in the lee of a drystone wall presented less of a problem, insofar as they were prepared to keep still and allow me to get close.

 

From the vaults: seeing things… (09/02/2012)

It’s been a story of plans scuppered of late; hoping to get a little further afield, a little higher, only to be overtaken by circumstances, and usually ones not of our own making; we belong to what is apparently known as the “sandwich generation”. So we get out where we can, when we can, for as long as is available (stretching that to the limits at times), our mood a mixture of disgruntlement at the restricted opportunities and appreciation of the possibility of at least some escape when it’s there to be taken.

 
However much I’d rather be out there than trapped indoors or attending to overdue jobs, there are times when another stroll around familiar paths, woods, field margins, and even local hills falls a little short of what I really have in mind. But there’s invariably a point in every outing where all of that is discarded and I realise I’m quite happy to be… well, wherever it is I happen to be. It’s mostly down to seeing things…
 
Seeing things: it’s a phrase which conjures up images of hallucinations or big cat encounters; ghostly armies marching to fight battles from centuries past, leopards furtively stalking wooded slopes, strange lights in the night sky. I’m talking about something much less esoteric: simply seeing what’s there to be seen; it’s a skill we mostly improve over time – part of seeing is knowing where to look.
 
A couple of days back, once again short of time, we snatched a few of the daylight hours and made time for a few local miles. Within yards of leaving the car we were treated to a grey wagtail walking confidently on a frozen canal and revived the debate we always seem to have when identifying wagtails: if they look grey, they’re pied; if there’s a substantial amount of yellow, they’re probably grey; even more yellow and they might be… erm, yellow. Iolo Williams would probably despair of us.
 
A little further into the walk and a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers decided to amuse themselves at our expense – drumming to attract our attention then moving to another tree while we tried to re-focus the binoculars. Further on again and a large buzzard – sat on top of a post overlooking a railway cutting – glanced over its shoulder and quickly concluded that we were of no interest. For a big raptor it was certainly more of a day for patient opportunism than soaring on thermals.

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Pictured above – top to bottom:

Pied Wagtail (not grey, pied)

A Grey Wagtail (not yellow, grey)

A Yellow Wagtail (obviously…)