Reed Bunting

This reed bunting was an unusual visitor to our garden today. In summer, these birds are more brightly coloured, the male has black head and bib, and they frequent reed beds and marsh grasses. In winter they can’t afford to be so choosy and are often seen on farmland and gardens.

reed bunting 1reed bunting 2

These birds are similar to sparrows, which we never see here these days (although they are around elsewhere in Knutsford). The notched tail, dark head and bib and white collar and underside confirm the rapid identification by my resident expert.

Quality of the photos is not wonderful. We spotted the bird through upstairs windows, and it was preferable to grab quick zoom shots through the panes, rather than open a window, which would almost certainly scare the bird off.

Fieldfare 2

There were several of these birds hiding in the bushes, and coming down to feed on the grass field at Brereton Country Park, whenever there were no dogs nearby. They look a bit like large thrushes, but are actually fieldfare, members of the thrush family. These are regular winter visitors to the UK, and are said to congregate in groups and feed together – similar to the behaviour of redwing.

fieldfare 2 1fieldfare 2 2

You can clearly see the characteristic white underside.

It was almost exactly one year ago that we previously saw fieldfare on the same field. See earlier post. It would seem that they are creatures of habit.

The Panasonic TZ80 in my pocket gave a slightly better zoom image than the TZ200 used last time. In theory, the TZ80 gives stronger zoom, and the TZ200 has a better sensor. For practical purposes there’s not a huge difference!

So That’s It

So that’s it. The sun goes down over Knutsford 31st January 2020, heavy clouds loom. It’s the last sunset we shall see while the UK is in the EU. We are actually out. The UK flag is coming down all over Europe. Winston Churchill’s dream is over for us in the UK, for now – but it is alive and well in the rest of the EU. We wish them well, and hope to join again some day.

Reactions have been remarkably contrasting, notably in the European parliament, where the emotionally mature statements of the European politicians contrasted markedly with the infantile gestures of Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party.

For another 11 months we’ll individually have the privileges of membership, such as freedom to work or retire anywhere in Europe, such as reciprocal medical care when we travel, such as minimal bureaucracy when we take the dog to Europe. Life is likely to be more inconvenient and costly from there on. But that’s nothing compared to the strain on UK people living in EU and and other countries nationals living in UK – it is a nightmare for them. Even for us, it feels that we have been severed from Europe against our will by our fellow citizens – like the branch on this tree.

31jan severed limbs on tree
Severed limb on tree, Knutsford 31 Jan 2020

We now await the Amazing Boris performing the great illusion of Having His Cake and Eating It, just as he did with the Withdrawal Agreement. This time I fear he will fail, falling between Scylla and Charybdis (EU and US). But maybe he is the master illusionist?

If only there had been an evident good reason for Brexit, it might have all seemed worthwhile, rather than being an unnecessary diversion from the real issues we (and Europe) face!

Snowdrops in the rain

A cold, miserable January afternoon, raindrops falling on the pond – not very promising for photographs. Then I spotted these snowdrops in our planter, with the pond surface in the background.

snowdrops

Not bad for a photograph taken through the window glass with my easily-to-hand point-and-shoot Panasonic TZ80.

Southport pier 2

As child I was taken to the seaside at Southport on the few occasions we strayed from Lincolnshire, to stay with cousins on the other side of the country. An abiding memory is of the long walk down the pier and the tram you could take down the pier’s length to make the journey back easier. And then there was the question of the sea – it wasn’t always there, just miles and miles of beach.

Southport was created in the great Victorian railway/seaside resort boom, and very grand it was, too. Its pier, built in 1859, is the oldest iron pier in the country. At 3,635ft (once 4380ft) it is the second-longest in Great Britain, after that at Southend. In it’s heyday the pier was visited by steamers conveying tourists along the coast. By the 1920s increased silting meant steamers could no longer reach the pier, which fell into disrepair, until restored in the new millenium. The tramway recalled from my childhood ran in various forms until 2015, but the recent austerity meant it could not be maintained and the tram is now replaced by a little road train, which looks not bad on the featured photo.

The same silting in the water channel allowed for land reclamation, which is why some of the pier now runs over what is now dry land, reclaimed from the sea. This provided for the creation of the Marine Lake, now a very good location for paddleboarding.

Of course, the pier can be relied on as the foreground to some great sky photographs, but most usually with a base of sand rather than sea.

 

 

Sefton sundown

I spotted this silhouetted curlew on the rocks, against the backdrop of this sundown picture at Crosby, Merseyside.sefton sundown

The sun is not yet low enough to produce the longer wavelength reds and yellows, but as we drove into Southport, a bit further up the coast, these colours had become quite magnificent, but for only a short while.

sefton sundown 2

Quite a difference!

The metropolitan borough of Sefton extends from Bootle, on the edge of Liverpool, up the coast as far as Southport.

Paddleboarding

We were in the car park by Southport’s Marine Drive having lunch. Out of the dunes at the back of the parking area came several youngsters carrying what looked like a couple of canoes or surf boards. Not thinking much of it, we carried on eating. A few minutes later their two tiny cars drove away, and we realised there was no trailer, no roof rack, the boards had somehow gone into the cars. Now that was a mystery.

Lunch over, we went for a walk with the dog over the said dunes to see the Marine Lake. On the lake were a couple of similar boards, with people standing on them and apparently punting or paddling. A friendly local, who turned out to be their mother, was standing by the waterside, so we asked her what these things were – paddleboards. Apparently they fold down for storage but you pump them up to make the boards, which are then driven/steered from a standing position by a long paddle.

The slowly declining sun provided a super backdrop for a photograph or two.

southport paddle boards

According to our informant, the Marine Lake is a popular venue for paddleboarding. She had tried it on the sea, but got seasick!

Internet research shows that paddleboards have been around for a few years and are a rapidly growing trend. It looks fun. We should keep up!

 

Parkgate sunset

It was over 50 years ago that I first experienced a wonderful sunset at Parkgate on the Dee Estuary. So incredible it was, that I had some sort of peak experience. Unfortunately  (from this perspective) I was with very materialistic university friends who were not impressed and could not understand my elated state. The effect soon passed, as the beer took over.

Last weekend the sunset and the effect were much less spectacular, but still provides a decent photograph. A good birding pool in the marshes gives the foreground, with the dark hills of Flintshire behind. The channel of the River Dee now flows along that side of the estuary, leaving Parkgate, which was once a port, with just marshland at the quayside.

parkgate sunset

I think awe is probably the right word to describe my reaction to these spectacles of nature.

Redwing

Taking a short break while looking for raptors out over the Dee estuary at Parkgate, we took the dog for a short walk and happened across a largish group of (maybe 20) birds running about and feeding in a grassy field. They turned out to be redwing, easily identified by the reddish underwing.

Click twice to see an image full screen.

As is suggested by their shape and patterning, redwings are distant relatives of thrushes. These would be winter migrants to UK. According to Wikipedia, they often form loose flocks of tens or even hundreds of  birds in winter, often feeding together with other types of bird. We did notice a few starlings mixed in with them.

Tinder Fungus

These rather fine specimens of tinder fungus, or fomes fomentarius, sat proudly on a dead silver birch stump in Brereton Country Park. These bracket fungi were quite large, around 1 foot in height.

This species typically continues to live on trees long after they have died, changing from a parasite to a decomposer, helping the dead wood to rot.

The name derives from the fact that it was found to be useful as tinder in making fire.

tinder fungus 1tinder fungus 2

This could be the identity of the queried oyster shell fungus in an earlier post, which was found in the same woods.

Neumann’s Flash

Neumann’s Flash was formed when a salt mine collapsed in 1873. The Northwich salt mines had expanded rapidly without due safeguards, so inadequate supports were left to hold up the ground overhead.

A chemical industry developed around the production of salt, so the enormous holes created by this collapse, and the even more dramatic collapse of the nearby Ashton’s Flash in 1880, were in the 1950s used to dump lime waste. After dumping ceased, nature gradually began to recover and since the 1970s the area has been gradually developed into a country park, now part of the Mersey Forest initiative. Yes nature will recover, if given half a chance. See the story here.

Today, this is a great area for walking and birding, joining up with the nearby Anderton and Marbury parks.

neumans sunset

The picture shows Neumann’s Flash from one of its three hides, with a fair sprinkling of birds on the water, as the sun slowly sinks towards the horizon.

The featured image is a crop of the central area.

Shaggy Scalycap?

Throughout the autumn we have passed this patch of fungus at the base of a roadside tree. My smartphone captured stages of its life. Click twice for more detail.

Identification of fungi is not easy. The scales on the cap suggest this is a shaggy scalycap, which is typically found at the base of trees. It is not edible, although some birds(?) appear to have taken pecks out of it.

The final picture, taken recently, is a rather disgusting mess.

Southport Sunset

In my experience the Merseyside coast has some fabulous sunsets. The recent one at Southport, with the sun setting over the Mersey bay, was particularly spectacular.

To see an image full screen you will need to single click twice. The high contrast resulted in my Panasonix TZ200 producing a rather grainy beach with little detail.

This sky also gave a good backdrop to two of Southport’s rather quirky pieces of street decoration.

 

At WWT Martin Mere

We love going to WWT Martin Mere in the autumn to see the wonderful proliferation of wildfowl – thousands of migrated pink-footed geese, whooper swans, and many more ducks and geese attracted to the plentiful food that is available. These photographs give a small sample from our recent visit.

To see an image full screen you will need to single click twice.

These WWT reserves now play a valuable part in the global ecosystem. Such has been the human impact on the planet that we must now help the remaining wildlife to continue into future generations.

The featured image shows whooper swans and others in profile, shooting into the setting sun.

The Magic of Vézelay

After a recent visit to a favourite town, Vézelay in Burgundy, I dug out this unpublished article I wrote in 2002. Here it is with a bit of editing to bring it up-to-date, and a few photos.

The small town of Vézelay is a special gem. Visit here, and allow yourself to be entranced by its beauty, inspired by its spiritual quality, fascinated by its history, and restored by its natural surroundings.

Vézelay owes its existence to the tradition of pilgrimage. Its Basilica of Mary Magdalene has attracted pilgrims from all over Europe for over a thousand years. The main attraction was the relics of Mary, brought to the then monastery in the 11th century from St Maximin in Provence, where she was said to have been buried. Vézelay became one of four major starting points for pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostella in north west Spain (Paris, le Puy and Arles are the others).

Set along a hilltop, the Vézelay skyline offers an enticing perspective as you approach from any of several directions. If you park at the bottom of the hill, the main street winds picturesquely upwards past a selection of shops offering, among other things, provisions, crafts, wines, souvenirs and books, also galleries, bars, and restaurants.Read More »