Dancing Grebes

Sometimes you get lucky. In the unseasonably warm February afternoon on Tatton Park’s lake, we suddenly spotted two great crested grebes courting. What an amazing dance they performed. The light was still good, so some sort of reasonable pictures were possible with my Panasonic Lumix TZ200 on maximum zoom, although the show only lasted a minute or two. Here’s a selection:

Click on individual images for more detail.

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Oak

Just how beautiful can the oak tree be in winter! The head of this oak shows superb fractal patterns, reflected in the parallel picture of the whole tree.

This is one of many oaks in the National Trust’s Attingham Park, near Shrewsbury. Also there in the deer park is the wonderful 650-year-old Repton Oak (below), without the vigour of the younger tree, but nevertheless of remarkable longevity.

repton oak

Will today’s young oaks grow to such an age in a time of climate change? It would be a great shame if not.

No Deal

The Brexiteers and Mrs May seem to be from the school that says you have to be willing to walk away from a negotiation to get the best deal. But surely Brexit is not a problem of this nature.

If there were a natural disaster the countries would get together and agree what to do about it. One would not say to the others, do it my way or we’ll do nothing. That’s insane.

It seems clear to me that a ‘no deal’ Brexit, maybe even the Brexit vote itself, is just such a disaster – when all sides would significantly suffer. To contemplate this, rather than negotiate a solution to the joint problem is , yes, insane.

Of course, some of the players in the Brexit game actually want this catastrophe to happen. The sane majority must not let this happen.

The comment applies to both sides, incidentally.

European Robin

One of Britain’s most common birds is the robin, also known as the European Robin to distinguish it from other so-called robins that I have photographed: American Robin, Clay Colored Robin, which are really thrushes. There’s usually one turns up when I’m gardening, seeking out the worms and bugs that get disturbed in the process.

The robin is so common in the UK that I never get around to taking a photograph. Luckily this one obligingly sat on a post at Brereton Country Park when I had camera in pocket, and stayed just long enough for a couple of photos. In the featured one above he is looking straight at me, a second later he was off. The earlier photo below catches a glint in his eye.

Interestingly, Wikipedia reports that

The distinctive orange breast of both sexes contributed to the European robin’s original name of redbreast (orange as the name of a colour was unknown in English until the sixteenth century, by which time the fruit of that name had been introduced).

 

Old Man’s Beard

Another feature of the otherwise dead early February vegetation in Anderton Country Park is the opportunity given for these fluffy balls of nothing to show themselves off. My companion knew from childhood that this was ‘old man’s beard’, otherwise known as ‘traveller’s joy’ or clematis vitalba.

old mans beard.jpg

Of course, clematis is a climber and can be quite vigorous, as I know from having similar variants growing in the garden – all the better for disseminating seeds in the wind.

Catkins

There’s not much apparently going on in the vegetation of the English countryside early February. Most of it is pretty dormant, apart from the odd flowering gorse and some early bulbs coming up. But we did come across these beautiful catkins in full glory in Anderton Country Park.

catkins

Catkins are actually flowers, with inconspicuous or no petals. They occur on a number of different tree types. This BBC Earth post suggests that these photographed are probably of the hazel tree, which has catkins late autumn, which then lengthen and turn golden with pollen towards the end of January.

Here they are close up.

catkins close

Fieldfare

Several of these thrush-like birds were running around and foraging on the grass in the afternoon sun at Brereton Country Park, Cheshire. They are fieldfare, almost certainly winter visitors to the UK.

fieldfare

The similar redwing would have red flanks, and the fieldfare does have a characteristic black tail. I didn’t have a long telephoto lens, but this is adequate for identification purposes with maximum zoom on my Panasonic TZ200 (360mm equivalent) – cropped.

Wigeon 2

The male wigeon below were at RSPB Marshside, Lancashire, in November.

The brown head of winter contrasts with the iridescent green seen in the mating season. These birds still show remarkable patterning, from the fluffy brown head, the bright white splash on the side, those sharply outlined wing feathers and the detailed engraving on the grey back and side. And what a difference when the sun came out.

wigeon 2 pair

This pair exhibit some differences between male and female, but not so marked as in summer.

Prejudiced, moi?

how to be rightJust how gullible are we human beings, and how easily do we cling on to ideas that have no true justification? This question appears increasingly relevant to those of a liberal disposition, and is indirectly the subject of James O’Brien’s book How to Be Right… in a world gone wrong.

O’Brien runs a talk show on LBC radio and has callers on many controversial subjects: Islam, Brexit, LGBT, political correctness, feminism, the nanny state, Trump… The book basically gives his own ‘take’ on the subject from a ‘reality-based’ perspective, and demonstrates how various callers from different perspectives handle explaining their views, with many entertaining dialogues.

He essentially seeks to understand the caller’s viewpoint. The striking thing is often just how shallow those viewpoints are, and what little justification is given for them when questioned. It’s as if the person has unquestioningly swallowed a viewpoint and subsequently regurgitates it, without any understanding of why it might make sense. In other words, it is blind prejudice. They have effectively been brainwashed.

O’Brien’s technique is remarkable for its persistence, sticking to the point, and not allowing the caller to get away with simply restating their prejudice in another form. As well as giving us all ideas on how to handle the prejudice we inevitably encounter, it gives some insight into the minds that are most susceptible to populism.

It is also an entertaining read.

Featured pic of James O’Brien is from LBC website

Groundhog Days

Every morning seems the same here in the UK, like groundhog day. The latest on parliament, the EU and Brexit.

  • What Theresa May said
  • Theresa’s deal
  • what Junker/Barnier/Tusk said
  • what Merkel or Macron said
  • who gave her short shrift
  • which cabinet ministers said what
  • cabinet splits
  • who just resigned
  • the Northern Ireland border
  • the DUP won’t agree to anything (apparently)
  • frictionless trade
  • no deal
  • hard and soft brexit
  • managed no deal (what in God’s name is that?)
  • people’s vote
  • people didn’t know what they were voting for
  • the will of the people
  • cannot let down the people who by chance I happen to agree with
  • where Labour stands
  • the five tests
  • vote of no-confidence
  • no majority in parliament for any deal
  • bring back control
  • fishing grounds
  • THEY are not being flexible
  • and on and on.

Thank God they’re about to break up for ‘Christmas’.

And yet, it’s disgraceful that government/parliament is taking time off when this riven, blighted country is about to fall of a cliff – all of their own making.

Featured image of two groundhogs taken by Joyce Hopewell.

Brexit Angst

Sleepless periods at night seem to get more frequent as I get older. But last night was bad. Yesterday the UK government decided to put the frighteners on not only MPs but the entire population, in a probably vain attempt to get MPs to back Theresa May’s deal with the EU in January. They certainly set my angst going.

They actually appear to be taking seriously the prospect of a so-called ‘hard brexit’, otherwise known as jumping off an economic cliff and reneging on your international agreements. (Who will do a trade deal with a country like that?)

They outlined plans to increase the national debt by TWO BILLION POUNDS to spend on preparation for a hard brexit (while use of food banks is increasing in a supposedly rich economy), and are sending letters to companies to say that they need to prepare. As the CBI rapidly pointed out the whole idea is not tolerable. What small company has the spare time and effort available to prepare for such an unknown world and keep their business afloat? No wonder some are opening branches on the continent and moving some of their business there.

Of course, the two billion will temporarily improve the economic figures, so that the government can ‘claim’ their economic policies are working.

The whole idea of ‘hard brexit’ is not acceptable, not tolerable, cannot be allowed to happen. This should have been the first thing agreed with Europe, rather than the UK trying to use it as a bargaining chip.

And this form of psychological warfare on parliament and the people is not acceptable either.

And it’s all happening because of the incompetence of the incumbent prime minister and the frittering away of the time since she invoked Article 50, trying to please the far right hard brexiteers in her party.

If it will not accept her deal, parliament simply needs more time – either to arrange a new ‘people’s vote’ (in which hard brexit should not be an option) or to sort out a new deal that the majority in parliament can accept, which surely involves working across parties. Shock, horror. What a thought.

It’s time to recognise that Brexit is a process and not a one-off event achieved at a particular point in time.

The Scream by Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lapwings 2

These lapwings were on Neumann’s Flash at Anderton Country Park. Periodically they would fly up with that mesmeric leisurely flap of their large wings, flashing alternately dark and white as they circled around the lake, only to descend onto the water at almost the same point.

The distance was a bit of a challenge for the Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom I had in my pocket, but the longish zoom made a fair go of it (handheld).

lapwings 2Suitable resizing and cropping gave the featured image at the top, like an impressionistic painting. The characteristic lapwing crest is apparent.

Lapwings are also known as peewits (onomatopaeic), or green plovers. You can see the green clearly in the photograph. Apparently, outside the UK this is called the Northern Lapwing.

What was the problem?

I’ve never really understood the case for Brexit. What was wrong with over 40 years of peace and prosperity? Of course there were issues to be addressed, there always are. In a recent issue of The Times, Max Hastings neatly summarised the situation we, the UK, find ourselves in with Brexit.

Three years ago any thoughtful citizen could identify the principal problems facing Britain: productivity; Londonification; the flagging education system; a society financially skewed in favour of the old and against the young; Islamist extremism; funding of the NHS and welfare; stagnation of real earnings; job losses to technology.

None had anything to do with the European Union yet a faction of fanatics not only believed, but was successful in convincing millions of voters, that if we could only escape the thraldom of Brussels, a Heineken transformation would overtake the country, miraculously refreshing everything else.

I don’t agree with all of his list of problems, but leave that aside. Why did Britain stop worrying about the most important issues facing the country (many self-inflicted by Conservative austerity) and instead focus all its energies on the single issue of Brexit, as indeed it continues to do today?

The catalyst issue was immigration, which Brexit will probably in the end not significantly address because of sheer economic necessity. But how did the ideas become so prominent in the public domain, such that the Brexit vote was lost by the Cameron government against all expectations?

Essentially, the problems of the status quo were projected on to questions of nationhood and Europe because the political establishment and the media had not, since the New Labour years, seriously engaged with the European project. It appeared from the start that David Cameron insisted on being a right wing outsider in Europe, rather than a mainstream player, pandering to the right wing of his own party. When he needed European help with the immigration issue, the help was not there, because the bridges had not been built.

It did not help that a significant portion of the mainstream media were very anti Europe, reflecting the self-interested views of their rich owners, reinforced by the amplification of reactionary viewpoints in the ghettos of social media.

The final nail was the referendum, called to see off UKIP, in which it succeeded, but with the result no one expected.

But wasn’t the real problem more in London than in Brussels?

Mute Swans

Mute swans are common in the UK, possibly related to the fact that the Monarch retains the right to ownership of all unmarked swans in open water.

Mostly you see them in small family groups, but in some places such as Windsor there are large colonies. This group that we saw on Southport’s Marine Lake were clearly acting as a coherent grouping, speeding along together, like lads who’ve heard there’s free beer – presumably to meet up with others we’d spotted further along the water.

The single cygnet suggests that this is not a family grouping as such.

Sundown at Martin Mere

One of the delights of visiting WWT Martin Mere, Lancashire, in November is to see the feeding of the thousands of birds – ducks, waders, geese, whooper swans, with flocks of lapwings wheeling overhead, sometimes a starling murmuration, more geese and swans circling and descending gracefully onto the water,…

This is soon followed by the gradual descent of the sun to the horizon behind the mere, as the birds begin to settle for the night.

At such times all seems well with the world.

Black Tailed Godwit

A number of smaller birds were taking their chances in the mêlée of larger ducks, geese and swans at feeding time at WWT Martin Mere. I concentrated my camera onto these small waders, which turned out to be black tailed godwits. As waders go, they are reasonably large, much bigger than the delightful ruffs that were also scampering around.

Interesting features in these photographs are:

  • the comparatively huge feet of the pink footed goose in the first picture,
  • the seemingly transparent leg in the second picture and
  • the seemingly sinister coot in the background of the last one.