Friday, 28 December 2012

Dreaming of a White Christmas

The heavens opened. And it wasn’t the white, fluffy feathery stuffed that everyone dreamt of. Instead, a good solid few hours of wall of rain lashed the country. The weather was foul for most of the week. The wind was howling, tossing the trees roughly, brown leaves scattered everywhere, and the rain was hammering down. A great swathe of driving rain engulfed the entire country, with downpours and fierce winds put a dampener on any hope of festive snow. Apart from that, Merry Xmas from us.Coventry D800 F  25-12-2012 18-25-16

My cousin, NIST, arrived safely yesterday by bus from Kent. It took her about 6 hours and arrived in one piece at 7.45 pm. We made honey waffles for our Xmas breakfast. I’d the waffle maker for ages and had not used it for quite a while. Freshly-baked and topped with maple syrup, it went down as fast as we could make it on such a cold morning. I must make waffles more often. Coventry D3100 F  25-12-2012 12-30-00We then decided to brave the elements and check out the natives at our favourite playground. As expected on the way, there were floods on the road but nothing prepared us for the lake we met when we turned off the A45 onto Brandon Lane. Babe thought twice before he drove very slowly through the flood with half of the car on the pavement. Brandon Lane Warwickshire S40  25-12-2012 14-55-29

When we reach the car-park, we weren’t surprised to see a few cars there. Babe loaned NIST a camera so that she could take her own photographs. We were going to introduce to her what we loved most, wildlife and photography. Flocks of birds were flying around the reserve enjoying the solitude. As we walked along the main food-path, we came across Goldfinches feeding on the thistles. We just stood there, silently, watching these beautiful birds with their high-pitched twittering.Brandon Marsh D300s X14  25-12-2012 14-05-056

‘Sometimes goldfinches one by one will drop

From low hung branches; little space they stop,

But sip, and twitter, and their feathers sleek,

Then off at once, as in a wanton freak;

Or perhaps, to show their black and golden wings,

Pausing upon their yellow flutterings.’

~John Keats~

We continued on walking as the heavens opened again. As we expected, the path towards the main hides was flooded and it was the highest we’d ever seen. A Robin flew in to see what the fuss was about and got closer and closer. We gave NIST some breadcrumbs, asked her to stretch her hand towards it and see what happens. As expected the Robin flew for a quick feed and flew off again. It was too fast for either of us to get a photograph. Brandon Marsh D800  25-12-2012 15-00-10

“The robin flew from his swinging spray of ivy on to the top of the wall and he opened his beak and sang a loud, lovely trill, merely to show off. Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off – and they are nearly always doing it.”

~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden~

Brandon Marsh D50  25-12-2012 14-21-17

A fellow photographer told us that Steely Hide was flooded too which meant that only Wright hide was accessible. We walked slowly along the very muddy path being serenaded by flocks of Redpolls, Long-tailed tits and Siskins flirting from tree to tree. Unfortunately, it was too dark under the trees. In front of Wright hide, we saw hundreds of Canada Geese, a few lapwings and a Common Snipe huddled on the nearly flooded island. A pair of Golden Eyes swam by. I spotted a Great Crested Grebe in its winter colours below the impassable East Marsh Hide. Our tummies rumbled and it was time to head home and tackle the Xmas dinner.Brandon Marsh D300s X14  25-12-2012 14-42-08

This was NIST first Xmas celebration here in the UK and we wanted it to be special for her. We bought chicken but it was too big to fit in the oven that we decided to roast only the crown. We’d it with the usual trimmings of roast potatoes and parsnips, Yorkshire pudding, steamed carrots and Brussels sprouts with lashings of onion gravy and washed down with glasses of Schloer. Yummy and there were plenty of leftover for the following day’s dinner.Coventry D800 F  25-12-2012 18-29-40Babe took photographs of us messing about during dinner and also by the Xmas tree. NIST wanted to send some to her parents back in Malaysia. We’d a wonderful time mucking about and making faces. Coventry D7000 F  25-12-2012 19-24-07

Blend equal parts of Faith and Hope mixed well with Charity,

Stir in Goodwill and Sweet Content and Precious Memory

Add Kindness, Helpfulness and Joy; of Gratitude don’t spare;

Then drop by drop Love’s essence sweet, and Praises freely share.

And don’t forget such spices rare as Laughter, Smiles and Fun,

Taste often for the best results, (Tis sweet to mince upon)

Now add a

Thankful heart and then, the recipe’s complete,

Your Merry Christmas all will like…so try the season’s treat.

~Esther Lloyd Dauber~

On Boxing day, NIST and I walked in the rain to Gallagher Retail Park to check out the sales. And we weren’t alone. It was buzzing. I guess everyone was out and about to let off the excess food consumed yesterday. I saw on tv that people had spent the night in the cold so that they could be the first in the sales. Our first stop was TK Maxx which was a bit silly because they don’t have a sale on. But it was my favourite shop in the world. I was searching for a leather handbag, either in purple, orange or yellow. They didn’t have any but I still came out with some lovely soaps and a decorative bird box.

We nipped over to Matalan and the shop was packed. We browsed a bit and left. The queue to the till was snaking around the shop. NIST treated me to a McDonald meal of fish fillet, fries and vanilla milkshake, my first in years. The fast-food outlet was also buzzing with patrons loaded with shopping bags. Our excuse to be here was to wait for the rain to stop.

We also took NIST to Slimbridge WWT to introduce her to the waders. The weatherman said that it would be sunny here. As we drove over the River Severn, we saw that the river had overflowed its banks. I meant seriously overflowing. My thoughts were with those who were affected by the floods. I bought a pack of seeds for NIST so that she could feed the ducks. As usual, as soon as they saw her with the goodies, they came running over.Slimbridge WWT D800  27-12-2012 13-09-59Then we checked out Rushy Hide to see if any new migrants had arrived. There wasn’t any but plentiful of Pintails, Shelducks, Lapwings, Mute swans, Greylags and Bewicks about. We didn’t check out the other hides because we wanted NIST to see the rest of the enclosures where the exotic ducks were out and about. And feeding the endangered Hawaiian Nenes was not to be missed.Slimbridge WWT D800  27-12-2012 13-27-24We went to Zeiss Hide to see if we can catch a glimpse of the elusive Bittern. The hide was packed and it was just too loud. Why??? They were birdwatchers and should have been aware of the etiquette about birdwatching. Nothing will appear with that much noise. It was getting louder and louder that we’d to leave. By the stream, we spotted these wild Mandarin ducks. Babe said they were wild because one of them flew away. The captive birds had their wings clipped which made them unable to fly.Slimbridge WWT D50  27-12-2012 14-55-56We checked out the sleeping Greater flamingos at the Flamingo Lagoon. Most of the inhabitants were very subdued except for the adorable whistling ducks. They were a noisy lot. We arrived in time to see the otters feeding time and sat down to listen to the commentary. Babe parked himself at his usual spot to get the best shots.Slimbridge WWT D300s X14  27-12-2012 15-07-04Then we went back to Rushy hide for the swan feeding session. We were a bit late and the best seats had been taken. Every few minutes, small flocks of Canada Geese, Bewicks, Mute and Whooper Swans started flying in and trying to land as graceful as possible on the lake. The warden came into the hide and started whistling which alerted the birds. Their heads went up and started looking around. It was pandemonium when the warden came out pushing a barrow of seeds. Slimbridge WWT D800  27-12-2012 16-02-055The waders were scrambling over each other to reach the food. Some of the brazen ones went straight to the barrow. More flocks were flying in the dark to join in the feeding frenzy. We left when the warden pushed the barrow in front of the Peng Observatory where  there were more people sitting in the warmth.Slimbridge WWT D50  27-12-2012 16-13-25 We’d a very laid-back but wonderful Xmas. It was time for families, good food and plenty of laughter. It would have been perfect if we’d a white Xmas. There was a December weather lore.

Snow at Christmas means Easter will be green not white.

You have been warned.

In the midst of the festive season, we received the news that our cousin Dek Wan had died suddenly due to pneumonia. He was only 19 years old and was waiting for his high school results. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during such sad times. Innalila wa inna lilla hirajiun :

Monday, 24 December 2012

Deck the Halls

Slimbridge WWT D800 DX  16-12-2012 12-29-13  The countdown to the celebration had begun. The decorations were up early and on every space in the casa. The tree was dressed up beautifully, cards had been posted, pressies sorted, the fridge and freezer bursting, the dinner table groaning and a wreath on the front door made of firs and ivy from the garden. Christmas was on its way and we were getting in the festive mood. I’m looking forward to time off, family time together and of course enjoying all of the Christmas goodies. I think we have most things pretty much sorted all ready.

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.

~Edith Sitwell~

But first, was the office Xmas lunch at Radclffe. I wore a traditional pink Baju Kurung to brighten up the occasion. I did ask my colleagues to wear something bright or else it would just feel and look like any other ordinary day. I feel that people had forgotten to have fun or make things fun. We didn’t do much work at all as we were looking forward to the lunch. At 12.15 pm, we donned out coats and made our way to the venue.Warwick University S40  18-12-2012 14-15-56

After we were seated, we pulled the crackers, donned the paper hats, showed off our gifts and groaned at each others jokes. We buttered the bread rolls before we made our way to the buffet table. For starters, I loaded my plate with the Spanish-style tapas. A very refreshing start. As usual, we checked out what our colleagues were piling on their plate. It was time for good food, good company and laughter. Then, it was the main meal. I’d the trout and nicked some pasta with the usual trimmings of roast potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts and lashings of gravy. Yummy…

After polishing our plates, we queued for our desserts. As usual, very limited choice without gelatine and alcohol. I’d a filled crepe with fruit salad. It was delicious. And then we were ushered into the gallery for coffee and mince pies. We said hello to former and retired colleagues who’d joined us for the lunch. It was lovely seeing them again. It was nearly 3 pm before we (very) slowly made our way back to the office. We just sat in front of our PC digesting  :-).

I took the bus to work on Friday and had a surprise when there were 2 well-dressed drunks sitting at the back of the bus. They stank. Some of us were wondering whether they were on their way to a party or back from a party??? Thankfully, they got down in town and we can finally breathe in. I hoped they made it safely to their destination.

At work, SLA and I started the morning with breakfast. The cafe was having a full cooked English breakfast offer. We’d the Magnificent Seven which comprised of 2 vegetarian sausages, a fried egg, a fried bread, 2 rosties, a stewed tomato with a dollop of baked beans and coffee for only £2.50. The cafe was packed  as the staff took advantage of the offer. What a start to the day.

Then we went back to the freezing office!!! They’d shut down the heating. Why??? There were still people working on the last day of the year. But hey-ho, we plodded on. I was trying to finish the e-books when the Dawson E-platform crashed. Holy s—t!!! I know it was the last day but this was ridiculous. My colleague contacted the appropriate team and it was only sorted after lunch.

At 11.11am, we waited to see if the Mayan prediction was correct. Nothing happened. Life goes on and we continued eating the tons of  chocolates, biscuits  and sweets laying around us. Even the Mayans themselves reject any notion that the world will end. For them, the 21st was for giving thanks and gratitude and the 22nd welcomed the new cycle, a new dawn. Thousands had gathered at Stonehenge to mark the winter solstice and key Mayan sites in Central America to mark the end of the Mayan calendar.

On Saturday, I took the bus into the city centre to check-out the Xmas rush. While waiting for the bus, I noticed the traffic queuing right to where I was standing. What was going on??? When I got up the bus, I realised that that traffic was queuing to get into Gallagher Retail Park which was about half a kilometre away. The rush had begun. The city centre was buzzing. There was a continental market and an ice-rink in Broadgate and a fair along Smithford Way. After snapping a few photographs, I made my way to Deichmann because I was hunting for a pair of leopard ankle boots. But, they didn’t stock any.Coventry D3100  22-12-2012 15-10-57

Then I browsed in M&S but the queue to the till was snaking around the shop. In fact, everywhere I went, it was the same that I decided to go home. I’m glad that I’d completed my Xmas preparations and now looking forward to the long holiday break. Sunday was spent clearing up and vacuuming the spare bedroom. My cousin, NST, who is studying in Kent will be spending Xmas with us. I’m soo looking forward to see her again. The last time I saw her was 2 years ago in Malaysia. 

Christmas is upon us

May you have the gladness of Christmas which is hope;

The spirit of Christmas which is peace;

The heart of Christmas which is love.

~Ada V. Hendricks~

Coventry D7000  07-12-2012 15-52-15

Friday, 21 December 2012

Blast of Siberian Cold

Brr…This week the whole country was shivering. The Beast from the East crept closer with bitter Siberian winds bringing more freezing weather and heavy snow. Fierce gales from Russia lashed the country with severe cold weather, icy conditions  and heavy snow. I woke up to a freezing landscape. Temperature dropped to –4C overnight and we were blanketed by heavy freezing fog. The ice and freezing fog caused travel chaos for air, road and rail passengers across Britain. The cold snap added more misery to those battling the floods. Warwick University D3100  13-12-2012 08-39-20

I took the bus to work and  there was a dusting of snow here and there. I braced the cold as I got down from the bus and walked through the fields that had been coated in frost, transforming them into a carnival of blue, white and wintry colours. During my lunch break, I took the opportunity to be out and about and capture the beauty that such perilous conditions can create. The thick sparkling frost had coated much of the university grounds, leaving many places with a winter wonderland look. It was lovely covered in a glittery mantle of ice and frost. Warwick University D3100  13-12-2012 08-45-44Everything was frosted as if painted with a magical crystal brush and made even more magical by the waning December sun which shone in the winter sky. A false sun as it brought no warmth with its sunny glow. The ground looked like it had been covered with snow, but it wasn’t. The tip of Jack Frost’s brush touched here and there as he danced across leaving his mark upon this wintery wonderland. Each bush and cobweb looked as if they’d been dusted with icing sugar. The trees were bare and berries hung like glittering baubles on twiggy branches. A magic crystallised world.Warwick University D3100  13-12-2012 08-42-37 

Indoors, the Xmas baubles were up in the office, I meant they were hanging everywhere ;-). We’d the last Data Services meeting of the year. I bought a box of chocolate biscuits to be shared among my colleagues. Our manager outlined what we would be expecting in the next academic year 2013/2014. I’m looking forward to processing the Hispanic Collections. So I guess, I better brush on my Spanish eh. There will be more digitization projects which thankfully, I haven’t had my fingers in, yet. There was a discussion on the Competency Framework which we planned to go over again in the new year. We also touched on Print-on-Demand books and off course, RDA.   Warwick University D3100  13-12-2012 13-33-05

We ended the week with an end of year staff open day. Staff was encouraged to dress down and unfortunately, I don’t do dress down. We started the day with plates of Danish pastries washed down with hot water for moi, because the organizers forgot to provide herbal tea bags. Note to myself : must remember to bring my own. Then we were marched into the Teaching Grid and listened to several briefings. The highlight of the day was a session on creativity where our creative juices was pressed and bottled up. Then a lovely buffet of finger foods was laid out for lunch. We’d a lovely time polishing them up.

Then it was back at our desk, trying to work with a very full tummy. It was hard trying to stay awake :-). And the best thing was that my colleagues and I ended the day with a Chinese banquet at Wing Wah. Eek…The freezing Siberian blast didn’t faze us and eating was a good excuse to keep warm anyway. We were given a booth in the newly-renovated restaurant. We took turns to fill our plates. My first target was the sushi bar. Yummy…sushi and makis.

Next, we headed for the starters. I filled mine with crispy seaweed and lots and loads of seafood. It was night of bonding, laughter and good food. After washing down with cups of steaming Chinese cha, I checked out the main course. Again more seafood which included the mussels in garlic and topped with Fried Singapore vermicelli and crunchy Chinese vegetables. A few customers celebrated their birthdays and we joined in with the singing and clapping. There was a new Indian counter which I gave a miss and headed for the Teppanyaki bar. This chef was busy frying my dish of squids, bean-sprouts and hor-fun noodles. Finally, I ended the night with just a creme brulee. My poor tummy. Then it was time to drag our feet home. CC gave me a lift. Thanks.Coventry S40  14-12-2012 20-12-54 At home, Babe asked me if I’d heard of the latest news. I was stunned and felt a tremendous sorrow, a deep sadness for these families that have lost a child. Not only they, but the families that lost an adult member of the family. Adam Peter Lanza, fatally shot twenty children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Connecticut. Earlier, he had shot and killed his mother. After killing the students and teachers, he killed himself. All of these affected families needed our prayers. The road to recovery for the rest of the other children that were back at school was going to be a long one. America needed to think long and deep about their obsession with guns. How many more deaths???

We spent Saturday checking out the supermarkets just to see if there was anything new that we must have. We bought a few bits and bops in Asda. We browsed in Matalan and the newly refurbished Dunelm Mill. We eyed the washing machine, cake mixer and active fryer that we planned to purchase during the Boxing sales (if any). Then we drove back to Boots in Arena Park where Babe bought me a bottle of DKNY Heart as a Xmas pressie. Thanks darling. I got him a Jessop tripod. In Tesco, I bought Jamie Oliver’s 15-minutes meal which I planned to try out as many recipes as I could during my long Xmas holidays. By this time, the shopping mall was buzzing.

Sunday was spent chilling out at Slimbridge WWT. Winter was the best time to check out the White-fronted geese and Bewick's swans, both of which breed in Arctic Russia. White-fronted geese were the most significant species to the WWT as they were the reason that Sir Peter Scott started the Trust. Today only 500 of these geese were spending the winter here. They weren’t endangered, but most chose to winter in Holland as it was now warmer than in the past. Slimbridge WWT D800 DX  16-12-2012 12-46-46 The Bewick's swan was another bird that Peter Scott dedicated much of his time to watching and studying. The research program at Slimbridge was the longest ongoing study of any species of bird in the world. Since the early 1950's, they have been fed by a Warden three times a day on the Rushy. During the day they were seen all over the reserve feeding on the managed grass, and saw a huge flock feeding on the nearby fields on the way. We planned to see the feeding session later.Slimbridge WWT D800  16-12-2012 16-07-36

Our first stop was the Rushy Hide to see what was about. And we weren’t disappointed. Hundreds of Pintails, Pochards, Tufted ducks, Gadwalls, Teals and Shelducks were about. From here, we could also see clouds of Lapwings and Golden Plovers swirling in the air near the Holden Tower. I think they were spooked by a predator. We couldn’t wait to walk there to get a better view.Slimbridge WWT D300s X2  16-12-2012 12-54-31

Along the very flooded and muddy route, we were entertained by robins, chaffinches and this chiffchaff. We spotted a Goldcrest but he was too deep in the bushes. We stopped at a newly-built hide opposite the Robbie Garnett Hide. A Brambling was sighted earlier but we didn’t see it. We didn’t stay long because rain had got into the hide and it was flooded.  Slimbridge WWT D800 DX  16-12-2012 12-59-27

The uncrested wren, called in this place chiff-chaff is very loud … It does only two piercing notes.

~Gilbert White~

We popped over to Robbie Garnett Hide. During this time of the year large parts of the reserve were deliberately flooded. We spotted European wigeons, Golden Plovers, Dunlins, Curlews, Lapwings, Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Canada Geese, Bewick’s Swans and Mallards feeding. As usual. the Wigeons shrilling whistling, one of the great sounds of winter, drowned everything.Slimbridge WWT D300s X2  16-12-2012 13-10-01

The heavens opened and we walked back to car to get the camera water-proofed. While waiting for the rain to stop, we’d our lunch of cheese and onion pasties and washed down with hot cups of coffee from the thermos. About half an hour later, the rain stopped and we continued our adventure. There were lots of families bringing their children to see Santa at his grotto near the duck hut. We walked through the boardwalk where this adorable pair of Mandarin ducks kept us company. Slimbridge WWT D50  16-12-2012 14-09-13

We headed straight to Zeiss Hide to see if the Bittern was out and about. There were several sightings near this hide. It began to rain and the faster we walked, the heavier it fell. We managed to get a seat opposite the reed-bed and waited and waited and waited. It was very windy and freezing cold. There were lots of crows feeding on the field and after an hour, we gave up. We need to be by Rushy hide for the feeding frenzy.Slimbridge WWT D800 DX  16-12-2012 15-10-02

We were early and watched flocks of about 3-5 swans flying in every minute from different parts of the reserve. The lake was getting a bit crowded and it was hilarious to see them trying to land. A few managed quite a disgraceful landing and some even landed on the others. Every day at 4pm, the warden do a commentated feed on the Rushy with the public enjoying stunning views from the heated Peng Observatory. Unfortunately, you can’t get good photographs from the double-glazed walls. It wasn’t just Bewick’s swans that come in for the afternoon feeds. Around 2,500 wildfowl arrive by late afternoon ready for feeding. For us, the feeding frenzy at Martin Mere was the best spectacle  that we’d ever since. Slimbridge WWT D800  16-12-2012 16-05-021

This week was Trish’s 3rd. anniversary.

May the roads rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

Warwick University D3100  13-12-2012 13-48-50 


Friday, 14 December 2012

Red Sky at Night

Brandon Marsh D800  08-12-2012 15-57-46To me, sunsets were the best feature of the weather in December. Cold clear days ending with a blood-drained sun retreating slowly into a silent night of gathering frost, while grey days ending with just a tint of pink in a lead-grey sky. Best of all were the days of stillness and quiet, which weren’t present in summer. You can feel the embalmed stillness of midwinter air when Mother nature was asleep and at peace with herself. We took these beautiful sunsets from Teal Pool Hide. I could sit here forever but darkness was slowly blanketing the reserve, it was bitterly cold and we need to find our way out of the reserve.

Red sky at night; shepherds delight,
Red sky in the morning; shepherds warning

Sometimes the phrase involved sailors rather than shepherds. There was a written version in Matthew XVI in the Wyclif Bible, from as early as 1395: Brandon Marsh D300s X14  08-12-2012 15-50-20

"The eeuenynge maad, ye seien, It shal be cleer, for the heuene is lijk to reed; and the morwe, To day tempest, for heuen shyneth heuy, or sorwful."


"When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and louring."

There were many later citations of the saying in literature, including this from Shakespeare, in Venus & Adonis, 1593:

"Like a red morn, that ever yet betoken'd wreck to the seaman - sorrow to shepherds." Brandon Marsh D300s X14  08-12-2012 15-50-24A red sky at night meant that the setting sun was sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles, indicating high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. Basically followed by good weather. Deep red sunsets were often associated with dry, settled weather and high pressure. But the key sign was in the red sky around the sun and not the colour of the cloud itself. 

Brandon Marsh D800  08-12-2012 15-58-40 

Red sky in the morning could be interpreted in a different way. As the sun rose at a low angle in the east, it light up the impending clouds associated with a weather front coming in from the west. It might indicate that rain was on its way and due to arrive later in the day, hence the "shepherd's warning".

Apart from the lovely sunsets, the highlight of our visit was when we finally came face to face with the bird of the season, a pair of Waxwings. Woo..hoo. As soon as we entered the car-park, a group of photographers with their impressive cameras were literally camped in the middle of the road and their lenses honed on something in the trees. We immediately knew what it was and quickly joined them. We rattled a few shots before the birds flew deeper into the bushes. Brandon Marsh D3100  09-12-2012 13-34-38

Then only I remembered to say hello to the group, sorry guys :-). Paul introduced himself to Babe while I nattered with Andy and Kay whom I’d not seen for ages. I gave them a Xmas card which I’d brought along with me.  Then the birds flew out of hiding and started feeding on the berries, very close to the visitor centre. The cameras came out blazing again. After posing for their adored admirers, they flew back into the bushes for a break. We left them alone and continued our adventure. Brandon Marsh D3100  09-12-2012 13-38-49

Along the path, we were entertained by flocks of birds flying from tree to tree. We saw Goldfinches, Siskins and Bullfinches feeding on the alder trees. By Goose Pool, a Tree-creeper was running up and down a birch tree. Robins were around us, harassing for food. I must remember to bring some mealworms the next time. Having them feeding from your palm was a real treat. Brandon Marsh D300s X14  09-12-2012 14-05-37

Outside Baldwin Hide, a flock of Redpolls were feeding on the alder. Long tailed tits parties were wandering through the winter woods, communicating with excited thrilling contact calls. We checked out Baldwin Hide and the island was still submerged. We were pleased when this male Golden Eye were swimming and diving very close to the hide. We were amazed when suddenly he gave us a mating display, either a female was nearby or to warn us off. Brandon Marsh D300s X14  09-12-2012 14-21-021

We continued towards East Marsh Hide where we spotted the female Golden Eye.  Hundreds of Greylags and Canada Geese were swimming from one end of the lake to another. A few were grazing on the banks. Babe spotted this hybrid among the flock as they were about to take off. And then, they were off making noisy honking calls as they flew over us in the V-formation. Brandon Marsh D300s X14  08-12-2012 15-21-22

We made our way back to the car and the Waxwings were still entertaining their attentive audience. And we just had to join them. Of the Nordic invaders, they were one of the most beautiful birds. In its peachy, sandy wash, black face mask and outrageous pink crest, it was also unmistakeable. They brought an exotic touch of summer warmth to the cold, grey days of winter. Brandon Marsh D3100  09-12-2012 15-16-007

This winter had all the hallmarks of being an invasion year. If there was a poor food supply or harsh weather in Scandinavia, more of the birds will arrive than usual and this year looked like a bumper year. That was supposed to be bad news because Waxwings were believed to be harbingers of glacial weather. For moi, bring it on. Flocks of waxwings (or according to the website New Zealand Birds – an earful, a grosbeaks, or a museum of waxwings) were most welcome and I’m looking forward to the Arctic weather :-).Brandon Marsh D3100  09-12-2012 15-16-38

At home, I made myself comfortable to watch one of my favourite players, Mark Selby capped his return to world number one by beating Shaun Murphy (world no. 4) 10-6 in the final of the UK Snooker Championship and claimed the biggest title of his career. It was a thoroughly engrossing battle that went the way of 'The Jester from Leicester'. I was horrified when he met another one of my favourite, Neil Robertson in the quarter-final where he came from 4-0 down to overcome ‘The Thunder from Down-under’ 6-4. There was also a new kid on the block, 17-year-old Belgian Luca Brecel, (world number 74). I will definitely keep an eye on him in the future.

I took leave on Friday for our festive trip to Solihull to finalise our Xmas shopping. It was one of my guilty pleasures to pop over to this shopping mecca to check out our favourite mall, Touchwood, and window shopping. At Le Creuset, I oohed and aahed over the glistening cast iron cookwares, dreaming of my next purchase. At Edinburgh Woollen Mill, we bought chocolates and biscuits at reduced prices. There was a very small German Christmas market scattered around Mell Square. I bought a lovely iron wind-chime from one of the stalls to add to my collection. Solihull D7000  07-12-2012 13-27-20

Then we stepped into Touchwood and our first stop was Lakeland where we came out with nothing!!! We browsed in Jessop cos Babe was checking out some tripods, in the Apple store for the latest I-pad and my favourite shoe shop in the world, Schuh. I was very tempted to buy one of the outrageous but delicious pair. What stopped me was that I’m saving for my trip back to Malaysia.

I wanted to have lunch at Yo Sushi but it was full. So we checked out the Xmas decorations in John Lewis which was very mediocre. That was a big surprise especially when they had 2 lovely advertisements shown regularly on tv. Even the baubles for the tree didn’t have the wow factor. I bought a Geisha bauble which wasn’t Christmassy at all. Before we left, I popped over to another one of my favourite shops, M & Co., tried on 4 dresses and came out with a lovely summery tunic!!! None of the wintry stuff caught my eye.

It had been a delightful week and I took this opportunity to wish Happy 79th Birthday to my wonderful Abah. I hoped you’d a wonderful day.Coventry D800  09-12-2012 12-22-46

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Seal Lullaby

Donna Nook D800  01-12-2012 13-24-04

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, O'er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.

Donna Nook D3100  01-12-2012 12-35-07 

Where billow meets billow, there soft by the pillow.
Oh, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, no shark shall overtake thee
Asleep in the storm of slow-swinging seas.

~Rudyard Kipling~

Donna Nook D3100  01-12-2012 13-34-059

We made our final trip to Donna Nook to say Bonn voyage to the seals. We should have been earlier but I was still battling my lurgy. After 2 rounds of antibiotics, a week on steroids, plenty of drink and rest, I had recovered from the chest infection from hell and finally emerged from a self-imposed exile. And I still haven’t had my flu jab yet. The doctor told me that I can’t have the jab when I’m still under medication. Phew… I took things very, very slowly  trying to get back to normality and this trip was a treat for getting back on my feet.Donna Nook D800  01-12-2012 12-56-38After 3 hours, we arrived at Donna Nook in one piece. As expected, the usual car-park was full. But we weren’t worried because we can always park in a nearby field for only £1. There were hundreds of car already in the field. It was freezing with the very bitter winds and sporadic sleet falls. We were wrapped up like the Michelin trying to keep warm. Donna Nook D300s X14  01-12-2012 13-01-048From the top of the sand-dunes, we could see hundreds of seals  of different ages and sizes, littered along the beaches. We joined the crowd and jostled to get the best seat in the house. The first thing we noticed was that most of the baby seals had grown up. Seal pups were born with shaggy white fur, called lanugo, and after 2-4 weeks, it moulted away . Donna Nook D300s X14  01-12-2012 13-28-32When we were there, there were 470 bulls, 839 cows, 1188 pups. There was a very big departure of females from last week, almost 400 have gone. After mating, the females had returned to the sea to feed because they’d been fasting during lactation. We’d missed both the mating and birthing sessions which we were blessed to have seen last year. The total pup numbers born on the reserve this year was1471 and passed last years total of 1438.Donna Nook D3100  01-12-2012 12-27-32We managed to drag our eyes from these adorable pups, when a flock of Barnacle geese flew in, yapping away. Then a flock of Turnstones, aptly named as they could flipped stones of its own body weight, flew in very close to where we were standing. These short-legged and dumpy wader in their duller brownish-black winter colour were taking advantage of the after-births, feeding on the rich protein. After hundreds of shots, we went back to the car for hot coffee and pasties to warm the cockles. Then it was a long drive back home before the predicted atrocious weather arrived. Donna Nook D300s X14  01-12-2012 13-14-04929 flood warnings had been issued in the Midlands. Torrential rain and howling winds had deluged the whole country. River levels were at record high as the weak winter sun was unable to dry out the saturated ground. Our favourite playground was flooded. The foot-paths towards the main hides was un-passable even when we’d our wellies on. Brandon Marsh D3100  23-11-2012 14-20-34

The rain it rains without a stay
In the hills above us, in the hills;
And presently the floods break way
Whose strength is in the hills.
The trees they suck from every cloud,
The valley brooks they roar aloud—
Bank-high for the lowlands, lowlands,
Lowlands under the hills!
The first wood down is sere and small,
From the hills—the brishings off the hills;
And then come by the bats and all
We cut last year in the hills;
And then the roots we tried to cleave
But found too tough and had to leave—
Polting through the lowlands, lowlands,
Lowlands under the hills!

~Rudyard Kipling, The Floods~

Brandon Marsh D800  23-11-2012 14-20-41

We checked out the only ‘dry’ hide, Wright hide. The islands had completely disappeared and most of the waders were taking refuge on the banks. We spotted more than a dozen Common Snipes, well-camouflaged among the reeds. We walked through the forest where the air was filled with the smell of wet earth, rotting leaves and musky fungi. And through the leaves, we saw the most perfect sunset. The strong winter sun was low down in the horizon, casting long shadows across the reserve and tinting everything with a wonderful golden hue. Just beautiful end to the day.Brandon Marsh D3100  28-11-2012 15-52-08

I don’t know what you could say about a day in which you have seen four beautiful sunsets.

~John Glenn~

We went to BMNR again in the weekend to see if the flood had subsided. But first, on the top car-park, we saw a group of photographers armed with their impressive cameras scanning out the trees. What was going on? In the visitor’s book, we found out that a flock of Waxwings had been spotted there earlier during the day. We might check the area on the way out. We met Chris and Ray who showed us their shots of the birds. I was soo jealous. As we walked towards Baldwin Hide, a flock of birds flew onto the Alder trees. When we looked up, it was a flock of Siskins, Goldfinches and Redpolls.Brandon Marsh D3100  02-12-2012 14-15-32We then checked out Baldwin Hide. The island was still submerged underwater. Hundreds of Canada Geese and Gulls were floating around the island, wondering what had happened to their island. A flash of blue whizzed past us and the Kingfisher disappeared into the undergrowth. We spotted a male Golden Eye in the distance and was thrilled when this handsome Great Crested Grebe in its winter colours swam past us. Brandon Marsh D300s X14  28-11-2012 15-25-26

Then a pit stop at East Marsh Hide. It was freezing in the hide. A flock of Common Snipes flew in and an angry wren was making itself heard. We were about to leave when I saw this huge bird flying past the hide. I thought it was a heron at first but when I photographed it and to my upmost delight, it was a Bittern. My first sighting for this year. Woo hoo. The sighting made up for the disappointment of not seeing any Waxwings when we went back to check the area.Brandon Marsh D3100  02-12-2012 14-33-50What a week it had been. I had fully recovered (fingers and toes double-crossed) and looking forward to resume my favourite activities. Christmas and the long holidays are just round the corner. I need the break to recover, again. I also liked to wish my sister and my brother-in-law a wonderful silver anniversary. May you have many, many more years together. I love both of you. Mwah…mwah.

Hold on to the centre and make up your mind to rejoice in this paradise called life.

~Lao Tzu~