We joined Muslims around the world observing Ramadan, the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the 9th month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Throughout the next 30 days, adults will be fasting and praying from sunrise to sunset, and abstaining from smoking and sex. The observation of Ramadan marked the anniversary of the Quran being revealed to the Prophet Mohammed SAW in 610CE. It was observed annually after the sighting of the new moon and lasts for 30 days until the next new moon appeared.
Ramadan is a month
whose beginning is mercy
whose middle is forgiveness
and whose end is
freedom from the fire
~The Prophet, Mohammad SAW~
I was looking forward to fasting and followed it with military precision. Thankfully, although it fell in summer, the weather was much cooler, unlike last year. Since I don’t take tea breaks and only a short lunch break, I left work at 5 pm. There was ample time for prayers and meal preparations for breaking fast which was around 9.30 pm. At work, I put on my headphones and listened to the recitals of the Quran and its English translation. It was my aim to complete the 114 surah or chapters during the holy month. During my lunch break, I joined the university’s Muslim communities to perform the Zuhur prayers. At home, I’m in the kitchen at 7.30 pm to prepare the meals. I break the fast with a bowl of soup and a mug of coffee before the Maghrib prayers. Then only, I tucked into my main meal. Nothing elaborate but with plenty of vegetables and fruits for desserts. It was a nice surprise that we found these fruits called Rambutan from the supermarket. My parents grew them in Malaysia, although these came from Thailand. You have to peel these hairy skins and inside were white juicy flesh that covered a hard seed which you don’t eat. They taste like lychee. Yum…yum I make sure that we have plenty to drink to keep hydrated which was quite hard. I went to bed early at about 10 pm on a very full tummy and Babe woke me up at 2.30 am for my sahur. This will be my last meal for the day which was usually a peanut butter sandwich and a tall glass of water. Then back to sleep again before the alarm goes off at 6.30 am. It was very challenging but very rewarding spiritually.
“o you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you …(2:183)
I had to undergo a crash course in microfiche training because there were 12 drawers of microfiches to be catalogued. Gulp !!! During their annual blitz, the Collection Development team stumbled across these drawers that were missing from the catalogue. They were the British official publications consisting mostly of the House of Common papers, 1901-1021, that were not published by the Stationary Office. I’d a one-to-one training with Sara, one of the Learning Advisors. It was so time consuming because to find the information that I needed I’d to scroll through soo many document pages on just one card. By the end of the day, my head was throbbing like crazy. It was going to take a long time for me to finish because I need to compress all these into just one bibliographic record. No pressure then…
Then it was time for the dreaded Library Review aka Restructuring process. It was deja vu for most of us as we were herded into the Physics lecture theatre. When everyone had seated, we awaited breathlessly for our faith. It took some time for us to digest stuff as we squinted through the power-point presentation. There was a sigh of relief when we found out that most of us escaped the cull. My department will be joining Client Services because the Digital Infrastructure and Learning Technology was disestablished. A new Scholarly Communications Division was created in its place and comprised of the e-Repositories team and another new named department, the Digital Services, Systems and Development. The Modern Records Centre was moved to the Academic Services. The existing main Library Facilities and Environment teams were merged to form an expanded Facilities Team responsible for servicing all the learning spaces and worked in partnership with the Academic Services that supported these spaces. This merger resulted in a number of redundancies which hopefully will be mitigated in the new structure. I sincerely hoped that this review/structure will take the Library forward to what it aimed to be. All of us were looking forward to learn more about the Scholarly Communications Division.
After what had happened during the week, I was so looking forward for a break to clear my head. We went for another long drive to Bempton Cliffs to say our goodbyes to the seabirds before they return back to the sea. It was 16C in the car and we drove past fields of ripening wheat in the sunshine and showers. Then we slowed down as we came through miles and miles of road-works from Northampton until the M18 junction. We’d the roof down when we heard a thunderous roar flying over us at Howden. When we looked up, we saw the Red Arrows zooming past doing some serious manoeuvres. Whoop…whoop they must be on their way to Yorkshire for the initial stage of the Tour de France.
We arrived in buzzing Bempton Cliff just after the rain had stopped. After using the facilities and paying the parking fees, we checked the compounds for Bee Orchids. Unfortunately, they’d already past their flowering season and looked a bit tattered. Jackdaws were everywhere in the car-park eyeing for potential scraps. The Tree Sparrows on the roof top of the visitor centre were making themselves heard with their conversational calls . Some were seeing disappearing between the tiles with food in their beaks and some were bringing in nesting materials. Must be for a second or third brood.
Green fencing were erected around the visitor centre. It was for an amphibian monitoring project as part of the work Work Ecology were doing to collect any Great Crested Newts for re-location. The site had to be clear of the protected species for at least 5 days before any construction can take place. The reserve had received funding for major improvements for the visitor centre. Couldn’t wait to see what they’d done when we visit next year. We checked all the pails but didn’t find anything. But then Babe spotted this handsome fella crawling along the screen trying to get across. We followed him to make sure that no one stepped on him. We also stopped to read a few poetry that were posted along the path. It was for the Bridlington Poetry festival.
The meadows that flanked the path looked overgrown and was nearly past their best. We could see a few butterflies flirting about but they were too far to be identified. As we got closer to the cliffs, the sound, smell and sight of a seabird colony assaulted our senses. No matter how many times we came here, we were always struck by it. A hot summer wind kicked up out of nowhere, enveloping us in the very familiar pong :-). This time we decided to go to the left first and headed towards the Grandstand. Everyone was straining their eyes for the Puffins and seemed to forget the rest of the birds that were dotted below them. I don’t blame the visitors because the site seemed to promote the Puffins more.
It was mayhem at the bottom of the view-points. The place was alive with the hustle and bustle of the different kinds of seabirds. Neat silver-grey and white Kittiwakes danced past us on buoyant wings, and the cliffs resounded to their names constantly being called. Most of the ledges were filled with them and their impossibly cute and grey fluffy chicks of various sizes spilling over the whole nest. They were thriving with every nest containing 1-2 young living in precarious conditions. Some of the chicks were panting away because of the heat. I hoped they’ll make it to adulthood. After the breeding was over, they will fly out into the Atlantic where they spent the winter.
Dark brown Guillemots were densely-packed in colonies, en mass on the ledges. We squinted but we couldn’t see any chicks at all. I was chuffed to photograph a Bridled Guillemot which have a white ring around the eye extending back as a white line. Nearby, were the jet-black Razorbills, tucked away in crevices and cracks. As we looked down, low over the sea was a Fulmar almost stationary, wings outspread. We haven’t seen any on the cliffs. But then, Fulmar chicks were usually the last of the seabirds to hatch as they tend to breed later. We checked out a favourite spot where we never failed to see the Puffins. There were 3 of them together. Whoop…whoop. With their bright orange legs, colourful bills and comical, waddling walk, it was hard not to be cheered by the sight of these adorable birds. These plucky seabirds spent 8 months out at sea before flying in to these rocky cliffs each spring to breed. And when they arrived, they were in the mood for socialising. It was as though they’d been apart so long that they were keen for a good chinwag. It was a joy to watch them as they busily meet and greet.
Puffins nest in the holes in the chalk cliffs. It was unusual to see the Pufflings during the day. They leave at night under the cover of darkness to avoid predation. It was really incredible that they spent 40 days living in the caves and still know how to dive within seconds of being in the water. We would love to see the parents ferrying beaks full of sand eels for their chicks but not today. They were too busy scrutinising us oohing and aahing over them.
For us, the Gannets were the crown prince of seabirds. They were Britain’s largest seabird and boy do they stand out when they were in flight with a six feet wingspan. In 1970s, there were 20 pairs breeding, but by 2012 there were 11,000 pairs and 10000 non-breeding birds. As a result of the population explosion, more young Gannets were loitering around the cliff tops and interacting with each other with low-intensity territorial and sexual behaviour. They also tended to be pull the grasses on the cliff tops resulting in these areas to be void of vegetation.
As usual, we went back to the car for refreshments before tackling the opposite side of the reserve. This year, potatoes were grown on the fields. There were plenty of signage to inform visitors to stick to the path. We stopped at a familiar spot between New Roll-up and Staple Newk where you can literally be eye-to eye with a Gannet as they glided past just a few feet away. Check out those beady blue eyes, beautifully outlined in black with the buttery-yellow head and beak. We just don’t know where to point the camera as they suddenly rose above the cliffs before flying away. There were also plenty of youngsters in flight.
Bryan Nelson, introducing the Gannet, described the stuff of a gannet’s life as “rock, wind waves, seaweed, guano and fish together with constant interaction with its fellows”. You could see all these at Staple Newk where on the famous arch, hundreds of fluffy chicks were sitting on nests made of sticks and seaweeds with their parents. Most were still covered in fluffy down. The chicks loose their down feathers during the second and third month as they developed the speckled plumage of the juvenile stage. There were constant noise and motion, birds leaving the nest and heading over the sea, birds arriving back, landing and jostling.
We were quite disgusted by the behaviour of several photographers who climbed over the fences to get close to these birds. Why when they were equipped with some serious photographic equipments? Don’t they realise that these chalk cliffs were 350 feet above sea level and below them were sharp rocks and crashing waves. There were soil erosion along the coastal path and they might make it worse by trampling on the edges. But crucially, these selfish behaviour will flush, alarm or cause the birds to stop what they were doing which will disrupt these breeding birds. They might not nest here again next year and worse still, these irresponsible behaviour put these birds at risk and might abandoned their dependent chicks.
Phew… rant over. For us, the welfare of whatever we were photographing always comes first. We will also never risk our lives for the perfect photograph. Anyway, I’m more of the point and click photographer. Thankfully, the song and song-flight of a flock of birds on the fields caught my attention. They were Skylarks and one even raised its short crest which they do when they were alarmed or excited. I’m glad that they were flourishing here because their recent and dramatic declined made it into the Red List species. In Norfolk, it was believed that if larks were flying high early in the morning, it would be a fine day. We bid goodbye to this wonderful reserve with promises to come again next year, Insyallah.
Fast wanes the summer now...
Autumn's mellow misty arms reach out embracing all.
Ripened fruit means harvest time, alas so soon so soon.
When did the summer slip away? Where did it go?
The days grow quieter now
and the unmistaking whisper of winter is felt
in every nook and cranny, every crack and crevice
of this whitened chalk perpendicular once awash
with a cacophany of sound.
But that was long ago, when the summer laughed
at the funny little clown with the funny little face.
Alas now his laughter is no more. For the summer is dying
and the little clown is gone... gone from ‘Seabird City.'
But wasn't there a time? Wasn't there a summer?
When first May then June July and August
forbade her from ever growing old.
It seemed for a time that she might remain forever young.
And yet even now she withers and grows old,
betrayed by time itself.
These cathedrals of sound which only yesterday rang out
are silent now. Where once the Puffin shared with her
his comic face and sense of purpose, comforting her with
his comings and goings his to-ings and his fro-ings.
Alas even he is gone now. Gone to the sea, the ever calling sea,
leaving her alone with only memories.
With wistful smile and resignation the waning summer
mourns his memory, and commits herself to her loneliness
and her dying.
Yet she has her memories, and will take them with her
as she fades and dies.
The Puffin... the funny little clown with the funny face
will cause yet another summer of chattering laughter
to ring out around the ramparts and high pinnacles of this place.
The chatter of thousands will echo up and down
it's granite walls and lofty places.
From out of the nooks and crannies, the cracks and crevices of this place,
will come again the unmistakable sounds of summer.
For the Puffin is returned again... returned to Seabird City.
“Seabird city by T. W. Ward”
After yesterday’s exciting adventure, we went for a gentle stroll to Draycote Meadows. We were hoping to see the Marbled Whites but they were quite flighty and not willing to pose. But there were plenty to keep us occupied. This flower rich meadow was teeming with lady’s bedstraw, pepper saxifrage, yellow rattle, adders-tongue, spotted orchids, meadow vetchling and moonwort. It was a stunning and inspiring sight which lifted our spirits. As we walked along the path, summer grassland butterflies and grasshoppers kept us busy.We didn’t stay long because it was hot and humid and the sun was a ball of fire waiting to combust.
as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,
that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein
that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.
Wherefrom fall all architectures I am
I say are likenesses of the First Beloved
whose flowers are flames lit to the lady.
She it is Queen Under The Hill
whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words
that is a field folded.
It is only a dream of the grass blowing
east against the source of the sun
in an hour before the sun’s going down
whose secret we see in a children’s game
of ring a round of roses told.
Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,
that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.
~Often I am permitted to return to a meadow by Robert Duncan, 1919-1988~
Then we nipped over to our favourite playground to see what the natives were up to. Swallows resting on the wires greeted us when we parked the car near the wall. It looked like a juvenile and we waited to see if the parents would come to feed it but not today. It flew off to join the others, trilling and calling to each other. We watched them performing aerial acrobatics as they chase after flies. But I was distracted by a nasal, wheezing call and when I turned around it was a Greenfinch. He was looking at his best with a dull olive-green and greenish-yellow on the breast and rump, together with bright yellow wing flashes.
As we walked through the sensory garden, colourful Goldfinches were busy calling in their high-pitched rapid twitter. Commas, Ringlets, Tortoiseshells and Peacocks were also busy enjoying the flowering nectars, flirting from flower to flower. But as we walked towards the mouse maze, we saw literally hundreds of Cinnabar caterpillars munching on the Ragwort plants. Ragwort were listed as weeds and contained many different alkaloids, making them poisonous to animals and giving them an unpalatable, bitter taste. Although in ancient times, Ragwort were used as a dye, an aphrodisiac and for relieving pain and inflammation,
With bold patterns of bright yellow and black stripes and short black hairs covering their bodies, these beautiful caterpillars munched through the plants and assimilated them, becoming unpalatable themselves through chrysalis and finally to the colourful red and black Cinnabar moth. Their striking bright colours act as a warning to predators that they were dangerous to eat. As they were extremely unpalatable, these caterpillars openly sat on their food plant during daytime and were easily visible as they devoured the ragwort.
A wise Brazillian organic coffee farmer, Joao Pereira Lima Neto of Fazenda Santo Antonia de Agua Limpa, once said
“when nature sees a problem it sends life to fix it but when man sees a problem it sends death to kill it”.
We continued our walk with Babe stopping at nearly every plant because there were hundreds of bugs, spiders and bees to photograph. I was much more interested in the wild raspberries and blackberries that were ripening along the path. Hmm… crumbles and jam came to mind. We made a pit stop at Baldwin Hide where the Common Terns were still sitting on eggs. It was still very quiet in the birding front. The insistant, piping calls of the Oystercatchers caught our attention as they flew on to the main island. The juvenile was now an exact replica of its parent and still trailing after the parent as they fed along the mudbank.
We also made another trip to Bradgate Park because I wanted to check out the red-tailed hawk handling at the Lady Jane Grey ruins. But we arrived too late for the event. Nevertheless, there were plenty of things to keep us busy. Herds of deer were mingling with the visitors. Thankfully, no reckless behaviour like the last time we were here when a grandmother let her grandchild who was a toddler walked so close to a couple of deer. More deer were scattered all along the River Lin, feeding and snoozing, shading from the bright sun which felt like a hot ball of misery glowering down on the park.
We continued walking when we heard the clip-clop of the horse carriage pounding the pavement behind us. But we were more interested in another herd of deer that were feeding by the water falls. One of them was a pink fallow buck. We think it was not an albino because it doesn’t have the characteristic pink eyes, although it was quite hard for us to see from where we were standing. It might be a Judas deer because in the wild, the colouring stood out among the herd and visible to predators. Check out the large and palmated antlers.
We walked past a family feeding the ducks and stopped to watch the numerous Mallards, Moorhens and Black Headed Gulls squabbling over the chunks of bread. I scanned the waters for my favourite Wigeon which I’d not seen for ages. I didn’t see him and I hoped that he wasn’t predated. From under the reeds, a family of Tufted ducks with 6 adorable ducklings appeared. Aah…They took to the water at such a young age, diving and feeding on surface insects. The definition of like a duck to water comes to mind :-). It was such a joy to get so close to these ducklings.
We walked on the grassy path towards the ruins. On the bracken, I spotted Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Ringlets and Small tortoiseshell. When we arrived at the ruins, we found it locked and there was a notice at the gate. There was a theatre performance later in the evening and the performers were rehearsing. We walked towards the deer sanctuary and took a breather. We saw a Red Deer having a snooze under the trees. On the way back, we came across Tree-creepers working their way up the tree trunks. When we got to the car, we were being watched by this Robin and its adorable fledging.
We left early because I wanted to get the ironing and dinner done before the finals of the World Cup was on. Germany was playing against Argentina and to paraphrase Gary Lineker, 32 teams chased a ball for a month and, at the end, the Germans won Gotzke scored a brilliant extra-time winner. He demonstrated a perfect technique and commendable calm to chest down Schurrie’s pass and swept in a left-foot finish. The success meant that they were the first European team to win the trophy in South America. Well done to the Germans and hopefully England will do better in Russia in 2018.
“Stories don’t always end where their authors intended.
But there is a joy in following them, wherever they take us”