Sunday, 23 November 2014

A Less Haunted Halloween

 9 When witches go riding

and black cats are seen,

the moon laughs and whispers

‘tis near Halloween


It was the end of the pagan year, and the time when the spirits of those who have gone before were closest to us. It was also the one night of the year that the streets were teaming with spooks, goblins, witches, mummies and tricksters or treaters. A lot of people think that Halloween was evil and eschewed anything to do with it. The day was dismissed as a crass American celebration or just another overblown commercial excuse. To me, the festival was harmless fun, nothing more, nothing less.


On Hallowe’en the thing you must do

Is pretend that nothing can frighten you

And if something scares you and you want to run

Just let on like it’s Hallowe’en fun



As usual, I was always totally in the spirit and in a mood for a celebration. The casa was decorated with some seriously creepy ghostly paraphernalia like pumpkin buntings criss-crossing the hall and dining area, silhouette of a hanging skeleton once the blind was down, black spiders running havoc and an eerie ambience if you looked through the kitchen window. The expression ‘less is more’ don’t apply as the haunted spirit took over the sitting room. The mantle piece was dotted with spooky bits and bobs. Bats with piercing black eyes swung outside on the rose arch while the front porch was a portal to the creepy things in the casa. Webs festooned on the ceiling welcomed any tricksters and treaters but a pity no one turned up. I don’t blame them because the private road into our cul-de-sac was very dark and there was a huge birch tree with low branches guarding the entrance. Enter if you dare…

Ghosts and Goblins, Spooks galore

Scary  witches at your door…

Jack-O-Lanterns smiling bright

Wishing you a Happy Haunting Night!


We were in Slimbridge on Halloween as a post-birthday visit for Babe. We were there with hundreds of adorable children dressed in their Halloween outfits. I guess there must be a special event going on. We headed straight to the Caribbean flamingo enclosure and noticed that the chicks had grown beautifully. Nine chicks had been raised this year. The parents were still tending to their chicks and were moulting into new plumage, with the pens littered with black primary colours. Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes

We made a brief stop at Rushy Hide where a flock of Pintails were having a rest. Although a few breed in Britain, they were essentially northern ducks with a wide geographic distribution in the northern areas of Europe, Asia and North America. A large duck, the male’s long central tail feather gave rise to the name. The drakes were striking with a thin white stripe running from the back of its chocolate-coloured head down its neck to its mostly white undercarriage. The hens make a coarse quack while the drakes a flute-like whistle.Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes

We then checked all the hides but nobody was home except for a herd of cattle grazing on the salt-marsh pastures. We went straight to the very busy and buzzing Holden Tower and had to queue for a seat. Everyone was excited to see a Marsh Harrier, a peregrine and 2 buzzards flushing the birds feeding along the mudflats. Hundreds of Dunlin, Golden Plovers and Lapwings were circling in the air. Breath-taking stuff as the hunter and hunted twisted and turned in the air. Unfortunately, it was too far to photograph. A pity that the path along the Severn estuary were closed during the winter months. We left as more people filled up the hide.Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes

As we were about to close the fox fence, we spotted this adorable vole poking its head out with a seed in its mouth. All together now …aaahhh… Someone had scattered seeds around the hole and it was coming out to feed. We stood there silently watching this critter watching us. Voles were listed as being of ‘least concern’ by the IUCN due to its widespread appearance. They were  important food source for owls. Voles lived on these moist grassy habitats along the bank in excavated shallow burrows close to the surface. When it noticed us, it scurried back into the undergrowth. We hoped to see it again as bank voles don’t hibernate and remained active throughout the year. Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes

Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.

~Evelyn Waugh~ 

We headed straight to the Zeiss hide where hundreds of teals, wigeons, galdwalls and shovellers were enjoying the autumnal sun. A flock of Golden Plover still in their summer colours were sandwiched among them. We didn’t stay long and headed to the flamingo lagoon. The lagoon had been provided with duckweed which grew in large blooms in summer and this kept the Greater Flamingos busy for many hours. Duckweed were tasty treats and encouraged the flamingos to forage.  Nearby, a pair of Black Swans was enjoying some romantic moments. We were also excited to come across the exotic Mandarin ducks with their orange-yellow necks and wing sails, maroon breast with white stripes behind multicoloured crown and red bill. What a beauty.Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes

At Hogarth hide, different kinds of geese were grazing in the field. As soon as they spotted anyone crossing the bridge, they stopped grazing and started begging for seeds. It was wonderful watching them feeding from the outstretched hands, We made a pit stop at the Wader shore but the natives were having a siesta. We left them alone and spent an hour at South Lake where 28 Black tailed godwits were feeding along the mudbanks. We were so excited when one came so close to the hide. Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes

These majestic waders were long-legged and long-billed and were probing the soil for earthworms. In water, they probed vigorously and often with the head completely submerged. These graceful waders were very distinctive when flying, with their bold white wing bar, large white area of rump and tail-vase and black terminal tail-band that gave them their name. The strident weeka weeka weeka calls echoed around the lake. We were very fortunate to have seen one so close as they were classified as Near Threatened by Bird Life International. After having our fill, it was time to head home.Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes

The ducks are clacking by the brook;
The sun is hot, but cool their feathers look.

Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes
Ducks do not plan ambitious schemes:
Their commerce is in weeds and streams.

Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes
They ask, what's life but sparkle and spray
In a lazy brook on a lazy day?

Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes
I think, if I were five feet something shorter,
I might have been a duck upon the water,

Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes
A portly duck, with a shining bill
Yellow and spruce as a daffodil.

Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes
To me, possessed of an idle mind,
That seems a life of the perfect kind.

~Ducks by Clifford Dyment~

Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes

We also enjoyed a lovely autumnal stroll at Bradgate Park and we weren’t alone. I think half of Leicestershire was here. Unfortunately, the rutting season was over. The stags had all sorted out their harems with just the occasional roar to remind everyone whose boss. Some had returned to normal routine of crepuscular movement and nocturnal grazing to begin recovering both weight and strength after the stresses and strains associated with mating and defending a territory. Traditional rutting stands had now been vacated, and the males were more evident and began congregating in stag groups again. Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

We walked along River Lin and spotted our favourite chatterbox strutting among the mallards. He was looking very handsome and was quite feisty, chasing everyone away from the pieces of bread strewn on the ground. We continued on walking towards Lady Jane’s ruins.The field was dotted with parasols and some were bigger than my head. Delicate and fragile forms had sprouted up through the leaf litter and bracken. These fungi rose up from the ground, sending their fruiting bodies into the open to pepper the ground, releasing their spores for the next generation.

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

In the ruins, we headed straight to the back of the compound where we knew a herd of fallow deer were at home. We sat on the bench and watched them interacting among themselves. Mixed groups were seen feeding together. A few kids running spooked them and they disappeared into the bracken. We turned back and checked out the main field where a huge herd were having a siesta. A few males here and there were growling and snorting at the back of the field but nothing happened. A squabbling, shrieking little mob of goldfinches caught my attention. I was focusing my camera when a little boy asked me what was I photographing, etc, etc. Aaah…again I’d librarian written on my forehead. I answered all his queries, and the birds had flown off by then. We didn’t stay long and on the way out, we spotted this falconer exercising his bird-of-prey.Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

FLOURISH greener, as ye clamber,
Oh ye leaves, to seek my chamber,

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

Up the trellis'd vine on high!
May ye swell, twin-berries tender,
Juicier far,--and with more splendour

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

Ripen, and more speedily!
O'er ye broods the sun at even
As he sinks to rest, and heaven

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

Softly breathes into your ear
All its fertilising fullness,
While the moon's refreshing coolness,

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

Magic-laden, hovers near;
And, alas! ye're watered ever

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

By a stream of tears that rill
From mine eyes--tears ceasing never,

Tears of love that nought can still!

~Autumn Feelings by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe~

We can’t end the month without visiting our favourite playground. We walked straight to the Baldwin Hide and kept our eyes peeled to the ground for the ‘poster boy’ of British fungi, the magnificent Fly Agaric. When I saw this, Christmas and Santa Claus came to mind. How could you not see the resemblance as it matured, the brilliant striking red cap opened and was covered with white, wart-like spots. It had also been said that Lewis Caroll’s hookah-smoking caterpillar in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland invited her to take a bite from a Fly Agaric …which was kinda hilarious due to its hallucinogenic properties. I think I need to read the book again. Brandon Marsh - Autumnal scenes

We made a pit stop at East Marsh Hide where I saw my first Bittern of the year flying low and disappearing into the reeds. What a pity I was too busy eating … Then we made our way through the muddy path and checked out Carlton Hide where 2 adorable Little Grebes made a brief appearance. A flock of Redwings did a fly-past and we crossed our fingers for a mumuration. As soon as the Gulls left to roost at Draycote Waters, flocks of starlings started to appear and did an amazing show but unfortunately, they flew off and roosted elsewhere. We think a pair of Sparrow-hawks lurking about was putting them off.  Brandon Marsh - Autumnal scenes

It was also that time of the year again when we were all debating whether to turn the heating on and, at the weekend, the clocks went back an hour. As we gained another another hour, we said goodbye to British Summer Time and heralding in much earlier sunsets, and the drawing in of the nights and finally giving in to winter. The extra hour was introduced to increase productivity but every year we found ourselves in the same state of confusion as the clock changed. I kept on repeating ‘spring forward, fall backward’ in my head because that was the only way I can remember which way the clocks were changing.  And when I returned to work, all the clocks in the library had a different time. It was a mystery to all of us as they were centrally programmed. Anyway, it was going to be dark when I get out of work and the days were getting shorter and the nights were drawing in fast.

Slimbridge WWT - Autumnal scenes

When we see the changing seasons pass before the eye,

We feel there are unfailing laws on which we can rely.

We sense a mind behind it all

When nature’s work we scan…

We feel there is a meaning … and a purpose … and a plan.

~Patience Strong~

Brandon Marsh - Autumnal scenes

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Calm before the storm

 Brandon Marsh - October

Britain was soaked by a massive weather system which stretched across the entire width of the Atlantic. The wet but reasonably warm weather was being caused by a massive low pressure which sat to the west of the country, causing hurricanes in the Us and unsettled conditions in the UK with thundery showers and gusty winds. The huge storm was just one of three huge depressions filing the Atlantic ocean with Hurricane Fay and Gonzalo barrelling towards Bermuda. Hurricane Gonzalo, a swirling storm, was the strongest Atlantic storm in three years, pummelled across the UK  brought 50 mph gales and heavy downpours.

Brandon Marsh - October

The week before the storms lashed, I slowly eased myself into work. I was still very weak and exhausted but sometimes you just have to come to work to prove that you are really sick and not skiving. But I couldn’t managed a whole week and took 2 days off. I was suffering and exhausted and completely drained and it would not do me any good in the long run. Work was piling up especially as another colleague was also ill and I had been asked to take some of the burden. I really need to be fully rested and recharged before I can get back on my feet.

You rest now. Rest for longer than you are used to resting. Make a stillness around you, a field of peace. Your best work, the best time of your life will grow out of this peace.

~Peter Heller, The Painter~

Meanwhile, I still need to attend my physiotherapy session for my hand. I’d rearrange one session before and if I couldn’t attend the next, my name will go back down the list. So I dragged my feet for the appointment at the City of Coventry Health Centre which was on my way to work. I dropped off at the bus station and walked towards the centre passing the Swanswell Pool. The pool was full of the usual culprits like Canada Geese, Greylags, Swans, Coots, Moorhens with hundreds of pigeons swirling about. What caught my attention was this dove coot which was home to some of the pigeons. As I got closer to get a better view, dozens of them flew towards me, thinking that I was going to feed them. Sorry guys.

After about an hour of being manipulated, I walked back to the bus station to get the bus back to work. I was looking forward to a lunch date with SLA, a former colleague, who had gone back to work at her former place at Cambridge. She’d sold her house and had returned to collect her stuff and deposit her keys to the estate agent. We’d a lovely long lunch at the Humanities Cafe catching up with things. We went back to the office so that she could catch up with the rest of the team. It was lovely seeing her again and we promised to meet up again.

During the weekend, we made another trip to our favourite playground. There were plenty of Wigeons whistling on the water enjoying the warm autumnal sunshine. Shovellers with their long, broad spatula-shaped beaks were busy dabbling for plant food by swinging their bills from side to side and using the bill to strain aquatic invertebrates. The exquisitely barring and speckling Galdwall, one of the earliest migrants, was also dabbling near the reed-beds. The smallest of the dabbling ducks,  the teals were the noisiest, making themselves heard.

Brandon Marsh - Autumnal scenes

Then we headed towards Carlton Hide accompanied by a flock of roaming Long Tail tits. Unfortunately, it was too dark to photograph them under the trees which were still full of leaves. We made a pit stop at the hide where a Little Grebe in its wintry colours was enjoying a solitary swim. It now had a buff plumage with a darker back and cap and a ‘powder puff’ rear end. Earlier during the week, Babe had taken this lovely shot of it feeding on a water beetle.

Brandon Marsh - Autumnal scenes

We continued towards the new Ted Jury hide which was always buzzing. We managed to find a seat and was entertained by a pair of Kestrels. It had been a good year for this raptor at the reserve as 5 chicks had successfully fledged. One of the bird flew close to the hide and we were mesmerised by the familiar sight of it hovering with its pointed wings and long tail. I watched it balanced in the air for several moments, before swooping down but flew up empty-handed. The other Kestrel was showing a keen interest on the owl nesting box.Brandon Marsh - October

I was also busy screening the top end of the reserve for the Stonechats which had been spotted here many times. I’d seen them before but would love to take a photograph. Unfortunately, not today. But Babe had taken one earlier during the week. The male was dark above with black throat, white half-collar and orange belly. The female was paler but still with a dark head and ruddy-colour below. They liked to perch in a prominent position, especially on top of a bush. Fingers-crossed, one day, I’ll be able to photograph it on my own.

Brandon Marsh - October

We also made a trip to Bradgate Park to check out the rutting season. And we weren’t alone. We came across more than a dozen photographers with their impressive cameras having the same idea. But we were very lucky that as soon as we walked into the park, a large herd of Red Deer were running down the bracken-covered hills right in front us. It was a dream come true. They were trying to get into the forest at the other side of River Lin. What an amazing sight. They managed to cross and quickly disappeared into the woods.

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life. The rich colours of grass and earth were intensified by the mellow light of a sun almost warm enough for spring

~P. D. James~

We checked out the river and spotted a male Red deer wallowing in the mud He was doing it to create a thicker ‘coating’. Sometimes, they urinated before entering and rolling in it, as a form of scent-marking behaviour. The stag was also scraping its antlers around in the mud. We crept closer and he noticed us and gave us the evil eye. Oops… s-l-o-w-l-y we crept back behind the trees. We don’t want to be at the wrong end of those antlers. Check out  the long dark mane, the huge antlers and the size bigger than you thought but so impressive.

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

We continued walking and heard the roaring, growling and bellowing coming from deep in the forest. I was hoping to hear the clash of horns but not today. Small herds of deer were scattered here and there. We also saw our favourite wigeon who was enjoying the chunks of bread thrown by the visitors. He was looking splendid. A group of flamboyantly-dressed Morris dancers walked past us. They’d just finished performing at the Lady Jane Grey’s ruins. Aaah… how did I miss that. One of them told me that they will be performing in the village centre and I was very tempted to follow them. But, Babe wasn’t keen. Spoilsport!!!!

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

We made a pit stop at the ruins and went straight to the end of the compound. A herd of Fallow deer were feeding among the bracken. There was a bit of running and chasing as the male don’t like having small stags around his harem. A few barkings followed which was used to reinforce a warning to these young ones to stay away after they have been chased off. We sat quietly on a bench about 3 metres away and watched the actions folding around us. A few visitors tried to get close and everything disappeared into the bracken. Aaargh … when will people learn.

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

We then headed towards the hill where a handsome Red Deer stag was guarding his harem. He was busy chivying or pursuing the hinds with his neck and tongue extended. The stag with flared nostrils was sniffing the air and licking his tongue, a process called flehmen.  He was sniffing at areas which hinds have either occupied or urinated upon, and often associated with the curling of the upper lip. There was plenty of mutual sniffing and licking between both hinds and stag.   An intruder was getting quite close and I was looking forward to a locking of antlers. But as soon as the male approached, the intruder backed off. From time to time, he let out a thundering bellow.

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

Further up the hill, a Fallow deer  was roaring his head off at would be pretenders in defiance and posturing while sniffing the air, listening and strutting back and forth, restless in anticipation of an attack from another stag. This could be a challenge, a demonstration of size or, after fighting, the reinforcement of status. He was also thrashing and wiping the bushes.  This was scent marking of a holding area by rubbing antlers and scent glands against the ground and prominent landmarks. Then he began herding. Stags, throughout the rut, continued to herd hinds; both those already resident and others passing within easy reach.Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

We would have stayed longer but he weather began to turn and we didn’t want to get caught in the middle of the storm. As we were packing the cameras away, a very familiar liquid ‘tvit…tvit…tvit’ caught my attention. I looked up the ancient, gnarled oak tree and saw this handsome Nuthatch, scrambling around the tree. What a lovely end to a wonderful day.

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
        Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless
        With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
    To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes
        And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
            To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
        And still more, later flowers for the bees,
        Until they think warm days will never cease,
            For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes 

    Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
        Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
    Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
        Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
    Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes
        Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
            Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
    And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
        Steady thy laden head across a brook;
        Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
            Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

3.Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes

    Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
        Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
    While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
        And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
    Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
        Among the river sallows, borne aloft

 Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes
            Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
    And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
        Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
        The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
           And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

~To Autumn, John Keats 1795-1821~

Bradgate Park - Autumnal scenes