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

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