Thursday, 22 January 2015

Ring out the old, ring in the new

Ring out the old, ring in the new

Ring, happy bells, across the snow

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true

~Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850~

Slimbridge WWT

We started the new year with a stroll around Draycote Waters. We wrapped up warm to check out the place because the weather here was always on the chilly side.. When we drove past Dunchurch, we saw the statue of Lord John Scott had been transformed into a huge yellow movie character standing proud in the centre of the village. Every year a group of mystery residents gave the statue a Christmas makeover and this year was a giant Minion. The Minions were the comic helpers of the super-villian Gru from the hugely popular Despicable Me films. Each Christmas pranksters dressed up the statue in the dead of the freezing cold night, a tradition which goes back to the 1970s. Over the years, it had been transformed into Spiderman. a Smurf, a Telly-tubby and most recently, Prince George. I wonder who will be next?

The Dunchurch Statue at Christmas

At Draycote Waters, it was buzzing with runners, joggers, cyclists, walkers, mums with prams and children riding their shiny new toys. We stuck to the main path and scanned the waters which was, thankfully, void of fishing boats and yachts. That was why the natives were swimming so close to the banks. We’d never seen so many Great Crested Grebes in their winter plumage before. They lacked the ruff and the head were only black and white. Their body plumage was duller and greyer. From time to time, barking calls ‘rah-rah-rah’, clicking ‘kek’ and low growling ‘gorr’ could be heard.

Draycote Waters

Some were even displaying early territorial behaviour like swimming in the aggressive posture with head low and stretched forward over the water. We saw one caught a fish that was quite big but was reluctant to let it go  and was struggling with it for some time before it managed to get it down. We must remember to come here again in early spring to catch their very elaborate and oh so romantic courtship displays which we’d seen so many times and will never tire off.

Draycote Waters





I am water-gypsy


Draycote Waters

Further down, a group of dumpy Little Grebes were swimming buoyantly with feathers often fluffed up, giving a plump appearance. The smallest of the grebes, they were also known as dabchicks, although Shakespeare preferred ‘dive-dapper’. These winter adults had lost their orange red neck and cheeks. The back and crown remained brown although slightly paler than summer outfits. When they dived, there was a distinct splash and when they flew, they go low on rapid wing-beats.

Draycote Waters

Upon this promise did he raise his chin

Like a dive-dapper peering through a wave

Who, being look’d on, ducks as quickly in’

~Shakespeare ‘Venus and Adonis’~

Draycote Waters

As we continued along Farborough Bank, we spotted the Golden Eyes paddling happily. We were quite surprised to see the handsome males displaying which we think was a bit early. The stunning Galdwall were also dabbling very close to the bank. There was plenty of Tufted ducks and Coots bobbing about in the water. Pied wagtails were scrambling in between the rocks hunting for delicacies and uttering that distinctive, two-note ‘chis-ick’call  during their undulating flights. But what excited us most was when this adorable Wren popped its head up.

Draycote Waters

One of our commonest and smallest species, it crept silently mouse-like close to the ground searching for insects and spiders. The long, thin bill enabled it to probe in the crevices of the rocks. It was so tiny with a short, cocked tail and an attractive rufous brown fine barring. When it flew, the flight was direct with rapid wing-beats. It was the Druidic bird of augury and in Cornwall, traditions say ‘hunt a robin or a wren, never prosper man or boy’. You have been warned. We turned back when the dark, low clouds covered the sun and the chilly winds began lapping up the waves. We don’t want to turn into an icicle.

Draycote Waters - December

Our next trip was to  Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetland Trust again. The twitchers feathers had been ruffled by the sighting of a very rare duck at the reserve and it was a very good opportunity for us to check it out.  And as we guessed correctly, half of the country’s twitchers and photographers had flown here. We came across some very impressive lens, binoculars and spotting scopes. We knew everyone was going straight to the pen where it was in residence and decided to check it out later. We wanted things to calm down a bit and did our usual routine with a pit stop at Rushy’s Hide. The usual culprits were here with the addition of a Redshank busy feeding along the mudbanks.Slimbridge WWT

Then, as we walked through the tunnel. we saw a group of people standing along the bank looking intently at something. Aha… I knew what they were looking at. We crept in slowly and joined the queue. The bank vole was back and there were 3 of them. The word was out.  Seeds were scattered along the entrance and as we held our breath, these cute little heads started popping out. All you could hear were the cameras rattling away. We were so glad to see them again.

Slimbridge WWT - January

We headed to Willow Hide and it was so packed that we decided to forego it. The water rail must be showing off again. We checked the tack field and it was heaving. According to the notice board, there were 450 Wigeons, 340 Teals, 600 Lapwings, 70 Golden plovers, 4 Ruffs, 6 Redshanks and 170 Dunlins out there. The Barnacle geese, Bewick’s swans and Mute swans were feeding on the flooded plains. Closer to the hide, Mallards, Pochards, Tufted ducks, Galdwalls, Shelducks, and Shovelers were feeding on the edge of the scrape. We enjoyed observing this Greylag using its powerful bill to grate a tuber that it had successfully dug up. The serrated edge of the lower mandible ie lower section of beak, was used to scrape off the juicy bits and then eating the mush without having to drop it. Slimbridge WWT

Then we slowly made our way to the Asian pen where the piece de resistance was residing. It was a female Ferruginous duck. At first, we couldn’t see her because she was skulking in the shade. Babe spotted her immediately as she was the only one that he hadn’t seen before. She was a nervous bird and kept on moving into the channel and back. I don’t blame her when she was the main focus from these impressive lenses, spotting scopes, binoculars, mobile phones and i-pads. Everytime she ventured out in the open, all you could hear were the cameras rattling away. I wonder if she knew what she’d caused.

Slimbridge WWT

A rare vagrant from continental Europe, she was a diving duck with a white triangular patch under the tail and a white belly. The wing edges were white but only visible in flight. She had a short beak giving the peaked head a triangular appearance. The white eyes stood out from the dark feathers on the head. It was classified as globally threatened species because of its declining population. We were so blessed to have seen her because we knew we might never see her again. In the pen, she kept associating with the resident Baer’s pochard, which was critically endangered in the wild.

Slimbridge WWT

Twilight. Red in the West.
Dimness. A glow on the wood.
The teams plod home to rest.
The wild duck come to glean.
O souls not understood,
What a wild cry in the pool;

Slimbridge WWT
What things have the farm ducks seen
That they cry so--huddle and cry?
Only the soul that goes.
Eager. Eager. Flying.
Over the globe of the moon,
Over the wood that glows.
Wings linked. Necks a-strain,
A rush and a wild crying.

Slimbridge WWT
A cry of the long pain
In the reeds of a steel lagoon,
In a land that no man knows

~The Wild Duck by John Masefield~

On the home front, during the cold and frosty mornings, I feel sorry for our feathered friends. They hopped about on tiny bare little feet with their feathers puffed and fluffed. The hedges surrounding the casa fluttered with the beat of a hundred wings. Everyday, I topped the trays with seeds and weekly top up the feeders with peanuts and fat-balls. I also added a home-made suet block and a coconut feeder which will be replenished once they disappeared. The water bath was washed every week. It was truly a labour of love as these next few months they needed our help more than ever.

Shots from Home

We enjoyed all our garden visitors . We were repaid immeasurably by hours of quiet contemplation as we watched their antics in the garden and provided us with photographic opportunities. Once in a while, we welcomed a new friend and this time was a female Blackcap feeding on an apple that I’d stuck on the tree branch. She was easily recognisable with her chestnut-brown cap. This winter visitor has a delightful fluting song which I’d never heard before giving it the nickname of ‘northern nightingale’ and ‘lesser nightingale’. Shots from Home - December

British-born black caps migrated to Spain or Africa for the winter, traitors :-). The birds we see here in the winter months came from Germany. Better not tell UKIP about this …When they returned back to Germany to establish breeding territories they’d a shorter migration so had an advantage over those returning from Spain. Because they had a short distance to fly, they tended to arrive earlier, pair up quicker and have first choice of the best nesting sites. Smart huh.

Shots from Home

In the garden, too, gossamer threads criss-crossed every where. I think the spiders had taken over. We enjoyed coming out photographing their intricate lacework from bough to fence to branch. It was impossible to walk without walking into one of these long single silk threads stretching yards across the garden. With all the overgrown hedgerows, ivy, clematis and blackberries winding their way through the garden, they were ideal forthe   spiders and there were cobwebs draping them everywhere, as were the master weavers who created them. Early mornings, they glistened with dew and late at night, the glowing moon sprinkles silver highlights to them. Very enchanting these silky tripwires.

Shots from Home

A Spider sewed at Night
Without a Light
Upon an Arc of White

Shots from Home

If Ruff it was of Dame
Or Shroud of Gnome
Himself himself inform.

Shots from Home

Of Immortality
His Strategy
Was Physiognomy.

~Emily Dickinson~

Shots from Home

Maulud Nabi fell during this week. It was the day to celebrate the life of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). It was on the 12th day of the Islamic month of Rabi’al-awwal., the third month of the Muslim calendar. It was an important day to refresh our knowledge and reflect on his life. Some Muslims see the occasion as an event that was worthy of praise and celebrations while others believe the celebrations of birthdays were against the Islamic law. To me, there was nothing wrong in commemorating the event to express our love  towards him, inspiring the younger generations by the great examples of the Prophet.  

“Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith”

~Prophet Muhammad (SAW)~

On the last day of my holiday, we paid a visit to RSPB Sandwell at the outskirts of Birmingham. We drove through freezing fog patches alternating with bright sunshine. We were trying to make the most of the Christmas break and this kind of weather meant thick coats, boots, gloves and hats. As the saying goes, there was no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing :-). We stopped at the cabins near the entrance to enquire about any sightings of the Ring-necked parakeets. Unfortunately, they weren’t around but at least this handsome Bullfinch made up for our disappointment.

RSPB Sandwell Valley

We drove through a very muddy road and parked beside the construction site. The new visitor centre was supposed to be completed by June but we didn’t see anything up at all. The feeding station had been moved further down but it was too dark to get any good photographs. We headed straight to the very noisy Lakeside hide and scanned the lakes. The volunteers were very excited about the presence of a Pintail but we were more interested in counting the Common Snipes. They were so well camouflaged among the reeds. At first, I spotted only one and then as your eyes adjusted, we began to see more and more. Babe counted 8 but according to the volunteers, there were at least 30.

RSPB Sandwell Valley

We saw a dozen Mergansers  floating on Forge Mill Lake and were heading towards the farm. We decided to track them by following the nature trail which was near the River Tame. Along the route, we saw a Gold-crest skulking in the undergrowth, spotted a heron hunting near the reed-beds and heard a water-rail grunting from deep in the swamps. By the banks of the lake, we spotted the Mergansers before they flew off towards the farm. I wanted to complete the circular trail but the car-park was closing soon. Never mind, it was still a lovely day to end our holiday.

RSPB Sandwell Valley

At home, Babe was very surprised to find that I’d packed away all the Christmas decorations except for the wreath outside the front door. I love all the decorations and usually left taking them down to the last possible minute. But after a month, the baubles started falling off from the ceiling and the garlands somehow managed to disentangle itself, that I think I needed my casa back to normal. The old tradition was to leave the decorations for the twelve days of Christmas. I took the decorations down in stages. First was the cards, then stuff in the kitchen were put back in the cupboards and finally everything else related to Christmas.  Anyway, it was the new year and therefore they were packed and gone for another year.

Talking about the new year, apart from wanting to loose weight (again), this was my new year mantra.

Smile, breathe, and go slowly

~Thich Nhat Hanh~

Brandon Marsh


The Brief Guide

less TV, more reading
less shopping
. more outdoors
, more space
rush, more slowness
less consuming, more creating
less junk, more real food
less busywork, more impact
less driving, more walking
less noise, more solitude
less focus on the future, more on the present
less work, more play
less worry, more smiles


Brandon Marsh

*I added this.

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