The box of the year
And brings out days
That are bright and clear
And brings out days
That are cold and grey
And shouts, "Come see
What I brought today!"
- Leland B. Jacobs, January
Happy Belated New Year !!! I hoped everyone had a wonderful break. Mine was exactly what the doctor ordered. Days that were full of rest, lots of walking and photographing, yummy food, plenty of reading and times of quiet reflection. Early dark evenings were spent on reflection and planning. There was something about a new diary and all those promised days of a bright new beginning that made me think hard about how I want to live in 2016.
“Everyman should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Take up one hole more in the buckle if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances; but on the first day of January let every man gird himself once more, with his face to the front, and take no interest in the things that were and are past.”
~Henry ward Beecher~
As soon as the clock struck 12, fireworks went off around our casa. We wrapped up warm and took the opportunity to photograph them. Although it was cold, wet and miserable, the skies were continuously brightly lit up alongside spontaneous loud bangs, whirrs and hisses.Thankfully, it just lasted about an hour before the whole neighbourhood returned to silence again with tons of smoke drifting and the overpowering smell of sulphur.
We started the new year with another trip to Slimbridge Wildlife and Wetlands Trust. First, we checked out the Bewick’s swans lounging around the pond. There was speculation that we were in for a long and bitter winter because the first swan arrived here on 11th October 2015, the earliest for over 50 years. Apparently, there was a Russian saying ‘the swan brings snow on its bill’, because they tended to move just ahead of the cold weather. So far, we’d the mildest winter in record but then it was still January. Since the Trust recorded all the Bewick’s that came to Slimbridge in winter by their unique bill pattern as part of their study, they had named him Record breaker, how very original.
“Altocirrus, swans white
as the tundra they come from.
Their cries multiply. Their bodies
crash-land on the water
Then, a quick trip to Rushy Hide where 2 immature Greater Scaup had been sighted. We scanned the surroundings but we couldn’t see them among the hundreds of Pintail. Shelduck, Pochard and Tufted ducks. We watched the Pintails feeding by upending, dabbling and head-dipping. When they upending, the long beautiful tail was angled down.
We then checked the first hide overlooking the tack piece which was nearly flooded. During this time of year, large parts of the reserve were deliberately flooded. According to the sighting board, there were 54 Bewick’s Swan, 110 European White-fronted Goose, 5 Greenland White-fronted Goose, 900 Teal , 600 Lapwing, 600 Golden Plover, 200 Dunlin, 12 Ruff, 35 Redshank and 3 Common Cranes. An immature Peregrine made a kill here earlier during the day which we missed.
We made a pit stop at the very empty Willow Hide and waited for something to appear. The usual Robin, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Wood pigeon, Great and Blue tit were taking turns on the feeder with Moorhen picking the seeds that had dropped on to the ground. A tiny Wren popped out to say hello. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew in and all the birds disappeared into the bushes.
We checked out the Martin Smith Hide where we got close views of the Curlews. We’d never seen so many of them before probing on the mudflats, searching for worms and other invertebrates with their long bills. They were migratory species, wintering in Africa, southern Europe and south Asia. During the winter months, they lived on sheltered coasts, estuaries and marshes and in spring, they flew up to higher moorland areas to breed.
The largest European wading bird, they were instantly recognisable by their long, down-curved bills, mottled brown plumage, long legs and evocative calls. Male and females looked identical, but the bill was longest in the adult female. The familiar calls, from which they got their name, was a loud cour-leee. Their bubbling calls epitomised the atmosphere of the lonely marshes and tide-ways where they were found.
We turned back and continued to Zeiss Hide where all the waders and wildfowls were feeding on the mudflats of the River Severn estuary. Too far to photograph. We then took the opportunity to be reacquainted with the different captive wildfowl in the different zones before we headed back to the car. Among them were the brightly coloured Caribbean flamingos, the gentle Nenes, the world’s rarest goose, eider ducks with their flirtatious whoa, whoa calls and these beautiful Bar-headed goose.
Earlier in the year, I met HI for lunch at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. We’d been so busy in December that we made a pact to meet before we started work. It was lovely catching up and exchanging news of what we’d been up to during the festive period. The restaurant was quite popular and was soon filling up that we quickly queued to purchase our lunch. I chose the gooey grilled cheese with red onion marmalade panini with chips and salad and washed down with a mug of hot chocolate.
The ambience was good but I think the place needed extra staff. Nearly all the tables had used cups and plates and we’d to clear the tables ourselves and brought them to the counter. I noticed most people just dumped them on the next table. The service was very slow as there was only waitress at the food counter and one at the cash machine, who was also doing the drinks. The food was quite expensive too as my lunch was £10. I think this will be my first and last meal here.
After our lunch, we checked out the gift shop. Then HR wanted to go to the Tourist Information Centre which was located within the St Michael’s Cathedral ruins at the base of the sphire of the old Cathedral. I purchased some stained glass cards as birthday cards for colleagues while HR bought some Cash ribbon cards. A few tourists came in to climb the 180 steps to the top of St. Michael’s tower for the best view of Coventry. I did this a few years back and the views were truly amazing.
Then we checked out the Christmas decorations that were still standing on Broadgate Square. It was the same as last year. It was quite difficult to get good photographs because my shots were photobombed by people walking around. Then we checked out West Orchards and I was able to take photographs to my heart content. Unfortunately. I didn’t have a good experience at the Upper Precinct where I was questioned by 2 burly guards demanding to know why I was taking photographs. I know why they were doing it due to the climate we were in but there were no signs saying that photography was forbidden. After this incident, we decided to end our adventure and head home.
“Maybe Christmas’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more’
I’d taken down all the Christmas decorations at the weekend because the 12th night was a working day and I don’t want to be rushing around. I packed everything away except for the wreath that was still hanging on the front door. If decorations weren’t removed on the 12th night, they’d to stay up all year!!! The casa looked so bare.
After the expense, excitement and overindulgence of Xmas, it was hard to start work with a bang especially when you have to wait for the bus in the cold, wet and dark morning. At work, after exchanging greetings and new year gossips, I felt like I never left. It was back to routine. I took my time to plan my work schedule and also made plans to start a new healthy lifestyle.
I registered for a well-being walk organised by the Student Support Services. It started last year but I was busy with other commitments and I think it was better for me to join in the new year. It was a 30 minute brisk walk in all weathers around the university grounds on Tuesday lunch-time. There was a leader who took us around and there was a mixed group of us from various departments. It was a stress reliever, mood booster and mind clearer. We got some sunlight, plenty of chats while taking in the surroundings and got our hearts pumping.
I also registered for a 8 week Pilates class using my learning vouchers. It was held every Wednesday lunch time at Westwood and lasted an hour. To make up the time, I forego my tea breaks and had lunch at my desk. I changed into my track bottoms and t-shirt at work and took a brisk 15 minute walk to the class. After an hour of controlled movements workout, I returned to work. If practised with consistency, Pilates was supposed to improve flexibility, building strength and developing control and endurance in the entire body. Wish me luck…
I also signed up for an 8 week MOOC called ‘Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Well-being’ delivered by the University of Warwick. This free online course explored how enjoying literature could help us endure life. The great 18th century writer Dr Samuel Johnson who suffered from severe bouts of depression said
“the only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life or better endure it.”
Taking Johnson’s phrase as a starting point, the course considered how poems, plays and novels helped understand and coped with times of deep emotional strain. For me, reading was something I enjoyed and found it relaxing. At the moment, I’m still playing catch-up with the course. There were plenty of reading, online discussions and texts to plough through.
Phew…After all that I need a break and what better place than our favourite playground. Brandon Marsh. Outside Baldwin Hide, a Great crested grebe in its winter colours was gentle cruising in front of the hide. The male Golden Eyes was still practising his mating display and the gothic Cormorants were lining up along the nearly flooded island. It was very calm, quiet and peaceful.
We checked out East Marsh hide and waited patiently for the Bittern to appear. There were several sightings of this elusive bird feeding on the channel to the left of the hide but not today. The pair of Goosander was still around and then we saw the female with a fish between its sharply serrated beak.
We also spent time counting the Common Pochards for the Duck Specialist Group International Waterbird Census. They wanted to measure the ratio of the spectacular reddish brown head with black breast and tail males to the not so colourful females. There was so much concern over the decline in population that their conservation status had been upgraded to vulnerable in the IUCN red list of threatened species, as well as being moved from the RSPB’s amber list to the red list of conservation status.
This meant the Common Pochards were now a priority species requiring urgent action to find out what was happening to the population. Because little was known about their population structure and any differences in survival rates between the sexes, so by counting the number of males and females could be instrumental in understanding the decline.
We didn’t go further because the path was so muddy and very slippery. On the way back to the car, we stopped at the alder trees near the visitor centre. Flocks of Siskins were hanging upside down, extracting seeds with their sharp beaks. Their melancholic twitters accompanied their acrobatic displays. They were attractive birds at close quarters, with their intricate pattern of black and yellow on the wings and tails.
‘They fed wholly on the alder and looked beautiful, hanging like parrots, picking at the drooping seeds of that tree’
Then, Mother Nature threw down her blanket shortly after midnight, just in time for an Arctic blast that was moving through. My first snowfall of the year, magically transforming the landscape into a winter wonderland. It didn’t last long and by lunch time, it turned into a muddy, slushy mess.
Oh, these white winter walks exhilarate
As does the crisp frost tipped air
Blown 'cross the mountain tops and vales
Light as a butterfly-snow flakes so fair;
'Tis the whitest of white times
Heralding in all the holidays best
Celebration 'cross the countryside and nearby vales
Pass the most perilous of slippery road test;
Out upon the sod-a snowman or two
With building of snow castles supreme
Oh, those white winter walks encite exuberance
Hence giving credence to my white winter dream;
As glorious winter makes her snowy bed
And the invigorating air chills to the bone
I am ever thankful for this white winter world
And for all of the past winters i have known;
~Theodora Onkem ‘White Winter Wonderland~
And then the dreaded Blue Monday arrived, the most depressing day of the year. January was a depressing time for many and one long post-Christmas hangover month. You’d finished all the mince pies and your body was struggling to cope with the withdrawal of the depression-alleviating calorific foods such as chocolate, the weather was horrible, Christmas ended up being horribly expensive, angry with yourself for already breaking your new year’s resolution and we were back to the daily grind.
It may be useful to know that Blue Monday was created in 2005 by the (now defunct) Sky Travel holiday company. While it had no basis in science, the idea caught on, and it became a permanent fixture in the calendar. It had became a cynical advertising bump that people and the media had lapped up. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy.
"January, month of empty pockets! … let us endure this evil month, anxious as a theatrical producer's forehead."
But, don’t let Blue Monday get you down. In Act 2 of Hamlet, the Prince was talking to his two friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, complaining that for him, Denmark had become a prison. They don’t see it that way at all, and disagree. Hamlet was then offered a cure for his dark mood, although he declined to take it, when he replied :
“Why, then, ‘tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’
So it was really up to you whether you existed in a prison on Blue Monday, or you find things to enjoy yourself. I know which I chose.
This month 1802 students graduated during the 3 day winter degree congregations. The most important celebration for graduands, families and friends attending were the ceremonies which marked and acknowledged all the study, research, participation in campus life and personal growth. After graduation and hopefully getting their dream jobs, I hoped they retained the fond memories of their time here and kept in touch with the University and fellow graduates as proud alumni of Warwick.
A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that 'individuality' is the key to success.
We again made another trip to Slimbridge WWWT. We did so to get our money worth because they were very expensive . Imagine that if we weren’t members, we’d to pay £13.10 each. Since it was only about an hour’s drive away on the M5, it was kinda a cheapish day out for us to enjoy our favourite hobbies, wildlife and photography.
First, we checked The Rushy for the 2 elusive Greater Scaup. Again we didn’t see them among the 270 Tufted Duck, 200 Pochard, 103 Bewick’s Swan, 200 Pintail, numerous Mallard, Gull, Coots and Shelduck. I was delighted to have spotted these Redshanks all huddled together in the middle of the lake. From here, we could see clouds of birds in the sky, whirling and swirling away from a predator.
We quickly made our way to the Robbie Garnett hide to check what was causing the disturbance on the tack piece. The place was heaving with thousands of wildfowl feeding, sleeping and resting. From the notice board, there were 1 Little Stint, 400 Dunlins, 12 Ruff, 50 Redshank, 180 Black-tailed Godwit, 2800 Lapwing, 5000 Golden Plover, 4 Common, 1000 Wigeon, 600 Teal, 250 Pintail, 40 Shoveler, and 110 Shelducks. I think they missed the Tufted ducks, Mute Swans, Greylags, Canada Geese, Coots and Moorhens. The birds were very restless because 2 Buzzards, a Merlin and a Peregrine were on the prowl. We managed to see a Peregrine causing trouble but flew away empty handed.
We left when we felt like we were turning into ice sculptures. It was freezing in the hide. We headed straight to Zeiss Hide because there was sighting of a Bittern. The hide was quite full as news of the sighting spread but the elusive bird failed to turn up. We left because it was turning to be quiet noisy and enjoyed the solitude among the dainty snowdrops. Little spikes of wild garlic too were pushing their way above the ground. I crushed a few young leaves and sniffed their garlicky smell.
We stopped at the Otters Pool because it was nearly their feeding time. Babe took his place on top of the rock where he would be able to take photographs without the obstruction of the glass walls. It was lovely watching these North American River Otters playing, foraging, feeding, swimming and grooming.
The cheeky trio of Flo and her twins Minnie and Haha kept the visitors entertained with acrobatic displays while their keeper, John, gave an excellent commentary. They were introduced to the centre on July 2009 as part of the wetland mammal area Back from the Brink. What a wonderful life for this adorable family who spent their days frolicking around in the water, sunbathing and sleeping in their den.
After the talk, we hopped over to South Lake Discovery Hide. The place was buzzing and we were excited to see a pair of Oyster Catcher very close to the hide. It was lovely to see them with their black and white plumage, reddish pink legs and startling orange bills. They were busy probing the mudflats for worms and other juicy morsels.
One flew off with a loud high ‘peep’ and we could see the wide wing stripe, a black tail and a white rump that extended as a ‘V’ between the wings. Due to their fondness of cockles and mussels, they were historically known as the ‘sea pie’. There were also a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits fast asleep at the top end of the lake.
We ended January with a pit stop to Ashlawn Cutting to see if the frogs were feeling amorous. The volunteers had done a lot of work clearing the brambles and hedge-slaying. What a pity their hard work wasn’t appreciated as we came across piles of dog poo. We’d to check where we put our feet because they were everywhere which was a dead shame.
Apart from that, the reserve was full of bird songs in the very cold but spring-like weather. Drifts of snowdrops were poking through the soil and flowering yellow gorses brighten up the day. Flocks of Long-tailed tits roamed through the woods with singing Robins, chirpy Blue and Great Tits and cooing Pigeons. The path was very muddy and no one was home under the bridge except for Mr. Bushy tail keeping an eye on us.
We walked towards Pytchley Road bridge stopping at the puddles. More work had been done along this path too. I was glad I’d my pink wellingtons on because it was soo muddy and wet. Babe was unfortunate because there was a hole in his boots but we still soldiered on until we reached the Pytchley Marsh. I think it was still early for the frogs to think of mating and we planned to return in month’s time.
“A happy New Year!
Grant that I May bring no tear to any eye
When this New Year in time shall end
Let it be said I've played the friend,
Have lived and loved and labored here,
And made of it a happy year.