Christmas was a big fail. Millions faced festival season misery as sinister Storm Barbara swept in from the Atlantic bringing with it severe gales, torrential rain, snow storm and terrifying thunder. The Midlands were only hit with the remnants of the gales and the rain and a bit of rumbling thunder here and there. A weather phenomenon known as a cyclogenesis or weather bomb was said to be driving the torrid weather. Even though the weather was horrible, the flowering winter jasmine brightened up the dark days.
Babe didn’t want me to decorate the casa for Xmas when I was away because he didn’t want to be surrounded by the glitter and tinsels. The only Xmassy thing was a 3-year old handmade wreath which I hung on the front door. When I came back from Malaysia, I suffered from serious jet-lag and wasn’t in any mood to do anything. In fact, we did our Xmas shopping at 6am on Xmas eve in Morisson. We were the only one there with the chirpy cashiers. By 7 am, we’d completed our shopping.
Because of the horrible weather, we didn’t go out for our pre-Xmas dinner walk. Instead, we spent the day preparing the Xmas dinner. We’d roasted turkey with all the trimmings. There were roasted potatoes, honeyed parsnips, orangey-carrot batons, mini Yorkshire pudding, cauliflower cheese, onion rings, garlic mushrooms, chestnut stuffing and Brussel sprouts. And with lashings of onion gravy. We saved our dessert, an almondy Daim torte, for later because we were stuffed.
It is Christmas in the mansion, Yule-log fires and silken frocks; It is Christmas in the cottage, Mother's filling little socks. It is Christmas on the highway, In the thronging, busy mart But the dearest, truest Christmas Is the Christmas in the he
We stayed indoors on Boxing day because the weather was rubbish. again. It was very windy, cold and wet. I spent the day reading because there was nothing on tv. Thankfully, the dreich weather stopped the next day or else I might get domatophobia We checked out Bradgate Park and we weren’t alone. The place was buzzing as hundreds of people wrapped up warm to enjoy the tiny bit of sunshine.
Unfortunately, the natives were nowhere to be seen. They were high up in the hills to get away from the crowd. It was just after Christmas and the children were trying out their new shiny bikes, roller blades, scooters or taking out their new puppies for walkies. I hoped they knew that dogs were for life and not just for Xmas!!! There were adults trying out their new walking poles, bicycles, binoculars and cameras. Babe too was playing with his latest toy, a professional level camcorder Canon XF305 HD camera. He’d been itching to try it out but was unable to due to the bad weather.
We stopped in the middle of the field when we spotted a herd of deer, feeding among the bracken half-way up the hill. Babe set out his equipment and started filming the behaviour of the Fallow deer as they moved from one place to another. It was also interesting to watch how nervous they were when the dogs got closer to them. I’m so glad that the dogs-on-lead ruling was now imposed.
We didn’t go further cos the video camera was a beast to lug about. Anyway, there wasn’t much about. Back at the car, we saw this Song Thrush poking about in the grass, turning the earth and leaf litter carefully looking for earthworms, which made a large part of their diet. A pigeon flew down and landed very close checking what the Thrush was up to.
It was the poet Robert Browning who wrote:
“That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over, Lest you think he never could capture the first fine careless rapture!
We made a pit stop at Groby Poll to see if anything was about. There were hundreds of Gulls flying, chasing one another for pieces of bread that were thrown in. Mute swans were paddling gracefully among the chaos. A few hybrid and Tufted ducks were also in the water tucking on the leftovers. It was also quite hazy as the Cormorants looked a bit eerily as they busied preening themselves.
The next day, we popped into the city centre because I wanted to get a DKNY watch which I’d seen months ago as my Xmas present. I also brought along 2 more watches to be repaired. We wanted to check out the sales but by the time we arrived, there was nothing left or the sales wasn’t exactly sales. But first, we went to Broadgate because I wanted to see the Xmas lights.
Unfortunately, it was a bit misty and the decorations were hidden by the few dozens of timber-framed Christmas chalets that were still opened for business. The market offered all manner of goods, from food and drinks, to gifts and goods. There were also a carousel and rides for the young ones to enjoy. It was quite difficult to take photograph when you have children about. We didn’t stay long because the weather turned for the worse.
We ended the year by taking a long walk at Draycote Water. We wrapped up warm because the weather could be very Arctic-like especially when the winds blew. But, that didn’t stop the children whizzing past on their shiny new bikes, tricycles, roller-blades and skateboards. We tried not to get run down while walking along Farborough bank. Thankfully, the sighting of at least a dozen Goosanders kept us close to the wall.
These handsome diving ducks were members of the Sawbill family, so called because of their long, serrated bills, used for catching fish. The Welsh for goosander; hwyaden ddanheddog was also literally translated to serrated duck.. A long, streamlined bird, they were perfectly shaped for swimming after fish. They located food from the surface with head under water and then dived expertly, using only the legs for propulsion under water. When not diving for food, they were usually seen swimming on the water surface, or resting on rocks or hidden among riverbank vegetation. We spotted one sleeping among the Teals and Mallards.
Male Goosanders in winter had dark green head, long red bill and a white body with a slight tinge pink. They’d bright red legs and a slightly bushy ‘mane’ of feathers down the back of the neck. In flight, they looked black and white with clean white underside and no breast mark. They flew with stretched necks and heads, and appeared long and large. In flight, the wing beats were rapid and usually flew short distances and in a straight line. It was a challenge to photograph them when they were zooming low across the water.
We also spotted Great Crested Grebes in their winter plumage which lacked the elaborate ruff with white above the eyes and pink bills. The body plumage was duller and greyer. They were beginning to pair up and soon the elaborate courtship display, a kind of ‘pass de deux’ in the middle of the lake will be performed. Occasionally, barking calls ‘rah-rah-rah, clicking ‘keh’ or low growling ‘gorr’ could be heard. A group of Grebes were collectively known as a ‘water-dance’ of grebes.
The Great-crested Grebes fed primarily on fish and numerous insects and aquatic invertebrates. They foraged by diving, often pursuing the prey underwater. They also fed from the surface by submerging only the head, or by picking insects from vegetation. Usually, in the face of any danger, the Great-crested Grebe prefers to dive and swim rather than fly because they needed to run a long way along the water before taking off, while performing rapid wing-beats as they do in flight.
Nearby, a Little Grebe was struggling with a fish and off course, the fish lost. They were excellent swimmers and divers and pursued the fishes and aquatic invertebrate preys underwater. They swam buoyantly with feathers often fluffed out at rear giving a a powder-puff effect. They readily dived when disturbed, surfacing unseen some distance away. They could be noisy, with a distinctive whinnying trill.
The Little Grebe was also known as the dabchick and was the smallest member of the grebe family. From a distance, they appeared to be all black but we could make out a chestnut brown patch on the throat and side of the neck. The flanks showed pale brown and the rear end of the bird was much lighter. The corners of the bill had a prominent yellow 'gape' mark. In winter, they lose this summer plumage and became pale buff on their lower quarters while their back is a dirty brown
There is a bird they call the little grebe
The smallest member of grebe family
She lives on inland lake or near sea shore
But on dry land her i have yet to see.
Her mate at breeding time wears darker coat
Whilst she all year round wear the lighter gray
I've oft times watched them ride the ocean waves
When tide was roaring into Blackrock bay.
Aquatic birds the water is their home
And a water world the only world they've known
I've seen them in groups of three right up to twelve
I've seen them in pairs and oft seen one alone.
I've oft times watched grebe on birds paddock lake
I've watched her swim a bit and dive for prey
A minute under water maybe more
And then she surface a few yards away.
She builds her nest a mass of water reeds
Then a Wren popped up from the pile of rocks. It was creeping in and out hunting for spiders and insects from the crevices. It was a tiny dumpy, almost rounded, brown bird with a fine bill, quite long legs and toes, very short round wings and a short, narrow tail which was sometimes cocked up vertically. The family name Troglodytidae was derived from troglodyte, which means "cave-dweller", and the wrens got their scientific name from the tendency to forage in dark crevices.
Wrens were surprisingly loud despite their tiny stature. Singing was most important at dawn, since this was when intruding males may attempt to steal territory. Defending males meet their challenger with song and females listen to the vocal contests. If they liked what they heard, they may sneak off and seek extra-pair copulations !!! Wrens were Britain’s most common breeding bird, but their small size and reliance on insects meant they perished easily during prolonged periods of cold weather.
There were also plenty of Mallards, the most numerous wildfowl in Britain. The male, or drake, was very recognisable by its metallic green head, brown breast that was delineated from the head by a white neck ring, grey body and black tail. The female, or duck, was mainly brown, with blackish mottling and has a plain buff coloured head with a dark line through the eye.
Selective breeding of domestic Mallards over the years had produced a wide variety of shapes, sizes and plumage patterns, and the vast majority of the odd-looking Mallards around don't have any non-Mallard blood at all. I was quite excited to see this pale-looking hybrid feeding quite close to the wall with a very handsome drake.
At first we planned to wait for the sunset which was stunning over the water. But we could see thick dark clouds getting closer towards the reservoir. So I guess we won’t be seeing any sunset and we don’t want to get caught in the rain. We’d enjoyed our last walk for 2016 and here’s hoping for more exciting long walks to different new places in 2017.
“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.”