Nights with a Little Owl

When I stay with my children in London, in Barcelona and in Bolton, come bedtime the streets are as silent as a monastery.  Though to be fair, in London we can sometimes hear the foxes in their lairs near the railway line yelping like very cross babies.

I live at the edge of a village some distance from Ripon.  That’s usually a pretty silent place to sleep too.  But for the last few nights I’ve been woken at about 3.00 o’clock by this…..

It’s a Little Owl.  He (she?) is extremely persistent.  He sits on the roof, I think, and keeps up a constant calling: sometimes measured, sometimes more agitated.  The other night, after an hour or more I fell asleep again.  Little Owl didn’t.

I’ve never seen him.  It’s not surprising.  He’s probably only about 22cm. long, and weighs in at perhaps 180 grams.  The farmland which surrounds us will suit him very well, supplying insects and small mammals.  He’s probably breeding now.  I wonder if he’s found a place in the old barn which is currently home to a young family of rather messy blackbirds?

This species was only introduced here at the end of the 19th century, though his kind are widespread throughout Europe Asia and North Africa.  Despite his being a noisy blighter, he’s very welcome here.

I have no photos of my own.  Enjoy these images from contributors to the Unsplash collection.

This is my contribution to the Ragtag Challenge: Night.

Click on any image to view full size.

Moors and hills and rugged coast: walking Northumberland

Several of you commented on my coastal pictures from Northumberland, remarking on how relaxing the whole thing must have been. Well …. it recharged the batteries alright … but not by lying down on the beach with a good book. Certainly not.

Only birds sunbathe here……

We were at Nether Grange, an HF hotel, with our walking group. And we were there with other walkers – some in groups, others not. At Nether Grange, walking is what you come for. That and good food eaten in good company. We’d opted for guided walks. Three levels of difficulty are offered each day so there’s no excuse not to get involved. I chose one of each, so finished the week with 15.3 km, 12 km and 17 km. walks under my belt.

Moorland near Etal.

This is hill country. The Pennines, the backbone range that bisects northern England becomes the Cheviots as it marches towards Scotland. In the car you’ll swoop thrillingly up and audaciously down those hillsides. They provide a backdrop to the area which is at once dramatic and bucolic.

On foot, you’ll get to know about those slopes….. actually, we weren’t often faced with gradients that had us gasping, panting and begging for mercy. But we rarely had a long level stretch either. And our leaders were there to encourage, chivvy along, provide good humour and background notes on all kinds of topics … as well as read the maps, so we didn’t have to.

We walked moorland tracks, bouncy with springy turf nibbled short by sheep. We crossed hillsides bright with golden gorse. We tracked through woodland carpeted with bluebells.

A woodland glade … no bluebells this time.

We passed Ford Moss, an extremely ancient raised peat bog where we excited the residents: Exmoor ponies charged with grazing the vegetation and keeping it in trim.

Exmoor ponies going for a gallop.

We passed farms with shire horses and hissy geese.

And on the last day, we walked the local coastal path: St. Oswald’s Way. The section between Alnmouth and Craster-where-the-kippers-come-from is characterised by craggy cliffs, and are home, like the nearby Farne Islands, to many thousands of seabirds such as kittiwakes and fulmars. Here’s what the zoom lens on my new camera can do.

Cliffs and Dunstanburgh Castle seen from afar. The next three shots zoom in ….
Craster: cottages, a safe harbour, and a few tourists.

Our group, the 17 km one (10 1/2 miles to the non-metric) finished just beyond Dunstanburgh Castle. It was built in the 14th Century by the Earl of Lancaster, who was openly hostile to King Edward II – never a good idea, because the king had him executed in 1322. This fortification was built to make a bellicose statement, in an area crowded with castles. Now it’s a ruin, and an impressive one. We slogged to the top of the keep for the views, marvelling at the extra-thick walls as we climbed.

Leaving the castle behind us.

We finished the day, and our three days of walks, with a paddle. Gotta have a paddle. Or ‘plodge’ as the locals call it.

Plodging towards home….

With thanks to our walk leaders Chris, Helen, Paul, Richard: to Reuben and Team Nether Grange, and to our own Mike and Angela for organising the holiday.

And this is also an entry for Jo’s Monday Walk.

The rapacious stillness of the heron*

Herons seem to be a part of our lives.  It’s a rare week when we don’t spot one flying languidly along the river, or waiting on an exposed rock for the next snack.

Wherever we travel, we can go heron spotting.   We’ve seen them in Dordrecht in the Netherlands, Córdoba in southern Spain, l’Albufera near Valencia, and Busan in South Korea.  Town and country: herons are there.

We see them as we walk along the path towards West Tanfield, and spot them on the garden pond.

The other day after a stressful week, I needed a bit of space.  Nosterfield Nature Reserve just up the road was the answer.  I walked along the wetland paths watching water birds courting, feeding, simply being there, standing motionless or swimming peacefully.  Quiet fields formed the backdrop.

Nosterfield Nature Reserve, spotted through a hide.

I went to the farthest hide.  I became transfixed by the under-stated drama being played out between a heron and two or three egrets.  They were fishing.  All plodded gracefully in and out of what humans might see as each other’s personal space.  They didn’t care or even seem to notice one another. They simply co-existed, fishing.

This is what first caught my eye….and then I zoomed in closer…..

This series of pictures might not seem that different one from another.  They’re a record of a simple afternoon in the lives of a heron, three egrets ….. and me.

Click on any image to view full size.

* The Crow Road: Iain Banks

 

Is that a blackbird or a bullfinch, a chaffinch or a chiffchaff?

We’re fond of our garden birds.  Little by little, we’re getting to identify them.  But their songs and calls?  Not so much.

On Saturday though, we had an opportunity.  Just along from here at Old Sleningford Farm, Linda Jenkinson whom we first met some five years ago on her bird watching course at Nosterfield, was exploring Bird Song.  We  knew we had to sign up.

A morning in the classroom.  We learnt about blackbirds:

……and chaffinches…..

….and bullfinches (just think ‘rusty gate’ apparently….)

And chiffchaffs: think ‘chiffchiff’ rather than ‘chiffchaff’

and coal tits, and all the other kinds of garden tit.

We tackled about sixteen kinds of bird and their songs, listened, looked, did quizzes, and finished the morning feeling fairly sorted.

Then we had lunch.  Home made frittata and bread, freshly gathered salad leaves, locally pressed apple juice, deliciously damp cake – that’s the sort of nourishment you get when you come to Old Sleningford Farm.

And afterwards it was The Great Outdoors.  Well, I’m sorry birds, but you ought to get organised, form an orderly queue and sing, one by one.  We wandered through woodland, along the river, explored the Forest Garden.  And as we sauntered, ears cocked at the ready, willow warblers; marsh warblers; blackcaps; kingfishers all cacophonously introduced themselves, quite drowning out our carefully revised memories of bullfinch, chaffinch and the like.  It was wonderful. We learnt, we listened, we enjoyed simply being in this peaceful place, shared only with the birds and other unseen wildlife.  Thank you Linda.  So glad to Start Birding with you!

Linda helps us get close and personal to the birds we’ve been learning about.

 

Ragtag Saturday: A Red Kite.

Ah, could I see a spinney nigh,
A paddock riding in the sky, 

Above the oaks, in easy sail, 
On stilly wings and forked tail.

John Clare (c. 1820)
Paddock is an old English name for the Red Kite

Red kite (Wikimedia Commons, Arturo de Frias Marques )

Red kites, coasting lazily across the skies on gentle thermals – floating, free-wheeling, gliding – command our instant attention.  When we spot them as we’re walking, we can’t help but stand and stare, and relish their easy command of an immense sky.  It’s that forked tail that gives them away.

And yet these noble-seeming creatures exist mainly on carrion.  They’ll swoop quickly down to snatch roadkill – after the crows have helped themselves – and take it off to perch on some quiet tree to dismember and eat.  Sometimes we’ll watch numbers of them wheeling above just-ploughed fields, questing for worms and small mammals.

Young red kite perching in a tree (Wikimedia Commons)

They used to be a very rare sight indeed.  But about twenty years ago, and thirty miles from here, some red kites were released onto the Harewood Estate as part of a conservation initiative.  We lived in Harrogate at the time, and got so excited if we were near Harewood, by very occasional sighting.

Fast forward a few years, and the kites reached the outskirts of Harrogate: we’d even spot them above the town centre.  Later still, they spread onwards and outwards  – north, south, east and west.

Yorkshire red kite sightings 2018
(www.yorkshireredkites.net)

And this week, just this week, for the very first time, this is what I saw, above the house, keeping an eye on me as I hung out the washing.  I’m very excited by our new neighbour.

A bit blurred, this image. But this red kite was very high above me.

Today’s Ragtag Challenge is ‘kite’.

Ragtag Saturday: Rus in urbe in Andalucia

Rus in urbe.  Signs of the countryside in town.  We spent a lot of our time in Andalucia, particularly in Córdoba and Málaga, hanging over river bridges staring at bird life, or gawping into trees to see what we could see.  Here’s a bit of a rogues’ gallery….

Cormorants on the river Guadalquivir…

Egrets, ditto.

Herons – or perhaps always just the same heron?  Fishing, always fishing.

A poor swallow (Was it a swallow?  Help me, someone) trapped in the synagogue in Córdoba, endlessly flying impotently towards the light, the incontestably glazed windows.

Then it was parakeets.  We’ve moved to Málaga now.  We could hear them all the time, squawking in the palm trees.  But this pair had time to bill, coo and preen.

La Concepción Botanical Gardens were at the edge of town.  But still definitively Málaga.  I offer you turtles…..

…. toads…

and – not from the Botanical Gardens – the inevitable herring gull.

 

And if it’s red squirrels you’re after, you’ll just have to read my last post.

As usual, click on any photo to view full size.  This is my entry for today’s Ragtag Challenge: rus in urbe.

Squirreling a snack

We’re back in England now, back to temperatures of under six degrees when we’d got used to nearer twenty in Spain.  Back to rain and wind instead of sunny breeze.  Still, I can sit and sort my photos out.

The view up – looking towards the Alcazaba: the adjoining castle to Gibralfro.

Here are some from the day we slogged up the 240′ to Castillo Gibralfro in Málaga. Part way up, we came upon this enchanting scene.

I know the arguments about the potential dangers to both humans and wildlife from too-close contact.  But these two Spanish children are not likely to forget, or be unaffected by this chance encounter with this little squirrel: or to resent the fact that he charmed the greater part of their mid-morning snack from them.

 

And here’s the view coming down.

Click on any image to view full size.