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.

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Hospital de Sant Pau: a Healing Site.

We’ll visit the Hospital de Sant Pau every time we go to Barcelona. Well, we will while it remains the city’s secret treasure: uncrowded, simply beautiful and offering balm to the soul just as it did to the patients who were – and are – cared for there. I wrote a little about its history last year.

I won’t repeat myself. Instead, I’ll try to convey something of the peace of this city site: something of its space, its lush greenness which was such an important part of its design. Doctors heal the body: gardens heal the mind.

I call it a city site, and these days, so it is, situated on busy main roads surrounded by buses, taxis, cars, shops, city workers, tourists. When it was built, it was outside Barcelona and rather hard to reach, along rutted tracks and surrounded by fields. The area looked like this:

We made another discovery on our visit this time. Nobody seems to mention the church on the site. We stumbled across it by accident, and I’ve had real difficulty finding out anything about it. But the modernista Esglesia de l’hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau is definitely worth a detour. Pillars soar heavenwards. Austerely plain walls are broken up by horizontal bands of blue tiles. Stained glass is in earth-and-sky colours. Most astonishing of all are the two – yes two – pulpits. One is borne aloft by the bull who is the symbol of Saint Luke; and the other by the lion who symbolises Saint Mark. Do visit it. You’ll have the place to yourself.

Most people pass the doors of this church without thinking to pop inside.

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This is an entry for today’s RDP Challenge: verdant.

Beach patterns

I could take a walk on the beach every morning of my life.

We’ve just come back from four days in Northumberland, staying in the coastal town of Alnmouth.  Each morning before breakfast, I’d walk down to the sands to be both stimulated and calmed by the dragging, pulsing action of the sea.

There was the patterning of the sands to enjoy.  Those banks of undulations extending as far as I could see.  The designs etched in different coloured sands upon the newly-flattened beach.  Shadows and reflections in shallow pools.  The changing colours of the sea and sky towards the horizon.

Other beach lovers walked in contemplative silence too.  Their dogs preferred to celebrate the long, wide space, and simply ran and ran.

Todays Ragtag Challenge is ‘Patterns’.

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The tale of the Jacob sheep and the copper beech

Mrs J with one of her lambs.

There are sheep at the bottom of the garden.  Jacob sheep, three of them.  And not so long ago, they gave birth to lambs – five between them.  We didn’t see this domestic drama.  They visit a neighbouring farm for ante-natal and delivery services.  But a fortnight ago, they all returned home, and relished the fresh grass, newly lush after the winter.

Last week, the large and spectacular copper beech at one end of their field virtually overnight burst into leaf. Naked twigs produced swelling leaf buds, and then…. almost instantly, delicate pinky-crimson leaves, practically translucent.  The Jacob sheep eyed them with interest.  Grass is all very well, but …. young beech leaves?  Oh yes!   Well worth craning your neck for!

Yesterday afternoon, one of the ewes and her two lambs popped over to inspect me as I walked down the drive.  They thought I might be John with a bucket of food (I had neither a beard nor a bucket, and it wasn’t the right time of day, but well, it was still worth a try).  I was, as ever, a big disappointment.  But it did remind the ewe that the copper beech was there beside me, its lowest branches just about reachable.  She reached up. She selected bunches of young leaves, chewed them, ate them.  Moved on a few yards and repeated the process.  Again and again.

In a few days, those leaves will toughen up.  Got to take your pleasures while you can.  I hope her gourmandising didn’t give her a tummy ache.

I wonder if the apple tree will be next?

This is my entry for today’s Ragtag Challenge: gourmand.

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May is blue, white …. and yellow…..

Bluebell woods at Rpley.

May is blue and white.  May is the month when bluebells thrust their heads above the leaf mould of an English woodland and carpet it with a hazy sea of blue.  It’s when forget-me-nots flower in every vacant spot of earth, and wriggle through the cracks in paving stones. It’s when bluish-purple wisteria scrambles across old brickwork, gently waving its blooms in the light spring breeze. It’s when the  sky is often reliably and cloudlessly blue on a sunny afternoon.

May is hawthorn time.  May is lilac time.  May sees late-flowering wild garlic give place to bluebells .  Daisies take over.    White petals from pear, apple and cherry trees swirl gently to the ground.  And white woolly lambs play king-of-the-castle and run races in the fields.  Round here, sheep-identification markings are blue.

There’s plenty of space for yellow too.  Anyone spotted any dandelions?

A field near Pateley Bridge.

This is my response to today’s Ragtag Challenge: May.

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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: A Tracery of Twigs

It’s equinox season: that blessed time of year when day equals night, and when, for us, the days are getting longer.

The full moon. The equinox.

It’s transition time in so many ways. Those wonderful winter trees, their tracery of twigs and branches transcribed against the sky are skeletal still: but only just.

This morning, on my way out, I noticed tightly furled leaf buds, glossy and taut on shrubs in the garden. Two hours later, coming back, the tender leaves had burst out, tiny and delicate, waiting to be toughened up and to grow in the mild spring air. It was very windy too – hence no photos.

Has spring sprung?

A late afternoon sky over the River Ure, just before the equinox.

Today’s Ragtag Challenge is Tracery.https://wp.me/p9YcOU-1ll

All photos apart from the first and the last one were taken walking through the parkland of Studley Royal, Fountains Abbey.