Friday 31 January 2020

A Country Churchyard

A wander around a graveyard on a gloomy day. You could be forgiven for assuming that I'm in a low mood at the moment, but you'd be wrong. Photography doesn't work like that. Whereas painters project their thoughts on to the canvas and manipulate the light, colour and composition to express their feelings, photographers have to be sensitive to their environment and make pictures from what is there. So here is my response to the melancholy that seemed to pervade this morning's damp, chilly air.

Now lets find some music for what's left of Friday.....

The Music Maker Relief Foundation is a US charity which helps ageing and impoverished musicians, finding them gigs, grants and sometimes recording them too. There's a whole batch of videos on YouTube but this is one of my favourites. Here is the laid back Captain Luke accompanied on upside-down left-handed guitar by Cool John Ferguson....

As the good Captain says "YeeeeeaaaaAAH!...…......…...that's it"

Take care.

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Six Of The Best

Not six of the best birds you'll ever see - all birds are equal in my estimation (though some might be more equal than others). And certainly not six of the best photos of birds either, but six of the best I could manage yesterday on a visit to the North Norfolk coast.

First of all a Little Egret....

If I'd seen this bird as little as thirty years ago I'd have been very excited indeed; you just didn't see them in the UK. I remember a trip down to Hampshire when I saw one of the only two Little Egrets in the country at that time, now I see them all over the place, even within half a mile of my house.

The Egret was central to the forming of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) as it was the trade in their plumes, for making ladies' hats, that so appalled Emily Williamson and Eliza Phillips that they campaigned against the absurd fashion, leading to the founding of the charity in 1891. 

I've always been very fond of ducks, ever since the days when I used to feed them bread when I was about four-years old. That's a male Wigeon you can see above, just one of a vast number of the species that visit our wetlands - in fact anywhere where there's water and grass - every winter. They have a wonderful whistling call which always conjures up memories of wild winter weather in my mind.

Another bird with an evocative call is the Redshank. Old bird guides never fail to mention that it's known as "The Sentinel Of The Marshes". By whom? I'm tempted to ask. Not by the wildfowlers who made a living out on the fens and marshes, I'm sure. Probably by the clergymen/naturalists of the Victorian era. I'm certain the fenmen had a much more colourful name for the bird whose panic-stricken cries would have alerted every bird for miles around to their presence.

This character, boldly strutting along the edge of the water-channel, is a Godwit. We have two closely-related species, the Black-Tailed Godwit and the Bar-Tailed Godwit, and in winter it's not that easy to tell them apart, though I'm pretty certain this is a Black-Tailed Godwit....

...and there's the black tail! I'm sure that if I made my living by walking about in marshes, shoving my nose into the mud to sniff out my food, I'd be pretty much black all over within a very few minutes; I've never really understood how birds keep so clean.

Watching from afar is a tall, proud Curlew. It's another bird with a wonderful voice; I'll put some links at the end of this post so you can hear some of these birds if you want to.

Saving the most colourful till last, these are Teal, male and female. At a distance, in dull light, the drake looks like a greyish bird with a dark brown head; it's only bright sunlight that reveals the details.....

The collective name for a group of these birds is a spring of Teal, which must refer to the way they suddenly take off vertically when disturbed, usually when you didn't even know they were there.

Call of Wigeon:



Take care.

Monday 27 January 2020

The Land Around Clothall

The village of Clothall stands just east of the town of Baldock. It's hardly a village at all, just a handful of houses loosely gathered around a small church. I visited the church a few years ago and wrote about it in a post called "A Special Place". You'll have to follow the link if you want to find out about the church; I was too muddy to go inside today! But I did explore the lanes and paths that criss-cross the nearby fields. They're a bit special too, rather hillier than most places around here and with rather different farming.

Yes, sheep. They are only penned in like this temporarily while they await a quick health-check before being moved to a new pasture.

Believe it or not sheep are calm when crowded in like this and don't even mind having a photo taken!

Soon they're free to carry on with their grazing.

I was determined to show the landscape just like it is - not always pretty and very squelchy and slippery underfoot after all the rain we've been having.

A lot of the rights of way around here are shared by walkers, horse riders and farmers, resulting in glorious amounts of mud.

The church in its churchyard is still just as special as I remember. Despite being quite close to a road, the feeling is still of being in deep countryside.

Some of the gravestones are very old and much obscured by lichens and mosses.

I stopped and sat on a bench for a while before continuing on my way.

The roads around the village, like most roads in England, have a long history, but here they seem to have hardly changed. I didn't meet any vehicles at all.

Just the occasional wanderer from the farmyard.

This little water channel is the remains of an old moat that probably surrounded a farm once upon a time; there was quite a fashion for such moats at one time.

Time to be heading back, I think.

I'll leave it to these two ladies to wish you Goodbye.....

Take care.

Friday 24 January 2020

A Slow Drag

There's not much going on here at the moment, which is the main reason for there being so few posts recently. It's been very grey and drizzly, not too bad for walking but less than ideal for photography. But Robin and Roger, over on their New Dharma Bums blog, posted some wonderful music by the great Jeff Beck (and somebody called Clapton, whoever he is.... 😀), so I thought I ought to reciprocate.

Now when I first used to frequent folk clubs they were full of excellent, but rather exhibitionist, acoustic guitarists. Weird tunings, odd time-signatures, bizarre chords, and versions of obscure blues and ragtime pieces;  all played at finger-busting speed to defeat all but the most dedicated guitar nerd. How pleasant it was one evening then to be entertained by a modest, slim, smiling Welshman who played with relaxed grace, style and gentle humour. He's got just a little older since then but still remains relatively unknown. I give you Mr John James......

Strangely enough this is the way that Scott Joplin, the writer of tunes like The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag, intended the music to be played, slowly and elegantly. For Joplin really wanted to be taken seriously as a composer on a par with Chopin or Liszt. But for a black man writing music around 1900 that was never going to be.

Take care.

Friday 17 January 2020

A Cambridge Alphabet

I've been trying to sort out some of my photos lately and came across several of Cambridge which I rather liked. Many of these appeared in the early days of this blog and won't have been seen before by many of you. So here's the Cambridge Alphabet...

C is for Colleges...

The University has to be included but there's no U in the word C-A-M-B-R-I-D-G-E so "Colleges" it is. Not the most obvious one to show, but this is Peterhouse which is the oldest of them all, founded in 1284. 

A is for Antiquities...

There are also all sorts of old buildings in Cambridge which are nothing to do with the University. The little church of St Peter's is not the oldest church in the city, but it must be one of the prettiest.

M is for Market...

Right in the centre of Cambridge there's a daily market where you can buy all sorts of things, though the prices might have gone up a bit since I took this shot!

B is for Bikes...

It seems that everyone in Cambridge has a bike. It's not a fitness thing, or an environmental consideration - it's just the easiest way to get around.

R is for River...

The River Cam gives Cambridge its name - and that bridge gives Bridge Street its name! Punting on the river was a big part of my teenage years as I lived then at Grantchester, a couple of miles upstream.

I is for Innovation...

I could have shown you Independent shops or Inns as there are plenty of those (though not so many as there used to be). But it would be wrong to ignore the innovative hi-tech scientific work that is carried out by the University and many modern companies that have grown up around it. These are some of the buildings on the Biomedical Campus which stands next to Addenbrooke's Hospital.

D is for Diversity...

All kinds of diverse communities intermingle in various parts of Cambridge. This is the poorer part of town, around Mill Road, where just about every religion and nation of the world must be represented. The University of course also attracts scholars of all kinds and there are also many language schools dotted around.

G is for Gardens...

As well as the Botanic Gardens, that feature regularly on this blog, there are also beautiful gardens belonging to most of the colleges and many public parks. No doubt we'll be visiting some of them during 2020.

E is for Entertainers...

Cambridge has a tolerant attitude towards buskers and during summer some very skilled musicians can be seen playing for passing change. These are Fernando's Kitchen who were a regular fixture a few years back.

Of course it's not all perfect by any means. I could have included Congestion (as in the gridlocked streets during the evening rush-hour), Expensive housing and, most shamefully, Rough sleeping as there are many homeless people on the streets in recent years. But it's still my home city and somewhere that we'll dip into from time to time during the coming year; there's a lot of things I've never shown on the blog and some that are well-worth having another look at.

Take care.

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Stealing Out For Walks

The year 2020 has kicked off with several days of drab, grey weather that hasn't produced many photos at all, though every now a then a little watery sun drips through the blanket of cloud and entices me out.

The little area known as Shepreth L-Moor has become a very boggy place indeed as the fluctuating water-levels in Guilden Brook spill over on to the land. The other tiny rivers near here just rise slowly and gently, but the Brook has been modified in times past to drain the fields more efficiently and therefore fills up more rapidly. I'm increasingly convinced that the farmers quite deliberately left the Moor to flood, so as to prevent flooding elsewhere. Yet another indication of how intimately people knew and understood their land.

As a result these fields, which are only a foot or two higher, are dry enough to work on, though more rainclouds are gathering to the south-west.

A little of the day's meagre supply of light fell on this old pipe which crosses Guilden Brook, right beside the road bridge. I noticed the other week how plant life was tenaciously colonising this unpromising site, so I took the opportunity to steal just a smidgen of the reflected light to make another picture. And speaking of "stealing".....

This naughty individual recently paid a visit to my neighbour's bird-feeders.

I'll be back with more posts as and when the weather improves and I have something to blog about.

Take care.

Saturday 11 January 2020

The Moon In January

This was the moon as she appeared last night from my backyard. That darkening on the lower right edge is a penumbral eclipse, caused by the edge of the earth's shadow creeping onto the surface of the moon. I was alerted to this event by a phone call from my brother and the weather was unusually co-operative, with crystal-clear skies.

The news media would have you know that January's full-moon is known as a Wolf Moon, being so called by the First Nations peoples of North America. I'd often wondered whether there was any real justification for these names, but never bothered to find out. The nature writer, Jim Crumley, is more tenacious than me and researched the names given by the various peoples in his book The Nature Of Winter. He found that every tribe had a different name for January's full-moon and only one of these had any connection with wolves.

There were certainly no wolves around as I shivered in my back yard last night.

Friday's Music arrives on Saturday this week. John Field was an Irish composer who found fame in Russia. It was he who devised and named the musical form, the Nocturne, which Chopin later developed further. Here is just one of his short, but perfectly formed, compositions.

If you enjoyed that then you'll find the entire album an absolute delight.

Take care.

Friday 3 January 2020

Wake Up To 2020

Time to shake off this post-Christmas lethargy and return to my neglected little blog. Here's my go-to wake-up music:

Six million hits on YouTube and quite a few of them must have been me! Just a little reminder, if any were needed, that music is supposed to be fun.

Now what have I been up to? Nothing as raucous as the music suggests, merely a few walks in the countryside....

That photo might make you think that we're suffering severe flooding on the flat lands of East Anglia, but that's how it's supposed to be at this time of year. Those are the "washes" alongside the river at Lakenheath Fen - land left to flood during the winter, which prevents flooding further downstream. I was standing on the floodbank, built to protect the land behind me. 

It's a winter wonderland for birds and, though you can see only a couple of Mute Swans and some loitering gulls, there were also Marsh Harriers, Great White Egrets, Little Egrets and several cheeky little Stonechats in attendance. But no Whooper Swans; they were all off feeding on the fields.

The same was true at Welney the following day: almost all of the winter swans were out gorging themselves on the waste from the potato harvest and didn't even bother to return for the 3:30 swan feed which the wildlife wardens carry out to entertain the paying customers.

Despite the relative lack of swans and the height of the floodwaters on the Ouse Washes, the warden carried out his duty. Those swans around the floating wheelbarrow are our resident Mute Swans, while just one Whooper Swan watches from behind. Mallards are willing volunteers to clear up any grain that hasn't yet sunk to the bottom and, when it does, the Pochards, a little diving duck, will plunge down and feed underwater.

As daylight failed the ghostly shapes of the Whoopers flew in to roost on the water. Just about impossible to photograph conventionally, though I managed to rescue the image above from some muddy-looking pixels. The trouble is the swans look black and, in this hemisphere at least, they should be dazzling white. Ah, an idea!

Mess about with a negative picture and you get the above image: the ghost-swans of Welney!

Flying swans like an artist's sketch.

Let's not get too carried away with photo-manipulation though, the natural scene had its charms too, even if that dark bank of cloud hid the expected sunset.

Then the bird-observatory's floodlights came on, illuminating the birds in the foreground. As darkness fell we made our way back across the bridge to the Visitor Centre.

I hope you like the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust's reserve at Welney, because my brother and I have taken out an annual membership, which almost certainly means we'll be back during the year.

When I recently published my calendar selection of the year's photographs, I received comments about the appearance of snowdrops in February. Here's what I saw in Melwood yesterday:

Yes, indeed. Snowdrops on the second of January. Not many, but snowdrops nevertheless. Not only that, but at Lakenheath Fen on December 23rd a Brimstone butterfly fluttered by. Presumably something had roused him from his winter hibernation. I wondered whether it would survive this unseasonal awakening, but, according our local butterfly correspondent, Brimstones can wake up and go back into hibernation several times during a winter.

Take care.