Friday, 30 July 2010

Guests for Summer

A welcome new visitor this year was a heron. He would never stop but his flight path took him west to east directly over our house in the evenings. I caught my first glimpse of him in the spring. Maybe he was returning from a day on the reservoirs, or some river beyond our valley. Some have suggested he might be doing the rounds of the garden fish ponds in the area. Whichever it is I've enjoyed his flights into the sunset, his crazy legs dangling back behind him like half deployed landing gear.
Our tawny owls are joyously back in force this summer after their strange absence last year, as are the bats. Two years ago our bats had all but disappeared and there were a few at the back last year but this year they are front and back flitting back and forth. Maybe we are having a better year for their foodstuff, I've notice the moths seem to be up on last year. Are the butterflies doing better than last year? Hard to tell. This Ringlet seemed to be enjoying itself. We featured the Orange Tip earlier, and Debbie showed off her Speckled Wood, but we've also entertained Meadow Browns and many others of the common varieties. I'm still not convinced they are having as good a year as they should be.
One other visitor of note is the sparrowhawk. He was here last year and took a few birds from the front tree right under our noses but he really shocked us by upping his stakes and taking out a magpie, which he consumed in situ on the hillside surrounded by curious and seemingly unconcerned bunnies. We put up a new feeder on one of the back trees a few weeks ago which didn't remain hidden from his hawk eye for long. There is now the perfect imprint of a sparrowhawk on our patio windows. Following the line of where the feeder was hanging, he must have glided low down the hill, made his snatch from the feeder at speed, he's spotted daylight through the patio window through to the front window and tried to escape with the spoils by flying through our living room. The closed window put paid to that plan. Fortunately for the sparrowhawk and rather less fortunately for our sparrow colonies, there was no dead or comatose hawk sprawled on the patio when we investigated. Hopefully he'll think twice before trying that trick again.Lastly we have spied on occasion a cheeky face at the window. Three years ago this tree was constantly infested with feeder destroying cheeky faces but nowadays we are lucky (yes I did say lucky - that was not a typo) to see a brief visit from one of our old adversaries.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Not so blobby now

I few weeks ago Mark sent me some pictures of black and white amorphous blobs. The next day he wanted to know why I hadn't featured his Canada Geese on the blog. I told him he needed to get closer to the subjects or use a tripod. So here we have the results of my advice. No he didn't use a tripod, and no he didn't venture closer, but the obliging not-so-amorphous geese did come closer to him. Right up to his garden fence no less.

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag

The previous book in this series had me rummaging around in my cupboards to find my old stamp books, since the plot revolved around stamps and their collectors and admirers. Said rummaging also involved turning over some of my childhood memories connected to my own involvement in the hobby. See review of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. This time the old traditional puppet show takes centre stage instead and unfortunately I'm not a closet puppet collector with vintage Punch & Judy puppets lurking in my attic so I'll just have to review the book instead. Ok so maybe I had a Sooty hand puppet way back when but he was hardly the star of my toy cupboard. The star of this book though is the formidable Flavia De Luce. At nearly 12 years old she might not be in Sherlock Holmes' league but she's more than a match for the local country constabulary. I found myself imagining Flavia as a Wednesday Addams who has grown out of her spiders and turned her hand to chemistry and crime fighting. Many of the characters introduced in the first book are here again, including all the extraordinary De Luce's plus staff and a whole bunch more to fatten up the suspect list. The story starts quite slow as the stage is meticulously dressed with clues and red herrings and distractions of the Flavia kind but when the first body hits the ground things start moving. Flavia's detective work probably compares more with Columbo than Holmes, as she uses her youth to tease information from everyone she meets. Between the sleuthing there's always time for a few interludes of De Luce family disharmony. Alan Bradley's writing manages the difficult task of keeping things fun without sending his creations up. As a wise man once said, "That's the way to do it!!!"

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Sound of Vorms

"Be very, very quiet."
"Why's that Mr Jay?"
"I'm listening."
"What are you listening for, Mr Jay?"
"I'm listening for Vorms."
"Vorms? Oh.. worms. What do vorms sound like?"
"They sound..... tasty. Very tasty."

Monday, 12 July 2010

The Language of Bees

The 9th Mary Russell book, or alternatively, you could think of it as the first half of the 9th book as this one ends on a big TBC. I think the reason I held off on reading this one for a full year is because I had read that it was the first half of a two parter. Part two - The God in the Hive hit the UK bookshelves last week so I won't have any problems with forgetting half the plot in the interim.
Laurie R King doesn't disappoint very often and this is a very solid addition to the long running series. The last few books have been part of a globe trotting arc as Sherlock Holmes and Russell travel through Asia and America. If you are new to the series and can't get hold of the first book - 1994's The Beekeeper's Apprentice - then you could do worse than dipping your toe in the water with The Language of Bees. It's been nearly a half decade wait since the last book - the superb Locked Rooms from 2005, so there is a subtle element of a reboot here with Russell and her famous other half arriving back in Sussex and those canonical retirement plan bees. The arrival of a long lost son sends Holmes in search of a missing daughter-in-law and granddaughter, leaving Russell alone to contemplate a mystery within one of Sherlock's beehives. The author cleverly weaves bee mythology, psychology, symbolism and science throughout the twisty mysteries that wind through the southern English countryside, creaking under the weight of our Pagan monoliths and ancient sites of druidism. Add a cultural mix of Norse mythology and it's only fitting that the lead up to the deadly climax is preceded by a 'Valkyrie ride' north from London to the Orkney Islands aboard a rickety 1924 Bristol Tourer, piloted by a seemingly unreliable drunken pilot. Great stuff.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Friends on the hill

These are shots from our upper windows onto the back field. The horses have had a great week on the hill. My mum has decided that this mare in the coat is nearly ready to foal. I'll take her word for it as I haven't a clue about these sort of events. She took these pictures. I'm trying to get her used to digital cameras but she's not too impressed. Too small, she says, and you struggle to see what's on the screen when the sun is out.
Looks like our old chestnut friend is still in quest for apples, poking his head out of shot into a neighbour's garden.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Danger - Deep Water

This is Guide Reservoir. Not looking too full is it. So after all that wetness, snow and floods, the North West is having to implement a hosepipe ban. I know it has been a very dry spring but it seems a bit odd that we are already getting ready for water shortages.
These shots are actually taken from the back patio of a different sort of watering hole called The Willows. This pub is a relatively new addition to the small village of Guide on the southern edge of Blackburn, high on the hillside. There is another larger reservoir called Fishmoor Reservoir off to the right of this one, which looms above where I spent my school days at Blackamoor (recently demolished). I'd sit in a stuffy class room looking up at these reservoirs. Now all these years later I sit on a summer's day looking down at them, drinking my cider, wondering how much less water is in there than last time I looked. This area of Blackburn is quickly being swallowed up by more and more development, new roads and I just noticed that a Starbucks is now under construction.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Grin of the squirrel

Just when I thought we'd captured every cheeky squirrel face in the 'Squirrel's Book of Cheeky Faces' along comes another.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Duckling alert

Just a little addendum to how the duck family are getting on. In the last post I said there were about seven of the original eleven still surviving but they have since been spotted again. These shots are actually nearly two weeks after the last shots and the ducklings are much bigger. We counted ten ducklings.