5 July 2020

A week of shower-dodging evening walks.

Ragwort has come into bloom alongside the foxgloves. Yellow and purple, a daring combination. The local horsey types make a habit of pulling up intolerable, horse-poisoning ragwort and dumping it at the side of the road. It’s a real shame: the insects seem to love it.

Ragwort and foxgloves

No barn owl sightings for a couple of days, thanks presumably to all the wind and rain we’ve been getting. Owls’ soft feathers are ideal for silent flight, but not very waterproof. The owl put in an appearance between squalls at around 21:30 this evening, quartering the field out front, hovering very low at one point, just inches above the tall grass. Jen and I are thrilled a barn owl has become a regular feature of our evenings’ entertainment.

As I was putting out the recycling last thing, there was a small, momentary break in the clouds to the south. The edges of the opening blazed with moonlight, although the moon itself remained hidden. In the middle of the opening, a planet shone. According to my astronomy app, it was either Saturn or Jupiter, both of which were close to the moon. My money was on Saturn.

30 June 2020

A lone lapwing tumbling over wet fields as I drove back home from the supermarket over the moors this morning. There have been even fewer of them this summer, although there seem to have been more curlews around.

As I unpacked the car, the weeds along the edges and down the middle of our driveway looked delightful in the wet. The purple selfheal is looking particularly magnificent at the moment. There are days when all the hard work we don’t put into weeding the drive really pays off.


27 June 2020

Having decided she needed to change where she was leaving food for the semi-feral cats living in her hay-loft, as her dogs were getting to it and it was attracting slugs to the back door, our farmer friend went to scout out suitable locations in the disused mistal beneath the hay loft. Uncharacteristically, her dogs, a young Staffordshire bull terrier and a Jack Russell, point-blank refused to accompany her. They seemed terrified of the mistal. When she slid open the door, she found out why: a huge badger was taking a kip in the old cast-iron bath that used to serve as a cattle-watering trough. She now suspects it hasn’t been the dogs eating all the cat food.

Took Rosie the extremely reluctant cocker spaniel for a short drag in Crow Nest Wood.

Crow Nest Wood

25 June 2020

A hot and sunny day. Walked down into Hebden Bridge through the woods to pick up a book from the Book Case. Took a nice photo of a carrion crow on the way back.

Carrion crow

Evening, 9pm, stood in the garden with camera at the ready, hoping for a barn owl. It passed by at the same time yesterday. Despite my scepticism, it actually turned up bang on cue, flying around the far edge of the field in front of the house. For a few exciting moments, it looked as if it was going to fly right over me, but, when it was about 30 metres away, it veered sharply downwards into the long grass and emerged a few seconds later with a hapless rodent in its left talon. It then made an immediate bee-line toward the outbuildings at the Farm.

Barn owl

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21 June 2020

With Jen working from home during the lockdown, I vacated the study and have been working on my Darwin book from the dining-room table for the last few months. On the whole, this new arrangement has worked better than expected. Not having my books immediately to hand is only a minor inconvenience, and my iPad with its ‘Smart Keyboard’ is a pretty good substitute for the iMac. True, I’ve recently begin to notice occasional neck-stiffness, presumably from not having my screen at eye-level, so I’ve started to take neck-flex breaks. But things are going OK.

One major distraction, however, has been the view into the garden. During the last few weeks in particular, there has been an awful lot of bird activity in the garden, now this year’s fledglings are out an about. The bird table has been constantly packed with squabbling finches and tits, and the bird-bath has seen plenty of action.

Robin in the birdbath

The presence of a pair of bullfinches has been particularly thrilling. They’re far from common in our garden, but usually put in some appearances around this time of year. The male, in particular, has been throwing his weight about at the bird table.

Male bullfinch

We even had a grey squirrel in the garden on Tuesday evening. A rarity around here. We were alerted to him by a loud banging on the window as he attacked his own reflection.

The weather has been less good than in May, so we haven’t been taking quite as many evening walks around the lanes. But we’re still keeping reasonably regular. The foxgloves are particularly magnificent at the moment. They feature in one of the chapters of my book.


5 June 2020

Some snippets from this week:

Tuesday: Spotted all three of the Yorkshire Dales’ Three Peaks from Oxenhope Moor as I was heading back from Sainsbury’s. They looked remarkably close for 50km away.

Wednesday: Finally some rain—albeit in the form of drizzle. May was the sunniest month (not just the sunniest May) on record. We could seriously do with some rain, but nothing too heavy: with all the sun-baked earth about, we don’t want heavy rainfall creating flash-floods. Drizzle will do just fine to loosen things up.

Thursday morning: A pair of blue tits feeding three fledglings at the bird table. Not, I think, from our nest box, unfortunately. For the first time ever, I’m pretty sure we haven’t had any birds nesting there this year.

Blue tit
Knackered parent

Thursday afternoon: A goldcrest in our fir tree! A garden first!

Thursday evening: A pleasant walk around the lanes. Later, a barn owl hunting over the field in front of our house once again. By the time I’d grabbed my camera, it had gone. Next time!

Stoodley Pike Monument from the Carr track
Stoodley Pike Monument from the Carr track

Today: A male bullfinch on our bird table: an infrequent but welcome visitor to our garden.

28 May 2020

Another late night last night, photographing the International Space Station. This time, I captured it flying over our garden. I took six separate 30-second exposures, using Photoshop to merge them into a single image.

International Space Station
The International Space Station passing over our garden
(composite photograph from six originals)

Heard a distant cuckoo while I was lying in bed waiting for the alarm to go off. I heard it again an hour later as I was opening the garage door.

On our evening walk, I took a nice photo of some swallows outside Carrs Farm.


I stepped on to the patio just before going to bed to take in the view. The barn owl flitted briefly across the field before disappearing over the houses opposite. It’s wonderful the owl has become such a regular feature in the neighbourhood.

27 May 2020

Up until one o’clock this morning taking and processing photos of the International Space Station passing over Hebden Bridge just before midnight. The resulting shot was a composite of two separate photos.

International Space Station
The International Space Station passing over Hebden Bridge
(composite photograph from two originals)

It was lovely being out in the dark. A tawny owl hooted nearby, bats flittered above the patio, and I was surprised to hear an awful lot of bees droning from the bushes.

25 May 2020

A beautiful new moon hung over Heptonstall in the twilight last night, with Venus glowing red off to its left. I grabbed a few hand-held photos, which turned out remarkably unblurry, bearing in mind I was using a long lens with a ridiculously slow shutter-speed of ⅙ of a second.

It was only while I was processing the photos this morning that I realised I’d also managed to bag Mercury (faint dot, just right of centre). My first ever definite sighting of Mercury—if spotting it the next day in a photograph counts.

New moon, Mercury and Venus setting over Heptonstall