11 April 2021

An inch of snow overnight, followed by a quick thaw.

April snow

Wild garlic, lesser celandines, and early bluebells in Hill House Wood.

I can’t remember the last time I saw snow and bluebells on the same day.

Bluebells

10 April 2021

Took Jen to visit her mum. With half an hour to kill while I waited, I headed up the hill to Crow Nest Wood with my snazzy birthday binoculars. Last time I walked up there, a couple of weeks ago, I heard the car-alarm call of a nuthatch. So I decided to sit on a rock and do a spot of nature waiting.

A nuthatch appeared within minutes. As raucous as ever, but it still took me a couple of minutes to locate the bird flitting up a silver birch. Blue back and russet underside, with a narrow bandit mask across the eyes. Striking little birds. I watched for a good 15 minutes as it chiselled violently into woody crevices with its stiletto beak, trying to prise out grubs. It seemed to be having a lot of success. It was then joined by a second nuthatch, that immediately and successfully begged for food. Some sort of courtship ritual, I assume.

Nuthatch
Nuthatch

9 April 2021

A walk to Blackstone Edge via the ‘Roman Road’. Bright sunlight with moody, dark clouds. Meadow pipits everywhere.

Blackstone Edge
Blackstone Edge (with hiker for scale)

As we reached the trig point near the summit, I heard the unmistakeable cronk of a raven, and looked up just in time to see it flipping upside-down mid-flight in the way they do. Some of my friends still think I’m winding them up about ravens flying upside-down. A raven cronking over Blackstone Edge—how gothic is that?

Raven
Raven over Blackstone Edge

I once saw Snowdonia from Blackstone Edge, but there was no chance of that with the sun descending to the west. Apparently, on a clear day, I might just have been able to make out the summit of Helvellyn in the Lake District, immediately to the right of the very visible Pendle Hill. No luck there, either. But I did spot Ingleborough and Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales. And my favourite trig point on my beloved Moor.

I really enjoyed our walk. We don’t visit Blackstone Edge all that often, but I’ll certainly try to make a point of rectifying that mistake.

8 April 2021

A blustery walk around Withens Clough reservoir. As we left the car park, we immediately spotted our first wheatear of the year flitting about on some tussocky rough ground in the way they do. In fact, that was how I knew it was a wheatear even before I could train my binoculars on it. Definitely one of my top-ten birds.

Nice views across the reservoir towards Stoodley Pike monument, cloud-shadows scudding across green hillside. At the far end of the reservoir, a pair of Canada geese, and a pair of goldeneyes. I’ve seen goldeneyes on the reservoir several times before. They’re not a species I’m particularly familiar with, so it’s always nice to see them.

Took some moody photos of the ruined farm and sycamores at the head of the reservoir, then headed back towards the car park to see if the wheatear was still around. He was. There was also a more photo-shy female. Lovely little birds.

Ruined farm, Withens Clough.
Ruined farm (Red Dikes—thanks, Paul Knights), Withens Clough
Male wheatear
Male wheatear

6 April 2021

A walk around the lanes on a crisp, clear, bright afternoon. As we headed along the farm track, I glanced up and spotted a buzzard hovering in the updraft above Little Moor. Buzzards have always been rare around here, in sheep country, but seem to have become a bit more common in recent years. I then spotted a second buzzard off to my left. The first soared down to join it while a kestrel hovered low near the ruined farmhouse, and a curlew burbled somewhere nearby.

Buzzard
Buzzard

A strong side-light, with dark, dramatic skies over the Moor. Then a hail shower scudding down the Hebden Valley far below. Within a minute, the shower spread, heading up the hillside towards us. The second half of our sunny stroll instantly turned into a stomp through a blizzard.

Hail shower heading down the Hebden Valley.
Hail shower heading down the Hebden Valley.

31 March 2021

An early evening walk around the lanes. Spring in full flow. My first butterflies of the year—a pair, checking each other out. A curlew burbling in our farmer friend’s field, then flying overhead en route to the Moor. Pussy willow at its fluffiest…

Pussy willow.

…but where, oh where, are the swallows?

Ah! There you are:

First swallow of the summer
First swallow of the summer

I know a single swallow doesn’t make a summer, but this one certainly made my March.

Nerdy in the extreme

Work-wise, I became severely bogged down in the latest chapter of my book earlier this month. I knew what I wanted to write about, and I’d done my research, but the various ideas and snippets of information I’d gathered simply refused to gel.

I draft everything I write in a format called Markdown. Markdown files are basically plain text files in which you can use a few simple conventions to indicate desired formatting. If, for example, you want some text in bold, you surround it by double asterisks **like this**. I really like Markdown because it doesn’t lock you into any particular proprietary app or file format. There are many different apps for editing plain text files, and I use an assortment of different ones depending on which particular project I’m working on, and whether I’m writing on my desktop Mac, my iPad, or my iPhone. Once you have a document written in Markdown, it’s a piece of cake to convert it into HTML for a blog post, or PDF or Microsoft Word or some other text format. This very article was drafted in Markdown and cut and pasted as HTML into my website content management system.

Over the years, I’ve amassed a large number of Markdown files containing, among other things, Journal entries, research notes, web clippings, article ideas, idle thoughts, strategic brainstorms, articles, newsletters, and drafts of my books. A couple of weeks ago, I used the excuse of having become bogged down to finally have a sort through all my old (and current) Markdown files and put them into some sort of order. To be honest, I was itching to try a new, free application I’ve been hearing good things about that was designed for this very purpose. It’s called Obsidian; it’s available on both Mac and Windows, with mobile versions available soon; and, half an hour after I’d loaded all my files into it, and made a few crude searches and replacements, I was a total convert.

I could bore you rigid with a full account of what I’ve been up to using Obsidian over the last couple of weeks, but there’s no way I could convey how excited I am by this remarkable piece of software. It seems purpose-built for the way I prefer to work. Suffice to say, if you’re a writer, and you make a lot of notes, I heartily recommend you check it out. There are plenty of YouTube videos to give you a feel for it.

I’m already finding plenty of links I didn’t realise existed between various ideas I’ve had, and various topics that interest me. Again, I’ll spare you the details. But I will show you a representation of my current Obsidian Markdown files, and how they all link together. The cluster near the bottom of the image represents the book I’m currently working on:

No, not Ultron versus Jarvis, but the organised chaos of my Markdown files (with labels turned off to keep things simple).

On Obsidian, this sort of image is completely interactive. I can click on the nodes (dots) representing each document to see what’s inside them, and to see which other documents they’re linked to. I can also filter and rearrange them on the screen to get a far better feel for how my own research and ideas fit together.

If you think the foregoing was nerdy in the extreme, just thank your lucky stars I didn’t start banging on about the Zettelkasten note-taking method, which Obsidian is designed to support. I’ve been looking into that too. It’s also incredibly powerful. If you’d like to know more, check out this book.

I could happily spend many more weeks and months tweaking my Obsidian Markdown files. In fact, I’m sure I shall: that’s the whole point of having them. But I do now at least have the skeleton of a very powerful notes management system in place. So, my real priority is to get back to my stalled chapter.

But with Obsidian and Zettelkasten to assist me, I’m now confident I’ll soon be back on the right track.

30 March 2021

Spring has finally returned. Having detected the briefest (three seconds) of distant burbles drifting down from the general direction of the Moor on 27th February, I enjoyed breakfast on 4th March accompanied by the repeated lilts of a curlew flying back and forth above the field in front of the house. It isn’t spring until the curlews have returned.

I haven’t seen any sign of any lapwings yet, but it surely won’t be long now. I’m already getting jittery for the return of my beloved swallows. The earliest I’ve ever seen them at our house was on my birthday (2nd April), but they’re usually at least a week or so after that. With the recent spell of good weather, though, there’s always the hope of an earlier return. I’m checking out the window every hour or so.

As we drove to the post office to pick up a newspaper the other weekend, Jen spotted four roe deer in one of the fields owned by our farmer friend. As we returned home, the deer bounded across the road in front of the car and headed up Little Moor towards the Moor proper. Even though we knew they were there, they were incredibly difficult to see, camouflaged as they were against the dark heather. Only their white tails gave them away.

We’ve continued to take our regular walks around the lanes, and I’ve taken a couple of slightly more strenuous walks on the far side of the valley while Jen was visiting her mum. Last Saturday, I spotted my first bumblebee of the year, buzzing back and forth low above a grassy bank in Crow Nest Wood. It was quite big. I’m guessing it was a queen looking for an old mouse-hole in which to establish a nest. Perhaps it should be called Bee Nest Wood.

New Road
The inappropriately named ‘New Road’ above Crow Nest Wood

28 February 2021

Late February seems to have decided it’s April. The last three days of my least favourite month have been glorious.

We managed to dry the bedsheets outside on Friday. Yesterday, I heard my first curlew of the year burbling across the fields from the general direction of the Moor. It only lasted for about three seconds, but it quite made my day. Later, on an errand into Hebden Bridge, I was surrounded by birdsong and budding trees. And, as I was lying in bed listening to the half-hearted dawn chorus this morning, I was thrilled to hear a curlew calling at length from the field in front of the house.

And, to cap it all, tomorrow is March. Things are starting to look up.

Pussy willow

No longer rocket science

Yesterday evening, I attended an excellent Zoom video lecture by author and conservationist Mark Cocker on the subject of crows. It was the latest in a series of lectures organised by The Last Tuesday Society. Cocker spoke for about an hour, then took questions from the online audience. I managed to sneak in a question of my own about ravens flipping upside-down while flying and cronking. There was also a Facebook page where attendees could hand out and discuss the presentation afterwards.

The talk was loosely based on Cocker’s wonderful book Crow Country. There were a lot of crow fans in the audience. Apparently, over 800 tickets had been sold for the event.

This was the latest in a small number of online, video-streamed events I’ve attended during lockdown. I’ve enjoyed them very much indeed. The fact that people who are, in effect, enthusiastic amateurs can now netcast live events to a global audience is pretty mind-blowing. It reminded me very much of the early, golden days of blogging. As an Information Systems strategist at the time, I confidently predicted blogging was about to take over the world. It did for a while, then the likes of Twitter and (especially) Facebook arrived to throw a spanner in the works. It could be argued the social media giants were simply the next, logical step in the blogging phenomenon, but I can’t help feeling they went out of their ways to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We’ve come a long way technically since I watched the events of 911 unfold on Dave Winer’s Scripting News blog, while all the traditional media websites crashed under the unexpected load. Back in those days, even having a blog was an immense technical challenge (a challenge I was determined to, and soon did, overcome). To save bandwidth and cut load times, images on blogs were either non-existent, low-definition, or tiny. Audio was pretty much unheard of. Video, a distant dream. Now we have podcasts, and video blogs, and live lecture series being published by people from their smart-phones and laptops.

This has to be a good thing, and I’m really glad enthusiastic amateurs are putting out such great content. But I still miss the days when blogging was going to take over the world. Before the likes of Twitter and Facebook turned up on the scene. They haven’t quite won yet, and I think the backlash will continue to build. I’ll keep using them, of course—primarily because that’s where most the people I want to hang out with hang out these days. But I’ll also stubbornly continue to put out (and shamelessly link to) stuff on my own websites, because that’s where I feel any original ‘content’ I generate rightly belongs. And because I’m pig-headed like that.

Get your own websites, people! It’s no longer rocket science.