24 August 2019

An oppressively hot day. Jen visited her mum in the afternoon, so I took Rosie the cocker spaniel for a walk in Crow Nest Wood. It was surprisingly dark under the dense beech foliage, and my eyes struggled to adjust between shade and bright sunlit patches.

Invasive Himalayan balsam had taken over the abandoned quarry. It was taller than me in some places. A pretty but troublesome plant. It grows so densely, nothing else stands much of a chance. To add insult to injury, the balsam also out-competes many of the local flora for pollinators.

Introduced to Britain from the eponymous Himalaya by Victorian plant hunters, the ornamental plant soon escaped our gardens and began to take over. Far from its natural enemies, it has thrived, although a pathogenic fungus that is believed only to attack the balsam has been released at a number of sites over recent years to study its effectiveness as a biological control.

What’s the worst that could happen?

22 August 2019

The wood-sorrel in the old brass jam-pan in our downstairs loo seems to have survived its latest haircut. Two or three times a year, it becomes so unruly, Jen has to hack it back to soil-level with the kitchen scissors. Other than that, and being watered once a week, it requires no care or maintenance. Definitely our kind of plant!

Jen brought the wood-sorrel from her old place, so it must be at least 25 years old by now. It doesn’t flower for as long as it used to, but we enjoy it as much for the shamrock-like leaves as the flowers.


18 August 2019

Several thuds as assorted birds flew into assorted windows around the house during the morning. None of them were fatal. They’re the same windows, unwashed in over a year, as were on the house yesterday, so I’ve no idea why flying into them should suddenly become so trendy today. From the shapes of the ghostly dust-patterns left on the kitchen window, I’m guessing two collared doves flew into it simultaneously. Either that, or one particularly stupid bird went back for seconds.

This afternoon, as Jen and I were reading in the living room, a wood pigeon crashed headlong into the window by the TV. The pigeon flew off totally unscathed, but we might need to get our sofa professionally cleaned.

13 August 2019

· Wirral ·

A walk along the edge of the Dee Marshes to Burton Point. The farmers were bringing the sheep in from the marsh for dipping. It was lovely to see sheepdogs in action, doing there thing. My farmer friend says there have to be an awful lot of sheep in a field for there to look like a lot. There certainly looked to be an awful lot in the post-dip field—two or three hundred, I estimated—with far more still in the dipping pens and out on the marsh. The marshes are owned by the RSPB. Having sheep graze the marsh apparently keeps the grass in better shape for the birds. The sheepdogs set to flight 30 or so pink-footed geese. There were a few little egrets flapping about too, but little else.

Moel Famau from Burton Marshes

After my walk, I relocated to Gayton Marshes to do some work in the car. Two teenage girls dragged their dogs down the cobbled ramp towards the marsh, but came running back moments later, clearly worried, shouting to their mum that they’d heard grass-snakes. It took me a few minutes to realise they’d almost certainly only heard grasshoppers, by which time they had disappeared to safer territory.

📷 More photos »

12 August 2019

The Inglorious Twelfth. As a reward to myself for hoovering the entire house, I headed up to the Moor this afternoon in ironic search of hen harriers. Needless to say, I didn’t see any.

The weather was better than forecast: occasionally sunny, with a strong but pleasant westerly breeze. I climbed to the trig point, then headed along the Edge, pausing to take photos of the rocks that appear on the cover of On the Moor. I used my graduated grey filter to reduce contrast between sky and land, and was pleased with the result. Note to self: I know they’re a tremendous faff, but use filters more often.

Sheep Stones Edge
Sheep Stones Edge

The heather was in bloom: less spectacular than I’d hoped, but impressive in places. Once again, I didn’t see any red grouse, which is very unusual. I assumed they must have had an eye on the calendar, and were keeping their heads low.

On my way down from the Edge, I encountered a bequadbiked gamekeeper. We exchanged pleasantries, having met once before a few years back. He told me there would be no shooting this season, as grouse numbers are down by 65%. He blamed this on last summer’s hot, dry spell seeing off more chicks than usual. He also condemned the recent ban on shooting crows under general licence, claiming curlew and grouse chicks were being eaten in droves. I opined that eating other species’ chicks is what carrion crows do. He agreed. He also mentioned he’d seen a lot of grouse nests this year, so was hopeful for next season.

Spotted a couple of swifts at Johnny House. I thought they’d all gone by now. Perhaps these were migrants from farther north, just passing through. Having checked the nearly dead tree was still only nearly dead, I headed down through the tormentil and heather.

Later, as I drove through Booth en route to Halifax, a roe buck trotted out of a gateway straight in front of my car, occasioning an emergency stop. It bounded off down a footpath, seemingly oblivious to its near-death encounter.

📷 More photos from my walk »

10 August 2019

A truly dreadful day of heavy driving rain. Jen spotted a male bullfinch on the bird table first thing this morning. Not being into birds, she didn’t know what it was, but she knew it was different. I’ll make a birder of her yet. We only get bullfinches a handful of times each year.

While Jen was gabbing with her mum mid-afternoon, I took Rosie the reluctant cocker spaniel for a short drag up the track. Rosie absolutely hates going out in the wet. Long trails of beech mast ran down either side of the track. Floodlines of sorts. The mast must have been washed down from Crow Nest Wood during one of the many recent deluges.

Can we please go home now?

8 August 2019

· Wirral ·

Woken at Dad’s at 05:30 by Molly the cocker spaniel barking downstairs. This is sometimes, but not always, a sign that she desperately needs to be let out into the garden. So I dragged myself out of bed, got dressed, and headed downstairs, only to find Molly excitedly waiting for me, her tail going 48 to the dozen, with one of her soft toys in her mouth. She just wanted to play. Molly is 12 years old; I am 54. So we played.

6 August 2019

The local jackdaws and rooks have begun congregating in large, acrobatic flocks. A few times each day, a couple of hundred birds fly past the house, en route to nowhere in particular, as far as I can tell. Seeing crows in large numbers is always a thrill—especially on windy days, when they swoop and interweave seemingly for the sheer joy of it.

In the unlikely event I’m wrong about reincarnation, I can think of far worse creatures to come back as than sociable corvids.