Tuesday 28 March 2017

We're not at home to Mr Prickly

As hinted at by the blog name, on occasion, I am not without a small amount of tetchiness, with a side order of grump. I know, I know, it's unbelievable, eh? Because surely I'm the epitome of sweetness and light? OK, maybe not.

Some warm weather at the weekend was enough to turn a body's thoughts to contemplating the arrival of Spring and the imminent commencement of lawn mowing duties. But first there was the small task of checking the vast grassiness for weeds. To be fair, the whole garden is 'weeds', as nary a single seed of cultivated grass has been sown. This means that within the uncouth thatch is a riotous mixture of dock, buttercup, plantains, celandines and heaven knows what else. I am not too worried by this cosmopolitan assemblage as, apart from the areas left deliberately uncut, the mower blades seem to keep all in check. Apart from the thistles.

You see, the thistles have this thing going on where, for the first year they don't grow upwards, they grow outwards, producing a large but rather low rosette. Very symmetrical, very prickly, very below the radar of the mower.

So, in pleasant sunshine, I wandered to and fro, hither and thither, across the garden, searching for elusive thistles hiding away in the lengthening sward. Scarlet pimpernels they are not.

After a goodly while my eyes were beginning to ache but, eventually, me and my trusty trug trudged wearily back to the starting point, satisfied that a significant proportion of surreptitious spikiness had been rendered safe.

Coincidentally enough, although I was wearing stout gloves, I did not emerge from the encounter unscathed. Elusive Thistle = E.T. = Ouch!

Friday 24 March 2017

Private investigations

Yes, it's true, I have been in dire straits. Not 'in' Dire Straits, mind, that's a whole other kettle of fish.

Ever since we moved to our lowly hilltop, whenever the atmospheric conditions and the weather have allowed it, a mountain has been visible from our lounge window, over the Pentland Firth, on the Scottish mainland. Early mornings or late evenings often give the best views, as does snow at higher altitudes.

It looks to be a long way away. So far away.

For several years, I have deployed compasses and maps in an effort to identify this mountain. I have tried to calculate angles and lengths of lines using trigonometry. I have even 'driven' along likely Scottish roads in Google Streetview, hoping for a glimpse of topography that matches the shape we can occasionally see from our window. Online searches for others with a similar need to identify a distant bit of geography have proved equally fruitless, as has asking people I randomly meet.

Actually, that last bit's not true. Last year, whilst walking on a West Mainland beach, I bumped into one of Orkney's more well-known beachcombers. The conversation wandered far and wide, eventually pitching up on the subject of my troublesome mountain. Not a problem, says my acquaintance, I'll send you a link.

And he did. Though I am ashamed to admit that I forgot about it.

This week, however, we have been visited by Second Born. Yesterday she asked about all the various peedie islands we can see from Tense Towers. With the help of the OS map for Scapa Flow, I was able point out and name all the islands and some of their features. And this is when I remembered the mountain and the web link.

Here's a photo of it from the end of January, just after dawn...

In case you're wondering, it's the white pointy triangle, just to the right of Cantick Head lighthouse. On the extreme left of the photo, is Dunnet Head lighthouse on the Scottish mainland.

And here, after a bit of tinkering with parameters, is the internet's answer to my conundrum, courtesy of Ulrich Deuschle.

So, Ben Klibreck it is, in central Sutherland. All 962m height of it. At a range of 116km.


The panorama-creating programme can be found here. It's not too difficult to drive, after all, I managed it!

Wednesday 22 March 2017

Faces of Hoy

 A work trip to Hoy often requires an early start to the day. But, at the risk of missing the ferry, I had to stop to take a photograph of the snow-dusted hills in the distance, beyond the Hall of Clestrain in the foreground, and the island of Graemsay nestled in the middle.

Later, after the task was completed, this blooming Redcurrant bush, tucked away in a sheltered valley of the Mill Burn, caught my attention as I trundled along the road. When the verges are yellow with daffodils, Coltsfoot and Lesser celandine, the shock of pink always surprises me at this time of year.

Waiting for the ferry back to the Orkney mainland, just staring at this solid structure was giving me metal fatigue.

Sunday 19 March 2017

Ravening and ravishing in equal measure

When I threw back the curtains yesterday morning, the first thing I noticed was a pair of birds circling and gaining height. I didn't have my specs on, so couldn't immediately estimate distance or size.

Happily, this always leaves open the possibility of eagles rather than buzzards though, sadly, it usually results in gulls.

Once I'd donned my specs, it was obvious that the higher bird was larger and had a slower wingbeat, and also that both birds were still circling and gaining height. My overall impression was that the smaller one was trying really hard to mob the larger one, if only it could beat it in the climb. 

With my interest definitely piqued, I deployed bins to figure out whether we were dealing with raptors or gulls. As it turned out, it was neither, for I was now at the front door and could here the cronking of a Raven. To my astonishment, this was the smaller bird and, as I watched, it gave up the struggle to mob the larger bird, which was a Grey Heron.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a Heron flying that high, but it exited the climb with a leisurely drift northwards and a sense of a small victory won, as the Raven gave up the chase.

I could now take in the rest of the morning's view.

Over Scapa Flow, in the far distance, there was a dusting of snow on the tops of the higher Hoy hills. In the absence of even the slightest of breezes, the surface of the sea was like glass. It was quite idyllic, tempered only by the fact that, as often happens, it wasn't to last.

But, with a grand start to the day, I don't think either me or the heron cared.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Zoo of doom

The recent case of a Cumbrian safari park losing its licence, after the unacceptable losses of life of a member of staff and hundreds of animals, prompted UK media headlines along the lines of 'Zoo of doom'.

On the other side of the world, a zoo in Indonesia has long been labelled the 'Zoo of death' due to the appalling mistreatment of its animals.

Whether you agree with the principle of animals in enclosures as entertainment, or not (and I'm pretty firmly in the 'not' camp), within these supposedly tightly-controlled human-centric environments, we should be able to look after the welfare of a relatively small number of creatures.

And if we are unable to do so, what hope is there for wildlife in the wider world, the many species condemned to extinction by loss of habitat, pollution and our overconsumption?

Zoo of doom (photo courtesy of NASA)

Tuesday 14 March 2017

Seasonally disaffected

Just when you thought that I was mellowing in my old age...

Gentlemen of a certain vintage (and probably some ladies too, but I suspect mostly gentlemen) will remember the Top Trump card packs of the 1970s and 1980s. As I recall, their topics were most likely to interest boys, like military hardware and modes of transport, and the playground always seemed to have a group of lads competitively brandishing around numerical data. I was not immune to this behaviour.

The brand changed hands over the years and has moved with the times, such that there is now a wide variety of subjects with a much broader appeal. This is a good thing.

Recently, I was shown a modern pack, Awesome Animals, full of fascinating facts about incredible wildlife, all very inspirational and with the potential to propogate a love of Nature.

Within the pack there was a dragonfly! Yes, really! Oh, joy unconfined!


You just knew there was going to be a 'But...', didn't you?

Yes, dragonflies are awesome. Yes, they should be featured in a pack of cards about Awesome Animals. Yes, the informat... hang on a minute... oh, [expletive removed]!

We will leave aside my own rather biased opinion on odo Cuteness (somewhat higher than the stated 10%) and the science that shows dragonflies are both harmless to humans and useful in controlling midges (so a Mischief rating much lower than 72%).

However, I do take exception to the ID. The dragonfly in the photo would appear to be a Migrant Hawker, rather than an Emperor. And although the photo doesn't show the insect's abdomen in sharp focus, I'm willing to wager that Eve is a bloke. I don't have a problem with blokes called Eve, to be honest, but I would question the need to give another name to something that is already called Aeshna mixta. So, if a humanised name was required, perhaps Mick would have been a better option?

Ah well, only 71 days to dragonfly season...

Monday 13 March 2017

Lightening the load

A couple of months ago, I hit upon the idea of occasionally blogging a photograph of the sun setting on the western horizon, taken from our front door. I didn't have a fixed plan of how frequently that 'occasionally' might be, but thought it likely to be every two or three weeks. Perhaps.

As things have turned out, it's taken two months for me to be at home, at the correct time, with the appropriate meteorological conditions. So, a very unfixed plan, indeed!

Here, again, is the image from 7th January, at 15.30...

to compare with the one from 11th March, at 18.00.

The lengthening daylight is making its presence felt now. Happy happy joy joy.

Sunday 12 March 2017

Kirk to enterprise

The old church down by the shore, St Nicholas' Kirk, often features in these pages. It is on our 'regular' route, whether we're pottering and nature watching or pacing and burning some calories. Usually the former. 

Yesterday afternoon, I noticed that the day had become very Spring-like, with warm sunshine and the gentlest of breezes. I know! So a wander down the hill was pretty much mandatory.

The roadside verges were showing signs of the approach of the Golden Era that is Spring in Orkney - daffodils by any habitation, Lesser Celandine in the ditches, Coltsfoot in the rough grass and Marsh Marigold spreading from ditches to wet pasture. I pondered that it would've been Mum's birthday today and she would have very much approved of this floral awakening.

When I arrived at the shore, the tang of rotting seaweed mingled with the shrill calls of numerous pipits, as they gorged on flies stirred to life by the sun's warmth. The old kirk no longer has a congregation, although no-one seems to have told the Starlings. Instead, a local group of volunteers are restoring the building and hope to create a heritage centre for the area.

By chance, yesterday, I also discovered that the kirk has its own blog and I have added a link to the relevant sidebar on this page.

Thursday 9 March 2017

Help from an unexpected quarter

It's been a while since the kitchen sink has put in an appearance on Imperfect and Tense, see here and here, but the current occasion does not signify any kind of milestone. Our Lass has popped down to Aberdeen for a few days, so my washing up duties leave little room for conversation about local or global happenings. 

Well, that's not strictly true because, a few weeks' ago, a spider took up residence in the corner of the kitchen window sill. Thinking back, I recall it was whilst I was listening to a cricket commentary on the radio, more intent upon the highs and lows of an English batting performance, rather than my healthy arachnophobia. The spider spent ages negotiating the cliff face of the kitchen wall before rappelling down the window frame and discovering a small hidey hole. And he/she is still there.

Although it's a stretch of the imagination, the upshot is that, technically, I'm not talking to myself. And another four pairs of eyes are handy for noticing if I've missed a bit of stubborn food detritus on the porridge pan.

Saturday 4 March 2017

Wild things

This week was book-ended by two wonderful Spring-like days, with blue skies, light breezes and drystane-dyke-to-drystane-dyke sunshine. In between Monday and Friday, it wasn't so pleasant, just to remind us that Winter is not yet ready to release the land from its cold iron grip.

Yesterday (Friday) morning, an open window allowed birdsong to radiate into our bedroom from the garden, as a Wren hopped and flitted from perch to perch, there atop a gate, here on a dyke wall, as he claimed a territory and searched for a mate. This high energy performance, always a wonder from such a small bundle of feathers, heightened the sense of anticipation of a season returning and the promise of life anew.

It also reminded me that on Monday, on North Ronaldsay, I had listened to another Wren. One with a distinctive island accent, slightly slower of song as if Time itself had less sway in such an idyllic setting. Or perhaps living on a small island encourages free thinking and a jazz interpretation of the world? Whatever the reason, the song oozed over the landscape, accompanied by golden light from a low February sun. Honey for the soul.

Wednesday 1 March 2017