Thursday 26 December 2019

Peace on earth

Christmas Day in Orkney was a calm, bright affair. Occasional squalls moved slowly through, producing small patches of diffuse rainbow arcs, which were sadly way too ephemeral to photograph.

But the low Winter sun invigorated both the landscape and the inhabitants with its golden glow and... can I actually feel some warmth?!

From the front door, mid morning, the illumination and serenity were wonderful. Going for a walk was a no-brainer.

We pottered down the single track road, towards the old kirk by the shore, and yes, there was definitely some warmth to be felt from the star in the sky. We paused by some flooded fields to enjoy the reflections of the landscape and the Starlings carolling on the roof of the kirk.

There was not a wave to be heard as we gazed across Holm Sound. Redshank and Snipe called their alarms as we stopped by a low wall, but a small flock of Turnstones just carried on foraging through the seaweed on the tide line.

Our Lass remarked upon how the light was catching the lichen on the wall, and I took the hint, as I'm fairly useless at artful framing.

Now we were on the sunlit side of the old kirk, the plumage of the sole remaining Starling was alive with greens and purples, as the bird's jazzy song mingled in the air with the calls of Long-tailed Duck, Gadwall and Teal.

By the time we had walked up the Tieve Road, passed by Greenwall and were headed back to Tense Towers, our next view of the kirk was a beauty. In silhouette with, in the distance, the cliffs and headlands of South Ronaldsay.

And in the far distance, the lighthouse on the Pentland Skerries. Just look at those gorgeous retreating horizons, each a differently-hued grey. 😍

Tuesday 24 December 2019

The lights are on, but...

The gravel quietly crunched as I eased the van to a standstill. It felt very pleasant to be parking up at midday on Christmas Eve, contemplating a relaxing lunch, then tidying up any loose ends in slow time during the afternoon. Unpacking the van, my euphoria (which was just getting into its stride) tripped over its own shoelace as I rummaged through a rucksack, trying to find my free-standing torch. Hmmm, several screwdrivers, a pair of cutters, an invoice book and a couple of diaries... but no torch. Dang! I double checked the other box which I had had with me in the equipment room. There's was lots in that, but nothing illuminating. Oh... bother!

I had only been a little bit smug at knocking off early on Christmas Eve, but it jolly well served me right. 

At the back of my mind, I was pondering two facts:

1. Would the office where I had been working shut at 1pm for the festive period?
2. Would it be possible to find a direct dial number for the nearest desk to the equipment room?

These questions was answered quite quickly, as dialling an 0800 number gave a complete spiel of the firm's opening hours over the Christmas and New Year, but then the pleasantly-accented voice reeled off several options of buttons to press for various departments, none of which were the 'I'm an idiot and I've lost my torch" office.

Taking pot luck, I jabbed at '2' and when it was answered, I blurted out "I don't want to book anything, but I need to speak to Cynthia (not her real name) in the next room!"

Perhaps call centre staff are used to muppets like me phoning up, but the voice on the other end of the line was completely unfazed, simply putting me on hold whilst Cynthia was located, and then I was transferred through to her.

In short order, Cynthia had unlocked the equipment room where I'd been working, switched on the light and had a quick look around.

"I can't see anything, I'm afraid," she said. This at least reassured me that I wasn't going mad, as I flippin' knew I'd checked the room before I'd left. It may only have been a man look, but a big red torch usually does not escape detection.

"OK," I said, "In that case, please could you look around the back of the smaller equipment rack, as that's the only place I can think it might be."

Sure enough, there it was, still switched on and a shining example of how much of a pillock I am. Thankfully, the firm was going to be open all afternoon, so I had time to drive the twenty miles back there and sheepishly collect my torch from a grinning receptionist.

Honestly, and a bit topically, I'm wondering whether I could even be trusted to follow a big star in the sky.


Second Born went on a trip to London yesterday, a fact I only became aware of when she popped up on social media...

Sunday 22 December 2019

Sun, sea and sad

Tuesday 17th December 2019...

Just after dawn, on the island of Westray, a bright and calm day of unexpected Winter sunshine.

Wednesday 18th December 2019...

Lunchtime, investigating the dragonfly pools up Wee Fea on the island of Hoy. Ice and frost and an 'interesting' journey for the van.

Friday 20th December 2019...

After a 'lumpy' overnight ferry trip to Shetland, I arrived in Lerwick before dawn. The weather was not as benign as in Orkney, and although it is now milder, the damp air seems to extract all the heat from my body as soon as I step outside. Travelling around the town, I am constantly reminded that this is Mad Friday, with shoppers and commuters dashing to and fro in a soulless pursuit of frantic festiveness. The heavy clouds overhead mean that, even at midday, the atmosphere is dark and foreboding, typified by a trip to a supermarket where the aisles are full of jostling trolleys, whilst the car park and roads are seething with short-temperedness. As I navigate my way back to my car on foot, I notice that on a tiny patch of grass, surrounded on all sides by unforgiving tarmac, austere paving, growling cars, wobbling trolleys and determined humans, there is wildlife here. A single bird, a wader, is trying to ignore the melee and is busy searching the ground for food. It is a Turnstone, making itself as small and dull as possible to escape attention. I, along with the other shoppers and cars, pass within a few feet of it, and I know that if I stop to watch it, the bird will take fright and flee. I content myself with watching from the corner of my eye as I wander by, marvelling at the creature's bravery (or desperation) to look for food in such a desolate spot. As I join the traffic queue to exit the car park, I circumnavigate the patch of grass again, glimpsing once more the little bit of wildness bringing hope to a dystopian nightmare. In a weird sort of Pavlovian response, I reason that I must now find a cafe and some cake.

Saturday 21st December 2019...

Back home once more, the sun sets behind the rooftops of Hurtiso Farm, marking the southerly extent of its voyage along the western horizon. In the fading light of dusk, the mountains of Morven and Ben Klibreck are softly silhouetted.

Sunday 22nd December 2019...

Lunchtime, it's midday on Midwinter's Day. The low sunlight picks out features in the landscape. More s-oil-stice than solstice.

At this turning point of the year, may I take this opportunity to wish you all the best for festive frolics with family and friends.

Saturday 14 December 2019

Twelve photos

Well, we're nearing the end of 2019, so I thought I would have a bit of a review of my favourite wildlife photos for the year, cribbed from the blog and my Facebook page. There's twelve here, though not spread equally through the year, featuring birds, invertebrates and a wee bit of a mammal.

It is all a little self-indulgent, I will admit but, hey, I am not the sort of chap to hide in a fridge.

This year has had its highs and lows, its ups and downs, for many reasons, but wildlife always lifts my spirits.

Early Bumblebee (near Aberfeldy)

Spotted Flycatcher (near Aberfeldy)

Recently-emerged Emperor Moth (Deerness, Orkney)

White-tailed Bumblebee (Trumland Gardens, Rousay)

Bufftip Moth (Keltneyburn Nature Reserve)

Longhorn Beetle (Loch Fleet)

Brown Hare almost hidden in a wildflower meadow (Holm, Orkney)

Harvestman Spider (Tense Towers, Orkney)

Emerald Damselfly (Hoy, Orkney)

Common Blue Butterfly (Stromness, Orkney)

Swallow (Tense Towers, Orkney)

Whooper Swans (Vasa Loch, Shapinsay)

Tuesday 10 December 2019

A whirlwind tour

Our Lass and I have had a long weekend to visit family. Heading south on Thursday morning, the island of Flotta was reflected in the starboard engine spinner as we flew over Scapa Flow.

Then, as we waited to land in Inverness, we had several laps of the Moray Firth whilst three helicopters did some rotary wing shenanigans below us. We had lovely views of Chanonry Point, the Kessock Bridge and Fort George.

Inverness was a new airport for us. It appears to be having some upgrade work done, although just turning off all the easyJet announcements would have helped immeasurably. Honestly, we were treated to the full gamut of [and I'm paraphrasing here] "You plebs can wait, whilst the important folk get on", "OK, plebs, your turn now, but if your cabin luggage is too big or heavy, tough snit" and "Come on, Passenger So-and-so, you're late, hurry up or we're gonna go without you." All repeated umpteen times, at ear-splitting volume, in a less than silky smooth manner. Thankfully, the time between our Loganair flights was only an hour.

We made it down to East Midlands Airport on time only to discover that Second Born was just leaving home to pick us up. I think this was probably my fault, for not passing on details of a change of flight times. Not to worry, Our Lass and I hadn't had lunch, so we explored the delights of a Greggs outlet, sampling festively-themed savoury pasties, the much-vaunted veggie rolls and some sweet mince pies.

Then we were whisked down the M1 to see Second Born's latest home for the first time. As we arrived in the dark, we couldn't be sure, but daylight confirmed what we thought, the little estate was built on the site of a pub, The Leathern Bottle, which we used to drive past years ago. But her new home is oh so cosy and although the grass in the back garden is artificial, surrounding mature gardens provide plenty of nature interest (Our Lass and I were absorbing the heady delights of such exotic species as Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Grey Squirrels and Robins).

The following morning, I had a very Dad job to do. Whilst there was a newish-looking aerial in the loft, and it was securely mounted and pointing in the correct direction, there wasn't a signal at any of the TV points throughout the house. Hmmmm. There were loads of cables in the loft: four for satellite tv reception (not in use), four unterminated ones emanating from a huge multi-purpose face plate in the lounge (mains x 4, satellite x 2, terrestrial x2, Ethernet x 1), one from the aerial to nowhere and one from an amplifier to one of the bedrooms. 

It was straight forward enough to use some of the spare cable to patch the aerial to the amplifier input, then pick one of the four lounge cables and connect it to the amplifier output. However, this did not have the desired result of putting a picture on the television.


Photo courtesy of Second Born
I took my life in my hands and removed the huge front plate in the lounge. None of the four coaxial leads for satellite and terrestrial tv were attached, and looked like they never had been. Doh!

Once that was sorted, we needed a bit of relaxation, so went to purchase a Christmas tree, some outdoor clothing and many bras. These last items proved to be somewhat educational for me as I had previously assumed, in a work-related manner, that 'non-wired' meant WiFi. Apparently not.

Second Born then proceeded to decorate her tree, and my heart just melted when I saw this wee cutey!

The next day saw us heading northwards to Huddersfield to visit First Born. Here we are in SB's car, whizzing along the M1, past Little Linford Wood, the scene of a year's monthly blogging back in 2012.

Following another afternoon of clothes shopping, in the evening we all went to a nearby restaurant for a meal. Then talked Star Trek late into the night (well, late for me).

For the next leg of our trip, we had booked tickets for a train journey from Huddersfield to Middlesbrough. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the station on Sunday morning, it was to discover that our train was cancelled. We bundled ourselves onto a different train, which was headed in roughly the right direction, and made contact with my brother to see if he could intercept us somewhere along our new route.

Thankfully, he could, so we arrived in Middlesbrough just about at the same time that we would've done if things had gone to plan. After lunch, we visited my dad, then caught a taxi to a hotel next to Newcastle Airport, ready for our flight home the following morning.

I think that there were more folk looking after our plane than there were passengers to board it (fuel tanker not shown).

The journey was made interesting by the refusal of our electronic boarding cards (on various devices, in various formats) to be read by the scanners in Security, Duty Free or the departure gate. Oh how we laughed.

The final flight, from Aberdeen to Kirkwall, was full, such that the air stewardess had her work cut out to serve everyone tea and biscuits before it was time to land again.

We arrived home to a clear, still evening, with a hint of frost, but we knew we would be waking up to gale force winds and lashing rain. There was nothing for it, we locked the door, turned the heating up and made ourselves a hot toddy, before going to bed early to recover from our mad dashings hither, thither and yon.