Wednesday 29 January 2020

Purple aaahs

The weather forecast for Tuesday showed it to be the most favourable day to go birding, with an expected dry, but cold, morning, a sunny afternoon and little in the way of a breeze. So I arranged to meet up with Eagle-eyed M, to explore the beaches of Deerness for waders and wildfowl.

At dawn, the visibility was excellent, I could see snow on a few of the mountains of the Scottish mainland and, indeed, there was hardly a breath of wind. By the time we rendezvous'd, however, it was by turns raining, sleeting and snowing. Undeterred, though with the occasional chunter about meteorological inexactitude, we persevered with a walk along the shore of Newark Bay. The tide was most of the way in, which we assumed would make for poor birding, so spent most of our time looking across the flooded fields just inland, where ducks and waders were foraging in the mud and the murk.

Far to the south, there appeared to be some lighter sky, but it wasn't in any rush to visit East Mainland. We squelched on, through a carpet of thick seaweed thrown up onto the coastal path by recent storms, and spotting a few more ducks bobbing about on the gentle sea. After a while, we noticed that we were approaching a mixed flock of waders, which were spread out along the tide line, dodging incoming waves in their hunt for the freshest, tastiest morsels amongst yet more seaweed. They were mainly Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers, frantically searching for food and ignoring two entranced humans. Because it was nearly high tide, the birds were only a few feet away and seemingly unconcerned. As it was also calm, it was possible to hear a sound which I had not previously encountered, a multitude of Purple Sands burbling away to themselves. It was very reminiscent of Swallow twitterings, and it was only the persistent drizzle which stopped me from filming the lovely spectacle, for fear of ruining my camera.

Next stop was Sandside beach, where a similar thing was happening, but with added Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. Scanning the skies, we spotted a raptor headed our way, which resolved into a Sparrowhawk. When the hawk saw us, it broke off from its anticipated route along the tide line and flew out to sea a little way. Then it turned again to fly parallel to the shore, heading for the promontory at the far side of the bay. Half way there, it swooped down low to the water, and on reaching the rocks put up another flock of Purple Sands, only just missing out on snatching one very fortunate bird out of the air.

Driving back inland, we passed several fields with small flocks of Pink-footed Geese, all busy grazing. We went to a small wooded quarry, which can often contain birds sheltering from the weather, but all our searching produced just one Dunnock (which I missed). However, there were several fungi to puzzle over and some Snowdrops to gladden the heart. Later, local fungi expert L identified my photos as Scarlet Berry Truffle and Glistening Inkcap.

Returning to the car, we noticed a couple of finches, sat on a wire fence, just over the road. They flew off before we could positively ID them, but they then landed in a paddock which had been converted into a huge allotment. As we scanned through the ridges of soil, clumps of weeds and huge neeps, we realised that there was a large finch flock busy foraging: Linnet, Twite and Greenfinch. As vehicles passed, the flock flew to the shelter of a mature hedge, where there were also a couple of dozen Redwings. As if that wasn't pleasing enough, three Snipe shot out of the neep patch, whirring away with fast wing beats.

After lunch, the sun eventually broke through as promised, so we pottered around the loop from Tense Towers down to the Holm shore at St Nicholas Kirk. The brightness had encouraged several Brown Hares out into the open, there was a pair of Shovelers on the flooded field behind the kirk, and in the newly-extended cemetery, a small flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plover were resting and preening.

Offshore, the bay held a Great Northern Diver and a Goldeneye, and as the sun slowly slipped towards the horizon, the local Starling flock began to practise their pre-roost murmuration moves. As we were stood in front of the barns where the Starlings would eventually roost, after a while they flew towards us, the pulsating sphere morphing into a horizontal line, the feathered flurry making a gentle whoosh as it passed over our heads.

Monday 27 January 2020

Wildlife in the city

It's the end of January, so it must be Celtic Connections, the celtic folk music festival held in Glasgow each year. We've not attended the event since 2015, how the time has flown by, but for 2020 we were lured out of our island home by the prospect of a Peatbog Faeries gig. The flight from Kirkwall to Glasgow went smoothly, as did our bus transfer into the city centre, although staring out of the bus window for signs of wildlife only yielded gulls and feral pigeons (apologies to any Larusophiles reading this). However, upon arriving at our accommodation for the weekend, we discovered a rare American visitor perched on the wall. I think this is a Blue Jay?

Also sharing the apartment were Second Born and Dr Jelly, fellow folkies hoping for a fun-filled weekend. Friday night's gig was MĂ nran, ably supported by Band of Burns. 

Band of Burns, a unique collaboration of 12 international artists, taking inspiration from the works of Robert Burns
Their set was eclectic and very enjoyable, ending with a Turkish version of 'Charlie is my darling', including finger cymbals!

Manran, an energetic Scottish band celebrating the 10th anniversary of their supercharged traditional folk rock
Of additional interest for us was the band's new guitarist, Aidan Moodie of local duo Gnoss.

The following day brought an opportunity for some early morning photos from our sixth floor perch.

Dr Jelly suggested a short trip to Balloch, on the edge of Loch Lomond, so we set off for Queen's Street rail station. Here's the view across Platform 8 to Platform 9, featuring some city wildlife...

A walk around Balloch Country Park yielded several highlights, including Goosanders, a Treecreeper, a Little Grebe and several Goldcrests.



A woodland residence
 That evening, the gig was at the Barrowlands Ballroom. 

The support act were The Poozies, an all-female traditional folk band. They were absolutely sensational, an irreverent, energetic group of musicians on top of their game. And we will be keenly looking for opportunities to listen to them again.

Then it was time for the Peatbog Faeries, with their particular brand of celtic fusion.

For their final song, the Peatbogs invited the Poozies back to the stage, the ladies appearing in huge blonde wigs.

For the encore, headgear was swapped, the wigs being sported by the Peatbogs!

Saturday 18 January 2020

Neil Peart, 1952 - 2020

Neil Peart , who sadly passed away earlier this month, was the drummer and lyricist with the Canadian rock band Rush. The rhythms and beats of Neil's drumming were always interesting, there was always some little quirky percussive thing going on, but for me, his wordsmithing was of an even higher standard. Here was a guy who could seemingly pen verses on any topic in a thoughtful, meaningful way, whose rhymes were soothing on the ear, and which featured some clever puns.

Phrases, a couple of lines of a verse, often whole songs, would strike a chord on first hearing, or perhaps months and years down the line, when a new situation arose to confound an expectation and needed some serious thought. 

Through the early to mid Eighties, when Our Lass and I were courting, or engaged, and even for a year of marriage, we spent a lot of time apart due to... well, I guess you could call it 'our careers'. Often at different ends of the country, occasionally in different countries, our relationship was forged by 10p pieces and good, old-fashioned pen and paper. As in any long-distance relationship, things weren't necessarily easy, and a song that often kept me sane was this gentle ballad:

As a rather naive chap, I took most news at face value and didn't look too deeply into the background. A dawning awareness that stuff might not be as it seems was epitomised by a song which was probably about the 17th Century but... hmmmmm:

Much later in life, when a pair of risk-averse 50 year olds were trying to decide whether to leave the comfort of suburbia, the trappings of two reasonable salaries and a slow, steady decline into our dotage, or careen off on an adventure into island life with a reduced income, increased costs and horizontal weather, another tune sprang to mind:

[Apologies to Mark at this point, if he was expecting that one to be 'Subdivisions'. I couldn't put every song in the list!]

Devoted aficionados of Imperfect and Tense may recall an early 'Stuff On My Phone' post featuring Rush which I suppose means it's the track of theirs which I listen to most. Other tracks would perhaps have been more obvious musically, but the words of this one elevate it to that position:

A question. Am I allowed a 'Serendipitously' yet? I don't think I've had one so far in 2020... Serendipitously, once in Orkney, some songs which I had been listening to for over 30 years began to take on added resonance:

Neil had obviously taken the time to experience wide open vistas and elemental forces. I like to think he would've appreciated Orkney.

And there's a few verses of another song which hold special meaning now:

I wouldn't wish to give the impression that the Book of Tense is solely populated with Rush song lyrics as a guiding principle, but sometimes a line will lodge in the memory until such time as it is needed. With drumsticks and pen, Neil Peart certainly forged his creativity closer to the heart.

Monday 13 January 2020

Er... incoming!

Yesterday was a day of blustery showers, frequently of hail. A more organised personage may well have chosen to set up a time lapse experiment, certainly during the morning when the low sunlight was creating some lovely effects. Sadly, I did not.

However, betwixt writing the previous blogpost, trying to complete a jigsaw and catching up with missed tv programmes, I did manage to shuffle to the front door on a few occasions.

The below photos are crops from two panoramic sweeps, taken about ten minutes apart. The image quality isn't great as they were taken on my phone, which I was struggling to hold steady during a slow half-pirouette. Technically, there could've been a third image a bit later still, but that would've involved an absolute soaking.


Sunday 12 January 2020

Knickers and a twist

Now that the midwinter festivities are over, life is returning to normal. I'm sure that in many places, as at Tense Towers, 'normal' is a mixture of work and domestic chores, which seriously makes a dent in any opportunities for wildlife and cake.

Wednesday saw gales across the county, so my work was indoor admin (much safer than being up a ladder) but, before commencing that particular delight, there were some domestics to attend to. Having put a load of dirty laundry in the washing machine, I moved some clean clothes from the free-standing drying rack to the airing cupboard, then took some already aired clothes to our bedroom to be put away. Everything was going along nicely as per the usual script: play Mahjong with everyone's socks and hope that there's no odd ones left over; organise my knickers so that no two consecutive days are the same colour (too much info?); and grizzle continuously whilst rummaging through the wardrobes to find sufficient coat-hangers for trousers, blouses, shirts and tops. It's quite mindful in a way (assuming no odd socks) and is a neatly-contained task with a satisfying conclusion and no risk of any strange surprises.


For most chores at Tense Towers, Our Lass and I operate on a system based around task urgency, availability of personnel and number of snits given. In essence, if it doesn't need doing and/or no-one is around or can be bothered to do it, it doesn't get done. However, another consequence of the system is that we do tend to pitch in with most things eventually. It isn't exactly a 50/50 split and the spider protocol is constantly being re-written (I think the term for this is that the document is 'live', a fact whose irony is often lost upon the spider in question). So, there I was, with everyone's socks satisfyingly paired, in possession of sufficient coat-hangers to reduce grizzling to a minimum and with only Our Lass's knickers to put away.

Er... hang on a moment... I don't recognise this pair?! Hmmm, they aren't mine, but I'm pretty sure they're not Our Lass's either. Having checked the label, I realise I'm holding a pair of ladies knickers that aren't my wife's size, a situation which most definitely can be described as a strange surprise. I couldn't begin to remember when I last had hold of another lady's knickers. Should I phone Our Lass at work to confirm they're hers? Wait a minute, knickers are usually in sets, and this pair is very much on its own, in style and designer. Perhaps they were inadvertently picked up when we were south visiting relatives? [Carefully puts knickers down] Oh God, whose might they be? There were four generations of womanhood present for Hogmanay, and I can only rule out young V, who is all of eleven months old.

With rising panic, I try to decide whether to phone my sister-in-law instead, but running the likely conversation through my head, it doesn't seem like an option guaranteed to defuse the situation. Perhaps I should just put them away in Our Lass's knicker drawer and pretend I didn't notice? Let's face it, I'm a bloke and therefore not expected to pick up on such fine details. Hey, why am I feeling guilty? After all, I'm not the one with a new pair of knickers not bought by their partner. To be fair, we tend to purchase our own underwear, ever since the incident, a very long time ago, with the pair of knickers with four leg holes. [Blushes]

In the end, I bit the bullet and messaged Our Lass, asking about the pants puzzle and including an Embarrassed emoji. It turned out that they were a gift from said sister-in-law at New Year.


This tale actually followed hard on the heels of a recently-purchased bra where one of the shoulder straps has a half twist and is effectively a Moebius strip. If the thought of the words 'bra' and 'strip' in the same sentence makes you uncomfortable, please spare a thought for the wearer.

Someone else with their knickers in a twist this week has been Counter Terrorism Policing South East, who have produced a guide to inform police forces and government organisations about the threats from ideological extremism. In their infinite wisdom, the document's authors had included the environmental and climate campaign group Extinction Rebellion alongside violent and extremist organisations which are banned in the UK. The guide has now been pulled, saving Our Lass the dilemma of whether to report me to the authorities, as she would be obliged to do under the Prevent programme.

Sunday 5 January 2020


A belated Happy New Year to one and all, as life returns to what passes for normal on this particular planet. Bank balances, bathroom scales and hard-working livers ponder the madness of the festive season, whilst the rest of us contemplate whether it will be climate change or world war which will curtail our plans in 2020.

Our Lass and I ventured south for a few days to spend time with family. We travelled on New Year's Eve (Hogmanay), with an early crossing of the Pentland Firth, before a long drive down the A9 to Fife, stopping off at various places en route.

Duncansby Head lighthouse greeting the dawn
In Abernethy Forest, we visited the RSPB's Garten reserve (famous for its Ospreys in Summer) and I tried, unsuccessfully, to photograph some of the birds flitting about the feeding station.

Missed a Coal Tit, but scored a bonus Chaffinch

Finally! A Coal Tit

Exquisitely-focussed bit of ground and a blurry Crested Tit

Icy. One of the small lochans which we visit in Summer for its dragonfly diversity
Lunch on New Year's Day was a four generations affair from Our Lass's side of the family. Despite being the scruffiest person present, I was chuffed with this image as it didn't take long to set up, everyone was looking at the camera and no-one blinked!

After several days cooped up indoors, we were in need of some fresh air and exercise, so Our Lass and I visited the nearby Loch Leven national nature reserve.

A dapper Tree Sparrow
We returned to Orkney yesterday, arriving home about 8pm. In the all-too-brief moments of sunshine this morning, there was an amazing rainbow, although I couldn't photograph it in a single frame, and had to take a panoramic shot, before cropping out the extraneous bits.