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Preview: The perambulations of Barkfoot

The perambulations of Barkfoot

Updated: 2015-09-16T22:41:30.955-07:00


Trains, Planes, but no Automobiles...


(image) It was a relief to see some blue sky at last. It seemed that the interminable grey gloom of overcast skies had hung over us for weeks. Today the sun shone, the moon was just a stretch away, and the scent of spring was in the air.

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The day could not to be wasted. I took a stroll around some favourite haunts at Chasewater.
The reservoir has been drained to carry out some work on the dam, but the springs that feed the waters ensured that there were still ponds sufficient for the wildlife to do what wildlife does.

(image) I accidentally spooked a Stag out of a belt of trees. While it was out in the open I took the opportunity to grab a few snaps. Typical... I get it all lined up, in focus, and he goes and closes his eyes!

(image) The two Stags held an uneasy truce, occasionally sparring, but also cooperating, taking it in turns to keep an eye out while the other grazed.

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It amazes me how such large animals generally manage to keep themselves undiscovered in such a populated area. They'll stand motionless in a clump of trees while walkers pass by totally unaware of their presence.

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The lady driver of the passing steam train did spot them from her elevated position and signalled excitedly to me. A blast of the whistle had them running for the horizon, and I headed for home too...

Stunt Budgie gets a Bath Buddy...


(image) Budgie was happy enough, glad to be rescued from the dangerous outside world in which she was found, but sometimes the humans were out for a good part of the day and life could get a bit dull...

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She would try and occupy herself as best she could, practising stunts on the top of her cage, but she really needed a partner in crime.

(image) So budgie has got a new friend to keep her company, and get up to all sorts of mischief while the humans aren't watching!

(image) Of course the new budgie hasn't had the freedom to fly around until now, and so needs to build up her fitness and strength. Blue budgie was quick to show her some 'warm up' exercises.

(image) Soon enough they were ready to try out a few synchronized manoeuvres.

(image) Green budgie has got the hang of this new fangled flying malarkey, and can out run a guy with a camera without much problem.

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In fact they've become such good friends that they are happy sharing a bath together...

Air Ambulance...


Resting up with a sniffly cold, my afternoon snooze was abruptly interrupted with some loud drilling noises from the workmen next door. I turned over and pressed my ear deep into the pillow trying to block out the infernal racket. The irritating buzzing continued, if anything it was getting louder. What on earth were they doing?!I glared out the window only to see the normally busy road deserted... title="YouTube video player" height="255" src="" frameborder="0" width="400">I rushed outside as I realised that what I thought was drilling was a helicopter circling very low. It was the air ambulance looking for a spot to land. title="YouTube video player" height="255" src="" frameborder="0" width="400">After a perilous hover, slotting itself between telephone lines, it must have been a relief to the pilot to be safely on the ground, as the gas turbine engines whined to a halt. With the rotors at a standstill, the crew sprung into a calm, but efficient routine. The casualty was being treated in a waiting ambulance, as the helicopter was prepared. A spine board was used to safely carry out the transfer from stretcher to air ambulance. As far as I could ascertain, a car had been in collision with a female pedestrian. There was damage to the bonnet and windscreen, as well as an ominous dent high up on the A-pillar. Ironically, dangling from the rear view mirror was a tag in support of the Midlands Air Ambulance. The co-pilot checked the take off area, while the police ushered onlookers to a safe distance. title="YouTube video player" height="255" src="" frameborder="0" width="400">The gas turbines wound into life, while the sound of the blades rose to a deafening roar. Hesitantly the impressive machine hauled itself into the air, before gaining its grace and soaring off into the sky. There was a small fleet of unmarked police cars (including these two regular BMWs) that had needlessly turned up. There were more than enough patrol cars to carry out all duties, and sitting there for nearly an hour was a poor use of resources. The forensic collision investigation unit were very thorough, the scene measured, searched and photographed.Thank goodness for the air ambulance. I will be putting some money in their donation box again this week...[...]

Railway Journeys... Destination, Nowhere!


(image) It was nice to be out walking in Cannock Chase. The wind was blowing a gale, but it was mild. High up on the hill, surrounded by forest, you could see for miles around.

(image) In a large clearing I came to a railway level crossing. It seemed odd finding it up on the crest of a steep sided hill. Not where you would expect to find a railway at all.

(image) Confident that there wasn't a train due, I stood on the tracks to take a photo.

(image) There was something fishy about this. The lines didn't go anywhere.

(image) There wasn't even a road to warrant the need for a crossing on the imaginary railway. To top it, there were overhead power lines that also went nowhere.... and a junction box... emergency telephones... signage. There is no road, railway, station, or anything on the top of this deserted hill, there never has been, and there are no plans to build any. What the hell is going on?!... Maybe I imagined it all...

Tiny Tots Teatime Toytime Time...


You know what it's like when the chair feels oh so comfy, but you really need a cup of tea? You'd do anything to get someone to go and make you a nice cuppa. Problem is, everyone else feels the same way, and that's when the arguments start...Who's making the tea? Now, thanks to the wonderment of modern technology and the clever wizardry of a good friends programming skills, worry no more. Simply click on your free to download application... "Who's Making the Tea?"Just enter the names of the disputing tea buddies, and then select one of two entertaining ways to decide who's putting that kettle on. The 'Pointer of Misfortune' will keep you on the edge of your seat, making you feel all the more comfy when you realise it's someone elses turn to serve the beverages.Occasionally the needle of doom will fall on 'Respin'. The rising anticipation will make your mouth turn drier, but the tea taste all the sweeter! Trust your luck to the turn of a card. Will you be 'safe' or will the kettle whistle call you to tea service?This fun application with its wacky music is absolutely free to download. There are no hidden nasties to haunt your computer, just good honest fun. Simply CLICK HERE to visit "Proper Bostin Games" and get your copy now![...]

'Baby' Range Rover out playing in the snow!...


(image) It was snowing heavily, and I was running late for an appointment when this car caught my eye.

(image) I hastily swung into a car park to take some snaps. It was some way off and the falling snow didn't help getting a clear image.

(image) Heavily disguised, this is a prototype of the new 'baby' Range Rover, the Evoque due to go on sale in summer 2011. It's a handsome looking vehicle despite the camouflage. I'll certainly be looking in the usual places to see if I can get some better photos...

The Dippy Digit Diaries...


(image) Mr Finger had been acting a little strange of late. Hanging around with other digits to 'flick the Vs', poking things that he shouldn't, but we never expected this. Luckily he's made a full recovery, and with the help of his close friend, Tom Thumb he's getting to grips with things...

Unlucky Buck...


With the Fallow rut intensifying, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with my attempts to get some good shots of the larger bucks. By the time they moved from the less accessible woodland onto the heath, the sun was beginning to set and the light fail. In the night under pale moonlight, it was relatively easy to get close, but there really wasn't enough light for a clear photo. I'd have to come back the next day.By the time I arrived at Cannock Chase it was already early afternoon. The weather wasn't playing ball, any brief moments of sun were quickly followed by bouts of grey cloud laden gloom and spitty rain. This didn't seem to bother the rutting deer who were being very vocal, bellowing loudly in the trees.You'll have to turn the volume up on these videos as the soundtrack is a little quiet but, crucial. The larger buck were in the dense coniferous forests at the usual rutting grounds, which they use year after year. Most were difficult to get a good view of. I neither wanted to unnecessarily disturb them, or be mauled by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. After a few uninspiring shots through the undergrowth, I decided to take a break, put my hammock up in the trees and have lunch. Fully rested, I stood to pack the hammock into my rucksack. As I turned there was a herd of deer right behind me. I froze, they froze... slowly I reached for my camera, they scattered, melting into the forest!High up on a hill, the sound of clashing antlers echoed across from the next valley. Torn between hurrying and moving stealthily I made my way down the steep slippery track. Two large bucks were fighting in the bracken. A smaller buck decided to take advantage of the vacant plot strutting his stuff and bellowing, but was off in a flash as soon as another much larger buck arrived to investigate the fuss.Trying to capture the action with my camera was difficult. The power of these two creatures as they pushed and shoved was amazing. Just trying to keep your footing or walk through the tough dry bracken is hard enough, but they were ripping their way through it as if it wasn't there. The noise of antler upon antler was surprisingly loud. After a good 5 minutes or more of battling the bucks broke apart. The bracken parted as a huge buck came crashing and thundering down the slope, straight towards me... Aaargh!Fiddling with the zoom on my camera while checking my potential escape route resulted in a clumsy shot. Luckily the deer spotted me at the last moment and turned off to one side. He looked exhausted, dejected, panting, with the remnants of foliage ripped from the ground hanging from his antlers. I felt sorry for him, he wasn't having a good day.[...]

Chasing Fire at Chasewater...


It was meant to be a peaceful trip to Chasewater, a local nature reserve. On the way I heard sirens. Behind me a fire engine was speeding along, blue lights flashing. It turned off down a side road and I thought nothing more of it until I noticed the plume of smoke. There was a good view up on the high bridge above the toll motorway, from there I found a footpath so that I could get a closer look. The flames were fierce, crackling loudly. I glanced into the nearby stables, but thankfully they were empty. The fire crew still hadn't arrived and the flames were starting to spread. There wasn't much I could do to help. The first of three fire tenders pulled into the paddock. I was impressed out how quickly they were out with the hose and tackling the blaze, just seconds. The initial flames were extinguished rapidly but kept on reigniting. It took quite a bit to douse it completely. Clouds of steam and smoke engulfed the fire fighters. They were very thorough, taking time to cool everything down as they didn't know whether there were gas canisters involved. With the fire quelled, the crew took a brief breather. It looked from the debris to be a caravan that had been destroyed, setting fire to other equipment around it.I never found out whether it was a deliberate fire, but locals told me there had been other fires in the area recently, so who knows...[...]

Stag Does...


Following my previous experiences of the Fallow deer rut, I decided that I'd like to try and find some Red deer. They're not nearly as common as the Fallow deer, but I'd heard that there were some small herds to be found just a few miles from where I live. I discovered plenty of tracks new and old, so I knew they were about. The rain lashed down and after walking miles a cold wind picked up causing a soul destroying chill. I'd just about given up on finding them when, on the far side of some railway lines they trotted out in front of me. At first they were nervous, ushering the younger ones back into the cover of the scrub. Faining disinterest, while enthusing over some grass, I convinced them that I too was a harmless grazing animal. For a moment I thought that there was a Stag in the group, until I realised that one of the Does was standing in front of a couple of conveniently positioned branches! The mothers and their offspring were very affectionate to one another, constantly nuzzling and showing attention. The clouds lifted, the rain stopped. More deer emerged from the trees. They seemed remarkably relaxed as I took their pictures. Some were even curious. Eventually they began to move off. A couple of last glances... ... at the strange new herbivore on the other side of the tracks.An inquisitive gallery of faces peer back at me before wandering off. Please ignore what the one on the left is doing!Astounding how such a large animal simply disappears in the tall grass...[...]

Nut in a Rut...


It's that time of year again, when the Fallow Deer begin to rut. Not wishing to miss out on this fabulous spectacle, I headed off to the forest in search of these elusive, beautiful creatures. I walked the woods for hours before a head poked up from some bracken. Believing she was invisible just so long as she remained still, she was a little surprised when I took her photograph. It seemed I wasn't as dangerous as I first appeared. Some inquisitive faces peered from around a tree, interested to see this stranger in their woods. The juvenile bucks were more bold... ...not as afraid to satisfy their curiosity. A young Stag turned up. This was his harem and they rallied to attention, taking his lead and following him deeper into the sanctuary of the denser woodland. After much posturing, and careful studying, I was deemed 'mostly harmless'.The Does and the young bucks were allowed to return to the outskirts of the trees where the stranger lurked, in order to feast on the acorns that scattered the forest floor. Eventually they relaxed, realising that I meant no harm. I became the new entertainment to sit and watch. These were the smaller harems ruled by the lower ranking Stags. To find the large mature Stags I would have to venture into the depths of the dark woods where sunbeams were the only source of light.After some time a black Stag emerged from the shadows. It appeared to be alone, foraging for greens in the pools of sun between the trees. In a blink of an eye it was gone. As the sun dipped, I crossed the cold shade of a steep sided valley, rising to summit some open ground alongside a quarry. The noise of the machinery in the distance afforded me some cover for my heavy footsteps as I crept to observe another Stag in the distance.He looked content grazing with his hard won harem. Feeling slightly vulnerable out on the open ground, I backed away from this powerful animal, as they can be quite aggressive during the rutting season. Retreating to what I thought would be the refuge of a shady, and now increasingly dark deciduous wood, I soon found myself in a battleground. A stag crashed through the bracken bellowing loudly, while a short way off but just out of sight, the sound of antlers clashing together only sought to reinforce the thought that I was 'definitely in the wrong place'!!! I backed away, but the stag made it clear that he was not happy. Hastily I crashed my way through the tangle of undergrowth along the ill defined narrow deer paths trying to exit the area where it now became apparent that the rutting platforms lay. The stag shadowed me at a distance always seeking the higher ground. I tried to keep calm. "Stags are no more dangerous than, say a bull" I thought to myself. "Well maybe a bull that can run 30mph, jump over 10 feet, and has a rack full of butchers knives on its head"... I didn't feel comforted. Eventually I reached the edge of the woods. The Stag gave me a 'don't come back' glare as it turned back. Phew! Out on the heath it quickly became dark. With my camera on a tripod, I entertained myself taking some long exposure pictures in the dark. I cold hear the rutting bellows of stags in the darkness, and soon came to realise that they were getting closer. In fact they were all around me. Thankful for my new torch, I scoured the darkness, nothing to be seen. I was safe enough, they wouldn't be interested in me, would they? It was then that it occurred to me that I was dressed in brown camo, making my way through the heather, holding an open tripod above my head... looking to all the world like a rival Stag....Aaargh! There was only one course of action in a situation such as this. Run away like a little girl, my torch windmilling wildly... Run away, run away!!!! [...]

Watch where you sit...


There's been some really rainy days recently, it seems autumn has struck with a vengeance. As you can see I've occupied myself as best I can on the wetter days, playing with matches in the house. At last a sunny day, and immediately I was outside with my camera snapping anything that got in my way. I decided to go to Sutton Park and look for deer tracks. A Red stag was found wandering the city streets last week. It was captured and released in the park. Little Muntjacs leave their prints all over the place, but there is rarely anything larger. The smooth, wet sand is ideal for preserving tracks. I searched all the likely places for deer to hang out, choosing to concentrate on the less visited areas. Then, in the quiet of a deserted wood, a noise of something large making its way through the foliage. I froze, camera at the ready... It was one of the Exmoor ponies curious to see who was trespassing in their patch. My legs were tired and my throat dry. It was time for my flask of coffee. I found a quiet, open glade and made myself comfortable on a stretch of dry stones. It was nice to sit in the sun. 'Poop', 'BeeePoop'!!! What was that?...I found myself somewhere more peaceful to finish my coffee. I'll have to find the Stag another day.For now I'm happy watching the diamonds dance on the water.[...]

Alien Invaders!...


They hide amongst us, still, and unnoticed... Insidiously multiplying, their alien pods spreading their seed. Soon the brook is obscured by their masses, obliterating all other plants in their way. The honeybees tend their blooms, unaware of their part in this alien invasion. The Himalayan Balsam seducing them with its pretty pretty flowers. Pollen on the bees back stains them white with the mark of the collaborator. The snails are on our side, eating as much as they can, but can so few make a difference against so many?How could the other plants compete against such a weapon of mass dispersion? Even at x8 slower the explosive pods burst in the blink of an eye.Slowed x16, their ballistic power is apparent, with a range of several metres.Alien technology developed over millenniums have overpowered the innocent inhabitants of the humble British waterways. (slowed x33) The river banks are littered with the shrapnel of this silently raging war. "Your country(side) needs you"... Stop the alien invasion![...]

'Come Fly with me...'


Judging from the front of my car, there's a distinct lack of insects this year. Normally the windscreen would be plastered with corpses after a high speed run. Maybe it was the harsh winter we had. There are some exceptions to this lack of population. Aphids have done well, and also Hoverflies. (Scaeva Pyrastri) I love these little guys. Lovely, harmless critters, that don't sting or bite, even though they pretend to be wasps and bees. There's an incredible number of varieties, and identifying the subtle differences between them has proved difficult.My favourite thing about them, are their flying skills. You can really appreciate the accuracy of their hovering with some high speed video shots...Slowed down x8, their wings are still a blur.Bumble bees are renowned for their fast wing beat (120-250 beats per second). I had to shoot this high speed video at 1000 frames per second (slowed x33) in order to capture the wing movement, and yet Hoverflies are even faster, with a wingbeat of 150-300 beats per second! They are beautiful insects if given a second look. Some pretend to be solitary wasps like this Episyrphus Balteatus. The giveaway is the way the hold their wings at rest. Hoverflies hold them straight out, while real wasps tuck them along their body. Wasps operate in a tight colony and need to move alongside others without clashing wings. This Hoverfly is often called a Dronefly (Eristalis Tenax) because it mimics a drone Honey bee. I think they look kind of cute closeup with their fluffy 'trunk'.It is the season to go Hoverfly watching... coming to a flower near you![...]

Lily Pads and Paddles...


Some stretches of water just ask to be paddled. A raft of waterlilies entice you under the cast iron bridge, a gateway to be explored. The Anglesey Branch Canal links the large lake at Chasewater (used for sailing and water skying) to the Wryley and Essington. This was once a polluted, industrial transport canal surrounded by coal mines. Intriguing bits of brickwork, heavy metal fixings, and rusted chutes to load the barges with coal still remain, but are now softened by nature. The lake at Chasewater is fed by springs. It's this water that feeds the canal and has purged it of pollutants. The lack of narrowboat traffic on this stretch means that the water is lovely and clear.Huge Carp patrol the banks of weed, although they quickly disappeared as soon as I got my camera into the water... typical.The canal terminates in a large basin. The shallow banks make it easy to haul up and find a grassy knoll on which to eat your sandwiches.On the return trip the water lilies made excellent little tables to put your coffee cup down onto. It may at first seem like a clever idea to pop your car keys on one to take a silly photo, but when your kayak drifts away, you quickly realise what an idiot you are. Every time I tried to paddle back to retrieve them the wake from my boat threatened to sink the lily pad. Oh dear!Never mind, I have a cunning plan...[...]

Cars in the Park...


Lichfield city held a car show at the weekend, and as a bonus, this year it was free!There were acres of static car displays, ranging from this humble little car for doing the shopping.... ... to a more exotic ex-rally Ford RS 200 (drool)Fancy, shiny cars parked in rows are all well and good, but this sort of machinery is best experienced in action. To my glee, there was an arena set aside for some petrol burning, larking about. There was a good variety of off-roaders. This was one of the specialist 4x4s. Four wheel steering and full active hydraulic suspension, meant there wasn't much that could trip it up. "Did you feel a bump dear?"... "Yes, I think we may have run over the bungalow again."The new speed bumps put in by the council didn't seem to have any effect.My favourites were the mega fast 'Tomcat' style machines... how fast???!!!!The roar of some of the V8 engines was fantastic.Drivers should stay alert to other road users at all times, and not be distracted by their passengers...Seeing a Ford Focus jump this high over a ramp is impressive, but a common weekly spectacle at the local Sainsburys car park come Saturday night as anxious drivers hit the speed bumps trying to beat closing time on the 'beer run'...[...]

Free as a Bird...


With the summer in full flow, and the weather being so pleasant of late, it's been a good season for baby birds. On a sunny patch of grass by the woods I watched a young Magpie being fed by its parent. "Feed me, feed me!"... "More, more...."They flew off towards the stream, cackling and squawking. The smaller birds wisely kept their distance from the dangerous duo... except one. Oblivious to any threat, this little chap just sauntered about without a care in the world. She wasn't going to survive out in the wilds for long with such a reckless disregard for danger. There were Magpies, Crows, dogs, cats, foxes, as well as Sparrowhawks all out and about looking for an easy snack.After a bit of a chat, Budgie and I decided that it would be probably for the best if she came home with me. She's a pretty bird even though it does look like she's only got one leg. I can assure you that there are actually two! Look, two legs... damn! How difficult should it be to prove a budgie has two legs?!!! Right, there we are... two legs. She's settled in fine. Happy to sit on my hand, and poo in my cup of tea while I'm not looking. We watch the Magpies through the window together, a much safer option.I've even trained her to fly in slow motion![...]

Fox Tales... Nap Time.


She may try and look mean, with her best "I'm a big bad wolf stare", but really she's a softy. It's just an act to keep the cubs in line, now that they're getting to that 'boisterous' stage. Sometimes they're very cheeky, snatching food from right under her nose. If there is something you want to avoid, it is getting between a fox and it's food, I have the bite marks to prove it!Out of the two remaining cubs, this is the most confident one, always getting into trouble. He's wet from playing 'catch the moth reflections' in the puddle. A bit of running around through the tall grass soon left him dry and fluffy again. His sibling is a little smaller, but can hold its own in a squabble over nosh.When they were young there was a third cub, but nature doesn't favour all, and now there are just the two of them. It was a cold, hard winter, and foxes vary their litter size according to conditions, it seems even three was too many. Once the cubs had had their fill of food, they went off to practice their hunting skills by terrorising the beetles attempting to make the already perilous journey across the desert of the country lane. There's nothing like sitting on the warm tarmac under the stars, sharing a few raisins with a friend. A combination of tiredness bought on by the incessant attentions of the cubs, and the brightness of the camera flash, soon caused sleepy eyes to appear... ... and 'nap time' quickly followed. [...]

Damsel(fly) in Distress...


Even though I had a list of chores that needed doing, it was far too warm and muggy to do much. I elected to go kayaking instead. I took my homemade underwater camera housing, but the water was murky, churned up by the passing narrowboats. At the margins of the water, amongst the reeds and weeds it was a little clearer, but the fish I had intended to film had been spooked by boat propellers. After a few miles of paddling I stopped for a snack. The damselflies were busy doing what damselflies do. These 'Large Red Damselflies' (Pyrrhosoma Nymphula) were quite striking with their bright red eyes. Although they're called 'large reds' they're actually very small, much smaller than the more common blue or green specimens. This tiny chappess laying eggs on a twig is one of the smaller species (Ischnura Elegans).In my eagerness to get a closer photo I scared the poor thing and it hastily took flight... ...straight into a spiders web. The spider was all of a fluster. It really wasn't sure whether it wanted this flying predator tangled in its trap, and quickly hid behind a leaf. Carefully, I teased the damselfly free and let it perch on my finger.It gave itself a good preening and carried out a few pre-flight checks. It was a cute little thing. With a cock of its head as if to say 'thanks', or perhaps 'thanks for nothing', it was off, skimming the water, and dancing with its friends. It was time for me to be off too. Homeward bound on my mirrored carriageway...[...]

Don't Fly off the (broom) Handle!...


I found it tucked away at the back of the garage. I'd forgotten all about my faithful old broom. Some people prefer an ash or beech handle with a brush made of heather, but I find that bamboo is much lighter, more agile and ultimately faster... Although I was a bit out of practice, the old broom still flew just fine. I always wear a crash helmet when flying, you never know when you can have a sudden 'bristle blowout'! It took me quite a while to find my old broom flying cape. It can get very cold at altitude, plus I think capes really add to the whole 'drama' of flying. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />It had been a while since I'd been out on my broom, so I thought it prudent to have a practice at low level along the country lanes.Wow!... I'd forgotten how quick this thing was. I had to slow down on the one bend so as not to cover an innocent pedestrian in the dust that this thing was kicking up. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Low level flying is easy, you just have to hold on and steer. Higher up the wind knocks you about. At the park I had a go at going a bit higher, I was all over the place. I hadn't realised at how rusty I'd become. I'd just started to get the hang of it when a crowd started forming below. People were pointing, shouting and dogs were barking, you'd think they'd never seen anyone with a broom before. In the end I had to land, put the broom on the roof of the car and go home. I certainly didn't want any of that nonsense I had with the locals back in the 1600's... allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Back at the house all my old flying skills came flooding back. Vertical takeoffs were a breeze, as well as spins and a bit of hovering. There were terrific views over the houses, and just when I was beginning to enjoy myself the neighbour started waving and screaming. I don't know what all the fuss was about, it wasn't as if I was flying over his house was I? Lack of concentration meant that I landed with a bit of a bump (I'll have to practice those). He seemed rather upset with me and my broom, even though I'd seen him with a broom of his own on many occasions. Maybe he's jealous, because he hasn't got the hang of flying at all. I only ever see him half heartedly dragging it along the floor.Nevermind, there's a bright moon tonight, I'll do a bit of nocturnal flying instead...[...]

Roses are Red, Greenfly are Pink?...


The recent warm weather has brought out clouds of Greenfly. It seems that most of them have taken to living on my roses. It's always confused me that although you see loads of Greenfly swarming about, when you look on the plants, very often the don't appear to have wings. It turns out that not all Aphids have wings. When food is short or conditions dictate, the females give birth to winged individuals that can go in search of new feeding areas. As well as laying eggs in autumn to overwinter, females can produce several offspring per day without mating. No wonder there's so many! The local birds do their best picking them off but the Aphids have their own defence. The two little tubes sticking up from their back are called Cornicles, and they use them to expel an unpleasant waxy substance to put off their attackers. Greenfly aren't always green. They range from green to pink as some have the ability to synthetically produce carotenoids (a plant pigment). They have acquired this adaption through a process of horizontal gene transfer (genetic splicing) from ingesting fungi which protect themselves from sunlight using artificially created carotenoids. Aphids love to suck the sugary sap out of plants. Although they can get all the energy they need from the sap, they need to drink even more in order to obtain the 'building blocks' of life. The excess sap is pooed out as Honeydew. Ants take advantage of this ready food supply and even 'farm' the Aphids. The ants will actively defend the aphids, and even move them about to new feeding areas to maximise output. They milk the little chaps by rubbing their backs with their antennae to make them exude honeydew which they then carry off. Very often simply viewed as a pest, Greenfly are quite fascinating little creatures. They mean no harm, and I think look rather cute. My roses however are suffering. I don't want to poison the chappys so I'm going to use a kinder method. Simply spray them with soapy water. It won't kill them, but it does get in their eyes. Naturally they will try and rub their eyes, and when they lift their legs to do so, they fall off the plant...[...]

Fiesta Siesta...


Little Fiesta wasn't a happy chappy at all. His wheel had been sore for ages, but after hitting a huge pothole things had gone from bad to worse. The bearing was making a horrible noise, and the brakes grated awfully when cornering. It made him very grumpy. Master said he could fix it but he would have to take the wheel completely off. Fiesta didn't like this at all, it didn't feel right only having three wheels...The master said not to worry about it, sit back and have a Fiesta siesta. There were a lot of bits laid out on the lawn which was concerning, although the large array of shiny tools allayed Fiestas fears. However, the string holding everything together didn't inspire confidence that master knew what the hell he was doing! The new bearing looked very nice thought Fiesta. It had been left in the freezer to make it contract and so be smaller.......the hub that it had to be fitted into was put on a camping cooker to heat it up and make it larger. Then the two were brought into union with a combination of swearing and a VERY large hammer! Soon enough everything was put back together, and Fiesta was glad that none of it was held together with string. Fiesta was happy again and ready for more adventures...[...]

I'm Quarry Quarry...


I went for a walk by the sand quarries up on the hill. The air was heavy with the heady aroma of the Gorse in full bloom. The flowers smell of almonds. Although they're edible, I find them a bit bitter, but they are good for making salads look pretty. There's been hardly any rain lately, the ground was dry and cracked. Normally these shallow silt bottomed puddles are great for finding animal tracks. You can tell what the badgers have been up to, and if the invisible deer herd has come through recently. I say 'invisible' because I see tracks, hair, nibbled foliage, mangled saplings from bucks rubbing their antlers, their mud hollows, and flattened areas where they've slept, but never ever see the deer themselves... Invisible, the only explanation! As I made my way along the edge of the quarry, I got the feeling I was being watched. There was no one there, hardly anyone ever comes here. The occasional rustle, crack of a twig, but as soon as I turned to look... silence. The buzzard was up on the hill, surveying his world from his lookout post. He'd got his eye on something, he was staring at a dense patch of gorse behind me. Suddenly, spooked, he flew off. I got the feeling that I was being stalked by something. The day was pleasant enough, but there was a nagging cold north wind. I headed down into the old woods where it was more sheltered and strung my hammock up in my usual spot between an ancient Yew and a young Oak.I settled down with a flask of coffee and a great book... Running with the Fox by David Macdonald.Every so often I heard a noise in the undergrowth. There was definitely something out there. Then my pursuer showed himself. It was my old acquaintance. This isn't one of the foxes from the family of foxes that I go to see each night and feed. This is a good number of miles away. We met last year when he came to investigate the smell of the bacon sandwiches I was cooking. We met a second time when I was scrambling to the top of a steep grass incline, and he was coming up the other side. We came nose to nose, paused and went quickly our separate ways. Since then we see each other from a distance, sometimes he barks to me to let me know he's seen me. He's become used to me being around, and realises that I mean him no harm. Curiosity gets the better of him and he'll come to have a gander sometimes. This wood is deserted, as well as the quarry and so he seems comfortable to spend a lot of time out in the daytime. Once he ascertained that there were no bits of bacon to be had, he was off to catch some more voles.[...]

Stop weeding, and Settle for Nettle Tea...


(image) Many might consider Stinging Nettles to be a weed and a nuisance, but I always keep a stand of them in the garden. They are great for beneficial insects, including bees, and the foodstuff for the caterpillars of Peacock and Little Tortoiseshell butterflies. Anyone who knows about the technique of 'companion planting' will know that if positioned next to herbs it will have the effect of increasing the amount of volatile oils in Mint, Rosemary, and Sage.

(image) This time of year they are particularly lush, and really nice for making into tea. I like to pick the young tips and the first two mature leaves for extra tenderness. Wash thoroughly in cold water to remove the 'beneficial insects', which, although good for the garden don't add anything special to the flavour of tea. Chop finely (at which point they begin to lose their sting) and pop a good heaped tablespoonful per cup in a teapot or jug.

(image) Pour on boiling water and let steep for 3-4 mins. Run the mixture through a tea strainer into your mug, and add a dollop of honey... sit back and enjoy.
Nettles are a great anti- inflammatory. They'll help with arthritis, eczema, hay fever symptoms, and post cold snuffles. They are full of vitamins, and the seeds are said to have an aphrodisiac effect.
If you don't like it as a tea, then you can cook it like spinach and serve with butter, or boil it to a mulch, season and spread it on toast.
If prepared as with tea, and allowed to cool, once strained it makes a great hair conditioner. Wash your hair as normal and then massage through with the mixture as a final rinse for glossy natural hair. It's also safe to use on pets for silky coats.
Why would a plant have to defend itself with such vigorous stings if it wasn't so damned good?!...

Fox Tales... Full Circle.


It's been over a year since I first met this little fox, just a tiny fox cub playing on the road. Now fully grown we've learnt to trust each other. I visit every night and we've become friends. She'll sit by my feet, untie my shoelaces, pinch my hat, jump onto the bonnet of my car, and take food so very gently from my hand. I'm even trusted not to steal the skillfully hunted shrews carefully laid down side by side for a special occasion. With a distinctive whimpering sound, she called one of the cubs out, encouraging it to investigate the couple of shrews at my feet. I felt honoured to be introduced. Nervous at first, a bit of food laid out on the usual 'feeding rock' soon had it bounding around with confidence. Mom was obviously really hungry and was keen to eat in peace for at least a little while. The cub kept its distance fearing a disapproving bark. Eventually though the smell of the food got the better of it and he crept ever closer. Mom looked despaired for a moment, she was obviously very tired... ... but then decided to share. There was a bit of extra food put down that night to make things easier. The foxes have come full circle, with cubs once again wrestling in the grass outside the abandoned cottage. I feel privileged to be included in this extended family, fascinated by the complexity of fox society, and eager to learn more.[...]