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An itinerant observer and thinker about life in general, sharing some moments of wandering and wonderment.

Thursday, 31 January 2013


Well this is the last day of the first month of 2013 and what a month it has been weather wise across the the whole of U.K. One thing we haven't experienced (unsurprisingly) is a heat wave but that said despite the snow and ice, it has been a relatively mild month compared to many January's past. The snowdrops here are really coming into bloom at the moment and <<< these in a shady corner of the garden really caught in the sunlight this morning. Galanthus nivalis ... I love them, their delicate, drooping, tear drop flowers are such a wonderful sign of spring. The highest price ever paid for a single snowdrop bulb was for a genetic mutation named Elizabeth Harrison (with yellow markings not green ) it sold for £725 last year. to a well known Ipswich based seed company. The year before in 2011 a Galanthus 'Green Tear' variant sold for £360. How does one name these variants? A nursery man from Cambridgeshire, sadly named one variant he created "Mr Grumpy." because the green markings on the snow white petals looked rather like a glum face. I could never see  the delicate snowdrop as grumpy!
However after a wild, wind battering night, that kept the household awake. I was grumpy. All through the night the wind battered the house and blew things all over the lawns. The noise was horrendous and a sleepless night had by all. Late this afternoon ...?
More serene skies belying the bitter wind that blew harsh across the drenched fen landscape. There had been some signs of recent ploughing in the slightly higher fields ...
but in The Lode, a local man-made waterway connecting to the River Cam and ... thought to be Roman in origin the water was high. Lodes such as these were all once navigable.
But time and different needs for means of transport have made many of these once navigable waterways are now null and void for humans at least, though much wildlife now appreciates these normally serene wildlife "A roads" criss-crossing the fen landscape. Today ... wind rippled and with no signs of ducks, but visiting seagulls were enjoying it.
But at least for the bipedal dog walker the tracks that run along these large dykes help one to appreciate the fenland landscape with it's wide open spaces and continuous views.
Also as I discovered today, dogs are not the only quadrupeds to benefit from these tracks.

 <<< And ... marching across the landscape are these pylons delivering the modern electricity that we so rely on today. This line runs at right angles to the Lode, but I can't help but wonder what the Romans and later on the Dutch who improved the Fen drainage system dramatically would have thought of this energy in the sky, that marches across the landscape in longer, straighter lines and carries power suck long distances at such speed. How things have changed, yet in some ways here in the Fens remain "almost" the same as when the Romans & Dutch tried to tame this water drenched landscape. I often wonder what they would make of The Fens of today ... still different but more modernised and yet in some ways I wonder if those of old would recognise the landscape, especially the vast acres of arable planting which are so very different now  from agricultural past.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013


I was wrong the other day when I wrote that all the snow had gone, the local children had built a huge snow figure on the village green, which I only noticed at night when we went out for a short end of day walk to visit the ducks, something the daft dog loves to do.
Last night in the orange glow of the street light there was still a persistent pile left behind.
But something the recent thaw has allowed to show up in the garden are snowdrops ...
As you can see the nettles are doing rather well too and ... being munched by something. The early daffodils were budding well until the snow and then flowering slowed down but all around the garden thousands of leaves of the later varieties are pushing  up through the grass which will be left unmown until all the many different  varieties have bloomed.
As for the weather it is gustingly windy, the house getting regularly buffeted ... loudly!
Looking at the forecast for the next few days for here and back home, what a mixed bag of  varying types of weather are in store for us all, we're in for some unstable conditions.
This morning out in the very damp garden with the dogs, I noticed a small eye on a leaf.
It is the fading remnant of a peacock butterfly wing and looked rather bedraggledy sad.
We have a saying here about "Keeping a weather eye on the sky." This one certainly is.

Sunday, 27 January 2013


During the course of the night, the rain and the wind lashed very noisily at the windows ...
this morning when I looked out to survey the outside, to my absolute amazement ... this ...
no snow! Not a sign even in the coldest, most shaded places was there a sign of white stuff and the temperature was definitely higher, though still cold due to the blustery wind.
Jilly the adventurous little minx was intrigued by the sudden amount of water flooding the patio. Strangely enough my long legged collie who normally dives into ponds, lakes the sea etc, etc, was much more wary of a mere few inches of the wet stuff. But later in the day I drove out with him in the car to get a Sunday paper and to explore an area new to us. I saw no snow, anywhere!
It had all gone, magically erased from the flat fen surfaces overnight and ... with the sun out all looked green and healthy.
Having picked up the Sunday paper-weight, we drove out further afield to have a look around some of the local area & I just had to stop the car to take this post snow, sun warming  photo >>>
Winter fed cattle just relaxing in the warmth of the day amongst bales of winter feed. I found myself missing my local sheep. I spoke to one of my local farmers today and she told me that back home, the snow had been so high that the stone wall between their land and the commons was invisible under deep drifts of deep wind blown drifts but apparently overnight with similar weather to ours here, that problem had eased a bit overnight. We drove further on and I noticed a bridleway.
The widest bridleway I have ever seen named "Little London Drove." Now here we are miles away from London but obviously in it's history, this (now expansive) track has a long history of being an old drovers way from the Fens to the big city. It's possible that sheep, cattle and even geese headed their way towards the capital. But something else rather amused me ...
This "Highway Boundary" stone ... now look along the plough furrows in a straight line towards the trees in the distance and can you imagine a footpath across all that? Not one that either me or the dog wished to explore! And ... the very word "Highway" amused me,  because apart from a tractor who else would traverse that wellie clogging set of furrows except for "Keep our footpaths open!" enthusiasts. As for me. my wellies were already gathering up enough mud and the daft dog was decidedly dirty. There wasn't even a pocket of snow in the shade of the lanes but lots of mud!
We returned splattered with fenland splashes but happy. The earth was no longer frozen hard but soft ... 
and the local moles obviously appreciated the latest conditions too!

Saturday, 26 January 2013


<<< In case some of you don't know this is a painting of the famous Robert Burns painted by the famous artist Alexander Nasmyth in 1828.
The reason for this on Dafafd's blog is that though not born in Scotland, I spent some of my early years on a Scottish farm in Argyllshire, where no doubt my interest in sheep was seeded into my psyche. Last night we celebrated Burns Night with friends, one being the only true Scot and ... gaelic speaker. Basically a good excuse to eat proper "haggis, bashit neeps and tatties  " accompanied by good wine & some single malt whiskey, read some of Burns poetry and basically just have a good time. Which we most certainly did, it was a lovely evening during which the wonderful Burns poem "To A Mouse" was beautifully recited by our native Scot.
During the afternoon I had gone shopping for ingredients and found a rather intriguing looking swede, more on that later. Purchases safely home I took the dog out for a run in the slowly melting fenland only to find that a local farmer had been late harvesting beet.
The field above has only been half harvested and we are now nearing the end of January, normally this crop would have been in by end of October /November last year and judging  by the quality of the sugar beet today it is so poor I doubt that it will be going into making sugar, sadly this years crop will more likely end up as being turned into pellets for animal feed. Yesterday evening when I looked around the fields here, where first flooding and then a sharp hard frost made harvesting almost  impossible for acre after acre, there were tractors grabbing the chance in the almost dark, because more snow was forecast.
The quality of the sugar beet was looking pretty bad, the best lone example I could find ...
 Anyway ... I've digressed from Burns to beet ... back to last night and the saving of the swede. We had between us bought two haggis, one was a vegetarian haggis for our non meat eater. When I ordered it from a trusted famous supplier (MacSweens) I was a bit dubious (being a carnivorian haggis enthusiast) but one in four that they sell are vegetarian so I was hoping it would be fairly tasty. (It was indeed flavoursome). We also had four swedes (no not Scandinavians but root vegetables). One was so amusing we couldn't bring ourselves to cook it.  Today I took it out for a walk with the dog ... 
Well not exactly for a walk, as >>>
it has as you can see, no legs, nor upper body but it was looking considerably more athletic than the sugar beets on the clamp that were awaiting transport to whichever factory they were headed for.
A single Brassica amongst a pile of Beta Vulgaris ... hmm, methinks the swede is more a cheeky vulgaris!  Having done the rather cold photo shoot it had to come home with me.
So back in the car it went whilst the mad mutt and I went further exploring between a muddy and snowy stubble field and a mud churned beet field and found two of last nights "wee guesties."
As I said ... a good night was had by all and some went further afield than others!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


Today saw some bright sunshine, loads of bird activity in amongst the many feeders but it was still around zero temperature ... so despite the bright sky it was hand bitingly cold.
Silly old Dafad here forgot the camera when I took the mad mutt out onto the flat fens.
The sky was like the inside of an oyster shell, full of pearlescent pinks, silver and blues.
But ... having taken nearly 100 photo's yesterday in three different locations I have stuff to fall back on. Yesterday just before sunset I drove down to look at our local stretch of the River Cam to see how the houseboat moored there most of the year, was coping with cold.
There was no sign of the small ship to shore boat, nor any glimmer of light in the almost silhouette  frame of the boat. My guess is that the owners had found it too cold to stay aboard in these recent sub zero temperatures. Can't say as I blame them.
The flood waters of a few weeks ago have subsided to more normal levels but much to the disappointment of some locals, the River Cam has not frozen over enough for ice skating. In "Days gone by" in living memory of many folk here, winter skating was a big thing and the more serious and competitive minded held races. Fen Runners (skaters) became famous. Skating was introduced from Holland and France in the seventeenth century but by the end of the nineteenth century. 1879 to be precise, The National Skating  Association was set up in Cambridge. They took their fen skaters to competitions in Holland where a James Smart became Britain's only recorded World Champion speed skater. Since then of course we have witnessed such wonderful ice dancers such as Robin Cousins and most famously Torville & Dean but if you are interested in early skating history, just google "Fen Skating." It's a shame for me, as I would have loved to have photo's of skaters on the fen waterways to put on the blog, but ... the freezing conditions have caused enough hassle locally as it is, with schools being closed and tragic accidents on the road network. But ... it could have been much worse as a recent BBC programme about the winter of 1963 highlighted. In the early days of television the black and white footage of the problems this country endured were  quite sobering compared to the conditions of this last week which have been relatively easily survivable. 
<<< This bridge is known as The Military Bridge but between 1914 & 1918 a military pontoon was built to cross over the River Cam connecting both sides of the watery divide, it was not until 1928 that the seemingly more modern design constructed of concrete was built but retained the name the locals gave to the river crossing. It now has to put up with the reverberations of huge modern tractors and massive transporter lorries. To be stood underneath it when these pass overhead is rather noisy an intrusive contrast to the peaceful water flowing under at and the graceful swans and ducks that cruise this lovely waterway especially during sunset time.

Monday, 21 January 2013


Overnight, we had several inches of snow, which covered up yesterdays various animal and human tracks, so a whole new sketch pad was created for the birds, dogs and humans to have fun on (and in). I had to remove about three inches of snow off the bird tables and restock them, within minutes there were all sorts of species hungrily feeding and ... making the most of the fresh water I had put out for them. The dogs too had fun exploring the fresh white sketch pad of the large gardens here ... not that the pristine white pages lasted for long as they romped around all over the place. It was a lovely sight to see and during the course of the day I took loads of photo's as we also had wonderfully atmospheric skies ...
such a change from the snow laden grey dullness of the last few days. The world seemed bright and light and full of fun, pure escapism from the sobering news reports on radio and T.V.  It was a small micro world of childlike delights and not just from a human point of view because the dogs were having a great time in the deep snow too.
Meanwhile a rather disgruntled looking cat, safely behind protective glass looked on ... 
One very smooth haired dachshund (due to her very sensitive tummy) doesn't like the cold of snow on her underside, she's much happier in warmer weather like it was last spring.
So ... she quickly scuttled back into the warmth of indoors whilst the other two played.
And oh my goodness did the little long haired, golden girl, like playing in the cold snow.
She came in with balls of snow all over her chest and tummy but smiling broadly.
Meanwhile my longer legged collie stayed out as long as he could playing with his log.
Late in the afternoon I drove down to the River Cam to see the sun setting.
It was a fun (though rather cold) day.

Sunday, 20 January 2013


This morning the fine snow fell like icing sugar falling out of some gently shaken, giant cannister and the temperature was ... brrr ... cold! Birds with fluffed up feathers looked larger and flocked around the bird feeders. Their favourite food on the varied menu being the suet pellets (also, as I discovered a favourite of a much larger animal ... my dog!)
Suitably chastised and chased away from the bird feeders we eventually headed out into the winter white of the fen landscape just as the snow flakes got bigger and began to fall faster.
It was wonderful to walk in what seemed like virgin snow, though close inspection of the paths showed that other walkers and their dogs had been out earlier in the day and ... even someone on a horse before the snow got heavier but there were plenty of birds about.
<<< along this tree lined track there were mixed flocks of blackbirds, starlings. pigeons and other smaller birds that though disturbed by our presence moved only a short distance away, then moved again as we got closer.

The reason for this I soon discovered, was the large numbers of rose-hips that had softened in the recent freeze and made easy eating. 
With all other food sources in short supply, they were so eager to feed, that our quiet progress did not cause much of a threat. It was a lovely sight to see so many wild birds.
This footpath bridge leads over a fen dyke and though mostly frozen the water level was much lower than it has been over the last three weeks. I saw water birds along the dykes.
Very close to this bridge there are buildings full of long disused farm machinery. Old wooden boarded trailers, that are now sadly decaying, replaced by lightweight metals.
This once, red painted, metal shed end has been re-coloured with a striking green algae that in this harsh, bare branched and white winter land, stands out in dramatic contrast.
Compare the above with the last photo I took today of a fenced in sub-station ...
Modern electronic equipment has over the years, rather dominated our rural landscape with unnaturally, angular, metal structures and long lengths of cable, that spoil so many of my photographs. As an ex engineer I rather admire them, and the technology that enables us to live in our modern, super speed world but as a naturalist I despise their intrusion into the natural, unpredictable shapes of natural growth.

And yes ... even in that first photograph of this post, that track was man made, the field and dyke systems were the result of man restructuring the landscape, but for me ... better that than living in a city!

Saturday, 19 January 2013


This morning when I went out into the garden with the dogs there had been a light,  powdery snow overnight which had masked the bird and dog footprints from yesterday. A whole new, fresh white sketchpad and before the canine three had added their signatures to the days sketchpad the various birds had been leaving their marks.
The two miniature dachshunds  have discernibly different paw prints. Little golden, fluffy Jilly has neat, petite paws where as sleek, black and tan  Millie has a longer claw length, so I can easily tell the difference between the two of them even when their paw marks are close together.  Jilly is long haired and doesn't mind snow, but Millie, having short, smooth hair is  more vulnerable to close to the belly cold.
Ffin has very different size prints, 
<<< those at the back being slightly smaller and neater than his fore paws which even as a tiny pup were rather large and more like those of a German Shepherd than a collie. He just loves the snow and could stay out for hours in it. This evening he was happily tracking where the Muntjac deer had been wandering over a frozen ploughed field.
Seen from the above,  these blackbirds prints in snow seem like a form of Chinese writing.

Friday, 18 January 2013


I managed to catch up with the news back home in Wales today, the only area to have a red snow warning overnight and judging by what my farmer friend said it has been pretty bad.  The farming community had been busy getting extra hay and feed up to their sheep in the out-bye fields, as for the next few days at least, access will be nigh on impossible. From our conversation today it seems that they all acted just in time but the westerly winds threaten skimming the snow of the fields and dumping it in the mountain road, thereby making it impassable even to tractors. Not an unusual winter event where I live.
Locally, in the East of England, lambing is beginning and sadly there are signs of this newest threat to livestock farmers; Schmallenburg Virus has already affected one farm locally reporting a 50% loss in expected lambing rates. Back home, our farmers have only just begun scanning their ewes and the news is mixed with some ewes showing no signs of pregnancy, but that could be due to inefficient rams. There is still more scanning yet to be done, but until birthing time, come March/April  we won't know the true outcome of this latest problem amongst our Welsh livestock. Fingers crossed but who knows what that last summer and autumn of warm and very wet weather has in store for the year ahead. Last year was certainly ideal breeding conditions for midges which were still to be seen in large clouds here up until a few days ago when the temperatures finally fell to normal winter level. The months ahead will show how badly this virus has spread.

Here, the plumber arrived to fix drain in the kitchen sink which for the last week, due to a corroded downpipe, had meant regularly emptying the water into a large bin in the unit underneath and ... almost as regularly throwing the water on the garden. Not much fun but could have been a much worse problem and was thankfully fairly easily sorted out 
Locally, heavy grey skies threatened to dump the forecast snow onto us, we waited for it.
In the meantime I headed out in the car before the snow arrived to get enough provisions to see us through the next few days. Taking the dog, we went for a walk along a footpath new to us, just as the first light flurries of snow began to fall on the already white fenland.
The 'footpath' was deeply rutted with tractor tyre marks, horses hoof prints and frozen absolutely solid. Above us, the skies were a dark dove grey and the breeze bitterly cold.
Having got safely back to the car we headed off to the local butchers in the hope of getting a really lovely piece of pork to roast as a weekend winter warmer. I love this butchers. He knows exactly which local farm the meat comes from and the quality of his meat is superb. There was my piece of pork in the window ... he was shut! How dare he ... on a Friday? The sign said open all day.
And just look at that in the other window, clearly well hung, good quality beef, I could almost smell the roast potatoes and taste the gravy. I asked at the little village bakers and they didn't know why he was shut either, so I got a fresh baked loaf to take home and a pecan pastry to satisfy my sudden cravings for food, then headed off to the supermarket.
There were long queues at the petrol station and the shop was busy with folk stocking up for the snowy freeze ahead. In the car on the way back the weather news said that the heavy snow previously forecast locally was not going to be as bad as expected, though the gritters were out heavily salting the main roads. During the evening just a light icing sugar dust of snow has covered all the tyre, human and dog prints and later during a very brief walk with the mad mutt to see the ducks on the village pond, even the main road had few tyre marks and the village green was pristine white under the lamp lights just as light snow started to fall again. The pond was mostly snow covered ice apart from a tight, white huddle of ducks in a small area of unfrozen water near the reeds. They swam as close as they could to greet us with their muted voices all saying "Good evening". and amongst them the dark shapes of moor hens jostling for the last available unfrozen space.
And here's a cheery photo to end the day. Butchers broom, so named because it was a plant once used to scrub butchers chopping blocks clean. This was taken last year, here,
but now the bushes have been stripped clean of all their fruit by winter hungry birds.
Today at the supermarket, I bought three new bird feeders and loads of extra bird food. When I arrived here for Christmas there were still quite a few berries on the trees in the garden and along the hedgerows locally but ... just in the last week of temperature change these have all disappeared. There are many different bird species here in the garden and I will try to make a comprehensive list in the days ahead as I monitor the new feeders. One unusual thing I have seen attracted to the existing feeders is rather large and loves bird food ... especially the little suet rich pellets but also peanuts? ... I never knew that the mad mutt was a addictive peanut muncher ... until now.

Thursday, 17 January 2013


Today dawned sunny and bright ... a seemingly brief respite from what we've had and according to the weather forecast what is to come across Britain. But despite the sunny start, overnight conditions had caused traffic accidents on some local road networks.
Here in the garden there were peaceful scenes of frost decorated plants shining in sunlight 
... which slowly began to defrost all that it touched, though on the shady side the vegetation was still decorated with tiny fingers of ice crystals. But it was something else that was de-icing some branches on the neighbours tree ... very very fat, wood pigeons that to be honest had pie potential. They're a big problem for farmers around here, huge flocks of them gorge themselves in the vast acres of grain. I sometimes wonder how they manage to even fly. Just look closely at the photograph below ...
right at the top of the tree is a fat pigeon and a fairly rounded out blackbird that feasts at the various bird feeders available in the garden. But all that area of green in the tree was created by the pigeon trying to perch in the foliage and in doing so dislodged the ice crystals that had been so beautifully decorating the uppermost branches. Spoilsport!
All around this lovely garden there were crystallised spiders webs decorating everything ... plants, outdoor chairs, gates and even lawn mowers and doors. Like diamante necklaces, they bejewelled even the most mundane of garden implements and ornaments, and what never ceases to amaze me is that such a fragile thing as even a tiny spiders web can withstand the weight of frost crystals or rain drops. Our much maligned arachnids are really quite amazing, industrious little creatures!
The skies as you can see in the photo of the tree were a beautiful, clear blue but as the day lengthened the clouds gathered & the forecast for the days ahead promises a lot more snow.
It was late afternoon when I eventually got out with the dog. My plan was to put petrol in the tank and get a daily paper at the nearest garage ... but to my great surprise the 24/7 refuel facility was totally closed off, not a light in the garage shop ... so I had to drive to the nearest town ... sold out of newspapers ... no petrol! Got a few other necessities from a shop and on the way back stopped to give the mad mutt a run in the darkening light of the still snow white fenland. Typically ... too dark to take photographs when entrancing things happen ... the first was three hares, two chasing and boxing each other and one following them as if watching the action. Now ... I thought ... "This is mid January, surely hare mating gives rise to the phrase "Mad March Hares, isn't this is too early?" Some googling later and I find that the phrase applies more to fully mature hares and that the youngsters will try it on as early as January. I also discovered that this "boxing" is not male versus male competitive aggression but usually a female rebuffing an eager male because she is not yet ready to mate. Quite an  aggressive defence strategy.
Now ... to my delight and ... the dog's fascination ... I was to witness this behaviour three times in succession, in the same snow covered, ploughed field by three different groups of three hares (nine in total).  I was entranced and at times the hares came so close to us that had the light been better, I could have got decent photographs. It was obviously not meant to be and neither was the best surprise yet to come. The dog was ahead of me, nosing through the strip of long grasses between ploughed fields (most of them with iced over puddles in the deep ruts) when he disturbed a female roe deer. She leapt out onto the plough and both I and the dog just stopped still, so did she. There was a magical moment when the three of us were just (almost literally) freeze framed, none of us moving and in the late almost dark afternoon, with the cold air freezing around us, the only moving thing was the visibly steaming breath emanating from dog, deer and human. Just wonderful!
I shall leave you with a photo taken this morning of frosted mahonia leaves.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Yes folks ... we finally had snow and even as I write more is falling with heavier falls due by Friday, but this morning just started off as very frosty and small spiders webs everywhere were hung with temporary diamonds that sparkled in a brief moment of sun.
This afternoon I had to take the dog to the local vets in order to get a re-prescription of his daily anti-inflammatory tablets. The roads were clear, but above ground level every tree and hedge was just pure white. not a sign of a bare branch anywhere and it was misty.

The drive to the vets had to be carefully driven, idiot drivers driving too fast many with no lights on and some even trying to overtake in very poor visibility. The side road down to the Vets had luckily been gritted for the first time in years, and we easily made it in time. Ffin had a good sniff around the surroundings before we went in. He's not at ease with vets, ever since two bad experiences, once with his first injections as a pup and the time he got micro chipped with the dog warden who messed up the first attempt and had to muzzle him for the second. But ... the lovely lady vet was gentle and won him over.
Afterwards we went for a walk ...
Just by the entrance to the vets was this beautifully, heavily laden, red-berried bush encrusted with ice crystals. I was amazed that the winter hungry birds had not stripped it of all it's fruit because here back in this fen village there is hardly a berry to be seen after the last week of cooler days and bitter cold nights.
It was a lovely sight, but beyond the ornamental hedges of the vets the roadsides reverted to more natural plants. As a reward for not snarling at the lovely, gentle lady vet, I took him for a short walk along the narrow road with farmland either side. It was a bitter cold but magical black and white world.
The sharp, dark contrasts of man made gates against the soft, subtle pale shades of snow ... were a delight to behold and as the dog sniffed through the drifts, my fingers got cold.
Ever tried operating a small digital camera with thick gloves on? Yep ... it isn't  at all easy!

Then I came across some old, abandoned, outdated farm machinery , sadly overgrown.
I took so many pictures (too many to show here) and my fingers started to freeze but ...
on the back of a seemingly, fairly recently used trailer I noticed this wonderful cobweb.
Out of the many frost decorated spiders webs I've photographed today, this is the best.