Monday, 28 December 2009

The Neatness of Crows

In search of redwings, I decided to visit Healey Lodges but there wasn't much opportunity to scan the hedges as the icy paths demanded all my attention. I pressed on through Nab Wood towards Heapey Lodges - no redwing there either, nor in the fields on my return. So I began to contemplate the neatness of crows. It's that sleekness, like finley chiselled and polished jet, that makes them so easy to distinguish from shabby rooks. And just as jet is considered to ward off negative energy, crows too remove negativity from the fields by quickly removing carrion. Where would we be without such natural cleaners?

All photos of crows welcome - just attach to an email. Thanks.

And first up is a hooded crow from Peter Woodruff. This reminds me of my trips to the north. (We don't often see hooded crows in Lancashire.)

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Cold Comfort

We really have to earn our way off our road this week. Layers of ice-snow-ice-snow have persuaded us into a one-way system: we crawl up the lesser incline to exit and gently slide down the steeper one to return home.
I saw a small flock of lapwings flying over this morning - a unusual sight for Euxton. I couldn't help but will them to find some snow-free field to dine in. And a first for my garden - a beautiful cock pheasant trying to scratch beneath the snow. He was searching my lawn for a good 20 minutes. The alders that border our garden are busy with gold and chaffinch; blue, great and coal tits bustle around the feeders until the nuthatch brusquely scatters them. Robin and dunnock are around all day and a song thrush has been arriving around midday. A wren might have taken up residence in a thicket beneath the dormer.
I've not seen a goldcrest in the garden this winter which is a shame. For the past few years one has wintered in / close to out garden. It has been a bad year for them but let's hope....

The goldcrest above was photographed by Phil Kirk of Chorley NATS - thanks.

And another photo of a goldcrest. This one is by Chris Rae also of Chorley NATS. Keep them coming guys.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Still trying to make friends

Despite wearing my new boots around the house and taking them out on several short walks, they're still giving me blisters. Ohh dear.... I wouldn't care but they're the most expensive hiking boots I've ever bought! But I live in hope that they will eventually become my best friends.... Maybe I should have bought some new socks as well?

A short walk down a frosty Eyes Lane, Bretherton and looping back through the crunchy fields (disappointingly no snipe there) revealed: moorhens, jay, treecreeper, nuthatches, yellow hammers, reed bunting, sparrow hawk, kestrel, 80+ lapwings, a small flock of 16+ jackdaws, mistle thrush and heron as well as common garden birds (blue, great & coal tits, chaffinch, robins, blackbirds). There was also a large and close-knit distant flock possibly starlings. A beautiful cerulean sky to lift the spirits and dazzling low sun seeking out and bringing everything to life.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Not so shy

I managed to coincide some free time with good weather this week so wandered down to Yarrow Valley County Park because I've been told about a not-so-shy water rail. And sure enough not long after I'd arrived she emerged from the reeds strutting her feathers, stomping her beak and not at all perturbed by a couple of onlookers.Thanks to Brian Rafferty for this stunning image. His blog is well worth visiting.

Back on the big lodge, the merest glance of a human sneaking a plastic bag from a pocket immediately triggered a cacophony of opening wings, quacks, skidding webs and attention grabbing calls from circling black-headed gulls.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


I know it's been a while since I last blogged but I'm back now.

On Tuesday I was pleased to attend the launch of Aware 5, the literary magazine produced by Chorley and District Writers' Circle. I was chair when we launched the first issue and I'm glad to see it's progressing into a fine publication.

I also collected the runner up prize in the competition 'heat' judged by Carole Baldock, editor of Orbis. My poem is reprinted below with one minor edit thanks to the judge's comments. My congratulations go to the worthy winner Holly Prest and brilliant runner up Lynne Taylor.

Stay out of the kitchen
where words are unpeeled,
sliced, mercilessly
dissected to increase
the raw surface area,
seared in hot fat,
then served on a cold, white plate,
-and vinegar of course.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Hesketh Out Marsh

I visited Hesketh Out Marsh with Chorley NATS this morning. Although it's not far from where I live, I've never been there before. One of the advantages of joining a local group is that you find out about such places and another is that there are more people to notice sightings.

This morning's highlight was a stunning male hen harrier quartering low over the marsh. We also saw a merlin and managed quite a close look as we walked along the embankment. We also saw a small group of golden plover, a brown hare, redshanks and way in the distance huge flocks of lapwings. It was interesting to compare the herons and egrets fishing at fast flowing inlets; the herons poised still, the egrets plodding around.

The hedgerows were also worth exploring and rewarding with 20 fieldfare, long tailed tits and other common species. Although I wished I'd worn my thermals, the wildlife seemed out of synch with the cold; we saw a painted lady butterfly, the larks were singing and dandelions along with red and white clovers were in bloom.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Reading at The Preston Society

I'm looking forward to speaking to the Preston Society (Bird Watching and Natural History) on Mon 16th Nov 7.30pm at St Mary's Church Hall, Cop Lane, Penwortham. I'll be reading from from the field book, talking about wildlife poetry and have a couple of surprises too - hope everyone likes them....

A delayed start to my walk today due to the weather. I went to Croston Finney. Not a lot to see at first, probably much of the wildlife had moved or was keeping a low profile due to there being a clay pigeon shoot. Once the noise ceased, sightings improved. Amongst other speacies, I saw 50+ fieldfare, a buzzard,corn bunting, tree sparrows (not in their usually territory), greater spotted woodpecker, cormorant, pheasants, meadow pipits and other common species.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Stomping The Stiperstones

The Stiperstones is a 10km ridge in the Shropshire Hills. It is an unmistakable feature since all the other hills around here are rounded. It's an area of heather heathland and, although at this time of year the heather and gorse have gone over, the area remains beautiful.

Five ravens moved along the ridge ahead of us and still found time to make playful dives. I also saw a couple of late red admirals fluttering by and also a couple of pipits and a skylark. On the lower slopes I got a glimpse of four red grouse.

Above is Devil's Chair which is one of the craggy outcrops along the ridge. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Why is it harder going downhill?

I'm spending a few days in the gold and green Shropshire Hills. Small flocks of redwings and fieldfares are working across the trees. I have to say there doesn't seem to be an abundance of haws - little wonder the mistle thrush are being vocal. Although the holly trees seem to have done better. I regularly see buzzards flying over the caravan but have yet to spot a red kite. I'm told there was a pair around here although it's possible they've moved on. I'll keep looking.

This afternoon we enjoyed a short, energetic walk up the double summits of Earl's Hill. The colourful oak, ash, hazel and beech soon gave way to pines as we began the steep climb. And just as the path levels, I climbed over a stile to be greeted with the final gasp - another short but steep grassy climb - but well worth the effort for the views from the top. And then the difficult bit: skidding back downhill. It must be something to do with how our feet grip the ground, or maybe the way we place our feet, but whatever it is, it's always easier to climb than come back down (or is it just my mentality?)

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Too late

I enjoyed my visit to Rotherham this weekend and presenting awards to the winners of the Mike Haywood poetry competition which I've recently judged. It's always satisfying to select a winner when you can't fault the poem in any way, as was the case with the winning entry "Dates" by Julie Mellor. I was also pleased to meet the short story judge, John Turner, and of course Graham Rippon who organised the event.

I was thinking of entering the poem below into a local competition (the theme was 'heat') but I didn't manage to edit it sufficiently before the deadline. Not to worry; every poem takes its own time. Anyway, here it is so far:

Great White Horse
As polar bears swim
exhausted after the ice,
and glaciers mourn themselves,
a great white horse begins to swell,
gathering walrus, whale and fox
as it starts to rear, to shake its mane,
ready to fling carcasses
sprawling towards the equator,
and then trample everything below
its white, frothing hooves.

Friday, 2 October 2009

A few more fungi

Thanks to Joyce and Tony for helping me ID a few more photos:Above and below are two views of a deceiver

Next are common yellow russula

And finally birch bolete

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Magic Moors and Mushrooms

We set off towards misty Brinscall Moors and what a treat: the moors were once again bouncing with pipits and larks ascending everywhere (probably migratory). A dozen crows were in a playful mood tumbling and twisting in the air just like their cousins, the chough. The raptors were having a hard time though: a buzzard was being mobbed by crows as was a sparrow hawk, and the kestrel was being set upon by three brave pipits.

The moors were in that in between phase when the heather is fading, berries reddening, rushes turning orange and the leaves are mostly still on the trees. A time when almost anything can be seen, including two snipe which I don't often see there.

Then I set off along The Goit to explore the fungi. Fly agaric (above) was plentiful and all stages of growth. The Goit is a watercourse flanked by birch, oak and some alder.

I'm a complete beginner to identifying mushrooms but here goes... I think the one above is yellow-cracked bolete. (Click on each image to enlarge.)

The next one is a woolly milkcap or bearded milkcap.

The one above is a cep, I think.

A blushing bracket on a silver birch?

Common earthball.

Under and over view of a false death cap (Amanita citrina) in one of its phases.

I've got several more photos to share so come back later in the week to see them too.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

White Coppice > Great Hill > Brinscall Circular

Start at the cosy cricket pitch fielded by a row of white cottages. Cross the stone bridge and note the willow warblers' overs have retreated to warning hu-eets. Scan the bracken tops for stonechat and marauding brown hawkers.
As your calves work the climb and boots skidder on scree, enjoy the persistence of bright heather spikes poking through the deluge of weeks. And long for linnet, pipit or lark to lift the life of the sodden moor. Strip down to your T-shirt, absorb the breeze, feel its strength as you stride up the slope.
At the T-junction, take the track to the right and look for the kestrels that perch on headwinds approaching the knoll of Great Hill. Pause at the summit, stand and salute: to the east - Darwen Tower and to your back - Winter Hill. Observe how Lancashire smooths down her skirt to the west, right to its hen which is frilled by the sea.
Follow the flagstones and witness - here by the path - a pair of wings which are all that remain from a peregrine's kill. Watch skaters spread over dark, peaty pools and rub the last remnants (between finger and thumb) of soft, cotton grass as its pile recedes from the moor.
At the stile, choose the grassy path to the right, looping back to the well of Sam's Cup. Thrust your hands in the hollows of dry stone walls and touch the loneliness there - the emptiness now that the wheatears have flown. Then take the broad track that cuts Heapey Moor watching swallows that lack lustre now as they skim for flies and channel their strength to migratory flights. And search amongst them for this season's young with their non-streaming tails and wonder how many will grace here next year.
At the bend, take the hidden path to the left, cross the stream and keep to the old stone wall. Pass the overgrown quarry and climb the stile to the woods where wrens suddenly stutter as your boots approach their low, tangled world. Cast up to the coal tits flitting high in the pines. Be alert to roe deer sifting through shadows and tree creepers hugging oak trunks.
Emerge from the plantation to follow The Goit, being watchful for froglets before placing each step. Pass sheep shaking bracken and listen ahead for the crack of leather on wood and a rippling crowd whose thoughts peter out and wonder whether we'll hear the cuckoo next spring.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Smart Scarecrows

Our neighbouring village, Charnock Richard, held a scarecrow festival this weekend. There's nothing better than a bit of community spirit. Thanks to all involved.

Below are a few of the many that caught my eye.

Click on each image to enlarge

Sunday, 30 August 2009


she recalls those playful days
when her silkiness would glide the riverbed,
curl, stretch, coil and tease,
confident of her sleekness
she would catch the river's flash,
float it on her back,
clasp it to belly,

web and claw,
so sure of herself

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award

Thanks to Sue Richardson for nominating this site for the KreativBlogger Award.

Having received the award, here's what I must do:
1. List 7 things that I love
2. Link back to the blog that awarded it to me
3. Choose 7 blogs to award as ‘Kreativ Bloggers’
4. Comment at each blog to let them know they’ve been chosen

So, off we go. Seven things I like: my reclining chair; walking in wild places with wind blowing through my hair; comfortable shoes / boots; getting on with my sons; my job; garlic bread; having a shower with fragrant shampoo and body washes; and loads of other things especially still having use of the five senses.

I love wildlife photography so am passing the award (in no particular order) to:
Brian Rafferty
Paul Foster
Richard King
Pete Woodruff
Bill Aspin
Richard Spencer
Frank Whitney

Hope you enjoy visiting them

Saturday, 22 August 2009


... wrens summon it from slumber
and it rises through its brittle dead
with fronds of frightened caterpillars,
soon linnets romance over it, unfurling it,
their feathers flutter through its growth,
then stonechat - they proclaim from it,
breed in it, feed in it, shelter in it too,
young wrens lose themselves in it,
voles scrabble through it,
kestrels hover over it,
and sheep - they lie down in it,
let its russet hands enfold them
back into its peat.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Invisible Month

... and it all builds up to this,
these summer months
when the garden quietly goes over,
young robins start to make their own way
with fire fanning through their feathers;
their parents tick amongst the undergrowth
skulking as they moult their roles.
And out in the pastures, curlews'
instincts are being tugged towards the coast,
to the silver pauses left
each time the tide rolls back.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Bitter Blue

I've just read Bitter Blue quickly - because I was scarcely able to put it down. Private Investigator, Sally Kilkenny, is a single mother and many readers will identify with her contemporary struggle to juggle work around childcare.

It's got everything you'd expect from a crime fiction thriller: pace, increasing drama, location (Manchester), tensions within the PI's personal life and carefully placed clues to keep readers just ahead of the PI at strategic points. She also had be chuckling at her ever-so-timely flashes of wit.

As a writer, I'm also interested in the cross-genre skills. Cath Staincliffe's script writing skills are also apparent here especially in her plot structure. Almost ready made for screen adaptation.

Do you agree that writers can benefit by regularly writing in more than one genre because it enables them to sharpen transferable skills?

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

snap, crackle and drop

Having heard all the exciting news about the juvenile terns at Yarrow Valley Park, especially the older chick: starting to fly - splattering into water - nearly drowning then managing to fly learning how to fish, I really had to go visit them tonight. After all the day's exercise, the younger was resting on the raft and the older stunt-chick was limiting his adventures to swimming around the raft (or maybe mum had grounding him? I am, of course, assuming he is male - certainly sounds like it!)

My camera isn't good enough to get a decent photo so I took one of this cygnet instead which spent ages grooming itself.

On our way round, we noticed this peeling birch tree. No idea what has happened here. Man made damage perhaps?

Later we paused under a beech tree and heard it snap, crackle and drop its nut cases on us. It shed them like a shower. At first I wondered whether there was a squirrel in the tree but there wasn't evidence of the beech nuts being eaten - just falling. A magic moment (even if I wasn't wearing a hard hat!)

We also saw a juvenile grey wagtail looking very lonely (Awww) and a frog. It's always worth a short evening stroll; you just never know what you might happen upon.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Closer to home

Being grounded for a couple of weeks still presents opportunities. I used the time to judge the Mike Haywood Poetry Competition 2009. An interesting proposition since all the entrants had to live, work or study within a twenty mile radius of Rotherham. However, the geographical limitations did not compromise the imagination and skill of the entries and I was pleased to select some worthy winners and highly commend a couple more.

In an earlier blog I mentioned going for a walk and seeing a white satin moth - the whites of both the moth and pupae are easily spotted in the fields. Thanks to local moth recorder Peter Krischkiw for sending me a photo of one. It's amazing how many different moths he gets in his garden - hundreds. And maybe you have hundreds too. Why not make a simple moth trap and find out?

In the garden I've seen the green sheens of at least three new broods of great and blue tits emerge over the season, and also two broods of coal tits, a young nuthatch and a couple of young speckled robins.

In the shed a wood mouse is munching on the bird food before I put it in the bird feeders. It's nibbled through very substantial plastic tubs to steal!

Coal Tits by Mike Atkinson - see the link in the side bar to his wonderful site.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Is it a good idea

to post a poem I've written a very short time ago? I certainly wouldn't submit one to a magazine unless it had been hidden for a week or two and been through several redrafts.

However, here's a poem written in a few minutes last night after reading Coastcard's comment that she would like to hear more about Norfolk. A line added to it this morning when I woke to the call of it in my head. (I'll let you guess which one it was....) The clich├ęs are, of course, entirely intentional. And I expect I'll edit it when I start typing it below... Can't resist!

Norfolk Poppies

They seem to grow uninvited now,
bright distractions amongst our daily bread,
scarlet skirts fluttering, flouncing in the sun,
creating lawless charges through the fields
yet managing to damage scarcely anything at all.
Their fecklessness wipes a smile across a stuffy day,
and scatters taste across the table as, despite ourselves,
we take our hungry bites from poppy-seeded bread.

Image copied from

Saturday, 18 July 2009

An evening stroll

I enjoyed an evening stroll with Chorley NATS earlier this week along the River Yarrow (Eccleston - Croston). Sometimes we found ouselves wading waist high though grass, Indian balsam and nettles; other times we were just wading through cows. An enjoyanle walk in the company of people with a range of interests: butterflies & moths, flowers and birds.
It was lovely to hear several yellowhammers singing and whitethroat too. And a summer evening wouldn't be complete without house martin, swallows, swift and sand martins too sweeping over the pastures.

Amongst the vegetation green-veined white, meadow brown, comma and small tortoiseshell butterflies and an ermine moth. Also spotted were azure damselfly and banded demoiselle.

These photos from the walk were taken by Chris Rae. Click on them to enlarge.

Oh, and tawny owls have been heard very
close to, if not in, our garden several nights this week. Yeah!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Tern Raft at Yarrow Valley Park

In between hospital visiting, I finally managed to see the terns at Yarrow Valley Park. The raft has a gravel base and chicken wire sides (to keep off gulls etc) and was placed there earlier this year.

This morning I was pleased to see two chicks, the youngest spending most of its time tucked under mum, while dad was busy flying the length of the lodge catching and bringing back small fish. At point a buzzard flew over and, to my horror, both mum and dad flew off to mob it, leaving the chicks alone with black-headed gulls and magpies around.... Anyway, mum came back and all was well. I have to say, that although you can see the chicks when they are standing, the moment they crouch they become invisible against the gravel.

I also saw a pair of grebes building another nest. The female seems to be incubating since she wasn't moving at all. The male, busy bringing all manner of nesting materials and placing them in front, behind and alongside the female, was having himself and all his offerings resolutely ignored . Oh dear... or perhaps another case of post coitum omne animal triste est?

The house martins, on the other hand, were anything but sad. A group of six flew in to have a drink and joyful fly around.

To learn more about the raft go to
Photos of common tern and great crested grebe by Mike Atkinson

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Orchids in the Dunes

Yesterday I joined Chorley NATS on a field trip lead by Peter Gateley to explore Ainsdale Dunes. We saw how sea couch-grass (which can withstand salt water) traps the sand to create small dunes so that the fresh water Marran grass can establish itself and create much higher dunes behind it. We also saw sea lyme-grass.

The range of habitats within the dunes is amazing ranging from sand to marsh. Plants included common spotted, pyramidal (left) and early marsh orchids and marsh helleborines (below).

In addition to the orchids, we saw grass of parnassus (left), sea and Portland spurges, common and sea centaury (rare), marsh cinqfoil (below) and many other fascinating plants.

I also got a taste for dewberries (similar to blackberries).

Photo of dunes copied from
All orchid photos are by Peter Burford and copied from

Other flower photos from
Photo of dewberries copied from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Making the most...

Long daylight means that it's not too late, even at 9pm, to go for a walk. Yesterday I went to Kem Mill, followed the stream listening to song thrushes, then joined Dawson Lane where I watched farmers, working late, baling silage. Their machines are amazing: gathering the grass, wrapping it and then laying bales in the field like huge, shiny, black eggs.

Tonight I followed the stream behind our house. The song thrushes were again welcoming the evening and somewhere someone was playing bagpipes. Wild honeysuckle sweetened the air, a single swift rushed by, wrens were busy competingwith calls, the last swallow flew into the stables and as the moon brightened, the first noctule flit towards the trees. What better way to end the day?

Kem Mill by Jon Burslam
Noctule bat by Mnolf

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Front Door

How much do you value your front door?

It's the place where people are welcomed into our homes and sometimes the first impression people get of us. It's also our contribution to the street we live, a chance to add something pleasant to the environment to be seen and so shared by all. Due to the many calls on my time, I admit that my garden has to be low maintenance but even so it's possible to make it welcoming.

The hydrangea by my door used to grow in my mother-in-law's garden so every time I see it I'm reminded of her. The first year it flowered blue, then pink for several subsequent years. What a surprise then that this year it is pink, blue and in some places purple. I haven't added anything to the soil so I wonder what's going on?

Friday, 26 June 2009

Titchwell Marsh

Whilst on the north Norfolk coast I visited the RSPB's Titchwell Marsh. Sightings included a pair of marsh harriers showing well, several pairs of copulating demoiselles, dragonflies and some chasers. I watched avocets defend their tiny islets from the larger black-headed gulls and wondered how they manage to protect their chicks on such small strips of bare shingle.

I enjoyed listening to sedge and reed warblers and trying to spot them. There were also several whitethroat to be enjoyed. But the find of the day for me was a ruff still in breeding plumage.

Avocet photo by Dave J Slater, sedge warbler by Andy Bright follow the links to their sites from the sidebar.

Coasting Norfolk

Just back from the Norfolk coast where we took a trip to Blakeney Head. Whilst waiting for the tide to quickly fill the creeks, I was entertained by larks throwing their long songs across the salt marsh from somewhere in a big, blue sky. I also saw a little egret probing the silt. How do they keep themselves so white when constantly in the mud?

Blakeney Head is a breeding place for several species of terns; I managed to spot Arctic, common and sandwich terns. They were bringing back single sand eels for their youngsters and dipping them in the sea before feeding them.

Right on the point were seals; mostly common but there were a couple of greys amongst them. You can tell them apart by the shape of their heads: grey seals have long, angular heads whereas common seals are rounded. Also the greys are much larger creatures.

The following morning I was pleased to meet up with poet Wendy Webb - a warm and friendly lady. Here we are at Cromer.

Arctic tern photo by David J Slater, s
eals photo by Jeremy Burton - follow the links in the sidebar to their sites.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Time for a poem

Thinking about being outside...

so we decided to
take the risk, stay out
and wait for night to arch its back,
stray from the path
and hide, like roe deer, in the woods,
pile bracken high,
unpeel ourselves,
feel the moonlight,
out of ourselves

Sunday, 14 June 2009


I wonder what you readers think about high wire adventure parks. GoApe has recently opened in Rivington and not without a lot of opposition from local environmental groups not least because some trees were felled to make room for it. I took a walk there last night.

I couldn't tell where the felled trees had been because there were no obvious open spaces and the zip wires ran close between the trees. (That said, felling is very undesirable unless absolutely necessary.)

I was first introduced to aerial adventures parks about ten years ago in France - and had a great time! The courses were mentally and physically challenging but also rewarding to complete.

I think they encourage young people to leave their PCs and enjoy the great outdoors - surely that can't be all bad? Also once you're up high in a tree you begin to realise just how wonderful, majestic and tall trees are. I suppose some might object to wildlife disturbance but the reality is that participants can't go anywhere following the defined courses. What do you think?
Apols for image not being very good; it was taken with a mobile phone in the gloaming.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Two-timing male?

Further to yesterday's post, a fellow birder went to check out the place I'd seen the redstarts and sure enough found them. He also went to the spot a pair are more frequently seen and saw a female only. So - are there two pairs or is one male dividing his time between two girls? I wonder.... Here's to seeing lots of juveniles soon.

If you haven't been reading the comments, you'll know that this week is the RSPB's Make Nature Count Week. To find out more or take part in the garden survey go to You've got until Sunday to complete the survey.

I've copied this photo of a female redstart from the RSPB's website. If you go to you can hear one too (a male, that is).

from the field book

from the field book
An inspiring gift for anyone who enjoys watching nature.