29 Jul 2017

Summer wildlife and curly hearts

Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?  
David Attenborough

We managed to get a lovely two week break in the English lake District in June and I’ve been spending the time since in catching up the backlog of orders and trying to get some of my pieces remade to replenish shop stock.

Consequently, I haven’t yet had time to work through my photographs from that fortnight, although I’m looking forward to doing so.  If truth be told, I haven’t worked on the last batch from September yet either, so may well publish a gallery featuring images from both, when I do get to it.  For the first few days we were away, we were in the middle of the really hot spell mid-June and our decisions of where to go and what to do were determined by finding shade and a bit of a breeze.

The local heron's favourite roost after breakfast to do some preening and let his meal settle.
The local heron’s favourite roost after breakfast to do some preening and let his meal settle.

One of the perils of staying in a static caravan, which is something we truly love for a variety of reasons, is that being a tin can with modest insulation, they much reflect the outside temperature and it can change much more rapidly than it does in a brick or stone house.  And whilst in the hot sun most of the day, it ends up like being inside a roasting tin, so we did spend as much time out and about as practical over those few very hot days.  But once the garden was in the shade of the caravan itself in an evening, the nearby river and trees made it absolutely delightful.

The first photographs I have worked on are some wildlife images, although it’s also true to say that they’re not stunning quality either.  We had several lovely evening visits by wildlife – from an unusual group of 5 red deer hinds, who only appeared at dusk on two evenings when it was absolutely torrential rain, a green woodpecker who roosted in a nearby dead tree – which is an absolute magnet for birds of all types and is the focus of much of our bird watching.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker youngster waited to be fed. He was actually perfectly capable of feeding himself, which he happily did when no one was watching.
The Great Spotted Woodpecker youngster waited to be fed. He was actually perfectly capable of feeding himself, which he happily did when no one was watching.

We were also visited regularly by a family of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.  Mum was very timid, but when Dad was on duty, he was more tolerant of my taking photos and junior didn’t seem to even notice us.

The red deer, shown in the gallery below was taken on a digicam which doesn’t have the image quality of my DSLR, but does have more than twice the focal length – which was necessary on this occasion.  It was actually significantly darker to the eye than it looks in the photo, which was taken just before 10pm on a truly miserable day and the shutter speed was only 1/8 second, through a window, although I did use a tripod and the self-timer to minimise camera movement.

The green woodpecker also came well after 9pm as that was obviously her bed time.  She would land on the dead tree, considerately calling loudly as she arrived, to alert us and then she’d spend at least 15 minutes very still on the trunk, just leaning back and looking around.  Once she was happy with the situation, she’d rapidly scurry around the trunk and pop into her bed chamber.  Some nights she wasn’t happy and she’d fly off, occasionally to return later, some nights preferring another roost.

One evening she took to her bed and I was washing up at a window immediately in-line with the tree and she started making a real din, screeching and calling from within her roost and on looking up I saw a tawny owl land on a side branch of the tree, looking directly at me.  The green woodpecker obviously knew he was there and vocalised her objection, at which the owl took off and she left her roost and we never saw her again after that – she must have decided that it was no longer the des res she had thought.

The only way I could capture any of her activity, due to the late hour and distance from me, was to use my superzoom digicam on video mode, which for some reason gave much better results than still shots, so the photos below of her are still frames from videos I shot.  If I can fathom out the best way to post some video here (the files are HD and rather large) I’ll add those too, as her rapid disappearance into her hole is well worth seeing.

Lake District Gallery:

I’ll add to this gallery as I work on suitable images – so for now, this is just a start with a few wildlife photographs.  More to follow.

Recent Work Gallery:

I’ve needed to replenish stock of some of my curly heart pieces and whilst on a roll with them, I’ve added a couple of new variants too, with a shiny bronze pair of earrings, a garnet wrapped pendant and a smaller version of my beaded pendant.  Truth be told, that was an error as I intended making my usual size of pendant and looked at the wrong line of sizes in my design book, so it may well be a one of a kind pendant.

22 Aug 2016

Roe deer bucks and late-onset allergies

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.  John Lubbock

I was rather mortified to find that it is two months since I last posted (I would have guessed at half of that), but in truth, I just haven’t had much to say or to show you.  Consequently, the photographs I’ll post in the gallery below will span a few weeks and several trips out and are rather a haphazard collection.  I’ll also add a second gallery of recent work, just to prove that I have been getting on with something.

I love the tall elegant spikes of Foxglove flowers.
I love the tall elegant spikes of Foxglove flowers.

My husband was taken rather poorly in July with what we initially thought was a severe tummy bug, but at the point where he erupted in a violent full-body rash (you’d think he’d been paint balling naked, his opponent armed with red paint – and no, I have no idea how that scenario might even arise either), I decided that it was rather more than someone just passing on undesirable germs, so called the doctor.  Through a bit of detective work, we speculated that it was possibly a severe allergic reaction to a portion of ice cream he’d eaten, containing chopped pecan nuts.  Thankfully, the suggested hay fever meds caused the rash to retreat very rapidly and subsequent blood testing confirmed a severe allergic reaction to nuts. Rather odd, when he’d both tolerated and regularly enjoyed nuts for over half a century.

So until he can have proper testing and can learn more (the waiting list is lengthy), we’re now manic label readers.  I already read everything for myself, as a diabetic who eats reduced carbs, but it’s surprising just how many seemingly unlikely products we ate regularly are now on the banned list.  Not only is our own supply cupboard looking very different, but it makes eating out, both commercially and in other people’s houses, a rather risky experience, especially when foods that have the potential to prove dangerous might seemingly have little outwardly to do with nuts (meats can be fried in nut oils, sauces thickened with nut flour, added vegetable protein and vegetable oils in recipes can be derived from peanut etc. etc.).  I can’t even begin to imagine what a minefield it must be to parents of youngsters with similar dangerous allergies.

As he already has several chronic and serious health issues, the severity of his body’s reaction to that very small amount of nuts has had a detrimental impact on his overall health, although thankfully he’s now showing considerable improvement.  Consequently, our weekends have been spent trying to recharge the batteries and return him to previous health levels, so we’ve made a point of getting out at any opportunity to visit favourite quiet places.

We might not go far or do much when we get there, but making a point of going out, even if you only sit and read for an hour and listen to birds and the breeze through the trees, enforces a detachment from real life for a while and removes you from temptation to just get on with chores.  The investment of time, we feel, is very well worth doing in this regard.  I’m certain that our policy of doing this regularly has paid dividends in his recovery and certainly does me good too.

Roe deer bucks – 2 for the price of 1:

Hence we found ourselves on Saturday afternoon, sat in the car to shelter from the very stiff winds and intermittent rain, with our books and flask of coffee, just enjoying the peace and watching a group of bunnies chasing each other through the grass.  There was a moment when one running shape registered as odd until my brain put it together and I realised that this was no bunny, but a roe deer, somewhat further away.  It ran the full width of the field in front of us, stopped and ate for a few minutes and then ran towards us diagonally and disappeared into the trees edging the field.

Grasses catching evening sun, as pretty as any 'conventional' flowers.
Grasses catching evening sun, as pretty as any ‘conventional’ flowers.

I was struggling to get decent photos through the slope of the car windscreen, but was able to get out of the car fairly invisibly as there was a sign nearby that I was able to walk in line with and hide behind to get some better photos.  It was a considerable distance, so the shots are significant crops (see below), but you get the idea.   I’d managed to remain unseen by it until two cars tried to pass in the single track road and one revved in frustration and this got the deer’s attention, at which time it must have seen me as it is looking straight at me in the photograph.

A few moments after it disappeared into the trees, we spotted what we thought was the same deer a few yards from where I’d first photographed it, but it couldn’t have got there in the time, or without us seeing it, so we were a little perplexed.  It followed exactly the same route over the field and disappeared into the trees at the very same spot.  I took some more photos through the open car window and it was only when reviewing these later that I could see that it wasn’t the same deer at all.  The first roe deer buck looks to be about 2 or 3 years old with 2 tines or points on his antlers, where the second buck not only has three tines on his antlers, suggesting he’s probably a year or so older, but he only had one antler, his left one being missing.

It was odd that they’d followed the same route across the field, both into view and again out of it, but as it is their rutting season, I wonder if the older male was following the scent of his younger rival, with a view to demonstrating his greater status – and perhaps that’s why he only has one remaining antler, maybe he’s already put it to good use.

 Gallery:

Recent work:

Just to prove that I haven’t been entirely sat on my bottom drinking coffee and gawping, these are some of the new designs added to the shop recently.

 

20 Jun 2016

Daft bunnies, squirrels and a new shop

You can’t be suspicious of a tree, or accuse a bird or a squirrel of subversion, or challenge the ideology of a violet.  Hal Borland

They're elusive little critters and their speed and agility outsmart me more times than not.
They’re elusive little critters and their speed and agility outsmart me more times than not.

As we’re not able to get away for a holiday this June, we decided to take the time off in short bursts instead, having a couple of long weekends where we vowed to try and get proper holiday-style days out – with picnics and everything.

Thankfully, for our first such long weekend, there was gorgeous warm weather.  It had been fabulously sunny over the weekend, but by the Monday and Tuesday, it had gone a bit more cloudy and humid and oppressive instead.  But we managed two proper full days out and without resorting to coats or waterproofs, which is always a bonus.

We went first to a new place for us; Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve in West Lancashire, a Lancashire Wildlife Trust wetland nature reserve and it only cost £2 for parking all day.  It was a lovely place that we’ll certainly visit again.  You walk in a loop around the mere, mostly in woodland and there were bird feeding stations and hides at suitable positions, where you can sit and look at the various wildlife using the mere.  There had been kingfishers in residence a couple of days earlier and we sat waiting for a while at their favourite perch but didn’t see any evidence of them.  Regular visitors who came into the hide said they hadn’t been seen for the last 3 days and must have moved on.  Shame, I would have been enthralled to see them that close, I’ve only had two fleeting glances of a kingfisher before.

As we were already near the Merseyside coast, we headed off to Formby Point where there is a reserve for red squirrels and we haven’t been for a while.  It had been a hot day and the National Trust wardens in attendance said it was too hot for the squirrels, so they hole up in their dreys during the day and come out when it cools.  As it was now around 5pm and there was a nice sea breeze, we were hopeful for a siting.  Thankfully, they did decide it was time to emerge and find some food, so we did see many of them scampering around in the trees.  They make it a little easier to spot them as their claws do make a scratching sound in the trees, so if you stand still and quiet, you can locate them by sound.  They move very fast though and many of the photos I got were of disappearing tails or a blur of movement.

The little chap I did get decent photos of (below in the gallery), albeit it a distance up a tree, seemed quite curious about me and kept coming back for a look, so that made it easier for me as at least he stood still for a few moments.

New shop:

My new smart phone responsive web site and shopping cart.
My new smart phone responsive web site and shopping cart.

The time came when I could put it off no longer.  My on-line shop was using a shopping cart system that was now three whole generations behind the times.  Google tell me when I advertise, that I’m missing business because I don’t have a mobile phone compatible site and well over 40% of my advert-clickers do so on a smart phone (which means that they probably don’t actually ‘click’ anything at all).  Add to that the impending PayPal increased security requirements, I decided it was time to look that elephant in the room right in the eye.  I might even go right over there and give his damn trunk a tweak!

So after much hair pulling and gnashing of teeth, my new, smartphone responsive and now fully secure site has been officially launched.  There’s a great deal to it and it takes a huge amount of work to get it how you want it, hence not much new jewellery to report.  Fine tuning pages for the new design will be a work in progress for a little while yet, but all the major stuff has been addressed – and I believe it’s working well.

If you’d like to try it out, I’d welcome any comments as there’s limited value in my own testing as I know how it works and what to expect and if you would like to make a purchase, there’s a launch coupon for 10% off across the shop (gift certificates are excluded, minimum spend £10), valid until the end of June 2016 – just enter LAUNCH10 in the appropriate box in the basket.

Gallery:

You’ll need to view the gallery to see the daft bunnies.

 

29 May 2016

Garden birds and daft squirrels

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.    Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

I think this time of year may well be my favourite – long days, warm sunshine without humidity and excess heat and with pristine new foliage and plants emerging with all the summer ahead of us. I love that point, usually in mid-May, when the natural world just explodes into life.  There’s often a period of warm sunshine and spring showers and that combination of light and water seems to conjure up some magic in the things that grow and we go from the hint of things about to develop to being surrounded by lush bright green foliage and an increase in bird song and insects buzzing.

I have several bird feeders in the garden and when I fill them and the clean the bird bath (just what do birds do to get the bottom of it full of grit every time I top it up?!) I make a point of standing still nearby until the birds return to them, so that they’re used to me being there and associate me with the supply of food.  I decided to put this to the test by taking my camera outside one day when the area was in sunshine and hoping that they’d tolerate me taking some photos and many of the frames below are as a result.

One particular supposed ‘squirrel proof’ feeder has been in use for many years and the lid long since became dis-attached –  a combination of rust and persistent efforts by the squirrels to remove it.  I’d had it wired on and this necessitated unraveling the wire and replacing it tightly each time I filled it.  On a couple of recent occasions, the lid was either loose or had been completely removed and I wasn’t sure how a squirrel could get it unwrapped so easily.  Until I saw him in action – his technique comprised getting his nose under one edge of the lid and using brute force to lever the lid back, away from the opening.

I walked past the kitchen window the other morning and something moving outside caught my eye, but took several seconds before my brain could compute what I was seeing.  This supposed ‘squirrel proof’ feeder was swinging violently and there was a mass of grey fur protruding from the top.  The silly squirrel had only entered it nose first to get at the seed, which was quite low in the feeder and had seemingly got stuck.  He extracted himself after a struggle and as he stayed put on the adjacent branch, I grabbed the camera, hoping that he’d find the proximity of the seeds too tempting, which he did.

He just shimmied into it until his mouth met seeds and proceeded to eat until I took pity on him and took him some seed of his own out.  He again had a heck of a job backing out of it and then sat on the branch above, not three feet from me, looking at me as though everyone tackled their breakfast in the same way, so what was I laughing at.  I love how squished his ears are and I wonder where his front legs are, as he’s only seemingly hanging on by his back legs.  I’ll need to wire the lid on especially tight, as I don’t want to be responsible for him getting stuck in there.

Gallery:

You can click on any of the photographs to see a larger version and then run through them in sequence.  There are captions to accompany each photograph.