coquet nature lover

Friday, 23 September 2016

Waiting for the apples

Autumnal equinox

Over the last few weeks, I have been woken by the chattering of flocks of swallows congregating on the power lines. What a beautiful sight to watch these small sociable feathered creatures twist and turn, then gracefully swoop down into the Coquet valley. Yet, this sign of imminent migration is also one that also brings sadness as their departure signals the end of our summer - just as their arrival announced that summer was here.  So that's it - the nights will soon be longer than the days and officially, it is most definitely autumn!

(Fr-Hirondelle    D-Rauchschwalbe)

As our summer visitors depart for warmer lands, winter visitors start to arrive. Here is a photo of black-tailed godwits (arriving from Iceland) taken last month at the RSPB nature reserve in Leighton Moss, Lancashire. A great place to visit if you are on the west coast. See 'on the move' page for the story on another Icelandic migrant!

black-tailed godwits still in summer plumage
 (Fr-Barge à queue noire    D-Uferschnepfe)

On the subject of autumn migration, I've not seen any sign of fieldfares or redwings just yet but, with the plentiful supply of berries and apples in the orchard, maybe they will pop in for a seasonal feast soon. Now that would be good! They should be arriving over next few weeks so look out for them along the hedgerows - especially if there are berries about and yes, there are absolutely loads this year!

According to ancient folklore if you get a bumper crop of berries, 'there will be a cold winter ahead'. Check out your weeds too as another interesting saying goes like this: 'the taller the weeds during the summer, the deeper the snow in the winter'. In my garden, the weeds are usually quite high but that's because their removal is one of my least favourite tasks!  

Getting back to fieldfares and redwings, both species are members of the thrush family. Fieldfares are large birds, similar in size to mistle thrushes, whereas redwings are much smaller and described by the RSPB as 'Britain's smallest true thrush'.

cotoneaster berries

The apples aren't quite ready for harvesting but with the great weather we've enjoyed this September, it won't be long now. It's not difficult to tell when the fruit is ripe as if you hold an apple and give it a gentle twist, it should come away with ease. Here's another saying for you - not sure how true it is! 'the thicker the apple skin, the colder the winter'.

ripening apples

Rich rewards for all the orchard

collared dove enjoying the ripe damsons
(Fr-Tourterelle turque    D-Turkentaube)

Here is a photo of Jacques the resident jackdaw waiting for the apples to ripen! Sadly, his left wing is broken but despite this, he does seem to be able to clamber up into the fruit trees. I am amazed he has survived so long but this bird, being an intelligent member of the crow family, (see my post Swiss Affair) has adapted well and never turns down a dish of peanuts or tasty dried mealworms! 
  (Fr-Choucas des tours    D-Dohle)

rowan berries

song thrush (Fr-Grive musicienne   D-Singdrossel)

robin devouring huge worm
 (Fr-Rougegorge     D-Rotkehlchen)

...and in and around the greenhouse

wood pigeon (Fr-pigeon ramier    D-Ringeltaube)
swallows and house martin congregating - preparing for migration

Time to reflect 

If you enjoy poetry, here are two very different poems on apples

by Laurie Lee (1914-1997)

Behold the apples’ rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers, the rind
mapped with its crimson stain.

The russet, crab and cottage red
burn to the sun’s hot brass,
then drop like sweat from every branch
and bubble in the grass.

They lie as wanton as they fall,
and where they fall and break,
the stallion clamps his crunching jaws,
the starling stabs his beak.

In each plump gourd the cidery bite
of boys’ teeth tears the skin;
the waltzing wasp consumes his share,
the bent worm enters in.

I, with as easy hunger, take
entire my season’s dole;
welcome the ripe, the sweet, the sour,
the hollow and the whole.

After Apple-Picking
by Robert Frost (1874-1963)    
   My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Swiss Affair

Blogging isn't quite so straight forward as you might think. You start off with a location in mind and a pretty good idea of what you intend to photograph and write about, yet when you reach your destination, your plan just doesn't seem to add up anymore. Maybe the weather is bad, perhaps the camera is playing up, or possibly you're just not in the right frame of mind...  Well that's what happened on this trip which entailed one sunny day in Geneva followed by four days of booming thunder and torrential rain in Locarno - the Italian speaking part of Switzerland.

As you can well imagine, the plan was to focus this post on the birds of Lake Maggiore but heh-ho, my plans went awry when the heavens opened. Not a bird in sight until the last day when thankfully, serenity returned and a few species came out to play! So much for this region being on the 'sunny side of the Alps!'

Luckily, Geneva had a few surprises in store so I hope you enjoy the photos. With its chocolate box scenery and close proximity to the Alps, this city has attracted visitors for many centuries. The yellow taxi shuttle boats, known as 'mouettes' - french for seagulls - are a great way to cross the lake and visit tourist sites including the Jet d'Eau, Jardin Anglais, UN and Botanical Gardens. If you stay overnight in a hotel, you will be given a free pass for public transport (which includes the mouettes) for the length of your stay. Well worth knowing in advance.

The aptly named ferry - Rouss'eau MG No. 8

Lac Leman, known to many as the Lake of Geneva, was called Lacus Lemanus in Roman times. In June 1712, the influential philosopher, writer and political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva. His work inspired leaders of the French Revolution as well as the Romantic generation of poets and great writers, including Byron, Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (nee Godwin), who sought inspiration on the shores of this croissant shaped lake two hundred years ago. Mary's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (1759-1797) was also a great writer and philosopher and is today widely recognised as a pioneer for women rights, particularly in respect of education.

 "From the windows of our hotel we see the lovely lake,
blue as the heavens which it reflects, and sparkling with golden beams."
(Mary Shelley, History of a Six Weeks Tour, 1817)

Arriving in Geneva, it wasn't long before I spotted a black kite - the first of many around the shores of Lac Leman. Quite difficult to photograph as they were high up and circling quite fast.

black kite
(Fr-Milan noir     D-Schwarzer Milan)
I found other birds much far more photogenic as they sat and posed for the camera!
red-crested pochard
(Fr-Nette rousse    D-Kolbenente)

mandarin duck
(Fr-canard mandarin     D-Mandarinente)

(Fr-Harle bièvre    D-Gänsesäger)

coot family
(Fr-Foulque macroule    D-Blässhuhn)

two bald cootlets!
yellow legged gull
(Fr-Goeland Leucophee   D-Mettelmeermowe)

Here are a couple of photos of greater spotted woodpeckers - taken in the Botanical Gardens in Geneva.

adult male greater spotted woodpecker
(Fr-Pic épeiche    D-Buntspecht)
juvenile with its red cap

... and here is a jay

(Fr-Geai des chênes    D-Eichelhäher)

At the eastern edge of the Parc des Bastions, you will come across the 100 metre long Reformation Wall which was built into the old city walls. This international monument was erected in 1917 and below you will see the imposing five metre statues that honour four of the major 16th century reformers: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox.
Reformation Wall, Geneva
United Nations, Geneva

'The girl on the train'  

...not sure if you've read this year's global best-seller by Paula Hawkins but these are her opening words: "THERE IS A PILE OF clothing on the side of the train tracks"

Onward bound... Geneva to Domodossola, I can assure you there were definitely no items of discarded clothing to be seen on this track! As the shiny speeding train below clickety clacked down the line, the only images that sprung to mind were those of cleanliness, cowbells, chocolates and alpine meadows - certainly nothing deadly...

From Domodossola to Locarno on the Centovalli Railway, the scenery was breathtaking and I did spot a turtle dove snoozing on a branch in the sunlit chestnut forest. With the deep ravines and sharp bends, not to mention the 83 bridges and 34 tunnels, you'll understand why I wasn't quick enough to get a photo for you! Still, this pleasant memory lingers on, reminding me of days gone by.

View from the train - Mont Blanc - also a deathly experience for many..

Locarno, Le Tessin
Following several weeks of heavy rainfall and warm temperatures, the usual transparent blue waters of Maggiore had been transformed into a murky brown mass, swollen with sediment and tinged with green. Many lakeside paths were flooded and inaccessible and apart from the odd mallard, there was very little wildlife about.

mallard amongst the submerged willow (male)
(Fr-canard colvert    D-Stockente)
and here is his mate resting in the daisies

"Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains"  Rousseau's famous opening sentence of 'The Social Contract' is known to many however the first four words of his quotation "La patience est amère, mais ses fruits sont doux" somehow seemed more relevant when I still didn't have one shot of a bird on the lake on my third day!

yes, it's picturesque but not a duck in sight!

Great crested grebes

(Fr-Grèbe huppé    D-Haubentaucher)

I think that Rousseau's quote must have provided me with some inspiration as on the last day of my trip, the clouds suddenly lifted and the temperature shot up to a balmy 26C! The drops of rain on my camera lens left no trace and there, on the lake ahead, a family of great crested grebes emerged in front of my eyes! Yes, Rousseau, with his quote which when translated to English reads "Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet", certainly rang true! Better late than never or as you would say in french 'mieux vaut tard que jamais'.  French lesson over!
Unfortunately, it's not often I see great crested grebes in Northumberland however when I have the chance to visit the capital, I try to visit the London parks where they breed very successfully and are much easier to spot.  You will find some wonderful photos on the Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park birds blog with numerous photos of these beautiful birds fishing in the well-stocked Serpentine.          
Locarno, Lake Maggiore
until this great crested grebe suddenly appears from behind the wave

and here is his mate with two baby grebes having a ride

sleepy chick

Oh, there's Dad with my dinner..

trying to keep up with Mum

una vista magnifica

The crow family - Hooded crows

This species is known to be sociable and highly intelligent. Research has shown that members of the crow family can recognize faces, use tools and also count! In fact, this is not just down to recent studies.  Back in 1972, Eric Hosking, an English photographer, suggested in his book 'An eye for a bird' that if you want to take a picture of a raven from a hide, you will need at least four to five people as, before returning to their nests, these smart but camera shy birds make a count of the persons as they leave the hide! I must try that out sometime!

(Fr-Corneille mantelée   D-Nebelkrähe)

Dust of Snow - a poignant poem by Robert Frost
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued
I also took these photos of Italian sparrows - certainly not good enough for Flickr! You can see they have bright reddish brown caps (similar to tree sparrows) but they don't have the black patch on their cheek.
hopping about in the long grass
hoovering up the breakfast crumbs
Amazingly, I did manage to see a collared flycatcher as it flew up to the top of a tree. Unfortunately however, I didn't have the camera handy so I've no proof - typical isn't it? especially when they are so rare...  Anyhow, if you're interested, click on the link below and you will find information on its population and distribution in Switzerland.

Au revoir et à la prochaine