Friday 16th July 2021

I had booked tickets a couple of weeks ago to visit the gardens again at Harrogate, not realising at the time that our visit would coincide with the last day of Yorkshire Show also in Harrogate. In the end it didn’t make a great deal of difference. I have to drive past the Harrogate showground to get to the gardens at Harlow Carr, consequently the volume of traffic in that area was considerably higher than usual which in turn results in delays etc. As it turned out the traffic flow system into the Yorkshire show ground was well organised and controlled and after a slight delay, we actually had a trouble-free journey arriving at the gardens on the other side of Harrogate just 10 minutes later than planned.

It was a warm and humid morning 15C, the sun broke through the low mist around 10.45am just after we arrived which made for a very pleasant walk, not too warm, but good short sleeve shirt weather, no jacket.

I popped into Betty’s café for a takeaway coffee before heading through the booking office and into the gardens. We did our usual clockwise walk today, from the visitor’s centre headed down the slope and turned left admiring the colourful borders in front of the restaurant. A little further on, heading towards the Bramall Learning Centre, we passed our first sculpture. The sculptures are part of an exhibition entitled ‘The Four Seasons’ by the American artist/designer Philip Haas and this was one of four located around the gardens, you cannot really miss them standing some four and a half metres in height. Each of the statues is reminiscent of the seasons, depicting the flowers, ivy, moss, fungi, fungi, fruit, vegetables abundant for that particular season. They reflect the constantly changing cycle of nature here at Harlow Carr. Cathy Killick one of our local BBC ‘Look North’ news reporter was there with a cameraman doing several pieces to camera which were aired later that evening on the television. We continued our walk, passing the Learning centre and library on the left and the ‘Teaching Gardens’ and ‘Lakeside Gardens’ before we reached the sunken ‘Edwardian Garden’. I’ve read that this section of the garden was originally created for the BBC television series ‘Gardens through Time’ and this Edwardian Garden represents the garden philosophy at the turn of the 20th century. The paving area and dry-stone walls still looks fresh, clean and new having been refreshed and refurbished a couple of years ago.

We continued our walk passing through the ‘John Brookes Garden’ which reflects the garden philosophy of the 1960’s, this area looks to be in the process of re development including the installation of a bridge across the corner of the QM lake, which will be nice to look forward too. Passing Diarmuid Gavin Garden on the right, it was back in 2004 when this garden was designed with a contemporary theme using modern materials to create a low maintenance space. It still looks good although not my type of garden style.

Continuing down and around the QM pond we stopped to watch some tiny Coot chicks swimming amongst the weed at the water’s edge and dragonflies flitting from one Iris to another, the stream flows from the QM pond and runs east to west throughout the garden, it cleverly knits together the formal gardens and borders to the woodland slopes on the other side of the stream. The paths within Streamside echo the meandering route of the stream, this area is home to a wide range of wildlife, including dippers, tree creepers, weasels, and voles.

Much of the planting along both sides of the stream was laid out by Geoffrey Smith an early custodian of the garden and regular television gardening expert, sadly now passed away. No matter what time of year you visit the gardens the streamside is awash with colour and a vast array of plants which thrive in those conditions. Moisture-loving planting includes hostas, Rodgersia, Gunnera, Astilbe, Filipendula and Iris sibirica, as well as ferns from the National Plant Collection of Dryopteris all thrive in these surroundings especially the Hosta ‘Empress Wu’, one of the world’s largest hostas with leaves up to 56cm (22in) across, they are massive.

As I have previously mentioned on earlier visits, several of the stone bridges across the stream have been either rebuilt or refurbished over the past couple of years and the banks planted with beautiful, bright and vibrant Primulas, they certainly look colourful and a constant source of pollen for the Bees.

Considerable work was done in 2020 during the Covid lockdown period when the garden were closed to the public, the sandstone garden was re designed and established with huge boulders and fine planting, all designed to protect the stream from floodwater erosion.

We reached the old Bath house at the end of the streamside walk a few minutes later, where we had a browse around the arts and craft exhibition that was currently being held there. The old Bath house dates back to the 19th century and was built to enable guests at that time to enjoy the ‘spa water’s. The stone building originally contained 12 cubicles in which people would bathe in heated sulphur water. The wellheads which provided the water have since been capped, but on a calm day you can occasionally get a whiff of sulphur.

After a sit down and coffee at Bettys outdoor café, we continued our walk up the gentle slope to the kitchen gardens, the raised beds were full of varieties of vegetables which thrive on the heavy clay soil. We stopped to admire the 2nd of the huge sculptures adjacent to the Garden centre before heading back along the formal gardens, the borders are awash with colour and plants of all shape, colour and form. I always like to head back down to the stream and walk along the otherside of the stream for a few moments before heading up through the newly restored Sandstone Garden, this is a lovely area with the ponds, new path and refreshing planting a lovely place to sit and contemplate for a few moments. From here it is just a short walk back to the visitor’s centre and Bettys main café, alas the wait for a table was over on hour so we popped into the shop for a couple of sandwiches and buns to take home with us. As always, a lovely walk in very pleasant surroundings. Now where were those other two sculptures?

 

Thursday 1st July - Sunday 4th July 2021

With the easing of the Covid restrictions and with no inclination or intentions of wanting to go abroad this year (2021) we decided to take a short break and visit a part of North Yorkshire that neither of us knew all that well and somewhere not too far from home, (no more than a 2-hour drive) the other proviso was that wherever we stayed it must be dog friendly.

After browsing one or two journals we came across Gisborough Hall Hotel, situated on the outskirts of Guisborough, it looked an extremely nice hotel, so after a quick phone call we booked a three-night stay with Meg & Gracie for the beginning of July. As it turned out the hotel suited us down to the ground. We had a lovely ground floor room, which is always handy when you have two dogs, the staff were extremely polite, obliging, and helpful, and the food was first class. The other thing that is important for me, especially when I have the dogs stopping with me, is having somewhere to walk the dogs close by and in relative safety, as it was, the hotel was set in its own private grounds and there were plenty of areas within the hotel grounds to exercise the dogs, though I did keep them off the front lawn tennis and croquet court!

The hotel was an ideal base for us to explore the surrounding area, we were just a 10-minute drive to the coast.

Before we left for our mini holiday, I drafted out a list of places to visit during our short stay including visits to Saltburn, Staithes and Sandsend as well as a visit to Guisborough Forest walkway.

After arriving at the hotel early afternoon, we enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon tea sat in the sunshine on the sun terrace, admiring the views on the North Yorkshire moors ahead of us. After a hearty meal and to work up an appetite for our evening meal I took the dogs for a good walk exploring the grounds around the hotel. I don’t know what Meg & Gracie thought of the Llamas that were in the field adjacent to the hotel.

After breakfast the following morning, we had a short drive to the coast and stopped at the lovely village of Sandsend for a coffee, after which we had a good walk on the beach with Meg and Gracie enjoying a good paddle in the water. After a spot of brunch, we headed off to the Guisborough Forest visitors centre where we followed a waymarked 2 mile walk through the woods of Guisborough. I was quite surprised how busy and popular the place was with other like-minded people. After our walk we headed back to the hotel for our evening meal.

The following day we drove over to Saltburn, mainly for me to photo the water powered tram way which takes visitors from the cliff top down to the seashore some 100ft plus below, unfortunately due to the Covid regulations the lift was closed. We had a very pleasant walk along the sea front watching the paddle boarders hone their skills under tuition from the nearby paddle board school. After a coffee we had a walk along the pier before returning to the car. It is a short drive down the coast road to the small fishing village of Stathes. It is a steady steep walk down hill to the sea front. We walked through the narrow alleyways till we reached the ‘Cod and Lobster’ perched on the side of the harbour wall. We enjoyed a very pleasant coffee sat on the sea front admiring the view before the walk back up the steep hill to the car.

The following morning after we booked out of the hotel, I was planning on visiting the ruins of Guisborough Priory which was just round the corner from the hotel, unfortunately it was absolutely pelting down with rain, so instead of walking I drove round, the intention being to park up close by, take some photographs, return to the car and head for home. Parking places were extremely limited close to the Priory this particular morning and as there was no let up with the rain, I decided to give it a miss and head for home. Hopefully it won’t be too long before another visit.

 

Wednesday 23rd June 2021

It was a lovely morning, I must have spent about 15 minutes looking for some Bee Orchids whilst out with Meg & Gracie earlier today, alas to no avail. I have seen several pictures of them on social media, I know they are well spaced out and know the vicinity of them from previous years, anyway, there is always tomorrow.

I had 10.00am pre booked tickets for a visit to RHS Harlow Carr this morning, so straight after breakfast it was a quick shower and change of clothes etc.  It was a straightforward 45-minute drive up the A1 motorway from home, the traffic was quite heavy between the Leeds & York junctions but other than that there were no hold ups or delays. It was just after 10.00am as I drove into the carpark at the gardens and made our way to the reception entrance. I was quite surprised that although still quite early, there were quite a lot of cars already in the car park.

This morning we took a different route than usual and instead of walking around in a clockwise direction we went in the opposite direction, there was method in my choice of route, namely my thirst for a coffee, I know we could have got one in Bettys café/restaurant adjacent to the entrance but there was quite a queue there and because of the length of that said queue we decided to follow this new route which took us past the outdoor café next to the old ‘Bath house’. I hadn’t realised until we arrived at the gardens that from Tomorrow through till Sunday was the annual Garden Festival, so all the stall holders and nurseries staff were busily setting out their pitches ready for the show.

Considerable work has been carried out landscaping what was the small stream adjacent to Bettys which ran down to the Gazebo, the stream has been taken out and turned into a rockpool and the pathways reshaped accordingly, it will look lovely once the planting gets established again.

Anyway, from the entrance we followed the path to the right along to the Alpine house, this footpath path looks to have had some work done to it since our last visit and the border adjacent to the garden centre shop has been reshaped too. Following the footpath to the left, we headed down through the kitchen garden to Bettys Tea house where we stopped for our first coffee of the morning. After our refreshment we continued our walk down to the stream and followed the streamside walk all the way to the QM lake. The footbridge over the stream near to Geoffrey Smiths monument has been rebuilt during the lockdown and looks wonderful, all locally sourced stone and some excellent handiwork. The planting along this part of the stream is extremely colourful and a haven for bees and butterflies.

Some very nice pieces of stainless-steel garden ornaments have been placed next to the lake which oscillate with the wind and look very effective as they twist and turn with the light breeze. Work looks to have started preparing the area for a foot bridge over the corner of the lake, it looks as they will be hoping to complete it by the end of the year. We continued our walk around the lake and up to the lakeside gardens and the Edwardian Garden, this part of the garden has just nicely been refurbished and a lot of the drystone walling replaced, it is always a colourful part of the garden with lots of soft grasses and evergreens. From here we continued along the path, admiring the view over the QM lake on our left, passing the Lodge and learning centre before making our way out around the back of the centre, this is a temporary exit during these Covid times. We made our way down the slope, passing Betty’s restaurant and shop on the left, to the bookshop and garden centre. I always enjoy a walk through the bookshop and garden centre, it is very rare that we don’t come away with something, be it a book or two or a plant from the garden centre that took our fancy. After our perusal we made our way back to Bettys, the plan was to have lunch there but as all the other visitors had the same idea as us and with a wait of up to an hour, so we decided to buy some sandwiches and cakes from the takeaway part of the shop to take home with us. It was an uneventful drive home where we sat in the garden and had a very pleasant lunch.

 

Wednesday 16th June – Friday 18th June 2021

Having stayed clear of any oversea holidays during the lockdown and with the easing of travel restrictions recently, we, along with our good friends Peter & Geri enjoyed a three-day break based at Otterburn in Northumberland.

Traveling from home on Wednesday afternoon, we head north, up the A1, passing the ‘Angel of the North’ on the outskirts of Newcastle where we veered left and arrived at the small market town of Hexham for a coffee and break from driving. We had a very pleasant walk around the town, pausing for a few moments to admire the ancient Abbey and through the Abbey gardens, after some refreshment we continued our journey north arriving at the Otterburn Estate and our hotel ‘The Coach House’ for the next two nights some forty minutes later.

After a hearty breakfast we had pre booked tickets to look round Alnwick Castle in the morning and the gardens in the afternoon. From the hotel it was just a 45-minute drive arriving at 11.00am. It was a lovely morning, the sun was shining and a nice bright blue sky, not too warm at 15c.  I always enjoy a good castle to look around and this one was no exception.  I remember visiting it for the first time many years ago as a child with my parents. Today the castle is popular with visitors and film buffs alike as it has been used for the filming Downtown Abbey as well as the Hogwarts school of witchcraft in the Harry Potter films. The state rooms were beautiful with some incredible items of furniture and artefacts. Of special note and housed outside in the Abbots tower was the Fusilier Museum, if you can manage the spiral staircase than this is well worth a visit, Abbot’s tower is one of the towers in the ‘outer bailey’ part of the castle where they do the ‘Broomstick training’. After a good look round the castle, we headed into the courtyard for a coffee and brunch before heading over to the Alnwick Castle Gardens. It is worth remembering that entrance fee to the gardens is separate to that of the castle and you need to book separate tickets to look around the gardens. It is just a short 5-minute walk from the castle, leaving under the ‘Lion Arch’ into the Alnwick Gardens.

After passing through the visitor’s centre and garden centre shop, the gardens open out in front of you, the first thing your eyes are drawn to is the huge cascade water feature which lies in front of you. The gardens were designed by the Duchess of Northumberland in 2000, and the huge cascade water feature was opened in 2001, along with the Rose Garden and Ornamental Gardens. We took a walk up to the top of the cascade to the formal gardens, sitting for a few moments to catch our breath and admire the view. After a few moments we headed around the other side of the water feature, down the steps and across to the ‘Poison Garden’ which was opened in 2005, stopping on route to watch the water feature transform itself with huge jets of water cascading across the ponds and the footpath walkways between them. The bottom ponds were sending huge jets of water high into the air too, it certainly was quite a feature and fun watching some of the small visitors trying to run under the water without getting wet. After safely passing through the ‘Poison Garden’ I was quite surprised at the number of familiar ‘poisonous plants’ on display that we actually have planted in our garden at home! we headed back to the visitors centre and café for a cup of tea and biscuit before leaving. As we still had some time to spare before heading back to the hotel, we had a walk into the town for a look around ‘Barters Bookshop’. Housed in the old Victorian railway station the shop is one of the largest in the UK selling used books, the shop is full of character and contains thousands and thousands of books covering every subject imaginable. Running around the inside of the main hall, on top of the bookshelves is a large miniature train set. The shop still retains lots of its past, with open fires, comfy chairs and railway memorabilia on all the walls. After a perusal around the bookshop, we continued our walk round the town and back to the car for the drive back to the hotel for the evening.

The following morning, after breakfast, we packed and left the hotel for home. As it was such a lovely morning I detoured slightly and we had a very scenic drive over the Cheviots and Northumberland fells to Eggleston Hall Nursery and Garden Centre.  The views coming across the fells were quite stunning, I always had bad memories of the Cheviots from many years ago, often being called out to look for lost and missing people in these fells, so it was nice to see the area and fell tops in glorious sunshine and the comfort of my car.

Eggleston Hall Nursery is situated in the heart of Teeside, just 6 miles from Barnard Castle and was well worth the visit. The gardens cover some 4 acres which include traditional borders, winding paths and lots and lots of plants. We enjoyed a very pleasant walk around followed by a cup of tea and biscuit in the garden café. Once refreshed we headed for the car and the steady drive home. The end of a lovely couple of days.

 

Tuesday 15th June 2021

I was up and out at 5.30am this morning with Meg & Gracie for an early morning walk around Brayton Barff. It was a lovely morning, dry, 14C and the sun was shining brightly, the lone Marsh Orchid on the Top of Tap Hill was in full flower and looked good in the early morning sunlight. We had a shorter walk this morning because after breakfast I had pre booked a ticket for a 9.30am walk around the grounds at Castle Howard with Meg & Gracie, I cannot believe it was four weeks ago since our last visit. It was a steady drive along the A64 which took 45 minutes today, on arriving in the car park I took M & G for a quick walk around the cricket pavilion before heading over to the stable courtyard and booking office. It was 9.35am as we headed over to the walled garden, the sun was shining, a lovely blue sky and the temperature was hovering around 16C. I have never been here as early as this before and I felt as though I had the place to myself. After passing through the garden, we headed over towards the house, along the South Terrace, over to the right it was nice to see the Atlas fountain up and running again after its spring clean. Passing the time capsule, we continued up the hill towards ‘Ray Wood’ stopping several times to look behind and admire the view of the house and the South Lake. After reaching the top of the hill we passed through the gate, turned left past the small cottage/workshop to the open reservoir. I don’t often visit the reservoir but occasionally pop and have a look especially at the central pedestal, to see if I can see the carvings of aquatic creatures and plants, carved into the pedestal, some were visible today but unfortunately the majority of them were below the waterline. After our walk around the reservoir we continued our walk through the woodland, there are nearly 800 species of rhododendrons in the wood, many towering high above my head, all different shapes and sizes, some having already flowered, others in full bloom and along with varieties of Pieris, hydrangeas and viburnums, the wood was a picture of colourful shrubs, as well as the different colours the scent from these flowers filled the air with a lovely sweet scent that drifted through the woodland. After about an hour or so we made our way out of the woods and headed for the ‘Temple of Four Winds’ The sun was still shining with a lovely blue sky, we sat on the grassy bank next to the temple to admire the views across the Howardian hills, the Roman Empresses standing on the steps of the temple certainly have some magnificent views in front of them. From the Temple we made our way down the grassy bank to the ‘frog pond’ to admire the view of the ‘New River Bridge’ and Mausoleum in the distant. A pair of swans gracefully glided through the water with one of their signets following close behind, the Canada Geese were far more inquisitive and about fifteen of them came paddling across the lake to check out Meg and Gracie who were standing closely at my side. We made our way along the waters edge, stopping to admire all the Marsh Orchids in the undergrowth, and the statue of the piper boy, before we climbed up the embankment to the ‘Southern Lake’. The water was flat calm with lovely reflections of the house shimmering gently on the waters surface. We sat on one of the wooden benches for 5 minutes for a break and to give the dogs a drink of water, I was amazed by all the tiny Tufted ducks on the lake this morning, all being quite vocal with their distinctive call. We continued along the southern edges of the lake, through the trees and headed for the Atlas fountain, it looked absolutely splendid in the morning sunshine. From the fountain we made our way back to the courtyard, I was hoping for a little brunch in the Courtyard café, but alas it was closed today, so we headed back to the car and the journey home. Another lovely morning with the dogs walking around the grounds at Castle Howard.

 

Tuesday 18th May 2021

After a busy few days rebuilding the kitchen after we had a new boiler fitted, I was in need of a little escape, so over the weekend I prebooked a ticket for a walk round the Castle Howard grounds. Tuesday morning was dry and sunny after a little overnight rain, I packed the car with some extra dog drying towels, just in case.  From home it is a steady 45-minute drive to Castle Howard, the only hold up tends to be where the A64 meets the York ring road at the Hopgrove roundabout, fortunately today there wasn’t the volume of traffic to make it a problem.

 I, along with Meg & Gracie arrived at the grounds for around 10.15am, the car park was reasonably quiet, so after parking the car I took M & G for a short walk into the woods at the rear of the cricket pavilion, the daffodils had died back but the warm and sunny weather had brought out all the wild flowers along the fringes of the woodland, huge swathes of Forget me not lined the edge of the woods, their tiny, pretty blue florets dancing around in the gentle breeze.

From the stable yard we passed through the booking office and headed over to the walled garden. After passing through the lovey wrought iron gate we followed the path trough the gardens, it was a hive of activity this morning with many volunteers/ gardeners busily tidying up the borders and planting bedding in other areas of the gardens. The beds of cream and purple Tulips looked absolutely beautiful.

After leaving the gardens we headed towards the house and walked along the south terrace towards the time capsule, stopping occasionally to look back at the house, some restoration work is currently being carried out on the eastern aspect of the house with the area affected covered under a huge white tarpaulin to protect the workers and fabric of the property beneath. From the time capsule we made our way up the gentle slope to the top of the hill and the gate leading into Ray wood. I wasn’t really prepared for the feast of colour that was about to hit me, the rhododendrons and Azaleas were in full flower and the woods were a mass of colour, reds, lilacs, white, cream and pink. I don’t recall having seen the woodland as colourful as this in all the years of visiting the grounds. Needless to say I must have spent over an hour just walking through the woods admiring the different colours, the scent was quite over powering in places too as it drifted through the air. On a warm, hot, sunny day Ray Woods is a great place to visit, especially if you have a dog with you as there is plenty of shade and protection from the sun. small trails lead to the small pyramid and to the reservoir, we came out of the woods adjacent to the Temple of Four Winds, the views looking over the Wolds to the North and the New bridge and Mausoleum to the Southeast were beautiful. We headed back towards the house, following the trail alongside the South Lake admiring the Azaleas and Rhododendrons. Clumps of Cowslips were in full flower and provided additional colour as we made our way towards the house. I headed over to have a look at the Atlas fountain which had been drained in order for it to be inspected, serviced and cleaned prior to the start of the new season.

From the Fountain it is just a steady five-minute walk back to the Stable Courtyard and a welcome cup of tea at the outdoor Courtyard café. Another very pleasant morning with Meg & Gracie.

 

Monday 31st May 2021

It has been a busy but relatively quiet month for me photographic wise, spending time down in Kent with Jenny’s family, and on returning home working in the garden for the following few days.

My daily routine of good morning dog walks with Meg & Gracie has given me time for some peace and solitude, I find it very therapeutic walking amongst the woodland, here is a brief summary of my observations during May whilst walking on the Barff.

May on the Barff this year has been dominated by the Bluebells, and yes, the rain.

Our morning dog walks during the first week of May were cold, with temperatures at 6.30am hovering around the 0C -3C mark and we were waking up to overnight frosts, which I don’t mind at all, sadly the frosts didn’t last for long and although we had some sunshine, we had even more rain, fortunately most of it fell during the night and early hours of the morning. The Met’ office records state that May was the fourth wettest May since the year 1862. Most of May was very unsettled, cold and windy, though we had a warm spell around the 8th & 9th. It was only towards the end of the month that things settled down with less rain and more in the way of warmth and sunshine. There were very few days that I didn’t wear my wellies, the Barff footpaths and trails sodden with water, soon became waterlogged, the dogs too were wet and muddy and had to be dried off on a daily basis most days, though they didn’t mind, they seem to be attracted to wet, mud and puddles.

Wildlife on the Barff continues apace, with sightings of the Tawny owls most days, I am certain that we have at least two breeding pairs in the woodland, which is great, there is an ample supply of food for them. I have not heard the Buzzard as often as I have in past months and can only hope that it is sitting on its young. I have been hearing the Warblers most morning, they have a lovely creamy sounding call, Blackcaps, Goldcrest and Tree Creepers continue to thrive, as do the Nuthatch, Chiffchaff and Wrens.

It wasn’t until the 11th May before I spotted my first White Bluebell on the Barff, after that I could pick them out quite regularly in several places around the woodland. I notice on social media that they were being spotted much earlier than I spotted them, some in late April even, note to myself, be more observant next year!

The warmer weather from the middle of the month certainly greened up the Barff with trees and bushes beginning to flower nicely, the wildflowers were flourishing too, the Foxgloves were starting to grow, having been quite dormant throughout the earlier part of Spring with many now standing at 2ft in height and starting to come into bud. Wild Garlic is shooting up everywhere as is Wood Sorrel, Campion and Stichwort, Dandelions have provided a splash of colour around the perimeter footpath as have daisies and buttercups. White Dead Nettles have been in flower for most of this month and will continue right through to the end of the year, they flourish alongside the perimeter footpath, and unlike the stinging nettles, the white dead nettles do not sting. Spear Thistles are growing fast at the moment, their sharp pointed leaves producing a sharp scratch on the hand and calf as you walk past them, it will be another month or so before they grow high enough and produce the purple florets, we are accustomed to seeing.

The Sun rises at around 5.00am at the moment and although I am not quite on the Barff for that time in the morning it has produced some spectacular colourful sunrises, which last for about 12 – 15 minutes before being engulfed in low cloud.

As the month comes to a close, the footpaths are drying out, the Bluebells are beginning to die back, being replaced with Nettles, Foxglove, Ferns and Brambles. The sweet scent of the flowering Honeysuckle filling the air is something I am looking forward to as are looking out for the Bee and Marsh Orchids, I always enjoy watching Bees taking nectar out of the flowering Foxgloves on the Barff, as well as watching the different varieties of moths and Butterflies feeding on the plant life, bring on June.

 

Friday 7th May 2021

After a cold overnight frost, I was out with the dogs at about 6.00am, it was a pleasant morning, the sun was trying to break through the low cloud and it looked like being a pleasant day.  I had a pleasant, quiet walk with Meg and Gracie, both of them being on good form and well behaved.

After breakfast, we had arranged to have a day out to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal with the dogs, I had prebooked tickets, and prior to setting off we debated about what to wear for our visit, although the sun was shining early on, the weather forecast was quite unpredictable to say the least. After much debate we decided to take two jackets each one being a waterproof jacket, we also packed the dogs waterproof jacket as well as a bag of old towels just in case they got wet.

It is just short of an hour’s drive from home and although quite busy on the motorway it was an uneventful journey. The sun was shining nicely as we arrived and booked into the visitors’ centre for 10.30am. We had driven through some rain showers on route so decided to put our waterproof jackets on when we arrived and carried the dog jackets in a light rucksack.

After a pleasant chat with the lady on the reception desk we left the visitor’s centre and headed for the ruins in bright sunshine. It is a good ten-minute walk to reach the Abbey and on arrival headed straight to the cloisters.  I spent two or three minutes photographing the ancient brick work before heading out again to follow the path which runs alongside the stream towards Studley Royal. Within seconds of reaching the path the heavens opened, we quickly put the jackets on the dogs and zipped up our jackets and continued with our walk. The rain turned to hail, we continued our walk along the footpath, sadly the trees offered no protection from the hail stones which by now were the size of peas, we passed many people coming towards us with no jackets or waterproofs and were absolutely soaked through. By this time, I was getting considerable grief from my other half, so on reaching the water gardens decided to follow the path over the stream and head back to the ruins and latterly the car park. After another ten minutes the hail stopped and within a minute the sun was shining. By the time we reached the ruins of the Abbey our jackets were steaming! We continued our walk through the ruins and headed back up the steep path to the visitors’ centre.

As the sun was still shining and it was quite pleasant and warm, we decided to stop and have an early brunch at the café, although we were unable to sit inside due to the current Covid restrictions, we headed outside and sat on one of the many benches on the patio area and enjoyed a very pleasant pot of tea and hot sausage roll, Meg and Gracie enjoyed their sausage roll treat too. By the time we had finished eating our jackets and dogs were just about dry and we were sat in just our shirt sleeves, enjoying the afternoon sunshine and vistas. It was hard to believe an hour earlier we were walking in a torrential downpour, oh well, typical British weather and to be expected at this time of year.

From the café it is a short walk back to the car, and the journey home.

 

Thursday 22nd April 2021

After a light overnight frost, I was up and out with Meg and Gracie for 6.30am. The air temperature this morning was -2C, I had a lovely, dry and sunny walk with Meg & Gracie. The Bluebells on the Barff are in full flower at this moment and depending on the weather should stay out for another two weeks at least.

I had pre booked a couple of tickets to take Meg & Gracie for another walk around the Thorpe Perrow Arboretum near Bedale today, so straight after breakfast I loaded up the car and set off for the 55-minute journey to the Arboretum. It was a straightforward journey, though there was some heavy traffic on the A1 between the Leeds & York junctions, but once we had passed the Harrogate turn off the traffic eased up nicely.

It was 10.45am as I drove into the car park and visitor’s centre. The sun was shining, a lovely blue sky and 15C, a pleasant Spring morning. The staff look to have been busy since our last visit, refurbishing and defining the car park.  After checking in and showing our passes, we followed the footpath over the stream and continued along the path adjacent to the stream, large swathes of daffodils were in flower around the Arboretum and formed huge yellow blankets over the woodland floor. The trees were leafing up and the different colours looked quite stunning in the morning sunlight. A striking blossom tree was in full flower next to the stream, it’s pink blossom cascading into the water. We continued along the path, passing ‘Henry’s Island’ on the right and a little further on ‘Kate’s Island’ I always stop here to look at the lovely carving which has been cut into the streamside tree. depicting several tiny huts linked by a spiralling staircase, a clever piece of craftsmanship and art. After a short rest we continued along the main trail, stopping to admire the main house on the opposite side of the stream, the manicured lawn, hedging and plants always look immaculate and today was no different.

Crossing the wooden bridge, I like to look at the view to the left, the planting of shrubs alongside the stream provides a palette of colour which changes with the seasons. Our path leads up to the Bird of Prey Centre and on reaching the centre we turned left and headed deeper into the woodland arriving at the gigantic ‘Jubilee Oak’, several trails branch out in every direction here, we continued along the ‘Millennium Walk’ passing several young families enjoying a picnic by the water’s edge. Clusters of Yellow Primula and Cowslips provided a haven for a family of Mallard ducks who kept pestering the picnicking families for scraps of food. Walking around the huge ‘Catherine Parr’ Oak, which has had quite a trim since our visit last year. We continued along our trail following the path alongside the edge of the arboretum, admiring the swathes of Daffodils, until we reached the ‘Monument’ I was hoping to take some pictures here and I got several, but was limited somewhat by a family enjoying a picnic there, so will try again on my next visit. From the monument it is just a five-minute walk back to the café, due to the current covid restrictions we could not eat inside the café, but they offered a particularly good takeaway service and with plenty of benches set up in the vicinity we enjoyed a very pleasant cup of tea and bacon roll, much to the delight of Meg & Gracie.

A very pleasant and enjoyable mornings walk.

 

Tuesday 20th April 2021

I had an early start today; I was on the Barff with Meg & Gracie for around 6.00am. It was a lovely morning, bright and sunny with an air temperature of just 2C, we have been waking up to a fair few frost of late but not this morning.

It has been a dry month so far, the ground is becoming well baked and arid dry, even small cracks are appearing as the soil continues to dry out with all this dry weather.  

I had pre booked a ticket for this morning to visit Castle Howard, so after breakfast, I packed the car with Meg and Gracie and set off for a walk around the grounds. It is just a steady 50-minute drive from home and we arrived in the car park at around 10.15am. I took the dogs for a quick stroll through the woods around the back of the cricket circle before we made our way to the main courtyard and booking office.

The booking office is always an adventure with Meg & Gracie as they are both inquisitive dogs, fortunately I must have timed my entrance well as the booking office was quiet with no distractions, much to the disappointment of Meg & Gracie.  On leaving the booking office we headed over to the walled garden to have a look around and admire all the planting. Today was a hive of activity with gardeners and volunteers, all busily tidying up and planting up the borders, for some summer colour in a few months’ time.

On leaving the walled garden we walked part way through the ‘Lime walk’ towards the house. The house has been closed since last year but re opens on the 17th May in line with the current governmental guidelines. Following the gravelled path, we continued along the ‘Southern Terrace’ towards the ‘Time Capsule’ pausing for a few moments to admire the view of the house bathed in bright morning sunshine.

After a couple of photographs, we continued our walk up the gentle slope to the gate and entrance to Ray Wood’.  Clumps of wild yellow primroses provided lots of colour on the woodland floor whilst some late flowering Azaleas and Magnolia bushes provided plenty of colour at eye level. There are numerous small footpaths within the woodland which are easy to follow without getting lost, we passed the small ‘Aztec Pyramid’ bathed in sunshine. This monument was completely restored with local stone back in 2016. From the pyramid we followed the trail which took us through the wood and brought us out near to ‘The Temple of Four Winds’ I always take a breather here to look at the Temple and the views across the fields to the Howardian Hills in the distance. Looking over in a South Easterly direction the Mausoleum and ‘New River Bridge’ come into view and make an equally impressive view. We made our way down to the waters edge and watched several Canada Geese as they swam gracefully in the small lake adjacent to the ‘South Lake’, passing the statue of the ‘Shepherd Boy’ on the right, we made our way up the embankment to the eastern edge of the South lake. The views from here looking towards the house are lovely, reflections of the house were shimmering on the surface of the water, Tufted Ducks and Mallards were swimming gracefully across the lake, occasionally diving to graize on the weed below the surface of the water. Lots of visitors were sat on the three wooden benches enjoying a picnic and views.

We continued our walk along the southern edges of the lake, admiring the late flowering daffodils along the waters edge. After a few minutes we passed the empty ‘Atlas Fountain’ which was currently undergoing some winter maintenance work and spring clean. We followed the path to the statue of ‘Apollo’ and then turned right and walked between the terrace of Lime trees back to the house. From the house we walked alongside the walled garden back to the Stable Courtyard and enjoyed a very pleasant coffee from the takeaway coffee shop before heading back to the car and the journey home.

 

Saturday 10th April 2021.

After the partial easing of the Covid lockdown last week we headed over to Harrogate and our first visit this year to RHS Harlow Carr, to meet up with my son and his family.

It has been a lovely, dry, sunny week, with cold overnight frosts accompanied by sunny, dry days, we have had very little, if any rain so far this month, though it is still early days.

As usual at this time, we had to book entrance tickets online in advance of our visit, in order for the RHS to control the number of visitors entering the site at any one time, which isn’t a problem now adays.

We arrived at the visitor’s centre for 11.00am and on meeting up with our family made our way through the booking office and into the gardens. The sun was shining nicely, with a lovely blue sky and white fluffy clouds, although there was still a bitterly cold easterly wind which kept the temperature down somewhat.  

The first thing that hit you after coming out of the booking office was the border full of mixed heathers which at this time of year were in full flower, every shade of purple, lilac and pink could be found in that border. A lot of work was being carried out re landscaping the area adjacent to the tea rooms, it will be nice to see what it looks like on our next visit.

From the centre we followed the footpath towards the learning centre and the sunken garden, the vista from this part of the gardens, looking down towards the stream looked beautiful, even more so under the bright sunshine,  the early flowering shrubs in the borders brought a lot of early spring colour into the garden, we continued our walk around the QM lake, stopping for a few moments to watch the Mallard ducks harass some visitors enjoying a picnic by the sides of the lake. The sunshine and clear blue sky transformed the landscape into a vibrant and colourful picture. We continued our walk following the streamside trail to the old Bath House, passing swathes of daffodils, gently swaying in the breeze. The embankment and rockery on the left as you reach the Bath house was covered in several varieties of Primula, the ‘Denticulata’ in particular looked beautiful, the light blue flower heads the size of golf balls looked amazing and extremely colourful.

We had brunch sat outside the Bath House, with a sandwich and cup of tea from the outdoor tearoom which was extremely pleasant before following the other side of the streamside footbath and bearing left up the slope to the recently restored sandstone rockery and garden pools. From here it is just walk to the garden centre for a browse before the journey home.

 

Wednesday 31st March 2021

With the easing of the Covid restrictions last Monday, for our first outing after the lockdown, I pre booked tickets for a walk around the Castle Howard estate today.

Although the morning started off dull and overcast, it was quite a mild start to the day, 12C at 6.30am when I was out with Meg and Gracie earlier this morning. I had to be at Castle Howard between 11.00am – 11.30am so I had plenty of time after our early morning walk to have breakfast, get a shower etc prior to the 50-minute car journey.

I put the dogs in the car and we set off from home at just after 10.00am, by this time the sun was shining nicely and a lovely blue sky above. It was a straightforward drive, the roads were reasonably busy, but traffic was flowing smoothly through the Hopgrove roundabout on the A64, if there was going to be a hold up it is usually at this roundabout, alas today we had a good drive without any delays. The long straight road onto the estate looked beautiful this morning, the sun was shining, and the daffodils were in full bloom lining both sides of the road adjacent to the gate house. We arrived in the car park around 10.50am. I took Meg & Gracie out for a walk around the back of the cricket pavilion and into the woods before we headed to the booking office.

After showing our tickets we made our way under the archway towards the house, the lawn on the western approaches is a mass of Daffodils at the moment and looks extremely colourful against the barren bare trees, the central tower of the Great hall is just visible through the trees and draws your attention. We continued our walk to the West side of the house and along the southern aspects, the house was looking pristine in the morning sunshine, several families were enjoying picnics on the lawns adjacent to the Southern Lake. After passing the house we continued along the Eastern Terrace leading to the Temple of Four Winds, daffodils adorn the sides and slopes of the terrace, every now and then we just had to stop and admire the view, the house and neatly cut hedges looked stunning. After a few minutes we arrived at the Temple and made our way down the slope towards the eastern corner of the South lake. We watched about a dozen Tufted duck, Mallard and Greylag Geese contently drift across the relative smooth water, basking in the afternoon sunshine.  We sat and admired the views from the eastern edge of the lake for a few moments before making our way around the southern edge of the lake, on reaching the formal lawned area we continued along the path, passing the Atlas Fountain on the right, before reaching the terrace of giant trees alongside the walled garden, we made our way back up the gravelled drive to the house and turned left and retraced our steps back to the gate house and stable courtyard. The temperature at this point was over 20C at this point, it was unseasonably warm but very pleasant, we were fortunate to be able to sit on a bench between the gift and farm shop and welcomed the shade from the side of the building. The sandwich and cake selection in the takeaway coffee shop was too tempting to miss so we had a very pleasant picnic in the courtyard, much to the delight of Meg, Gracie and myself.

It was great to be back again and look forward to many more visits throughout the remainder of the year.

 

Wednesday 31st March 2021.

No sooner has March arrived then it has gone in what seems like a blink of an eye.

Sadly, the Covid pandemic rumbles on, though it is good to see that at the end of March over 30 million of us have received the first Covid vaccination and 4.5 million the second dose.

The first easing of the lockdown has been welcomed by many on the 29th.  The evidence shows that it is safer for people to meet outdoors rather than indoors so outdoor gatherings (including in private gardens) of either 6 people or 2 households are now allowed, making it easier for friends and families to meet outside.

Following on from the easing of the lockdown, we took Meg & Gracie out to Castle Howard on Wednesday 31st, this was our first outing since the lockdown started and our first visit since last August. It was a gorgeous day, with sunshine and blue skies, the temperature during the early afternoon peaking at a 21C, the warmest day of the year so far. The Daffodils were in full bloom too which made for a lovely picture.

Due to the Covid travel restrictions my outings this month as have previous months during the lockdown been local, to be more specific our dog walks around Brayton Barff.

Our early morning walks on the Barff continued throughout the month, March started cold and dry with several overnight frosts. It has been nice not having to wear my wellington boots.

I am usually on the Barff between 6.30am - 7.00am at this time of year, unfortunately for most of the month it has been quite dull and gloomy at that time of day, with the sun not appearing till well after 10.00am some days, but on the handful of days that the sun rose early the sunlight transforms the Barff with a lovely golden hue.

The woodland is certainly greening up and as I write this note (towards the end of March) the Bluebells are just starting to come into flower.  New leaf is showing on the Elderberry bushes, the Honeysuckle bushes and old Oaks are well in leaf too.

The Dawn Chorus continues apace, with Robin, Song Thrush, Wren, Blackbird, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Dunnock all contributing to the sound as we make our way around the Barff. I was intrigued part way through March with a bird call I hadn’t heard for a while, after a little investigation it turned out to be a singing Nuthatch, with quite a repeating trill sound.

Chiffchaff arrived back into the woodland around the 10th March and since then their numbers have increased on a daily basis, their distinctive chiff chaff call quite distinctive above that of the Great Tits at the moment. The Greater Spotted Woodpeckers continue to make their presence known with their persistent drumming on the rotten tree trunks and branches in their search for food, most of them will be sat on eggs at the moment.

The Grey Squirrels never seem to tire, chasing each other up, down and around the tree trunks, often at breakneck speed, they never hibernate and are active all year round.

The warmer Spring temperatures are bringing out many of our woodland plants too, with Wood Anemone, Violet, Wood Sorrell, Cow Parsley emerging from under the leaf mulch on the woodland floor and by the end of the month tiny florets are showing under the sunlight.

Over the weekends I often walk both sides of the Bypass trail and off late have noticed several Grey Partridge feeding amongst the field adjacent to the golf course, several years ago the corner of this field was planted with Sunflower and since then has been left fallow and the Partridge along with Goldfinch are still feeding on spent sunflower seeds. The field on the Barff side of the Bypass has just been deep ploughed for I presume a potato crop. I like to see a nicely ploughed field, and this one certainly ticks my box, I think my passion for nicely ploughed fields must come from my grandfather on my mothers’ side who was a farmer over in Holderness, in East Yorkshire during the early part of the 1900’s.

I have enjoyed watching and listening to both Sparrow Hawk and Buzzard this month, I have only heard the Buzzard calling recently over by the golf course, but the Sparrow Hawks I have watched over the top of Tap Hill, alas the Crows tend to give them a hard time as they circle on the thermals.

I have also noticed a significant number of rabbits on the Barff this month, always scampering away from me, their little white bob tails heading off into the deep undergrowth and relative safety of the bramble bushes, which too have started to grow at an alarming rate of late, often I have returned home with scratches on the back of my hands.

This last week several Blackcaps have just returned to the Barff, their numbers increasing throughout the week, and hopefully more will arrive over the next few weeks, though looking at the weather forecast for the beginning of April their passage from Southern Europe may be somewhat delayed by the Artic blast being predicted soon.

As the month comes to a close, it is nice to see the Wood Sorel, Wild Garlic and Lesser Celandine beginning to flower. I am looking forward to April, the longer days, more sunshine and most of all watching the Bluebells come into flower.

With the Covid restrictions being lifted slightly from the 29th March, I hope to be able to get out and about a little more over the coming weeks.

Stay Safe.

 

Sunday 28th February 2021

What a month, Rain, snow more rain, finishing up hard overnight frosts, the only constellation is that it is starting to get a little lighter in the morning.

The Corona virus lockdown continues so my photography has been limited very much to my dog walks on Brayton Barff and the garden.

The second half of February certainly has had more than its fair share of rain, I have been wearing my wellies since before Christmas on my early morning Barff dog walk.  I have just been reading that on the 24th February, earlier this week, 125 mm rain fell in the 24 hour period at Honister Pass in the Lake District, so I think we have got away with it quite lightly over here. The report goes on to say that 38 cm of snow fell in Aberdeenshire on the 10th of the month so compared to our 15mm of snow, we were quite fortunate.

The Coronavirus ‘lockdown’ continues which means we can only take our exercise within our local area and as such I have seen a significant increase of footfall on the Barff and especially over the weekend periods.

Corona deaths continue to dominate the news still, but still averaging at about 500 a day, fortunately as more people receive their vaccinations that number should start to reduce considerably and free up space in the hospitals. Lets hope that with the children returning to school next week we do not see another spike in cases.

On the Barff, although the tracks are still exceptionally muddy at the moment, the main perimeter footpath remains relatively clean and dry. It is nice to see signs of spring around the woodland, Bluebells are breaking through the ground mulch, the gorse bushes are full of tiny yellow florets, and random clumps of daffodils are beginning to flower which brightens up the dullest of morning walks.

The Grey squirrels are extremely active, scurrying up and down tree trunks with ease and scavenging for food amongst the undergrowth, Nuthatches are still extremely vocal and can be heard at various places amongst the woodland. Greater Spotted Woodpeckers can be heard most mornings, busily hammering away on the Silver birch and Oak tree trunks.

The birds are beginning to awaken now Spring is nearing, Song Thrushes can be heard around the Barff, Chaffinch are always there in the background, along with Robin and Blue and Great Tits. There are not many days when I haven’t either seen or heard the Buzzard calling as it circles above the tree line, nearly always being hounded by a pair of crows. Dunnocks and Wrens can also be heard and seen skitting around the hedgerows adjacent to the perimeter path.

I noticed a pair of mute swans on the standing water in the field between the Barff and Brayton village last Monday, such was the amount of rain we have had recently.

The wildflowers and fungi are beginning to show at the moment, there is a nice cluster of ‘Scarlet Elf Cup’ on the fallen, rotten trees quite close to the car park.

Foxgloves have been present on the Barff throughout the winter and are just starting to come out of their winter dormant period, their large green leaves are forming small crowns, though it will be several more weeks though before the stems start to rise.

I have just recently spotted the Lesser Celandine and Wood Sorrel breaking through in various places around the Barff, and tiny little leaves are beginning to appear on the Honeysuckle and Elderberry bushes. It is nice to see clumps of crocus and daffodils coming into flower and provide some colour to the countryside. The Bluebells, especially along the eastern side of the Barff are growing nicely and beginning to form a huge green blanket over the woodland floor.

The last few days of February have been dry and cold with quite hard overnight frosts, and with the colder weather we have had some beautiful sunrises. At least the mornings are getting much lighter now.

Back home I have been busy decorating one of our bedrooms, it has taken me nearly a fortnight, stripping paper, hanging lining paper and painting, I’m busy shampooing the carpet later today, so hopefully by tomorrow I should be able to get all the furniture moved back, then a rest for a few days, mind you, I am expecting a tap on the shoulder to ask if I can re decorate another bedroom shortly, watch this space.

 

Sunday 14th February 2021

Well, here we are, halfway through February already and our sixth week of the Coronavirus Lockdown since Christmas. It has been a very quiet time for me recently except for a dental check and opticians appointment life has continued much the same since the lockdown started.  It was great to hear that the NHS have now vaccinated 15 million people in the UK against the virus, let’s hope the supply of vaccines continues apace and more people including our key workers can receive theirs very shortly too. Hopefully in the next week or two I will be invited for mine.

I feel extremely fortunate having Meg & Gracie especially during the lockdown, in that they give me a purpose me to get out of the house and take them for their daily walks and living very close to Brayton Barff is an added bonus. No two days are the same and every walk on the Barff is very different, be it the weather, the people we meet or the things that we see.   

February started with a bitterly cold overnight frost, the overnight temperature on the morning of the 1st dropped to -3C at 7.00am. I much prefer these dry colder mornings than wet and soggy ones and we had a few of those last month, which in turn made all the small tracks on the Barff extremely muddy and difficult to walk on, let alone making the dogs filthy and wet. The following day was much the same, though during the early hours of Tuesday 2nd February we had a heavy downfall of snow. Snow on the Barff completely transforms that landscape, covering the whole area in a huge white blanket. Unfortunately, the snow didn’t last for too long and within a couple of days had all but disappeared, making all the footpaths on the Barff wet and very muddy again. Sunday 7th February was a dry and bitterly cold day, with some light snow flurries on and off throughout the day. The following morning the light snow flurries continued, the air temperature was 0C at 7.00am, but the strengthening SW wind made it feel like -4C. the snow showers fizzled out during the afternoon. It was during the early hours of Tuesday 7th February that we had some more heavy snow and by 7.00am was about 1.5 inches deep, the air temperature was -1C, which made it a bitterly cold morning. I put the winter dog jackets on Meg & Grace, mainly to keep them warm and dry as I had them with me whilst I was busy photographing and didn’t want them to get cold whilst I was composing pictures.  I had a great productive morning, all be it a little tiring, I had good light, the sun was shining and the snow was quite dry, I managed to capture about half a dozen good pictures of our most frequent bird visitors in the snow as well as some nice landscape images around the woodland, Meg and Grace were extremely patient, though we had a good play and run around in the snow after I finished filming, they spent most of that afternoon and evening totally exhausted, asleep on the settees in the lounge!   Snow flurries continued for the next two days and with cold days and overnight temperatures dropping as low as -4C, the snow stayed on the ground till the rain came late this Sunday evening. It never ceases to amaze me how resilient the wildlife can be on the Barff during these freezing conditions. I’ve watched the Greater Spotted Woodpeckers hard at work, drumming on trees in search of food as well as finding and making nest holes, seemingly oblivious to the freezing cold, the Nuthatches have been really vocal too, their distinctive short call can be heard nearly all the way around the woodland at the moment, Great Tits and Robins have been plentiful too. That said, I haven’t seen as many Grey Squirrels this past week, they may be staying in their Dreys till a little later in the morning in the hope that the air temperature warms up a little.  Chaffinch and Goldfinch as well as a few Long-Tailed Tits have been showing well and looked good in the morning sunshine. Looking at the weather forecast for the next seven days it looks to be the last of the snow for the time being and by next weekend the temperatures have been predicted to rise to between 10C – 12C, signs that Spring is just around the corner?

Sunday 31st January 2021

Well, here we are at the end of January, it only seems 5 minutes ago since Christmas.

The Covid 19 lockdown continues apace, with only essential travel allowed, the shops, pubs and hotels are still closed. Fortunately, I have been able to continue my daily exercise with a walk on and around the Barff with Meg and Gracie. My photography this month, as it has for the majority of the past ten months, been confined to the Barff and the garden unfortunately. I cannot see the situation improve until Spring at the earliest. On a positive note it is good to see that some 8 million people in the UK have now been vaccinated against Coronavirus to date.

It has been a cold and wet month which is to be expected at this time of year, during mid-January ‘Storm Christoph’ brought more wet and windy weather to the region with over 100mm of rain, which in turn brought flooding to many parts of the country. As well as the rain we have endured some significant overnight frosts and on several mornings during the latter part of January the morning air temperature at 6.45am has been around -3C. The average mean temperature this month was just above 2C, which is 1.5C below the 1981-2010 long term average, making January the coldest since 2010.

The clear and frosty mornings were welcome by many, including myself, especially as the frost dried up the muddy paths and tracks around the Barff, and with the clearer air we were treated to some spectacular sunrises.

Several highlights for me on the Barff this month have been watching and listening to the Buzzard several times at close quarters, unfortunately not close enough to capture with the camera. Also, we look to have a resident Kestrel on the Barff which has been showing nicely of late, I’ve heard that it has been terrorising many of the smaller birds around the feeding station.

It has been nice listening to and watching the Nuthatches calling for their mates, they have been quite vocal of late and I am certain several of the bird boxes will have broods of Nuthatches in them in a couple of months’ time. The Grey Squirrels have been very active and playful too, most mornings I watch and listen to them squabbling with other family members as they scurry up and down the tree trunks, quite often they will run across the path in front of Meg & Gracie, trying to goad them into a chase, fortunately the dogs ignore the taunts.

Several days of late, I have heard the Greater Spotted Woodpecker drumming away on some of the old rotting Silver Birch trees, they have a knack of hiding around the other side of a tree as we walk past it, they are a lovely bird to look at and the patches of red on their forehead and rump brightens up even the dullest of days, I hope they have a good breeding season.

It has been nice to hear small flocks of Long Tailed Tits on the Barff, I used to regularly hear and see them when I was able to film at RSPB Fairburn Ings before the first lock down, they would visit the feeding station two to three times during my morning visit, but before they came to feed they would congregate in the bushes behind me and when the path was clear they would suddenly drop in on the fat ball feeders, between six to eight of them, they would gorge their stomachs as fast as they could and in next to no time, like 15 seconds later, were off back into the relative safety of the bushes. Very rarely would I see a lone Long Tailed Tit, they always fed in small groups.

Chaffinch, Great and Blue Tits are regular sights on my morning walk, the Barff provides and ideal habit for them, as it does for the Robin who quite regularly follow me around the Barff, often landing on the floor just inches away from Meg & Gracie.

The small shoots of Bluebell continue to sprout up around the woodland, despite the frosty mornings as do several small patches of Snowdrops which are currently in flower around the Barff. Honeysuckle leaves are beginning to open and Foxgloves are starting to flourish too. The Gorse is flowering nicely, its bright yellow florets providing a welcome bit of colour around the woodland.

Another sign that Spring is just around the corner is that the nights are beginning to get a little shorter, this past week it has been relatively light at 7.30am with the sunrise between 8.15am – 8.30am.

No snow yet this year, I wonder if we will see some next month?

 

Tuesday 12th January 2021

Well, here we are the start of a New Year, and stuck in a Covid Lockdown again.

Unfortunately, due to the rising Covid levels across the country prior to and after Christmas, the government has re-introduced a lockdown across the entire country.

Late last year North Yorkshire was in the tier 2, whilst most of the country was in tier 3.

As I write this note, sadly in the UK over 81,000. people have now lost their lives due to Covid since the start of the pandemic. This New Year our hospitals are recording over 900 people a day losing their lives, with 30,000 patients currently being treated in hospital for Covid. This obviously is putting a tremendous strain on our hospitals and my heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones and to all the staff working in the hospitals in such stressful circumstances. A ray of hope during the Christmas period was the announcement of effective vaccine to treat the virus. Within a few days a second vaccine was approved and as I write this note a third vaccine is ready for release. Over 2.4million people have been vaccinated to date with the aim of having 15 million people vaccinated by mid-February.

The lockdown has affected us in many ways, fortunately for me I am retired with two very active dogs which enables me to spend some time outdoors, alas my photography during this time has been focused on my dog walks and what I see whilst on the daily walks. My local patch (Brayton Barff) is just over a mile from home so well within the criteria of ‘local area’.

Since Christmas we have had our first light covering of snow on the Barff, followed by some extremely cold and frosty mornings, a little rain, more ice and some beautiful sunrises.

Although still quite early in the New Year we have had some lovely morning walks, the hard frosts have frozen up the muddy puddles. On the morning of the 3rd January we woke up to a significant overnight frost, the main footpath around the woodland was almost unwalkable due to a thick layer of ice covering a large area of the perimeter footpath. Unfortunately, the colder temperatures during the first week of January meant that the ice stayed around a little longer than was welcome. Here we are during the second week of January, the ice has now disappeared, and the smaller off route trails are extremely muddy again.

Over the weekends when the road traffic is much lighter, I often extend our walk by following the bypass trail down the slope towards Mill lane, crossing the A63 bypass and following the track on the other side of the road, heading back up the slope towards the Barff.

This weekend I have been fortunate to watch a Buzzard hunting in the field adjacent to the golf course. It was still quite dusk as I approached the bird, around 7.45am, a good 45 minutes before sunrise, it was sat, motionless in a young Silver Birch tree, its eyes scanning the field for prey. Initially, from a distance I could just see its black outline in the tree, it looked like a large overweight wood pigeon, but as I got closer it was quite apparent it was a Buzzard. I stood and watched for a few minutes as it took to the wing, its underwing markings clearly identified it as a Buzzard, it flew off towards the centre of the field and after a couple of powerful wing flaps the bird was high in the air. It circled above the field for a minute or so before returning to the same tree it had been perched on before I disturbed it. We continued our morning walk along the bypass trail, crossing over the road bridge before heading back into the Barff.

The colder weather hasn’t deterred the Grey Squirrels at all, we see and watch them daily, scurrying up, down and among the tree branches, they are so agile and flexible.  On the woodland floor Blackbirds can be seen and heard busily upturning all the frozen leaves in search of food, quite oblivious to myself and the dogs as we pass them by.

I’ve heard and seen several Nuthatches of late calling to each other, they have obviously over wintered here, I remember hearing them calling back in December, I’ve also been fortunate to catch sight of several Tree Creepers too, scurrying up and down tree trunks prizing out grubs from between the bark of the oak and silver birch trees. I have heard several Goldcrest too, this delicate, tiny bird with a little gold crest on its forehead tends to prefer the big holly bushes which is where I generally hear them.

I startled a Hen Pheasant on our walk earlier this week, Pheasants have really good hearing and on two occasions just recently they have flown out from the undergrowth no more than a metre away from me, as they took flight, I could feel the draft from their wings as they flew over my head into the relative safety of the field the other side of the footpath, making a noisy, high pitch croaky rattle as they fly away.

One of the main highlights as I walk around the Barff at the beginning of January have been the beautiful sunrises, accompanied by a clear dark blue sky. It starts to get light at around 7.30am with the sun rising around 8.30am. Depending on the weather conditions each sunrise is completely different, some last for seconds whist others can last up to 15 minutes.

Although still in the depths of Winter, signs of Spring are beginning to show, tiny shoots of Bluebell leaves are just breaking the soil surface, fortunately they are well covered from the elements by a thick covering of leaf mulch. The Autumnal fallen Acorns are beginning to sprout too with a tiny root breaking through the outer shell and sinking into the ground beneath. The gorse bushes around the Barff add a welcome bit of colour to the landscape at this time of year, the vibrant yellow florets brighten up the day nicely.

Looking at the weather forecast for the days ahead it looks as though a band of snow is heading our way and snow on the Barff completely transforms the landscape. Stay safe.

 

Thursday 31st December 2020

What a month.

Alas, December has brought shorter days, darker mornings and much colder and wetter weather, I have had to resort to wearing my wellies for our dog walks on the Barff, as most of the tracks away from the main perimeter footpath are extremely muddy and have been for the whole of December.

The Covid pandemic continues apace across the country, fortunately here in our part of North Yorkshire we are still in Tier 2, though West Yorkshire and the East Riding have just moved into Tier 3 since Christmas.

Life on the Barff continues as usual, though the bird life seems to have quietened down considerably with most of our summer visitors now left the area for warmer climes before returning again in the Spring.

There are plenty of Grey Squirrels about, they don’t really hibernate through the winter and can be seen on most visits to the Barff, they will have stockpiled a significant amount of food, including an abundance of Acorns, to get them through the cold, wet winter months. As much as I would sooner see the Red Squirrels the Greys are quite characters and I often have to stop and watch as they busily scurry up and down the tree trunks at breakneck speed chasing their brothers and sisters, they are extremely light footed and agile, the noise they make sounds like that of snowflakes landing on a window during a cold winters blizzard.

The Buzzards are still around the Barff area, I have heard a pair calling several times a week on my morning walks around the woodland mainly on the other side of the bypass adjacent to the golf course.

I often seem to disturb hen and cock pheasants on my early morning walks, they are lovely, big and colourful birds but a bit skittish, quite occasionally jumping out in front of me with a lot of wing flapping and squawking, if they just kept their heads down, I would have walked past them completely oblivious of them ever being there.

December has been an exceptionally wet month in this part of Yorkshire, just before Christmas the volume of water in the Aire & Calder caused it to breach its banks causing considerable flooding around East Cowick, fortunately most of the water drained into agricultural land on the South side of the M62.  

‘Storm Bella’ hit the country on Boxing day evening, fortunately this part of the county escaped the worst of the wind and rain although we had in excess of 15mm of rain fall overnight. The River Ure in the Yorkshire dales over topped again around Hawes which caused significant flooding albeit on agricultural land but also caused problems shutting the A684 at Wensley.

The dull and cloudy mornings in December were occasionally replaced with several frosty mornings which, although cold, made quite a pleasant change, as did some of the sunrises, the sun was rising at about 8.00am at the beginning of the month and 8.30am towards the end of December, which made for some spectacular skies looking over towards the East and the villages of Brayton and further afield Drax, unfortunately within a 15-minute window the sun had disappeared behind thick dense cloud.

Although relatively quiet on the bird front on the Barff at the moment, we still have our residents, Blue and Great Tits, Nuthatch, Robin, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Dunnocks and Wrens which can be heard around and amongst the woodland.

It was several years ago that the Barff was designated an Ancient Oak woodland, and following an recent investigation by one of our ‘friends of Brayton Barff, Derek Cooper armed with a long tape measure has measured a number of our significant Oak trees on the Barff. It was interesting to note that one of one of the oldest trees is the ‘Oak swing tree’ which most youngsters and their parents will know on the eastern side of the Barff, this tree measures around 6 metres around its circumference which puts it date at approximately 433 years old. To put this into some form of prospective, at the time this Oak tree was planted during the 1580’s, Queen Elizabeth 1 was on the throne, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway and Francis Drake was knighted. It will be fascinating to see if Derek finds any trees older than this one on the Barff.

During the last week of December, we saw our first snow of the winter, it had been snowing quite heavily earlier in the day on Monday 28th in parts of West Yorkshire and the Dales but it wasn’t until the early hours of Tuesday 29th that it reached the Barff area. By 7.30am it had all but stopped and we were left with a covering of wet slushy snow. The weather still stayed cold though, and we have just experienced three bitterly cold days were the temperature didn’t get much above 4C during the day, dropping to -4C during the night. The hard penetrating frost of the 30th finally froze the mud on the woodland trails making them firmer to walk on, that said the main perimeter footpath became quite treacherous in places due to the ice, fortunately by late morning the sun and slightly warmer temperature made the paths much less slippy.

Unfortunately, as the month comes to an end, cases of Covid continue to rise again across much of the country with many counties now being placed into a tier 4, fortunately North Yorkshire has been placed in tier 3, so at least we are still able to come to the Barff to walk and exercise.

Finally, to end on a more pleasant note, the days are now starting to get a little longer, it is beginning to get light at around 7.30am and am pleased to report that tiny Bluebell shoots are just starting to poke through the ground, role on Spring. 

Thursday 17th December 2020

It was quite an emotional day for me today, firstly I drove over to Elloughton in East Yorkshire with Meg & Gracie, to lay a Christmas wreath on my parent’s grave in the Cemetery adjacent to the beautiful St Mary’s Church, I always have a chat with them both as I gave their headstone a spruce up, many of their friends are buried there too so I know they are in good company.

After leaving the Cemetery, I drove down to Brough Haven to take Meg & Gracie for a nostalgic walk along the riverbank.

My association with Brough Haven dates back to my childhood. Having been born and brought up in the village till just after I married in 1981.

One of my earliest memories is that of my father taking myself and brother for a walk along the riverbank during the winter of 1963, when the River Humber froze, I can remember the huge blocks of ice left strewn on the shoreline, it was quite regular at that time for the temperature to fall to minus 20C and this particular year was no different. The river froze solid preventing any river traffic for some time. The big freeze that year lasted from Boxing Day through to March.

As a young lad I can vividly remember fishing for eels with one of my elderly neighbours, we used to walk down to the end of one of the wooden slipways and fish from the end, patiently waiting for the fish to take the bait,.

More recently in the late 70’s I bought my first dog and used to walk her along the riverbank first thing in the morning before I went to work and again later in the evening after work. As she was to become a working dog I used to do a lot of her obedience training in the small carpark area, needless to say at that time it wasn’t tarmacked like it is today.

The history of Brough can be traced back to the roman times and during that time the haven was used as a naval base. Records show that there was a ferry from Brough across the river which formed part of what was known as Ermine Street, eventually the ‘port’ silted up with mud, but in its heyday was heavily used to transport coal and latterly grain, spirits and building materials. Alas, with the advent of Rail travel from the 1840’s the use of the haven as a commercial port eventually ceased.

During 1883 the Humber Yawl Club was founded, nestling on the water’s edge, it is still functioning today, making it one of the oldest clubs in the country. The Humber Conservancy Board had their offices adjacent to the Yacht club and back in the 70’s were responsible for servicing and maintaining the three main lightships on the river, namely, Lower, Middle and Upper Witton. The British Transport Docks Board took over in 1968, but today the work is carried out from offices in Hull.

Within the last ten years significant flood prevention work has been carried out along the haven foreshore, running from the haven carpark to past Welton creek, the most noticeable being the long flood wall and gate which will prevent flood water overlapping and entering the BAE site and surrounding residential properties. The footpath lies on the riverside of the wall, we followed the path past the factory to the sluice gate half way down the runway, considerable change has taken place here since I used to walk it with Sheba, most notable of course was that Cappers Chimney has disappeared, several wind farms have appeared, and considerable housing and new developments have shot up, it now looks as though Brough merges with Welton,  alas with all the recent rain the path today was extremely muddy and in places it was a challenge to keep upright, much to the delight of the dogs! On a positive note though, it was nice to re trace my steps from years ago, I have always liked living next to water and I think this must have come from my early dog walking days along the riverbank.

Today the area along for haven foreshore comes under the ownership of the Humber Nature Partnership and the haven estuary is now a special area of conservation as well as a special Protection Area. 

 

Sunday 29th November 2020

Well, here we are in November and our second lockdown due to the second wave of Corona virus. Cases of Corona virus are rising across North Yorkshire and the East Riding at this moment with the Scarborough area having the highest rate per hundred thousand population. Let’s hope this lockdown slows the spread and the tier system being re-introduced next month brings the pandemic under some form of control.

As a consequence of people being advised to work from home due to the Covid pandemic, I have seen a significant increase in the footfall on the Barff this month, with people using the Barff for their daily exercise. Many mornings this month the car park has been overflowing with vehicles, at one time, mid-morning, I counted twenty three cars, and another six were parked on the roadside, unfortunately one had blocked the gated entrance to the service road!

The first two weeks in November saw the Barff at its best with its Autumn coat on, when the sun shines there is no better place to be to lift the soul during these difficult times.

We had a few very foggy and misty morning walks on the Barff earlier in the month, the silhouettes of the barren trees making some ghostly shapes through the morning mist. There are still lots of birds about though, Buzzard can still be heard and seen circling above the top of Tap Hill, Goldcrest can be seen and heard, their high pitch call more frequent around many of the holly bushes. Blackbirds, Robin and Dunnocks can be seen quite regularly amongst the trees, as can Blue Tits, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Bullfinch.

The middle of the month saw several wet and windy days on the Barff, each morning brought a fresh layer of fallen leaves on the woodland floor. Grey Squirrels can be seen and heard every day, running up and down the tree trunks and across the branches, there is still quite an abundance of fallen acorns which will see the squirrels through the colder winter months.

During the later part of the month we saw and felt our first frost of the winter and with this colder weather have seen some spectacular sunrises, alas the wetter weather has also seen some significant muddy patches along the woodland trails much to the delight of Meg & Gracie, though Meg always comes home the dirtiest of the two!

The nights are getting longer this time of year too, it is quite dark at 7.00am with the sun rising around 7.45am. Time to get out the head light and illuminated dog collars as we start to prepare for the darker winter months ahead of us.

Friday 20th November 2020

Today was a typical late Autumn morning, dull and miserable and after the early morning dog walk I spent the remainder of the day sat behind my computer, busily editing photographs, listening to the persistent sound of rain falling on the office windows.

Several weeks ago, before the second lockdown was announced, around the beginning of November, I purchased a pair of tickets to have a look round RHS Harlow Carr ‘Glow’ event near Harrogate for this evening. Looking out across the garden, earlier this afternoon, cup of coffee in hand, I felt no more like venturing outside, with the camera to get cold and wet, also, with the current regulations about travelling due to the current travel restrictions due to the Corona virus, I was in two minds whether to go or not. Alas, several hours later I needed to have a break from the computer, so Jenny and I jumped into the car and headed over to Harrogate, it was just a forty minute drive from home to reach the gardens and considering the time of day, arrived just before our allocated time at 5.30pm, After parking the car in the car park, the rain from earlier this afternoon had eased slightly to a heavy drizzle, so, it was winter jackets on before we headed over to Bettys café for a takeaway coffee and biscuit. Face masks on and observing the Covid Spacing signs we made our way through the visitors’ centre to follow the well laid out trail, heading left towards the learning and development centre. The special lighting around the whole site was absolutely beautiful and quite enchanting, the two willow hares standing proud adjacent to the footpath, the blue and red lighting forming a lovely backdrop against the dark evening sky. We continued our walk heading towards the Queen Mothers lake, the waters edge clearly lit with thousands of lights around the entire lake, the trees on the right looking quite surreal against the rain ladened sky. Passing the lake on our right we made our way past the lakeside gardens to the sunken garden, which looked amazing, the shelter adorned with huge wicker stars covered with warm white and purple coloured lights. Continuing our walk around the QM lake we stopped for a few moments to look at the lighting effect looking back towards the visitor’s centre,  keeping the stream on our right hand side we followed the path to the old Bath House, the streamside part of the walk was absolutely amazing, the colours, the bare trees, the newly restored rock garden, the contrasting colours, the reflections in the water made a quite spectacular sight, everywhere you turned there was something to catch your eye, on reaching the old Bath House we popped into the Betty’s tea house adjacent to the Bath house for a takeaway coffee and biscuit, which made for some entertainment at my expense, trying to have a cup of tea, eat a biscuit and take photographs at the same time, whilst the path has a gentle gradient up towards the Alpine house. At one point I poured hot coffee down the front of my jacket as I couldn’t see the little hole in the cup lid as I tried to have a sip of tea! Needless to say I finished the biscuit in a couple of mouthfuls just to free up a spare hand. The lighting continued to amaze me, the Kitchen garden on the right leading up to the Alpine House looked stunning, although the Alpine house was out of bounds the lighting around it looked wonderful as was the hare riding a bicycle. After leaving the Alpine house we made our way into the garden centre and gift shop, the end of a wonderful evening.

Looking back this was my first outing since the lockdown other than the daily dog walks, I find it quite hard to describe the emotion I felt as we made our way back to the car.

‘Glow’ at RHS Harlow Carr ends on the 30th December 2020 though it will be closed for three days over the Christmas period. Please do not just turn up and hope to visit, tickets for this night-time event must be booked online prior to your visit. Please check their website prior to your visit https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/harlow-carr/whats-on/glow-winter-illuminations

 

Saturday 31st October 2020

Well here we are at the end of October; the second wave of Coronavirus is running amok in the country at the moment and parts of West Yorkshire have had to be put into a lockdown along with parts of the west country. Traveling to work and commuting is becoming difficult, the government suggesting that we all work from home if possible. We all have to wear facemasks when entering shops or using public transport, people have to be 2mtrs apart and no more than 6 people can form a group. Strict government guidelines are currently in place limiting visiting friends and family, and public houses have had to close at 10pm, difficult times indeed for many people.

The seasons continue apace on the Barff no matter what and October has been no different. Corona virus aside, it has generally been a dull, cloudy, wet and miserable month. Storm Alex brought rain and strong winds to much of the country during the first week of October turning some of the smaller footpaths around the Barff into huge muddy puddles which stayed like that for the remainder of the month. Throughout the month we had far more dull and wet morning walks than dry and sunny ones. I was fortunate enough to catch at least four colourful sunrises throughout the month alas the beautiful sunrises were preceded by dull, cloudy and overcast days.

October has been the month though for seeing the Barff at its best, autumn is here in vengeance and as the trees start shutting down and preparing for winter, the colourful leaves of the old Oaks, Birch and Beech trees have transformed the landscape of the woodland, round every bend of the perimeter path lies a different view, the golden, red, yellow and brown colours of the leaves as they glisten in the afternoon sunlight has to be seen to be believed.

The juvenile grey squirrels continue to thrive and can be seen all around the Barff at the moment,  running round the tree trunks and along the tree branches at breakneck speed, they should have an abundance of winter food looking at the amount of fallen acorns on the woodland floor.

The dull and damp weather of late has proved the ideal habitat for the Barff fungi, Shaggy Parasol, Stinkhorn, Sulphur tuft and puffball to name just a few, can be seen everywhere at the moment.

Cow Parsley, White Campion, Field Parsley and Storksbill are still in flower though once the frosts start later next month they will soon disappear. The Barff ferns and bracken have now turned a rusty brown colour and will continue to die back over the next couple of months, their new shoots start poking through next April.

I’ve had one or two frights on the Barff recently from the Pheasants,  Meg and Gracie seem to have the nose for them and have put up several, especially on our morning walks, they (the pheasants) are quite vocal when disturbed and fly straight up in the air, flapping their wings at an alarming rate and making quite a squawking noise flying off before Meg and Gracie get near them. I’ve seen the Buzzard several times recently, circling above the top of Tap Hill, calling for its mate as it tries to avoid the menacing attacks from the Crows. There are still lots of birds about though mainly our over wintering birds, Song Thrush, Robin, Blackbird, Nuthatch along with Blue and Great Tits, Wren and Dunnock can be heard and seen most days, I’ve even heard the Nuthatch calling for their mates.

Thursday 22nd October 2020

It has been a shocking week weather-wise so far this week, dull, damp and drizzly days with little or no sunshine, let alone the continuing Coronavirus Pandemic which unfortunately is back on its second wave in a vengeance, especially in Yorkshire at the moment.

I had a free day today, so we loaded the car with Meg & Gracie and after breakfast had a drive up to the arboretum at Thorpe Perrow to get some fresh air as well as giving the girls another walk.

I usually aim to arrive there at 11.0clock and today was no different other than we had to queue  to get into the car park, on all our previous visits to this arboretum throughout the years, albeit in the Spring for the snowdrops or daffodils etc or late October for the Halloween trail we have never had to queue to get in, here we were today, mid-week, not even the school half term holiday, having to queue to get in, I have never seen as many people at the Arboretum as there was today, we had a good ten minute walk from the car to the main entrance. Needless to say that after all the rain we have had earlier this week it was very wet and muddy underfoot. After completing the track & trace app at the main entrance we made our way along the main footpath to the streamside walk, fortunately the sun was shining and there was very little wind, such a contrast to the past few days.  The sky was a lovely shade of blue complimented with some white fluffy clouds, from a photographic point of view I like a blue sky as it complements my images nicely.

The arboretum team had set up their popular Halloween trail through the trees which in itself is well worth the visit and is probably the reason why there were so many visitors here today.

The autumn colours of the trees were at their best today, which probably explains why there were so many visitors, the light shining through the trees onto the golden-brown leaves below looked quite beautiful. We continued our walk along the streamside path, admiring the lovely purple and pink cyclamen in full flower which laid in huge patches on the woodland floor beneath the trees.

We stopped for a few moments on the wooden bridge at the end of the lake adjacent to the Milbank Pinetum to admire the colours of the trees and shrubs especially on the left-hand side where the lake runs into a stream. We continued over the bridge towards the Bird of Prey centre but before we reached it we branched off left along ‘Angels walk’ towards the ‘Jubilee Oak’ and on towards the ‘Millennium Walk’, several families were making most of the sunshine and having picnics along the waters edge. We continued around the small lake and headed towards the ‘Acorn Structure’ and butterfly garden, huge clumps of pampas grass swayed gently in the light breeze. We followed the path and joined the ‘main avenue’ and headed for the ‘monument’, the maples and acers which line the main avenue looked quite stunning today, the leaves turning to an beautiful autumnal red colour, the view along the ‘main avenue’ looking towards the main house were quite special. This particular view changes considerably throughout the seasons and is always worth the visit. After having a break at the wrought iron monument for a few minutes we continued our walk over the small stream and headed back to the café, which, due to the current covid restrictions was only able to offer a takeaway service. There was a huge canvas open sided tent on the lawned area with picnic benches beneath which provided plenty of places for the visitors to sit and enjoy their picnics. Needless to say we enjoyed a cup of tea and flapjack from the café, which ended off a very pleasant morning nicely.

 

Sunday 4th October 2020

After heavy overnight rain and an early morning dog walk, after breakfast we headed up the A1 to meet one of my sons and his family at Thorpe Perrow Arboretum for the day. It was a quiet and un uneventful 50-minute drive up the A1 arriving at the visitors centre for about 11. o’clock. The car park was relatively quiet with just a scattering of cars. It was a lovely morning, the sun was shining, 12C with just a slight breeze.  Due to the current Coronavirus Pandemic, we completed the appropriate track and trace paperwork and scanned the appropriate tracking app before entering the grounds.  After exchanging pleasantries with a cup of tea and chat we followed the trail, passing the play area on our left, continuing along the ‘water steps path’ keeping the stream on the right, the trees at this time of year were looking absolutely stunning, especially with the sun shining on them and a clear blue sky. This is one of my favourite sections of the trail. After passing the bridge over to Henry’s island we stopped for a few moments to look at the pet cemetery before continuing to the head of the main avenue to admire the stunning vista across the main lake. Continuing along the main path, passing ‘Kates island’ on the right and admiring the tree sculpture, we followed the track to the bridge adjacent to the Milbank Plantation. The colours on the trees and the reflections in the water looked beautiful. From the bridge we continued following the trail towards the Bird of Prey centre, the flying show had just started as we arrived so we stayed and watched as the falconer flew about four birds across the flying ground. The falconer and the birds kept the audience’s attention with lots of ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ as the birds flew low over our heads. After a pleasant 30 minutes watching the owls and eagles flying, we headed through the small shop to have a walk through the mammal centre. The Meerkats were on good form as were the goats, geese and chickens, although we could see the wallabies from a distance, unfortunately we couldn’t walk amongst them as this area had been cordoned off due to the pandemic. On leaving the mammal centre we headed towards the ‘Jubilee Oak’ at the head of ‘Birch Avenue’ and continued round to the ‘Acorn Sculpture’, the pampas grasses looked beautiful as they swayed gently in the breeze. We continued our walk through the trees, crossing the ‘main avenue’ and back to the coffee shop for brunch before our journey home. A beautiful day, lovely weather and great company. 

 

Wednesday 16th September – Friday 18th September 2020

Today we set off for a mid-week break to Chester to meet our friends Peter & Geri. It had been an early start as usual, I walked the dogs first thing and after breakfast took them both to their Kennels and spa for their short mid-week break. It is always quite strange coming home to an empty house having just dropped the dogs off, anyway I packed the car and Jen and I set off for Chester, It was a few years ago since my last visit, though it was a straightforward journey from home along virtually the length of the M62 motorway, passing road signs for Huddersfield, Oldham, Warrington, Ellesmere Port, picking up the A41 for the short journey to the hotel just South east of Chester. It took about one and threequarter hours from leaving home to arriving at the hotel for brunch. We stayed at the ‘Rowton Hall hotel & Spa’ which was a lovely hotel, very covid friendly, with hand sanitisers all over the place and a one way system operating through the hotel, it worked really well as did remembering to carry a face mask with me at all times, that aside the hotel was superb. No sooner had we arrived than our friends arrived a few moments later, having driven across country from Peterborough. After exchanging pleasantries, a pot of tea and a bite to eat, we all jumped into a taxi for the ten-minute drive to have a look around Chester. After dropping us off at the story house along Northgate we headed for the cathedral, this huge red sandstone building forms quite a picture and temped us in for a look round, after about an hour of browsing and admiring the architecture we left and continued our journey along Eastgate, stopping to admire the huge Eastgate clock, built above the Eastgate of the ancient walls, the clock wasn’t added though until the Victorian era to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. After admiring this beautiful time piece, we turned right onto Sooters lane, walked through the Roman Gardens and down to the river for a coffee. After a rest and look at all the activity on the water we headed back into the centre of the town and caught a taxi back to the hotel.

Thursday morning was bright and sunny and after breakfast we jumped into the car for the short ten-minute drive to Chester zoo. The weather was quite amazing in that during the day we had to shelter from the sun! such was its intensity. We had pre booked our tickets prior to our visit and enjoyed a very pleasant day looking at the animals and exploring the zoo.

Friday was a shopping trip, we said goodbye to our lovely hotel and headed over to Ellesmere Port and the designer centre ‘Cheshire Oaks’ for the remainder of the morning. After a light brunch and coffee, we said our goodbyes to our friends and headed for home. It was a relatively straightforward journey home via the M56 and M62 which took us just over one and a half hours, the end of a lovely mid-week break. Saturday morning I headed over to the Kennels to pick up Meg & Gracie and here we are back home.

 
Tuesday 8th September 2020
 
Unfortunately, the Coronavirus Pandemic continues, this has certainly restricted many of my photographic days out somewhat. With some of the restrictions being eased from July I have been quite reluctant to go out and visit many of the places which I used to under normal conditions.
I think my last visit to the nature reserve at Fairburn Ings was the beginning of February 2020! Now that many of the places of interest have introduced online booking I have visited the RHS gardens at Harlow Carr a couple of times and had a similar number of visits to Castle Howard and the rest of the time I have been working and filming from home and in the grounds of our garden.
One of the places we visited recently was the Himalayan Gardens and Sculpture park situated between Ripon and Masham. It was a dull and overcast morning as I drove up the A1 motorway with Jen and the two dogs. Due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic I had to book the tickets online several weeks ago, consequently I had no control of what the weather was going to be like on the day I booked the tickets. 
It is just a fifty-minute drive from home. On arrival in the car park we scanned our pre-paid tickets through the scanner and after looking at the garden map agreed a pleasant walk around the three lakes and back to the café for brunch. This was our first visit to the gardens so didn’t really know what to expect, other that the gardens had won the Yorkshire in Bloom award for 2018 & 2019. 
We followed a path down the side of the valley, care had to be taken as due to the steepness of the gradient, and the steps and handrail gave good support and reassurance. We passed several artistic sculptures on our route to the lake that took our attention as well as giving us a breather. By mid-morning the weather had improved, and the sun was trying to break through the grey and cloudy sky. We skirted around the lake admiring what looked like a huge floating magnolia flower head on the lake and a beautiful Chinese themed pagoda on the water’s edge. There were some great photo opportunities around every bend of the footpath, be it the views, the colours of the trees, especially the Acers and shrubs and grasses as well as some of the Sculptures. 
Meg and Gracie were thoroughly enjoying their second walk of the day, this time in completely different surroundings to what they are used too., lots of different smells and water!
We stopped every now and then along our route to enjoy the view and surroundings, some of the sculptures were very clever, some unusual, some amusing but all were set in a lovely setting amongst the trees. 
After a good ninety-minute ramble through the gardens we arrived back at the café for a lovely brunch. Due to the current Covid 19 regulations, face masks had to be worn in the café where we ordered our food and drink which had to be eaten outside, there were lots po picnic benches around the outside of the café and there was plenty of places to sit and eat, Meg and Gracie were thankful for the rest too. After our brunch and cup of tea we headed home having enjoyed a very pleasant walk around the gardens.
 

30th June 2020

The Corona Pandemic continues unfortunately, some of the initial restrictions are being slowly lifted though social distancing at 2metres remains in place.

The sunny and warm weather at the end of May continued for just a few more days into June, but by the 3rd it was a suddenly and distant memory with heavy rain all day, unfortunately one consequence to this was that Meggie got ‘cold tail’ from being out in all the rain whilst on her dog walk. The wet weather continued on and off for the following week with both Meg & Gracie wearing their waterproof jackets. It took four days before Meggie’s tail resumed its usual shape and she is now back to normal.  By the middle of the month it started to get a little warmer and our morning walks were quite humid with the temperature reaching between 14C – 18C. On Thursday 25th the temperature at 6.30am as I arrived on the Barff was a crazy 18C! by mid afternoon it was 25C. The following day was much the same, 16C and very humid at around 6.00am and later that day rose to 28C with a humidity of 60%, needless to say that evening we had some heavy thundery showers, the rain continued on and off for the rest of the month along with some fresh windy days.

One of the many highlights on the Barff this month was that the Marsh Orchid which came into flower, I spotted it around the beginning of the month and it has stayed in flower for a good three weeks. The Honeysuckle was another highlight, with its beautiful, white and yellow florets making quite a picture,  the aroma, especially around the top of Tap Hill was strong and filled the surrounding area, especially on the warm humid mornings when there was little or no wind. The Foxgloves have been huge this month, some reaching 6 ft in height, the bees love them, I often watched the bees as they flew into the long purple coloured trumpets and flit from one to the other until heavily laden with pollen. Ox Eye Daisies were in full flower too, their spindly stems blowing gently in the breeze, showing off their bright yellow eyes, surrounded by their delicate white petals. The dainty yellow florets of Birds foot trefoil are in full flower also, its yellow flowers look like little slippers and appear in small clusters, once they die back the seed pods look distinctly like bird's feet or claws, hence the common name. Rosebay Willow Herb are flowering nicely at the moment, the upper sections of the plants being covered in tiny little purple coloured florets.  They are able to flourish in this environment because of their specially adapted seeds - fitted with tiny, cottony 'parachutes' they are able to disperse across long distances on the slightest breeze. Each plant can produce up to 80,000 seeds. Unfortunately patches of the non-native Himalayan Balsam have started to appear, this plant tends to smother other plants, come October its seed pods will explode and send tiny little seeds over vast areas of the woods, hence it is important to remove this plant before the florets die back.

Most mornings I have looked for the Bee Orchids which should really be flowering about this time of year, but up to now  I have not been able to find any,  unfortunately earlier this year the forestry workers temporarily stacked a lot of their timber on one of the sites were the Bee Orchids  have flowered in previous years, whether this has impacted on them not showing this year I do not know.

The Barff’s canopy is now well established and forms a dense green canopy over virtually the whole woodland with just the summit being exposed to the elements so to speak. The Elderberry bushes have been awash with blossom this year and as the month comes to an end are slowly turning into huge clusters of tiny little red coloured berries.  It looks like being a bumper year for Brambles too they are flowering on all areas of the Barff, some of the runners being well over six feet tall, I have suffered many a deep scratch on my arms and legs from their sharp briars. Holy bushes are flourishing too, lots of new growth is visible, much to the delight of the young deer who tend to favour the new soft prickly leaves. Ferns and nettles are enjoying the current wet and humid weather, like the Foxgloves many are standing over 6 feet in height, I have to be careful on my morning walks as I generally tend to walk away from the main circular path around the perimeter of the woodland, and follow some of the smaller tracks through this dense undergrowth, unfortunately after heavy overnight rain I can finish my walk wet through from all the water on the ferns.

The Tawny Owls are still on the Barff, the chicks now loosing their fluffy down feathers and growing nicely. I keep seeing and watching the Buzzards circling around the Barff summit, Chiffchaff and Blackcaps fill the air with their songs as do the Willow Warblers and Dunnocks. Juvenile Robins seem to be all over the woodland at the moment and seem to fly into the path in front of me on most of our morning walks, completely oblivious to Meg & Gracie. All the Woodpecker chicks seem to have fledged, though several of the bird’s favourite nesting site trees have succumbed to the weather having been blown down during the strong winds which accompanied many of the heavy rain showers.

Let’s hope that now we have past the Summer Solstice we can have some warmer and settled weather before the nights start drawing in.

Monday 22nd June 2020.

Now the Corvid restrictions have been lifted a little we followed the guidelines and booked a time for 10.30am to visit Castle Howard, our first visit and day out, since the lockdown started on the 22nd March.

The main house unfortunately is still closed but the main reason for our visit to the gardens was for a breath of fresh air and to give the dogs Meg & Gracie a good run out, away from our home patch. It felt a little different visiting this morning, there was not as many cars or coaches in the main car park as usual. We had to show our e ticket at the reception along with our membership cards before making our way outside. The toilets in the courtyard and the courtyard restaurant are still closed due to the restrictions but additional portacabin toilets have been placed along the north terrace just before you reach the main house. We continued our walk passing the house on our righthand side. It was a lovely morning; the sun was shining with a cloudy sky and light westerly breeze. ‘Skelf Island’ and the ‘Boathouse café’ were still closed to visitors though I would think these would be opening again with in the next few weeks. After passing the house we continued our walk into Ray wood, the grass was quite damp after the overnight rain so decided to turn right and avoid the steepish path up to the reservoir, skirting around the house we continued along the ‘South Terrace’, towards the ‘Temple of Four Winds’ It was hard to imagine that on our last visit on the 16th March, just before the lockdown, the daffodils were in full flower and the sides of the paths and slopes along the edge of the wood were awash with colour. Today the daffodils have long gone and the grass left uncut, we continued our walk up the slope to the top of the hill, stopping on route to admire the view looking back towards the house and over towards the ‘South lake’. It was nice to see several other couples and families well spread out over the parkland, many of them enjoying a picnic in the sunshine.

We followed the path through the wooden gate and into the wood, the trees were now in full leaf, one or two of the late flowering Rhododendrons were still hanging on to their blooms and providing a bit of colour. After a few minutes we came out of the woods adjacent to the ‘Temple of Four Winds’. The views from the Temple are always quite breath-taking, be it looking over the arable fields into the Howardian hills or looking over towards the ‘New bridge’ and Mausoleum. We headed down to the slope to the eastern edge of the ‘South lake’, following the water’s edge for a few moments, stopping to admire all the Marsh Orchids flowering in the wet grass. The path took us around the ‘South Lake’, I always like this part of the walk as you can get some really nice pictures of the house reflected in the lake. Looking over the lake we watched several pairs of Tufted Ducks, along with some Mallard and Greylag Geese, enjoying the afternoon sunshine.  We continued our walk along the waters edge and made our way over to the newly cleaned Atlas fountain. From there it is just a short walk back to the house and courtyard, where we enjoyed a very pleasant brunch from the courtyard café before the journey home.

 

8th June 2020

Since the lockdown was announced by the Government on or around the 20th March in order to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, much of my spare time has been taken up completing outstanding jobs in and around the house, garden and pond. Fortunately, with having two dogs I was able to get out of the house every morning for some ‘personal exercise’ and fresh air whilst walking them both. The garden has been a lovely place of solitude and sanctuary, I can quite easily spend three to four hours a day pottering about, tidying up fallen plants, weeding, cutting and tending to the lawn etc. In January, February the garden borders were full of Snowdrops and Crocus, Daffodils and latterly Tulips, coming into April the Daffodils and Tulips had died back and were replaced with the emergence of Bluebells, this year we had several White one’s amongst them which was nice to see. The Hellebores have flowered nicely under the conifers, their drooping bell-shaped flower heads a lovely shade of crimson and lilac. The Primula Denticulata’s were beautiful too with their purple drumstick flower heads bobbing about in the early Spring breeze. The Amelanchier tree has been beautiful this Spring, it has three different stages of beauty, initially after the winter months the tree is bare, the leaves start sprouting in late January and  February, during April the tree is covered in little white florets, during the Autumn months the florets are replaced with  tiny purple berries which the birds love, unfortunately as a consequence I seem to be constantly washing off purple coloured bird poo from my cars bodywork. Later that month the leaves turn a beautiful red colour and last till the first frosts of the winter.

During April the Magnolia bushes around the garden were in full flower, the huge white flowers lasted between one to two weeks, dependant on the weather, this year they were demolished by storm force winds and rain!  Our Acer trees were a picture in April, the tiny finger shaped leaves were a beautiful red colour and look quite stunning in the morning sunlight.

With the onset of May, the days are getting longer and warmer, the grass has started to grow and as of the end of May I seem to be cutting the lawn between once sometimes twice a week, depending on the weather.  I was able to scarify the lawn twice earlier this year which has made a difference to the quality of the grass, though having two dogs (bitches) it is a constant battle patching up the dead areas!

The warmer weather and longer days, coupled with a beautiful week of sunshine during the Spring Bank Holiday week has certainly brought the Spring flowering plants on, the Honeysuckle has been beautiful this year, the scent it has given off has filled the air. Clematis and Azaleas have all flowered nicely, as have the Foxglove, Lupins and Peonies. A couple of years ago we purchased and Jenny planted several hundred Alliums around the garden and this year May and June they have been an absolute picture, their tall beautiful purple flower heads some the size of tennis balls swaying gently in the breeze, I have had to stake many of them as we are prone to some strong westerly winds and if you are not careful will flatten the lot. I was pleased to see our two  Blue Himalayan Poppies survived the mild winter and flowered nicely during May, needless to say the heavy rain we had during the first few days of June brought their flowering period to an abrupt end. All in all it has been a beautiful Spring in the garden. Let’s hope our Summer will be just as colourful.

 

May 2020

Well here we are Spring Bank Holiday week and the last week of May 2020. The Barff, like everywhere else has been affected by the effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic which is sweeping the country (and rest of the world) at the moment. The car park to the Barff which had been closed since the 25th March, following the Government guidelines was reopened on the 31st May. During the lockdown period there have been significantly less visitors than usual at this time of year on the Barff, one of my noticeable observations has been the number of sightings of Roe deer, on and around the woodland and along the ‘Bypass trail’.

Weather wise, after a few wet and damp mornings at the start of the month, May has been extremely dry, the Met office have stated that May was the sunniest month on record in England with  696 hours of bright sunshine recorded in the Spring, which has exceeded the previous high of 594 hours set in 1948! It has also been the fifth warmest on record and in certain parts of the UK the driest Spring since 1862.

One of the highlights of the month for me as well as seeing the Deer was hearing the Cuckoo for the first time this year. I was on the Barff on Sunday 3rd May at around 6.00am, we had had a lot of overnight rain earlier on during the darkness hours which made the walk quite wet underfoot, I had watched the sunrise as I walked the dogs to the Barff from home, unfortunately by the time I reached the woodland for a photograph the sun had risen and was quite high and bright in the sky above Brayton church. The Birdsong at this time in the morning is quite beautiful, and seems to resonate through the trees, I needed to be up a little earlier in the day though to hear it at its best. It was quite strange really as I had been speaking to my friend Derek on the Barff shortly after I arrived and he if I had heard the Cuckoo yet, at that time neither of us had, I continued my walk with Meg & Gracie and had been on the Barff for about one hour when I first picked out its distinctive call, alas I never caught a sighting of it but it was great to hear it again amongst the woodland trees.

The Birdlife on the Barff always seems to amaze me, throughout the winter months we have the resident birds such as Blackbird, Robin, Goldfinch and Wren and Dunnock to name just a few then as Spring arrives we have our visitors, the Warblers, Chiffchaff, Linnet and Whitethroat, all with their distinctive song, it really is nice to hear and see them in this setting.

It has been a pretty good year for the Bluebells, being in flower throughout all of April,  they started to pass their best during the first week in May, to be overgrown by the nettles and ferns, as I write this note towards the end of the month some of the nettles are over 6ft tall and the Bluebells have long gone for another year. The Brambles, Elderberry and Hawthorn bushes are in full flower at the moment and it looks like being a bumper year for berries looking at the large amounts of florets on the bushes at the moment. The Honeysuckle around the woodland are in full flower at the moment too, filling the air with a lovely scent as you walk between the trees, the Foxgloves are shooting up too, their long purple and red coloured florets shaped like trumpets provide an excellent food source for the bees. Other plants such as Campion, Herb Robert and Greater Stichwort are also in abundance too.

 Greater Spotted Woodpeckers have been busy this year, I have heard at least four nest sites around the woodland with chicks, their parents not so vocal at the moment  as they are busily providing food for their babies, they should be fledging soon, weather permitting. I have yet to see the Tawny Owl chicks this year, I have heard the parent birds calling to each other quite regularly last month, but since the arrival of their chicks have been relatively quiet, though I have seen several pictures of them on social media, it is just about being in the right place at the right time.

During the middle part of the month the Government eased some of the lockdown measures which as a result, increased the visitors to the Barff, this raised several problems due to the car drivers parking on the side of the narrow road, between the Barff car park entrance and the village of Brayton,  at one point I counted a line of fifteen cars parked half on and half off the road, causing a considerable traffic hazard as that part of the road carries a 60mph speed limit. Unfortunately, this increase in traffic and footfall brought with it an increase in rubbish and litter left needlessly by these visitors.

We were hit with a couple of early morning light frosts on the 14th & 15th May, but otherwise we have had some beautiful mornings, I recall only a couple of occasions when I have had to wear my waterproof jacket for the morning walk.  What has been quite noticeable towards the latter part of the month has been the amount of leaf litter on the ground, especially from the Oak trees. This is quite a rare phenomenon in this country only occurring during periods of prolonged dry weather. Oak trees tend to shed their foliage to conserve moisture, food or energy in times of drought or just a lack of rain, fortunately they do tend to recover after the dry spell has ended and will produce new leaves later in the year.

As the month comes to an end the days have lengthened significantly, sunrise is currently around 03.45am, too early for me, although I am frequently awoken by the dawn chorus at this time of day. There are lots of Whitethroat, Yellowhammer and Skylark singing over the fields. Willow and Garden Warblers are very vocal, along with Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Wren and Tree Creepers. Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Great and Blue Tit, Blackbird, Dunnock and Robin all seem to accompany me on my wanders around the woodlands with Meg & Gracie. It has certainly been a good month to be on the Barff.

 

April 2020

This month is usually all about Bluebells on the Barff and the arrival of our returning birds from Africa.

Unfortunately, the whole of the country is currently on a lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic that is widespread across the country. The UK government has closed all non-essential shops during the last week of March and further to that people were advised to stay at home, all the schools are closed less for pupils of key workers and people have been advised to use their car for essential travel only.

‘Yorkshire Water’ has  closed off the car park to the Barff during the last week in March in line with the Governments guidelines, as have the National Trust and English Heritage there’s too, and all places of interest have been closed and people being advised to stay at home for the next three weeks, needless to say that due to the spread of the disease and loss of life, the lockdown has been extended further.

With all this going on alas I had other issues to worry about closer to home.  Meg had picked up a bad stomach infection somehow, I took her to the vet on the Saturday morning and then again on the Monday, and to cut a long story short had to take her to the Veterinary hospital in Leeds late on Monday evening, where she stayed for the following week, undergoing a major operation and numerous tests and scans to ascertain the cause of her illness, if only dogs could talk. She was diagnosed with a gastric infection which later turned into an e coli infection. The staff at the hospital were amazing and after a significant course of antibiotics she return home the following week on Monday 6th April. In the meantime, I had been taking Gracie for some very pleasant long walks to and around the Barff. It is surprising how quiet the Barff has become since the car park has been closed, I remember it being like this some thirty years ago before all the housing developments were built.

One of the benefits of the lockdown has been the considerable lack of traffic on the roads, less noise pollution, and less visitors, meaning the wildlife can flourish without being disturbed. Tree planting has continued during the month.

Weather wise April started with some wet showers, although most of the rain occurred during the night time hours meaning I had some relatively dry dog walks first thing in the morning, in fact it turned out to be the sunniest April on record for the UK since records began in 1929.

With the lack of traffic noise from the adjoining Selby bypass the bird song and dawn chorus has become more noticeable, I have often heard the delicate sound of the Goldcrest something I don’t often hear due to other noise, Blackcap and Chiffchaff are regular early morning contributors with quite a repertoire, along with Nuthatch, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff.
The Bluebells have been at their best this month, especially around the middle of the month,  other wild flowers like  Wood Anemone, Lesser Celandine and Wood Sorrell has been in full flower too, even the aromatic smell of Garlic mustard hovers in the early morning air.

Greater Spotted Woodpeckers have been busy drumming away in the hope of attracting a mate, I have watched a pair of Buzzards gliding on the thermals above the tree line throughout the month, though they are normally accompanied by a pair of Crows trying to harass them as much as possible. It was nice to hear the Willow Warbler return to the woodland early on in the month. I’ve spotted a Kestrel in amongst the trees on a couple of occasions during the middle of the month.

One of the other pleasant things about April is that several of the bushes and trees are coming into flower, including Cherry, Lilac, Apple and bushes such as Hawthorne and Broom too. The ferns are beginning to sprout from early April, and it is they that by the end of the month will overshadow the Bluebells. It is surprising how the colours on the Barff change, especially after a night of rain after a dry spell, it is as though the Barff comes alive with colour, all the greens look so much more vibrant.

I managed a couple of quite early morning walks during April reaching the Barff for around 5.30am to see the sunrise, always quite a spectacle as it rises over the back of St Winifred’s church in Brayton.

Towards the end of the month I could make out the call of the Yellow Wagtail, Long Tailed Tits and Whitethroat (note that during the lockdown period I have been trying to listen to and recognise more bird songs!)

I am not certain as to how long the Coronavirus lockdown will continue for but as I write this note at the end of April 2020 some 26,700 people have lost their lives in the UK to the disease., lets hope that we are over the worse and the death toll starts to decline significantly during May.

 

Friday 20th March 2020

Well, what a week, Coronavirus has dominated the headlines, our Prime Minister is holding televised daily briefings with the media and the government is closing shops, clubs and pubs in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Schools will be closing as of tonight until further notice.

I was out first thing this morning with Meg & Gracie for a good early morning walk, the time was about 6.30am when we reached the Barff, there was a cold westerly breeze blowing across the fields into the woodland, the sun was just starting to rise over in the west which eventually took the edge off the cold wind, at least it was dry, in fact the Barff is beginning to dry out after all the winters endless rain and it looks quite promising for a good display of Bluebells in another month or so.

 After breakfast we decided to take the dogs for a ride out to the Arboretum at Thorpe Perrow on the outskirts of Bedale, to have a look at the daffodils. It was mid-January when we last visited on a cold and windy, very windy day, so it made a pleasant change when we arrived today to the sun shining and no wind. I remember that we visited here about twelve months ago and the woodland glades were awash with huge swathes of Daffodils.

There are actually well over one hundred different varieties of daffodil here at Thorpe Perrow, some of the early varieties flowering as early as January but on our visit today the woods were awash with colour which lasts throughout all of March and April at least, some of the hardier types lasting much longer. On leaving the visitors centre we followed the ‘daffodil trail’ through the woods which gave some beautiful views of the little gems, as they swayed gently in the morning breeze, every different shade of yellow, tall ones, unusual ones and short ones, I preferred the miniature varieties  personally, but they are all beautiful. At every key junction on our walk was an information board with some interesting and fascinating facts about the types and varieties that are grown here. After a good one hour and thirty-minute walk and with two tiring dogs, we headed back to the visitors centre for a pot of tea and scone before our journey home. Let’s hope it is not to long before we can visit again.

 

 

Monday 16th March 2020.

It was a cold and dull start to the day this morning. I was somewhat late up today and didn’t get out with Meg & Gracie till 6.45am. After a miserable weekend of weather, this morning although still dull, was dry underfoot and it wasn’t raining. We had a good dog walk before returning home for breakfast at 8.45am. It was quite a strange news day today as it looks as though the country is going to be hit with the Coronavirus epidemic and all sorts of talk about shops closing and people being laid off to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Straight after breakfast we packed the car for a ride over to Castle Howard to have a look at the daffodils that should be showing nicely at this moment. The daffodils in our garden are just beginning to turn and droop and we have learnt over the years that Castle Howard Daffodils are always about two weeks later than ours for coming into flower, the only thing we can put this down to is the difference in altitude as Castle Howard is situated quite high up in the Howardian hills.

We were last here for a walk about a fortnight ago and the daffodils where just beginning to come into flower then and we said at the time that we will come back in a fortnights time they should be flowering nicely and we weren’t disappointed.

We had Meg and Gracie with us as usual when we come here and on arrival, I took them both out for a quick gallop through the woods at the back of the cricket pavilion to burn of some of their surplus energy.

On entering the main courtyard, we had a quick coffee stop before entering the ticket office and grounds. I was quite surprised as to how few visitors were here though with the impending and escalating situation with the Coronavirus visitors were quite wisely staying away.

After leaving the booking office we followed the path towards the house, in front of us was a huge sea of yellow daffodils, swaying gently in the morning breeze, flowers of several different varieties and shades of golden yellow. We continued our walk alongside the walled garden, stopping for a few moments at the house to take some photographs. Our route followed the South terrace and up the gentle slope into Ray wood, stopping at the top of the slope to admire the view behind us. On passing through the gate we headed through the wood towards the Temple of four winds, large clusters of daffodils lined the trail through the woods. The views on reaching the Temple never fail to impress, the open fields seem to stretch for miles to the left and over to the right the view of the new bridge and mausoleum. We headed back to the house along the Temple Terrace which was lined with daffodils its entire length and always provides a magnificent sight with the house in the background.

On reaching the courtyard we would usually have had brunch in the Courtyard restaurant but today we decided to buy a couple of sandwiches and some cups of tea from the coffee shop and have a picnic in the car instead which rounded off our visit very nicely.

 

Friday 6th March 2020

It is just over four years since our last visit to Fountains Abbey, situated on the outskirts of Ripon in North Yorkshire. I remember that visit well as it was the first time we took Meg and Gracie with us, both dogs were about 15 weeks old at that time and very much puppies.

Today, just as four years ago, we had Meg and Gracie with us on a return visit, and after parking the car in the main car park headed for the visitor’s centre. It was a cold, dry and crisp morning, the sun was trying to break through heavily laden cloudy sky. After passing through the centre we made our way along the footpath, past the children’s play area on the right and on past Swanley Grange also on our righthand side. The route to the abbey started to descend quite steeply until we reached the Porter’s Lodge at the bottom of the slope. From here the abbey becomes quite visible through the trees and is just a short distance away.

There has always been a long tradition of abbeys here in North Yorkshire and Fountains Abbey is possibly one of the most impressive in the County. The abbey is situated in a lovely setting alongside the valley of the River Skell, two miles west of the market town of Ripon. We stopped for a few minutes, firstly to capture our breath from the steep slope, and secondly to admire the view. Our route took us alongside of the abbey ruins, keeping the river on our righthand side, continuing alongside the river till the path bears to the left, here the river opens out and forms the Half-moon reservoir. On reaching the Rustic Bridge we continued left, the woodlands open up into the gardens of Studley Royal  we continued walking along the footpath adjacent to the Lower Canal, at the Drum Falls a clearing in the trees opens to beautiful views of the Temple of Piety, and the Crescent and Moon lakes. We spent a few more moments just admiring the view, the short, lush manicured lawns looked magnificent set against the Temple and woodland behind it. From here it is a relatively short walk to the small cafeteria where we stopped for tea and a scone, the weather being pleasant enough to allow us to sit outside and admire the view of Studley Lake. After our refreshment break, we ventured across the cascade foot bridge to the Temple of Piety and the lakes. Our route continued at ground level, past the Grotto and Half moon reservoir and followed the River Skell back to the ruins of the Abbey.  The Abbey, Britain’s largest monastic ruin, was founded in 1132 by thirteen Benedictine monks from St Mary’s Abbey in York seeking a simpler life, who later became Cistercian monks. The abbey was named Fountains Abbey because of the springs of water that existed in the area. After admiring the daffodils around the ruins, we headed back up the hill to the visitor’s centre and back to the car for the journey home. The end of a lovely day out.

 

Wednesday 4th March 2020

After colossal amounts of rain recently, it was nice to wake up to a hard-overnight frost for a change. The weather forecast looked quite promising for later today so without much persuading we decided to drive over and have a walk around the gardens at RHS Harlow Carr situated on the outskirts of Harrogate.

It was around 10.30am as I parked the car in the car park adjacent to the gardens. The sun was shining nicely, 6C with a light westerly breeze. I was pleasantly surprised as to how many cars were in the car park for this time in the morning. We popped into Betty’s as soon as we arrived for a takeaway coffee before heading into the visitor’s centre. On passing through the centre the first thing that draws your attention is the large border of heathers on the right as you descend the steps onto the garden, at this time of year it is awash with colour. We turned left and headed for the pair of boxing hares, the borders were awash with Spring colour, the reds of the dogwood and willows looked bright and vibrant, and the small trees provided more depth and colour to the borders. Several of the shrubs were beginning to flower with tiny florets glistening with the remnants of the early morning dew. Different varieties of Hellebores were flowering amongst the borders, their bell-shaped florets drooping and swaying in the gentle breeze.  Small groups of Cyclamen were coming into flower adding additional colour to the borders as well as hundreds of tiny dwarf iris, with their lovely blue and purple flower heads.

We continued along the path towards the teaching gardens but today this area was all fenced off for some maintenance work. Our walk continued around the QM lake to follow the Streamside footpath. A lot of work had been carried out since last Autumn to reinforce the sides of the stream with lots of huge sandstone blocks strategically placed along the slopes of the stream, it will be interesting to watch how the area develops throughout the year. Work too was continuing with the rebuilding one of the bridges over the stream. Much of the planting on the streamside was just coming out of winters hibernation but along the sides of the main footpath were huge swathes of snowdrops and daffodils which provided plenty of colour along with miniature iris.

On reaching the bath house we turned right and walked up past Bettys Tea house and continued our walk crossing the main borders to the Sandstone rock garden,  extensive landscaping was done in this area last year and it is quite exciting to see how it settles down this year. Work is continuing around the gardens and several new footpaths are currently being laid in preparation for the influx of visitors during the year.

On reaching the visitors centre we headed for Bettys for a pleasant brunch before the journey home.

 

Wednesday 26th February 2020.

I had a restless night last night and was up at 2.00am with one of the dogs, that aside I managed to take them both for a walk at 7.30am on Brayton Barff. It was a lovely morning, a little on the cool side at 3C, but fine and dry with the early morning sun shining nicely.

With it being such a nice morning, after breakfast we decided to go to Castle Howard. Although the house is currently closed, the grounds are open to the public and it is a real pleasant walk through the woods and around the South lake.

We arrived in the car park at around 10.30am, there was very few visitors at that time which made for a very pleasant morning. Meg and Gracie were both on good form, they enjoy the change of scenery with plenty of different smells and sniffs. I had left my camera at home today so all my images from today were taken on my iPhone.

After a very pleasant coffee from the Courtyard kiosk we made our way through the visitors centre and into the grounds, the walk from the courtyard to the house at this time of year is usually a mass of Daffodils, and today was no different other than they weren’t yet in flower, I have noted before on previous visits over the years that the Daffodils here are about two weeks behind ours at home and I put that down to the difference in altitude, with Castle Howard nestling quite high up amongst the Howardian hills.

The house was looking quite breath-taking this morning, the sun was shining, a lovely blue cloudy sky and it was dry underfoot. We continued our walk along the South Terrace, climbing the hill slightly to Ray woods, lots of Daffodils on both sides of the terrace but not yet ready to flower. Passing through the gate into the woods, large swathes of Snowdrops were covering the woodland floor, their delicate white florets swaying gently in the light morning breeze. We continued walking through the woods towards the ‘Temple of Four Winds’ passing several Azalea/Rhododendron bushes in flower, these will look beautiful in several weeks’ time in full flower. On reaching the Temple we sat for a few minutes to admire the view over towards the New River Bridge and Mausoleum beyond. To the left of the Temple the views across the arable fields are just as stunning, made even better as we watched a pair of Buzzards calling to each other as they circled high above the trees in the distance.

Although it was a beautiful morning there was a slight chill wind and after a few moments we decided to head back along the Southern Terrace towards the house. We enjoyed a very pleasant brunch in the Courtyard restaurant before heading back to the car for the journey home with two exhausted dogs for company.

Monday 17th February 2020

I always enjoy a walk around the parkland at Knole Park in Sevenoaks, Kent, no matter what time of year. This was our first visit this year and after quite a wet and miserable weekend it was nice to get some fresh air in the open countryside.

It was just after 10 30am when I arrived with Meg & Gracie, unpacked the car, camera round the neck and a dog leash in each hand. It was a pleasant morning; the sun was beginning to break through the clouds which was nice to see after a weekend of heavy rain. I tend to head away from the main house and aim back towards the main entrance gate where the cars come in, though before I reach that gate I bear right and through the trees and follow a route in a clockwise direction. Today was quite wet underfoot with several large areas of standing water from all the rain we have been having recently. It wasn’t long before we detoured slightly to watch a young fallow deer amongst the trees, it was well hidden camouflaged amid the autumnal coloured bracken, with its head popping up. Continuing down the slope between the trees I watched a small herd of about twenty fallow deer grazing on the lush green grass, quite oblivious to myself and the dogs as we slowly walked past them. After a couple of hundred yards we stopped again to watch a pair of Fallow deer Stags as they contently fed on the lichen on an old fallen tree, at times standing tall on their back legs to get some food higher up on the tree branches. We must have been sat watching the Stags for a good ten minutes before they gently wandered off to another part of the woodland. Continuing our walk, we headed up the slope towards the edge of the golf course, stopping for a few moments to get my breath and admire the view to the far end of the estate.  Once we reached the top of the slope, we headed back towards Knole house, keeping the golf course on the left, the course looked quiet today, with no sign of any golfers on the tees or fairways, that said a lot of the golf courses at home are currently closed due to the amount of rain we have had recently.

There were several small groups of fallow deer busily grazing amongst the trees on the edge of the fairways, we followed the track around the back of the house, occasionally stopping to look through the large wrought iron gates to admire the gardens of the house, set back amongst the trees. After a few more minutes we were back at the car, and after a drink and biscuit for Meg & Gracie we headed home for a late brunch.

 

Saturday 15th February 2020.

On a wet and cold mid-February morning I drove from Sevenoaks to Greenwich Park to have a walk and breath of fresh air. This was my first visit to this part of London and was guided by Jenny’s daughter and family.

After parking the car, it was a short stroll to the Royal Observatory situated on the top of a hill, with magnificent views overlooking the River Thames and Canary Wharf  The Observatory played a major role in the history of astronomy and navigation, and because the prime meridian passes through it, it gave its name to Greenwich Mean Time. The several buildings making up the Observatory were a popular magnet with the overseas visitors. After stopping for several minutes looking at the views over the Thames we made our way down the hill to the National Maritime Museum, we popped inside for only a few moments to shelter from the cold and driving rain!

From the Museum we made our way to Greenwich Peninsula for a look around the Cutty Sark, the world’s last surviving tea clipper. Built in 1869 in Dumbarton for the China tea trade, although it has carried a range of goods, including wool, wine and spirits.

The boat has been carefully conserved over a six-year period of conservation with the original wooden planks and iron structures clearly visible below deck. A fascinating and interesting insight into what life was like on board is given through audio visual presentations on the lower deck. On the main deck the ship looks really impressive, its masts towering up into the sky above, apparently there is the equivalent of eleven miles of rigging, in its day it must have made an impressive sight with its sails up and full speed on the high seas.

The story boards on the lower deck made for some interesting reading, its maiden voyage was on the 15th February 1870 bound for Shanghai, the boat was loaded with General cargo. It reached China on the 31st May, where it was loaded with some 1,305,812 lbs of tea. After some twenty-five days in the port of Shanghai it sailed back to London, arriving on the 13th October 1870. The Cutty Sark completed eight trips to China for tea, collecting her last year cargo in 1877.

With the arrival of steam ships and the opening of the Suez Canal, the Cutty Sark had to find other goods to transport and from 1883 to 1895 the boat carried wool from Australia to London after which the steamships began to dominate the wool trade and it ceased to be profitable for a sailing ship. In 1895 the Cutty Sark was sold to a Portuguese firm. The ship traded various cargoes between Portugal, Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans, Mozambique, Angola, and Britain.

She continued as a cargo ship until purchased in 1922 by retired sea captain Wilfred Dowman, who used her as a training ship operating from Falmouth, Cornwall. After his death, Cutty Sark was transferred to the Thames Nautical Training College, Greenhithe in 1938 where she became an auxiliary cadet training ship alongside HMS Worcester.

In 1953 Cutty Sark was given to the Cutty Sark Preservation Society and in 1954 she was moved to a custom-built dry dock here at Greenwich. She was stripped of upper masts, yards, deckhouses and ballast to lighten her before being towed from the East India Import Dock to the special dry dock at Greenwich. The foundation stone of the dry dock was laid by The Duke of Edinburgh, patron of the Cutty Sark Preservation Society, in June 1953. Today the Cutty Sark has been preserved as a museum ship, and is a popular tourist attraction, even on a wet and windy day.

After our look around the ship we enjoyed a coffee and sandwich in the café under the hull of the boat before heading over to have a walk around Greenwich Market, and that’s another story.

Monday 3rd February 2020

It was a cold start to the day today, 7C at 10.00am as I drove into the car park at the  visitors centre at RSPB Fairburn Ings. There was an icy cold wind, according to the weatherman gusting between 50mph – 60mph during the day for this area and I don’t think he was far wrong, there was minimal warmth coming from the sun which was shining nicely, at least the strong wind kept the rain away.

Today was my fist visit to the reserve this year and six months since my last visit here. Fortunately, I had the thermals and winter gear on today, otherwise it would have been a very brief visit.

I worked out how to use the parking ticket machine, picked up my ticket and headed back to the car to collect the camera gear and binoculars. I called into the visitors centre to collect a coffee before making my way along the ‘Discovery Trail’ to the ‘Pick up Hide’ The westerly wind was so strong that at times I had to turn my head to get a breath, after a couple of minutes though I reached the hide. One of my regular photographer friends was already at the hide and we had a good catch up on what’s been happening on the reserve since my last visit. He had come over from the ‘Coal Tip Trail’ earlier this morning, this trail is a lot higher up then where we were at the moment and he happened to comment on how bleak it was up there. After ten minutes he left for a coffee in the visitors centre, whilst I set up the camera gear. Had it not been for some good light around the hide I would have returned to the centre myself. The wind was literally hammering at the front of the hide and channelling its way through the open windows. There was very little protection from the wind unfortunately. I was really pleased I had the winter gear on and made sure I was well wrapped up.

There was some shallow water in the lake in front of the hide and although we have had some significant rainfall of late, thought the level might have been higher. I scanned the water for any signs of life, but other that a lone Coot it was very quiet. The mudflats adjoining the waters edge were quiet too with no sign of any waders, the gusting wind must have forced them back deep into the reed beds.

Over in the trees on the far bank I counted six Magpies along with four Collard Doves, all trying to get some shelter from the strengthening wind.

In the field to the right of the hide some of the RSPB staff were doing some work in that field, I couldn’t quite see what they were doing, I watched them head across the field with a huge digger and tipper truck but soon disappeared out of my sight, I don’t think the herd of Highland Cattle were that impressed by being disturbed by them either.

Closer to the hide and the feeding station to the right of the hide was quite a popular spot for all kinds of species this morning. Regular visitors were Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Dunnock and Robin, along with Goldfinch and Reed Bunting. Willow Tit and Long Tailed Tit made several appearances but did not hang around for long. Other visitors included a pair of female Pheasant and a Grey Squirrel.

Considering the bleak conditions, I had a good couple of hours at the hide, the light was good, and the bonus was that it stayed dry.

 

Friday 24th January 2020

The weather forecast for today looked very favourable and a nice day to go out for a walk with the dogs. I had them both out earlier this morning for a good long walk on the Barff before we had breakfast, so after a shower and change of clothes etc I loaded up the car and headed off to Castle Howard for the morning.

It was a reasonably quiet journey along the A64 with only light traffic, it was nice and dry too so very little mucky surface spray splattering the windscreen, like there has been of late. It was about 10.15am as I parked the car in the car park adjacent to the ‘cricket square’. On arrival I always take them both for a quick ‘wee and poo walk’ in the woods before venturing into the courtyard, Meg is pretty good and performs virtually on my command, Gracie though is a little monkey at times and not as particular as her sister!

It was back to the car and after putting on my outdoor jacket we headed into the courtyard and ticket office. The house is currently closed after the busy Christmas period, so todays visit was for steady pleasant walk around the grounds. I was surprised how quiet it was with very few visitors though it was still reasonably early in the day.

From the south side of the house we followed the path along the grassed terrace towards the ‘Temple of Four Winds’, by now the sun was out and there was a lovely blue sky, the house as usual looked quite stunning in the morning sunlight and the views across the ‘South Lake’ just as beautiful. It was nice to see the daffodils emerging through the grass, the odd rogue one in flower, but it will be several more weeks before they form a huge yellow blanket along both sides of the south terrace. Snowdrops though were flowering nicely with huge clumps set amongst the trees, their delicate white flower heads trembling gently in the light breeze. We spent a few moments at the Temple just admiring the views across the Howardian hills and over to the family mausoleum.

After several minutes we headed back towards the house but turned slight left, down the grassy bank and walked around the far side of the ‘South Lake’.  The lake was flat calm and the reflections of the house in the still water looked remarkable. Continuing our walk, we headed through the trees to the ‘Atlas Fountain’ which had been partially emptied for the winter months. The views from the fountain looking towards the house were beautiful especially with the sun shining and a blue sky. From here it is just a few minutes’ walk back to the house, were we stopped for another rest before heading back to the Courtyard. As it was lunch time and the sun was still out we headed over to the courtyard café for brunch, we sat outside on the enclosed foyer and enjoyed a very pleasant meal, Meg & Gracie  quite content to sit and lay quietly, probably exhausted from their mornings walks at the side of my chair. I counted another six other couples doing the same as us with their dogs, all sat as good as gold, enjoying the mild winters morning sunshine.

 

Monday 20th January 2020.

After a cold but dry weekend, this morning continued much the same with just a light overnight frost covering the grass with a white sheen of tiny ice particles. The forecast for the remainder of the week looks quite good with high pressure lying over the country, hopefully it will start to dry up some of the excessive moisture in the ground that has been around for some time now.

After breakfast and with the dogs settled asleep on the three-piece suite after their morning walk, we jumped into the car and headed up North to Harrogate for a very pleasant morning walking around RHS Harlow Carr. The sun was shining as we arrived, the temperature was about 5C with only a light breeze, and a lovely blue sky, more often than not when we come here it is either raining or dull and overcast so it was nice to walk around with the sunshine for a change.

This morning there was a lot of maintenance work being carried out at various points around the gardens, work was being carried out clearing out and enlarging the QM lake with a huge digger, I’m sure it will look good when finished in the Spring, work too was being carried out on several of the main pathways with a new screed being laid which will make it much easier underfoot and especially for wheelchair users.

From the visitors centre we headed left towards the library and learning centre and had a look at the Lakeside gardens, with work being carried out on the lake that area was cordoned off to visitors so we headed back to the little lodge and headed along the footpath to the ‘streamside walk’. Although January is generally regarded as a reasonably dormant and colourless time in the garden, there was plenty of colour in these borders with lots of red and yellow coloured Dogwoods looking quite vibrant in the morning sunshine, clumps of giant Snowdrops were in full flower as were lots of beautifully coloured cream Hellebores. Maples, Betula Utilis and Golden Willow provided lots of structure and colour to these borders as well. We continued our walk along the streamside path, towards the old bath house, work was being carried out on one of the several bridges over the stream, it looked to have been stripped back and was currently being rebuilt and strengthened.      

We called in to have a look at the Japanese Art Exhibition in the Bath house for several minutes or so and admire the prints and artefacts on display, as well as the prints there was some beautiful ceramics, clothing and gifts on show too, the exhibition is on till the 13th February and certainly worth a visit. We continued our walk following the other side of the stream before climbing up to the newly restored Sandstone rock garden, stopping to admire the planting around the ponds. From here it is just a short walk back to the visitor’s entrance and Betty’s, just in time for brunch.

 

Wednesday 15th January 2020.

After all the Christmas and New Year festivities, today was the first opportunity I had to get out with the camera.

I had been out earlier this morning with Meg & Gracie for a cold and muddy walk on Brayton Barff, after breakfast we decided to pop up to The Arboretum at Thorpe Perrow, Bedale, for a bit of a break from the house and stretch our legs, so to speak.

It was a pleasant fifty-minute drive up the A1 this morning, the traffic was busy around the Leeds and York junctions but once past the Wetherby turn off the traffic eased off considerably. It looked like being a nice day, the sun was trying to break through the menacing dark rain clouds, I think the strengthening westerly wind kept the rain away fortunately.

It was about 11.15am as I drove into the car park, there was only a small handful of cars parked so there was plenty of parking places, though that is never a problem here. We unloaded the dogs out of the car, put our winter clothing on, wellies and hats and made our way over to the kiosk, unfortunately with the weather being quite wild and wet of late there was a note on the kiosk window saying the tearoom would be closed today due to the weather, disaster for me so no cup of tea or lemon drizzle cake! oh well. We continued our walk through the garden, past the front of the cafeteria and across the stream, there was plenty of water flowing this morning, on our last visit here last October the stream was dry. After crossing the foot bridge, we headed towards the children’s play area and joined the ‘Water steps footpath’ which follows the stream, passing Henry’s island on the right of us. We sat for a few moments to admire the low morning sunlight as it flickered through the trees and glistened on the water in front of us. Continuing our walk along the side of the lake we passed Kate’s Island and stopped to look at the beautifully carved structure in the tree on the waters edge. From here we followed the path to the mammals centre and turned left through the Dell, along Birch Avenue to the beautiful Jubilee Oak where we had another rest for five minutes. With the amount of rain we have had the past few days many of the tracks were quite muddy so after our little rest we decided to head back to the lake to pick up the ‘Annabel’s walk’ through the trees, over the raised walk way through the bog garden to the children’s play area and back to the tea room. It was nice to see lots of emerging bulbs coming through on the woodland floor, in a couple of weeks’ time the snowdrops will be in full bloom so we will have to return then to admire them in all there glory, hopefully it will be a little drier underfoot and the tea room will be open. Although a little muddy underfoot at the moment, it is still always very nice to come for a walk and admire the beautiful trees and wildlife.

 

Friday 22nd November 2019.

It was a cold, dull and miserable morning as we left for a preview of ‘A Night at the Mansion’ at Harewood house. Christmas at Harewood House started on Friday 22nd November when we attended the preview of the house dressed for the Christmas period, prior to being open to the public on Saturday through to the 5th January 2020.

It is just over a thirty-minute drive from home to this beautiful stately home, we arrived at around 10.45am ready for the 11.00am opening. We were met in the foyer by David Lascelles who welcomed us to the house and explained a little about this year’s exhibition.

This year Yorkshire based creative artists Davey & Kristan McGuire have brought the house to life with some fine and clever artistic displays. Each room is different, many of the rooms are dimly lit with special lighting and music effects. If you look closely many of the pictures on the walls are gossiping to each other, In the kitchen the plates on the dresser are talking to you and amongst the pots and pans the little people are out, even some of the statues are singing too. It is a very pleasant experience as you walk between the rooms with something different or some special effect in each room, which made for a great tour.

Monday 18th November 2019

It was a cold and overcast morning as I set off for the long drive to the Lincolnshire coastline to see the grey seal colony reserve at Donna Nook. It is a couple of years since my last visit and was quite looking forward to visiting today. It is a reasonably straightforward journey from home and after driving through several light rain showers I arrived at the reserve’s car park around 10.00am. The smell of the bacon sandwiches and warm tea was very tempting as I made my way past the portable catering kitchen on to the reserve. It is always a bit tricky walking round with a hot cup of tea in your hand a sandwich in the other and some expensive kit hanging around your neck, so I reluctantly decided to get the photographing done first!

I was pleasantly surprised at the numbers of seals  and pups visible as I made my way the short distance from the car park through the dunes to the ‘water’s edge’, especially considering the first seals only arrived here to have their pups on the 25th October some three weeks ago. According to the warden’s regular weekly update - today there were some 362 Bulls, 1,254 cows and 872 pups on the reserve. This figure tends to increase through to the end of November and steadily decreases through December. It was pleasing to hear from one of the wardens that ‘Ropeneck’ had returned over the weekend and was due to give birth anytime now. ‘Ropeneck’ is the only named seal on the colony, she was given that name by the wardens when she turned up at Donna Nook in the year 2000 with a length of rope wrapped around her neck. The team carefully removed the rope and treated the affected area, scar tissue can still be seen on her today. Fortunately, since 2000 she has returned almost every year and given birth to around 18 pups.

I was pleased I had wrapped up warm with the winter gear on this morning as the wind coming off the North Sea was bitingly cold and quite unpleasant at times.

The seals, especially the young pups were completely oblivious to the number of visitors walking along the shoreline, the wildlife trust have carefully erected a double fence line to safeguard the pups and prevent members of the public from walking amongst them.  Mothers with pups can be very protective and male bulls can be aggressive. Seals are large predators and very powerful, I watched several bulls fighting today and was surprised how fast they can move on land and how vicious they were towards each other, their teeth making a nasty bloody gash on its opponents’ body. There was plenty of seals and pups to see today though and some within touching distance of the fence.

Another distraction whilst filming the seals was on the adjoining firing range, the Ministry of Defence still maintains part of the area as a bombing and target range and today whilst I was there the ‘Atlas A400 C1’ were flying overhead doing circuits of the bombing range and overflying the perimeter of the seal colony. The airbus A400 Atlas is a big four engine turbo prop military transport aircraft and spent a good hour of so doing circuits over land and over the river too.

After a couple of hours watching and photographing the seals and military aircraft I made my way back to the car park for a hot cup of tea and wonderful pork sandwich before the journey home.

 

Friday 15th November 2019.

I always enjoy a trip out to Castle Howard, be it a walk around the estate or a look round the house and gardens and this morning was no different, but one I always look forward to as it was a special preview of the house festooned in all its Christmas finery.

This year the theme was ‘A Christmas Masquerade’ a tribute to the original designers of Castle Howard, who in turn were inspired by the Italian Baroque period of the late 16th century and 17th centuries and transformed the house ready for a grand venetian masked ball.

On entry to the house the balustrades on the main staircase have been beautifully decorated, following the route along the corridor are lovely table decorations adorned with glittering venetian eye masks, candles and baubles. The upper bedrooms as always looked warm and inviting, dimly lit, lots of sparkle, beautiful dresses laid out ready for the guests to go to the ball. The bedhead and pillows adorned with more garlands, sparkling butterflies and venetian face masks. We passed another anti room with a upside down Christmas tree, beautifully lit and adorned with glittering baubles, suspended from the ceiling. Other rooms were decorated with illuminated stick trees to great effect. The Grecian corridor looked amazing, tastefully decorated and illuminated in purple coloured spotlights, after walking along the corridor we rounded the corner into the Great Hall. The huge 25ft Christmas tree laden with over 3,000 baubles and lights stands high and mighty opposite the lovely warming roaring fire. The cascading lights over the balcony looked effective and makes for quite a talking point. To the side of the fireplace a ‘Commedia Troupe, of musicians, both men and women entertained the visitors with their style of humour and musical skills. We continued our journey, pausing for several minutes to watch the troupe of musicians play a medley of tunes before climbing the stairs to the ‘High South’ The first room has been transformed into the ‘Consumier’s  studio where all the ball gowns and costumes have been prepared ready for the ball. Continuing our journey through the house we came to the Castle Howard ‘Pollocks’ paper theatre, which looked effective especially with the view behind looking across the Great Hall to the north lake beyond. We continued through the ‘Mask Room’, admiring the display of half masks, including character and animal masks as well as commedia and symbolic masks. One of my favourite rooms is the new library which I think is only open to the public during this Christmas period. The State Rooms were our next port of call, these rooms always look good throughout the year and not just at Christmas. The music room was adorned with life sized wooden cut outs of characters from the 18th century as they watch the Troupe rehearse prior to being performed at the masquerade. The Crimson Dining room looked absolutely stunning, the table set ready for dinner, Venetian masks hang from the back of the chairs and beautiful dried flower arrangements adorned the table. It was fascinating to note that one of the pictures in this room is of the Grand Canal and Doge’s Palace in Venice, and you can see masked figures in the black gondolas. The adjoining room is the Turquoise Drawing room where one of the popular pastimes was playing games including backgammon, the room is decorated with red Christmas trees and red mannequins. Leaving the Drawing Room we arrived at the Long Gallery, masked revellers danced along the banks of the glittering Venetian canal, the gallery looks quite a picture as the canal meanders its way along the length of the Gallery, several golden bridges cross the canal along the way, a huge sparkling eye mask is suspended from the ceiling glistening as the spotlights pick out the sparkling sequins. A fitting end to a beautiful Christmas display and credit should go to Charlotte Lloyd Webber and Bretta Gereke the set designers and I am sure a whole host of assistants who helped transform the house into a wonderful Christmas Masquerade.

 

Tuesday 12th November 2019

It was a very damp and wet morning today, cold, dull and overcast, so after a very wet dog walk earlier, we decided to have a drive over to RHS Harlow Carr for a walk around the gardens and brunch in Betty’s restaurant.

It was a steady and uneventful drive up the A1 and within fifty minutes I was parking the car in the car park. On arrival at the visitors centre we popped into Betty’s for a takeaway coffee before walking through reception and into the gardens. The weather here was much the same as at home, with a steady and persistent drizzle for our duration. It is always a nice walk around the gardens though, no matter what the weather, there was plenty of water in the stream, we occasionally stopped to watch as it flowed with some force through the narrow gorge between the boulders. The old Bath House was closed today so we doubled back on ourselves and made our way up through the rock garden and back to the entrance, by this time the drizzle had turned to heavy rain so with little persuasion we headed into Betty’s for Brunch and a cup of tea before the journey home.

 

Friday 23rd August – Friday 30th August 2019.

We have just nicely returned home from a wonderful week’s holiday to Lake Maggiore in the Italian lakes.

We flew from Manchester Airport, Terminal 3 to Milan, a pleasant two-hour flight although we spent an extra thirty minutes on the tarmac in Milan whilst the ground crew found the correct steps for us to disembark from the aircraft!

It was a fifty-minute drive from the airport to the small town of Stressa and Hotel Borromees on the western side of Lake Maggiore which was to be our base for the week.

The hotel was stunning, luxuriously decorated and furnished and period paintings and artefacts on the walls. After checking in and unpacking we headed out of the hotel to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. The weather was cloudy and overcast, storm clouds were amassing over the mountains and it was a warm and humid 28c. We had a very pleasant walk along the promenade stopping for a drink in one of the lakeside cafeterias. After about an hour or so it was back to the hotel to get changed for our evening meal in the hotel.

The following morning, we had breakfast outside on the veranda of the hotel overlooking the lake. It was a pleasant dry morning, with sunny intervals, so we decided to have a walk into Stressa and catch the water taxi to Isola Bella, one of three small islands known as the Isole Borommes. It is a steady five minutes ferry ride to the island; we have lovely views of it from our hotel bedroom window and it felt quite surreal as we walked off the ferry and looked back across the lake to the hotel.

Isola Bella is probably the nicest and most popular of the islands, it was an old fishing village but back in the 1650’s and was transformed by the Borromeo family who built a Baroque Palazzo and terraced Italian Gardens. We had a pleasant couple of hours or so looking round the palace and grounds before catching the water taxi back to Stressa.  We had a very pleasant evening meal in the hotel.

The following day we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and an even better breakfast in the hotel, afterwhich we headed off to the water taxi terminal and caught the ferry to Isola Pescatori another of the Borromee islands but smaller than Isola Bella. Once a popular fishing village, today its quaint houses and architecture is what draws in the tourist with its small shops and lakeside cafes. After a pleasant walk around the island we had brunch and headed back to the water taxi to spend the remainder of the afternoon exploring the narrow-cobbled streets of Stressa.

Monday morning, after a restless sleep, I was out on the hotel balcony for 6.30am watching the sunrise from behind the mountains on the opposite side of the lake.

After breakfast we had a pleasant walk along the shore of the lake and caught the water taxi to Verbania to have a look around Villa Taranto and the botanical gardens. It was enjoyable forty-five-minute journey by boat stopping at six villages before arriving at the villa. We had a coffee and cake stop at the cafeteria situated at the entrance to the gardens followed by a very pleasant couple of hours strolling amongst the tropical plants and bamboos of Villa Taranto. It was another very warm sunny and humid day, the ‘weather apps’ on our mobiles had been showing thunderstorms every day since we arrived in Italy, but so far haven’t yet materialised. We caught the 3.05pm boat back to Stressa, arriving at 4.00pm and after a coffee in one of the small lakeside cafeterias made our way back to the hotel.

After a good night’s sleep and breakfast, we caught the 11.00am water taxi to Isola Madre. Isola Madre is the largest of the Borromee islands with an 18th century villa and gardens. We had a very pleasant afternoon strolling around the grounds watching the white peacocks as they casually mingled amongst the fellow tourists. The gardens were well worth the visit with lots of rare and unusual species as well as azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. Apparently in 2006 the island was hit by a tropical storm which caused significant damage and uprooted many of the ancient trees. Fortunately, thirteen years later you would not have known, the ground staff look to have done a really good job bringing the garden back to life again. One of the highlights of this visit though were the formal ponds to the side of the palace. They were covered in huge lily pads which were in full flower, it was one of my lasting memories I have of this lovely island. After a quick cup of tea we boarded the 1.30pm water taxi for our return journey to Stressa, where we stopped for brunch before returning to the hotel for the remainder of the afternoon.

Wednesday was a wet and miserable day, the rain that had been forecast earlier in the week arrived this morning along with thunder and lightning. It was breakfast inside the hotel this morning because of the rain. It eventually eased a little by 11.30am so we ventured outside and had a walk into Stressa for some retail therapy and brunch.

The rain eventually cleared overnight, and we woke to a bright and pleasant Thursday morning, It was breakfast outside again on the restaurants lovely veranda overlooking the gardens and lake. After breakfast we decided rather than walk into Stressa to head in the opposite direction, following the lake shoreline to the ‘Stressa Alpino Mottarone cable car station’ at Carciano. The cable car climbs to a height of 4.982 feet above sea level and offers exceptional views across the Po valley to the Alps as well as the Boromees Islands below. The views looking over to the Isola Bella were stunning, after a coffee we headed back to the hotel along the shoreline, passing our hotel and continued into Stressa for brunch in the main square. After more retail therapy we had a gentle walk back to the hotel stopping again for a coffee at one of the lakeside cafes. We learnt very early into our stay in Stressa that the coffee in the cafeterias along the lakeside and in Stressa itself was considerably cheaper (as was the alcohol) than the hotel, hence the frequency of our refreshment breaks.

Back at the hotel we did some packing before heading down for our evening meal.

Friday, our last day, I was up for 6.30am to catch the sunrise across the lake and mountains before heading down to breakfast. We had a taxi transfer to Milan airport for noon, so we had plenty of time to finish packing before popping out to have a final coffee in ‘Daniels’ restaurant and cafeteria on the lakeside just a couple of hundred yards from the hotel.

Our taxi was on time for the thirty-minute transfer to Milan airport. ‘Checking in’ was a nightmare due to the sheer volume of passengers and a lack of staff. Once on the aircraft we were delayed for another ninety minutes due to a ‘missing passenger’ so their luggage had to be removed prior to us taking off. Fortunately, we had a good flight home arriving at Manchester around 6pm. The end of a very pleasant and relaxing holiday.

 

Monday 5th August 2019.

RSPB Blacktoft Sands. 

It was an overcast and cloudy morning as I packed the car for a morning on the south bank of the river Humber at the RSPB reserve at Blacktoft Sands. It is a good thirty minute journey from home driving through old Goole and the outlying villages adjacent to the river.

It was just after 9.45am when I arrived in the car park at the reserve. There was just the occasional spot of rain on the windscreen, the car temperature gauge was showing 15C so it wasn’t too bad.

After exchanging pleasantries with the warden in the Reception hide I made my way round to the Marshland Hide, it is just a few minutes’ walk along the graveled track. The hide is a wide single storey wooden building with good views of the reed beds.  There was a couple of bird watchers already in the hide when I arrived and they stayed there for the duration of my stay. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount and variety of birdlife on the surrounding mudflats in front of the hide, so much different to what I am used to seeing at RSPB Fairburn Ings. 

The first birds that struck me were the large numbers of female Shoveler ducks feeding in the shallow water in front of the hide, next were the Lapwings, such lovely looking birds especially when they catch the light, they always make me smile with the large tuft of hair on the top of their head, considering they are on the ‘red list’ due to the decline in their numbers they seem to be thriving here on the mudflats, though this is their ideal habitat I suppose. A little further away from the hide over in the top left hand corner on a small island were three Little Egrets probing their long beaks into the mud in search of food. A pair of Grey Heron stood motionless on the far bank in front of the reed beds. There must have been at least twenty to twenty five pairs of Teal either sleeping and if not sleeping then busily feeding.  

There were lots of Spotted Redshank, Ruff and Godwits busily feeding in the shallow water on the edge of the mud flats, all birds that I am not too familiar with and had to get my little book out to identify them! The highlight of the morning though was watching the Spoonbills, a pair of them flew in from the area of the Reception hide and stopped in front of the hide for a good thirty minutes. After about an hour in the hide just as I was about to move on, a pair of Pied Wagtails flew in and landed on the edge of the left hand island so I stayed a little longer and watched them as I unclipped the camera prior to packing it away.

Time was creeping on so at 10.45am I walked back towards the reception but stopped off at the ‘Xerox Hide’ for the remainder of the morning. This hide has a similar outlook to the ‘Marshland Hide’ but a double decker hide. There were six birders already in the hide on the lower level, so rather than disturb them I headed up the stairs and set the camera gear up on the left hand side of the hide. There must have been several hundred Lapwings on the mudflats outside of the hide which made quite a sight, within minutes of my arrival a Buzzard flew over and scattered the lot, needless to say when the threat of danger had passed they all returned back to the mudflats. Along with the Lapwing were similar numbers of Ruff and Greenshank. It made quite a sight. On the lake were several dozen Mallard ducks and their hybrids. As lunch time approached I decided to call it a day and head back to the car. It certainly made a pleasant change from my usual visit to my regular reserve and hopefully not to long before I can make a return visit. In the mean time I must brush up on my ‘wader’ identification, now where did I put that book?

 

Wednesday 31st July 2018.

I managed to get out bright and early this morning. The weather forecast has been appalling for this area for several days now with rain, more rain and thundery showers predicted, we had some rain and thunder yesterday afternoon but not a lot and after some overnight rain which had cleared by this morning it was a reasonable start to the day. We had a wet dog walk earlier mainly due to the vegetation, bracken, ferns and nettles in the woodland being at shoulder length height and walking through the woods along the narrow trails you can soon get wet through. The Yorkshire Dales seem to be suffering at the moment with significant amounts of rainfall over a short period of time which no doubt will lead to flooding over there in the next few days.

I had another hour long meeting in Harrogate mid-morning today so was a good excuse afterwards to pop over to RHS Harlow Carr for brunch and a walk around the lovely gardens.

It was around mid-day as I parked the car in the car park. It was a reasonable morning, a greyish sky with some patches of blue, the sun was managing to break through the clouds for a few moments before disappearing again and the temperature was bordering on 20C and it was dry. I always seem to be fated with either a cloudy white or a dull day on my visit here, but regardless of the weather it is always a nice place to visit, though it would be nice to have wall to wall sunshine at least on some of my visits.

We popped into Betty's for a quick coffee before our walk around the gardens.

After our light refreshment we entered the gardens, down the steps, turned left and followed the path to the early learning centre, the grass and flower beds were looking green and lush with plenty of colour. The QM lake was covered in green weed, much like Selby canal, but the experts all say that it is quite safe to the fish life underneath and the weed is full of nutrients, as a koi keeper I would tend to differ with their logic but that is another matter.

We stopped for a few moments to admire the borders and planting around the recently restored sunken garden before heading round the corner and continuing along the Streamside walk, past the QM Lake on our right. I always have to stop for a few moments and admire the small wooden floating island which houses a duck box, quite a palatial building. We continued along the Streamside walk noting the increased flow of water in the stream. It looks as though a lot of work has been carried out earlier this year strengthening the banks of the stream and turning it into more of a feature adding some huge boulders along its length. It never ceases to amaze me that on every visit there is always something else to notice which you never saw on your previous visit and it is same with the planting, there is always lots of colours along the borders no matter what time of year you visit. We continued following the stream towards the old bath house, stopping for a few more moments to admire the views over the stream to the huge main borders, they make quite a picture especially at this time of year. On reaching the old bath house we doubled back on ourselves a little by following the other side of the stream before climbing up the slight incline to the Sandstone Rock Garden, again lots of work has been carried out here with lots of additional huge boulders added to enhance this part of the garden. We continued our walk up the slope towards the main path adjacent to the plant centre where we turned right and headed back to the visitors centre and to Bettys Cafeteria for a very pleasant late brunch.

 
Wednesday 17th July 2019
 
I hadn't realised but it is ten weeks since my last visit to my local reserve.
It was a pleasant morning when I arrived at just after 9.00am. Since my last visit they have installed a car park ticket machine, it is still free for members to park but we have to display a ticket from the machine on your windscreen, I do not have a problem with that at all, other than the machine is situated in the wrong place and secondly, for an old dodder like me the instructions are not exactly clear, I managed to get a ticket after several attempts but I watched and tried to help other visitors use the machine all to no avail. I think some more work in progress needs doing to simplify the process and also re site the machine either in the centre of the car park or next to the path leading up to the reserve!
It was a pleasant morning, 20C as I arrived at the centre, with a very light breeze and a grey cloudy sky. The Visitors centre was still closed as I made my way along the 'Discovery Trail around to the 'Pick up hide'. The first thing that struck me was how lush and green all the vegetation was, the Purple Loostrife was in full flower and swaying gently in the light westerly breeze. I was surprised to see how overgrown the vegetation had become since my last visit. The top of the Sand martin wall was covered in Bramble briars though although looking unsightly wasn't deterring the birds visiting their nest sites in the wall. The water level in the lake was quite low which was ideal for the waders though with the exception of a Little Egret and a handful of Lapwings they were the only visitors to the water whilst I was there. I could hear the Green Woodpecker calling quite frequently during the morning over to the left of the hide but it was keeping well out of my line of sight hiding amongst the undergrowth. 
Closer to the hide and around the feeding station was a little more activity, though not a lot. The area was heavily overgrown with the Bramble briars which made it extremely difficult to film let alone see the smaller birds as they flitted amongst the greenery.
Male and female Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Great Tits were frequent visitors, along with Wood Pigeon, Tree Sparrows and Dunnocks. Pair of Cock Pheasant were busily hoovering up the spoils from the feeders as was the occasional Hen Pheasant. The Grey Squirrels sempt quite content at trying to remove the fat balls from the squirrel proof feeder, sat patiently on the top of the feeder gently rolling and nibbling at the fat ball between its front paws until it was small enough to extract from the feeder.
After about an hour of inactivity at and around the hide I decided to go for a walk along the steam side to the Kingfisher screen. The water appeared quite stagnant and covered in silt which was disappointing to see as there was no chance of seeing any Kingfishers nor the Kingfishers seeing the food under the water's surface. It was a pleasant walk back to the centre though. 
 
 
Thursday 13th June - Thursday 20th June 2019
 
We have just returned home from a lovely week's holiday in Dubrovnik. It is a straight forward three hour flight from Leeds Bradford Airport to Dubrovnik on the Adriatic coastline. The flight took us over the Swiss Alps giving us some lovely views of the high Alps before following the Adriatic coastline and landing at Dubrovnik Airport.  We also had some great views of the old town as the aircraft began its approach to land, the marina and cruise ship terminal clearly visible from the air, as was the city walls of the old town and the distinctive bright red roofs of the houses inside the castle walls. It is usually a thirty minute drive from the airport to our hotel but on this occasion it took just one hour and thirty minutes due to the sheer volume of traffic.
We stayed in the Excelsior hotel on the edge of the Adriatic and just a five minute walk into the old town.  Everything about the hotel and the staff was absolutely excellent and I am already looking forward to a return visit.
We developed a bit of a routine during our stay, after a leisurely breakfast we would have a morning walk into the old town, the views from the hotel looking over to the castle walls and old town were breath-taking. By mid-morning the temperature was around the mid to high 20's C, by late afternoon and early evening it had risen to the mid 30'sC and very humid. After a walk around the old town we would finish off by having a drink and sometimes brunch in one of the several harbour side restaurants before the walk back to the hotel. The afternoon was spent around the Spa. I am generally pretty good with the heat but for several days it was too hot for me, even sitting under one of the many parasols, so the indoor pool and Spa was a very nice alternative and a little cooler than sitting outside.
We went with our good friends Pedro and Gladys, although they flew from East Midlands airport, a flight about similar duration to ours from Leeds Bradford.
On one of our days Peter and I had a good early morning walk around the ancient city walls, whilst the girls had some time browsing the many shops. The walls are a must for every visitor to the old town. Due to the high numbers of likeminded visitors there is an entrance fee to pay before the climb up the many steps to the battlements, but the views are well worth the effort and expense. There is a lot of steps to climb though, fortunately they have a one way system for walking around the walls namely anti clockwise, which works really well. Another good point on the walk round was there was at least two first aid stations, each manned with a couple of paramedics, which was somewhat reassuring especially when you note the age of many of the visitors especially those much older that Peter and I. The views from the walls over the old town are quite spectacular, no matter where you are.
Later in the week we boarded a river taxi to take us over to the Island of Lokrum. This island is directly opposite our hotel, in fact when you draw the curtains back every morning it was there in front of you. It is just a short fifteen to twenty minute boat trip to the landing stage on the island. The island itself is only about a mile in length and probably half that in its width. It is covered in trees and shrubs, uninhabited but in its day housed an ancient monastery and botanic gardens. Segments of the film 'A Game of Thrones' was filmed there, as it was in the old town and amongst the city walls. There are lots of lovely secluded bays around the island well wort the visit. We enjoyed a pleasant walk around the ruined monastery and had brunch in a small restaurant in the cloisters. The island is inhabited with many Peacocks, you could hear them calling quite clearly and all quite oblivious to the many hundreds of visitors whom visit the islands every day.
Our evenings were spent dining in and around the old town, we found several restaurants by chance and others recommended, namely the 'Poklisar restaurant' on the harbour side, this was a great place for brunch as well as an evening meal, their resident pianist kept you entertained as you wined and dined. Another lovely restaurant was the 'Gradska Kavana Arsenal Restaurant'   situated along the Pred Dvrom, opposite St Blaise church and adjacent to the City hall and Rectors Palace. This was probably our favourite, we enjoyed several pleasant brunches and evening meals there too, they also had a waiter there whom the girls thought looked like Prince Harry! 
One of the other highlights of our holiday was an evening meal at the 'Panorama Restaurant on Mt Srd on the outskirts of the town. To reach this restaurant you have the choice of cable car or by car or walk. Unfortunately whilst we were there the Cable car had closed down for whatever reason. We declined the walking option and chose to take a taxi from the hotel which proved considerably cheaper than the cable car, but the road up the mountain was quite scary, I do not think it had been repaired since the war in 1991, it was extremely narrow in places, with huge pot holes all over, I am please my car suspension, nor tyres, didn't have to do that journey several times a night! The views once we reached the summit were quite breath-taking. 
Due to the strengthening wind we decided to dine indoors and had a very nice table next to the window which formed the front of the restaurant and gave amazing floor to ceiling panoramic views overlooking the old town some 1400metres below. There were clear views too of the Island of Lokrum as well as the neighbouring islands.  We all had very nice meals and to end the evening a wonderful sunset.
In next to no time our holiday was over, it was quite sad to leave the hotel and our friends, the taxi to the airport was just a thirty minute drive. After booking in it was a quick brunch before boarding the plane home, the end of a lovely holiday.
 
 
Saturday 8th June 2019
I had today down as the day to visit Castle Howard as The Knights of Royal England arrived at Castle Howard for a weekend of chivalry, mounted challenges, hand to hand combat and a Jousting Tournament. I had been watching the weather forecast throughout the week and the forecast for today looked very wet and windy and as it turned put it wasn't far out in its prediction which was a shame really. I arrived at Castle Howard at about 10.45am having travelled through some very wet weather whilst driving along the A64. I had my waterproofs with me so as I got out of the car I put the wet weather gear on and made my way to the Courtyard, it felt quite strange being by myself, I usually have Jenny, Meg and Gracie with me but with hindsight it was better they stopped at home today in the dry and warmth.
I had some time on my hand so went for a walk around the walled garden for thirty minutes or so, the Alliums along the walled borders looked absolutely beautiful, even in the rain the bees were busily going about their business, there must have been at least two bees on each flower head. As the rain got heavier I decided to make my way to the house for some shelter and have a look round. This was only my second visit around the house this year so it was nice to have a gentle stroll through the rooms, admiring the stunning paintings and architecture. There is a really interesting new exhibition on at the moment which celebrates the history of interior design and decorations at Castle Howard. It was fascinating reading all about the different types of wallpapers that have been used in and around the rooms of the house and reading through some of the ledger pages and comparing costs. After looking around the house I went for a walk through Ray Wood, the rain had eased a little but it was very wet underfoot. There were some beautiful Rhododendrons in flower, their huge florets of reds, pinks and purples brightening up even the dullest of days. After leaving Ray Woods and the Temple of Four Winds I headed over to the South Lake, a pair of Mute swans were showing off their new family of hatchlings, all busily preening on the water's edge, totally oblivious of me walking past them at relatively close range, usually I would not be able to  get anywhere near them.
I could hear medieval music being played in the arena on the fields south of the house so I made my way over to the main arena. A falconer was flying a huge White Tailed Sea Eagle when I arrived, followed by a Stella Sea Eagle. Whilst the flying display was taking place I headed over to where the Knights of Royal England were preparing themselves for their show once the flying display had finished. 
Four Beautiful Andalusian and Lusitanos Iberian horses were dressed in all the regalia of the Medieval Knights of the Crown. 'Marlon' stood at 16 hands and was a grey Lusitano gelding a beautiful looking horse, 'Azuquita' (Pinki) was a grey Andalusian gelding with a pink nose, 'Centuto' was also a grey Andalusian Gelding and finally 'Domingo' was a grey Lusitano gelding and the latest addition to join the team.
The Knights were something else, the leader of the Red Team was 'Sir Jasper de Barry' who had been jousting since he was a teenager, 'Sir Sam of Hever' rode' Pinki', another experienced Jouster and led the Blue Team, 'Lord Ashley of Hampshire' one of the younger Knights sits on 'Marlon' and wore a characteristic horned helmet he was on the red team and finally there was 'Sir Stephen of Porlock' who rode 'Domingo' another experienced Jouster on the Blue Team.
The Knights made their way into the arena to the sound of a huge fanfare, and paraded around the arena much to the enjoyment of the visitors, there followed a lot of banter between the Knights and the audience and depending where you where stood had to support either the red or blue team. By now the rain had started again and with a strengthening wind made it quite unpleasant. The Knights now armed with their lances made their way to either ends of the arena, turned, dropped them to a horizontal position and charged at their opponent, full pelt, both missing there targets, they turned, faced each other, dropped their lances and charged at each other again, this time the red knight hit the blue knights shield to win the point. They had several more passes at each other and it ended up being quite an even competition. After a little more barracking between both sets of Knights aided and abetted by the audience they had some hand to hand combat with swords and clubs, all very good and entertaining, the crowds were thoroughly enjoying it despite the inclement weather. The knights soon mounted their horses for another competition namely seeing how many decapitated heads they could skewer with their lances, the successful victors parading around the arena with the head on the end of the lance. Another competition followed, this time the knights had to lance a wooden hoop which was resting on the arm of a huge mannequin in the middle of the arena. Both the Red and Blue teams were very good at this and soon managed to pick up the hoops with their lances.  The ground crew then started throwing the hoops high into the air for the knights to lance as they travelled past on horseback, this took great skill and both teams did really well in catching them.  At the end of the show the Knights and all the crew did a lap of honour, much to the delight of the watching spectators. This was a really good show and kept everybody's attention for nearly an hour even though we had a massive downpour halfway through the show. I hope they will be able to return next year. 
At this point I headed back towards the house, passing the Atlas fountain which was in full flow and must have soaked one or two unsuspecting visitors as huge gusts of wind kept blowing the spray across the gardens. I continued back to the house and made my way to the Stable Courtyard for brunch and a chance to get warmed up before the short journey home.
 
 
Wednesday 5th June 2019.
 
After a night of significant heavy rain it was very wet underfoot on the dog walk earlier today, I found a frog on top of the Barff this morning, how it got up there I do not know and further round on the walk I had a close encounter with a big Roe Deer, twice! The Orchids are just coming into flower on top of the Barff at the moment, I spotted a lone Marsh Orchid earlier this week, though I'm reliably told that there are more and just this morning I found my first Bee Orchid of the year, now I know there are more than one Bee Orchid on the Barff so from now on am going to have to pay a little more attention. After a good long walk we headed home for breakfast and after a shower and change we headed over to Harrogate for a walk around the gardens at RHS Harlow Carr for the remainder of the morning. 
It was just before 11.00am as I parked the car in the car park and made our way to the visitor centre entrance. It was quite a pleasant morning a little overcast, the sun was somewhat reluctant to come out from behind the grey clouds but at least there was no rain.
We popped into Bettys for a takeaway coffee and ginger biscuit (the coffee there is always very nice) and set off on our walk around the gardens. I always tend to prefer to walk in a clockwise direction around the garden so from the visitors centre turned left and headed for the learning centre. The first thing that struck me this morning was how lush and green everything looked, the heavy rainfall of the past few days and nights has certainly made a difference. We followed the trail around the QM pond admiring the wild orchids in the long grass, much of the land on Southfield has been left as a wild garden and with all the emerging wild flowers looks quite a picture at the moment. From the pond we followed the streamside footpath to the Old Bath House, I enjoy walking alongside the stream, the landscape seems to change with every visit, what was noticeable this morning was the amount of water running in the stream and secondly how the planting along streamside has grown since our last visit. The variety and colour of plants along the steamside walk is amazing, let alone the scents and aromas, every now and then the heady scent of Honeysuckle drifts across, then there are the Meconopsis - Blue poppies quite difficult to grow at home but look to be thriving in this damp and dappled environment next to the stream. Large groups of Primulas and irises all in full flower at the moment. The planting around the stone bridges that cross the stream is colourful at the too, no more so than were the memorial stone to Geoffrey Smith is situated. The fancy primulas look quite stunning.
From the Old Bath House we doubled back on ourselves somewhat but on the other side of the stream and headed up through the Sandstone Rock Garden, towards the garden centre, stopping to admire the main borders. The Alliums are in full flower at the moment and look absolutely superb their white and purple heads floating on the morning breeze. The guide books say there are at least six different types of Allium at Harlow and I am not surprised they are a beautiful looking and unusually striking plant. They also make a very nice dried flower and look good in Christmas floral decorations too. After admiring the borders we headed back to 'Bettys' for a late brunch before the journey home. Another lovely morning.
 
 
Sunday 2nd June 2019
 
It was another bright and early start this morning as I headed up the A19 and onto the A64 on route to the Yorkshire Air Museum 'Open Cockpits Day' at Elvington.
This was to the best of my knowledge something quite new for the museum so I thought it would be quite interesting to go along and have a look around. Not really knowing what to expect I arrived early and joined the queuing traffic waiting to enter the museum.
Having checked in at the reception desk, signed an indemnity form and answered a few simple questions I was given a special wrist band and joined the throng of other visitors to look inside some of the cockpits of the aircraft at the museum. 
I, am still quite familiar with most modern day fast jet aircraft cockpits and controls, but had never been inside the Nimrod MR2 XV250 or the Dakota 1V C-47B KN353 G-MAYJ, two significant aircraft, generations apart but both having played a substantial role in the protection of our country, so was hopeful that today I would be able to see inside them both. I made my way over to the Nimrod to book a time slot to look around the inside. Everyone else had the same idea as me so once I got my ticket I had some spare time which gave me the chance to have a look around some of the other aircraft on display.
Parked alongside the Nimrod on the apron was my old friend the Buccaneer painted in a Royal Navy livery, its wings folded up and airbrakes out it looked absolutely amazing. It took me back some fifty years when I first started work at Hawker Siddley as an apprentice aircraft fitter on the Buccaneer intakes, happy days. 
Just round the corner from the Buccaneer was a Fairey Gannet AEW 3 XL502, wings folded back, a British carrier-borne aircraft of the post-Second World War era developed for the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm by the Fairey Aviation Company. It was a mid-wing monoplane with a tricycle undercarriage and a crew of three, and a double turboprop engine driving two contra-rotating propellers, originally designed for anti-submarine detection. Next to the Gannet a pencil thin Dassault Mirrage 111E 538 was parked up. A single-seat, single-engine, fighter aircraft developed and manufactured by French aircraft company Dassault Aviation. It was the first Western European combat aircraft to exceed Mach 2 in horizontal flight.
A Blue Hawker Hunter T.7 XL572 '571' was the next aircraft I passed, a low profile cold war strike aircraft, this twin seat plane was used as a trainer aircraft to teach pilots how to fly other Hunters, it was later modified as a training aircraft for the Buccaneer. 
Alongside the Hunter was a De Haviland Devon VP967 aircraft, built in 1948 and used primarily as a short haul airliner, used by both the RAF and Royal Navy. It retired in 1982 having spent many years as a fisheries protection aircraft patrolling the North Sea. 
Just around the corner and situated in front of the Hanger was the C47 Douglas Dakota standing head and shoulders above the other aircraft. I was fortunate enough to climb on-board and spend five minutes in the cockpit chatting with the museum guide. This aircraft has had quite a working life, it was manufactured in Oklahoma City, USA, as a C-47B and entered RAF service at RAF Montreal in February 1945. In March 1945, it was transferred to 300 Wing in Australia and from May until December 1946 it served in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) with the ACSEA Communications Unit. From then until October 1947, when it was returned to the UK at 12 MU Kirkbride, it was in the Far East. During transit back to the UK on its final approach at Castel Benito in Libya, the Dakota suffered double engine failure due to a bird strike. The pilot Flying Officer Alan Thame, landed the aircraft safely in spite of having no engine power and limited vision due to bird remains on the cockpit windows.
In February 1953, the aircraft was bought by Transair Ltd and registered as G-AMYJ. Subsequently, the Dakota was flown by many small operators, including a spell in Egypt with Nile Delta Services as SU-AZF, until it was bought by Air Atlantique at Coventry Airport for Pollution Control work in the early 1980s. G-AMYJ was used in the television series, Band of Brothers about the Airborne D-Day landings. 
A total of 10,655 C-47s were built and hundreds remain airworthy today.
After leaving the Dakota I headed over to have a look at the Harrier, which appears to be undergoing a repaint at the moment, it proved a big draw with lots of young children keen to have a look in the cockpit as did the Tornado GR4, two popular aircraft with the visitors today.
My time allocation to look around the Nimrod was getting close so I headed back to where it was parked for a tour around the inside of this iconic plane. Primarily a Cold War Maritime and surveillance patrol aircraft it retired from Service in 2010 after 41 years with the RAF. I remember it well from my time with the Search and Rescue Services as a well-respected aircraft.  We entered the aircraft from the rear side door into the Acoustic Station where we were shown some of the equipment used to detect and monitor signals from the sonobuoys, from there we headed towards the flight deck and past the Radar Station, here we  were shown the screens and dials that the operators would sit in front of watching the 'Searchwater Radar which has a range of 200 miles. Continuing along the aircraft we came to galley and rest room, one of the most important places in the aircraft apparently, or so we were told. Further along we past the Navigators station were the Navigator sits alongside the Tactical Navigator both operators have vast amounts of data to analyse, the navigator responsible for getting the aircraft to where it is supposed to be going efficiently and on time whereas the tactical navigator is responsible for the control of weapons and ordinance.  Sitting just behind the Flight Deck is the Flight Engineers position they were responsible for maintaining fuel, oxygen pressurisation and the electrical systems as well as monitoring engine performance. Finally we reached the Flight Deck which was manned by the pilot and co-pilot. There was a crew of between 11-13 all dependant on the type of mission being flown. Today this aircraft is maintained by a team of current and ex RAF ground crew. An interesting and fascinating tour of a remarkable aircraft.
On leaving the Nimrod I headed back to T2 hanger to have a look at one of my old friends the Buccaneer S2B XX901, the second Buccaneer in the museum, this aircraft has had an illustrious service record with the Royal Air Force. In 1983, it took part in the only deployment by Buccaneers to the Falklands and later saw action over Beirut. In the 1991 Gulf War it flew 14 operational missions and had the unique distinction of destroying a taxiing Iraqi transport aircraft with a laser guided bomb. It was saved from being scrapped by the Buccaneer Aircrew Association and is painted in the Gulf War colours, including the 'Flying Mermaid' nose art. Like the Tornado and Harrier there was a lengthy queue of visitors waiting to have a look in the cockpit.
There was quite a poignant art installation in the hanger around the huge Hadley Page Halifax LV907 called 'Bootprints' D-Day 75 There but not there in support of the Remembrance Charity which recognises the sacrifices made by Bomber, Fighter and Coastal Commands, plus the S.O.E directly in support of the D-Day invasion between the 30th May 6th June 1944. 331 allied aircrew did not return. In this period the Bomber command lost 216 aircrew, 39 taken as PoW's 25 Evaders and 14 injured.
Another fascinating aircraft that I looked at was the WACO Glider the glider was only ever intended to be used once. The CG-4A was constructed of fabric-covered wood and metal and was crewed by a pilot and co-pilot, both of whom were expected to fight alongside the ground troops they were carrying once the aircraft had landed. It had two fixed mainwheels and a tailwheel. It was the most used American troop/cargo military glider during WW11. Whilst in service with the British military Service it was called 'Hadrian' and was used to deliver troops, Jeeps and guns into enemy territory in North West Europe, Italy and Burma.  
The CG-4A could carry 13 troops and their equipment. Cargo loads could include a 1D4ton truck (i.e. a Jeep), a 75 mm howitzer, or a 1D4ton trailer, loaded through the upward-hinged nose section.  More than 13,900 gliders were delivered during those war years. 
Standing proud in the entrance to the hanger was the huge Handley Page Halifax mk 111 bomber. The Museum's Halifax has been reconstructed from various sources; the fuselage is from a Halifax II, HR792, which carried out an emergency landing on the Isle of Lewis in 1945. A crofter, Mr McKenzie, purchased the fuselage section for use as a hencoop. The wings came from Hastings, TG536, at RAF Catterick. The reconstruction is named Friday the 13th in honour of Halifax, LV907, which completed 128 operations with 158 Squadron, and is representative of all examples built. The Halifax III was powered by Bristol Hercules engines. Primarily a heavy bomber, the Halifax III and later versions also served in Coastal Command and in paratrooping and glider towing roles with the Airborne Forces. There was a total of 6,178 aircraft manufactured, the bomber versions flew a total of 75,532 sorties during the Second World War.
After leaving the hanger I made my way over to the NAAFI for a late brunch, stopping on the way to have a look in the control tower, now a grade 11 listed building, the tower has been refurbished and restored and today it looks as it would have done back in the 1940's. It is certainly very life like and I was certainly startled when I reached the top of the stairs and looked into the air traffic control room.
The spacious NAAFI is situated closely to the Control Tower and can accommodate up to 200 diners. It sells a wide range of hot meals and beverages every day throughout the year, I enjoyed a very pleasant cooked meal before I reluctantly left for home.
Monday 27th May 2019
 
I have just returned home from a great day out at Castle Howard. I never really need an excuse to visit this lovely stately home but over the bank holiday weekend they were hosting a huge Traction Engine Rally. There has been a long history of traction engine rallies at Castle Howard up until the early 1980s, so after almost forty years it was nice to see them back again.
There has been a full weekend of activities in the main arena including the' Stannage International Stunt show' and the 'Scarborough Fair Collection' as well as the Traction Engines, vintage tractors, classic motorcycles and miniature steam engines.
I arrived at around 10.00am and after passing through the stable courtyard headed into the Walled Garden to look at the Spring flowers, the long spiked Alliums looked quite stunning in the Spring sunshine, gently swaying in the light morning breeze. After a quick walk through the garden I headed over to the Atlas Fountain and continued the path in a southward direction to the fields were the Traction Engine Rally was taking place.
After passing through the gates to the arena I had my hand stamped with the complimentary logo and made my way past some of the tented trade stands and stalls, they were selling just about everything you could imagine from gardening products and furniture to prints and soft toys. There were lots of mobile pop up refreshment caravans and catering outlets as well as a fine food marquee and plenty of places to sit and enjoy the cuisine or a pleasant drink in the morning sunshine.
It was a lovely morning, the sun was shining with just a light breeze. I headed round to the far side of the arena where all the huge traction engines were being fired up in preparation for the 11.00am display in the main arena. The air was full of smoke as the engines were warming up, their owners and mechanics dressed in the compulsory mucky boiler suit with equally filthy greasy beret, busily polishing their machines, greasing and oiling all the moveable parts in preparation for the display in the main arena.
I was surprised to see so many huge machines including, Traction Engines, Steam Rollers, Showman's road locomotives, Steam powered lorries, fairground organs as well as the miniature versions, some great names including Burrell, Fowler, Foden, Aveling & Porter were on display this long weekend . Many of the older bigger machines dated back to the 1800's and weighed in at over twenty tons each, the power they could generate was remarkable, it is a credit to their owners for looking after them so well that they are still here today to tell their story.
I watched the smaller engines enter the arena first doing a couple of laps before parking up in the centre. The bigger machines followed, bellowing lots of oily steam from their long funnels on top of the powerful engines, gently purring as they drove past, you could feel the ground tremble as they majestically followed each other into the arena. After several laps they too parked up for a few minutes whilst the commentator interviewed some of the drivers. 
One of the highlights of the mornings display was to watch a demonstration of Tractor pulling. One of the big Traction Engine's called 'Windrush' did a lap of the arena pulling three other engines. Tractor pulling is regarded as one of the world's most powerful motorsports due to the nature of the highly modified tractor-pullers that take part.  The pullers drag a metal sled along the track.  This sled contains a box filled with weight which is mechanically moved forward as the pull proceeds, making it progressively more difficult to pull. 'Windrush' did a complete lap of the arena with three machines in tow. They stopped again and hitched a forth machine up to 'Windrush'. With four other traction engines in tow 'Windrush' did another complete lap of the arena, pulling in excess of sixty ton.  It was an amazing feat of power and a credit to the drivers who have to control them.
Once the Traction Engines left the arena the veteran, vintage and classic motorcycles entered, some great machines from  manufacturers such as BSA, Triumph, Matchless, Honda, Ariel and many others including  the lesser-known makes like Motubi, Rudge and Excelsior. They all did several laps of the arena before they stopped and the commentator had a chat to the riders about their bikes, how long they have had them, they talked about sourcing spare parts as well as journeys made on them, it was quite interesting listening to some of the stories. Although I have never owned a motorbike I can remember some of the bikes on display from my childhood years.
After watching the bikes leave the arena I popped into one of the refreshment tents for a cup of tea and sandwich, having been on my feet all morning I was beginning to tire so decided to call it a day, though before I left I had another good walk around the outside of the parade ring to admire the Traction engines again. It was nice too to see so many visitors and families enjoying the day, let's hope it is not another forty years before the Traction Engine Rally returns to Castle Howard. 
 
 
Saturday 11th May 2019
 
To commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D Day this year, many functions have been arranged at the air museum to recognise the achievements of the Armed forces, in fact tomorrow a group of D Day veterans will be visiting the air base to attend a ceremony of remembrance.
Today the museum has been transformed into RAF Elvington, a 1944 working airfield and airbase. It was the night before D Day with lots of re-enactors taking the place of the ground and air crews from that time. There was a Halifax Mission Briefings 158 Squadron prior to Halifax 'Friday the Thirteenth' mission over Grandcamp Maisy in France, in the 'Elvington room'. If felt quite surreal at times as I watched an aircrew walking across the tarmac heading off to the Halifax Bomber.  Behind the aircraft a group of young men sat, mugs of tea in hand, cigarettes drooping from their mouths, anxiously waiting as they listened to the briefing officer give them details of their next flying mission. Close by a group of Wrens were chatting to some of the other flight crews prior to them leaving on another overseas bombing raid. Around the 'Bell tents' were another group of officers getting kitted up with all their flying gear, alas no one piece pressure suits it was layers of clothing and thick leather jackets and fleece lined boots!
It was quite scary looking at the Halifax bomber and the mid and rear gunner turrets, the conditions that those men had to work in were quite horrendous, let alone the chances of being shot by the enemy. Every mission must have been a lottery, never knowing if you were going to return to base or not. 
Outside the door of the NAFFI the 'Seatones' were singing songs reminiscent of the war years and sounded and looked quite excellent. On the tarmac adjacent to the NAFFI were the York Vintage Dance Group, all dressed in clothes of that time and dancing to the music of the 'Seatones'.  I can quite clearly remember my parents dressed very similarly when I was a child. Over in the Canadian Memorial hanger were demonstrations on parachute packing.
On the opposite of the tarmac to where the Halifax bomber was situated, I watched and listened to a fascinating demonstration on how to defuse a huge 1.000lb German parachute bomb by one of the Royal Navel reservists from HMS Vernon, it was quite gripping at times as he explained the different tricks the Germans would use to booby-trap the mechanisms and inner workings of the bomb. It was interesting watching him use many of the tools and kit specifically designed and made for such a situation and the job that each particular tool was used for.
Many of the aircraft had been moved outside today, it was good that you could climb into and have a look around the Dakota which although built in the mid 1930's had been flying up and till the early 1980's, the same aircraft had also been used 'recently' in the television series 'Band of Brothers' appertaining to the airborne D Day landings.
By early afternoon feeling a little weary with all the walking about as well as the beautiful sunny weather, I headed over to the NAFFI for coffee and cake before the short journey home. A fantastic day out.
 
 
Thursday 9th May 2019
 
It has been a cold and wet week so far and this morning was no different. I had a very wet walk with the dogs early this morning and got soaked through, as much from my perspiration on the inside of my jacket and the rain on the outside, so much for breathable Gore-Tex!
It is just over a week since my last visit to the reserve at Fairburn so after breakfast I decided to bite the bullet so to speak and head over there for a couple of hours.
It was about 9.30am by the time I had walked round to the 'Pick up hide', it was still quite dull and overcast, with damp drizzly rain showers which were quite sporadic throughout the morning. 
I was spoilt this morning, on the lake a pair of Little Egrets where busily feeding for much of the morning they both flew off around 10.30am and only one returned some twenty minutes later. The other highlight was watching the Sand Martins feeding their chicks in the Sand Martin wall. There was plenty of activity all morning around the wall with the parent birds working exceptionally hard keeping up the demand for food to feed the hungry little chicks. 
On the lake a pair of Widgen where swimming along the waters edge, they occasionally disappeared into the Bulrushes only to re appear some time later. It was nice to see some Teal on the water too today and makes a change from the Mallard and Coots.
The Hawthorn blossom is out at the moment and makes quite a picture, the delicate little white florets hide the nasty sharp thorns that lay beneath. The greenery is flourishing too which is making it extremely difficult to spot the birds.
The usual Pheasants were loitering around under the feeders, I caught the occasional glimpse of several Goldfinch but couldn't get a clear photograph of them along with Tree Sparrows and Chaffinch. The Reed Buntings were obliging though and would often come and take some sun flower seeds off the post in front of the hide. It made a change to see some of the bigger species of bird too, with a Jackdaw, Magpie and Collard Dove being frequent visitors to the front of the hide. 
A noisy pair of Oystercatchers flew over the hide on route to the Lin Dyke, as did a flock of Canada Geese and Greylag Geese, they made a right racket as they flew high above my head.
With little more activity close at hand I watched the Grey Squirrels as they demolished the fat balls in the squirrel proof fat ball feeder, it is amasing how dextrous they can be.
The rain showers were getting more frequent as the morning wore on so just after 11.00am I packed up and headed back to the visitors centre for a coffee prior to the journey home.
 
 
Tuesday 30th April 2019
 
It was a cold, misty and quiet morning, very little wind, the temperature gauge was reading just 4C at 9.00am today. I don't usually visit the reserve at Fairburn on a Tuesday but today I had a free morning so I headed over there for a couple of hours. I popped in for an hour or so last Thursday but only stayed till 10.30am, other than a pair of Widgeon, three pair of Tufted duck and a pair of noisy Greylag geese that was it on the lake, The feeding station to the right of the hide was quiet too with just a Cock Pheasant, Chaffinch and Great tits showing during my brief stay. 
This morning like last Thursday was relatively quiet especially around the feeding station. On the lake though where four pair of Tufted duck, a pair of Widgeon, a pair of Greylag Geese and for a short time a pair of Mute swans.
Behind where I was sat I could clearly hear a Cuckoo calling, but was too far away for me to see it. In front of the hide and to the right, Sand martins were busily flying into and out of their new homes in the Sand martin wall, one or two of the bigger chicks were coming to the nest hole entrance which was a bit of a concern as both Magpie and Jackdaw were hovering about on top of the wall, waiting for an opportune moment to snatch the young chick from their nest site. 
Further over to the right of the hide heavy dew still laid on the long grass, several pairs of Canada Geese and Wood Pigeon were busily going about their business in their quest for food. The Spoonbills have returned just recently to the reserve which is great news. From my position in the hide I could quite clearly see the Cormorants nesting along with one or two Grey Heron and Little Egrets too but I couldn't make out the Spoonbills today.
The relative peace of the hide was broken when a Curlew flew into the reed beds on the left hand side of the lake, it was well out of site though and well tucked in behind the reeds.
Close to the front of the hide were two pairs of Mallard busily feeding, it was quite comical to watch as they dived and bobbed in the water in their quest for food. With very little bird activity around the feeding station I kept being distracted by the antics of three Grey Squirrels that were being extremely active in front of the hide, one of them was quite content on pinching fat balls out of the squirrel proof feeders all morning, it would sit on top of the feeder and with its front paws reach through and grab hold of the fat ball inside the feeder, rotating it in its paws, nibbling it at the same time, after a few minutes of frantic nibbling the fat ball is small enough to pull through the feeder,  with the fat ball now secure in the squirrels front paws it clambers onto a tree branch away from the feeders and sits contently devouring the remainder of its ill-gotten gains, the other two content on looking for discarded sun flower seeds from the other feeders. 
As the morning progressed and with very little activity close to the hide and with the temperature still in single figures I decided to call it a day and head back to the visitors centre for a coffee before the journey home.
 
Friday 26th April 2019.
 
It was an early start to the day this morning as we were going out a little later. I was on the Barff with Meg and Gracie for just before 5.00am. It was a cold, dry morning with a light breeze and 4C. The Bluebells are still looking good, most striking though was the dawn chorus, at times it was deafening but beautiful to listen to, I hadn't realized how much noise these birds could make, I usually get on the Barff from between 5.30am 6.30am and the chorus is loud at that time, but this morning and thirty minutes earlier the cacophony of noise was deafening. We had a good long very early morning walk returning home around 6.30am. After breakfast we headed off to the Harrogate Spring Flower Show for the day. We arrived on the outskirts of Harrogate for just before 10.00am and followed the signposts to the flower show which was held on the Yorkshire Showground. The signposting and car parking management was first class, we joined a long line of moving traffic which took us straight into the showground and parked up within a couple of minutes. After a five minute walk across a grass field we arrived at the entrance gates. I was surprised at the number of visitors queuing up to buy day tickets, there must have been at least several hundred. Fortunately I had purchased the tickets several weeks ago so we were fast tracked into the ground, no hold up at all. We entered the showground at just after 10.00am and even at that time the area was buzzing with people. Our first stop was the main hall for a coffee and bacon sandwich, after an early brunch we stayed in the main hall and had a look at all the flower exhibits, I personally like fuchia's and acer trees and wasn't disappointed. There were some excellent displays of Bonsai trees, Chrysanthemums, Dalia's and even Daffodils. There were lots of stalls selling all sorts of plants, there was a flower arranging display as well as a gardeners question time forum going on in another part of the hall and for those of us who didn't want to carry bags of plants around with us there was even a plant crèche, where we could safely leave our plants as we looked around the showground and collect them later in the day just before our journey home. After a good walk around the main hall we ventured outside to look at all the trade stands. From the main entrance to the Flower show and for as far as the eye could see was a mass of small white canvas pergolas all crammed full of gardening produce, from plants, garden tools, pots and planters, in fact everything imaginable to do with gardening and the outdoors. The bigger suppliers had huge marquees selling everything from hot tubs, barbeques and garden furniture to tree roots and wrought iron garden furniture. Then there was another huge food hall, lots of pop up tea and coffee bars, small restaurants and motor vehicles of all shapes and sizes converted to sell tea, coffee and snack food it was quite an eye opener.
By early afternoon the site was getting extremely busy with visitors of all nationalities. Looking over the adjoining countryside the grass fields were packed with parked cars, their occupants all visiting the flower show, there must have been a fair few thousands of cars parked. We decided to have a very pleasant early lunch, collect our plants from the plant crèche and head back to the car and make our way home before everyone else had the same idea. It was a great day out and well worth the visit.
 
 
Thursday 25th April 2019.
 
Having just nicely returned home from a lovely long Easter weekend with family in Kent, it was nice to get out on the Barff with Meg and Gracie this morning. That said from having a weekend of wall to wall sunshine it is a bit of a shock to the system when it rained all yesterday afternoon and this afternoon too.
The bluebells on the Barff this week are looking absolutely stunning. I usually arrive on the Barff between 5.30am and 6.30am every morning and every now and then I walk through a particular area and the scent coming off these wild flowers is absolutely amasing, not very good though if you suffer from hay fever.
This week is probably the best week for the Bluebells though I have noticed the ferns, nettles and Himalayan Balsam slowly starting to sprout up amongst them. I think another week or so and many of the Bluebells will have died back or been smothered by the faster growing ferns etc.  
It is nice listening to the bird song on my walk on the Barff and today is no different. A lot of our migrants are arriving back in the country about now to breed and rear their young. I was watching a pair of Lapwings in the field adjacent to the old pumping station this morning and am certain I could hear the distant call of the Skylark high above my head. On the top of Tap hill as I walked around the top perimeter fence line I watched and listened to a Garden Warbler before it flew over the fence and into the two tall Sycamore trees on the top of the Barff, still singing away though. It was good to see the Buzzards again circling high over the top of the Barff, I haven't seen them for a couple of weeks now and had presumed the crows had hassled them away. I can see and hear the Willow Warbler most days along with the Chiffchaff and Blackcaps, they have such delicate tuneful song. Let's hope our Spring and Summer isn't going to be too severe for them to breed.
The blossom on the trees and bushes is in full bloom at the moment, the Hawthorn especially. The Broom bushes are looking quite colourful too, especially along the Bypass trail and down towards Mill Lane, their little yellow florets providing a splash of colour to the green undergrowth. Lots and lots of Dandelions out too their florets providing an early source of nectar for the bees.
I still have not heard the Green Woodpecker calling this year, last year I would hear its cackling laughing call most days but nothing heard to date. Also the Cuckoo which should have arrived by now, I have heard them on the reserve at Fairburn but not yet on the Barff. Let's hope they return in the next week or so.
 
 
 
Good Friday 19th April 2019
 
Well, here we are down in Kent, I drove down yesterday morning to spend the Easter weekend with Jenny's daughter and family.
This morning we decided to stay close to home due to the glorious weather we are having and the anticipated increase in holiday traffic, so we headed over to Chartwell in Westerham the home of Winston Churchill, just a short drive from home. We arrived mid-morning and the car park was absolutely crammed pack full, fortunately the National Trust opened up one of their overflow car parks to enable us to park safely.
The plan was and we did take part in the Easter Egg hunt around the kitchen gardens and estate with Jenny's grandchildren. We have visited Chartwell several times now and never had a good look around the gardens and estate surrounding this beautiful house. Needless to say our three grandchildren had a wonderful time looking for and solving the clues prior to claiming there Easter Egg prize. Cadbury's the sponsor of the Easter Egg Trail must have given away several thousands of eggs over the Easter period at Chartwell alone.
The present kitchen garden dates from the mid-1920s when the surrounding brick wall was built. Churchill was an enthusiastic amateur bricklayer and a plaque on these walls states 'The greater part of this wall was built between the years 1925 & 1932 by Winston with his own hands'. As a large country house, Chartwell almost certainly always had a kitchen garden to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to the family.  When Churchill bought the house in 1922 the kitchen garden was probably situated where the croquet lawn now lies.
As with any kitchen garden it provided an essential and practically self-sufficient source of produce for the Churchill family and stock was often sent up to Churchill's London home.
The area fell into disrepair during the war years but when Churchill retired from office in 1955 he was able to spend more time at Chartwell.  In 2003 the National Trust devised a master plan to reinstate the kitchen garden using old diaries from Churchill's last Head Gardener Victor Vincent as well as invoices and paintings as guides.
After an exhausting  Easter Egg hunt in and around the gardens we made our way to the cafeteria for a well-earned rest and refreshment before the short journey home.
 
 
Wednesday 17th April.
 
I had a good early morning dog walk with Meg and Gracie first thing, it was a cool start at 6C but quite a promising start to the day. I had a business meeting in Harrogate later this morning regarding some of my photography work so as soon as I had got the dogs settled, had breakfast we headed off to Harrogate. Depending on the traffic I usually allow fifty minutes for the journey and today was no exception, other than a few long standing road works in the centre of the town the journey was reasonably straight forward.  After a good meeting I drove over to RHS Harlow Carr for a walk round the gardens followed by lunch in Bettys, something I always enjoy.
The car park this morning wasn't too full and I managed to get pack reasonably close to the visitors centre. Unfortunately the bit of brightness I was hoping for did not materialise and as we showed our membership cards to the staff and walked through the centre  onto the grounds there was a distinctively cold westerly breeze accompanied by some light drizzle, I was pleased that I had a reasonably warm and waterproof outdoor jacket with me.
There has been a hive of activity around the gardens since our last visit in February, a lot of shrubs have been heavily pruned and all the borders had been cleared of the dead growth from last year's planting and many of the wide borders especially by the streamside walk were looking quite bare. That said the area just before the sunken garden was a picture of colour, with huge borders of Hyacinth and daffodils, this I thought was  probably one of the most picturesque and colourful areas of the garden at the moment. I am certain that the number of willow made dinosaurs has grown since our last visit too, they looked very good alongside the path, providing great photo opportunities for the discerning visitors.  
After leaving the dinosaurs we continued following the trail round past Queen Margaret's lake and followed the Streamside walk to the old bath house, the wind blowing along this part of the trail was extremely cold so we didn't hang about. From the bath house I like to follow the trail on the opposite side of the stream and head up to the Sandstone rock garden. This area was re designed earlier this year and once the new planting becomes more established will look really eye-catching. From the rock garden it is just a short walk back up to the visitors centre and into Bettys for a welcome cup of tea and sandwich. 
 
Monday 15th April 2019
It was a cold and frosty start to the day this morning. An overnight frost had coated the grass with a white sheen which was just beginning to melt as the sun rose slowly over the trees to the East.
After breakfast I headed over to the reserve at Fairburn Ings for an hour or so. The time was approaching 9.15am as I arrived at the visitor's centre, unfortunately for me the centre does not open till 9.30am so I was unable to get my early morning cup of coffee. I continued my walk the short distance along the 'discovery trail' to the 'Pick up hide'. It was quiet when I arrived at the hide, there were no other visitors so I was by myself. The temperature had risen to a barmy 5C and the sun was shining nicely across the far side of the lake, it will be mid-morning before the sun comes over the 'coal tips trail' and warms up the hide. 
On the lake where a pair of Mute Swans, both enjoying the peace and serenity without the nuisance of diving Black backed gulls or noisy Greylag geese etc. Several pairs of Coots and Mallards were busily scampering around the water's edge but all left the swans well alone.
The Sand martins were in and out of the Sand martin wall like bullets this morning, circling above the wall and suddenly choosing their moment to take a low fast dive sweeping across the front of the hide, straight into their nesting holes in the wall.
Over in the far field to the right of the hide were several pairs of Canada Geese, their heads popping up out of the long grass like a submarine's periscope as it comes up from a dive. On the 'Cormorant tree' were at least eight birds, some in their nest whilst others stood perched on the tree branches with their wings stretched wide open, drying them in the cold morning sunlight.
Closer to the hide and the feeders to the right, several noisy Tree Sparrows were making quite a noise in their quest for food. Hen and Cock Pheasants were around under the feeders, scavenging for remnants of food dropped from the feeders directly above their heads. 
A male Reed Bunting popped in for a feed this morning, I like the male birds, their colours and markings are more defined that the female birds and the male birds always have that distinctive white moustache marking around their faces which always makes me smile. Three Long Tailed Tits popped in to feed on the fat ball feeder for a while, though they never seem to loiter or hang around, once they have their intake of food, they are off back into the deep undergrowth.
It was good to see a Coal Tit on one of the feeders, in fact a pair of them kept visiting one of the feeders during my stay at the hide, the white patch on the back of their head differentiating them from the Great Tit. Chaffinch, Great Tits, Greenfinches and Blue Tits were all regular visitors too. 
One of the highlights of my morning's visit to the hide was watching a pair of Cock Pheasants square up to each other, lots of noise, wing flapping, the occasional peck at each other followed by a period of calm, then, when one came a little to close to the other it would all start again, lots of noise, wing flapping etc. 
As the morning progressed a party of around a dozen or so Primary School children visited the hide along with their teacher for a look at the wildlife. I do admire the teachers taking the children out on field trips, I just wish I was given that opportunity at that age.
Grey Squirrels were regular visitors to the feeders along with Dunnocks and Woodpigeon, all in all a lovely morning at the hide. As the time was approaching 11.00am I decided to call it a day and head back to the centre for a late morning cup of coffee.
 
Sunday 14th April 2019
 
I have had some cold early starts this last weekend, -1C on Friday and Saturday and -2C this morning. With the cold mornings we have seen some lovely sunrises too, the views from the Barff looking eastward towards Brayton church and Drax power station have been quite spectacular.
The Bluebells are flowering in earnest at the moment, covering a vast area of the eastern side of the Barff as well as smaller pockets around the rest of the woodland.  They should, depending on the weather conditions, stay in flower into the second week of May, by which time the ferns and nettles will have smothered them. 
I watched the Buzzard for a few minutes this morning, circling and gliding in the morning thermals high above Tap hill, that was until a pair of Crows decided to harass it,  eventually  it headed off over towards the golf course. It is nice to hear the Willow Warblers and the Blackcaps I could stand and listen to their song for minutes on end. Every now and then the distinctive call of the chiffchaff breaks out from the undergrowth. I heard the call of the Long Tailed Tits towards the end of our walk this morning but haven't yet managed to see them, there is still plenty of time though. The early morning dawn chorus is quite special at the moment and well worth getting up that little bit earlier.
I still haven't seen any white bluebells yet, I have seen several facebook posts to say that they are out and about but for the time being I'm afraid I will have to keep looking.
I was fascinated to read the other day that bluebells were voted the country's favorite flower back in 2015. Apparently they are known by a variety of names, the English bluebell, Wood bell, Bell bottle, Cuckoo's Boots, Wood Hyacinth, Lady's Nightcap and Witches Thimble to name just a few. Another interesting fact I read was that half of the world's bluebells are found in this country. It can take between five to seven years for bluebells to establish from seed to flower and more worrying, especially for the Barff is that it can take several years to recover after being trampled on. If the leaves are crushed they die back from a lack of food as the leaves cannot photosynthesis.
Another important fact worth noting is that the bluebells are protected by law. In this country the British Bluebell is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is a criminal offence to uproot the wild common bluebell from land on which it naturally grows. Any trade in wild common bluebell bulbs or seeds is also an offence, carrying fines of up to £5,000 per bulb.
I have been listening out recently for the call of the Green woodpecker alas to no avail. I usually hear it calling and laughing around the area of the old farm shop, let's hope it returns in the next few weeks. Another bird I haven't heard yet this year is the Cuckoo. I have heard both the Cuckoo and Green Woodpecker over on the reserve at Fairburn Ings but still no signs or sightings yet of them on the Barff.
 
 
 
Thursday 11th April 2019
 
It was another cold start to the day, 2C, fine and dry with a little early morning mist.
We had one Jenny's grandchildren staying on a 'sleepover' last night and although I was woken by him at 5.00am I managed to persuade him to stay in bed for at least another thirty minutes. Meg and Gracie weren't in the least bit bothered about an early start to the day and thought it great fun to have more play and walk time!
We decided after breakfast to drive over to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park on the outskirts of Doncaster, to see the animals and to burn off some of his endless energy. It is only a drive of about forty minutes from home so it is reasonably close. We left the dogs at home, both grateful for a couple of hour's peace and quiet before our return. 
I am not a great lover of zoos generally but I very much enjoy visiting this wildlife park not just for photographing the animals but I like the way the centre puts an emphasis on the welfare and conservation of the animals. Built on a former riding school and farm, Yorkshire Wildlife Park has been open since April 2009. It has certainly come on a long way since those early days. Today the park has over 400 animals and over 70 different species of animal.
Obviously todays visit was about spending some quality time with our grandson, taking photographs was secondary.  Arriving at around 10.30am I could not believe how full the main car park was, the park had only been opened since 10.00am and was at least three quarters full. I think some of the schools, especially in West Yorkshire were having an early Easter holiday and that parents and grandparents were having the same train of thought as us about getting their offsprings out into the open fresh air if only for a few hours.
After passing through the entrance we came upon the Meerkats and Mongoose, several were out and about in their compound, I love the way they always have a 'guard' on duty sat bolt upright on the highest rock, watching over the pack keeping an eye open for any predators, just as they would in the wild. From the Mongoose and meerkats enclosure we continued our journey around the park in an anti-clockwise direction, heading for 'Lion Country'. It was the Lions story that first made me aware of Yorkshire Wildlife Park some ten years ago. The pride where rehomed from the Oradea Zoo in Romania where due to lack of funds and expertise were kept in very poor conditions. At the time, Lion Rescue was the largest big cat rescue in Europe. They now live a completely different life, contently roaming amongst their seven acre reserve. Today they looked good as they walked around their reserve, one or two of them busily feeding whilst the others were sleeping contently in the morning sunshine.
After leaving 'Lion Country' we headed over to 'Wallaby Walkabout' and had a walk through their enclosure. The Bennet Wallabies are native to Australia and Tasmania and roam free within their enclosure amongst the members of the public. The most noticeable thing about marsupials like wallabies is the females unique pouch, used to nurse their young, a joey will stay in its mum's pouch, drinking her milk, until they are about six months of age. After six months of age they will come out of the pouch to hop around, but will continue to return to mum's pouch until they can no longer fit! Several of the Wallabies were carrying their Joey's during our visit. On leaving the Wallabies we headed over to the 'Project Polar' to look at the Polar Bears. 
The Project Polar reserve is home to four polar bears, Victor, the oldest bear who arrived at YWP in August 2014, now retired from the European breeding programme after siring 10 cubs, his grandson Pixel who arrived at the park on the 25th March 2015 from Holland, Nissan who arrived all the way from Moscow on the 13th October and YWP's latest arrival, Nobby who arrived from Munich on the 18th February.
The Polar Bear reserve covers some 10 acres and features several lakes, the largest one of the lakes covers an area of 6,500 square metres, containing over 25.5 million gallons of water. The 8 metre deep lake is fantastic for Victor, Pixel, Nissan and Nobby to swim, dive and play in. Today we missed the bears swimming in the lake but watched as one of them fed on a huge piece of meat whilst two others were quite content to cuddle into each other and have a snooze. The reserve has been built to reflect the habitat of the summer Arctic tundra. The polar bear population of South Hudson Bay spend up to 7 months of the year on habitat like this and not snow and ice! The temperatures in summer can reach up to 26 degrees C. so they are quite at home in their 'new' surroundings here.   
After leaving the Polar Bears we followed the trail through the 'Wetlands' and into 'The Land of the Tiger', which is home to the endangered Amur Tigers 'Vladimir', 'Sayan 'and 'Tschuna'.  The 'Land of the Tiger' is one of the largest tiger reserves in Europe and was built in 2011 and whilst the story of the lions was all about welfare the tigers are part of the European Breeding Programme and their story is all about the conservation of this beautiful endangered species and the threats they face. It is thought that there are less than 500 Amur tigers left in the wild, hunting had pushed these animals to the brink of extinction in the 1940's, with only 40 remaining in the wild. The species was saved when Russia granted the Amur tiger full protection and since the 1940's a significant amount of work has gone into the conservation of these magnificent animals. Land of the Tiger is world renowned and one of the largest tiger exhibits in Europe. Tschuna was originally hand reared by keepers at a zoo in Germany after being rejected by her mother, before coming to the UK and arriving at YWP in 2013, a move recommended by the European Breeding Programme. After being introduced to the male tiger Vladimir, she gave birth to three cubs in March 2015 and turned out to be a great mother. Needless to say that on our visit today they were both resting in the shade.
After our visit to see the Tigers we headed back to the Masai Coffee shop, the weather being quite kind to us so we sat outside and enjoyed the sunshine and brunch. After our short break I headed round the corner to see the Brown Bears. Like the lions we saw earlier the four Ussuri Brown Bears have been 'rescued' from a zoo in Japan where they had been living in very cramped conditions for many years. Riku, Kai, Hanako and Amu were previously housed as part of an exhibit in outdated cages at the Ainu Cultural Museum on Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's islands and urgently needed new facilities. Unfortunately, there was no capacity in Japanese zoos to take them, so the Yorkshire Wildlife Park stepped in. The work involved to move the four bears took over two months of planning and preparations to create a safe and efficient journey for the 5,400 miles trip from Japan to the UK. The four bears, travelled with one of YWP's Animal Managers and vets were transported in temperature-controlled conditions on the cross-continent transfer which took over two days. After a period of rehabilitation at the YWP the bears look to have settled in really well and enjoying their new surroundings. Today though they were exploring the far side of their reserve so although not out of camera range I could not get any suitable images, will have to try again on our next visit. 
It is the stories of the Lions and Bears which make me respect the work being done by the YWP and associated organisations to safe guard these animals for the benefit of their lives and for future generations, long may it continue.
 
 
Thursday 4th April 2019
 
There was a cold nip in the air this morning. I had been out with the dogs earlier in the morning and had a good walk on the Barff for a couple of hours returning home for 7.30am. After breakfast I loaded the car with the camera gear and winter jacket etc. and headed over to the RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings. It is just over a month since my last visit and whilst I had been away the reserve had been closed for several days due to flooding. It was just after 9.00am when I parked the car in the visitors centre car park. The visitors centre for some reason or other doesn't now open till 9.30am so I missed out on my cup of coffee and made my way round to the 'Pick up Hide'. It was nice to see the hawthorn bushes in flower with tiny little delicate white rosettes. I was quite shocked though by the amount of debris including some huge tree roots the flood water had left deposited in front of the hide and how it had damaged the fencing, some of the fence posts are over five inches in diameter and left askew as a result of the flood damage. The only consolation was that there was plenty of water in the lake in front of the hide. A pair of Mute Swans contently sat in the middle of the lake, busily preening, they looked to be in really good condition, their beautiful white feathers shimmering nicely in the early morning sunlight. The calm and serenity was short lived though when a noisy pair of Canada Geese flew onto the lake and they too started to preen themselves. Along with the Mute swans and geese it was nice to see two pair of Teal busily feeding around the water's edge. 
Closer to the hide and the area around the feeders it was relatively quiet with not a great deal of activity at all. A couple of Hen Pheasants were scavenging for food under the feeders, only being rewarded with a treat from the spillage being caused by the Grey Squirrel as it hung upside down trying in earnest to extract food from the feeder. Several Robins kept visiting the area although they tend to avoid the feeders, preferring to feed off the woodland floor. Tree Sparrows and Great Tits were regular visitors though along with several Chaffinch and Greenfinch, It was good to catch site of the Reed Bunting, I could only see the male bird this morning, I am sure its mate wouldn't have been far away. Dunnock's visited the area several times, one of them spent a few minutes perched on a tree branch singing its head off, it was lovely to listen too. 
The new leaves on the trees and bushes are just beginning to open up after the winter months, although many are slower to open than others at the moment, certainly by the end of the month there will be a full canopy of green leaves making it more difficult to spot the birds and certainly photograph them. There was no mistaking the Goldfinch this morning when they arrived on the feeders though, their distinctive face markings and colourful bodies always put a smile on my face, I think it is a shame that they are really poor at housekeeping  especially in and around their nests.
As the morning progressed so did the strengthening southerly wind, although there is some protection in the hide it was making it a little unpleasant and cold. The occasional bright sunny periods were only short lived and as the time approached 11.00am the sky was looking decidedly like rain so at that point I packed the camera gear away and head back to the visitors centre for a coffee. 
 
Wednesday 3rd April 2019
 
Having just returned home from a few days away it was nice to be back with Meg and Gracie and our walks around the Barff. Unfortunately late last week Meg became quite lame on her front paw and after a few checks I noticed that she had somehow managed to rip of a nail on her right paw, she was feeling quite sorry for herself and out of sorts as well as being restricted to garden walks and a course of antibiotics for a few days. Today was her first day back, so it was a shorter walk than usual untill she starts to feel more confident on her leg and the wound tissue hardens up properly. 
 
The Barff has started to colour up quite nicely at the moment with pockets of bluebells appearing on a daily basis. They started appearing as tiny green shoots back in February and today, the first week in April are beginning to look quite colourful,  a sign that Spring has finally arrived. By the end of the month the woodland should be a mass of colour.
 
After a very wet morning walk yesterday, today was quite a contrast with a light overnight frost and quite firm underfoot. The temperature gauge at 6.00am was reading -1C as Gracie, Meg and I set off on our walk. We had a lovely quiet walk and never saw a sole whilst we were on the Barff. It was nice to hear several Nuthatches calling as we made our way round the woodland, I heard at least four of them, their short sharp distinctive call being easily recognisable to the trained ear. As usual the Robin were never too far away, every time I stopped to admire the view or listened to the birdsong, one would fly into view and land within an arm's length of us both. I can only presume that other visitors to the woodland must tempt them in with some bird food? The Blackcaps are singing nicely at the moment too along with the Chiffchaffs. 
 
I have been quite fortunate of late with getting up reasonably early to see some beautiful sunrises, the sun rising well over in the east to the left of St Wilfreds church in Brayton, later in the month it will be rising over the Power station at Drax. Today was no exception. It is a shame that so many people won't see it.
 
 
Friday 29th March 2019.
 
After another excellent evening meal at the 'Wine House' on Bird street it was back to The George Hotel for a nightcap before the short walk back to our hotel on St Johns street. This morning we woke to wall to wall sunshine again, this was our last day in Lichfield so after another hearty breakfast we packed the cases and booked out of the hotel.
As it was such a pleasant morning we decided to go for another walk into the town centre, the ladies had a good perusal around the shops whilst Pedro and I went to look at and around Samuel Johnson's house and museum.  Best known for his Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson spent the first 27 years of his life in this five storey Grade I listed trader's townhouse. The house was built in 1707 for Michael and Sarah Johnson, Samuel's parents. It served as both the Johnson family home and Michael's bookshop. Samuel was born on the first floor in September 1709. He left Lichfield in 1937 to find work as a writer in London where he published his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755. The house has been turned into a museum and although quite sparse in furniture it makes up for it in information boards and exhibits in every room. It is well worth a look round.
Friday is market day in Lichfield and as the house is situated on Breadmaker street the market square is adjacent to the front door under the shadow of St Mary's church. The market place was bustling and full of stalls with traders selling all sorts of wares from fishing tackle to children's clothing and plants to vinyl records and stamp collections. It was nice to walk round a proper market.
We had pre-arranged to meet our ladies at the coffee shop for 12.30pm where we had a very pleasant brunch, before popping into an Antique shop, we did well as this was our second visit looking around the antiques and came away with nothing!
As the time was now approaching 2.00pm we made our way back to the hotel, said cheerio's to our friends and made our way home. Our journey home took an hour longer than our arrival due to a lorry loaded full of roof tiles turning over and depositing its load over a roundabout on the A38. After passing this delay we had a straightforward journey home and the end of a very pleasant mid-week break with our friends.
 
 
Thursday 28th March 2019.
 
After an excellent evening meal at the Wine House in Lichfield a comfortable night's sleep and hearty breakfast in our hotel, we decided to explore more of Lichfield today on foot. Fortunately our hotel was on St Johns Street which is literally a stone's throw from the town centre. It was a beautiful morning as we left the comfort of the hotel, the sun was shining, a lovely blue sky and it was warm, no need for a winter jacket. We continued along St Johns Street and followed the road into Bird Street, there were lots of nice cafés and restaurants on both sides of the road which were quite tempting and somewhere to consider for our evening meal later this evening. For now though we continued along Bird Street, on the left we past the Museum Gardens which looked a picture this morning, the neat flower beds and statues dotted around the park looked quite tempting to head for but we continued along our way stopping again at the Minster Pool on the opposite side of the road and situated just south of the cathedral. Minster Pool is a reservoir located between Bird Street and Dam Street in the heart of the city. It has been historically important to the defence of the Cathedral Close. The pool was originally formed in the 11th century when a boggy stream was dammed at its eastern end to drive a mill on Dam Street. The pool was used as a mill pond and fishery until 1856 when the mill was demolished. Today the area to the south of the dam has been laid to paving stone with seats and benches along its length and provides a popular meeting place. It was nice to be able to sit and admire the beautiful views of the cathedral and its reflection in the water below.
Adjacent to the pool on the north side is the tranquil Garden of Remembrance, which was built following the First World War, the people of Lichfield were anxious to create a memorial to those who had lost their lives. The spot was chosen because of its picturesque setting between Minster Pool and Cathedral Close.
From the Garden of Remembrance we continued along Beacon Street for a few yards before turning right into Cathedral Close. The Close is a historic set of buildings associated with the Cathedral and the clergy and grew during the medieval times. Today some of those buildings still remain though the majority of buildings date from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
As soon as you turn in to the close the west face of the church stands in front of you, towering high up into the sky. The Sandstone brick has darkened through time, but the architecture is quite stunning. There has been a cathedral on this site since the year 700, founded by St Chad, the Anglo Saxon missionary. We spent a good couple of hours walking through this magnificent building, there is so much to see. Our friend Pedro has a three times great grandfather buried in the grounds outside the cathedral. He was the choir master here for over forty years and died in the 1860's, so on leaving we had a look for his grave on the lawns outside, not knowing whereabouts to look  we started looking at the many gravestones neatly laid in the lawns. Fortunately after a few minutes Pedro found it, quite a poignant and lovely moment. After a few photographs we made our way around the side of the cathedral to the close to find the Chapters and the 'Café in the Close' for a pot of tea and biscuit.
After a very pleasant refreshment break we headed back to our hotel to collect the car for the short drive up to Milford, near Stafford for a look around the Shugborough Estate.
The hall is situated on the edge of Cannock Chase, about 6 km east of Stafford. The estate was owned by the Bishops of Lichfield until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when it passed through several hands before being purchased in 1624 by William Anson, a local lawyer and ancestor of the Earls of Lichfield. The estate remained in the Anson family for three centuries. Following the death of the 4th Earl of Lichfield in 1960, the estate was allocated to the National Trust in lieu of death duties, and then immediately leased to Staffordshire County Council. Management of the estate was returned to the National Trust in 2016. This is a huge estate and by the time we had finished our brunch in the courtyard café we had insufficient time to walk to the Mansion and look around the house. The weather was beautiful, warm and sunny and the many visitors, ourselves included where walking round in shirt sleeves! As time was against us we had a good look around the stables and courtyard. It was nice to look at a small flock of pregnant ewes which had been brought in to the stables ready for lambing, in fact a couple of lambs had been born earlier in the day, much to the delight of the ladies. As time was approaching 4pm we headed back to the car for the thirty minute drive back to Lichfield and our hotel for the night.
 
 
Wednesday 27th March 2019.
 
It was a very early start to the day this morning, I was out on the Barff for 6.00am for a good long walk with Meg and Gracie. On returning home it was a quick shower and change of clothing before I took M & G to the health Spa for a couple of days whilst Jen and I had a few days away with our friends Pedro and Mavis.
I had wanted for several years now, to visit the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. To the best of my knowledge the last time I visited Staffordshire was in the 1960's when I was in the Scouts, we used to have our annual Summer Camps at the National Scout Centre there, great times.
Today though, we had arranged to meet our friends at the Arboretum for around 11.30am. It was a reasonably straightforward drive down to Alrewas, near Lichfield in Staffordshire, though the A38 does seems endless and just under a hundred miles from home to the Arboretum which took us approximately one and a half hours. 
From the Remembrance Centre main entrance and Orientation Zone we headed outside onto the 'Hero's Square' which was a beautiful cloistered type courtyard, with Red Oak's planted amongst the York stone patio area. Many of the paving slabs have been carved with the different regiments, crests and badges of the Armed Forces. The courtyard has been divided into four main areas. The Royal Navy, including Ships, Squadrons, units and Associations are located adjacent to the restaurant.  The British Army, their Corps and Regiments are located in the central section of the courtyard. The Royal Air Force Squadrons, units and Associations are situated to the far side of the courtyard adjacent to the chapel and the Livery Companies including the organisations associated with the Armed Forces are adjacent to the far end of the restaurant just in front of the Boyes Garden. 
After meeting our friends for a coffee and snack in the small cafeteria adjacent to the chapel, we boarded the land train for a really good and informative fifty minute ride around the site. The train stopping at various places along the route to enable us to look at some of the remarkable memorials, it is a growing tribute to those who have served and continue to serve our country. The Arboretum covers an area of over one hundred and fifty acres, with some thirty thousand trees planted around the site. There are over three hundred and fifty memorials for military and civilian organisations and associations, together with tributes for individuals. Although planting of the trees was started in 1997 it wasn't until March 2017 when His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge officially opened the Remembrance Centre. 
The Arboretum has been divided into nine zones which are clearly shown in the Orientation Guide in the visitors centre, as well as maps and interactive screens. There are plenty of Guides/information officers to answer any questions and point you in the right direction. The skyline at the moment (until the trees grow a little taller) is dominated by the Armed Forces Memorial, dedicated in October 2007 by Her Majesty the Queen. The memorial stands some six metres in height by one hundred metres wide at the base narrowing to fifty metres wide at the top and recognises the 16,000 service men and women who have given their lives in the service of the country since the end of the Second World War. Pedro was telling me that he went to school with a lad who on leaving school joined the Army and was murdered in Northern Ireland by the IRA in 1974. We asked one of the guides as to where his name would be on the Memorial Wall and within minutes, after a quick call to the central office, we were able to pin pointed his name on the memorial. Since the end of the Second World War the Armed Forces have been involved in over fifty conflicts around the world, each one remembered at this memorial. Also within this vast memorial are two bronze sculptures created by Ian Rank-Broadley which also leave a lasting memory. 
There are some very moving monuments and memorials within the Arboretum, another we visited was in the Far East Zone and in particular the Sumatra Railway, where some 5,000 allied Prisoners of War helped to construct the railway line. The story boards and pictures and reports in the 'Far East Prisoners of War Memorial Building' are quite harrowing, especially regarding the conditions the prisoners were living in and the conditions in which they were forced to work.
We spent a good four hours within the Arboretum, we could easily have spent all day, it is a remarkable place and well worth another visit.
 
 
Friday 22nd March 2019.
 
I was up and out early again this morning and on the Barff with M & G for 6.30am, I have been fortunate this week to have seen some beautiful sunrises and today was no exception. It was a pleasant cool morning 8C with little to no wind, in fact this week it has been warm enough for me to Ieave my outer jacket at home whilst walking. I have just noticed one or two Bluebells beginning to come into flower today, it will be early April though before they will be looking their best so at least a couple of weeks to go, weather permitting of course.
 
After a good refreshing walk with the dogs I was back home for 8.30am, after breakfast the weather forecast for the day looked quite promising so we decided to head up north with the dogs to have a look at the daffodils at Thorpe Perrow Arboretum in Bedale. 
It is just a pleasant fifty minute drive from home to the arboretum and we arrived just before 11.00am. The sun was shining and we had a very pleasant walk with the dogs along the daffodil trail. 
It is just a month since our last visit then the Snowdrops were in full bloom and the daffodils were coming through. Today the Snowdrops had died right back and the daffodils were looking beautiful. Apparently there are about 110 different varieties of daffodil in the arboretum, lining the sides of the paths and covering large areas under and amongst the trees, forming huge yellow blankets of colour. The area of the woodland known as 'Spring Woods' dates back to medieval times and one species of daffodil called Narcissus barrii conspicuous can be found in this part of the woods, the guide book states that this daffodil was introduced to the arboretum by the Victorians and apparently is known to pre date 1869 so it is a real old timer. 
Another popular daffodil is Narcissus pseudonarcissus which can also be found in Spring woods as well as other parts of the arboretum.
The daffodil trail starts from the visitors centre and is clearly marked with a series of numbered information boards each giving interesting and fascinating facts about the daffodil. It is a lovely walk which gives great views of the many different variety of daffodil which can be found around the arboretum.
Any walk around the woodland is not complete without a cup of tea and brunch in the café, a fitting way to end a very pleasant morning.
 
 
Monday 18th March 2019.
 
After a cold early start to the day, both Jen and I with Meg and Gracie headed over to Castle Howard for another walk and to admire the Daffodils which have just come into full bloom at the moment.
 
It was an uneventful ride along the A64, and just 10.30am as I parked the car in the car park at Castle Howard. The weather forecast for the remainder of the day was pretty good with Sunshine forecast and rain later. The sun was just beginning to break through the morning mist as we made our way through the courtyard and booking office. The road train is not yet running and the house will be opening towards the end of the month. 
 
As we came out of the booking office, under the arch and headed towards the house the western lawns are awash with daffodils, it was a pleasant walk alongside the daffodils to the Northern front of the house, on route for the Boathouse café down by the North Lake. I was beginning to look forward to a coffee and slice of Caramel shortbread sitting at the waters edge at the café, only on arrival to find it closed, I presume that it is only open on weekends till the season starts at the end of the month. To take my mind of the food and drink, we decided to head up into Ray Woods and had a very pleasant stroll through the trees, coming out at the other end adjacent to the derelict monument to Venus. The views across the farmland were absolutely stunning, the sun was shining, a lovely blue sky, we sat and watched a pair of Pheasant as they grazed through the grass on the side of a field and watched a pair of Buzzards circling high in the sky above the trees close to the Mausoleum. Walking alongside the boundary wall we headed uphill to the Temple of the Four Winds, stopping to have another rest and to admire the views from this higher vantage point. A beautiful early flowering Azalea was in full bloom its white petals, tinged with pink glistening in the morning sunshine, we watched a small group of walkers as they made their way over the fields towards the new bridge. We stayed on this eastern terrace and made our way back towards the house. The daffodils are in full bloom at the moment along both sides of the terrace all the way to the time capsule and makes for a wonderful sight. On arrival in the courtyard we headed over to the courtyard café for brunch, sat outside on the decking the sun was extremely warm, with both Meg and Gracie sheltering under our table to get some respite from the sunshine. It was hard to believe that here we are in the middle of March and we are sat outside in our shirt sleeves enjoying our brunch. What a wonderful way to end a very pleasant walk around the grounds.
 
Wednesday 13th March 2019.
 
It has been a busy start to the day today. I had a good early morning dog walk all be it a bit muddy and extremely windy but otherwise it was fine and dry and Meg and Gracie were both on good form.
After breakfast I drove up to the Bird of Prey Centre at Duncombe Park in Helmsley.
This was a photographic session with Steve Race from Yorkshire Coast Nature. (A Christmas present from Jenny,) I have worked with Steve several times now around the County and had been looking forward to the session today. I arrived in the car park for around 9.45am after a good journey up the A1, driving through some lovely villages on route. I met Steve and seven other photographers on the same course as we made our way into the visitors centre for a coffee before heading out onto the flying grounds. It was far too windy and gusty today for the birds to fly on the usual flying ground so we headed round to the 'Christmas tree house' which was our base for the session and the smaller flying ground set amongst the trees. After an introduction from Steve and suggestions on camera settings and exposures etc we met Ronnie our Falconer for the morning.
Although a bright and sunny morning there was still a strong wind and I was thankful for some protection from the trees. The first bird that Ronnie brought into the flying ground was a Grey Buzzard Eagle, a beautiful looking bird, predominantly grey in colour with lighter colouring under the wings and legs. It has massive talons and menacing piercing eyes as well as a substantial curved beak. It flew and glided effortlessly between the trees and the falconer's gloved hand. 
The second bird Ronnie brought out was the Great Horned Owl, sometimes called the hoot owls, they range in length from 17 to 25 inches and have a wingspan of up to five feet. They are powerful hunters and are known to grip and crush a full-grown rabbit in their talons. They have two quite prominent ear tufts that serve no significant purpose. The horned owls are known to live as long as 38 years in captivity, but in the wild great horned owls live up to 13 years of age, unfortunately one of the main predators of this bird is man. It flew quite effortlessly between the trees and falconer and spent several minutes eyeing up some washing on the line of one of the estate houses which was blowing in the strengthening wind!
Our third bird of the morning was a Harris Hawk, called 'Winston', eight years of age, a very popular bird amongst falconers and quite a work horse. They have some beautiful tan markings especially across their wings and they look a typical medium sized bird of prey with huge talons, curved beak and piercing eyes. Size wise they are between a Peregrine Falcon and a Red Tailed Hawk. They range in length from 18 to 23 inches with a wingspan of around 41 to 47 inches. These hawks have a brownish plumage, reddish shoulders and tail feathers with a white base and white tip.
After Winston finished his flying and posing display Ronnie brought out an Abyssinian Eagle Owl a lovely, bulky looking bird, very similar to the Long Eared Owl, it is really well camouflaged in this woodland setting. It uses the nests of other birds to raise its offspring. The claws of the Abyssinian owl are significantly stronger than other members of this group and as a result has a wider range of prey available, including smaller birds, field mice, and shrews.
After a break for coffee and review of our images, we headed over to the main flying ground to watch a Bald Eagle, called 'Liberty' in flight. Compared to the other birds we had seen this morning this bird was huge, with a wing span of between six to eight feet, a body length of between 34 inches to 43 inches and weighing in between 6 and a half to fourteen pounds.
The bald eagle, with its distinctive snowy white feathered head and white tail, is the national bird symbol of the United States. It is quite ironic that this bird was virtually wiped out in America as a consequence of the use of pesticides in agriculture and hunting. It is only since the early 1970's that these chemicals have been heavily restricted and numbers of Bald Eagles have rebounded significantly so much so that they are now off the endangered species list. These birds mate for life and construct a huge stick nest high above the ground, where they raise a pair of eggs a year.
Liberty with its huge wingspan flew gracefully above our heads with relative ease especially in today's gale force winds. It flew onto the tops of the trees on the far side of the flying ground before flying back to Charlie its handler for a bite to eat.
Our next bird was a Tawny Owl, still a big bird but minute when alongside the Bald Eagle. We stayed on the main flying ground for this session, although too windy to fly Ronnie sat him on a cavity in a tree trunk for some still photos and he contently sat there for about fifteen minutes, just soaking up the fresh air.
We left the main flying ground and returned back to the Christmas tree house for our next flying session which was another Harris Hawk, beautiful to watch as it flew gracefully between the trees, with virtually no or very little effort.
Our final bird of the day was the Lanner Falcon, it had been out flying earlier in the day so although not flying for the camera Ronnie brought it for some static shots whilst it fed. All the birds are very carefully monitored on a daily basis, weighed and their health and wellbeing checked daily.  After we had finished filming the falcon we headed back into the Christmas tree house for a de brief and final question and answer session before the journey home. 
Considering the weather this had been a great three hour session filming the raptures in their natural surroundings. I am now looking forward to my next visit but until then I think I am going to be editing for the next few weeks or so.

 

Saturday 9th March.

What a day. Jenny's daughter, husband and family arrived late last night to stay with us for the weekend which is lovely.

I had been out earlier in the morning as usual with Meg and Gracie for the morning walk. It was a quiet uneventful dog walk other than having Jenny's youngest grandchild for company, the dogs love him and visa versa,  the temperature was around 8C with a very light westerly wind and it remained dry.

We returned home just before 8.00am and had breakfast. After which Jenny and family headed over to the town of Bolton in West Yorkshire, as her eldest granddaughter was singing with her school choir in a 'Songs of Praise Choir of the year' competition.

I along with Jenny's daughter's youngest son stayed at home and planned to spend the morning having a walk around the grounds at Castle Howard. No sooner had Jenny and family set off for Bolton than the skies opened and we had a tremendous rain storm, after about twenty minutes or so I was beginning to think of a contingency plan as it would not be much fun walking around in such heavy rain with a young six year old and was beginning to think of other options as to what to do.

As it happened I should not have been worried, the rain eased considerably after about an hour, and by 9.30am had all but stopped. So, it was back to plan one, I packed the car, less the dogs, they stayed at home, and we headed over to Castle Howard for the morning. By the time we arrived at around 10.30am the grey sky was lifting and patches of blue sky were forcing their way through the gloom. We headed into the Courtyard café to have a look at the nice selections of cakes. We agreed that we would walk past the Northern side of the house and down to the lakeside and the children's play area. We stayed in around the park for about forty-five minutes before heading into the Boat house café for a coffee and cake. After the drink and refreshment we headed back outside to have a look at the ducks and swans on the great North Lake, had the weather been a little more warmer we would have sat outside and had our refreshment. We headed back into the children's play area for the remainder of the morning. We had a great time, just the two of us, the hour and half we were there we never saw any other visitors, other than the two members of staff working in the café, I think the weather must had deterred people from coming out.

Lunchtime was approaching so we decided to head back up towards the house and castle courtyard for some brunch, unfortunately the house is still closed to the public at the moment and doesn't open till the 30th March. We followed the path up the hill alongside the east wing of the house, coming out at the 'time capsule', noting that it wasn't to be opened for another 1,963 years' time! Looking left it was nice to see the daffodils bordering the terrace towards the 'Temple of the Four Winds' coming into flower, I think it will be another couple of weeks before they are all fully open.

The sun was shining brightly as we walked along the gravelled pathway in front of the southern aspects of the house, a lovely blue sky had replaced the grey and overcast sky that was there when we first arrived, it was hard to believe we had such bad and wet weather earlier in the morning. We arrived at the Courtyard café, ordered our meal and had a very pleasant brunch and a nice way to end our visit. It was nice to meet some old friends of mine who were also enjoying a brunch in the café too.

 
Friday 8th March 2019
 
It was another early start this morning. I'd had a good long dog walk earlier which is much nicer now that it is getting quite light at 6.00am. The head torch and illuminated dog collars can go back in the cupboard for another year, thank goodness.
 
It was a cold start to the day, an overnight frost had left its mark on the grass and the water's edge of the bird bath was lightly frozen. After breakfast I headed over to the RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings for the morning. It was just after 9.00am as I parked up in the visitors centre car park. The temperature gauge was showing 1C and although there was a light breeze as long as you were well wrapped up it was quite pleasant. 
 
After my customary coffee and chat with the wardens I headed along 'the Discovery trail', it was nice to see the Daffodils in full flower along the fringes of the footpath as I made my way to the 'Pick up Hide'.
 
I was pleased I had my winter clothing on this morning, although there was very little wind in the car park by the time I reached the hide there was a bitterly cold North Westerly wind blowing straight through the windows.
 
The lake was still partially frozen after the overnight frost, a pair of Mute swans were busily preening in the centre of the lake, a small flock of noisy Black headed Gulls were being a nuisance around the water's edge, like a group of unruly teenagers, they were flying low over the Teal which were minding their own business, as well as a couple of Mallard and Coots and just generally being a nuisance. By mid-morning the whole group flew off towards the 'Lin Dyke hide' and things returned to normal on the lake. 
 
By mid-morning the wind had picked up significantly and was howling through the open hide windows which resulted in very few members of the public visiting the hide.
 
To the right of the hide were two pair of Mallard ducks busily hoovering up under the feeders, occasionally having a bit of a tussle with the Hen Pheasants after the same food. Of the smaller birds visiting this morning the Great Tit was the most frequent, followed by the Dunnock and Chaffinch. Several Greenfinch popped in for a feed, along with the Goldfinch who this morning preferred to feed off the floor, they certainly looked unsteady as they tried several times to land on the swinging feeders. 
 
Over in the field to the right of the hide was a huge flock of about fifty Wood Pigeon, all busily grazing amongst the long grass and in the relative safety of the reed beds were a pair of Canada Geese who every now and then would pop their head above the reeds for a look around before dropping down again.
 
One of the most frequent visitors this morning was the Grey Squirrel, for most of the morning three of them were busily raiding the bird feeders.
 
It was good to see the Reed Buntings back again today, either taking seed from the top of the fence post or hoovering up on the woodland floor. I do not know where the Robins were today, they are usually frequent visitors but during the morning I only noticed a couple.
 
By 11.15am the wind was starting to make it quite unpleasant in the hide so I decided to call it a day and head back for a coffee and the relative comfort of the visitors centre. 
 
 
Friday 1st March 2019.
 
It has been a cold dry week so far, with a couple of early morning frosts at the start of the week, eventually getting slightly warmer the closer we got to the weekend. This morning was no exception, it was a dull, cloudy and overcast morning with a light westerly breeze as I arrived in the visitors car park at Fairburn Ings. After the customary coffee in the visitors centre and chat with the wardens, I headed along the Discovery Trail, stopping for a few moments to watch a Great Tit as it took nesting material into box 61 which is situated in the trees on the left hand side of the path, I watched it do three visits to the box, on each trip it had quite a beak full of material, if it continued at this rate for the remainder of the morning it will have built quite a cosy nest by lunch time. I continued along the path to the 'Pick up Hide' and stayed there for the remainder of the morning. I had somehow managed a quite early start today, I don't know how, I had walked the dogs earlier, had breakfast and managed to get to the hide for 9.15am. 
It was nice to hear the drumming of a Greater Spotter Woodpecker in the trees behind me, it was quite high up in one of the Silver Birch trees, I occasionally caught a glimpse of its bright red under feathers as it made its way around the tree, but its position and early morning sunlight made it quite difficult to photograph. Fortunately the same bird decided a little later in the morning to have a break from drumming and set about tackling some of the suet pellets in one of the bird feeders to the side of the hide. 
Looking across the lake, it was good to see two pair of Teal, bobbing about in front of the reed beds, with Coot and Moorhen close by. A pair of Mute Swans flew over the lake, circled and came into land on the water, they spent at least one hour busily preening, before flying off towards the lakes around the Coal Tip trail.
On the feeders at the side of the hide were all the usual birds, male and female Pheasants were around all morning, busily keeping the woodland floor clean, Robins were plentiful for some reason, I often counted three in the area at the same time, they are gaining celebrity status at the moment, I often when retuning  to the centre, watch visitors standing with their hand outstretched, full of meal worms or sunflower seeds etc. tempting and encouraging the birds to come and land on the palm of their hands, needless to say they have a mobile phone in the other, hoping to take a quick picture of it when it lands. 
The Blue tits seemed more photogenic this morning, they have been quite skittish and timid of late but today they appeared more settled, probably due to the lighter wind today than on my previous visits.
There were lots of Blackbirds, Chaffinch and Great Tits about too, the Blackbirds content to scavenge off the floor whilst the others fed on the feeders.
Nothing happening yet on the Sand Martin wall, other than a lone Rabbit, busily going about its business feeding amongst the bramble bushes.
Looking over on to the Cormorant tree I counted at least six Cormorant, four of them stood with their wings outstretched drying their feathers in the morning sunlight. A Grey Heron flew over carrying a huge twig in its beak, the length being as long as the bird itself, but they too are busily nesting and preparing their nests in readiness for this year's offspring's. 
It was nice to see the Goldfinch and Reed Bunting this morning, the Goldfinch happily feeding on the feeders whereas the Reed Bunting fed contently on the top of the fence post or the woodland floor. Occasionally a pair of Woodpigeons would fly into the feeding station, although they do not feed out of the bird feeders, they can make short work of any food left out on the fence post. 
It was late on in the morning when a flock of four Long Tailed Tits popped in, as usual I could hear them congregating around the back of the hide, it was only a few seconds after that that they arrived at the feeders, no sooner did they arrive though than they were off again, deep into the undergrowth, only appearing the once whilst I was there.
Another more frequent visitor though were the Dunnocks and Tree Sparrows, one or the other were always to be seen around the hide and feeders, I love the song the Dunnocks sing, so crisp and tuneful. 
I have yet to see any House Sparrows at the hide, at home we have plenty of them but no Tree Sparrows and here on the reserve it appears the other way round, I am sure they will be here somewhere.
As lunch time neared I decided to head back to the visitors centre, have a quick coffee before the short journey home. A lovely peaceful morning on the reserve.
 
 
Wednesday 27th February 2019
 
It was another cold and frosty start to the day today, an overnight frost left the garden covered in a white hue and the leaves on the bushes glistening in the early morning sunlight. 
After the dog walk, breakfast and with a good weather forecast predicted for the rest of the day, I packed the car, dogs and all and we headed up the A1 to the Thorpe Perrow Arboretum for the day.  We had an uneventful drive up the A1 motorway, the 00journey from home takes just under one hour and is a pleasant drive, the market town of Bedale always looks nice but especially at this time of year with the daffodils bringing a splash of colour. The Arboretum is just a five minute drive from Bedale, we arrived just before eleven o'clock. There was just a handful of cars in the car park when we arrived so parking was and never is an issue. I took Meg and Gracie for a short walk around the fringe of the car park to burn off some of their excess energy before we headed over to the visitors centre and entrance to the Arboretum. 
 
After leaving the visitors centre we turned right and followed the path alongside of the stream, Snowdrops formed huge swathes on the grass under the trees, there are well over twenty different varieties of Snowdrops in the Arboretum, I always think that it is nice reminder that Spring isn't too far away when the Snowdrops are in full flower. As well as the Snowdrops, there were huge areas of orange Crocus planted on the verges adding additional colour to the surrounding woodland. Complementing the Crocus and Snowdrops were the Daffodils, the miniature ones in full flower the taller ones will be flowering in the next week or so. Walking past the pet cemetery on the left we continued along the path keeping the stream on our right hand side, this opens up into a small lake in front of the Estate house which is set back on the far side of the lake, the view across to the house is always picturesque, the beautiful manicured lawns and borders always worth a photograph. After a short break admiring the view we continued our walk alongside the lake, passing Kate's island on the right and continued through the Milbank Pinetum to the Bird of Prey Centre. With having Meg and Gracie with us today we continued our walk along the 'Red Oak Avenue' following the boundary fence to the huge Catherine Parr Oak which was looking absolutely resplendent in the late morning sunshine, here we stopped for some more photographs before we continued our walk around the smaller lake, crossing the 'Broad Walk' to the Acorn Sculpture, another photo stop before continuing our walk across the meadow to pick up 'Fern Avenue' leading into 'Main Avenue' and arriving at the Monument, there were several young families sat around enjoying the view and having a picnic so we continued our walk following the boundary fence and over the wooden footbridge, and back to the visitors centre. There were many people and families sat in the sunshine, picnicking and eating lunch in the sunshine, we joined them for our brunch, it was hard to believe that we were able to sit outside in sunshine eating our brunch when this time last year the county was covered in a blanket of snow. I wonder if and when we will have our winter this year?
Monday 25th February 2019
 
It was another cold, frosty and foggy start to the day. I had to scrape ice off the car windscreen earlier this morning though as we are still in the depths of winter it should not be such a surprise. We have been very fortunate with the weather this past few days, although we have had some cold nights, during the day the temperature has risen to 16C-17C here in the Selby area and quite a contrast to this time last year when we were in the middle of a bitterly cold snap.
After breakfast we headed up the A1 motorway to visit the gardens at RHS Harlow Carr just outside of Harrogate for the morning. The fog that I mentioned earlier cleared as we drove up the motorway and once the sun broke through the cloud it made for a very pleasant day.
 
It was just 11.00am as I drove into the car park and considering the centre had only been open since 10.00am both of the main car parks were virtually full, though I put this down to the school half term and families visiting with their children. 
The temperature gauge was already reading 12C and many visitors were walking around in shirt sleeves! I have learnt when visiting Harlow that the temperature here is always a couple of degrees cooler than at home and today was no different, I kept my jumper and waistcoat on!  We popped into Betty's tea shop adjacent to the entrance to the gardens for a coffee and gingerbread biscuit before we headed off next door for a walk around the gardens. With the sun shining brightly, a lovely blue sky, we couldn't have chosen a better day for our visit.
 
We took our usual route from the centre, following the 'winter walk', with one or two slight diversions to look at interesting plants that caught our eye. Heading past the learning centre on the left, we followed the route alongside the Queen Mothers lake, before heading up to look at the Lakeside gardens including the sunken Edwardian Garden which has had quite a facelift over the past few months, the rectangular pond and water course has been completely relined and the paving and new dry stone wall remade using locally sourced sandstone from West Yorkshire. Once the new planting around the pond becomes established it will look very nice. From this garden we continued our walk past Dermot Gavins 'show garden' and around the back of the Queen Mothers lake and joined the 'Streamside walk all the way to the 'Old Bath House'. We passed beds of Snowdrops in full flower, the delicate white florets swaying gently in the light breeze. Huge clumps of Daffodils are beginning to flower, especially the miniature varieties and the beds of Tulips won't be far behind them. On reaching the 'Old Bath House' we had a look around the 'modern mosaic exhibition', over 20 Yorkshire based mosaic artists, all members of the British Association for Modern Mosaic, had some excellent pieces of work on display.
 
From the Old Bath House we followed the path up past Bettys Tea House which today was  busy with visitors, all sat outside enjoying the most of the morning sunshine, we had a natter with some of our neighbours who were also visiting today. From the Tea House we continued along the path up to the Sandstone rock garden, this is another area which has been completely revamped over the winter months and looks really nice. Small teams of volunteer gardeners were busily out and about around the gardens, keeping the borders well-tended and tidy, I note that since our last visit in January the huge clumps of Pampas grass have all been cut down to just a stump, ready for the onset of Spring. We continued the gentle climb admiring all the families sat having picnics on the lawns, after a few minutes we arrived back at the visitor's reception area and made our way into Bettys Tea rooms for brunch. It was really nice to see all the visitors making the most of the really unseasonable weather.
 
 
Friday 22nd February 2019
 
There was a light mist in the air earlier today, it was a cold dry start to the day, quite pleasant really and no cold easterly wind which we have had several mornings this week. 
I was back home by 8.00am after our dog walk, it is beginning to get light now around 6.30am which makes the walk more interesting and of course you can see more. I have only heard the Tawny owls once this week which is unusual though as the days start to lengthen they probably stop hunting as the mornings get brighter much earlier. It has been nice to hear the Nuthatches calling though, Spring is certainly on the way.
After breakfast I headed over to the reserve at Fairburn Ings for the morning. The mist was quite slow to clear but as I parked the car in the car park at the visitors centre the sun was just beginning to break through. 
It was a pleasant 8C as I made my way to the centre for a coffee and chat with the wardens. I had my full winter gear on just to give me some protection from the prevailing wind should it pick up during the day, but by the time I walked around to the 'Pick up hide' the sun was shining and the lake in front of the hide was flat calm.
There was more activity on the lake than I have seen for some time, several pairs of Teal were feeding around the shoreline as were the Coot and several pairs of Mallard. During the morning a noisy flock of six juvenile Black Headed Gulls flew in and spent an hour or so squabbling with the Mallard and Teal before flying off towards the Main Bay. 
Closer to the hide the feeding station to the right was quite busy too, several Great Tits were busily feeding on the remnants of the seed in the bottom of the bird feeders, they took it in turn with the Grey Squirrels!
It was good to see the Reed Buntings again this morning, I saw at least two pair feeding during my stay. Three Hen Pheasants were round and about all morning as were a pair of Cock Pheasants. Chaffinch and Goldfinch were the most frequent visitors during my stay, no matter where I looked I could see them both, closely followed by Tree Sparrows and Greenfinch.
The Highland Cattle were out and busily grazing in the fields to the right of the hide, two or three made their way to the water's edge for a few minutes before heading back to join the main herd.
Another pair of regular visitors were the Robins and Dunnocks, both beautiful song birds, the morning sunlight and no breeze appeared to calm the birds down, with the exception of the Long Tailed Tits that is, a small flock of four birds flew in for a matter of minutes, have a quick feed before flying off into the undergrowth round the back of the hide. The first group arrived just as I set the camera gear up at around 9.45am, the returning birds showed up again just after 11.00am. 
Back over on the lake, a pair of Mute Swans flew over, circled and landed on the water, closely followed by a noisy pair of Greylag Geese. No sooner had they landed than a huge Grey Heron did a very low fly past flying no more than a metre above the water, I am certain had the Mute Swans not been there it would have landed, instead it continued its flight and banked round to the right, heading off into the direction of the 'Lindyke hide'.
By mid-morning the hide was becoming quite popular and on several occasions I was showing visitors and youngsters some of the birds that visited the hide, it always surprises me at what I take for granted as regular garden bird visitors i.e. Tree Sparrow's they can be quite a rare species for many members of the public.
It is always good to see parents and grandparents bringing their children and grandchildren around the reserve, introducing them to the reserve at such a young age can only do good for the future.
One of the highlights of the morning was a visit from a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, it had been hovering around in the background for most of the morning before it flew round the back of one of the trees holding the bird feeders, it carefully made its way around the tree and posed in between two of the feeders, contently pecking into the tree trunk for grubs rather than raiding the feeders, a great sight.
As the time was approaching 11.30am I decided to pack up and head back to the visitors centre for a coffee before the journey home. The car park was almost full as I left, the sun was shining and it looked like being a lovely afternoon for all the visitors on the reserve.
 
Wendesday 13th February 2019
 
I had been watching the calendar and garden for the past few weeks or so, mainly to check on the growth of our bulbs and plants but especially the Snowdrops that we planted around our borders late last year, they have been in flower for nearly two weeks now and still growing strong, even the crocus and miniature Iris plants are flowering nicely and in certain parts around the garden our miniature Daffodils are coming into flower too. 
We had a free day today so decided to pack the car and head over to Burton Agnes Hall on the outskirts of Bridlington to do the 'snowdrop walk' ( 8th February 3rd March) and admire the grounds and gardens. 
It is just a one hour's steady drive from home to Burton Agnes Hall, following the A614 from Howden, skirting around the market town of Market Weighton through the lovely village of Middleton on the Wolds, bypassing Driffield to Burton Agnes village and Burton Agnes Hall.
We arrived in the large car park at the Hall around 11.00am and walked past the lovely village church of St Martins which dates from the 12C before arriving in the courtyard and visitors shop. Although the house is not yet open (1st April 31st October) the 'Snowdrop Trail' is and every February millions of hardy snowdrops transform the woodlands of Burton Agnes Hall forming a huge white blanket amongst the trees. The entire trail is about a mile long and follows a designated footpath through the trees. Interspersed amongst the trees are some beautifully carved sculptures of wild animals, including wild birds, foxes and squirrels. One of the nice aspects to the walk is that there are plenty of woodland benches along the trail. It was good to be able to sit and rest and just admire the views of the snowdrops as they gently flutter in the morning breeze. 
I always like to see the snowdrops at this time of year, I think it creates a sense that the winter months are coming to an end and Spring is just around the corner, although we have had snow in March these past few years, so I think we will have several more weeks to go before Spring actually arrives in earnest.
We had Meg and Gracie with us today on our walk, dogs are allowed in the woodland and gardens on a short lead and they thoroughly enjoyed it and the change of scenery too. Just before we returned to the courtyard we had a walk around the 'Classical Pond' and into the Walled Garden, this is another area to visit in the late spring and summer when everything starts growing again. There are some lovely view of the house and gatehouse from the gardens. On returning to the courtyard we had a good browse through the shop before sitting down in the cafe for a pot of tea and cake prior to the journey home.
On our return visit later in the year, I must remember to have a good look around the Walled Garden and also St Martins church which is open to visitors. 
 
 
Monday 11th February 2019
 
It was a lovely cold and fresh morning as I left for the reserve at Fairburn Ings. I managed to leave home a little earlier today, the air temperature outside was just 3C as I parked the car in the visitors centre car park. The morning weather report in today's paper was for it to be a bright, dry and sunny day with just a light North Westerly breeze.
I had all my winter gear with me again today and headed for the visitors centre for a coffee and morning update from the wardens. It was just 9.30am when I unpacked my camera gear at the 'Pick up hide', there was nobody else photographing so I had the hide to myself for most of the morning.
The lake in front of the hide had a thin layer of ice on the surface which stayed frozen till late this morning. There was only a pair of Mallards scouring the water's edge searching for food, later in the morning they came over to the feeding station to the right of the hide. By mid-morning there was still little activity by the lake other than a small group of juvenile Black Headed Gulls which landed on the ice but as it was still frozen soon left.
In the field to the right of the hide a small herd of Highland Cattle were busily grazing, the wardens have removed the fence recently which separated this field from the area around the lake and during the morning two of the cattle ventured across one to the left of the lake up to the front of the hide, the other one steadily made its way up to the Sand Martin wall before heading off to join the rest of its group. These beautiful big beasts should make quite a difference grazing around the lake and the water's edge and will certainly open up and clear a lot of the debris that is there at the moment, it will be interesting to watch and see the effect they make to the area.
Closer to the hide, I had to put a handful of feed out this morning as all the three feeders were empty. The first visitor was the Willow Tit, super-fast, it flew in from my right-hand side onto the fence post where I had put out some sunflower seeds, by the time I had picked the bird up in my viewfinder it was well gone, back into the deep undergrowth, I only saw it once again throughout the morning which was a shame. Regular and more frequent visitors though were the Great Tits and Blue Tits, along with Chaffinch and Greenfinch, of the four types of birds the Blue Tits appear far more timid than the rest, they are very nervy around the feeders whereas the Great Tit, Chaffinch and Greenfinch will boldly sit there all day and be completely oblivious to anything else going on around them.
I had three Grey Squirrels for company all morning too, just being a nuisance eating the food I had put out for the birds, either be it on the fence post or suspended upside down persistently trying to salvage the last scraps of food from the already empty bird feeders.
Another stalwart of the hide this morning was all the Robins, I counted at least four of them at anyone time this morning, they prefer to take the food off the floor or fence post rather than the feeder, some are that familiar that they will even take the food from the palm of your outstretched arm.
It was nice to see several pair of Reed Buntings this morning, they too prefer feeding off the floor or fence post rather than the feeders. The male Chaffinch were on good form today, they are a beautifully coloured bird, their orange coloured breast and grey head looking quite stunning in the dappled morning sunlight, they seem quite content sitting on the tree branches for several minutes at a time, just watching the world go by.
Another frequent visitor today was the Tree Sparrow another solid sturdy bird, It seems strange that we don't get any of these at home, lots of House Sparrows but no Tree Sparrows, I think they look quite cheeky with the black patch on either side of their faces.
About 11.00am I could hear the call of a Buzzard high up in the sky circling above the hide, it looked beautiful as it glided effortlessly in the morning sunlight, unfortunately a pair of Crows decided enough was enough and after a little bit of a dog fight despatched the Buzzard in the direction of the Coal Tips Trail. One of these days I will see the Buzzard having a set too with a Crow and am pretty certain who the winner would be.
The Goldfinches and Coal Tits kept popping in during the morning, not as frequently as last week but still nice to see.
Several Dunnock were round and about, they along with the Chaffinch were busily searching for seed which I had scattered over the fence near to the water's edge, once or twice during the morning they would find a predominant tree branch and sing their heads off, lovely to watch and listen too.
The Pheasant family were never far away, the male birds were showing nicely on top of the Sand Martin wall, their plumage looking beautiful, especially when the sunlight highlighted the golden browns of their cape and back feathers.
As the morning progressed there were more and more visitors to the hide so at about 11.45am I decided to call it a day and head back to the Visitors Centre for a coffee before the journey home. It has been another lovely morning at the reserve.
 
 
 
Friday 8th February 2019.
 
Phew, what a dull miserable, windy and wet morning. I had a good dog walk earlier today with Meg and Gracie needless to say we all returned home wet through from top to bottom!
 
I decided after breakfast to head over to the reserve at Fairburn for the morning, my thought being that with the weather being so bad there wouldn't be as many people there.
I arrived at the reserve quite late it was 9.45am when I arrived in the visitors centre car park, the temperature was 9C, the rain had stopped for the time being and there was only a small handful of cars in the car park, the majority of them being dog walkers. I popped into the visitors centre for a coffee and update from the wardens before I headed over to the 'Pick up hide'. 
There was nobody else in the hide so I set the camera gear up, zipped up the winter jacket, put the gloves on and drank my coffee. There was quite a bit of activity on the lake this morning, Coot, Moorhen and Mallards all busily going about their business on the water's edge. A pair of Jackdaws landed on one of the small islands but a strong gust of wind soon made them airborne again.
 
Looking over the fields to the right of the hide a Buzzard was perched in the old tree with the Owl nesting box on, though within a few minutes the crows had spotted it and after a barrage of dive bombing it took off and headed towards the visitors centre. Under the same tree that the Buzzard had just flew from was a huge flock of about thirty plus Greylag Geese, all huddled closely together, they looked to be getting some shelter from the strengthening North Westerly wind. 
There were more Cormorants flying about today than usual, the water in the lake opposite the 'Pick up hide' isn't really deep enough for them to land here which is a shame, they tend to fly between the far Lin dike lake and the Coal Tip lakes which are much deeper. A Grey Heron landed on the far side of the lake in front of the hide and patrolled the water's edge for about fifteen minutes before flying off. Over in the same field as the Greylag Geese a huge flock of Woodpigeons landed and started grazing on the grass, amongst them were about a dozen Magpie's, I have never seen as many birds in this field before and am sure they were taking shelter from the strong winds which were probably gusting between thirty to forty miles per hour.
The wind and rain certainly affected the behaviour of the smaller birds visiting the feeding station to the right of the hide. There where all the usual visitors, Hen Pheasants were scavenging under the feeders, three Grey Squirrels were around for most of the morning. The Long Tailed Tits visited the fat ball feeder for all of a minute before they disappeared into the undergrowth. The most frequent and hardy visitors today were the Tree Sparrows and Great Tits, they contently fed and took food no matter what the weather. The biggest change in behaviour though was with the Finches, the Greenfinch and Chaffinch are usually quite bullish around the feeders but today with the wind blowing as it was they spent most of the morning anchored deep into the undergrowth with the Goldfinches, only coming out to feed when there was a temporary lull in the wind speed. This change in behaviour was quite fascinating to watch, today was probably one of wildest days weather wise that I have had at the reserve.
There was no let up with the wind it just got stronger and wetter as the morning progressed. By 11.30am I had had enough, the wind had tried to rip the camera out of my hand several times so I decided to call it a day, pack the gear away and make my way back to the visitors centre for a coffee and some respite from the wind.
 
 
Tuesday 5th February 2019
 
Behind Closed Doors at Castle Howard.
It was another dull and overcast morning, 8C and foggy when I left home on route to Castle Howard, the fog was quite patchy and the sun was trying to break through which made the journey from home quite straight forward.
Although the house is still closed to the public as a 'Friend of Castle Howard' I was able to attend a 'Behind Closed Doors Tour' of the house hosted by Dr Chris Ridgway the Curator.
It was 10.15am when I arrived in the Stable Courtyard and made my way through the Ticket Office, after a short walk I arrived at the house for around 10.25am where I met 20 or so other guests. We were greeted by Matt and his team of chaperones who looked after us on our tour of the house. Mr Ridgway gave an informative introduction and outline of where we would be going during the morning.  
The house has been closed since Christmas and is currently being prepared ready for the new season which starts again on the 30th March. From the entrance we made our way up the Grand staircase onto the China Landing, the household and facilities teams were busily carrying our deep cleaning processes throughout the house including all the figurines along the Antique passage. Mr Ridgway explained that well over 8,500 hours are allocated to cleaning the house on a yearly basis, with a deep clean being carried out when all the Christmas decorations have been removed. Bearing this in mind there are over 300 rooms in the house and 59 staircases to climb and clean it is quite a major and essential annual task. They estimate that they hoover up over 2,000kg of dust each year.
From the Antique passage we made our way to the Great Hall, which this morning looked quite bare and empty since my last visit, the huge Christmas tree had been removed along with all the cascading lights and decorations which had been draped over the balcony during the Christmas period. From the Great hall we made our way up the stairs to the  High South part of the house. Here our party was divided into two groups, one to climb the narrow circular staircase up into the dome of the Great Hall whilst the other looked around some of the guest bedrooms which are normally out of bounds to the general visitor. I followed the Curator and half of our group up the narrow staircase into the dome. It is quite amazing how high up you are and although there is a walkway at least a metre wide around the side of the dome with a fancy ornate hand rail you still get the jitters when you look over the edge of the railing to the Great hall below. The top of the dome is some seventy feet above the floor.  Mr Ridgway explained that this part of the house was badly destroyed by a big fire in 1940 when the entire dome and ceiling collapsed during the fire as well as most of the Southern aspect of the house. There are eight huge windows around the dome which allow light to cascade in and light up the gallery space.  The views looking out of the windows at this height are quite spectacular unfortunately today the fog had descended and the view was virtually nil! After our tour of the dome we descended the spiral staircase which we had come up earlier to the first floor landing where we met the other half of our group, we then had a tour of two of the guests bedrooms whilst the other half of the group went up into the Dome. Helen one of our chaperones showed us around these two beautifully furnished guests rooms and explained the history about each room, both rooms were quite out of character with the decorations around the rest of the house, but very tastefully decorated with one with a feminine theme and the other more of a masculine theme. 
After about twenty minutes or so we met up with the other group and made our downstairs to the lower floor, from here we went through another door down stairs into the cellars underneath the house. Mr Ridgway gave quite a fascinating talk about the cellars and their previous uses and how they are looking to develop the space for future projects. After our tour of the cellars we went back up the stairs to ground level and into an annexed room off the main restaurant for a cup of tea and biscuits, followed by an excellent audio visual presentation by Mr Ridgway about the house, its construction from start to finish including the different family owners as well as an insight into how the house is maintained today. 
This has been an excellent tour from start to finish, Mr Ridgway's knowledge about the house and surrounding area was incredible as were our chaperones, they certainly knew their subject and were able to put it across in an interesting and informative manner. A really good morning behind the closed doors at Castle Howard.
 
 
Monday 4th February 2019
 
After a week of sub-zero morning temperatures it felt quite topical this morning on the early morning dog walk. The temperature gauge in the garden was reading a barmy 8C at 6.15am, the downside to this being that the warmer temperature had melted the top layer of ground frost leaving a thin layer of soft mud on the woodland walk around the Barff, consequently when I returned home from the dog walk my trousers from the knee downwards were covered in mud! The Tawny Owls were very vocal earlier today, one was very close to the main path close to the old pumping station and its mate I could hear calling from the other side of Tap Hill a good five hundred yards away. They will be pleased for the respite in the cold weather.
After breakfast I headed over to the reserve at Fairburn for the rest of the morning. By the time I arrived at the visitor's centre it was just after 10.00am and after a quick coffee and natter to the wardens I made my way to the 'Pick up Hide' on the 'Discovery Trail'. The sun was beginning to break through morning mist and some blue sky was quite visible over the lake, there was still a light covering of ice on the lake although it had melted in the middle and a Coot and pair of Moorhens were busily going about their business. There was a bitterly cold North Westerly wind blowing through the hide window which made life a little unpleasant, fortunately I had my heavy winter jacket and thermals on so I was well protected from the cold blasts. 
I had a pleasant chat to several members of a birding club who had come over from Ilkley and Otley area for the day to visit the site and had stopped off at the hide on their walk around the reserve. 
As soon as I have set the camera up and it is secure I usually get the bino's out and scan the entire area, looking on the lake, around the edges and fringes of the lake, check the reed beds and fence posts, then scan across to the Cormorant tree and the fields just in front of the Cormorant tree. The reed beds and fence posts were clear this morning, I counted twelve or so Cormorants in the tree, all sat upright, wings open drying them off in the strengthening Northerly wind. In front of the tree though I counted a large flock of at least thirteen Curlew, busily feeding in the field, closely followed by a smaller flock of about eight Magpie, great to see, I haven't seen as many Curlews as this together for a long time. 
Closer to the hide three Hen Pheasants were busily picking up the pieces from the spoils of the Grey Squirrels as they hung upside down trying in earnest to get the nuts and seed out of the feeders. All the finches were regular visitors to the feeders this morning, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, it was nice to see the Male and female Bullfinches too, I don't often see them at the hide so they were great to see this morning and quite photogenic. Other regular visitors were Great Tits and Blue Tits, the Long Tailed Tits made two appearances, the first quite early on, a group of four birds arrived first, they had their fill of food on the fat balls then an hour later a group of six birds flew in and did the same, one or two preferring the sunflower hearts to the fat balls, which I had put out earlier in the day. The Willow Tit visited at least twice this morning, it flew in from the right-hand side of the hide, landed on the fence post, picked up a couple of sunflower hearts and was off again back into the undergrowth as quick as a flash, certainly too quick for me to get a photograph of it. Robins and Dunnocks were around all morning, they are great birds to photograph, a bit more resilient than the Long Tailed Tits or Willow Tits and seem quite content to stand and pose for a photograph. 
The Northerly wind was beginning to strengthen significantly since I first arrived at the hide and had been blowing in my face all morning, as the time was approaching noon I reluctantly decided to call it a day and head back to the visitors for a coffee and get warmed through before the journey home. Before I left I walked over to the swan feeding platform on the main lake, the lake was still quite badly frozen over but there were still a lot of male and female Mallards close to the water's edge. It has been another great morning at the reserve.
 
 
Friday 1st February 2019.
 
I have had some great early morning walks this past week, the weather has been fine and dry but bitterly cold with occasional light snow flurries, the morning temperatures have been around -3C most days warming up to 4C to 5C during the daytime although yesterday the temperature stayed below freezing all day.  Along with the cold mornings we have had some foggy mornings too and some amazing hore frosts which transform the trees on the Barff into a winter wonderland. The beam of light from my headlamp has made the frost glisten and sparkle as the light catches the frost on the tree branches as I walked amongst the trees, it felt quite magical and surreal.
After a good walk earlier this morning and breakfast, I hurriedly packed the camera gear into the car and headed off to Fairburn Ings to photograph some birds on frosty tree branches, that was the plan anyway.
I arrived at the reserve for 9.30am, the temperature had warmed up slightly and the car temperature gauge was reading -1C. I popped into the visitors centre for a coffee and chat with the wardens before I headed off to the 'Pick up hide'. It was still bitterly cold but quiet at the hide, I was the only one there for most of the morning. The lake in front of the hide was frozen solid with no bird life to be seen either on the ice or around the fringes. Like home there had been a light overnight dusting of snow on the ground coupled with an overnight frost so the ground was frozen solid. Closer to the hide and around the feeders three Hen Pheasants were busily scratching the hard ground searching for food, fortunately I carry a bag of bird seed in my camera bag so I popped out and scattered a couple of handfuls on the ground. Within a few seconds I was joined by two more Hen Pheasants and Two Cock Pheasants, shortly followed by Coot, Great Tits and Blue Tits. Once the feeding frenzy settled down I put some more food down and returned back to behind the camera. Several Robins kept popping over for a snack, along with Greenfinch and Chaffinch, at one stage a Greater Spotted Woodpecker flew into the trees behind the feeders but no sooner had it arrived than it flew off into the deeper undergrowth. Dunnock and Blackbirds were regular visitors too during the morning. I watched a beautifully coloured male Bullfinch in the bushes for a few moments before three Grey Squirrels disturbed it. The area was temporarily cleared when a Jackdaw landed on one of the hawthorn bushes close by, I think it had flown in to get a bit of respite from the snow flurries that we were having during the morning. Tree Sparrows, like the Chaffinch were constant visitors to the feeders as were the Greenfinch too, the male birds of both species looking extremely colourful at the moment, unfortunately one or two of the Chaffinch appear to contracted the Fringilla Papillomavirus and have lightly scabby feet which looks a little unsightly but doesn't appear to cause the bird any discomfort at this early stage. Both male and female Blackbirds kept popping in for a snack, scavenging on the woodland floor and occasionally feeding on one of the fence posts.
It was fascinating watching the grey Squirrels this morning, one was much smaller than the other two so I am presuming an offspring of the two bigger ones. They spent a lot of time around the side of the Sand Martin wall, and appear to have made some inroads into digging out a chamber under the rocks on the side of the wall, I'll keep an eye out on my next visit.
As the morning passed and although I was dressed in my full winter gear I was getting colder and colder so as the time was approaching 11.30am I decided to call it a day and head back to the centre for a coffee and cake before the drive home. 
 
 
Friday 25th January 2019
 
After a week of bitterly cold mornings where the temperature has dropped to just below 0C on three occasions this last week, this morning came as quite a shock with the temperature gauge showing 8C on the morning dog walk. With such a 'mild' morning I banished my winter jacket into the cloak room and ended up wearing my summer waistcoat!
  
It has been nice to hear the Tawny Owls every day this last week on my morning walks, I have heard them calling usually between 6.50am and 7.00am in the vicinity of Tap Hill and the old farm shop. It is still quite dark though at 7.00am which makes seeing them quite difficult and I try not to startle them with my head torch.
We had a good long walk and headed home around 8.30am for breakfast.
It was looking a little gloomy weather wise outside, with a grey sky but that aside I decided that after breakfast to head over to the reserve at Fairburn for the remainder of the morning.
 
It was 9.30am when I arrived in the visitor's car park at the reserve, much later than I like but it didn't really matter. My cars temperature gauge was still reading 8C but the wind had strengthen slightly and blowing from the North West, no rain was forecast today so hopefully it should stay dry for my visit . I called in to the centre for a coffee on my arrival and had a chat with the wardens before venturing out along the 'Discovery Trail' to the 'Pick up Hide'. I was pleased that I had changed into my winter gear before leaving home this morning because the Northerly wind was blowing quite strong and fresh into the hide.
 
The lake in front of the hide was still partially frozen with just a small channel of water flowing through the middle of the ice. There was no activity on the water during my time at the hide. Closer to the hide though and around the feeders it was quite busy with bird activity. A pair of Cock Pheasants where busily scavenging for food around the area with three Hen Pheasants. Three Grey Squirrels were suspended upside down on separate feeders helping themselves to sunflower seeds. Overhead a noisy cackling pair of Greylag Geese flew over the hide in the direction of the 'Lin dyke hide' on the far side of the reserve. In the field to the right of the hide was a herd of at least twenty four Highland Cattle and one foal, contently grazing on the long grass, they looked really big and broad beasts.
 
Once the Grey Squirrels had had their feed and disappeared into the undergrowth a pair of Robins flew onto the feeders closely followed by four Chaffinches, they stayed close by for the rest of the morning. It was good to see the Goldfinches too, they were regular visitors as where the Greenfinches and Great Tits. A pair of Jackdaws flew in at one stage but due to their size couldn't get close to the feeders, they did hang about for a while though, loitering quite menacingly in the bushes. Willow Tits and Coal Tits were quite frequent visitors this morning, preferring to feed on the fence post as opposed to the feeders, I struggled to get a nice picture of the Willow Tits as they fly straight onto the post, pick up some seed and with the seed still in its beak fly off to the security of the undergrowth to eat it. Another visitor to the fence post were the Reed Bunting, both male and their lighter coloured females, they are quite content hang around and eat on the post. Not long after the Willow Tit left the post a Dunnock flew onto it for a snack, contently helping itself to the seed.
 
A few moments later a big Grey Heron flew over the hide coming from the direction of the Coal Tips to the left of the hide, it seemed to dip its wing as though it was coming into land on the ice but decided against it and continued its flight path over towards the Cormorant tree to the right of the hide.
The wind strength had increased significantly since I arrived and was blowing straight into my face making it quite uncomfortable, fortunately I was well wrapped up in my winter jacket so was well protected from the cold blasts and reasonably comfortable, it was nice to feel a little sunshine though all be it a little later in the morning.  
Just as I was thinking about heading back to the visitors centre a small flock of six Long Tailed Tits flew in and between them waited their turn to feed on the fat ball feeder. I love watching these birds, their flat faces, little black beaks, the pink/purple colours on their side flanks and long tails make them a beautiful delicate bird.
 
As the time approached 11.30am there were one or two more visitors popping into the hide so I decided to call it a day and head back to the visitors centre for coffee. A lovely morning.
 
 
Wednesday 23rd January 2019.
 
It was bitterly cold last night and just as cold first thing this morning. The temperature gauge in the garden was showing -3C at 6.30am as I set of with Meg and Gracie on our morning walk. Albeit very cold it was a lovely morning, fresh, dry and more importantly firm underfoot. Although the full moon was last Sunday the sky was clear and the moon shining bright on even the darkest areas on the Barff this morning, it was a great morning's dog walk.
The weather forecast was good for the day today, cold, dry and bright, so after breakfast we packed the car, dogs and camera gear and drove up to the Arboretum at Thorpe Perrow on the outskirts of Bedale in North Yorkshire. 
We left home at 9.30am and the cars temperature gauge was showing -1C, warming up to 0C by the time we arrived at 10.30am. It was nice to get out of the car and stretch the legs, the sun had come out and there was a beautiful blue sky. The dogs love it here as they can have a good run around albeit to the limits of an extendable leash, although there were a few cars in the car park it was very quiet as we walked around the arboretum that said the area covers 100 acres so there is plenty of space to explore.
After leaving the warmth and comfort of the visitors centre we followed the trail over the dried up stream and turned right, following the trail past the children's play area on the left onto the 'water steps path' keeping the stream on the right hand side passing the pet cemetery on the left and 'Henry's island' on the right. The stream opens up here into the lake, today though the lake was covered in a thin layer of ice. Under the trees large clumps of Snowdrops are coming into flower forming huge blankets under the cover of the trees. There are some twenty four different varieties of Snowdrop in the Arboretum and it will be worth coming back in a week or so's time to see them in their full glory. We continued our walk alongside the lake, passing 'Fern Avenue' on the left, stopping for a few moments to take some photographs of the house opposite, a little further along the trail we walked over to 'Kates's island' to admire the bright red Cornus (Dogwood) shrubs surrounding the island. After a few moments rest we continued walking alongside the lake and into the 'Milbank Pinetium' admiring the huge Pine trees which were brought in from North America and planted in the 1840's.  We took a slight detour here as the ground staff were carrying out some maintenance work on one of the footpaths, from our detour we arrived at the Bird of Prey Centre. From here we walked through the 'Dell' onto 'Birch Avenue' to the huge Jubilee Oak, planted in 1935 to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V, a fine looking tree, even in winter. We continued along the 'Millennium walk' to the 'Catherine Parr Oak' another superb looking tree, from here we headed back into the Arboretum passing the ponds on the left hand side till we came to the Acorn Sculpture and Butterfly garden, the Pampas bushes looking resplendent in the morning sunlight. It is just a short walk along 'Annabel's walk' to the 'Fern Avenue' and onto the 'Main Avenue to the Monument, built to commemorate the life of Sir Leonard Ropner. After a couple of photographs we headed back down the 'Main Avenue' to the 'Acer Glade' from where it is just a short walk back to the visitors centre and café, where we enjoyed a very pleasant brunch, the homemade soup was delicious. Care had to be taken on the drive home as several of the smaller roads were still quite icy, fortunately by the time we reached the A1 they were all clear and we had an uneventful and safe drive home.
 
 
Friday 18th January 2019
 
There had been a bitterly cold overnight frost and it was the winter jacket for the early morning dog walk a little earlier this morning. The ground was well frozen today.
I was long overdue another visit to RSPB Fairburn Ings, as it was just over a fortnight since my last visit, so after breakfast I popped upstairs and put another layer of clothing on, checked my cameras had a full charge and packed the car with all my gear. By the time I arrived at the Visitors Centre at Fairburn it was 9.30am, the air temperature was still -1C and the sun had yet to  rise above the coal tips so it was still quite nippy on the finger ends. 
I popped into the centre for a chat with the wardens and a coffee before heading out along the 'Discovery Trail' to the 'Pick up Hide' and my base for the morning. I looked to be the first person in the hide today and with the exception of the odd visitor it stayed like that for the rest of the morning. Looking through the hide windows you could see that although the water level in the lake was quite low, what water was in there was well frozen, a pair of Moorhens where walking around the edges of the ice, along with a pair of Black headed Gulls. To the right of the hide a lone Moorhen was scavenging for food under the feeders on the feeding station, a Grey Squirrel was doing its best to extract some nuts out of one of the feeders, the spoils dropping to the floor for the waiting Moorhen. Female Hen Pheasants were a plenty this morning with three of them hovering around the feeders with another two over by the Sand Martin wall. 
As well as the Hen Pheasants there were lots of male Chaffinch about too, either taking food off the fence post or having a nibble at the feeder. Several Coal Tits kept popping in for a feed, one of them with quite a strange colour on its chest and head though it may be a juvenile with its adult feathers coming through. The Willow Tit was more discreet it only showed twice whilst I was at the hide, it doesn't hang about though, it comes in for food, as soon as it has a seed kernel in its mouth its off back to the safety of the undergrowth. 
I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of Goldfinches about this morning, just hanging around the feeders all morning, what a lovely colourful bird. Another good looking bird that kept popping in was the Reed Bunting, both the male and females were regular visitors to the hide today. Dunnocks were never far away either, scavenging on the floor or occasionally on the fence post, they, like the Robins are quite a feisty bird and don't like to share their food with anyone else. A pair of male Blackbirds where regular visitors, much darker colour than the females and much bigger than the finches. A  Juvenile Jackdaw flew into the feeding station, a huge bird, probably three times bigger than the Blackbird, but didn't hang around, no sooner had it found a perch than it was off again.
At one stage I counted four Robins around the hide, they like the Goldfinch and Chaffinch were around all morning. Everything stopped when the Grey Squirrels came onto the feeders, there were three of them on three separate feeders, two of them suspended upside down clinging on with their back legs, their razor sharp tiny claws securely clasping onto the branch as they hung upside down helping themselves to the spoils of the feeders. The third one was contently nibbling away at one of the fat ball feeders, working the fat ball with its front paws and reshaping the ball so it could extract it from the feeder.
The Long Tailed Tits popped in for a three minute stay, helping themselves to the suet pellets, they like the Willow Tits do not hang around to eat the food, as soon as they have a mouthful they are off back into the relative safety of the undergrowth. 
With the exception of one of the wardens who called into the hide to replenish the feeders I didn't speak to a sole during my stay there, I presume the cold weather kept most of the visitors away. The cold though was beginning to cut into my hands and though I had some very close knit woollen gloves on I was beginning to get pins and needles and cramp in my finger ends, at that point and with the time coming round to 11.30am I decided to call it a day and head back to the centre for a coffee prior to the journey home. A great day, I need to return more often.
 
 
Friday 11th January 2019
 
On a cold, overcast and gloomy morning we headed over to Harrogate for a walk around the gardens at Harlow Carr. It is just a good forty five minute drive from home, on a good day.
We arrived at the visitors centre around 11.00am and popped into Betty's for a coffee before we started our walk around the gardens.
 
It looks as though a lot of work has been going on since our last visit towards the end of September 2018, several of the huge trees along the path down to the stream have been severely cut back and looking at the tree trunks was probably done on health and safety grounds as many of the huge branches look to have been rotten. 
 
We started our walk by heading over to the Learning centre, the borders to the right are a mass of colour at the moment and the vibrant orange, yellow and red colours of the Cornus (dogwood) shrubs always light up a dull and overcast morning. The vegetables in the teaching garden on the left were looking good too. It was nice to see some life size willow constructed dinosaurs along the side of the trail. The sunken garden has been completely refurbished and looks very nice, the contractors were well on with laying paving and stone walls around the garden when we were here last in September. From this garden we headed down towards and walked around the QM pond and followed the streamside path all the way to the Bath house. The gardeners look to have been busy cleaning up the sides of the stream and reinforcing the banks with some huge blocks of sandstone. It was nice to see the Snowdrops coming into flower. 
 
We had a look inside the Old Bath house as there was a Japanese Art Exhibition which started on the 5th January and runs through to the 7th February. The pieces of art on display were quite stunning, bright and vibrant, prints mainly of flowers and birds produced by artists using woodblock printing methods. The original artist was Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) who was generally regarded as the last great master of the Ukiyo-e style of art work. In another part of the bath house were lots of Japanese memorabilia for sale and by the amount of visitors browsing they looked to be doing a roaring trade in selling their products.
We left the Bath house and continued our walk up past the Tea house café before cutting across the grass, admiring the swathes of Pampas Grass swaying in the light cool breeze that blew across the gardens. We made our way up to the Sandstone rock gardens and ponds, this is one of my favourite places at Harlow, a lot of work and landscaping is being carried out here at the moment and I am sure will look very nice in the Spring and Summer once the new planting becomes established. We continued along the path back towards the visitors centre and decided to call into Bettys for brunch before the journey home.
 
 
 
Thursday 10th January 2019
 
I had been out earlier this morning with Meg & Gracie for a good walk and whilst having breakfast and reading the weather forecast in the 'Yorkshire Post' we decided to pack the car and head over to Castle Howard for some fresh air and have a walk around the garden and grounds for a few hours.
We have had a few days just recently when the weather has been cold, dull, wet and miserable, typical winter weather I suppose, and I was getting a little frustrated about being stuck in the house, I needed to get out and have a good walk in different surroundings.
We arrived at around 10.30am after a straightforward journey from home with no hold ups or incidents along the A64. The house is currently closed at the moment which wasn't a problem as we were going just to walk around the estate, the house opens again after a busy Christmas period on the 30th March for the new season.
 
We purchased a coffee each from the Courtyard café before heading into the ticket office and the walk down to the house. This morning we walked past the Northern side of the house with stunning views over the North Lake on the left and Boat house café. We continued past the Estate offices up into 'Ray Woods. It was a steady climb up the hill to the reservoir and quite slippery underfoot after all the rain we have had recently, the water level looked lower than usual but as a result it showed up the stone carvings on the bottom of the central pillar, with images of mammals and fish clearly visible. From the reservoir we followed the track to the right and through the gate to the top of the wood. Lots of Snowdrops are beginning to come through the soil and I should think will be in flower in the next couple of weeks or so depending on the weather. We continued left in the wood heading towards the Temple of Four winds, we veered left near the track that took you to the Temple and headed back into the woods as though we were heading for the Boathouse café. The trees obviously are all quite bare having shed their leaves several months ago, but looking at the ground there is still plenty to see with various forms of fungi as well as the early spring flowering bulbs of snowdrop and crocus just popping their heads through the leaf mulch on the floor. 
 
The history of Ray Wood can be traced back to the eighteenth century when it was first established, unfortunately the woods went into neglect and over time reverted back to an unmanaged woodland. It wasn't until the war effort in the early 1940's when the area was clear felled. The main canopy of trees we see today were planted as recently as 1948 and made up of oak, beech and sweet chestnut. It wasn't until 1968 when the late James Russell a plantsman came to Castle Howard and began to replant and establish the woodland exists today.
 
Considering that Ray Woods covers an area of 25 acres the staff and volunteers have done an amazing job in restoring the woodland and re-establishing paths and trails. It was in 2010 that the Castle Howard Arboretum Trust realised what work needed doing to restore it to what we see today.  
The garden is planted on acidic soil and is able to support a variety of Rhododendrons, during the spring they turn the woods in to a palette of colour, today on our walk around we can just marvel at the size and shape of the leaves. 
Many of the trees planted in the wood come from all over the world including India and Japan, Argentina and Chile and it is fascinating as you walk round to see the different shapes and forms they make as well as the different colours of the tree bark.
We came out of the woods near the ruined monument of Venus. I hope in years to come there are plans to re-establish this monument on the edge of the woods. It commands such a strong position overlooking the fields that make up the Howardian hills. It is a short steady walk uphill to reach the Temple of Four Winds, another fine monument with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. After a rest to get our breath and enjoy the views we headed back to the house, before passing the South Lake. This path will be awash, well the surrounding slopes will be awash with Daffodils in a couple of months' time and several of the different varieties were already growing through the grass today. From the corner of the house there are some beautiful views looking south over the lake, we stopped for a few moments before heading back to the Courtyard. We were going to have lunch in the Courtyard restaurant but as I popped my head around the door I could see it was very busy and as we had the dogs with us we decided on 'plan two' which was to buy some sandwiches and warm drinks from the courtyard coffee shop and have a picnic in the car with Meg and Gracie. 
 
 
Thursday 3rd January 2018
 
A Happy New Year to Everone.
 
I've had some early starts this week and was on the Barff with Meg and Gracie for around 6.30am this morning. It was a cold start to the day with the temperature just hovering above freezing point. It was nice to hear the Tawny Owls calling to each other as we walked around the Barff, I have actually heard them most mornings this week, anyway,  as I was approaching the top of Tap Hill one of them was high up in the trees to my left calling to its  mate which sounded as though it was somewhere near the 'old farm shop',  I think the one on the top of the Barff was probably getting stressed by me encroaching into its territory, we gave it a wide berth and continued on our walk. We had a good walk though and by the time we arrived home it was just after 8.00am. 
After breakfast I had a free day so decided to have a couple of hours at Fairburn Ings again, it is just over a fortnight since my last visit. I had put my camera batteries on charge before I went out earlier this morning, with the cold weather if you are not careful they can drain quite quickly. I re loaded the batteries into my cameras, all fully charged, packed the camera gear into my rucksack and with winter clothing headed off to the reserve for the morning.
It was just after 9.15am as I arrived at Fairburn Ings visitors centre, the car temperature gauge was still reading 2C. It was a dull, grey and cloudy morning, the weather forecast in this morning's paper was for a cold and dry day. I was pleased that I had packed my big winter jacket and gloves. It is only a short walk to the visitors centre from the car park and was looking forward to a warming cup of coffee. After exchanging a few pleasantries with the staff and paying for my coffee I followed the 'Discovery Trail' to the 'Pick up Hide'. There was a young family in the hide when I arrived, which is always nice to see, I actually followed a couple of families with young children when I left the car park on route to the visitors centre, it is a great place for families, with plenty of trails and paths to follow for the youngsters to run and let off steam and burn of some of that excess energy which youngsters have, as well as learning about nature and wildlife. 
I unpacked the camera gear and scanned the lake for activity, I counted four Moorhen skirting the mudflats along the water's edge, a pair of Juvenile Black headed gulls landed noisily on the water, each spending a couple of minutes preening before flying off. Six Cormorants flew over the lake heading in a Southerly direction. Closer to the hide were three Grey Squirrels busily gorging themselves with some food the wardens must have left out when they filled the feeders before my arrival.  It was busy around the feeding station this morning, regular visitors were Robin, male and female Chaffinch, Blue and Great Tits and Dunnocks, the Dunnocks were busily hoovering up the spoils from the feeders. A pair of Hen Pheasant were also hoovering up around the feeders, it was fascinating watching them, at one stage they ventured off under the fence and onto the 'Sand martin wall', within minutes of them arriving on top of the wall a beautifully coloured male Pheasant came from out of the undergrowth, rounded both of them up and ushered them both back to the feeding station.  I noticed some activity on the bottom of the Sand Martin wall today, Blue tits looked to be taking nesting material into the wall, several of them had been feeding on the seed from the Bulrush's at the water's edge and at the same time were peeling off strands of grass and taking it as nesting material into the wall.  It will be interesting to see what happens when the Sand Martins return?
The Willow Tit only showed a couple of times this morning, it doesn't hang about though, and no sooner had it collected some food than it was back into the safety of the undergrowth. It was the same with the Long Tailed Tits too, I counted six of them at one stage, all feeding on the fat ball feeder, and at that, all of a sudden they had all gone on mass, later in the morning they returned and had a quick feed and were off again, which makes it difficult to get a photograph of them, fortunately I know their call and could hear them congregating behind me before they flew in for a feed. They are lovely delicate looking birds that prefer to feed in small groups, I don't often see a lone Long Tailed Tit.
It was nice to see some male and female Greenfinch today, I never saw any on my last visit to the hide, they can be quite feisty characters at times and think nothing of taking a peck at a rival after the same food source. It was the same with the Reed Buntings too, I have seen them many a time dispatch a Blue Tit and Great Tit. Tree Sparrows were regular visitors to the hide this morning along with a male Blackbird. 
Towards the back of the feeders several Magpies were flying about, they would rest on the bushes to the right of the hide before flying off and landing on one of the small islands on the lake in front of the hide. I haven't seen them come into the feeding station yet.
As the morning past the hide was seeing more and more visitors so as the time was approaching noon I decided to call it a day and head back to the centre for a coffee before my journey home.
 
 
Monday 17th December 2018.
 
It was a fresh and cold start today, just 3C and an overnight frost. I had been out earlier in the morning with the dogs and was glad to be home for a cup of tea and toast.
I have been busy recently with jobs in the garden and house and frustratingly not been able to get out with the camera as frequently as I have in the past. So after breakfast I packed the camera gear and headed over to the reserve at Fairburn Ings for the morning. 
I called in to the visitors centre for a coffee and chat with the wardens before I headed around the corner to the 'Pick up hide'. There was nobody else at the hide so I set the gear up and waited, looking in my travel log I noted that on my last visit to this reserve on the 8th August, the lake in front of the hide had completely dried up. This morning I was pleased to see the water level was back up to its normal level. 
It was just 10.00am as the sun started to come over the top of the coal tips on the left of the hide providing a little warmth on this cold morning, I was pleased I had my thick winter jacket and gloves on. I saw no activity at all on the lake. Looking around the feeders to the right of the hide a pair of Hen Pheasants were busily scavenging anything they could find under the empty feeders. I usually carry a packet of bird food (Sunflower hearts) in my camera bag for times like this when there is little food about so I left the hide and scattered some of my seed around the woodland floor and on a couple of fence posts, by the time I arrived back at the camera a pair of Great Tits were busily champing the seed on one of the fence posts whilst the pair of Hen Pheasants had tripled in number with six of them now hoovering up the scattered seed, shortly to followed by a pair of young male Pheasants.
A Robin soon arrived at the second post and gorged itself on the seed being accompanied by a pair of female Chaffinches. I then had regular visits from Blue Tits, Greenfinches, Goldfinch and Coal Tits. It was a pleasant surprise to see the Willow Tit showing nicely, flitting between the fence post and the security of the tree branches, it would come to the post for food and take it back to the shelter of the trees and eat it before returning for more food, this cycle continued for the remainder of the morning.
It was a lovey morning, other than Chris one of the wardens I spoke to no other visitors at the hide, he and his assistant called in to the hide to remove one of the empty feeders for cleaning.
Shortly after the wardens had left the hide the Long Tailed Tits arrived, I counted four of them, they flew in for food and no sooner had they picked up some sun flower hearts were back into the deep undergrowth. A pair of Reed Buntings were braver, they tried to dominate the posts preventing the other finches from reaching the food, that was until a Grey Squirrel arrived and sat on the post and devoured the remaining food. Once the Squirrel had disappeared I replenished the food. The first visitors back were a pair of Dunnocks who would take it in turn one on the post whilst the other waited on the floor for its turn until the other one flew off the post and visa-versa. At one stage a Blackbird came in for a feed too.  I thought a Magpie would fly in too but it stayed high up in the bushes just to the right of the hide.
There were lots of Tree Sparrows about this morning, these are lovely little birds, we don't have them at home (we have lots of House Sparrows though) but there are plenty of them about here on the reserve, they are smaller than the House Sparrow and are currently on the 'Red List' having seen a 50% reduction in their numbers over the last twenty five years. 
Unfortunately the cold was getting colder and so at 11.30am I decided to pack up and head back to the Visitors Centre for a coffee before my journey home.
 
I will take this opportunity to wish all my friends and followers a peaceful and Happy Christmas and Best Wishes for a Prosperous and Healthy New Year.
Friday 23rd November 2018.
 
We were very fortunate today to have a preview of 'Christmas at Harewood 2018' before the house opened to the public.
It was a typical cold and dull morning as we drove past the house and parked in the carpark before our guided tour around the inside of the house. This is only the second year the house has been open to the public at Christmas and after visiting last year we were keen to have a look round again this year. We met our excellent and well informed tour guide at noon in the main hall for the forty five minute tour of the west wing and below stairs.
This year the Creative art director Simon Costin had transformed Harewood House into a Christmas dreamscape entitled 'Dreams of the 1920's. Our tour guide was telling us that Simon had spent several days at Harewood, walking around the house filming the rooms but at a height of only a couple of feet above the floor, as he wanted to see the house through the eyes of the children, namely George and Gerald Lascelles. They were the sons of the 6th Earl and Princess Mary, Mary being the only daughter of King George V. Son George (the future 7th Earl) was just seven years old and Gerald six years. As with any young family the boys were eagerly awaiting the big night. It was Christmas Eve 1929 and they had gone to bed wondering what gifts Father Christmas would bring them. It was their first Christmas at Harewood as they had spent their earlier years at Goldsborough Hall near Knaresborough. Simon wanted to create a Christmas through the childrens eyes. 
Our tour started in the main Entrance Hall where we met out tour guide. A beautifully decorated Christmas tree stood proudly alongside the fireplace. I enjoy tours of Harewood, Robert Adams influence is seen throughout the house and I especially like the ceilings. From the entrance hall we popped our head around the corner to the grand staircase which had been beautifully decorated and a Christmas tree at the top of the stairs. Climbing the stairs with their bed clothes on were two young children, George & Gerald, hand in hand as they made their way up the stairs to their bedroom in anticipation of a visit from Father Christmas, a quite magical Christmas scene. Our next room was the music room, a beautiful Steinway piano stood in the corner, Princess Mary was quite an accomplished pianist. The floor was covered in a mass of black and white balls interspaced with figurines of men and ladies dressed ready to go to the ball. The next room was the State dining room, the dining table lavishly dressed for the evening banquet with some fine cakes and pastries adorning the huge table. On the dining room walls are family portraits dating from the 18th century. The ceiling is worth a look too. After passing through the dining room we entered the Gallery, a huge room that extends over the whole west end of the house. It is just over 76 feet in length by 24 feet wide and 21 feet high, standing at around four metres in height  and surrounded by Christmas trees is a  giant willow of 'Pan' which was inspired by Chippendale's child height carvings on the furniture legs throughput the house.  Walking out of the gallery we entered another room where Princess Mary's wedding dress has been transformed into a huge Christmas tree surrounded by candelabras around the base of the tree, the wedding dress veil flows along the floor. AS we left this room we followed the winding road through a room full of yellow sunflowers, the blooms reflecting the memories of the yellow brick road and the Wizard of Oz movie from 1926.
The next room we entered was the beautiful main library, here the room had been transformed into a winter scape, the outside window had been left opened on a bad winter's night and when the children awoke the following morning and entered the room the snow had blown through the opened window, across the floor and buried lots of their toys under the drifts of snow.
From the library we made our way back into the entrance hall and down to the below stairs and the kitchen. For several weeks before the house opened for the Christmas period, a lot of the house volunteers as well as decorating the house had also been busy making gingerbread men and women and decorating them accordingly. The aroma coming out of the kitchen was amazing, the gingerbread men and women were all over, on the kitchen shelves, on the work tops, on the cooker, windowsills, between the pan racks, everywhere. 
 After a walk around the kitchen and servants rooms we reluctantly left the house and headed into the courtyard for a late brunch of homemade soup and a pot of tea, which was most enjoyable and a fitting end to a lovely visit around the house.
Harewood House is open for Christmas from November 24th to January 6th, 10.00am to 6.00pm, closing early on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve and closed completely on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. 
 
 
Wednesday 21st November 2018
 
It was a cold and overcast morning as we headed off along the A64 to Castle Howard to look at the house in its Christmas refinery.
This year's theme is 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' and has been designed by theatrical designers Charlotte Lloyd Webber and Bretta Crecke. I always enjoy looking around the house but at Christmas time it really becomes a home, with the warming log fires burning it always feels quite special as you walk through the state rooms. The house actually opened for Christmas mid-November and will be open till December 31st excluding Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. 
This year's decorations are far more ambitious than I have seen before whilst still retaining the Victorian theme, which can be clearly seen throughout all the rooms. The start of the tour as always starts by climbing the stairs of the 'Grand Staircase', the rail and balustrades have been lavishly decorated, including the standard lamp half way up. The 'China Landing' has a twig tree nicely decorated with glass baubles too.  As you round the corner and enter 'Lady Georgina's bedroom and Dressing Room' there is a beautiful sculptured floral dress adorned at the side of four poster bed. The adjoining dressing room is full of wrapped Christmas presents piled high on the settee, chairs and dotted around the Christmas tree in front of the fireplace. After passing through the dressing room you enter the 'Castle Howard Dressing Room and bedroom', another beautifully decorated room, with a huge floral display which fills the fireplace and another Christmas tree alongside of the 19th century bed. After leaving this bedroom you turn into the 'Antique Passage' which has been tastefully decorated with arrangements of twigs, branches and ferns placed between the busts, statues and marble urns all finished off with some carefully placed lighting. At the end of the passage you turn right and enter the huge 'Great Hall' with its lovely warming fire burning in a beautiful ornate fireplace. Standing tall at 26ft is the Norwegian Spruce Christmas tree, decorated with around 4,000 baubles. A huge cascade of white lights and baubles hang from one of the balconies forming a dramatic waterfall effect. As you leave the hall and climb the stone stairs to the 'High South' I always pause to have a look over the balcony and admire the domed ceiling which although was destroyed by fire in the 1940's has been long since restored during the early 1960's. On reaching the top of the stairs you enter the 'High South', this part of the house was badly affected by the 1940's fire and this year has been part transformed into a Victorian kitchen and adjoining room into a dining room. The work involved in setting the dining table for twelve people was remarkable, the cutlery, glasses and floral arrangements on the table left little room for the food itself! Above the table is a beautiful decorated hanging mobile suspended from the ceiling with lots of figurines hanging from the twig formed frame. On leaving the 'High South' you follow the route back down the stairs and into the Library/office, this is one of my favourite rooms of the house, I, although I have a very nice and homely office at home, feel quite at home in this room, the roaring fire, desk, surrounded by shelves of books, wonderful. The adjoining room is the 'Garden Hall' and this year has been filled with three 'twig' trees, the room, cleared of all furniture is in darkness less the lighting from the glass lights suspended from the trees, each glistening and forming magical shadows on the walls and ceiling. In the adjoining 'Cabinet Room' is a stunning scale model of Castle Howard, surrounded by miniature figurines and animals.
The 'Music Room' looks an absolute picture, the small Christmas trees to the side of the sumptuously decorated fire surround, drum kits laid out around the room, tunics and costumes from the Howards family collection with miniature soldiers lined out just above the key board of the piano/harpsichord, all in keeping with the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' theme.
The adjoining room is the 'Crimson Dining Room. The beautifully decorated mirrored dining table is adorned with fine china and seven swans a swimming, candelabras and a glass chandelier suspended from the ceiling. From here the next room is the 'Turquoise Drawing Room' with two small white three legged milking stools either side of the heavily decorated fire surround, a farm animal standing in front of the fire and an unusual Christmas tree ladened with all kinds of regalia, topped off with a peacock sitting on the top of the tree.
The final room in the house is the 'Long Gallery' at some 160 feet in length, halfway along is the Octagon with four huge oak book cases. The gallery encompasses the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' theme with drummer boy statuettes, maids and lords a leaping suspended from the ceiling along its length. Hanging from the ceiling in the Octagon are five huge gold rings that slowly rotate within themselves. On our visit were two young ladies playing the piano in the Octagon, the sound they produced and the acoustics in the chamber was amasing, we sat and listened to them for at least ten minutes. On leaving the 'Long Gallery' we descended the stone stairs and turned left into the 'Chapel'. The Nativity scene was laid out in front of the alter. The lighting and decoration in the Chapel is beautiful, I seem to recall the lighting was enhanced several years ago which highlighted the outstanding craftsmanship and workmanship in the room. The Christmas tree situated in the Chapel lobby has been decorated with handmade decorations, many of them written by local schoolchildren it was nice to spend a few moments reading some of the hopes and wishes the children had written on them. On leaving the Chapel we followed the route through the well-stocked Xmas shop and into the 'Fitzroy Restaurant' for brunch. A lovely Christmassy visit. I think we will be back again before Christmas though as it is so nice.  
 
 
Sunday 11th November - Wednesday 14th November 2018
 
It has been a couple of years since we last had a short break to the Lake District, in fact Meg and Gracie were just six months old at the time and today they are very nearly three years old! Where has that time gone?  Having looked at the diary we decided to head off to Borrowdale for a few days with Meg and Gracie. 
I took Meg and Gracie for a good long walk early on Sunday morning, the plan being to tire them both out so they would sleep whilst we pack the suitcases and load everything into the car. Needless to say as soon as they see the suitcases they both stuck to our sides like glue.
We left home just before lunch, stopping at Scotch Corner for the compulsory cup of tea and bacon & egg sandwich as well as giving the dogs a bit of a break to stretch their legs. We had a good journey along the A66 arriving in Keswick just after 2.30pm. We usually stop at the Great Wood along the Borrowdale road to let the dogs have a good run but as they were both hard fast asleep we continued our journey down the narrow valley road to the hotel.
Having booked into our room and unpacked the car I took Meg and Gracie for a walk across the fields, over the 'Chinese Bridge' and along the board walk to the edge of the lake. The walk to the lake usually takes about thirty minutes but with all the rain they have had earlier in the week the ground was quite saturated with lots of standing water in the fields which made negotiating the track quite tricky in places. The view looking northward towards Keswick and Skiddaw is beautiful as is the view looking south towards the tiny village of Grange and Castle Crag.
The following morning after a night of heavy rain, I took the dogs out for our usual walk across the fields to the 'Chinese Bridge', unfortunately the flood water had risen several inches overnight and the water level was preventing me from getting anywhere near the gate to cross the fields, so I had to backtrack somewhat and follow a path back towards the village of Grange. In the ten years or so we have been coming to this hotel this is the first time we have been able to walk across the fields due to the flooding, that said looking at all the debris trapped on the wire fencing, I think we have been quite fortunate. This is the Lake District after all, rainfall over the area varies widely. Keswick for example has an average rainfall of around 60 inches a year, whilst Seathwaite in the heart of Borrowdale has an annual rainfall of 130 inches a year!   We returned to the hotel after a somewhat wet morning walk, fortunately the  hotel provides doggie drying towels which is great so I kept ours in the car as 'spares' After breakfast I put M & G into the car and  we drove the ten minutes or so into Keswick for a bit of shopping and coffee. The rain had stopped for the time being so after our coffee we headed back to the car and drove the short distance to the 'lakeside', parking in the car park next to theatre on the lake. The sky was looking quite grey and menacing, we watched the heavy clouds forming at the far end of the lake as we walked along the shoreline down to the 'Friars Crag' viewpoint, within minutes of us setting off on our walk the rain hit us and although we were well wrapped up in our waterproofs it made for quite an unpleasant walk for twenty minutes or so.  By the time we reached the seat and viewpoint the weather and visibility was that bad I didn't even attempt to get the camera out of my rucksack. Our last visit to the same viewpoint several years ago was spoilt by the rain and today was no different. We turned around and headed back to the car, on reaching the car I dried the dogs down before we decided to head back to the warm fire and comfort of the hotel for afternoon tea.  Needless to say the rain continued for the remainder of the afternoon and well into the night.
Tuesday morning was grey and overcast. After a hearty breakfast in the hotel we decided to have a look for the 'Hundred Year Stone' on the shores of Derwent water just a little further South than 'Friar's Crag'. I packed the car and drove the short distance along Borrowdale road towards Keswick and parked in the National Trust Car Park at the 'Great Wood'. From the car park we crossed the main road and walked down a few steps to follow a track which led to the lake shoreline. Following the track along the edge of the lake we had some excellent views looking across the lake, Catbells, Causey Pike, Skiddaw were all clearly visible, in fact at one stage the sun managed to break through the grey mist. The autumnal colours of the surrounding trees looked beautiful, across the water 'Rampsholme Island' and 'St Herbert's Island' looked quite stunning, the autumnal leaves were a beautiful yellow golden colour and glistened in the morning sunlight.  After about ten minutes or so we reached 'Calfclose Bay' where the stone is situated, unfortunately the split 'Millennium Stone' was two foot under water! I could just make out the top of the stone as the waves broke over the top of it. We explored the area for another thirty minutes or so, making the most of the dry sunny weather before heading back to the car. Keswick for brunch after which we had a look around Keswick St John's Anglican church. The church with its distinctive spire can be seen from various viewpoints around the town. It is just a few minutes' walk from 'Moot Hall'. It was consecrated on St John's Day in 1838. The outer walls of the church have been constructed of pink sandstone from the nearby Eden Valley, the main structure though built of local stone. I always enjoy looking around old churches and this one was no different. The church was  decorate to celebrate the centenary of the end of the First World War, with cascading 'woolen' red poppies cascading from the roof which made quite an impact. The local people of Keswick knitted over 12,500 woolen poppies to make the feature. Inside the church were nice displays from local groups too. It was nice to sit and contemplate for a few moments and light a candle remembering our deceased parents. As we came out of the church the rain had returned so we headed back to the hotel for a cup of tea and scone.
Wednesday morning came around too quickly; Meg, Gracie and I were up quite early this morning, it was still quite dark as we set off for our early morning walk, unfortunately  as a consequence of all the rain recently, running off the mountains and into the streams the water level in the fields opposite our hotel were significantly flooded which prevented us from doing our usual walk over the 'Chinese Bridge' , so we headed towards the small hamlet of Grange and walked around the outskirts of the village, it was very wet underfoot, so wet in fact that although the dogs were wet through they were still quite clean and by the time we got back to the car and hotel I managed to get them dried off with the spare dog drying towels we brought with us before we went back in to the hotel for breakfast.
It was home day today so after our breakfast I packed the car and headed for home.  
 
 
 
Thursday 1st November 2018
 
Autumn on the Barff is I think one of the nicest seasons of the year. The days start to shorten, the nights lengthen and the trees start shutting down prior to the colder winter months that lie ahead. 
This year, as a consequence of a damp and warm Spring and Summer we have seen an abundance of berries on many of the trees in particular the Mountain Ash, Elderberry and Holly, all to the benefit of the woodland birds. There has been quite a variety of fungi too which thrives on the rotting trees and tree stumps, with different types often popping up overnight. The Trees have already started to shut down for the winter their green leaves changing to a beautiful golden brown colour, especially the Oak, Birch, Sycamore and Beech.  By mid-November all the deciduous trees will be completely bare. It is not only the trees that change colour though, the ferns and bracken which thrive under the tree canopy turn to a lush brown too, forming a golden blanket over the woodland floor. The nettles and bramble bushes which seem to plague me at every turn are also dying back too, though that said, just earlier today I got a couple of nasty scratches on the back of my hands from the bramble briars as I inadvertently brushed past them. 
My early morning walks on the Barff with Meg & Gracie usually starts anytime from 6.00am onwards and quite often I do not see or speak to any other visitor whilst we are up there. I had been wearing a headlamp and the dogs their illuminated collars during the early part of the month, though since the clocks went back one hour I have left them at home for the next month or so. 
It is nice to hear the Tawny Owls being quite vocal at this time of year, certainly during mid-October whilst it is still quite dark, I have heard them most mornings calling to each other, I am certain that the Barff has at least two breeding pairs which means the infrastructure of the area must still be quite healthy supporting a good selection of small mammals such as voles, rabbits and beetles, all ideal food for the owls. The Buzzard is quite active too in the early morning light, I often hear and see it calling and circling around the top of Tap Hill being pursued by two or three noisy crows.
One of the other niceties about getting up and out early in the morning is watching the sun rise over in the east. At the moment from the Barff the sun is rising behind the flour mill and Selby Abbey, by mid-November it will be rising behind the cooling towers at Drax power station. The morning sunlight breaking through the trees on the woodland is quite magical, like a torch beam entering a dark room the light rays piercing the dark gloom, it certainly lifts the spirits.
As the sun starts to rise so to do the birds, Robins appear to track my every move, along with Chaffinch, Blue and Great Tits, we quite often sit for a few minutes and watch the Tree Creepers scurrying up and down the tree trunks searching for the tiny grubs hidden in the bark of the Oak trees. The Nuthatches appear to be resident all of the year round now their distinctive sharp call quite noticeable as well as the Wren and Dunnocks, two lovely song birds.  Every now and then I can pick out the delicate call of the Gold Crest, these are a beautiful tiny little bird with a yellow flash across their heads and the Long Tailed Tits, I always hear these before I see them.
Not that I want to tempt fate but we have been very fortunate during October with the weather, by that I mean we have had many dry mornings, (with the odd exception) I remember after last year's Autumn the footpaths around the Barff were thick mud for several months and both myself and the dogs would arrive home my trouser legs covered in mud and the dogs bellies and legs covered too, it wasn't until early April that the ground eventually started to dry out.
For now though let's hope we will be able to enjoy the Autumnal colours for a few more days.
 
 
Tuesday 23rd October 2018
 
We have had Jenny's grandchildren stopping with us since the weekend which is lovely. Today Jenny, her daughter and our two granddaughters headed off to Leeds for a day girlie shopping, which left me with Jack our 5 year old grandson and his dad, who like me didn't fancy a day visiting all the girlie shops in the Victoria Quarter. So after breakfast we decided to head up to the Arboretum at Thorpe Perrow, just outside of Bedale. It is just a fifty minute drive from home so not too far away.
The Autumnal colours of the trees as we arrived and parked up in the car park were quite stunning, beautiful golden and yellow coloured leaves glistening in the morning sunlight.
The Arboretum covers an area of 100 acres so there was plenty of space for Jack to have a good run round and burn of some of his endless energy. I had left Meg & Gracie at home today, I think they would appreciate a bit of peace and quiet and be able to have the house to themselves for a few hours.
With it being half term week the Arboretum had set up a really good Halloween trail and quiz amongst the trees. One of our first visits to the Arboretum was about this time last year, then we followed a similar trail which was excellent, hence the revisit today.
We collected our trail map from the visitors centre and headed off for the start of the trail. It was a lovely morning, a bright blue sky and 15C which made for a really pleasant day. On passing the children's play area we started the quiz, pencil in hand and wrote down the letters which formed part of the quiz as we made our way through the trees. Crossing the bridge over the bog garden were some remarkable characters, including skeletons, witches and Spiders, all very life like and quite scary and these continued for the full length of the trail. By the time we reached the end of the trail some 15 minutes later the letters we had been writing down spelled out a spooky theme, all good stuff and really enjoyed by us all. The trail ended at the Bird and Mammal centre, we arrived at the bird centre just in time for the 11.30am Owl display. After the flying display we headed through the gift shop to the Mammal centre, buying a bag of bird and mammal food as we passed through the shop. On walking across the courtyard we headed for the ducks and goats, after feeding them we headed round the corner to the Shetland sheep, all extremely friendly as they poked their heads through the wire fencing hoping for a handful of food which Jack was eagerly dispensing to them all. After the sheep we headed into the Wallaby enclosure, I was quite surprised as to how inquisitive they were, they sat quite contently as they took some food out of Jacks hands. After the Wallabies we walked over to the meerkats enclosure, they busily went about their business completely oblivious to the visitors walking past their enclosure. As we came out of the Mammal enclosure Jack wanted to do the Halloween trail in reverse, so we followed our earlier footsteps back to the café for a very pleasant late brunch prior to the journey home. After all the fresh air I was partially hoping that Jack would have been tired out and go to sleep when we reached the car for the journey home, alas it wasn't to be as one of the little prizes he received in his gift bag for completing the Halloween Trail was a quiz book so we spent the whole journey home listening to Jack answering the questions out of his new book.
 
As a footnote: Jack enjoyed the day so much we had to do it again the following day, this time with his mum, sisters and grandma!
 
 
Tuesday 16th October 2018
 
I was up reasonably early this morning and out with Meg & Gracie walking round Brayton Barff at 6.30am. It was very dark and wet; it always seems darker when it's raining as the rain tends to absorb the white light of the torch beam.  I had only been walking for about fifteen minutes and must have startled a Tawny Owl, I had heard it calling to its mate about 5 minutes earlier some 20 30 yards to the right of me, Meg and Gracie had probably scared them with their illuminated collars! It was nice to hear them though; I scanned the trees and bushes in the general direction of the calling hoping to catch a sight of them, I thought the light from my headlamp might be able to pick them out in the undergrowth but to no avail, a short time later I heard a higher pitched call of the Buzzard which I have to say sounded quite scary in the dark gloom of the morning and haunted me for the rest of the walk. By the time I came off the Barff just before 8.00am, the rain had abated thank goodness and it was quite light. I had a business meeting at 9.30am this morning, so it was a quick turnaround once we got home and out for the rest of the morning. After a good productive meeting I returned home around 12.30pm to wall to wall sunshine, no sign of the rain earlier in the day. After being sat down all morning I had to get out the house to stretch the legs and clear the head so I picked up Meg & Gracie and headed off to the Barff for another walk in the afternoon sunshine. The autumnal colours look absolutely amazing at the moment, the Oak leaves especially are a beautiful golden brown colour and with the remnants of the rain glisten in the sunlight. 
It has been a bumper year for fungi too; I don't recall a year as good as this for a long time, the warm humid weather we have had recently aiding its growth. 'Fly Agaric' pops up all over the Barff, on the edges of the footpaths and especially under the big Oak tree on the 'army camp' area of the Barff. The majority of the old and decaying Silver Birch trees have one fungus or another growing from their rotten trunks and branches, especially the ' Polypore' and 'Common Earthball'.  Amongst the fallen leaves are clumps of 'Sulphur Tuft' and 'Bitter Poison pie' just to name a few.
I kept my ears open for the Tawny Owls this afternoon but all was quiet, no doubt they will have spotted me though, the Buzzard was still quite active and airborne, I watched him on two occasions as we walked through the woodland, the second viewing he was getting well mobbed by the crows! 
It is nice to see some of the holly bushes with some red berries on at the moment. There are lots of mature and well-seasoned holly bushes around the Barff and over the many years I have been walking around the woodland have noticed that the holly was never very fruitful. I presumed that all the Holly on the Barff was either all male or all female varieties, so without any male holly bushes nearby, the female holly bushes would not produce berries. Obviously this year my theory has gone through the window.
The woodland fern is also shutting down for the winter months with its leaves turning a golden yellow colour before disintegrating onto the woodland floor, as are the nettles, they have been very prolific this year, in places they have grown to around 6ft in height, especially around the perimeter fence around the top of the Barff.
The highlight this time of year has to be the trees, especially the Oak and Silver birch trees, their fallen leaves forming a golden and brown blanket on the woodland floor. If we get a few more overnight frosts and some wet and windy weather the trees will soon be bare of all the leaves and we will then be waiting for the onset of winter.
 
 
Wednesday 10th October 2018
 
It was a lovely morning as I drove up the A1 motorway on route to the 'National Centre for Birds of Prey Centre' in Helmsley. It takes just over one hour's drive from home on a good run and this morning was a good one.  It was 9.45am when I drove into the car park at the centre; I had enrolled on a half day photography session with Steve Race from 'Yorkshire Coast Nature'. I have been with Steve before on a few of his workshops including this one so had a good idea as to what to expect. The sun was shining nicely and the temperature was around 15C as I booked into the visitors centre. I always enjoy coming to the bird of prey centre in Helmsley, I have visited several times a year since it opened, Charlie Heap the director and his team have done a great job in prompting bird welfare and conservation, and the daily flying demonstrations are very informative and gives quite an insight into the life of the birds as well as the daily workings at the centre.
There was an other ten photographers on the course who had travelled from all parts of the County to be here today. After booking in and receiving our wrist band passes we all made our way down to the 'Christmas tree cottage' and this was to be our base for the day, Steve did the introductions and talked about different camera settings to use with changing light conditions, as well as which birds would be flying and with whom, as well as giving us some of the birds characteristics and what to look out for. Ronnie one of the falconers popped in with a 'Little Owl' to introduce herself, Ronnie handled all the birds during our flying demonstrations and photography course, she was accompanied by Charlie for the 1st public flying demonstration at 11.30am.  After about fifteen minutes we headed over to the flying ground. Our first bird was the Harris Hawk, a beautiful big raptor with huge unfeathered, yellow talons and a massive wing span. It flew gracefully from post to post giving us some great opportunities for taking nice 'in flight' photographs as well as the static shots of the bird resting on a post or tree stump. The Harris Hawk (pictured above) is one of the most popular birds used in the sport of falconry. It has a dark brown plumage with chestnut brown coloured shoulders, thighs and wing linings, it has a white bar along the tip of its tail feathers. It has hearing compatible to that of a human and its eye sight is exceptional, it is said it could read a newspaper headline from the other side of a football pitch, which makes it an exceptional hunter. 
 
Our next bird that Ronnie brought out was the Great White Horned Owl, (pictured left) a stunning bird with distinctive markings and tufted ears and feathered legs, its underneath predominantly white with distinctive black bars across its tail feathers and wing trailing edges, one of the things that struck me with this bird was its piercing stare, I certainly wouldn't have liked to be its prey! It, like the Harris Hawk it flew gracefully from post to post at times no more than a metre above the ground before extending its huge talons to grasp its prey.
Before a break for coffee Ronnie brought out a little Tawny Owl, I am quite familiar with these birds as they nest on the Barff where I walk Meg & Gracie and often hear them calling to each other during the dark mornings. They make their nest in tree cavities and are quite territorial. They feed predominantly on rodents and other small mammals including young rabbits, voles, rats and hares, though they will eat small birds including house sparrows. The Tawnies feed mainly during the dark hours but will feed during the day especially when they have young to feed. In low light conditions the Tawny has 100 times better eye sight compared to us humans; they also have a very good hearing ten times better than humans which make them excellent hunters especially in woodlands. The tawny owl is mottled reddish-brown in colour, with a paler underside. It has a big, round head, rounded wings, large, dark eyes, and a dark ring around its face. They are well camouflaged in a woodland setting.
After coffee we returned to the flying ground and watched Charlie and Ronnie as they did the 11.30am public flying display, after which Ronnie returned with a Lanner Falcon. This is one of the larger members of the falcon family, (pictured right) and like the other falcons the lanner is a fast and agile flyer, it left Ronnie's gloved hand and soared over the flying ground and with a couple of flaps of its huge wings circled high above our heads as it searched for the warm thermals of air, continuing to climb and circle high above the tree line. The Lanners are a strong stocky bird and like the Peregrine is a dark grey/bluish colour on its back with a much lighter underside with streaks of brown. As one of the oldest species of heirofalcans they have been used in falconry for over a thousand years, their speciality being that they can capture birds in flight especially pigeons. Unlike the Peregrine the Lanners use a horizontal hunting style coming onto their prey low, flat and very fast, once they have hit their prey in flight they follow it to the ground to finish off the kill. A stunning bird.
 
All be it the second week in October, the weather today has been amazing, just before lunch the temperature reached 21C with wall to wall sunshine, when I normally visit the centre here it can be a cold and draughty place, so today I ended up taken layers off rather than putting them on! 
After the Lanner had finished its display Ronnie brought out the Little Burrowing Owl and compared to the birds seen earlier this little Owl was tiny, but full of character, it flew happily from post to post and posed nicely for photographs both on the posts as well as tree stumps, it was quite at home on the flying ground and would often fly onto the spectator benches in the hope of finding food. At one point it flew to our feet and pulled a worm out of the ground, promptly digesting it in front of our eyes.
The Little Owl is the smallest of our owls, being not much bigger than a Starling in length. Little Owls can be found on and around farmland, living on a diet of earth worms and insects. They nest in holes in trees or sometimes in rabbit burrows. This little Owl certainly had attitude, a lovely little bird.
Our next bird was the Tawny Eagle, I hadn't seen this bird before but it did look to have similarities to the Steppe Eagle.
The Tawny Eagle (pictured below) measures between 25 to 28 inches in length and weighs between 1.6 2.4 kilograms. It has a large wingspan which measures 5.6 6.0 feet. Females are typically larger than males but similar in appearance.
As its name applies, this Eagle has tawny coloured upperparts with black flight feathers and tail and a paler lower back area. It has light coloured stripes on its wings. The Tawny Eagle's piercing eyes are brown and it has a yellow beak with a sharp, black, hooked tip. Their legs are heavily feathered and their feet are equipped with large sharp talons. Tawny Eagles have very good eyesight and their hearing is also an important sense as it helps them locate prey whilst hunting. Their diet relies mainly on fresh carrion of animals that have recently been killed. They also eat insects and kill small animals such as smaller birds, rabbits and small reptiles including lizards and snakes. It will even tackle mammals as large as Hares. The Eagle will make a rapid dive from its perch when the prey is spotted, and seize it in its sharp, powerful talons and they certainly look sharp when you see them extended just seconds before they come in for the kill.
Our last bird of this session was the Kestrel and what a beautiful, sleek handsome bird this looked. It is a small, chestnut brown bird of prey that you often see hovering over grassland and the side of motorways. The hooked bill is a bluish colour with a yellow cere. The legs are yellow. The male Kestrel has black-spotted chestnut brown upperparts and a blue-grey head and tail. The tail has a single black bar at the tip. Underneath, the breast and belly are buff coloured with black spots. The female is darker than the male and the back, mantle and wings all have black barring. The tail has black barring along its length. The creamy underparts are more heavily streaked in black than the male. Our bird did a few flypasts then contently posed for the camera for the remainder of the session.
The Kestrel brought this workshop to a close so we made our way back to the 'Christmas tree house' for a final debrief from Steve before a late lunch in the 'Oak House Café'. 
 
 
Monday 8th October 2018
 
After breakfast having looked at the weather forecast for the day we decided to have a drive up to Bedale with the dogs and a walk around the Thorpe Perrow Arboretum. It was quite a mild morning, fine and dry with the possibility of sunshine later in the day.
We had a good drive up the A1 arriving at the Arboretum about 10.45am, just 50 minutes after we left home. The sun was breaking through the grey gloomy sky casting some bright rays on the terrace of ancient Horse chestnut and Oak trees that line the car park. The ground was covered in fallen conkers, their deep brown shells glistening in the morning sunlight. 
Needless to say as is usual on our days out, the sun disappears behind the clouds until we return to the car to come home and we drive home in glorious sunshine.  Today was no exception, as we went into the Arboretum the sun was just slowly disappearing behind some low cloud! From the entrance we turned right and followed the trail in a anti clockwise direction, although the sun was well hidden behind the cloud the autumnal colours on the trees and shrubs was remarkable, we followed the path that runs alongside the stream, passing the children's play area on the left and continuing on passing 'Henrys Island' on the right. Continuing along this path the stream opens up into a lake with beautiful views across to the Estate house on the opposite side of the lake.  Well placed seating allows you to sit and admire the views, the leaves on the Oak trees and Maple trees turning a deep yellow golden colour and many falling onto the floor forming a huge golden carpet. Under the trees are beds of Cyclamen their delicate pink and purple flowers contrasting nicely with the autumnal colours, every now and then you would come across pockets of fungi thriving in the damp moist conditions under the trees.
We followed the footpath passing 'Kate's Island on the right then over the wooden bridge and into the 19th century Milbank Pinetum which was established by Lady Augusta Milbank in the 1840's. Lady Millbank obtained seeds from all across the globe but was particularly interested in North American varieties, there are some huge ancient trees in this area . We passed 'Angels walk' on the left before arriving at the 'Eagles Nest' and Bird of Prey centre. It was lovely to see lots of young families having picnics on the lawned grass amongst the beautiful trees. We continued our walk following the trail along the 'Red Wood Avenue' to the 'Catherine Parr Oak' where we had another rest for a few minutes. This huge oak tree is said to have been planted by Catherine Parr, Henry V111's sixth and final wife. Prior to marrying Henry V111 she was married to John, the 3rd Lord Latimer of Snape. The Snape Castle estate adjoins Thorpe Perrow so although there is nothing to confirm the claim it is still quite feasible as Thorpe Perrow is mentioned in the Doomsday Book and many of the woodland trees are dated from the 16th and 17th centuries. From the 'Catherine Parr Oak' we followed the trail walking alongside a smaller lake which brought us out at the large Acorn stone structure which had been commissioned by Lady Ropner to mark Sir John's 70th birthday. From the giant acorn we admired the Pampas Grasses and shrubs that were surrounding the structure along with the colourful borders before we doubled back on ourselves following the 'Lime Avenue' until we reached 'The Bothy', here we walked along the 'Cypress Avenue' to the stone gazebo built as a memorial to Sir Lionel Ropner., from here it was just a short walk back to the café and visitors centre. Needless to say that as we were sat enjoying the delights of the café the sun eventually broke through the cloudy sky highlighting the beautiful colours of the trees in all their Autumn finery. A lovely day out.
 
Wednesday 3rd October 2018
 
I had a free day today, I had been out with Meg and Gracie for an early morning walk earlier today so after breakfast packed the car with some camera gear along with Meg and Gracie and headed over to Castle Howard. It was a lovely morning with the sun shining nicely, quite mild for this time of year too 15C with just a light breeze, although the temperature is always a couple of degrees cooler than at home due to its position amongst the Howardian hills.
We arrived in the car park at Castle Howard at around 10.45am after a reasonably straight forward drive along the A64. No matter how many times I make this journey, which is at least once a month, the sight of the 7th Earl's monument at the top of the hill and the long straight drive past the castle walls never fails to impress me. On getting out of the car you could feel it was a little cooler than home, I had packed a light gilet so popped that on and with M & G headed into the courtyard and onto the estate. The sun was trying to break Monday 8th October 2018
After breakfast having looked at the weather forecast for the day we decided to have a drive up to Bedale with the dogs and a walk around the Thorpe Perrow Arboretum. It was quite a mild morning, fine and dry with the possibility of sunshine later in the day.
We had a good drive up the A1 arriving at the Arboretum about 10.45am, just 50 minutes after we left home. The sun was breaking through the grey gloomy sky casting some bright rays on the terrace of ancient Horse chestnut and Oak trees that line the car park. The ground was covered in fallen conkers, their deep brown shells glistening in the morning sunlight. 
Needless to say as is usual on our days out, the sun disappears behind the clouds until we return to the car to come home and we drive home in glorious sunshine.  Today was no exception, as we went into the Arboretum the sun was just slowly disappearing behind some low cloud! From the entrance we turned right and followed the trail in a anti clockwise direction, although the sun was well hidden behind the cloud the autumnal colours on the trees and shrubs was remarkable, we followed the path that runs alongside the stream, passing the children's play area on the left and continuing on passing 'Henrys Island' on the right. Continuing along this path the stream opens up into a lake with beautiful views across to the Estate house on the opposite side of the lake.  Well placed seating allows you to sit and admire the views, the leaves on the Oak trees and Maple trees turning a deep yellow golden colour and many falling onto the floor forming a huge golden carpet. Under the trees are beds of Cyclamen their delicate pink and purple flowers contrasting nicely with the autumnal colours, every now and then you would come across pockets of fungi thriving in the damp moist conditions under the trees.
We followed the footpath passing 'Kate's Island on the right then over the wooden bridge and into the 19th century Milbank Pinetum which was established by Lady Augusta Milbank in the 1840's. Lady Millbank obtained seeds from all across the globe but was particularly interested in North American varieties, there are some huge ancient trees in this area . We passed 'Angels walk' on the left before arriving at the 'Eagles Nest' and Bird of Prey centre. It was lovely to see lots of young families having picnics on the lawned grass amongst the beautiful trees. We continued our walk following the trail along the 'Red Wood Avenue' to the 'Catherine Parr Oak' where we had another rest for a few minutes. This huge oak tree is said to have been planted by Catherine Parr, Henry V111's sixth and final wife. Prior to marrying Henry V111 she was married to John, the 3rd Lord Latimer of Snape. The Snape Castle estate adjoins Thorpe Perrow so although there is nothing to confirm the claim it is still quite feasible as Thorpe Perrow is mentioned in the Doomsday Book and many of the woodland trees are dated from the 16th and 17th centuries. From the 'Catherine Parr Oak' we followed the trail walking alongside a smaller lake which brought us out at the large Acorn stone structure which had been commissioned by Lady Ropner to mark Sir John's 70th birthday. From the giant acorn we admired the Pampas Grasses and shrubs that were surrounding the structure along with the colourful borders before we doubled back on ourselves following the 'Lime Avenue' until we reached 'The Bothy', here we walked along the 'Cypress Avenue' to the stone gazebo built as a memorial to Sir Lionel Ropner., from here it was just a short walk back to the café and visitors centre. Needless to say that as we were sat enjoying the delights of the café the sun eventually broke through the cloudy sky highlighting the beautiful colours of the trees in all their Autumn finery. A lovely day out.
 
 the grey gloom and very occasionally did but for the majority of the day stayed well hidden behind the clouds. It was reasonably quiet today with just a few visitors enjoying the walk in the fresh air. We made our way into the Walled Garden for a walk amongst the flower beds and admire the fish in the pond. The gardens were looking lovely and considering we are in the 1st week of autumn still had lots of colour. From the garden we headed down towards the Atlas fountain, I think it is always quite a special sight to see the water spouting out of the four tritons onto Atlas carrying the globe on his back. Meg and Gracie would be in the water like a flash if I let them! It is also quite a feat of engineering to think that water for the fountain comes down from a reservoir over in Ray Woods and that gravity produces enough pressure to power water through the jets and it has run like this since the day it was turned on in 1853!
After leaving the fountain we headed through the trees,  past the sweet chestnut trees having to be careful where we walked as the fallen chestnut kernels were still quite green and extremely sharp, especially when the dogs stood on them,  on towards the Southern lake and followed its Southern most shore line, I always enjoy the views looking over towards Ray Wood and especially at this time of year when the leaves of the birch trees start to change colour prior to the onset of the colder winter months. Equally the view across the lake looking back towards the house takes some beating especially when the lake is flat calm. From the far corner of the lake we paused for a few moments to look over towards the 'new river bridge' and mausoleum before heading up towards the 'Temple of Four winds' and into Ray woods. Looking at some of the beautiful trees it is hard to imagine that the area was clear felled back in 1940. Today it is estimated that there are around 800 varieties of rhododendron along with magnolias and hydrangeas which look beautiful in the spring time and maple and rowan trees with the most beautiful leaf patterns and shapes. After pausing a while at the reservoir we continued in a southerly direction to the top of the terrace offering beautiful views of the eastern side of the house.  After a biscuit break for a few minutes admiring the eastern side of the house and the beautiful views across the southern aspects of the grounds, we headed back towards the house, pausing a few moments to look along the terrace of lime trees adjacent to the walled garden. I couldn't resist another walk around the walled garden before heading back to the car. The sun had started to burn through the clouds and it was nice to feel some warmth in the air, so much so that before we headed for home we had a small picnic overlooking the cricket square, much to Meg & Gracie's delight. 
 
 
Tuesday 2nd October 2018
 
Well here we are in Autumn and the colours on the Barff at the moment are quite stunning and even more so when the sun shines.
I had been up and out with the dogs at 7.00am this morning as usual, it was a mild start to the day but very wet underfoot due to the overnight rain, I'd had a good walk returning home around 8.30am with two tired dogs ready for their breakfast. I had to go out on business for the rest of the morning returning home just after lunch. By now the sun was shining bright, the temperature was a barmy 15C so I picked up Meg & Gracie and headed back out onto the Barff with the camera to try and capture some of the Autumnal colours. With the onset of winter and the shorter days our morning walks at the moment are starting in the dark between 6.30am and 7.00am depending on what the morning weather is like and returning home anytime after 8.00am. So it was nice to go out again at a more sociable time and in broad daylight.
It was nice to hear and see the Buzzard again this afternoon, it is normally being hounded by the crows when I see it in the morning but at the moment it was able to soar and circle around the top of the Barff to its hearts content. Another thing I noticed was the large amount and variety of fungus around the Barff, this is I suppose is to be expected with the weather we have being having recently. It is certainly thriving on the woodland floor and on the trunks of many of the rotting trees, the Fly Agaric is especially colourful at the moment. It is quite remarkable when you think I come up here every day come rain or shine with the dogs and on every visit your eye catches something that you haven't seen before all be it a different fungus or wild flower, I cannot understand why and how the yellow ragwort is still in flower at the moment as are patches of purple clover and Toadflax.  The most striking sight though is how quickly the ferns are dying back, turning a lovely golden brown colour. It is a shame that the bramble bushes haven't started to die back yet and in places note that bramble runners are still shooting up and occasionally providing a nasty scratch on the back of your hand or arm as you brush past them, it looks to have been a very good year for the fruit though I haven't seen as much wild fruit as this for many years. 
It was nice to hear the Chiffchaff calling amongst the bushes near to the pump house, and the high pitched call of the Long Tailed Tits around the Barff. Robins seem to be thriving popping up alongside the trail just as they do on my early morning walk, Blue Tits and Chaffinch are still very active and can be seen bobbing up and down as they fly from tree to tree in search of food. The distinctive call of the Wrens can be heard all over the Barff and more so amongst the dense thicket on the Bramble bushes.
I was quite surprised as to how quiet is was on the Barff today, I don't normally pop up here as early as this in the afternoon but the car park looked relatively quiet as we walked past. The most striking part about the walk this afternoon though was the beautiful colours of the trees as they start to shut down in preparation for the onset of the colder winter months, the golden browns and yellows looked quite stunning especially when dappled with the afternoon sun light. Let's hope we can enjoy this afternoon sunlight for a few more days. 
 
 
Friday 28th September 2018.
 
I was up bright and early again this morning and out with M & G for 6.45am for the morning walk on the Barff, It was still dark when we left the house but by the time we arrived on the Barff it was bright enough to see without a torch and the sun was just rising over towards St Wilfred's church in Brayton. The sunrise this morning was nothing spectacular no sooner had the sun popped its head over the horizon than the cloud came down and that was that, certainly till later in the day anyway. It has been a bit of a hectic day really today, after the morning walk and breakfast we headed over to Harrogate, I had a business meeting update which fortunately only lasted just over an hour, so from Harrogate it is just a short drive over to the gardens at RHS Harlow Carr where we had a pleasant walk followed by brunch at Betty's. The Autumnal colours were just beginning to show in the gardens which as usual looked amasing. Today there was an Autumnal food and craft fair in the grounds with small tents and shelters of all shapes and sizes. There was quite a variety of small businesses and enterprises wanting to show their exhibits as well as several tempting you in with food and alcohol all very appetising. It was great to see such a wide and diverse range of business and all from Yorkshire. I was extremely impressed with some of the wood carvers both the hand carvers and the chain saw carvers they produced some nice looking items and the willow weavers had a wide selection of baskets and ornaments on show too. After our walk around the gardens and stalls we headed in to Bettys for a late brunch before the journey back home. I must remember to pop in again later next week when I hope the light will be a little better.
 
 
Tuesday 4th September 2018
 
We have just nicely returned home from a lovely short break with my family and a visit to Kew Gardens.
We were staying with my youngest son and his wife just north of London, some eleven miles from Kew. They had bought us both a free ticket to look around the gardens at Kew as a Christmas present from this last Christmas, so thought it is about time we made the visit. I had studied the road map and didn't really fancy the drive across London to the South Bank. The train service into London looked very good so we caught the over ground train to Willesden Junction and changed there for Kew Station, what should have taken about one hour took nearly two hours because of a broken down train but that is another story.
We arrived at Kew station at about 11oclock and what a lovely Victorian station it is, it was opened on January 1st in 1869. As we got off the train the platform was a picture with tropical plants and arrangements on both sides of the track, after leaving the station the area outside was just as picturesque with planting, floral arrangements, hanging baskets and planters in front of the small café's and shops, if you didn't know where you were you would have thought you were in a small Parisian village with the café's, parasols and hanging baskets. The gardens at Kew are just a five hundred metre walk from the station. I thought about having a coffee break but resisted the temptation. It was only a few minutes' walk to the Victoria Gate entrance at Kew and after showing our tickets made our way to the coffee shop for a sit down and some light refreshment whilst we planned out the rest of our day. After our coffee and cake the first thing I did was to purchase a pair of tickets for the road train which takes you around the gardens, at £5 per person the train takes you around the park at a leisurely pace stopping at seven places of interest, you can get on and off the train at any of these stops throughout the day and with the trains running approximately every forty minutes, the aim being that to cut down on walking we could look at the places we fancied and come back to them after our circular tour on the train. The journey takes approximately forty minutes with a running commentary from the driver which was interesting and informative. We decided that we wanted to have a look in the three tropical glass houses and if time allowed a walk over to the Great Pagola. 
Our first stop was a short walk from Victoria Gate to the Palm House, constructed between 1844 -1847, it is one of the most important Victorian structures still in existence. It was built to house palms and other tropical trees that were being sent to Kew from around the world. The house is headed by what looks like a system of steam pipes which circulate the warm air through an iron grated floor. The heat inside the Palm house was quite over powering and Jenny only stayed in for a few minutes before having to go outside for the fresh air. Measuring some 110 metres in length, 30 metres wide by 19 metres tall it is quite a significant greenhouse. A spiral staircase takes you up into the roof of the house and gives a great view of the tropical plants below. The grade one listed building has seen two major restorations, the first in 1955 and the most recent between 1984-1988. I spent a good thirty minutes browsing the plants whilst my cameras acclimatised to the significant change in temperature. It was well worth a look round and interesting to see after seeing it many times on the television.
It is a short walk from the Palm House passing King Williams Temple to the huge Temperate House. This was reopened earlier this year after a massive refurbishment. The Temperate House is twice the size of the Palm House and built between 1862 and 1899. It is the world's largest surviving Victorian glass structure. It's purpose was to house frost tender plants from the sub-tropical and warm temperate parts of the world. Today the building is light and airy and divided into zones, the central section houses plants from Central and South America, New Zealand, Australia and from islands around the world. The north wing houses plants from Asia whilst the south wing has plants from South Africa. It is estimated that this house houses over 10,000 plants of which some 1,500 species are of specific scientific importance. 
Conveniently situated to the west of the Temperate House is the food village selling a whole of different types of cuisine and an ideal place to stop for some refreshment. 
After lunch we left the comfort of the food village and headed south to have a look at the Japanese Pagoda. The Pagoda was completed in 1762 as a gift for Princess Augusta the founder of the botanic gardens here at Kew. The ten-storey octagonal structure stands at 50 metres tall, inside the staircase of 253 steps takes you up to the upper level. The upkeep of the Pagoda is the responsibility of the 'Historic Royal Palaces' and since 2017 have been busily restoring it to its former glory. From the Pagoda we retraced our steps, past the Temperate House and Palm House to the Waterlily House, where we stopped for a look at the giant waterlilies, some of the green pads must have been well over a metre in diameter and with a flanged lip made for quite a picture. From the Waterlily house we headed North Eastwards to the Princess of Wales Conservatory, opened in 1987 by Diana, Princess of Wales. The Conservatory unlike the Palm House and Temperate House is of a modern energy efficient design and very much a low profile design. Much of the planting inside is below ground level which helps to insulate it against heat loss. There are ten different landscaped zones inside the conservatory each with their own carefully controlled climate zones to recreate that range of environments from Tropical Desert to rainforest. It is a light and airy building with some remarkable and unusual plants.
By now the time had flown by and it was late afternoon, we headed back to the visitors centre at Victoria Gate for a coffee before the short walk back to Kew Station and the journey home. It is definitely worth another visit especially in the Autumn when the leaves on the trees start changing colour, equally in early spring when the trees start opening up from their winter shutdown. 
 
 
 
Wednesday 29th August 2018
 
We have just returned home from a lovely morning at Newby Hall Gardens on the outskirts of Ripon today. It is just a steady fifty minute drive from home up the A1 and left a bit. Our last visit and first for many years was three months ago on the 31st May, then the garden borders were well established but hadn't yet started to flower and I realised that in flower they will look quite spectacular hence our visit today and we were not disappointed. We arrived just as it opened around 11am and followed the gravelled path to the main house. From the front of the house we walked down the steps and headed away from the house towards the river following the path between the double Herbaceous Borders. The views and vistas looking back to the house and in the opposite direction towards the river are absolutely beautiful. The flowers and shrubs in the borders look a picture, the shapes, colours, scent and varieties look quite stunning. From the river we turned right following the path through the rock garden and across to the Curving Pergola which was covered in Laburnum 'Vossii', earlier in the year around Spring time the Pergola must be an absolute picture with the long golden yellow clusters of flowers hanging from the branches. From here we doubled back on ourselves and headed back under the Rose Pergola the scent from the roses hanging like scent in the air. Meeting up with the main pathway we passed Sylvia's garden on the left, full of small beds of flowers and colourful all year round. From here we headed back up to the Lily pond in front of the house before heading over to the café for some brunch.  Hopefully we will have to try and get another visit in before the house and gardens close at the end of September.
 
 
Wednesday 8th August 2018.
 
I've been a bit busy at home this past fortnight and this morning was the first chance I had to get out and about with the camera. I hadn't been to the reserve at Fairburn for a fortnight so as it was a nice pleasant morning I loaded the gear into the car and headed off to Fairburn. The temperature this morning was 18C with a light westerly wind.
It was 9.15am when I arrived at the visitors centre for a coffee and a catch up with the wardens and what has been happening on the reserve since my last visit. I made my way along the Discovery trail to the 'Pick up hide'. There was already another couple of photographers to the right hand side of the hide so I set the gear up on the left hand side of the hide. I was surprised and quite shocked to see that the lake to the front of the hide had completely disappeared, dried up, so no chance of seeing any waders here this morning.  I mounted the camera onto the tripod clamp in the hope of catching some pics of a Fox or Deer strolling around the fringes of the now empty lake. 
As I looked through the hide windows and the only birds I could see in front of me was a distant Lapwing and a pair of female Pheasants, no Mallard, Widgeon, Teal, or Moorhen or any other waders etc. Looking over to the Sand Martin Wall the odd Sand Martin was visiting but the majority look to have already fledged.
The light westerly wind had strengthened significantly since my arrival at the hide and it was quite unpleasantly cool as it blew through the hide windows, after about forty five minutes the two photographers that were sat to the right of the hide left and headed back towards the centre so I moved across to where they had been sat. One of the volunteer wardens had just filled the bird feeders up so I was hoping we might see some activity. The Grey Squirrel was first on the scene and hanging from its back legs promptly started to feed from the feeder, just as it started to feed a Magpie came and landed on the same branch and after about ten seconds the Magpie nipped the squirrels tail so hard that the squirrel dropped from the feeder onto the woodland floor, never to be seen again! That was the highlight of the morning for me and with a continuing strengthening wind I decided to call it a day, pack the gear up and head back to the centre for a coffee and get warmed up again. Let's hope my return visit is more productive.
 
 
Sunday 5th August 2018
 
It was another lovely dry and sunny morning today, I was quite pleased really because after breakfast I headed off to Harewood House to have a look at and photograph the Rolls Royce Car Rally. 2018 is the 38th year that the rally has been held at the house and with it being so close to home it would have been a shame not to have a look at these beautiful vintage and classic cars.
I arrived just after 10am and parked in the car park at Harewood. It is just a few minutes walk up onto the North Lawn of the house where all the cars were making their entrance. 
The setting could not have been grander with the house as a back drop.  All Rolls Royce models from Silver Ghosts to the modern Phantoms were on show, the dedication of their owners was clear to see, these beautiful vehicles looked in pristine condition, the paint work was highly polished with chrome work that glistened with a mirror finish in the morning light, the attention to detail was second to none. Some of the earlier models on show this morning were probably manufactured over one hundred years ago having been built between the years 1915/1920. I found it quite remarkable that these people/owners have dedicated their time and expense to purchase and restore such fine motor cars, not only that but many have come from all parts of the country to be here today.
The Bentleys from the Derbys to the present day Continentals and Arnages looked quite at home too, the quality of workmanship that went into manufacturing these vehicles was quite remarkable.
I felt quite privileged as I strolled alongside some of these beautiful cars, the conversations between the various owners was quite fascinating too with regards to overcoming design and spare part issues, to fuel and oil to mpg,  what a wonderful way to spend a morning. 
 
 
 
Thursday 2nd August 2018.
 
This warm and sunny weather is continuing for yet another week albeit for some overnight rain last Sunday evening. The temperature late yesterday afternoon in the garden reached a sweltering 32C. 
Although up early this morning I have had to shorten our dog walks for a few days due to Gracie straining one of her front legs chasing her sister around the garden!
This morning we had a trip over to the gardens at RHS Harlow Carr with one of Jenny's grandchildren. There has been a 'Jurassic Discovery' exhibition running at the gardens during the school holidays and it gave the walk around the gardens a little more interest for a 5 year old. We arrived in the car park at the centre for 10.15am and struggled to find a car parking space. The temperature had risen to 18C, though the low heavy cloud kept the full heat of the sun somewhat at bay. From the visitors reception area we followed the path to the left past the learning centre and onto the lakeside gardens, the pond area has just been fully renovated and looks really good especially the York stone walling and patio blocks. Continuing our walk past the QM lake we headed up into the woodland to do some fossil hunting and looking for Dinosaur eggs and relics, all good stuff. From here we decided to head back to the centre and call into Betty's for brunch before the rest of the visitors had the same idea. After a lovely brunch I headed back outside into the gardens whilst Jenny went round the bookshop. 
The garden borders are looking quite a picture at the moment and amass of colour, after about ten minutes I met up with Jenny and our grandson and we watched the Birds of Prey flying demonstration, the Eagle Owls were being a little bit naughty much to the amusement of the several hundred spectators, it was a really good flying display though and the falconer gave a good commentary accompanied by some very dramatic music. After the flying display finished we headed down to the stream and continued over to the 'Logness Monster'. After Fifteen minutes or so at the small play area we followed the Streamside footpath to the Old Bath House, the views and vistas along this path change with every visit to the gardens, the colours, light and of course the plants all contribute to the experience. From the Bath house we followed the footpath on the other side of the stream up towards the Sandstone Rock Garden, this is one of my favourite places, mainly because I like both the ponds and the planting around and in them, I always like to stand and stare for a few moments admiring the views and the quietness surrounding the water, a lovely tranquil place. No time to stand and stare today with the grandchild though and we made our way up the slope and back to the visitor's centre and the journey home, no sooner had we driven out of the car park when I glimpsed through the mirror to see our grandchild hard fast asleep in his child seat holding onto his dinosaur. A lovely day.
 
 
Wednesday 25th July 2018.
 
Phew, another warm and humid week with temperatures over 32C in the garden yesterday and still no signs of rain. With water levels dropping in the reservoirs and our grassed lawns turning yellow by the day and talk in the media of hose pipe bans I wonder how much longer this warm spell will last.
I had been planning on driving over to the reserve at Fairburn this morning but decided in the end to travel south to RSPB Blacktoft Sands to see if the Spoonbills and waders were still there. It was about 9.15am as I parked the car in the car park on the reserve, the temperature gauge was reading 18C and it looked like being another warm and sunny day. I called in to the reception hide to have a chat and coffee with the warden before heading out to the Marshland hide. There were several other like-minded people already in the hide by the time I arrived but as this hide is quite broad space was not a problem. I was yet again amazed by the amount of waders that were busily scouring the mudflats and water's edge in the hope of finding some food. A Snipe was showing nicely in front of the hide, its markings making it quite difficult to see at times especially whilst it was walking across the shoreline in front of the hide. A Grey Heron was contently resting on one of the small islands to the right of the hide, occasionally it would arouse for a scratch and stretch but was quite happy standing watching the world go by. Black Tailed Godwits appeared to be everywhere, a small flock here in front of the hide and several more on the small islands just in front of the hide. I watched several Lapwing and Ruff around the hide, the distinctive green colours on the sides of the Lapwings showing nicely in the morning light. Several Black headed and juvenile Black headed gulls were being quite vocal and making a lot of noise, occasionally they would harass the Grey Heron to the right of the hide but he was having none of it. It was nice to see quite a few Knot about, their distinctive grey colouration making them stand out from the Ruff and Greenshank. On the far islands you could see the distinctive longish red legs of the Redshank, where it not for their red legs it would have been difficult to spot them amongst the Greenshank. It was nice to see some Goldfinches on the shoreline busily pulling the thistles apart in the search for food. One of the highlights of the morning for me though was watching the Yellow Wagtails, a pair of them landed on the mudflats and spent a good fifteen minutes busily scouring the muddy shoreline for food.  There was no sign of the Spoonbills in this hide this morning, well not during my visit anyway, so at about 10.30am I part dismantled the camera gear and headed back to the Xerox Hide, it is only a couple of minutes' walk.  I like this double decker hide, it is a bit quirky and since my last visit the wardens have cut back the long grass from in front of the hide's viewing windows which made the visibility much easier. 
I re clamped my camera mount onto the window shelf and had a good look out of the hide windows. I spotted a pair of Spoonbills on the small island to the left of the hide with three Grey Heron and a Little Egret, I wasn't certain if one of the Spoonbills was a juvenile as it looked to have a Yellow bill. They all appeared quite comfortable and content by the water's edge, other than a little preening none of the birds walked no more than a metre from where they were standing.
By now the time was getting on and the sun brighter and much warmer, so by noon I decided to pack up the gear and head back to the reception hide for another coffee before the journey home. A great and productive day.
 
 
Wednesday 18th July 2018.
 
I had been thinking about visiting the RSPB reserve at Blacktoft Sands on the South bank of the River Ouse for a while now and as I had just recently heard that the Spoonbills were in residence there I didn't need any more excuses to pay a visit. 
It was a lovely start to the day, the sun was breaking through the early morning mist and the temperature was around 15C with a light Easterly breeze. It is just a 35 minute drive from home to the reserve,  the new road on the outskirts of Goole near to the new distribution centres looks to have shortened the journey as this road takes you straight into the dockland area of the town and out towards Swinefleet. 
It was around 9.30am when I arrived in the reception hide and met the wardens, after a chat I headed off to the Xerox hide to the left of the reception area. This is a double decker hide, the view from the upper level was good with great views across the lagoon, the lower level although good, the views out of the windows were partially obliterated due to the long grass in front of the hide which really hindered any decent photos of the wildlife. 
I set up the camera gear on the upper level and stayed there for about thirty minutes. A pair of Spoonbills flew in to the left of the lake and promptly started feeding; although quite far away they were still closer than any view I could have got at Fairburn that is until my next visit of course. There were lots of Snipe, Black Tailed Godwits, Ruff, Little Egrets and Lapwing all enjoying the mudflats at the water's edge and the small islands. I don't think I have seen such a selection or as many waders as this before, unfortunately the majority of the birds were either sat or standing on one leg hard fast asleep! After about thirty minutes or so the pair of Spoonbills took to the air heading off in a westerly direction so I quickly packed up the camera gear and followed the path to the 'Marshland hide' sure enough the Spoonbills had landed in front of this hide, unfortunately there was lots of like-minded photographers and birders already in the hide when I arrived so space was somewhat limited. I found a seat and set up the camera gear and stayed there for the next hour or so. The Spoonbills were busily walking back and forth in front of the hide giving all of us some good views. There was a Grey Heron busily feeding to the right of the hide completely oblivious to the Spoonbills, I counted six Little Egrets around the hide and as for the Black Tailed Godwits, Ruff, Knot and Lapwings well just too many to count.  At around 11.30am a flock of 12 Greylag Geese flew over the water in front of the hide, circled and came in to land. I counted at least fifteen Lapwing feeding on the mudflats and looking through the binoculars watched a Redshank and Water Rail on the far side of the lagoon.
As the morning went on more and more visitors were coming into the hide so just before noon I packed the gear away and headed back to the warden in the Reception hide for a coffee before the journey home.  I will have to see if I can arrange another visit before the school summer holidays.
 
 
Sunday 15th July 2018
 
The weather of late reminds me very much of the summer of 76. It is very nearly four weeks since we returned from a ten day holiday to Southern Italy, returning home to temperatures warmer and drier than were we had been staying! 
Since our holidays I have been out most mornings with Meg & Gracie at around 5.15am, we have had some wonderful morning walks on the Barff, it has been dry, other than the occasional early morning dew, pleasantly warm for that time of day ranging between 11C 18C and very humid. I have missed the sunrises by about one hour but as the days slowly begin to shorten will catch one within the next week or so. It has been really good coming home with two dry dogs for a change, it only seems five minutes ago that I was having to wear wellies as the mud on the Barff was coming over my walking shoes and the dogs legs and under bellies were absolutely coated in mud and the washing machine was on every day washing dirty dog drying towels, happy days.
The down side to all this good weather and the summer months on the Barff in general is the Bracken, Ferns, Brambles and Grasses grow at an alarming rate. The nettles in places are standing between four and five feet tall and can leave quite a nasty impression on your legs and arms when you brush past them on some of the trails around the Barff, the only consolation I noticed this morning  is that they look to be dying back. My other pet hate at the moment are the Bramble runners, some of these must grow up to six inches a day or appear too,  the scratches on my arms and legs and the occasional tear on the jacket are all as a result of getting tangled up with these runners, the ones that run along the floor are the worst I think,  quite often I have inadvertently placed my foot under one and walked over it with the other foot and as I make the next step it rips your sock and leaves quite a nasty scratch across your lower ankle.  On a humid morning the grasses and ferns can be wet from the early morning dew and with the Rosebay Willow herb also standing some 5ft tall it is easy to finish your walk wet through from brushing past them all, especially so if and when you walk around and alongside the top perimeter fence, I have often attracted some strange looks when I return to the car park and my shorts and shirt are wringing wet through!
On a weekend I try to do a longer walk and follow the outskirts of the Barff to pick up the Bypass trail as it heads off left towards Mill Lane, it is not part of the walk I do during the week due to the volume of traffic on the Bypass but come the weekend it is much quieter especially at this time in the morning which makes it easier to cross at the Mill Lane junction. As I crossed the road to follow the path which runs behind the Hawthorn hedge and follows the Bypass trail back up to the Barff we watched a pair of Roe Deer in the field on my left adjacent to the golf course, I made eye contact with one of them as we stared at each other for a couple of moments before it turned and headed off to the reasonable safety of the centre of the field, the field has just been harvested so there aren't that many hiding places. 
It is quite strange as I followed the footpath/Bridalway back up towards the footbridge with all the different shrubs and trees that have become established since the Bypass has been built nearly twenty years ago, with several Buddleia bushes in full flower at the moment attracting a host of Butterflies and hoverflies,  several apple trees bearing fruit, I wonder how they got there? then there are the Silver Birch trees, Hawthorn and Mountain Ash in the mix also, certainly the Apple trees and Buddleia Bushes are quite alien to the Barff and surrounding areas. After a gentle five minute stroll we are at the top of the slope and cross the footbridge over the Bypass and back onto the Barff itself, we continue our walk in a clockwise direction heading to towards the old farm shop, I could hear a flock of Swifts, they were circling overhead, swooping and chattering amongst themselves.  From the tarmacked road leading to the top of the Barff we continued our walk around the bottom heading back towards the car park, I watched a young Tawny Owl for a few moments scavenging on the woodland floor about fifty yards in front of me, like the deer earlier, we both made eye contact with each other and before I had time to reach for my camera it flew up into the tree canopy and perched safely some twenty feet above my head.
I heard the Nuthatch again this morning, in fact I've heard it several times this past week, its distinctive call echoing amongst the dense undergrowth below. The Greater Spotted Woodpecker chicks have fledged now and can be heard calling for food from their exhausted parents, I quite frequently hear the parent bird alarm calling. I have actually seen several Tree Creepers this last week, normally I cannot see them but their distinctive white breast patches gave them away, especially when they go scuttling up the tree trunk in search of food.  The Robins are as frequent as ever, they seem to accompany me everywhere I go on the Barff, although at the moment they have their youngsters to look after. Coal Tits, Chaffinch and Bullfinches are still regular visitors and it is nice to stop every now and then just to listen to their distinctive calls and songs.  
By 7.00am the sun is shining and the temperature is hitting the mid-teens C, I have been out since just after 5.00am so it is time to head back for home with two exhausted and contented dogs.  
 
 
Friday 6th July 2018.
 
It was another early start today; Meg was much better this morning thankfully, hopefully the prescription I got for her from the veterinary practise yesterday afternoon is beginning to take effect on her. The outside air temperature at 5.30am when we set of for our morning walk was 16C, it was quite humid on the Barff and very warm, I was quite grateful for the shade the trees provided from the early morning sunlight. We had a nice quiet walk though returning to the car for about 7.30am.
I planned to go to Fairburn again this morning but held back going so early, my reasoning being that on previous visits the Spoonbill adults have been returning to the nest with food between 11.00am and 11.30am. So  today I managed to get myself to the viewing area for 10.30am, the sun was shining, a lovely blue sky, it was going to be another scorcher, the temperature at 10.30am had risen to 22C, unfortunately as I was walking up to the site I watched the adult bird flying across the fields heading back to the nest which left me no time to unpack the camera gear, set up and take the photograph, consequently I spent the next three hours standing in the shade, watching the chicks and parent sleep for the rest of the day! So much for my 'well thought out plan'.
Fortunately the Little Egrets were putting on quite a show and the Grey Herons were quite active too feeding their own chicks so I spent the remainder of the morning photographing the Egrets and Herons. 
The return walk across the fields back to the visitors centre is always quite fascinating with lots of fritillaries and damsel flies flying around at knee height, the grass meadowland is now quite heavily parched after three weeks of constant sunshine and the path well worn, the wild flowers are in full bloom at the moment and providing a ready source of nectar and nourishment for them.
After a quick coffee in the visitors centre I walked across the car park to the feeding platform on the main lake, the water level has dropped significantly leaving vast expanses of mudflats, although there were only a few mute swans and mallards hoping for a snack, it was nice to see the Avocet chicks are still doing very well, the chicks were contently huddled together in a small group sleeping in the warm morning sunshine, their parents not very far away and making their presence known when any sign of danger appears.
A lovely morning at the reserve, I will have to wait till next week to see if the Spoonbills are a little more active, they shouldn't be too far away from fledging now. 
 
 
Thursday 5th July 2018.
 
I have had a bit of a disruptive week so far, one of the dogs has been poorly with an upset tummy since Tuesday morning. I have been getting up in the early hours (1.30am ish) of yesterday and again this morning to quite a mess on the kitchen floor. Typical Chocolate Labrador! Her sister went through a bout of bad tummies about a year ago and I thought they had both grown out of it. I am pretty certain it is nothing to serious as she has been eating her meals as usual and no problems whilst training and exercise etc, I took her to the vets this afternoon as a safety precaution and hopefully after a course of 'liquid cement' she should start to improve. As I write this note late this evening, she seems quite perky and mischievous so I'll see what sort of a night I have with her.
After breakfast and with Meg & Gracie settled down after their morning regime I headed back over to the reserve at Fairburn Ings to see if the Spoonbills would be a little more active than my last visit on Monday. I arrived at the nest site around 9.15am with just one parent bird on the nest, it flew off as I was setting up my camera equipment and that was the last I saw of it. The chicks were still quite active with the biggest bird doing a lot of wing flapping on the edge of the nest, I can imagine the other three chicks being a bit peeved as they look a little smaller than the eldest bird and every now and then they would get wacked by an uncontrolled wing or a foot as the eldest bird lost its balance before falling back into the nest whilst practising its pre flying routine. Other than the wing flapping there was no other activity on the nest which was a little disappointing.
Fortunately the neighbouring Little Egrets were quite active with three of them practising aerial jousting at one stage, later in the morning a pair of them tried to knock each other off the branch they were standing on with a flick of the wing and a peck of the long beak, both quite effective methods of moving your mate.
Several Grey Herons were flying into their own nest sites with food for their young, they, the chicks are quite vocal when they know food is on its way. 
By mid-morning the sun was scorching hot, 27C, I was pleased I could get some shelter in the shade of the Hawthorne hedge, as the time marched on and with no imminent signs of activity I called it a day an headed back to the visitors centre and home.
 
Wednesday 4th July 2018.
I had a bit of a disturbed night with Meg being up in the early hours, but she soon settled and she and her sister were up and out at our usual time, no worse for wear. It was another fine morning, 16C wall to wall sunshine. After breakfast with both dogs settled and our dog sitter round to look after Meg & Gracie for the morning, Jen and I headed over to RHS Harlow Carr on the outskirts of Harrogate for the rest of the morning.
We arrived at just after 10.00am and the car park and visitor's area was quite busy already at this time of the day. We popped in to Betty's for a coffee before our walk around the gardens. The sun had disappeared behind some low cloud for the time being but after about twenty minutes it had burnt through and stayed with us for the remainder of our visit&
We followed our usual route past the learning centre and teaching gardens, past the little lodge to the Lakeside gardens. It was nice to see that the sunken pond area has been completely re built and redesigned and will look quite spectacular when the planting becomes established around the new walling etc. Continuing along the trail it was good to see the wild orchids thriving amongst the grass verges on the left hand side. After going over the bridge we followed the trail round to the right passing the QM lake,  on the left a lot of work in progress is being carried out in the Southfield adjacent to the lake. 
I always prefer to follow the 'Streamside walk', firstly because I have a passion for water and secondly the planting on the banks of the stream is bright, colourful and vibrant and with the sun breaking through the trees makes for a lovely walk. We followed the path to the Old Bath House, stopping several times to take photographs of the lovely views over the stream as well as along the stream. There was an interesting exhibition of photography in the Old Bath House today, with some excellent photographs of wildlife and nature by our local photographers. From here we headed back towards the visitors centre following the path on the other side of the stream up through the Sandstone rock garden. I always like this part of the garden as there are two large size garden ponds either side of the path with some amazing plants and shrubs around them both, I often have to just stand and stare at the beauty of this setting, the tranquillity and peacefulness around the water is quite remarkable. Leaving the Rock Garden behind us we made our way back to the centre and Betty's restaurant for brunch before the journey home. 
 
 
Monday 2nd July 2018.
 
I woke to another beautiful morning today, in fact this past weekend has been lovely too. Whilst out with Meg & Gracie on Saturday and Sunday morning walks we spotted a pair of Roe deer both days on the Barff and on Sunday I watched one run the full length of the corn field from the Mill lane junction on the bypass to the golf club.
Overnight last night there had been a real heavy dew and although we had a good walk the grass around the perimeter fence on the top of Tap Hill is quite dense in places, taller than me, combined with the nettles and thistles, by the time we got round the path I was soaked through, (note to self) must remember not to take this track after a heavy dew!
I had arranged to go back to the reserve at Fairburn after breakfast so it was a quick shower, cup of tea and a slice of toast before I loaded the camera gear into the car and set of for the reserve. 
The temperature was 20C at 9.00am as I arrived at the reserve; the sun was shining, the light easterly wind providing some light respite from the heat of the sun. I popped into the visitors centre for a coffee and made my way over to the Spoonbill viewing area. It is approximately a ten minute walk across fields to the viewpoint which isn't a problem, there are lovely views across this part of the reserve and the field is a mass of wild grasses, wild flowers and thistles. Today what was most noticeable were the amount of Dragonflies and Damselflies flittering along the trail, some the size of your hand, others with beautiful markings, reds, blues, browns, lovely colours and such delicate wings. 
It was 9.15am as I was setting up my tripod at the viewpoint. I could see the four chicks in the nest with a parent bird at the back doing the housekeeping. From a photography point of view it stayed like this for the rest of the morning, no coming or going and the chicks still firmly anchored into the nest. The Little Egrets and Grey Herons were quite active though around the Spoonbill area, along with the Cormorants who contently sat and dried their outstretched wings in the morning sunlight. It was nice to see a pair of Kingfishers who spent several minutes in the willow tree in front of the Spoonbills nest area. With no signs of any sudden changes on the Spoonbill nest and the chicks soundly asleep, I headed back to the visitors centre for a quick coffee before heading down to the swan feeding platform on the main bay area. The water level has dropped quite significantly in this lake, exposing vast expanses of mud flats on the water's edge. The Avocets chicks were sleeping to the left of the lake on the parched mud, their parents noisily seeing off an inquisitive Moorhen which encroached to closely to them. To the right, on the opposite side of the lake were another two pair of Avocets busily sweeping their beaks through the muddy water in search of food, unfortunately too far away to get a reasonable photograph. 
By now the time was nearing lunchtime so I headed back to the car and home. It has been a little frustrating this morning with the time I had available, obviously it is great to see the Spoonbills doing really well and continuing to grow and develop, I am sure they have had a good start to their young lives, they haven't yet encountered the strong prevailing westerly wind let alone seen any rain since they were hatched, let's hope they continue to grow.   
 
 
Friday 29th June 2018
 
This pleasant warm and sunny weather we have had this last week is reminding me of the summer of 1976, 42 years ago when I spent a lot of time fighting fires on the North Yorkshire moors, where has that time gone. I sympathise with the lads doing exactly the same on and around Saddleworth moor at the moment.
It was another sunny and warm day again today so decided to spend the morning at Fairburn again with the Spoonbills. I had been out with Meg & Gracie earlier in the morning so after breakfast I headed over to the reserve for the morning.
The temperature was 21C as I popped into the visitor's centre at 9.15am this morning with a light easterly breeze. I made my way across the fields to the Spoonbill viewing area. There were no other visitor's there when I arrived but as the morning progressed there was a steady stream of them. 
Both the adult Spoonbills were on the nest with their baby teaspoons. As what seems to be a regular pattern by mid-morning one of the adults flew from the nest heading towards the 'Pick up Hide' to feed. At this point I had a clear view of the nest and managed to count four little heads with four small yellow teaspoon beaks. By 11.15am other than a lot of head bobbing and the elder of the chicks stretching its wings a little there was no more activity, so I decided to head back to the visitors centre, content with the knowledge that I had seen four chicks in the nest. Prior to leaving I headed over to the duck/swan feeding platform to see if the Avocets were close at hand. I counted three pair of adult Avocets busily feeding in the shallow water with one pair keeping a very close eye on their 3 sleeping chicks. A lovely sight, hopefully on my next visit they will be up and about. 
Thursday 28th June 2018
 
I woke up to another lovely morning and was out walking with Meg & Gracie at 5.40am. I just love days like this, quiet, dry, few people about, birds twittering in the trees and the sun is shining. We clocked up a pleasant four mile walk amongst the trees and shade on the Barff before returning home for breakfast around 7.00am. Chocolate Labradors are not really built for the heat and temperatures we are facing at the moment so are quite content after breakfast to find the shadiest place in the garden and snooze for the rest of the day! Not a bad life really.
After breakfast Jen & I headed over to Castle Howard for the remainder of the morning, we had a pretty good drive along the A64 arriving in the estate for just after 10.00am. They are holding their annual Flower Festival for the next four days inside the house and after the success of last year's we returned to see what this year's show would be like. 
This year's theme was 'An English Country Garden' by lead creative designer Fiona Pickles, recognised as one of the leading floral designers in the UK. 
On entering the house we made our way up the Grand Staircase, the staircase had been adorned with a beautiful display of wild grasses and daisy's along its length. There was a lovely display of Pampas type grasses in Lady Georgina's bedroom and dressing room and some stunning floral arrangements around the Castle Howard Dressing room and Bedroom. Jean Baptise Monnoyers painting 'Flowers in a Bronze urn' sempt quite appropriate hung in the dressing room. 
The Antique Passage always is a delight to walk along no matter what time of year and today it was adorned with some beautiful arrangements of greenery,(sorry I am not really a flower person in that I do not know the names of the plants and flowers) with lovely displays cascading out of the ceramic urns spaced between the busts and statues collected by the 4th Earl on one of his visits to Italy in 1738-39.
From the Antique Passage way we followed the route into the Great Hall to be met with two huge colourful displays coming out of the fire places and across the floor, two very dramatic works of art. Leaving the Great Hall we headed up the stairs to the 'High South' and into the 'Garden Hall' here a huge pergola had been decorated with a variety of colourful native British plants and greenery and made quite an impact in this room, the shape and design of the pergola invited you to walk through the arches. I read a note somewhere stating that much of the foliage had come from within the Castle Howard Estate.
Several small and delicate arrangements adorned the Music room and Crimson Dining room. Walking into the Turquoise Drawing room and a huge urn with floral display to match caught your eye as soon as you walked into the room giving it a very much country garden type feel. Into the Museum room two beautiful arrangements either side of the busts caught the eye, predominantly white, many of the flowers looked quite familiar. From the Museum room we headed into the Long Gallery. I always stand in awe as I enter this part of the house, the paintings on the wall, the curtain robes around the huge windows, the chandelier, John Jackson's picture on the easel of an elderly 5th Earl with his son all adds to the ambience of the room. In the Octagon was a huge display suspended from the ceiling which made quite an impact, to me it looked like a huge cloud of mist or smoke just hanging in the air, I dare say to others it may look completely different. 
Leaving the Long Gallery we headed down the staircase and into the Chapel. This is one of my favourite places in the house, the decoration, balustrades, stained glass, gilding, the ceilings, the craftsmanship is quite stunning. Several years ago the lighting was improved and this transformed the chapel into a beautiful place of peace and serenity. It is always nice to come into the Chapel, have a sit down in one of the pews and just admire the workmanship that surrounds you. Today there were several floral displays which enhanced that experience.
From here it was a trip into the Fitzroy restaurant for brunch before a leisurely walk back through the walled gardens to the courtyard and home. 
A wonderful visit with some stunning displays in excellent surroundings, the displays matching their brief of an English Country Garden to a tee. Well done to all the organisers and florists.
 
 
Monday 25th June 2018
 
Another beautiful morning, just 12C at 5.30am. as we set of on the morning dog walk. There was a very light westerly breeze which was quite pleasant as we made our way through the heavy undergrowth on the Barff. I cannot believe how the nettles and ferns have grown whilst I have been away, some of the nettles are over 6ft tall with a wicked sting especially on back of the legs. The brambles and briars have run wild too and I now have several quite sore cuts and grazes on my legs and forearms from the barbs on the brambles!
After breakfast I packed the camera gear into the car and headed over to Fairburn Ings and spend the morning with the Spoonbills. It has been just over a fortnight since my last visit so was looking forward to seeing what has happened whilst I have been away. It was just after 9.00am as I parked the car in the car park and headed over to the visitors centre. The morning sun had broken through the lingering early morning mist and the cars temperature gauge was now showing 20C, phew. After a quick coffee and a catch up with the wardens I headed through the gate and followed the parched path through the 'Pick up fields' to the view point. 
I set up the tripod and clamped the 500m lens securely before attaching the camera. It looked as though both adult birds were still on the nest, though one of the birds was busily housekeeping whilst the other stood guard over three possibly four tiny chicks whose little heads could be seen as they occasionally poked their heads into the air hoping for some food from their parents. The chicks were probably born around the time of my last visit which makes them about two weeks old, they looked about the size of a Herring Gull though depending on when they hatched some will be bigger than others. As a result of the surrounding foliage and tree branches around the nest it is quite difficult to get a clear view of them at this stage in their development but I am sure that as they continue to grow we will be able to get a better picture of them.
To the left of the nest and higher up in the tree canopy three Little Egrets were busily stood jabbering to each other over the strange looking chicks in the nest below, needless to say the adult Spoonbills kept them well away of their youngsters.
Several Heron's flew into the trees during the morning bringing food for their own chicks nestling on the same tree line as the Spoonbills, their chicks being a little more vocal than the younger Spoonbills. Over to the left in the dead tree several Cormorants were patiently standing drying and preening their wings in the warm morning air. Several Cormorant chicks looked to be in the nests on the tree.  
It had been relatively quiet on the Spoonbill nest during the morning, one of the adult birds had flown off towards the 'Pick up Hide' at around 11.00am whilst the other adult was sleeping on the edge of the nest with the youngsters. As the morning progressed I was about to start to dismantle the camera gear at 11.30am when the other bird returned to the nest with food. Whilst this bird promptly fed the chicks the sleeping adult bird flew off the nest and perched on a dead tree on the water's edge. There was quite a commotion as the youngsters jostled for their share of the food. Within twenty minutes the contented chicks were sleeping and both adult bird continued with the housekeeping around the nest.
Brunch time approached and as I headed back to the visitors centre the air temperature had gone up to 27C. It was going to be a warm afternoon. 
 
 
Thursday 7th June 2018
 
Today was my last opportunity I had to visit the reserve at Fairburn Ings before Jen and I head off to Sorrento at the weekend.
I had been up bright and early with Meg & Gracie and although it was a bit of a dull morning, a little breezy it was dry and really quite pleasant, I was feeling quite pleased with myself as I spotted my first Marsh Orchid of the year on the Barff this morning. 
After breakfast I packed the camera gear and headed off to the reserve arriving for 9.00am. The temperature had risen to 11C but it was still a bit dull and overcast as I headed off to the visitors centre for a coffee. 
By the time I had got settled in at the 'Pick up hide' the sun was trying to break through the low cloud. As I was setting up the camera gear I could hear a Cuckoo calling over to my left from round the back of the 'Coal tips trail'. I had seen one or two pictures of them from Fairburn recently so I knew they were about but this is the first one I have heard this year.
The feeders to the right of the hide were empty so consequently there was very little bird life close at hand. Over on the lake in front of the hide was a pair of Mute Swans busily preening, several Tufted ducks and a Coot with her chicks. A Little Egret flew in and promptly started feeding in the shallows of the water's edge. Over to the left of the hide amongst the reeds was a family of Widgen and at least ten tiny chicks no more than a couple of days old. It was nice to see several Sand martins nesting in the specially made wall to the right of the hide. 
After an hour or so I headed back towards the visitors centre and followed the new trail to the new Spoonbill viewing area. It is a steady ten minute rough walk over uneven ground across the fields, the reserve staff have done a good job in cutting a clear well defined path to the view point. This is the second year the Spoonbills have settled here at the Fairburn reserve so it is quite encouraging that this pair has decided to settle and hopefully start a family. There is only about 12 pair of Spoonbills nesting in the UK at the moment so they are extremely rare and we are quite fortunate that they have decided to nest here on the reserve.
The Viewpoint is a good 500 metres, probably more away from the nest site which looks quite distant to the naked eye, you certainly need a good pair of binoculars and long lens to get a reasonable idea of what is happening in the nest and surrounding area. There are at least three to four good vantage points to get a clear view. The actual view point is the hawthorn hedge which acts as a field boundary and it serves its purpose well, as well as providing some shade from the morning sun for the unassuming visitor. I couldn't tell if the parent birds were incubating any eggs, though from watching their behaviour I seem to think they probably where.
The female usually lays a clutch of three four white oval shaped eggs and both parents will take it in turns to incubate them. The nest, although some way away from the view point, is predominantly made up of sticks and twigs and the proud parent spend many hours positioning and weaving the sticks into place to form a suitable nest, very similar to that of an Ospreys nest.  It looks to be positioned about twenty foot up in the canopy of trees situated on the edge of the lake, which also houses Heron & Little Egret nests so it is quite a busy and noisy spot, with lots of comings and goings,  although it looks well protected from the prevailing westerly winds. 
From laying the eggs the youngsters will hopefully stay in the nest for about a month before fledging so I must make a note to return again after our holiday.
After a very pleasant couple of hours at the viewpoint I headed back to the visitors centre for coffee before the journey home. I had had a great morning on the reserve and was getting quite excited about what will happen at the nest site whilst I am away.
 
 
Friday 1st June 2018
 
I managed to get up and on the Barff with Meg & Gracie for 5.30am this morning. It was another grey and cloudy morning, very humid and 16C, just shirt sleeves and shorts for me this morning for a change, though I might have to think again about the shorts especially now that the nettles and ferns are nearly the same height as me!
It was nice to hear the Chiffchaff and Dunnocks singing their heads off this morning, I was trying to keep an eye out for the Marsh and Bee Orchids that should be beginning to show about now, though the Bee Orchids are probably another couple of weeks away which will make them harder to spot when they come through as this humid weather is making the grass grow faster than normal and the Bee Orchids tend to only be at about 4inches tall.
Further round the Barff I could hear the Garden Warblers and several Wrens making quite a noise in amongst the bramble bushes. I even managed to see a pair of Goldfinches this morning near to some Holly bushes, I always struggle to see these finches especially away from the feeding stations. I am disappointed I haven't seen the Buzzard for about a fortnight or so, I usually see and watch a pair as they circle above the top of the Barff, always being harassed by the crows, I thought at first they may actually be nesting but as the days go on I am not sure sure. It will be an interesting few days to see if they reappear.
Back home and after breakfast I had a free morning so headed over to the reserve at Fairburn Ings for the morning. I arrived in the car park at the visitors centre just before 9.00am. The temperature had risen to a barmy 16C and it was still quite humid for this time of the day. After a quick coffee and natter with the wardens I headed over to the 'Pick up hide'. I was the first one there this morning, I'll rephrase that, there was nobody there when I arrived just after 9.00am, set the camera gear up and had a good look around the usual sights. All the bird feeders were empty and stayed like that for the duration of my time at the hide. Looking out the front of the hide over the lake, the first thing I noticed was the five male mallards asleep on top of the Sand Martin wall and two mute swans also asleep, standing up, in the shallow waters of the lake. A little Egret flew in and landed in front of the two sleeping swans, it disturbed one of them as it landed on the water and after a couple of seconds of wing flapping the swans moved the Little Egret to another part of the lake. I was quite surprised how much bigger the mute swans where compared to the Little Egret, they certainly dwarfed the poor Little Egret.
I counted at least three pairs of Tufted Ducks on the lake, they looked lovely with their distinctive black and white markings especially on the male birds and that characteristic tuft on the back of their head. 
After about an hour a Grey Heron circled above before coming in to land on the left hand side of the lake. 
With the bird feeders to the right of the hide still empty I put some food of my own out for the small finches etc, I  always carry a sealed bag of bird food in my camera bag just in case. Within a matter of minutes the Great Tits were in and helping themselves, closely followed by the Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Greenfinch. The area soon cleared though when a huge Jackdaw tried to chance his arm at some of the food I had placed on a fence post. A Collared Dove, well a pair actually where having none of it and within seconds landed on the same post that the Jackdaw was on and that was the last I saw of the Jackdaw.
It was encouraging to see several Sand Martins coming into the Sand Martin wall, I counted at least four birds flying in and out of different holes during my stay at the hide which was encouraging.
I was surprised as to how quiet it was at the hide this morning only a couple of visitors other than myself there this morning. As lunch time approached I decided to head back to the visitors centre for a coffee but before I jumped into the car I walked over to the 'swan feeding platform' to see if there were any chicks about, I couldn't see any youngsters at all but it was nice to see a pair of Avocets scouring the mudflats for food, let's hope they stay on the reserve. Well that is another very pleasant morning at the reserve.
 
 
Thursday 31st May 2018
 
After an early dog walk and breakfast we had arranged another visit to Newby Hall Gardens this time accompanied by Jennies  daughter in law and two young grandchildren.  It is a pleasant journey from home along the north bound A1 motorway which takes approximately 45 minutes, dependant on the traffic and road works etc. 
It was a lovely sunny and warm morning as we arrived in the car park at  around 11.00am. It is probably thirty years since I last walked round the gardens here at Newby Hall, so it was quite a nostalgic visit for me, I could remember the miniature gauged steam railway that ran alongside the lake and the beautiful view of the terrace looking back to the house.
From the ticket office we headed towards the children's adventure park to give the children the chance to burn off some of their endless energy.  Although still quite early in the day I was surprised by how many young families were there doing the same as us. There is quite a lot of activities for the youngsters to play on including swings and swing boats, pedalo's, a pirates fort, climbing frames and slides and much more. There was also a very good Teddy bear collection to look at too. After an hour or so in the adventure park we walked over to the garden restaurant for brunch. The weather being sunny and warm we sat outside on the grassed dining area, all very pleasant.
The house was closed today due to filming so we spent the next hour or so walking amongst the different trails around the garden. There are many themed gardens set in the forty acres of so. The double herbaceous borders were full of a wide variety of shrubs and plants which in a few weeks' time will be a mass of colour. It wasn't until we arrived home that we realised that we had only walked around half the garden so it is a good excuse to come back for another visit.  
 
 
Wednesday 23rd May 2018
 
I was up early this morning and on the Barff with Meg & Gracie for 5.30am. Although dry, and bright there was a bitterly cold North Easterly wind which made the 10C feel like 5C!
Needless to say we had a good walk and it remained dry for the duration.
After breakfast we decided to head up towards Ripon and visit Newby Hall, it is only a fifty minute journey from home, up the A1 motorway. Unfortunately and unbeknown to us the road leading to the Hall was closed due to the council contractors resurfacing the road and although we followed the diversion signs could not reach Newby Hall. I even resorted to the atlas but to no avail, I am sure the owners of Newby Hall would have wondered where all their customers had been today.
So rather than waste the day we headed over to Harrogate and the gardens at RHS Harlow Carr. By the time we arrived it was getting on for lunch time, so from the visitors centre we headed left past the learning centre admiring the pots of tulips, and down around the lake, picking up the streamside walk. The array of colours be it the planting of new shrubs, the flowering rhododendron was quite amasing, we followed the streamside path to the bath house before returning on the other side of the stream, heading up between the two ponds back to the visitors centre. The beds of Allium looked beautiful, the huge blue/purple flower balls swaying gently on the single stems made quite a picture. All to soon though it was time to head in to Bettys for a quick brunch, before the journey home.
Will have to try again and visit Newby Hall once the contractors have finished all the road maintenance work.    
 
 
Monday 14th May 2018.
 
It was a beautiful morning today, I had been out earlier and walked the dogs for an hour or so and after breakfast once the dogs had gone to sleep I headed over to the reserve at Fairburn Ings. Looking through my past diary entries my last visit to the reserve was on Thursday 22nd March so I was well over due a visit. It was 15C as I parked the car in the car park at just after 9.30am. and made my way to the visitors centre for a coffee and a chat with the wardens. It was a quiet steady walk to the Pick up Hide the first thing I noticed was how green everything had become, all the trees and shrubs were in leaf and the Hawthorn was blossoming nicely. It was 9.45am before I started to set up the camera gear.
Looking over to the Sand martin wall and although the Sand martins hadn't started to nest there yet, three pair of Mallard ducks quite contently sleeping on top of the wall. 
The main lake in front of the hide looked relatively quiet, a pair of Coots with five tiny chicks entered the water about a hundred yards from the hide, the youngsters looked to have been less than forty eight hours old, their coats still a fluffy down. In the centre of the lake were a pair of Canada Geese performing a ritual dance before mating on the water, it looked quite a brutal liaison especially for the female bird who almost drowned. 
It was nice to see a pair of Tufted Ducks on the water, their lovely shrill call piercing the stillness of the morning air. 
There was a strange atmosphere around the hide this morning, it was very quiet with all but a couple of members of public who popped in for a brief visit. The bird feeders to the right of the hide were empty and hadn't been filled whilst I was there. Several Dunnock were close by, I could hear them singing quite clearly in the hawthorn bushes around the hide. A pair of Wood Pigeons flew in for a few minutes but left when they realised there was no food, closely followed by a Jackdaw. Several Chaffinch kept me company though, the male birds posing with a mouthful of flies which I presume they were taking back to the nest.
After about an hour I decided to call it a day, I left the hide and followed the riverbank trail to the Kingfisher screen, all quiet there other than a couple of Tree Sparrows, from there I walked back to the centre and down to the Swan feeding platform, hoping to see some Mute Swans and their new families, other than several Mallards and their Hybrids it was quiet, I watched several Black Headed Gulls out in the middle of the lake making a lot of noise and other than that that was it. So a little disappointed I dismantled the camera equipment and headed back to the visitors centre for a coffee before the journey home. 
 
 
Saturday 12th May 2018.
 
Having just returned home from a few days in Kent, it was nice to get back on the Barff with Meg & Gracie. We have had some beautiful morning dog walks since our return earlier this week and am pleased to see that the mud has finally dried up on the woodland paths.
Considering the green shoots of the Bluebells first start to sprout through the woodland floor late January time it is not until mid-April that they come into flower, today the Bluebells are probably just past their best but still putting on a good show as we walked around the slopes this morning. The Hawthorne bushes are laden with pretty white blossom especially along the Bypass trail and the Gorse bushes also are in full flower too their yellow florets producing a fine scent as you walk past them. I actually spotted some white Bluebells earlier today and like everything else, once you have seen one you spot hundreds! Unfortunately the Himalayan Balsam is sprouting up all over the place too and if this isn't removed before the seed heads explode in a month or so's time then the problem will be considerably worse next year.
It was nice to hear the Blackcap singing their heads off around the Barff, along with several Thrush and that lovely call of the Willow Warbler. It is amasing what you see and hear if you just take a few minutes to stand still and listen. I saw at least six different male Bullfinch today on various parts of the Barff and it was nice to hear the repetitive call of the Chiffchaff too. The Grey Squirrels never let up and there are very few mornings when I don't see any scuttling up and down the trees. 
Nature is a wonderful thing, as soon as the Bluebells start to die back they become overgrown by the nettles and ferns which are beginning to grow in ernest, the nettles in a couple of weeks will have dwarfed the bluebells and along with the ferns cover the Barff in a sea of green, the Barff will stay like this through Summer months till the Autumn.  It is nice to see the Foxgloves are sprouting up all over the place at the moment too which will add a sparkle of colour to the green landscape.
For now though it is nice to be able to enjoy the Bluebells, huge swathes cover the Eastern slopes, in fact they can be seen in much smaller numbers all over the Barff, but for the best visual impact the Eastern slopes are the best places to see them. On a cool Spring morning with no wind, the air is filled with the sweet scent of these lovely little flowers. Their flowers provide a vital early source of nectar for Bees, Hoverflies and Butterflies.
The Bluebells and ferns are a good indicator of an important ancient woodland and we really should try our best to preserve this woodland from the onslaught of housing developments which are encroaching the area all too quickly. 
 
 
Sunday 29th April 2018.
 
Having visited Thorpe Perrow Arboretum earlier this year I received a note advertising a Bird of Prey Workshop at the Arboretum. I jumped at the opportunity to get close to these big birds. I was familiar with most of them, but as those of you who visit the Arboretum will know, dogs are not allowed in the Bird of Prey Centre which is quite understandable, so when we visit with Meg & Gracie we always give the centre a miss and enjoy the walk amongst some amazing trees and shrubs instead.
 
It is just a one hour's drive from home to the Arboretum which makes it quite local really, and with the session not starting till 11am gave me enough time to walk M & G earlier in the morning, have breakfast and leaving plenty of time for the drive up to Bedale. 
 
I had been fighting a cold bug for the last fortnight, actually since we returned home from Moraira, but was determined to come to this workshop. It was a cold morning and although rain had been forecast for the day, none materialised, just a bitterly cold wind late in the afternoon. I arrived at the visitors centre tea room at about 10am and booked in, met some of the other course participants over a coffee before the course started at 11am. It is a pleasant ten minute walk from the tea room to the Bird of Prey Centre, where we met 'Ollie our falconer and guide for the day. He gave an overview of the day ahead, after our introductions we walked through onto the flying ground and watched one of the other falconers 'Pike' give a flying demonstration with a Bengal Eagle Owl, a White faced Scops Owl, a Boobook Owl and finally, before lunch, 'Ollie' our falconer took a 50 year old Male European Eagle Owl into the neighbouring woodland to enable us to photograph this big bird in more natural surroundings. I was extremely impressed with the wealth of knowledge both falconers imparted with us, it was quite fascinating to learn how these stunning birds survive in the wild and the steps that are being taken by Thorpe Perrow to preserve the longevity of these species.
 
It was another pleasant walk back to the tea room for our brunch; the daffodils were still in flower around the Arboretum and made for some great photo opportunities as we headed back to the café.
After brunch we headed back to the Bird of Prey Centre for the afternoon session. This afternoon was spent out in the field and around the Arboretum as our falconer 'flew three birds, The Harris Hawk looked quite at home as if flew from tree to tree as we walked through the Arboretum, especially when it landed on top of the stone behive sculpture and posed for the cameras. Our second bird of the afternoon was the Ferruginous Buzzard which 'Ollie' or falconer flew in the field behind the flying ground, a beautiful looking bird with a huge wingspan and looked amazing as it flew just a couple of feet above the grass land. By now the weather had started to turn a little and the wind was quite chilly, I was pleased I had a thick winter jacket on. The final bird of the day was a male Saker Falcon, another stunning bird also with a huge wing span, it soared and glided above our heads with such ease, the speed it reached when chasing the lure was incredible. It looked quite proud as it stood and consumed its reward and food. 
I would like to thank Ollie and all the other falconers who assisted with making the day a great success and enabling me to get quite close to the birds. I am look forward to coming to the next session later in the year. 
 
 
Thursday 19th April 2018.
 
An early start this morning I was on the Barff with Meg and Gracie for 6.00am, the sun was shining 14C it was going to be a scorcher today. It was nice to be back on home ground and into our usual morning routine. I picked the dogs up first thing yesterday morning from their kennels so was keen to spend as much time with them as possible and get them use to their familiar surroundings again having been away for the past twelve days. I feel as though I may have brought a cold home with me, there was a group of youngsters sat on the plane behind me, coughing and spluttering and quite occasionally I could feel a blast on the back of my head when they sneezed! Why youngsters these days have no manners or personal hygiene beggers belief!
The previous day had been a warm day too with the temperature in the 20's, you could tell it had been warm as it had dried up most of the mud on the tracks on the Barff. The Bluebells were beginning to flower around the woodland, occasionally the air would fill with the sweet smell of fragrance. After a very pleasant walk we headed home and a 8.00am breakfast. 
With the weather forecast still looking good, after breakfast we decided to pack the car and head off to Castle Howard for the rest of the day with Meg and Gracie. Fortunately we had a good journey and arrived at around 11.00am. On walking through the Stable Courtyard we headed through the archway and made our way towards the house. The meadows were a wash with beautiful golden daffodils, gently swaying in the light breeze, it made for quite a picture.  Our daffodils at home are just beginning to pass their best so I remembered from previous years that the Castle Howard Daffodils are about a fortnight behind ours at home, this is due primarily due to the difference in altitude. After a gentle stroll to the house we continued along the South terrace and headed for the Temple of Four winds, stopping every few minutes to admire the views back towards the house. It was an amazing landscape and never fails to take my breath away. On reaching the Temple we rested for a few minutes before heading back to the house via the shores of the South lake. On reaching the house we decided like everybody else to have our brunch on the west lawn adjacent to the restaurant. Meg and Gracie were quite content to take shelter under the table form the intense midday sun, fortunately I had some water for them and as a treat they enjoyed a milky cup of tea!  After a brief stop for tea and cake we headed back to the car and a steady drive home.  Later that afternoon the temperature rose to 24C the warmest day of the year so far, phew.
 
 
Monday 26th March 2018
 
After a hectic weekend in the garden catching up on jobs that I had started a fortnight ago then delayed by two bouts of snow, I managed to get finished at last. So this morning with a good day ahead of us we headed off to Harrogate and a walk around the gardens at Harlow Carr. It was 10.30am when we arrived, it looks as though they were enlarging the car parks by the amount of civil engineering work being carried out. After collecting a coffee from the coffee shop we headed through the visitors reception to the gardens. The view ahead of us looking over the valley was quite a picture, the heathers where in bloom, daffodils out, the sun was shining and there was a lovely blue sky. We headed off to the left and the Lakeside gardens, from there we followed the path around the QM lake and followed the Streamside walk. This is one of my favourite walks with lovely vistas to the left and right, over the lake and looking back over the lawns to the centre, although the trees are not in leaf yet the colours of the tree trunks are beautiful. Some white, some a ruby colour and silky smooth to touch. Many of the shrubs were blossoming alongside the stream their tiny pinkish flowers looking beautiful in the cold morning sunlight. We continued along the streamside path to the bath house, following the path up the slope, past the children's play area and into the Arboretum, we popped into the bird hide for a few minutes and admired the Great Tits and Coal Tits busily feeding on the feeders before continuing our walk through the big trees, we followed the meandering path for another ten minutes or so before it brought us back to the Bath house. From here we followed the Streamside path, this time on the other side of the stream, this is probably one of my favourite parts of the gardens at this time of year, the path leads up to the Sandstone garden and ponds. There are some great views from here and many people were sat having picnics and enjoying the scenery. We continued our walk back to the centre for a very pleasant brunch in the tea rooms.
 
Thursday 22nd March 2018
 
It was a bright and sunny start to the day this morning. I managed to get out with Meg & Gracie for 6.45am, no overnight frost today just a bitterly cold North Westerly wind. 
After breakfast I loaded the camera gear into the car and headed over to the reserve at RSPB Fairburn Ings for the morning, a couple of weeks have past since my last visit so it would be interesting to see what was about. 
It was just after 9.00am as I drove into the car park, the temperature gauge in the car was showing 4C though with the morning sunshine it felt a little warmer. After a coffee and chat to the staff in the visitors centre I headed over to the 'Pick up hide' for the morning. The reserve was quiet with very few visitors about though visitor numbers tend to pick up from mid-morning so it was still relatively early. There was nobody in the hide when I arrived and set up the gear, and as it happened stayed like that for most of the morning. Within a few minutes I felt the full force of the North Easterly breeze as it blew straight through the hide windows, fortunately I had my big winter jacket on so that protected me from the worse of it. Looking out over the lake were several families of Mallard dotted around the water's edge, a pair of Coots were in the middle of the lake along with four or five juvenile Black headed Gulls. Over on the feeders it was quiet, although all the feeders were empty so I wasn't surprised. I had a small bag of sunflower hearts I keep in my camera bag so I popped out of the hide and supplemented the empty feeders with some of 'my' food, within seconds I had eight Hen Pheasants at my feet along with one male Pheasant, by the time I returned to the hide the food I put on the floor was virtually gone and to crown it all the small pile I put on one of the fence posts was being devoured by a Grey Squirrel!
Within a few minutes I went round and replenished the food again, this time several Chaffinches had arrived and by the time I returned to my camera were busily munching away at it before the bigger birds took over. This burst of activity brought more Finches and TIts to the area, at one point I counted four Robin feeding together with one of them brazen enough to come and sit on the window shelf next to me. It was nice to see both the male and female Reed Buntings about this morning too. The Willow Tit was a frequent visitor and stayed around a lot longer than usual. Coal Tits were popping in and out during the morning too. The Male Greenfinch looked really nice this morning, especially once the sun had reached the hide, their colours looking really crisp and vibrant.
Over the fields to the right of the hide the dead Cormorant tree was a hive of activity. I counted at least six birds sitting on nests, occasionally one would fly overhead taking more twigs and small branches back to replenish their nests. The Herons alongside the Cormorants were busy this morning too, they would circle above the lake before coming in to land, do some fishing before heading back to the Heronry with their catch. 
Back on the feeders and the Long Tailed Tits popped in a couple of times during the morning, I counted five of them at any one time, they seem quite business like though, I usually hear them congregating in the bushes behind me before they come to the fat ball feeder, no sooner have they had a feed then they are off, on mass, they don't hang around like the other members of the Tit family. 
It was fascinating watching the Blue Tits this morning, several of them were showing considerable interest in the Sand Martin wall, whether they are entering the wall in search of food or prospecting for a suitable nest sight only time will tell, no signs of the Sand Martins yet though.
Dunnocks were regular visitors this morning, they are a lovely little bird, very much underrated I think and have the most beautiful song, they were with me all morning either hoovering up the seed of the floor or the fence post. 
Needless to say by late morning the cold wind began to take its toll and although I had some gloves on I was beginning to get cramp in my fingers which, when this starts to happen is time for me to call it a day, so I disconnected all the camera gear, packed in back into my rucksack and headed back to the warmth and comfort of the visitors centre for a coffee.
 
 
Sunday 18th March 2018
 
With just over three inches of rain falling this past fortnight there is no wonder the garden, Brayton Barff and our local golf courses have been struggling to cope with this amount of rain. To compound the issue we woke up this morning to our second significant snow fall of the year, with two to three inches of snow falling during the night.
Yesterday was a strange day, the wind changed to an Easterly the night previous and Saturday was a bitterly cold day with light dustings of snow on and off throughout the morning. The Easterly wind really did take your breath away, so much so that Ihad to get my winter jacket out of the cupboard again.
We were on the Barff for 7.00am this morning, I took the car this morning from home, the main roads were quite bad due to the drifting snow but quite passable, the side roads were more hazardous only because most people were still in bed and hadn't ventured out yet.
I think I have said this before but a covering of snow on the Barff completely transforms the landscape.  The Easterly wind hits you in the face as you walk around the Barff after leaving the car park and even more so since they removed the hedging which adjoined the Barff. Fortunately as we walked further round the woodland offers some protection. On Sunday's we have a longer walk as I follow the bypass trail, cross over the bypass at the Mill Lane Junction and continue our walk on the golf course side of the road up the hill to the pedestrian bridge over the by-pass and continued with our walk around the Barff. On a Sunday morning there is far less traffic on the road so it makes crossing the bypass much easier. As we continued our walk towards the Farm Shop the birds and wildlife were beginning to rouse after their cold night on the woodland. I watched the Tawny Owl fly over again as we neared the service road which leads up to the top of Tap Hill, we followed this road before branching off into the woodland before emerging on the summit of Tap Hill. All was quiet for now, usually the first sight of snow and the keen tobogonists are up here in a flash, waiting their turn to slide down the slope. Unfortunately the views from the top were quite limiting this morning to just a couple of miles. You could clearly see the flour mills on the banks of the river Ouse in Selby and the towers of Selby Abbey but the low cloud prevented you from seeing further.  It was quite a dull morning, the sun was well hidden behind the snow clouds. We continued with our walk following the 'middle track' around the Barff, it was still quite muddy in places with my feet kept sinking through the covering of snow, at this rate it will be several more weeks before we see any significant change underfoot, we need several hard overnight frosts to absorb all the water, unfortunately at the moment no sooner do we have a frost than it rains or as it is this morning - snows, so we are back to square one with the mud again. We passed one or two Grey Squirrels as they awoke from their night's sleep and watched as they went scurrying through the snow to reach their stash of hidden food before racing of up the trees to the security of their dreys to eat it. The Greater Spotted Woodpeckers were already busily drumming away on the tree trunks and branches well above my head, I watched a Buzzard as we neared the open space of the 'old army camp', infact I had heard it above my head a few minutes earlier with its quite distinctive call, then as we approached the clearing I saw it again but this time it was being harassed by a pair of Crows before heading over towards the golf course on the other side of the by-pass. By this time I had been out for well over an hour so we continued our walk back to the car park and home for breakfast. 
 
Wednesday 14th March 2018
 
After a cold overnight frost I had a pleasant, cool 4C, muddy walk first thing this morning with Meg & Gracie. The frost is welcome as it should dry up some of the rain that we have had recently.
It was a spur of the moment decision but after breakfast we decided to head over to Castle Howard and have a walk around the grounds with Meg & Gracie. We arrived about 11.00am and after a quick coffee from the Courtyard café we headed over towards the house. There was a film company filming along the front of the Southern aspect of the house this morning so we headed off to the left across the mown lawns and down towards the North Lake and boat house. The only time we tend to visit the North side of the house and grounds is when we have Jenny's grandchildren with us and they like to play in the playground adjacent to the Boathouse cafe.  There was lots of wildfowl activity on the lake, with Mallard, Greylag Geese and tufted duck about, all being quite vocal and noisy, it was nice to hear. From the lake we headed up the slope admiring the swathes of daffodils before heading into 'Ray Wood. The cold Northerly wind was quite biting as we walked higher up the slope, clumps of Snowdrops were gently swaying in the wind. We continued along the footpath till we reached the eastern end of the wood, the views across the farmland from this elevated position are wonderful. We continued our walk past the plinth of what was the Venus statue before reaching the Temple of the four winds, again stopping to admire the views over to the mausoleum and the Packhorse bridge. From the Temple we headed back along the terrace back to the house and courtyard café for a well-earned rest before the journey home.  
 
 
 
Friday 9th March 2018
 
There had been a bitterly cold overnight frost when I woke this morning, the grass had quite a white frosty sheen on it today.   I was out of the house with M & G just before 7.00am and it made a pleasant change not to have to wear my waterproof jacket for a change. We had a great dog walk albeit somewhat muddy underfoot, we returned home just after 8.00am. It was a lovely morning, the sun was trying to break through and looked like a promising day ahead. Jen was away golfing all day, so after a cup of tea and some breakfast, I headed over to the reserve at Fairburn for a couple of hours. I left the dogs hard fast asleep in the kitchen, with the radio on in the background should they wake up. 
It was just after 9.30am when I arrived in the Visitors Centre, still quite cool though at 4C with a light westerly breeze, the sun was just beginning to come over the tops of the trees on the left. After a chat with the Wardens I took my coffee with me and headed over to the 'Pick up Hide'.  I followed the usual footpath to the hide, looking over to the left a slight mist was rising of the water, the bulrushes around the edges of the pond were glistening with frost as they swayed gently in the light morning breeze.
The hide was empty when I arrived so after deciding where to sit I got the camera gear out of the rucksack, set it all up, securely locked it onto the tripod head before heading round to put some bird seed out, all the feeders were empty less the Squirrel proof fat ball feeder on to which a Grey Squirrel was precariously suspended trying in earnest to reach the fat balls inside. Looking out over the lake were several pairs of Mallard, a small group of three juvenile Black headed Gulls and a pair of Coots. Behind me the Green Woodpecker was making quite a noise, I don't think it was happy about me being in the hide.  Looking back towards the feeders I counted five Grey Squirrels eating the seed which I had put out a few minutes earlier, what they left which wasn't much, the six Hen Pheasants finished off the remainder. I gave them several minutes before I went round and replenished the seed again. This time the young finches had returned by the time I got back to my camera, the male Chaffinch are looking really colourful at the moment, in fact all the male birds are looking colourful. I counted at least four Robins flitting around, one in particular kept flying through the hide window and sitting on the window sill next to my camera! 
Away from the hide the Jacob sheep were still on the far side of the lake, grazing amongst the long grass at the water's edge. Heron and Cormorants were still patiently sat on their nests to the far right of the hide, occasionally they would sit up, flap their wings and have a look around before sitting back down on their nests.
Back on the feeders and the Great Tits were busily feeding on this new supply of seed, several Dunnock were round and about, it was nice to catch a glimpse of the Willow Tit this morning, it popped in to feed three times whilst I was there, it doesn't hang around though, no sooner has it arrived then it had gone again, similarly with the Coal Tits.
A Cock Pheasant came strutting through as did the Rabbit, though after my last visit when the Pheasant gave the Rabbit a good going over the Rabbit kept its distant from the big feisty Cock bird this morning.  The Long Tailed Tits made several visits during the morning, four of them at a time, straight onto the fat balls, they pick up a mouthful of food before returning to the undergrowth to digest it, before returning again. A pair of Wood Pigeons flew in for a snack this morning though the Grey Squirrel was having none of it and thought nothing of scampering up the fence post and nipping the tail feathers of the pigeons causing them to lose balance and fly off.
As the time approached 11.00am a handful of visitors started to visit the hide so shortly after 11.15am I decided to call it a day and return to the Visitors Centre for a coffee before the journey home. It was another lovely morning at the ings.
 
 
Wednesday 7th March 2018
 
I don't know about you but I am getting fed up with all this damp wet weather, our back garden is absolutely sodden at the moment and the Barff is waterlogged too, we need some good Spring frosts to dry up all the surface water.
I have been busy this last twenty four hours in the fish pond, yesterday afternoon I noticed a slight drip from under the UV unit and on further investigation found that the glass tube that the light fits into had fractured, It could have happened as a result of the spell of cold weather we had from last week or it is more lightly that the dogs have crashed into it whilst playing in the garden! Anyway, after doing some adjustments to the pipework I have temporarily bypassed the water flow until I can get a new tube and uv lamp at the weekend.
This morning was a typical cold, damp and wet start to the day which meant another muddy dog walk, Meg and Gracie aren't bothered though they just get on with it, sniffing out new smells, meeting and greeting people and having a good run around  they don't seem to get upset about the weather at all. We were on the Barff just before 7.00am this morning and made our way up the gentle slope towards the pumping station, it was nice to hear the Green Woodpecker again, one of these days I will get a really good view of one, for some reason or other they always seem to avoid me. The Tawny Owl was active too as it flew over our heads heading for the plantation on the other side of the bypass. The Nuthatches numbers seem to increase week on week at the moment, I heard at least five this morning around the woodland. The Grey Squirrels were quite active too this morning, I should think they were busily re assessing their winter supply of food after the cold snap of last week. We had our usual chaperones of Robin and Chaffinch as we continued our walk popping up at every opportunity just in front of us, they all seem to have survived the worst of the winter. After a good walk we headed for home and breakfast. I had nothing planned for the rest of the morning so after breakfast and with the dogs sound asleep I packed the camera gear into the car and headed over to Fairburn Ings for the remainder of the morning. By the time I had picked up a coffee and had a chat with the visitor centre staff it was 10.00am as I was setting up the camera gear at the 'Pick up Hide'. It was still a cold morning, the temperature had risen to a barmy 3C with some sunny spells and only a very light westerly breeze coming through the hide windows. Looking over the lake in front of the hide I noticed six Widgeon sleeping on one of the small 'islands' along with several Moorhen and Mallard. Closer to the hide and around the empty feeders were several Robins, Hen Pheasants and Dunnocks, I popped out of the hide and scattered some bird seed on the fence post and floor and within seconds the Hen Pheasants, Grey Squirrels and a Rabbit had devoured the lot, although the Rabbit got quite a beating from a Cock Pheasant who was having none of it and promptly nipped the Rabbits ears before disappearing under the wire fence and relative safety away from the big birds.
Looking over towards the Heronry were at least five Herons sitting on nests in the tree, a similar number of Cormorants were also sitting on nests on an adjoining tree. I was scanning the far fence posts with my bino's checking to see if the Buzzard was in its usual place when out from the woodland at the far side of the lake popped three 'Jacob' sheep. I hadn't seen them here before so presume the local farmer had brought them in to assist the Highland cattle with grazing the fields adjacent to the lakes.
Back on the feeders, I could hear the Long Tailed Tits congregating in the bushes behind me, I had put another batch of food out hoping the smaller birds would come in first before the Squirrels and Pheasants get to it first and fortunately the Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Dunnocks came in straight away and by the time I had returned to the hide a pair of Chaffinch were busily squabbling over who had the right to eat the food on the fence post first, needless to say a male Reed Bunting duly barged in past the quarrelling Chaffinch and helped itself to the seed. 
Over on the lake a Little Egret had just flown in and landed on the far side, it stayed for about thirty minutes, working its way around the water's edge, even venturing up to the front of the hide, which is quite unusual as they tend to stay well away from the hide. It was interesting watching it as prowled along the water's edge, head down scanning the water and disturbing the mud with its huge feet hoping to disturb the fish underneath, suddenly its head and long beak would shoot into the water returning seconds later with its prey in its mouth.
Returning to the feeders and the Long Tailed Tits finally made an appearance landing on the fat ball feeder, after a couple of minutes they disappeared again to the safety of the undergrowth, fortunately they returned after about thirty minutes for another feed. The Willow Tit made a brief appearance during the morning, they, like the Long Tailed Tits do not mess around, they just fly onto the feeder, pick up the food and return to the deep undergrowth to digest the food before returning some time later. It was nice to see some Coal Tits this morning, their distinctive white patch quite noticeable on the back of their heads as they flit from branch to branch. I don't think in all the years I have been visiting the reserve have I seen as many Robins as I have this year, there are quite often four or five at any one time around the hide, this morning as I was setting up the camera gear, unzipping the camera bag a Robin came and landed on the hide window, certainly within an arm's length of where I was sitting, so the population of little Robins at Fairburn is looking very good this year. With lunch time approaching and a strengthening Westerly wind I decided to call it a day and head back to the centre for a coffee before the journey home. Another very pleasant morning at the Ings.
 
 
Wednesday 28th February 2018
 
After several bitterly cold and frosty mornings over the past few days this morning was no exception other than the 'Beast from the East' had arrived in earnest in North Yorkshire overnight. The air temperature at 6.30am when I arrived on the Barff was -4C and with a wind chill of -5C it felt like -9C. We had about one inch of snow yesterday morning and although the roads were open and quite clear the weather started to deteriorate during the afternoon with more light snow flurries which continued during the evening.
This morning we woke up to a good two inches of overnight snow, the side roads were treacherous although the main roads where passable with care.
Needless to say it was quiet on the Barff when we arrived, the snow made it somewhat lighter than usual for this time of day (although it is light now at 6.30am) it was nice not to have to walk around with your headlamp on.
Meg and Gracie both thoroughly enjoy the snow, it is the first significant snowfall they have seen since they were born two years ago, Meg in particular likes running with her head on the ground, her nose acting as a snow plough until she gets that much snow up her nostrils she has to stop and have a sneeze to clear out her nasal tubes. 
Whilst on the Barff as many of you will note I very rarely walk the main footpath and we spend most of our time off piste, I made an exception today, for part of the walk anyway, The main footpath made for some quite tricky walking in places as the fresh soft snow had fallen on the compacted frozen snow from yesterday, but with care I managed to stay upright and on my feet! 
From the main car park we headed south and round to the old pumping station, the Barff was completely shrouded in a blanket of white snow, it is amazing how it transforms the landscape. As we walked past the pump house we ventured away from the main path and headed over towards the Bypass trail on the left, the snow was falling quite heavily making it quite unpleasant at times especially when the wind blew it under your jacket hood and you could feel the snow start to melt as it trickled down the side of your neck. Not much bird activity this morning, I heard the Greater Spotted Woodpeckers several times as I continued around the Barff, and watched several Grey Squirrels as they busily scratted at the ground to access their winter store of food. From the old farm I headed up the Barff and within a few minutes was standing on the top of Tap Hill, unfortunately such was the weather this morning that the view from the top was pretty poor, you could barely see the car park at the bottom. I was wondering what it was going to be like up here in a few hours' time when the children are here with their sledges, daring to head off down the steep slope. No doubt on my rounds tomorrow morning there will be the usual debris left lying all over the place. We continued our walk off the top of the Barff, following what I call the middle path, of late this part of the walk has been quite muddy, especially the section just past the old Oak tree where the children swing on at every opportunity whilst on the Barff. Today the route was fine, the ground was quite firm underfoot which made quite a change, what was tricky though was the weight of snow on a lot of the young trees and bushes was weighing the branches down a lot more than usual and I was constantly having to duck to avoid getting another face full of snow. As the light improved there was a little more activity amongst our bird population with Chaffinch flitting from tree to tree, the white flashes on their tail feathers being quite distinctive in the gloomy morning light. It was nice to hear the shrill call of the Nuthatch too hoping to attract a mate, I could hear the tiny shrill calls of the Long tailed tits but unfortunately couldn't see them this morning, I love the way these birds all cuddle up with each other whilst roosting on a branch, protecting themselves from the icy easterly winds and snow. Great Tits and Robins seemed to be following me on my walk this morning, the Robins especially, there always seemed to be one in front of me all the time.
As I continued around the Barff I followed the path up to the Yorkshire Water work shop near the summit, following the fencing till I reached the summit of Tap Hill again, this time we followed the perimeter fence around the top, this is a route I only tend to walk in the summer as it gets really muddy, today though the mud had frozen and the covering of snow made a pleasant change to slipping and sliding all over the place. It is only a short ten fifteen minute walk around the top arriving back on the Summit of Tap Hill for a final view looking over Selby below, unfortunately the visibility was still poor so it was just a picture of grey snow laden skies. From the summit it was a steady walk down the hill and back to the car for the short journey home. 
 
 
Tuesday 27th February 2018
 
The morning dog walks have certainly become much colder this past couple of days, with a couple of overnight frosts and morning temperatures hovering about 0C. Yesterday we had some snow flurries during the day but it didn't really amount to much just a light dusting of the white stuff. This morning and the 'Beast from the East' arrived with vengeance, leaving about one inch of snow overnight in its wake. I was out and about with Meg and Gracie for 6.30am and although the temperature was reading 0C the Easterly wind probably reduced it by -5C it was a bitterly cold Easterly wind, I certainly cannot remember one as cold as that for some considerable time, in fact when I returned home from the dog walk my hat was covered in a good layer of snowy frost.
I normally spend Tuesday morning on the golf course, anyway, with all the early morning snow the course unfortunately was closed today. Usually on our golfing day when the weather turns inclement we still meet up for a chat in any case, have pot of tea, a bacon sandwich and a good catch up on what we have been doing this past week, alas today my golfing partner decided that he wasn't going to venture out of his house, a sensible decision.
I now had a free day, so decided as a result of this to head over to the reserve at Fairburn for a walk around the reserve and some photography. It was full winter gear this morning, not very often that I have to get the big winter jacket out but today was one of those days, along with the quilted winter salopettes, especially after I struggled with the cold last week I wanted to be somewhat warmer than I was then.  
It was just after 9.30am when I arrived at the reserve, the roads were a bit tricky with the snow and ice, but quite drivable from the comfort of my 4 x 4. The temperature gauge in the car was still reading 0C and that easterly wind was somewhat nippy to say the least. To make matters worse, when I arrived in the Visitors Centre the coffee machine was out of action, fortunately one of the staff made me an instant coffee, before I set off for the 'hide' , all good stuff. 
The snow on the ground had completely transformed the landscape and the walk to the hide was even more picturesque than it usually is, especially when the sun managed to break through. There was nobody else in the hide when I arrived, and I only saw a handful of visitors during my time there, I think most people had heeded the travel advice and stayed at home.
The main lake looked completely frozen from end to end, with very little sign of any movement or life, albeit several pair of resident Mallard, Coot and Moorhen. The feeding station to the right of the hide was completely empty less the fat ball feeder, I always carry some bird food in my camera bag so after setting up and clamping the camera gear securely popped around the side of the hide to scatter some food around the floor, the branches and fence posts before returning back to the 'comfort' of the hide. The cold Easterly wind meant I had no protection from the ravages of the weather whatsoever as the 'back' of the hide is quite open, fortunately the benches were clear of snow. The 'Pick up Hide' is probably one of the coldest places on the reserve usually because of the prevailing Westerly wind, even then the front of the hide offers some protection. Fortunately it is not every day that we get the Easterly winds and what comes with them.
I made myself as comfortable as possible and with my coffee settled back to enjoy the mornings sights. In no time at all the Grey squirrel had found the seed I left on the fence post and in just one visit cleared the lot! I think I may have to purchase a water canon for my next visit and give it a good blasting! Fortunately I had some more seed in my back so popped round and replenished the seed again. The Hen Pheasants were nearly as greedy as the Squirrels as they hoover up the seed on the woodland floor. Very quickly at least three Robins popped in along with several Dunnock. One of the Robins was quite inquisitive and came and perched on the window shelf of the hide, boldly hopping between my coffee cup, note book and carton of bird seed. 
The Chaffinch were regular visitors and looked absolutely beautiful, the male birds especially. Within thirty minutes of being in the hide the weather took a turn for the worse when it started to snow, reducing the visibility at one stage to about twenty yards, I could barely see the Sand martin wall, this flurry lasted about fifteen minutes and was the first of several that I had to endure during the morning. Great Tits were regular visitors as usual, along with both male and female Reed Bunting, the snow didn't deter them, although they were probably needing the food rather than the snow. I saw at least two Coal Tits this morning along with the beautiful Willow Tit. It wasn't long before I heard the Long Tailed Tits calling behind me and a few minutes later four of them flew onto the fatball feeder. The highlight of the morning though was the Nuthatch, I often see these around the visitors centre and only occasionally here at the hide but today they were quite frequent and stayed around for most of the morning, a lovely sight. 
As much as I am used to seeing the land around me, the onset of winter with the frosty mornings and a layer of snow completely throws my mind set and changes our perceptions of the land, much the same as the change from Summer to Autumn when the trees change from green to golden brown and then as the trees start shutting down the Autumnal golds take over for several months until the frosts nip all the leaves, the frost and snow provides another colour on that landscape.  A wonderful morning at the reserve, despite the cold weather and the snow.
 
 
Friday 23rd February 2018
 
At last we have some respite from the rain waking up to a hard overnight frost today. I was out this morning and on the Barff with Meg & Gracie for 7.00am, the temperature was a cool -2C. I much prefer a cold morning, It was nice also that it is getting somewhat lighter in the mornings and I no longer need the headlamp or fancy illuminated dog collars. Anyway, the Barff looked a picture with the frost on the grasses and shrubs, it wasn't too muddy underfoot either, let's hope we have a few more overnight frosts to dry up all the mud.
After a good walk for an hour or so we headed home for breakfast and a cup of tea. I was up to date with all my household chores and paperwork so after breakfast I loaded the car with the camera gear and extra winter clothing and headed over to the reserve at Fairburn for the morning. It was just after 9.00am as I parked up in the visitor's centre car park and made my way to the centre for a coffee and update. It was still bitterly cold -1C as I unpacked my gear at the hide, the main lake in front of the hide was frozen with very little signs of life other than a pair of Moorhen and a pair of Coot staying well tucked into the reeds on the water's edge. Over in the fields to the right the Highland Cattle were busily munching away on the coarse grasses occasionally causing the Canada Geese which were also grazing in the same field to take to the air, they make quite a bit of noise showing their displeasure at being disturbed, though after they have completed a circuit of the lake they came back into land in the same field but this time well away from the cattle.
The Grey Heron were still quite active overhead, flying to and fro from their Heronry with twigs and small branches for their respective nest sites. Looking over towards the Guillemot trees many of the Guillemots were actually sitting on eggs although from where I was to where they were is probably a mile in distance and looking through binoculars from that distance is not entirely clear. Listening and looking at the predicted weather forecast for next week it looks as though they and a lot of other nesting birds are going to get quite a shock with bitterly cold winds and heavy snowfall forecast from mid-week, we will have to wait and see.
Much closer to the hide the Grey Squirrel was having quite a feast on the remnants of the food in some of the bird feeders. It is quite surprising when you see them up close like this as to how much bigger they are compared to our smaller native Red Squirrels. Where the Grey Squirrels are though you will nearly always find the Pheasant's picking up the food scraps on the woodland floor.
The cold was beginning to bite me quite early this morning which was a little worrying, fortunately there was only a very light North Westerly breeze so at least I had some protection from the wind and of course it was dry.
It was good to see lots of male and female Reed Bunting this morning, several Dunnock were flitting about as usual, they again preferring the floor to eat from as opposed to the feeders. I counted at least three Robins at any one time which was nice to see, they feed anywhere really, some on the feeders or fence posts, others quite content scouring the woodland floor under the feeders. I could hear the Long Tailed Tits for quite a while before they came in to feed, they always prefer to visit the feeders in numbers, especially the fat ball feeder, although if really hungry they will eat seed too but the Fairburn birds do seem to prefer the fat balls as their main food source.
Just as quick as the Long Tailed Tits were the Willow Tits, at least one kept popping in for food what seemed like every twenty minutes or so, it would choose its feeder, collect its food and disappear back into the bushes before returning for some more food, it didn't hang around for long though, it really seems to prefer the protection of the dense undergrowth which gives it much needed protection from its much bigger predators. 
I was pleased to get a couple of glimpses of the Nuthatch this morning, they are often seen around the Visitors Centre so coming over to the 'Pick up Hide' this morning was quite a treat for me.
The Greenfinch were quite regular visitors to the hide this morning, the male birds especially are looking quite colourful and vibrant at the moment.
As the time was approaching 11.00am the cold was beginning to bite me with some vengence, my feet felt it first then within a couple of hours my lower legs were beginning to get quite cold and numb, so at that I decided to call it a day, disconnect the camera equipment and head back to the warmth and comfort of the Visitors Centre.
 
 
Wednesday 21st February 2018
 
It has been a really wet and rainy couple of days so far this week. Our front lawn is absolutely saturated at the moment and there just seems no let-up in the rain, which I find quite depressing, I much prefer a nice sunny day, but as we are still in the winter months I shouldn't complain.
After the morning dog walk and breakfast I packed the car and we all headed over to have a walk around the 'Snowdrop trail' at Burton Agnes Hall in East Yorkshire. It was five years ago since we last visited so I was looking forward to a walk around the grounds with Meg and Gracie. The Hall is about one hour's drive from home so not too far really and there is a café after the walk which makes it even more pleasant. 
It was a wet drive over from home with several heavy rain showers on route but as I drove in to the 'new car park' the rain clouds lifted. After a look at the plants in the courtyard and visitors centre we headed over to the hall. The main house was looking good in the morning sunlight, the gardeners and volunteers were busy pruning and tidying up the borders. 
We followed the 'Snowdrop Trail' around the front of the house and into the woods, passing several beautifully carved wooden animal sculptures of squirrels, owls and badgers. The woodland floor is covered in a mass of snowdrops the tiny white bell like flowers fluttering gently in the light breeze. According to ancient folklore the Snowdrop is a symbol of hope when a Snowdrop appeared after an Angel turned the snowflakes into Snowdrop flowers to prove to Adam and Eve that the cold winters do eventually come to an end and Spring is just around the corner. We followed the trail for around twenty minutes or so, stopping to take a break and admire the views. On the way back to the house we had a look around the other parts of the garden around the pond and Summer House before returning to the Courtyard. I had just managed to put the dogs back into the car when the heavens opened and it pelted down with rain, oh how pleased I was, firstly that I had two dry dogs in the back of the car and secondly I knew that Jenny was in the dry of the coffee shop, had all three been in the woods when it started to rain it would have been a different story. As it turned out though we had a very pleasant morning's stroll amongst the Snowdrops and a very enjoyable brunch in a bustling little café before our journey home. 
 
 
 
Friday 16th February 2017
 
It was a cold overnight frost that greeted us first thing this morning, I love mornings like this, the air is crisp and dry, there is a slight mist rising off the fields and nearly always a bonny sunrise and today was no different. It was nice to hear several Greater Spotted Woodpeckers drumming away high up on the tree trunks on the dog walk first thing this morning, a good sign that Spring is just around the corner.
I cannot believe it was three weeks ago since I last visited the reserve at Fairburn Ings, so much for trying to get there two to three times a week! It was 9.30am when I parked up in the car park at the visitors' centre. Winter clothing on this morning, the air temperature was only 2C with only a very light westerly wind. I made my way to the Visitors centre for a coffee and chat with the wardens before heading off to the 'Pick up hide'. It was nice to see the Snowdrops in full flower gently swaying in the morning breeze along the hedge bottoms as I made my way to the hide, it looks as though it will only be a couple of weeks before some of the Daffodils will be flowering too, much to early.
There was nobody else in the hide when I arrived and all quiet, looking through the glassless windows there was only a pair of Greylag geese on the water at the far side of the lake, they had created a little pool as the rest of the lake had a thin layer of ice on it. Nearer to the hide the Green Woodpecker was busily squawking away behind me and out of sight, I am determined to catch a glimpse of one this year! Under the feeding station the Grey Squirrel was busily emptying one of the feeders much to the delight of the one male and three female Pheasants who were busily hoovering up the cast offs from the squirrel.
Looking across the field towards the far lake the Cormorant's were busily sprucing up their nests in two of their nesting trees, I spotted several carrying sticks and twigs back to the trees to enhance their existing nests. The Grey Heron were doing much the same, some carrying branches nearly the same size as themselves, I wouldn't like to be on the tree when they arrived back home.
On the feeding station and amongst the bushes close to the hide were several Robins, I counted three in close proximity with each other, Dunnocks were regular visitors, several of them quite content to sit in the branches higher up and sing to their hearts content. The Great Tits were out and about in numbers too, the males especially looking particular colourful at the moment. Reed Buntings, male and female were popping in and out during the morning, the females a slightly lighter colour than their darker partners, but both looking good. I heard the Long Tailed Tits congregating in the bushes behind the hide for several minutes before the first one flew in for a feed on the fatballs, these are lovely looking birds. Suddenly the whole area around the feeders went quiet, all the feeding birds flew into the relative security of the undergrowth as a young Magpie flew onto one of the fence posts in front of the hide window, completely oblivious to me being only ten feet away, the bird fed for several minutes before flying off. I often see Magpies flying over and around the hide and across the lake but this was the first time I have seen one land in such close proximity to me. Normal business quickly resumed once the Magpie flew off, including visits from the Coal Tit and Willow Tit. As lunchtime approached I decided to call it a day and packed the gear away and headed back to the Visitors Centre for another coffee and the journey home. Another lovely day at the ings.    
 
 
Thursday 15th February 2018.
 
What a week, I think we have seen all the seasons this past few days what with some heavy overnight frosts, followed by long periods of rain, sunny periods, hailstones and finally sleet and snow showers. I have been fortunate to be out and about with Meg & Gracie reasonably early in the morning when most people are still in bed, or at least just rising from a night's slumber and can report that we have had some superb sunrises, starting at about 7.00am and lasting for no more than five minutes, they certainly brighten up the cold mornings albeit for just a few minutes. The cold frosty mornings have been somewhat of a relief for me in that the usual muddy footpaths which I follow on the Barff have become quite firm and certainly not so muddy and the dogs stay much cleaner for longer! I have heard many Greater Spotted Woodpeckers during the morning dog walk this week, all preparing for the onset of Spring. On the summit of the Barff amongst the two sycamore trees I have listened to a lone Dunnock singing its head off, it has a beautiful hymn sheet and appeared quite oblivious to my presence as I stood and watched it for several minutes each morning for the past three days.
We have had family and grandchildren stopping with us this half term week which has been lovely so was pleased this morning when they asked to go out to Harrogate and the gardens at Harlow Carr rather than another shopping spree in York. 
After the fifty minute car journey we arrived at the gardens, needless to say I think all other families had the same idea as us, I have never seen the car park as full for a long while. The gardens were looking stunning as ever, the bank of heathers adjacent to the reception area provided a colourful backdrop. The temperature when we arrived was just 3C but with the prevailing westerly wind sempt a couple of degrees cooler, it was a bitterly cold morning although when the sun managed to break out from the ominous looking dark clouds it provided a little warmth for just short periods during our visit. We did our usual streamside walk around the lake, following the stream stopping at the children's play areas for several minutes before moving on past the bird hide and dropping down to the old bath house and back to the visitors centre and brunch in Bettys. Fortunately whilst enjoying our lunch inside, the weather outside deteriorated quite significantly and we had quite a heavy hail storm quickly followed by a sleet storm, oh how pleased I was to be in the warmth and comfort of the restaurant! 
 
 
Monday 5th February 2018
 
After a pretty wet and miserable weekend, Saturday it rained nearly all day and Sunday was cold with sleet showers on and off all day, I was pleased to get out of the house for a breath of fresh air so to speak. I had been out with Meg and Gracie earlier in the morning for a wet and muddy walk on Brayton Barff so after breakfast I packed the car and we all headed up to Bedale for a walk around the Arboretum at Thorpe Perrow. 
It is a steady fifty minute drive from home, up the A1 motorway to Leeming Bar service station where we took the turn signposted to Bedale.
It was approximately eleven o'clock as we parked the car in the car park at the entrance to the centre. M & G were quite excited in the back of the car so after putting the winter jacket on I took them for a quick walk on their long leads just to burn up some of their surplus energy before we went into the Arboretum itself. 
It was a cold morning, with patchy drizzle and sleet and a horrible dull grey sky. We checked in at the Tearoom and headed off over the little stream that runs through the Arboretum, turned right and followed the 'Snowdrop Trail' towards the 'Bird of Prey Centre'. 
They have some twenty five different varieties of Snowdrop planted amongst the trees, most of them are in flower at the moment, forming huge swathes amongst the woodland floor and making quite a picture, especially on a dull and overcast day like today.
We continued walking alongside the lake, passing 'Henry's Island and Kate's Island on the right, stopping every few minutes to admire the Snowdrops and the views across the lake. After reaching the Bird of Prey Centre we followed the path through the trees to the Holly Grove, along Birch Avenue to the Jubilee Oak. This was only our third visit to the Arboretum and on our previous visits we tended to stay around the lake area, so today from the Jubilee Oak we followed the Millennium walk to the Catherine Parr Oak. Keeping the fence line on our right we headed for the Bothy, after a brief look around we continued our walk along 'Jenny's walk turning right on the 'Main Avenue' to have a look at the monument. From the monument it is just a short walk back to the stream and tearoom. We put M & G into the car so they could have a snooze, whilst we headed back to enjoy the hospitality of the Tearoom.
 
 
Thursday 25th January 2018
 
There was a cold westerly wind this morning as I headed off to the Fairburn Ings reserve. The car temperature gauge was reading 5C but with the cold wind it certainly felt as though it was much colder than that. 
 
There were only a handful of cars in the car park when I arrived just after 9.30am. It was a lovely morning though and a bright blue sky with what looked like the sun trying to break through the early mist. I popped into the visitors centre for a coffee and a chat with the wardens before heading off to the 'Pick up' hide. I looked to have been the first one there this morning, the lake was looking quite dull and grey as the sun hasn't yet risen above the coal tips mound. On the water were several pairs of Mallard and Coots and a short time later three noisy juvenile Black Headed Gulls. 
 
Over in the field to the right of the hide the farmer looks to have let his Highland Cattle out, they were all grazing quite happily, the early sunlight picking them out nicely as they made their way across the field, their golden brown and white coats looking quite bright and vibrant in the morning sunlight.
Under the feeding station was a pair of female pheasants a Moorhen and a Coot all busily hoovering up the seed from a Grey Squirrel trying to empty the feeder. 
There were several Dunnock (pictured left) about singing away merrily along with Robin and Greenfinches. A pair of female Reed Buntings where regular visitors too, they have much fainter makings and colourations than the male birds who are much darker. 
I could hear a small flock of Long Tailed Tits in the bushes behind me but it would be another fifteen minutes before they came to the feeders.  
The Willow Tit was also a frequent visitor this morning a lovely sleek looking bird with a nice black forehead, they, like the Long Tailed Tits don't stay for long though, just get the food and disappear out of sight to eat it before returning for some more. 
Male and female Chaffinch's were regular visitors, I love the way they hover next to the feeder or fence post before landing.
The highlight of the morning though was a five second glimpse of a stoat/weasel, it literally popped its head out from under the fence in front of me and ran under the hide. I had no time at all to take a photograph and as the Stoat and Weasel are so similar in their markings I didn't get a long enough view to determine which it was. It was a bit frustrating as my sighting was somewhat limited due to the fact that about five minutes earlier a dozen or so people from a local birding club came into the hide, sat either side of me and stood behind me, which limited my movement quite considerably, although they didn't see the mammal on the floor were more interested in watching the Willow and Long Tailed Tits. After about ten minutes this group of people moved to another part of the reserve, needless to say that I didn't see it again during this visit. 
A pair of Goldfinch's kept coming to the feeder during the morning, they seem to prefer the Niger Seed rather than the fat balls for food and considering they have such messy dirty nests they looked in really good condition.
The westerly breeze through the hide window was quite relentless during the morning and as it was approaching lunchtime I decided to call it a day and return to the comfort and warmth of the visitors centre, have another coffee before the journey home. 
 
 
Monday 22nd January 2018
 
I had been up early this morning with the dogs for another cold and very muddy dog walk. It was 4C at 7.00am with a cool westerly wind which made it a little unpleasant, the only consolation being that it is beginning to get slightly lighter in the morning. Yesterday had been a terrible day weather wise, with rain, sleet and snow showers all day and this added to the already waterlogged ground made our walk that little bit harder and dirtier, not that the dogs mine either. 
After breakfast we decided to pack the car again and head off to Castle Howard with Meg & Gracie for a walk around the grounds. We had a good journey from home arriving at around 11.o'clock. I was quite taken aback by the amount of snow they had had, though, bearing in mind that we are about 200 feet above sea level and amongst the Howardian hills I suppose it was to be expected. As we walked around the cricket ground with M & G the snow was coming well over the top of my walking boots, so that is a good three inches of snow, the dogs loved it. After our little walk round the cricket square I clipped them both onto their short harnesses and we headed into the courtyard, purchasing a take a take a way coffee before heading towards the house. It was very quiet this morning, not many people about at all. It is amazing how the snow completely transforms the landscape, it looked as though a huge white fluffy white blanket had been placed on the ground, all the small features had disappeared under the snow. We walked past the Southern side of the house, past the time capsule and along the terrace leading to 'Ray Woods'. All signs of the daffodils which we saw on our last visit poking through the grass had disappeared under the snow. The South Lake looked well frozen this morning as we continued along the terrace the depth of snow thinned out considerably and as we approached the gate into the wood it was just a dusting on the ground, small clusters of Snowdrops were poking through the fallen leaves on the woodland floor. As we walked out of the wood at the Temple of Four Winds the view across the Howardian Hills looked stunning. From here we headed down the slope and around the far side of the South Lake, stopping at one of the benches for a rest and to admire the view of the snowy landscape. Past the lake we headed through trees to the Atlas Fountain, although the fountain was not working the water was quite frozen around its base. From the fountain we headed back to the house and the gentle walk back to the courtyard. I took the dogs back to the car to dry them down and give them a drink before heading back into the courtyard for some sandwiches and tea which we brought back to the car to have with Meg & Gracie. Another lovely walk around the grounds and how different it all looked with snow on the ground. Needless to say the dogs slept for the rest of the day, totally exhausted. 
 
 
Friday 19th January 2018.
 
What a week of weather, predominantly rain and more rain, early morning frosts and snow mid-week, phew. The rain and sleet showers on Tuesday continued overnight into Wednesday morning. We woke up on Wednesday to a light dusting of overnight snow which by mid-morning had turned into rain and sleet again making it quite a dull and miserable day. Thursday was another cold, wet and dreary day, compounded by the strengthening strong westerly winds. The amount of rain we have had this week has raised the water level considerably, water has begun to overfill into some of the surrounding fields and the dog walk has become a nightmare due to the amount of mud, I seem to be washing doggie towels on a daily basis at the moment. Today was somewhat brighter, I had a 10.30am appointment in Harrogate and as we approached the town was quite surprised as to how much snow and ice was lying about on the road and pavements. After my meeting in the town we drove over to RHS Harlow Carr for a walk and brunch. As a result of the amount of snow there was only one car park open but that was not a problem. It is always a couple of degrees colder here at Harlow Carr than at home and although the gardens are some five hundred feet above sea level they are the most Northern of all the RHS gardens.
As we walked through the visitor's entrance the extent of the snow was quite clear to see, there must have been two inches of snow on the grassland, all of which fell earlier in the week. We took our usual walk from the centre, over to the library and resource centre and round by the small lake which was partially frozen and joined the streamside walk towards the Bath house. The colours of some of the shrubs and trees highlighted against the snowy background looked quite stunning. The staff had done a great job clearing all the snow from the footpaths but you still had to be careful if you ventured off the main walk ways. Needless to say that no sooner had we arrived that the morning sunshine disappeared behind the clouds and for the next fifteen minutes had to endure a rain and sleet storm. As we approached the Bath house the storm had passed over us and the watery sun started to break through. I doubled back on myself and followed the other side of the stream, up past the rock pools to the visitors centre a good forty five minute walk. After a look around the bookshop and garden centre we headed for 'Betty's' and brunch, the homemade soup was absolutely delicious and just what you needed at the end of a pleasant walk around the gardens.
 
 
Friday 12th January 2018
 
It was a foggy, damp and miserable morning, just 5C. There was no wind and a light drizzle made being outside feel a little unpleasant. After breakfast I had a free morning so decided to brave the weather and pop over to the Fairburn reserve for a couple of hours. It was 9.45am when I arrived in the visitors centre, my biggest disappointment of the day being that the coffee machine was out of order, but I soldiered on and after a chat with the staff I headed over to the 'Pick up hide'. There was no one else in the hide when I arrived so settled down, unpacked the camera gear and got all set up. Scanning the lake in front of the hide everything looked quiet, there were three pair of Mallard scattered around the fringes of the lake and on the far bank a Little Egret was busily searching for its breakfast amongst the shallow water. It stayed like that for most of the morning other that three Black headed Gulls flying in and shifting the Little Egret.
Over to the right of the hide and on the feeding station Great Tits and Blue Tits appeared to have a steady relay between them, take the food from the feeders, fly into the bushes to eat it, whilst in the bushes the Great Tits would come in and do the same and so it went on all morning. A Pheasant family was resident under the feeders, waiting for any scraps of food to drop onto the floor. A female Reed Bunting kept flying in for food, the same one as last week, no sign of a male yet. Robins were quite vocal, I counted four of them at one time, they seem to becoming quite tame I suppose with visitors putting bird food in the palm of their hands the little Robins have got wise to this free meal and having selfies with the owner's hand! Several Dunnock were regular visitors during my stay at the hide, they have a lovely song and seem quite content singing their little hats off between feeding spells. Along with the Dunnock were the Greenfinch, the male birds looking really good at the moment, beautiful green/yellow feathers looking quite vibrant in the dull mornings light. The Willow Tits were a regular visitors too, they do not hang around though, they fly into and onto the feeders get a mouthful of seed and fly off to a secure tree to digest it. It is good to see several Coal Tit this morning, similar markings to the Willow Tit but the distinctive white patch on the back of their neck tells them apart. By mid-morning I could hear the Long Tailed Tits behind the hide with their distinctive high pitched call, a few moments later six of them flew in onto one of the seed feeders, they have beautiful pinkish/purple coloured markings, a short stubby facial features and the distinctive long tail. Within fifteen seconds they had had their fill and were off. I didn't see them again till just before lunch.
The Grey Squirrels were somewhat of problem this morning domineering the feeders, at least the mess they make is quickly cleared up by the Pheasants who seem to be quite settled patiently waiting under the feeders for all the spoils cast out by the Grey Squirrels.
As brunch time approached and before my finger ends went completely numb I decided to call it a day and head back to the Visitors centre for a bite to eat. I wonder if they will have managed to repair the coffee machine?
 
 
Thursday 11th January 2018
 
It was a cold and overcast morning today, a grey damp sky with the sun trying to break through. Earlier in the week I had pencilled in my diary 'visit Castle Howard' our first visit of 2018. I had been out earlier with M & G, had breakfast, got showered and changed, packed the car and left home around 10.15am. It was 11.00am when I parked the car in the car park in the grounds of Castle Howard. As is always it was a couple of degrees colder here than at home and was pleased I had one of my winter jackets in the car. I took the girls M & G for a walk through the woods next to the cricket square to let them have a good run before I clipped them on to their short leads and headed into the Courtyard and ticket office before our walk around the estate. It was pleasantly quiet really, there was a few cars in the car park although walking round there wasn't many people about at all.
The house was looking splendid as always, I imagine the staff would have been busy inside cleaning and preparing the house for the start of the season in a few months' time. We walked past the southern aspect of the house, admiring all the geese, there must have been several hundred of them standing on the bank of the South lake as we passed on our way up to 'Ray Woods'. We stopped and had a breather at the top of the hill before going through the gate into the woods. It was nice to see the daffodils poking their heads through the grass, I think some of them will be flowering shortly at this rate. Once through the woods we walked around the Temple of the Winds, stopping to admire the stunning views across the countryside. From the Temple we headed down the slope to the South Lake and walked around the far side off the lake listening to the little Tufted Ducks calling to each other. From the lake we headed back towards the house stopping at the Atlas Fountain to admire the workmanship of this superb fountain albeit drained and empty during the winter months. It is a pleasant five minute walk back to the courtyard where Jenny did some shopping in the farm shop whilst I took the dogs back to the car, dried them down before putting them in, once they settled down I headed back to the courtyard shop and bought some cups of tea and sandwiches to take back to the car and have a picnic with M & G. A lovely morning.
 
Monday 8th January 2018
 
It was a bitterly cold start to the day this morning, the temperature gauge on my car read a cold -5C at 6.15am when I took the dogs out for their morning exercise, the coldest day of the year so far. The weather forecast was good for this morning so after our early morning walk and breakfast I left the dogs at home and headed over to the gardens at RHS Harlow Carr on the outskirts of Harrogate. It is usually a couple of degrees colder over there which I was pleased about as I was hoping the frost would still be on the grass and plants. By the time we arrived it was 10.45am. The sun was just coming over the tree tops and picking out some of the borders as we made our way through the visitors entrance, making quite a picture. The steps down onto the main pathway had been fenced off due to the frost and ice. There was a lovely blue sky for a change, from the centre we headed over to the left past the library and learning centre, the cold temperature was sufficient to freeze the lake albeit with a thin layer of ice. From the Lakeside gardens we continued around the lake and onto the Streamside path, the sunlight shining on the grasses highlighting the golden colours that glistened in the daylight. Out of the sunshine the air was still quite cold and the temperature barely over freezing point, in early January the sun won't reach parts of this trail consequently the frost will stay on the ground all day. We had a pleasant walk following the course of the stream to the Old Bath House where we crossed the stream and headed back towards the centre following the stream again but this time from the other side. The sunlight catching some of the trees was beautiful, the red and white coloured bark standing out from the dark shadows. Heading uphill through the Sandstone rock garden the views looking back towards the Gazebo from the small ponds took your breath away. I had to stop for a few minutes and admire the beauty of the surroundings. The effect of the sunlight, blue sky and a hard frost is quite remarkable forming a lasting memory in my mind.
 
 
Friday 5th January 2018
 
A Happy New Year to one and all. I do not know where the time has gone, Christmas seems to have been and gone in a breath.
I had my first visit of the year to the reserve today. It was bitterly cold morning, the air temperature was just 3C fortunately there was no wind otherwise it would have been quite unpleasant. There was just a handful of cars in the visitors car park when I arrived at 9.30am. I popped in to the visitors centre for a coffee and an update from the wardens before heading off to the 'Pick up hide'.
The hide was empty when I arrived, no sooner had I put my camera bag down and set up the camera clamp than a Robin came and sat on the shelf alongside my camera, as it happens I always carry a couple of small cartons of bird seed in my camera bag, so I got one of these out and opened it up for the Robin to have a morning snack whilst I continued setting up the camera and lens etc. It stayed with me for about five minutes either feeding on its new found source of food or sitting on one of the observation windows.
Over on the lake everything was quiet, the water was flat calm with just a pair of Mute Swans busily preening themselves. There was much more activity on the feeding station though with several Robins hovering around the remnants of the empty feeders hoping for a scrap of food, I counted at least four at any one time which was nice to see. I am pretty certain that lots of our human visitors have started to target the Robins hence their tameness by putting food in their hands and whilst the Robin lands on the food laden hand their partner takes a video or photograph of the whole episode.
A female Reed Bunting kept popping in for food, along with Coal Tits and Dunnock. It was nice to see the Willow Tit which was a regular visitor along with six Long Tailed Tits that flew in on mass several times during the morning. 
A pair of male pheasants was staying close to the feeders, their colours looking quite vibrant in the morning sunlight. By 11.30am the cold was beginning to bite on my finger ends needless to say I had left my gloves at home in one of my dog walking jackets! So I packed the camera kit away before I lost all the feeling in my hands and headed back to the visitors centre for a coffee and home.
 
 
Monday 18th December 2017.
 
Another cold, crisp morning, the temperature was -1C when I left the house at 6.30am to take Meg & Gracie for their morning run. After breakfast I had a free morning so with M & G hard fast asleep, I packed the car with the camera gear, winter jacket and drove over to Fairburn Ings for the morning. It was just after 10am as I parked up in the visitor's car park, the roads were still quite icy in places though the sun was shining and it was beginning to get warmer, the temperature gauge was reading 0C.  I called in to the Visitors Centre for a coffee and a catch up with the wardens and staff before heading to the 'Pick up hide'. The main lake in front of the hide was quite heavily frozen and with just half a dozen Hen Pheasants walking the shore line on the far side of the lake that was the only activity on or near the lake this morning. 
There was nobody else in the hide when I arrived so picked my favourite place and set up the camera gear, within seconds of clamping up my camera a Robin flew across the front of my face and landed on the shelf at the side of me. I had a small box of bird food in my pocket so carefully removed the lid and placed the box alongside where the Robin was standing, he had a nice little treat, and kept popping back and forth during the morning.
I had a good look around the water's edge, checking the fence posts for resting predators but nothing to be seen. The Highland cattle were grazing in the field to the right of the hide but well out of the way. 
There was lots of activity around the feeding station, I don't know why as all the feeders were empty, I popped out of the hide  and put some seed and mealworm mix out for them, needless to say within five minutes I had to go and do the same again.
A pair of Bullfinches where busily feeding on some of the old fruit which was left on the bushes but as soon as they saw the fresh seed they soon came over for a snack. It was a good morning for Robins today, I counted at least three of them at any one time. They were closely followed by the Great Tit and Blue Tits. A male Blackbird spent the morning at the hide, enjoying the seed. A flock of Long Tailed Tits flew in for a couple of minutes literally before they disappeared to another part of the reserve.
A pair of Coal Tits kept popping in for food, their distinctive white patch clearly visible on the back of their head. Everything disappeared when a pair of Grey Squirrels came in for a look, although the feeders were still empty at the time they had a good sniff and spent several minutes searching for a morsel of food, eventually they ran off back into the undergrowth.
By late morning a warden had been to fill up and replenish the feeders and what a difference it made, the Bullfinch controlled the feeders and fence post, they were not happy when a Dunnock tried to share a fence post with them, and soon the Great Tits tried it on with the Bullfinch all to no avail, it wasn't until the Bullfinches headed into the bushes that all the smaller birds other birds could sample the treats for them.
By 11.30am the cold was getting quite uncomfortable so reluctantly I left the solitude of the hide and headed back to the visitors centre for a cup of coffee just to get the circulation going again before the drive home. Another lovely morning down at the Ings.  
 
 
Friday 15th December 2017.
 
Jen and I attended a members evening at Harewood House back in late November to look at the house and State rooms which had been decorated for a Victorian Christmas, prior to the house being opened up to the public the following day.  The house looked absolutely beautiful at the time but as it was obviously dark at the time and lots of other visitors, I wanted to have another look around when it was a little quieter and in daylight.
Earlier in the week I had pencilled in my diary 'return visit to Harewood House'. It was mid-morning when I arrived. It was a cold and overcast morning with wintery rain and sleet showers, it is only a short walk from the car park to the front entrance of the house and I was pleased to get inside. I was greeted at the door by one of the visitor guides and after exchanging pleasantries about the weather I made my way around the state rooms.
I cannot believe what I missed on my first visit, two of the things that struck me most today were the furniture and the stucco work on the ceilings. Much of the furniture was made for the house back in the late 1700's by Thomas Chippendale. In 2018 the House will be celebrating the 300th anniversary of Chippendale's birth by arranging several displays and exhibitions of this great craftsman's work and is something I very much look forward to seeing. The second feature I missed were the ceilings in the State rooms, the workmanship that has gone into producing such fine work is quite remarkable. Robert Adams was the person responsible for the internal design of the house and his team of craftsmen were artists in their own right. One of the rooms that takes your breath away is the Long Gallery, I asked one of the visitor guides about the ceiling work and she was telling me that when the work on the ceiling was finished Adams did not want any paintings displayed on the walls, he wanted the eye to focus on the beautiful ceiling. I must return on another day to have another look.
 
 
Thursday 7th December 2017
 
I had really been looking forward to today for several weeks now, mainly because I was going to have another session photographing Red Squirrels with Simon Phillpotts a professional Wildlife photographer friend from Hawes in North Yorkshire.
I had been monitoring the weather forecast this past week on a daily basis hoping and praying for a nice day. As it happened it turned out to be a very cold, damp and overcast day. In fact the three to four years I have been coming up to Hawes with Simon, I don't think we have had a day without rain or snow.
Needless to say the weather didn't dampen the spirits and the squirrels were on good form. Simon met me in the car park in Hawes at 8.30am and after transferring my two bags of gear, spare winter clothing and tripods into his vehicle we headed off up the dale to our site for the day. The light was very bad unfortunately so I set the camera gear up in the hide and spent the first hour filming from the hide. The light started to improve by mid-morning so after a cup of tea we ventured outside to photo some action pictures. I had always wanted to take some pictures of the squirrels looking into the view finder of my camera, so we set one of my cameras onto a tripod adjacent to a tree stump, squirrels being squirrels are quite naturally inquisitive and after a few minutes, once the squirrels had got used to us, their curiosity got the better of them and they were up the tree stump and clambering all over the camera and long lens. We were standing some ten to fifteen feet away from them at the time, fortunately we managed to get some nice pictures of them with camera number two. Such was their curiosity that at times we had six to seven squirrels around us, clambering up the tripod legs, trying to get into our rucksacks which were on the woodland floor next to us. As well as the squirrels we had regular visitors from male and female pheasants, coal tits, blue and great tits and siskins. 
As the morning progressed the light started to get better and just before lunch we had a good session photographing the squirrels jumping from one branch to another, this is very much a game of chance, waiting, hoping and predicting if the squirrels will actually jump or not. Our patience eventually paid off and I managed to get some nice head first pictures as they came running along the branch straight towards me.
After our lunch break in the hide we spent the afternoon outside in the woodland again filming the squirrels in their natural habitat, unfortunately by around 2pm the cold was beginning to rise up from the wet ground and although I had a substantial pair of waterproof and insulated boots on I was losing the feeling in my toes, so we decided to call it a day. After packing and loading up all the camera gear we left the hide and started the steep ten minute climb up the hillside. No sooner had we managed to get the gear into the car then it started to rain quite heavily. As we drove back down the dale towards Hawes the rain turned to sleet making it a quite unpleasant drive. The temperature gauge in my car was reading -2C at 3pm as I left Simon in Hawes and the journey home. Another great day, let's hope I can get my feet warmed up and the circulation going again. Thanks again to Simon for giving me the opportunity to film these lovely little Red Squirrels.
A little footnote to the session with the squirrels climbing onto my camera, they have extremely sharp claws, by sharp I mean like razor blades, obviously they need these for climbing over the trees etc, so expect some fine scratch damage to the camera body.
 
 
Wednesday 29th November 2017
 
Whilst the ladies of the household went shopping in York, myself and Pedro agreed to have a look around the Castle Museum.
I have been around the museum several times over the years and never tire of looking around, the sad part being that I can quite vividly remember the 1950's living room and the 1980's kitchen, it is quite surreal really and feel quite emotional when I look into the 50's living room.
I suppose one of my favourite parts of the museum is walking down Kirkgate, the reconstructed Victorian street, it is so lifelike what with the subdued lighting, the noises, dogs barking and general street noise you almost feel part of the street scene. I also like how the street changes its character when the lights go out and you feel transported into a Victorian night scene. The re-enactors are really good, listening to them creating a scene is quite realistic. 
The shops are amazing too, several of them including 'Banks' the music shop is still on the go today. The little workshops, the watchmaker and candlestick makers give you a real feel on what life was like in the late 1800's along with the schoolroom, pharmacy and sweet shops. You also get a feel as to the poverty that was rife in the town at that time, there is an alleyway off Kirkgate, called Rowntree Snicket, which shows the squalid conditions of a Victorian York. It includes a working class home which was inspired by Seebohm Rowntree's famous survey of York's poor, which led to his ground-breaking report, Poverty: A Study of Town Life, being published in 1901.
We could have quite easily spent more time there but as we had pre-arranged to meet our lady folk we headed into the centre of town for some brunch.
 
 
Tuesday 28th November 2017
 
I always enjoy a visit to Castle Howard and today was no exception. We had our friends Pedro & Mavis staying with us this week so we all (less M & G) headed over to have a look around the state rooms and see 'Christmas at Castle Howard'.
This year's theme was 'Angels on High' and as such all the state rooms had been decorated with a variety of classic and contemporary themes as well as the usual huge Christmas tree in the Great Hall.
We have been coming to Castle Howard for many years now and always look forward to seeing the house and grounds decorated for Christmas. It seems to get better year on year. Each room looked warm and festive and decorated in keeping with that room. 
The Antique Passage had been cleverly lit this year and looked quite atmospheric looking along its length and highlighting the many statues and busts along its length. All the rooms looked homely with roaring fires burning in the fireplaces, subtle lighting and decorated in keeping with the period. In one of the upstairs rooms is a lovely Gingerbread model of the house measuring some 8ft by 11ft. The model is quite detailed and realistic and for an added touch has a miniature train running around it. It must have taken quite a team to bake and assemble it.
In the Long Gallery was the Pavilion Strings quartet, playing a selection of classical music which sounded wonderful, the acoustics reverberated along the full length of the Gallery and attracted a large audience of appreciated listeners.
From the Long Gallery we made our way down the steps into the Chapel. This is one of my many favourite places in the house, especially since the lighting was enhanced several years ago. The nativity scene set out nicely on the front of the alter steps. There was a Christmas tree on the left with some homemade decorations made by local school children with some lovely hand written messages on. After a look around the visitors shop we headed into the restaurant for a cup of tea and bite to eat. 
A lovely morning looking round a stunning house, I think our guests were well impressed.
 
 
Friday 24th November 2017.
 
I managed a good early start to the day this morning. Outside we had had a hard overnight frost, so hard in fact that it froze the water in our garden bird bath. I had taken Meg & Gracie out in the dark earlier this morning for their walk, the moon shining nicely through the trees on the Barff and by the time we returned home the sun was just breaking through on the skyline.
After breakfast, the dogs had settled and were quite sleepy after their exercise that I left them both asleep in my favourite chair in the sun lounge. I packed the car with my camera gear and drove over to the reserve at Fairburn for the morning. After a chat and coffee in the visitors centre with the wardens I headed to the 'Pick up hide'. It was 9,45am as I was setting up and assembling the gear, I was the only person at the hide this morning though with the temperature still showing 1C I wasn't surprised. Much of the lake in front of the hide was frozen so there was very little activity on the ice or even the fringes. By 10.00am the sun had started to rise above the 'coal tips' to the left of the hide and the frost on the wooden fences was beginning to melt. 
One or two visitors popped into the hide but as the lake was still frozen they didn't hang around for long and soon continued their walk around the reserve. Under the feeding station were four Hen Pheasants scratching for food under the empty feeders, I had a couple of small packets of bird food in my camera bag so scattered some seeds and nuts on the ground until the wardens came and topped up the feeders. Blue Tit, Chaffinch and Great Tits were regular visitors, along with the Dunnock and Robin. A lone Rabbit even popped in until the Pheasant ganged up on it and it headed off towards the Sand martin wall. It was nice to see the Willow Tit popping in for some nourishment, they appeared quite skittish today their behaviour very similar to that of the Long Tailed Tits, by that I mean they come in straight onto the food, take a mouthful and fly off to a place of safety to eat it, they don't hang around at all. It was nice to see a pair of Bullfinches, both the male and female bird were looking in great condition, the male being quite bullish whilst feeding and not letting any of the other smaller finches come anywhere near it, the female bird preferring to stay amongst the undergrowth and feed on the remaining berries. A small flock of Long Tailed Tits flew in for a five minute feed frenzy, they prefer the fat balls, once they have had their fill that was the last I saw of them. A female Reed Bunting spent some time flitting between the bushes and the feeders. 
The cold North Westerly wind was pretty unpleasant this morning and by 11.00am was beginning to bite into me a bit. I persevered for another thirty minutes, during that time I witnessed a battle between three Grey Squirrels who were scrapping over supremacy over control of the bird feeders! 
The winter colours on and around the lake looked quite beautiful this morning, the sun light glistening on the frost on the reed beds and bulrushes as they swayed in the breeze, it made quite a picture and quite a contrast to this time last year when the wardens and staff heavily cut back the reed beds and re contoured the area in front of the hide, what a difference within the twelve months and nice to see how nature has taken control again.  
 
 
Thursday 23rd November 2017. PM.
 
We were very fortunate this year to be able to have a preview of a Victorian Christmas at Harewood House. It was a members evening visit prior to the house being opened to the public for Christmas the following day. We had a horrible thirty minute drive from home especially up the A1 due to the volume of traffic and the road conditions not helped by the heavy rain. That soon changed though as the main front doors opened at 6.00pm we were greeted with a glass of Prosecco and a mince pie. The wood fires were roaring in the rooms and everything looked really Christmassy.  All the rooms on the State floor and Below Stairs had been decorated to reflect a magical Victorian Christmas by the tv set designer Michael Howells. Michael is the set designer for the ITV series 'Victoria' much of which has been filmed in the house.
It was my first visit around the State rooms at Harewood, I had been around the gardens and bird gardens many times but never ventured in to look around the house. I have to say the State rooms looked absolutely beautiful with all the Christmas trimmings, you were made to feel quite at home in the rooms which were well furnished and tastefully decorated in line with a Victorian Christmas, well worth the visit, I hope to return in the next week or so during the day this next time for another look around this beautiful house.
The house grounds and Courtyard are open daily, but please check their website for opening times.  http://harewood.org/visit/
 
 
Thursday 23rd November 2017
 
I had an early start this morning, and was out with Meg & Gracie for 6.30am, it was a cold start to the day with a light touch of overnight frost. It was quite dark but the sky was beginning to break as we walked onto the Barff. My breath was reflecting in my headlamp for a while as we made our way up the hill, Meg & Gracie have just got some new collar lamps which I switched on as we headed into the trees, the blue light from Megs collar is quite bright and blinding when she is close to me to such an extent I cannot see where I am walking and once or twice I got twanged on the side of my face by a stray tree branch as I brushed through the undergrowth. It was nice to hear a pair of Tawny Owls calling to each other on the top of the Barff, their call reverberating through the trees. Unfortunately I disturbed some Wood Pigeons and Crows which sounded as they were not happy as we walked underneath them, making quite an aggressive noise as they flew off before returning to their roosts once we had passed them. The track that I follow is still really muddy at the moment and doesn't seem to be drying out at all, though with all the rain we have been having of late I am not surprised. It was nice to get home for breakfast and a change of clothes. 
After breakfast it was back to work as I continued writing and editing some pictures for a book that I'm putting together on the Gardone Riveara, I cannot believe it was twelve weeks ago since we were there, where has that time gone? As lunch time approached, the sun was shining outside, there was a lovely blue sky and I needed a break from the computer so before lunch decided to take M & G for another walk onto the Barff with the camera. The Autumnal colours have been quite stunning of late and this last couple of weeks have been at their best. Needless to say that by the time we arrived the sun had disappeared behind the cloud and the sky had turned grey! Fortunately after about thirty minutes the sun had burnt off the cloud and we had a really pleasant walk. The Nuthatches were busy calling to each other in several places around the woodland, Chaffinches and Robins appeared  to be everywhere, the chaffinches quite noticeable by the two white flashes on their sides and the Robins because they are quite cheeky and inquisitive and seem to follow me no matter where I am on the Barff. It was good to hear the Dunnocks singing their heads off, I love watching and listening this little bird, I see them mainly at the reserve at Fairburn but it was good to see them here in the mid-morning light. I could hear several Goldcrests today too, needless to say I had difficulty spotting them which is made a little harder as I had the dogs with me. After about ninety minutes we headed for home and lunch. It was a beautiful walk especially in the sunshine and the added bonus of the Autumnal colours. 
 
 
Thursday 16th November 2017
 
Quite unexpectedly I had a free day today so at short notice I put the camera gear in the back of the car, some winter clothing and drove down to Donna Nook on the Lincolnshire coast again to have another session filming the Seals. It is just a week since my last visit, but from reading the wardens updates the number of seals appears to double week on week till mid-December.

It was a wet and miserable 80 mile drive from home, the journey took about one hour and thirty minutes with one road closed on route so I had to make a slight detour. Fortunately the sat nav took care of that. There were a dozen or so cars in the car park when I arrived at just after 10.00am. The rain had stopped but there was a cool north westerly wind, the mobile coffee shop hadn't yet opened so I waited till I finished filming to get a coffee and bacon and sausage sandwich. I followed the track past the warden's hut onto the shore line, there were lots more seals about today than last week and there was plenty last week. Young pups were everywhere, their lovely white fur coats looking completely out of place, many of them just hours old and having a snooze on the sand dunes adjacent to the protective fence. About a hundred yards away a pair of bulls were having quite a set to with each other with one of the bulls sustaining a nasty looking wound to the back of the head, it is surprising how vicious they can be with each other. There were several young pups close by and they risked the possibility of being smothered to death by the fighting adults, fortunately they managed to manoeuvre themselves to relative safety.  It was interesting to note that the number of cow seals that arrived on the beach had nearly doubled within the week and 1,201 pups had been born from 1,390 cows. I noticed lots of Pied Wagtails close by today, feeding on the fresh afterbirth. In the distance there were several flocks of Starling and other sea birds that kept flying around in huge murmurations before coming down to land amongst the long grass and sand dunes.

It was fascinating looking at the older pups, their fur coats now matted by the wet sand and mud, the same with the bulls and cows, the majority contently sleeping or snoozing in the shallow pools of water. The wardens office said that a cow called 'ropeneck' had arrived overnight but looking for it was like looking for a needle in a hay stack not helped though as I had left my binos at home. Within the next week or so many of these young pups will be left to fend for themselves as their mother leaves them after about 18 days. The mother will then mate with one of the bulls and once pregnant head back out to see for another year. The pup she has left on the sand dunes has to survive on its accumulated fat reserves for the next two weeks, during which time its white natal fur is moulted for its first adult coat. Once they gain their adult coat the pups make the long journey to the water's edge and its new life in the sea.

Let's hope I can arrange another return visit in the next few weeks.

 
Monday 13th November 2017
 
It was a cool start to the day as I arrived at the Fairburn Ings reserve, we had had a touch of frost earlier in the morning but at 9.30am as I drove into the car park the temperature had risen to a barmy 4C but the cold north westerly wind took a couple of degrees off that. Winter jacket on, hat and gloves close at hand so I was well wrapped up for a couple of hours at the 'Pick up hide'. 
I popped into the visitors centre for a coffee and an update from the wardens as to what has been going on since last week and then headed over to the 'Pick up hide'. 
 
The cold north westerly wind blew straight through the hide but within a few minutes the sun came out and took some of the cold out of the breeze. With the exception of several pairs of Coots and a handful of Black headed Gulls there didn't appear to be anything else on the main lake in front of the hide, no signs of any waders yet, a Grey Heron flew over the top of the hide but showed no interest in landing and headed of towards Lyn Dyke. Shortly after three mute swans flew over behind the Heron making an awful lot more noise, they to continued their journey towards the other hide.
 
Closer to home though and the 'Pick up hide', there was plenty of activity on and around the feeders. I saw my first male Brambling this morning, it was sat feeding on the fence post in front of the hide, such beautiful colours, it stayed around for several minutes before flying off into the undergrowth where it stayed for the rest of the morning. A male Bullfinch was showing well at the hide today and stayed round and about for the morning. Fellow photographers also in the hide said a Nuthatch had been showing well earlier before I arrived, needless to say by the time I got my camera gear set up it had gone. Another regular visitor this morning was the Willow Tit, they have been quite frequent visitors of late but this morning they stayed around till lunchtime when I left. Other visitors included Dunnock, Great Tits and Blue Tits, Goldfinch and Robin. The male Chaffinch like the Brambling were looking quite vibrant and colourful even the male Greenfinch another regular visitor looked good too. It was good to see the Coal Tit and Tree Sparrow around the hide. As lunch time approached the cold was beginning to bite a bit so it was time to pack up and head back to the centre for a warming cup of coffee before the drive home.
 
 
 
Thursday 9th November 2017
 
It was a dark and early start to the day this morning. I was out with Meg and Gracie at 6.15am for an early morning walk around the woodland of Brayton Barff. It was still quite dark as we walked through and amongst the trees, fortunately the day glow collars on the dogs were shining brightly and I had close control of the both, other than me getting clattered in the face by a stray tree branch a couple of times. By 6.45 the light was breaking through and I could actually see where I was walking. 
I had arranged with fellow photographer Graham Breeze to drive down to Donna Nook to see the seal colony there. There have been seals at Donna Nook since the 70's; this stretch of Lincolnshire Coast is one of four areas along the east coast which has high numbers of Atlantic Grey Seals. The seals start arriving from mid-October and by mid-November the numbers rise significantly from day to day. This year the first seal pup born here was on October 12th and by today 170 pups had been born. Last week there were 199 Bulls and 329 cows on the beach, this week the numbers have risen to 452 bulls, 812 cows and 527 pups, all the pups being born within 24 hours of the cows arriving at the birthing grounds. Last year records show that 1,959 pups were born, so over the next few weeks there will be a significant increase in seal numbers. 
 
It is approximately a ninety minute drive from the Selby area to reach the seal colony; we arrived and parked in the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust car park at Saltfleet around 10.15am. It was a dull and overcast morning and although rain wasn't forecast we had a couple of showers. This was my first visit to Donna Nook, it is only a short walk from the car park to the 'beach' fortunately the whole area has been fenced off with a low picket fence to protect the seals. The viewing area stretched along the coast line for several hundred yards. When a cow comes up to the fence line to give birth the wardens put a rope chicane in place to divert members of the public away from the fence as the adult seals can become quite aggressive and get easily stressed if disturbed so the chicane gives them some privacy and protection from prying eyes.  
 
One of the first things that struck me was the size of the seals, the bull seals in particular are massive and can grow up to three metres in length, the cows a little shorter. The majority of them were sleeping, quite prone, some laid in shallow water pools, others on the grassy sandy dunes, occasionally when a bull encroaches another seal be it a bull or cow there is always some friction between the two namely lots of mouthing and showing teeth and lots of grunting. It was quite fascinating watching the behaviour, I watched a bull coming under threat from a smaller male, as the bigger bull headed for the smaller one  you could feel the ground vibrate as several tons of fat and blubber came thundering down on the ground. 
 
It was interesting chatting to the wardens, they seemed to know each of the seals by name, which pup belonged to which cow, how the numbers compared to last year etc etc. A interesting and fascinating morning, I am already looking forward to visiting again soon to see how the numbers have increased.  
 
Wednesday 8th November 2017
 
I do not know where the time goes, it is a month since we took Meg and Gracie for a walk around the South Lake at Castle Howard, so we were well overdue another visit. 
Looking at the weekly weather forecast over the weekend Wednesday looked like being a nice day. So without further ado we packed the car (with the dogs and camera gear) and headed over to Castle Howard, it was a good run through with no major hold up or delays on the road network, it was about 10.15am as I we walked through the courtyard. I sat with Meg & Gracie for five minutes on one of the benches whilst Jen popped in for a take away coffee, Meg & Gracie were on good form and sat patiently at my feet whilst lots of eastern European visitors took their photographs, they like the attention.
 It was a beautiful morning, a lovely blue sky with the odd white whispy cloud. The car temperature gauge showed 8C when we arrived although the light wind made it feel much colder.
The autumnal colour of the trees looked breath-taking as we walked towards the house along the western terrace, the golden colours glistening beautifully in the morning sunlight. From the house we made our way along the south drive towards the Time Capsule before turning off to walk along the Temple Terrace to the Temple of the Four Winds. The trees along the southern edge of Ray wood looked very autumnal. Over to the right on the South lake were several hundred Canada Geese all enjoying the sunshine, every now and then one would upset the other and there would be such a cacophony of noise that half the flock took to the wing circling the lake before coming in to land again.  
We had a brief rest at the Temple, the views looking across the Howardian hills are wonderful, the mixture of woodland and flat arable land with fields of Angus cattle grazing makes a lovely sight and to the right are great views of the New River Bridge. After a few minutes we headed back towards the house but followed the track down to the Temple Hole lake, past the Shepherd boy statue, up the incline to the South Lake and followed the track around the Southern edge of the lake. The views of the house from here are amasing, fortunately there are lots of benches to sit down on and admire the view. The Trees on the opposite side of the lake in Ray Wood were looking extremely colourful, the midday sun highlighting the autumnal golden red colours. From the south lake we continued past the lake to the southern edge of the lawned garden and Atlas Fountain. The hedging around the lawns looked freshly trimmed and looked and pristine. The reflections of the fountain and house in the Atlas fountain looked quite surreal. We continued our walk from the fountain to the main house. From the house we headed part way down through the Lime trees and into the Walled Garden. All the beautiful summer flowers had finished and been removed by the gardeners, with work ongoing preparing the borders and flower beds for winter.
From the garden we headed back to the Stable Courtyard, picked up some sandwiches and a cup of tea from the courtyard café  and headed back to the car for a picnic. I had brought some doggie bits and pieces from home so that Meg & Gracie could have a picnic with us too.
 
Monday 6th November 2017
 
An early start today, I was actually on the Barff with Meg & Gracie just after 6.30am this morning.
We had our first hard overnight frost of the autumn and there was a strong Haw on the long grasses and leaves that were exposed to the elements. The light was just beginning to break behind Drax power station in the distance. It was bitterly cold at minus 2C which made a refreshing change from the wet and humid mornings of late, a few more hard frosts would nicely dry up all the squelchy mud underfoot along the pathways through the woodland. This autumn the colours on the Barff have been quite stunning, it is a shame that the strong winds that we had last week brought a lot of the leaves down quite prematurely. It was a quiet walk this morning and with the exception of a couple of joggers I never spoke to anyone else whilst on the walk. We arrived home just after 8.00am had breakfast, the dogs settled down for their morning sleep and I spent the morning editing pictures that I had taken several weeks ago whilst photographing Red Squirrels up in Hawes. By lunchtime the sun was shining nicely and although still cold outside the colours of the trees in the garden were looking lovely, so without further ado I picked up the camera and dogs and headed back to the Barff for a lunchtime stroll. The car park area was quite busy with like-minded people.  It was nice to see the Barff in all its glory, the sun was shining nicely, the colours of the trees, the oak leaves turning a brown golden colour, the mountain ash the same and the holly bushes are quite full of red berries too, I noticed the gorse bushes alongside the bypass trail beginning to flower with little yellow florets. It was nice to see and hear the Nuthatches calling amongst the trees this lunchtime, Grey Squirrels sempt to be all over the place, at one stage along the walk I was watching three of them running round and round a tree trunk, up and down then jumping across from one tree to another with complete ease and what appears so little effort. They should be quite comfortable food wise this winter with what seems to be a bumper crop of Acorns. A little further along the 'middle path' a pair of Green Woodpecker were calling to each other near the pump house, I don't normally hear them as far round the Barff as this, they tend to stay around the farm shop area of the woods.  I could hear the tiny screeching call of the Long Tailed Tits hiding somewhere amongst the trees, I love these birds, the pinkish flashes on the sides of their bodies make them look really classy birds. Chaffinch and Robins seem to continuously follow me around the Barff or should I say I follow them, they are always in front of me and the two white flashes either side of the chaffinches tail feathers are quite distinctive as they flit from one tree to another. I stopped for a few minutes near the field with the horses in to listen and watch a Greater Spotted Woodpecker busily chipping into a dead tree stump in its search for food. There is still lots of fungi about with plenty of puffball around the floor amongst the bracken which is dying back now. I joined the main path again near the farm shop and followed it back to the car park, the midday sun shining onto the tree either side of the path provided a beautiful picture of golden browns and yellows and greens. A beautiful colourful walk, I could do with a few more days like this before the frost brings down the remaining leaves of the Autumn. 
 
 
Friday 3rd November 2017
 
After a hectic week and a late night last night it was nice to get out of the house for a few hours. It is a good forty-five minute drive up to RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate from home. The A1 was as busy as ever and I was pleased to be off it as we drove through Wetherby on route for Harrogate. By the time we arrived at Harlow Carr it was 10.45am. The weather was fine and dry, the light breeze was cool but pleasant. I was pleased I had put my winter fleece jacket on as it is always a couple of degrees colder up here than it is at home. The autumnal colours were beautiful although speaking to one of the gardeners he was saying the strong winds took an awful lot of leaves of the trees earlier in the week, despite that, there was still plenty of colour about. From the visitor's centre we headed over towards the QM lake and followed the footpath which follows the line of the stream. The bark on some of the trees looked amasing, bright red in colour and silky smooth to the touch. The banks of Cornus or dogwood looked colourful too, the reds, whites and yellow quite striking in the dull morning light. We continued following the path alongside the stream past the Old Bath house and climbed the path towards the Arboretum, stopping at the bird hide for five minutes to watch the Nuthatches, Bullfinches and Coal Tits feeding, I don't think I have seen as many Coal Tits in one place before. From the hide we had a very pleasant walk through the trees before heading back past the wildflower meadow and apiary to the main gardens and terraces. There is plenty of colour still in the borders and some of the grasses look wonderful. I always like to have a look at the Sandstone Rock garden and ponds, both offer great photo opportunities no matter what time of the year you visit. Needless to say that by the time I arrived at the ponds it was getting on for 1.30pm, so it was a gentle walk back to the visitors centre and into to the café for brunch.
 
Friday 27th October 2017
 
What a week of wet and soggy dog walks around the Barff, some humid walks and some very dark morning walks too, at least when the clocks go back this weekend it should be a little lighter in the morning for the next month or so.
The middle tracks around the woodland which I generally follow are getting really churned up at the moment with all the rain we have been having, I must have been wearing my wellies for the past four weeks continuously now, at least they keep my trouser bottoms somewhat cleaner.
The weather though is proving ideal conditions for fungi to thrive, the pores seem to be shooting up everywhere at the moment, with most of the felled tree stumps having fungi on them and several different types as well. 
It looks to have been a good year for acorns too, several areas around the Barff are covered with the fallen fruit, the old oak tree which has the rope swing on has had a bumper crop and care needs to be taken as you walk past the tree otherwise you will be flat on your face, it is just like walking on a bed of marbles at the moment! at least they should see the squirrels through winter if they can stash them all. 
This past week I have been hearing a different bird call to what my ears normally pick up and after a little patience and stealth by quietly sitting on a tree stump I spotted a Goldcrest, a beautiful tiny bird with a flash of gold on its forehead, I have heard them at several places around the Barff but they seem to prefer the big holly trees. The Green Woodpeckers are busy still and can be heard around the trees and this week especially I have heard the Greater spotted woodpeckers busily pecking away at the rotten tree trunks.
This afternoon the weather brightened considerably so I headed back to the Barff for an afternoon walk with M & G. The sunlight shining through the trees is quite a picture at the moment, the golden yellow autumnal colours of the leaves seem to glisten and glow across the Barff, it certainly is a beautiful place to walk on a lovely sunny afternoon.  
 
 
Friday 20th October 2017
 
I had been looking forward to today for several weeks now, watching the long term and short term weather forecasts hoping that today was going to be a nice day. I was heading up north to film Red Squirrels with Simon Phillpotts a professional photographer based in the Yorkshire Dales. I was meeting him in the market town of Hawes. As it turned out I had a terrible drive up the A1 with driving rain and heavy traffic congestion, fortunately by the time I reached the town of Leyburn I was a good ten minutes behind schedule, it was market day so traffic here was a bit heavier than normal. Finally, by the time I reached Hawes I was a good fifteen minutes late, fortunately I was able to phone ahead and apologies for my lateness. I changed cars in Hawes and Simon's wife took us further up into the Dale before the five minute walk down to the hides. The weather here was still wet, drizzly and overcast but the brightening sky looked quite promising. It was quite wet underfoot but once in the hide it was dry and relatively warm. The light was beginning to improve but at 9.00am as I set up the cameras it was still quite gloomy, I had the ISO sett at 12,000 to get a reasonable picture, fortunately the Canon 1DX mk2 is a fantastic camera and handles such settings without any problem. Within just a couple of minutes of setting up the kit I had red squirrels visitors all around the hide. 
I seem to have been getting quite sentimental this past couple of weeks and cannot believe it was twelve months since I last came up to Hawes, I do not know where the time has gone.
The light began to improve slowly as the morning progressed, bearing in mind that I am in the middle of a forest, on a hillside, with no telephone signal so I wasn't complaining.  I had my Canon 100-400mm lens fitted with a 1.4 converter, clamped onto the window sill of the hide, a flask of warm tea and a pocket full of biscuits, so was a happy little bunny. I had the hide to myself for the day which was really good, I could spread out a bit and change camera positions too. As well as the red squirrels I had a constant stream of visitors, namely Chaffinch, Coal Tits, Great Tits and Male and Female Pheasants. There was a large bird feeder set up in front of the hide to the right, about thirty feet away, probably two to three feet in length, it was full with seed when I arrived and by two o'clock in the afternoon when I left the Coal Tits had emptied the entire feeder, no other bird other than them had got a look in!
What I had really come to photograph today though was the red squirrels, they are such lovely creatures, much smaller than the grey squirrels that I have on my home patch. They are cheeky, inquisitive, nosey and at times quite brave, especially the young kits who on a regular basis plucked up the courage to run straight across the front of the hide, the really brave ones would stop and try and pinch my digestive biscuits which I had out next to my flask. 
At one point I had four reds in front of me and one at the side, I was spoilt for choice.
As lunch time approached and with improving light I was able to reduce the ISO to below 1000 which I was pleased about. The squirrels were active all day, ferreting about for food as they do, often burying their noses well into the undergrowth hoping to find a nut or seed which one of the other squirrels would have placed there, then running off with it and burying it some distance away in what they thought was a safe place, unfortunately though the other squirrels had been watching and pinched the nut and so the sequence went on. They have remarkably sharp teeth, I could hear them gnawing away and watch as they held a Hazel nut between their front paws and manipulated it in such a way to cut a hole into it in order to get the seed from the inside the shell.
Several Pheasants popped by during the morning and I managed to get some nice photographs of them before the squirrels shifted them out of their territory. The squirrels were still coming to visit the hide as I was packing up my gear, still as cheeky and inquisitive as ever.
A great day despite the gloomy weather but this enabled me to get some good pictures. I must not leave it twelve months before my return visit.  Thank you to Simon & Sarah for a great day.
 
 
Friday 13th October 2017
 
It was a cloudy start to the day this morning but the weather forecast looked pretty good, so with Autumn well and truly here we decided to pack the car and head off to the Thorpe Perrow Arboretum in Bedale, North Yorkshire. It was in February earlier when we last visited to look at all the Snowdrops and here we are in October for our second visit, what happened to the summer? It was a mild day although overcast, so it was a light jacket as we made our way to the entrance, the Horse Chestnut trees were in full autumnal colour as we pulled into the driveway and looked quite a picture, Jenny had filled her jacket pocket with conkers by the time we arrived to pay our admission fees! Once through the gates and past the café we walked in a anti clockwise direction around the estate, following the course of the stream. Within five minutes of us leaving the car it started to rain, fortunately the leaf cover on the trees was sufficient to keep us reasonably dry and by the time we reached the Bird of Prey centre the rain had eased up. From the centre we headed off following the course of the stream past 'Henry's Island and onto Kate's island on the main lake. The views from here looking across to the main house look quite stunning and with the rain drops hitting the surface of the lake gave the view a different perspective. Fortunately, by the time we arrived at the Bird of Prey centre the rain had eased off considerably. Unfortunately we couldn't have a look at the big birds as we had Meg and Gracie with us so we continued with our walk and headed for the huge 'Jubilee Oak tree' along Birch Avenue. It was nice to have a sit down under this tree for five minutes, the rain had as good as stopped and the sun started to shine so all was extremely pleasant. With the onset of Halloween there were lots of quirky ghosts and ghouls hanging around amongst the trees which looked very effective and dramatic. We continued with the walk, past the bog garden and pets cemetery arriving back at the café just in time for brunch. A lovely walk in a beautiful part of the country and hope it isn't another eight months before I can return again.   
 
Thursday 12th October 2017
 
I find it hard to believe sometimes as to where time goes, it is a month since my last visit to the reserve at Fairburn Ings so I was long overdue another visit. 
It was a cold start to the day with the temperature just reaching double figures by eight o'clock earlier today, fortunately it was dry with no rain in the forecast.
I was late getting to the reserve this morning and it was just after ten o'clock as I parked the car in the visitor's car park. After a quick coffee in the visitors centre and a catch up with the wardens I headed off along the 'Discovery Trail' to the 'Pick up hide'. Autumn has well and truly arrived with the bushes and trees bordering the footpath turning a lovely bronze and golden colour. By the time I reached the hide two other photographers were busy photographing the finches. There was a cool Westerly wind blowing through the hide window hatches and no matter where you sat there was very little protection, I was wearing my winter fleece but should have brought a hat with me. Looking over onto the lake was a lone Mute Swan and several Coots, I spent a good twenty minutes scouring the water's edge with my bino's hoping to see some waders but not to be today. Over on the feeders were the 'finches' lots of Greenfinch some still feeding their chicks although these youngsters were much bigger than their parent birds, so looking at the size of them this brood should safely get through the onset of the winter months. A Willow Tit and Coal Tit were regular visitors to the hide, though the Coal Tits more frequent that the Willow Tit. Suddenly the relative silence was broken with a lot of wing flapping and squawking in the bushes behind the hide. All three of us turned around and looked up at the Wood Pigeons nest where a Stoat had climbed up the branches and with a bit of Stealth raided the nest and took a juvenile Wood Pigeon from the nest, the parent bird being quite helpless and after the initial attack flew off to the relative safety of the Sand Martin wall, the Stoat with the young Wood Pigeon in its mouth climbed through the branches and into the denser undergrowth to feast on its prey. Phew, needless to say no pictures, my camera was securely fastened to the tripod clamp, my two friends attempted to get the shots but with all the undergrowth and their cameras being set on auto focus as well as the speed of the attack it caught us all by surprise. 
After everything settled down, a pair of Buzzards came over and circled above the hide but too high to attempt any serious photograph, shortly followed by a Sparrowhawk who promptly did a couple of lengths of the field to the right of the hide before heading off towards the visitors centre.
Back on the feeders and the pheasant family spent the morning hoovering up the spent seed from the feeders along with a pair of Robins. Several Long Tailed Tits kept flitting out to the fat ball feeder along with the occasional Dunnock. What will all the excitement of the Stoat incident, the strengthening wind and my desire for another coffee I headed back to the Visitors Centre for a rest.
 
 
Monday 9th October 2017
 
It was a cloudy start to the day this morning but I had pencilled in today for a trip out to Castle Howard with Meg & Gracie. It is always nice here and although we keep them both on the lead they get a good run out in addition to their daily walks around the Barff. It was about eleven o'clock when we arrived, the sun was shining and it turned out to be a lovely day, till late afternoon then it pelted down with rain but we were back home by then, so it didn't really matter. Autumn is well under way, the leaves are turning into the russet gold colours and covering the lawns with a golden coloured blanket. As we walked through the courtyard and through the arch, we headed for the Walled garden. It is always a pleasant stroll through the gardens, the borders are always a picture and today was no exception. From the Walled garden we headed over to the Atlas Fountain, Meg and Gracie would have been in it given the chance but that is just the labs fascination of water. We continued our walk around the southern end of the south lake, the trees on the opposite terrace were just beginning to change colour and looked quite a picture as the sunlight picked out the yellows and reds against the fading green foliage. From the far end of the lake we headed over to the Temple of Four Winds and a short break to admire the views across the Howardian countryside. After five minutes or so we headed back to the house, I counted well over fifty Canada Geese on the Southern Lake, all making quite a noise as we walked past them.  As we reached the house we decided to have brunch outside on the lawn adjacent to the Fitzroy Restaurant, the sun was still shining and the light breeze was quite pleasant after our walk.  Meg and Grace settled by my chair and seemed quite content for another rest as I enjoyed a scone and pot of tea, needless to say I had to share it with them both! A very pleasant walk in lovely surroundings.    
 
Wednesday 13th September 2017
 
Today I headed off for the morning at the Fairburn reserve. I hadn't been for several weeks what with the recent holiday and jobs around the house etc, so was looking forward to the visit. Sadly the weather wasn't on my side today. The forecast had been all over the place and today was no exception, we had a Amber weather warning for strong winds and gales! I arrived at the reserve around 9.30am called into the visitors centre for a catch up with the wardens and a coffee before heading off the 'Pick up hide'.
It was 11C as I settled in at the hide, cloudy with the occasional sunny period which caused all sorts of problems having to constantly tweek the ISO setting on my camera when the sun came out. Within minutes of setting up the camera gear it started to rain, followed by strengthening westerly winds which blew straight through the windowless windows of the hide and into your face. On the lake in front of the hide were several Coots, a Grey Heron was having a productive morning fishing and on the water's edge a Little Egret. The wind being that strong that on several occasions it blew the Heron and Little Egret off balance and they had to do a fly past lap to settle themselves before landing again and resume their feeding.
Over on the feeders the Great Tits and Blue Tits were regular visitors, along with the Tree Sparrows and several Robins. Male and female Pheasants were busily hoovering up under the feeders whilst the Willow Tit kept popping in for a meal. Over in the field to the right of the hide a Kestrel was doing its best to hunt but the wind kept blowing it about too much so it headed off towards the Lin Dyke hide. I watched a small flock of eight Canada Geese fly over in neat formation heading towards the 'Coal Tips Ponds'. A pair of Grey Squirrels were regular visitors to the feeders and several Bank Voles were flitting too and fro in front of the hide. By eleven o'clock it was becoming quite unpleasant with the wind and rain so decided to call it a very short day and head back to the warmth of the visitors centre and another coffee.    
 
 
Wednesday 23rd August - Saturday 2nd September 2017
 
I have just returned home form a wonderful ten day holiday to Lake Garda in Northern Italy. As you know Jenny and I love Italy and have spent many happy holidays in this country. We have visited close by on previous holidays to Lake Como and Verona but never ventured across to Garda. We went with our good friends Pedro Pete and Mavis.
The worst part of any holiday, especially if you are a pet lover is having to leave them at home whilst you go away, in our case we sent both Meg and Gracie away for a 'Spa holiday they have been before and thoroughly enjoyed the break, so that gives us some peace of mind that they will be comfortable and well looked after whilst we are away.
It was an early start the following morning after we had dropped the dogs off, the taxi arrived at 1.45am to take us to Birmingham airport to catch the 6.30am flight to Verona. We had a good flight with magnificent views as we flew over the snow-capped Dolomites. The flight time was only one hour and forty minutes travelling at thirty seven thousand feet, by the time we had had a cup of tea we were landing at Verona. It was only a short forty five minute drive from the airport to our hotel in Gardone. The temperature was a very pleasant 28 degrees as we sat in Winny's bar enjoying a drink overlooking the lake.
The following day was spent chilling, with a walk along the Gardone Riviera, a bit of bunch in one of the lakeside café's and the afternoon around the hotel pool.
The next day was an early 7.30am start for a trip around Lake Garda. From the hotel we headed South to the small town of Salo. In 2004 Salo was hit by an earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale, fortunately other than some minor structural damage to buildings there was no loss of life. We didn't stop and continued south to Sirmone, driving around the lake in an anti-clockwise direction. We headed north for our first coffee break stopping at the pretty small town of Lazise.  The lovely medieval roads are free from traffic and full of shops, cafes and trattorias. From here we continued north along the '249' lakeside road stopping at Malcesine for a coffee and ice cream. The red and ochre coloured buildings being closely grouped around the castle and harbour. After a short break alongside the harbour we continued our journey north to the town of Riva del Garda at the head of the lake. This elegant town is probably one of the largest and best known holiday resorts in the area. We stayed here for brunch and a look around the harbour and shops before boarding the ferry for the trip south to Limone sul Garda. Riva is the water sport centre of the lake with lots of small yachts and wind boards that seemed to follow the ferry out of its harbour. It certainly made a colourful picture as we sailed south with the mountains in the background. The ferry journey to Limone took just under forty five minutes arriving at 4pm. After a quick coffee and walk along the lakeside we continued our journey south, arriving back in Gardone and our hotel for 6pm, the warmest part of the day at 30C. This was a lovely day, if not somewhat tiring due to all the driving , but the trip on the ferry broke the journey up quite nicely.
Saturday, we stayed close to the hotel. After breakfast we headed off on foot to the botanical 'Heller gardens'. The gardens were established back in the late 1800s by the dentist and botanist Arthur Hruska from Innsbruck. He planted over 2000 plants from all parts of the world. The Austrian artist Andre Heller bought the estate in the 1980's and invested heavily in cleaning up the area which had become quite heavily overgrown and brought his own character to the gardens by adding some quirky sculptures and figurines. It was a wonderful place to visit and one I look forward to visiting again on our return. It was back to the hotel for brunch and a relaxing afternoon by the pool. Later that evening we were treated to a massive thunder and lightening storm over the lake and the mountains.
Sunday was a lovely morning, no sign of the heavy rain the night before, 23C at 8.00am as I walked along the lakeside adjacent to the hotel. After breakfast we caught the 'little train' outside the hotel to the gardens at II Vittoriale. Created by Gabriele D'Annunzio who was a prominent, powerful and eloquent Italian poet (1863 1938). We had an excellent English speaking tour guide who showed us around the villa. The gardens were lovely. D'Annunzio was quite an eccentric by the looks of things and the collections of objects and clutter around the rooms reflected him as such. We spent a good four hours looking around and still did not see it all, another visit required I'm afraid. We had a lovely brunch in a restaurant adjacent to the church of San Nicola before catching the 'little train' again for the short journey back to the hotel. As we arrived back the temperature was a barmy 35C.
The following morning we headed off for a tour of the Dolomite mountains. It was another early start, the coach picked us all up outside of our hotel at 7.00am. We stopped at Salo and Sirmone to pick other guests up then headed for the motorway. It was just after 9.15am when we drove into the service station at Trento for a short break. From there we drove over to Lake Karersee for brunch. Known as the most beautiful mountain lake in all of the Alps, and was our first stopping off point as we entered the Southern Tyrol. The small mountain lake is especially famous for its gentle, deep-green water and the gorgeous mountain backdrop of the Rosengarten massif and the Latemar range in the background. The faces of the Rosengarten massif and Latemar range as well as the green of the Karerforst forest are reflected in the crystal clear water of the lake. A great photo opportunity. After an apple strudel and coffee in the nearby café we continued our journey to the Passo Pordoi  a part of the Italian dolomites that links the Sella mountain group of the north to the Marmolada range to the south. We took the road from the village of Canazei further into the mountains, after a climb with 28 hair pin bends meandering up between the peaks, it was good to get out of the coach and stretch the legs.
We caught the Belvedere Cable car to the summit of Passo Pordoi. The views from the summit were quite remarkable, made of fossilized coral the mountains changed colour as the sunshine drifted over them. After a good look around, then coffee and cake we headed back to the cable car for the journey back down the mountain. We left just after 2pm and headed for the small village of Moena arriving at 3.15pm. The lovely chalet style houses set against the mountains looked beautiful. Moena is very much a winter sports centre, with activities such as Mountain bike racing, Country skiing and Ski jumping all based here. After a short coffee stop we headed back to the coach for the journey back to the hotel, arriving 7.30pm quite exhausted. That said, after a quick wash and spruce up and beer before our evening dinner we spent the rest of the evening watching a dramatic thunder and lightning storm over the lake.
Tuesday was a quiet day, all signs of the overnight rain had disappeared and it was a nice bright and sunny morning. Our ladies caught the local bus to the neighbouring village of Salo, Peter and I spent a couple of hours walking along the Gardone Riviera. The afternoon was spent around the hotel pool.
The following day, after listening to feedback from the ladies we caught the local bus to Salo. This is a beautiful lakeside village with a nice promenade and shops, narrow streets, tall buildings and dominated by the Duomo at one end of the village. There are some lovely coffee shops with equally stunning views across the lake. Unfortunately the Duomo was closed from 12.00pm 3.30pm so we never got to look around but we can come back later in the week if time allows. After a very pleasant brunch at a patisserie we caught the bus back to the hotel and spent the remainder of the afternoon by the pool. It had been another lovely warm and sunny day 31C.
Thursday morning I was up reasonably early at 6.30am sat on the balcony of the hotel watching a fantastic sunrise over to the left, the hazy, purple colours reflecting off the lake made quite a picture.  For once the lake was flat calm this morning. After a leisurely breakfast we left the hotel for a short walk along the promenade to catch the small ferry to take us over to the Isle of Garda. We can see this small tree lined island from our hotel window and was quite fascinated as to what was hidden amongst all the trees. It is just a fifteen minute boat ride, berthing up at the far side of the island. We were met by a very pleasant English speaking guide who took us on an interesting and informative walk through the Italian and English gardens and finally a trip around several rooms of the house which is still lived in by the Borghese Cavazza family, before finishing with a glass of wine on the terrace. The boat took us back to the mainland at noon and after having brunch along the promenade we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the sun by the pool. By early evening the weather turned very humid and later that night we had more thunder and lightning storms. The rain continued into the following day. I was awake quite early that morning at 4.15am it was still raining but with the temperature at 21C still really humid. 
As this was to be our last day we decided to visit Salo again in the morning, the rain had eased considerably and felt quite pleasant especially with it being so humid. We left the girls to browse the shops whilst Peter and I had a good look around the Duomo. The cathedral was built in 1453 and is dedicated to 'Our lady of the Annunciation'. There are some magnificent works of art hung on the wall and frescos on the walls and ceilings. We spent a good hour just browsing admiring the architecture, the carvings and the paintings, a lovely place for solitude and prayer. After a coffee and cake at the local patisserie we headed back to the hotel. Early afternoon was spent by the pool in the sunshine but by late afternoon we had some quite heavy rain showers, at that point we headed inside and started to do some pre packing prior to our journey home tomorrow afternoon.
Saturday morning was fine and dry with no signs of the heavy rain from the previous day. After breakfast we had a walk along the promenade and called in to one of our favourite cafes for a coffee and cake. Early afternoon our taxi arrived for the transfer to Verona Airport and the flight back to the UK.
A wonderful relaxing holiday and cannot wait to return and do it all again.
 
 
 
Tuesday 15th August.
 
I had been looking forward to today for several weeks now. Originally I had booked a day out with 'Yorkshire Coast Nature' to photograph diving gannets off the coast at Bempton, but unfortunately due to the weather conditions (a huge swell) that trip was cancelled the night before I was supposed to go. So what with holidays and other commitments I re arranged the day with Steve Race from 'Yorkshire Coast Nature' to have a day filming at the Bird of Prey Centre in Helmsley. Ironically enough I had been the week before with Jenny and the grandchildren, but it is a great place and a wonderful opportunity to watch and photograph birds that you very rarely see on a day to day basis.
 
It was an early start which wasn't too bad and the traffic on the A1 motorway was quite acceptable. The course started at 10.00am, I arrived in good time and managed a quick coffee before the start. I had been watching the weather forecast for today and to cut a long story short it was a bit iffy with heavy rain showers, but as it turned out we had bright sunny periods all day, it was a bit breezy though but at least it stayed dry.
 
As it happened there were only 6 of us on the course including Steve Race the lead photographer from 'Yorkshire Coast Nature'. Steve gave a brief introduction to the course, where we would be working, what to watch for, changing light conditions etc etc. After about thirty minutes of theory we met our falconers for the day, Kate and Ronny. As it happened we were all reasonably experienced wildlife photographers, if we had issues Steve was there to advise which worked really well. We headed over to the flying ground, Ronny brought with her a small box and after placing it down on the floor opened it up and out popped a little Burrowing Owl, quite a character, weighing only 136 grams it was slightly overweight apparently, so they brought it out for some extra exercise. Being such a young bird it had no jesses on its legs.  All the birds on today's workshop were captive birds so with the exception of the Burrowing Owl had jessie's fitted and some of the bigger birds also had a satellite tracker fitted to. After about fifteen to twenty minutes the tiny Owl was returned to its box and taken back to its cage in the centre for a rest. The next bird was a beautiful Brown Wood Owl with quite distinctive facial disks. Completely different to the previous bird the Wood Owl was much larger. It is a medium sized bird standing between 4557 cm in height. Its upperparts are dark brown, with faint white spotting on the shoulders. The underparts are buff with brown streaking. It was very good at posing for the camera. Our next bird was a Yellow Billed Kite, completely different to the Owls. It is quite distinctive with its bright yellow beak and looks quite a sleek bird compared to the previous Owls with a huge wing span between 160cm 180 cm. It looks stunning as it soars around the flying ground.
 
We headed back to the centre for coffee and chat about dealing with the varying light conditions, one minute we had bright sunshine, the next second it was gloomy and cloudy so it was quite tricky adjusting the camera settings for the light at that particular moment. After our coffee we headed back to the flying ground, our next bird was a male African Fish Eagle, 2years old,  a huge bird called Carlton, originating from South Africa, it is a bit smaller than the female bird, but still has a wing span of 2metres, a beautiful soaring bird.
 
Our old favourite the Barn Owl was next, for these pictures we moved deeper into the flying ground over a swathe of long grass, ideal hunting territory for this owl, I switched over to 'al servo' setting on the camera which tracks the moving subject and managed to get a good selection of inflight shots. Finally, before we headed back for lunch Ronny brought down a male Merlin, another beautiful bird. Merlins are small fierce falcons that use surprise attacks to bring down small songbirds and shorebirds. They are powerful strong fliers, and have a much faster wing beat than the larger falcons. The flying ground is typical habitat for these birds and they looked superb as they perch on the tree branches.
 
After lunch and debrief about our mornings work we headed back onto the flying ground with Kate and Ronney our two falconers. The first bird of our afternoon session was a beautiful looking Eagle Owl. This is some powerful bird, smaller than the Golden Eagle but larger than the Snowy Owl. It is sometimes titled the world's largest owl, The Eagle Owl has a wingspan of up to 138200 cm and measures 5873 cm long. Females weigh 1.75-4.2 kg and males weigh 1.5-3.2 kg . In comparison, the common Barn Owl weighs about 500 grams. They tend to feed on small mammals, but can kill prey up to the size of foxes and young deer. They look quite intimidating as they swoop low over the grassland sometimes flying no more than a metre above the ground. Funnily enough last week we popped over to RHS Harlow Carr and they had a falconer giving demonstrations during the day and we watched them fly an Eagle Owl, but first he (the falconer) asked for thirty young children to lay on the floor in a line, he then flew the Eagle Owl over them, so low that the children said they could feel the wind brush past them as the Owl flew over the top of them. It certainly looks quite menacing as it turns and heads for you.
 
Our penultimate bird of the day was the Harris Hawk, a beautiful brown and tan looking bird, The Harris Hawk is one of the most popular birds used in the sport of falconry. It got its name from a famous nineteenth century naturalist called John James Audubon, who named the bird after his friend and fellow naturalist Edward Harris. Although it is called a 'hawk' it is not actually part of the hawk family, but more closely related to the buzzard family. Its scientific name 'parabuteo' means buzzard-like, and 'unicinctus' means 'once girdled', referring to the belt of white feathers on the end of their tail.
 
By mid-afternoon we headed back to the centre for a final briefing and coffee and our final bird of the day the Lanner Falcon, we watched this bird fly earlier in the day during one of the public flying demonstrations.  It is a large falcon, at 4350 cm (1720 in) length with a wingspan of 95105 cm (3741 in). It has slate grey or brown-grey upperparts. The breast is streaked in northern birds, but the lanner has a reddish back to the head. Sexes are similar, but the browner young birds resemble saker falcons even more. A beautiful bird to look at and quite intimidating in the air.
 
The Lanner Falcon was our last bird of the day and after a brief summary were able to thank Steve, Kate and Ronny the falconers for an excellent day of photography and one that I look forward to doing again later on in the year.
 
 
Thursday 10th August 2017
 
We've had quite a busy few days this week with three of Jenny's grandchildren staying with us for the week, great fun and none stop from first thing in the morning till late in the evening. Anyway the children asked to go to RHS Harlow Carr today so after an early start we arrived at the gardens just after 10.00am. Fortunately it was a lovely morning, in fact it was a lovely day from start to finish, with wall to wall sunshine. There was a Bird of Prey demonstration taking place shortly after we arrived so we headed over to watch that for thirty minutes or so, it was quite entertaining really, the falconer had a good dialogue with the young children and audience and the birds looked in really good condition. After the demonstration had finished we made our way back to the visitors centre and started to follow the trail set up for the youngsters, as it happened it followed the route that we normally take when we come on our regular visits, but it was good fun.
No matter what time of year we come here the planting and colours change from month to month and today were no exception, there were some lovely colourful swathes of wild flowers, the area around the ornamental pond looked a picture and the gardens through time adjacent to the old lake were extremely colourful. We continued our walk around the lake and headed towards the huge caterpillar slide. After the children had burnt off some energy we continued our walk past the big friendly giant following the path streamside. The planting along both sides of the stream is amasing and a mass of colour. Many visitors and their families were having picnics on the manicured lawns, others were sat on benches just contemplating and admiring the views, others were busily ambling around the trails and footpaths noting and admiring all the different varieties of plants. We continued along the streamside path to the next children's play area at the same time following the map and looking for the clues to the quiz. After about forty five minutes we started to head back to the centre, we had a quick look inside the 'bath house' before following the path that takes you to the other side of the stream. The views looking back towards the visitors and garden centre are beautiful, the lawns look stunning and the deep borders are a mass of colour, there are some remarkable plants in the borders and at this time of year look quite stunning. We followed the path slightly up hill, walking between the two small ponds before reaching the centre. The day ended with a late brunch in the café before heading for home, needless to say the grandchildren were hard fast asleep within minutes of getting into the car. Peace at last, till we got home that is! 
 
 
 
Sunday 30th July 2017
 
What a week of weather, warm and wet dog walks around the Barff, some beautiful early sun rises and lots of rain! The good old British Summer.
I have to say though we have had some really pleasant early morning walks around the Barff, the trees are nice and lush, the blossom on the Mountain Ash trees have now turned to berries and the Elderberry bushes also, there is plenty of fruit too on the Bramble bushes, the red fruit slowly turning darker to almost black, plenty of nutrition for the birds. I keep pulling up Himalayan Balsam plants which is in full bloom at the moment, though it is good to see that Dereck Cooper and many 'friends' of the Brayton Barff group are organising Himalayan Balsam sessions to rid the woodland of this invasive plant.
The humid weather we are having at the moment has provided ideal conditions for the fungi, with several different varieties popping up on the side of the decaying trees, it always amazes me at the different shapes and colours. Not only have the fungi been growing but the nettles have too, most of the main footpath around the outside of the Barff have borders of nettles some well over a metre in height and can give you a nasty sting if you brush past them unaware with the side of your hand or arm. There are lots of clumps of Ragwort in full flower at the moment, the golden yellow florets providing the ideal habitat for the Cinnabar caterpillars, which can be seen on most plants at the moment.
It is nice to sit and watch the Swallows on the meadow on the top of the Barff, swooping down just feet above the floor, their beaks wide open as they hoover up the tiny flies and insects beneath them, they look so graceful and elegant as they glide above your head.
The pair of Tawny Owls have been busy again this year, I occasionally see them when I am in the right place but more often than not they see me more often, they have been busy rearing a chick which is just like a fluffy little soft toy as it sits perched on a branch with its parents close by.
We have had some good light recently quite early on in the morning, what with the sun rising in the east the low beams of sunshine catching the trees on the Barff,  providing patches of light and occasionally breaking into the denser areas of the woodland, it looks quite magical at times. 
There are still lots of baby Robins about, often following you as you make your way through the undergrowth, it is nice to hear the high pitched call of the Long Tailed Tits too, a beautiful and colourful looking bird. I heard the Warbler last week but certainly not as frequently as I would have liked, they have a lovely creamy call. 
The wet and damp undergrowth has meant that as I leave the Barff my shirt, jacket and shorts are quite damp from the overnight rain, so it's time to head for home with Meg and Gracie have a shower and change into some dry clothes, after I have sorted Meg and Gracie out that is.
 
 
Saturday 29th July 2017
 
An early start today, it was a lovely morning, sunny and quite warm, so after breakfast we all headed over to Castle Howard for the morning. There was a Food fair on all weekend so thought we would have a look round and it would be good for socialising Meg and Gracie too.
Needless to say traffic on the A64 was at a standstill halfway between the Hull road junction and the  'Hopgrove roundabout' and that was at 9.30am, we eventually arrived at Castle Howard some forty five minutes later,  the lateness due not to the volume of traffic but soley to a very badly designed road layout!
I have always enjoyed my visits to Castle Howard and after a walk around the cricket pitch to rid Meg and Gracie's surplus energy we headed for the stables courtyard before heading for the ticket office and the gentle stroll towards the house. Before we reached the house though, I headed off the main track so that I could have a walk around the Walled garden. During the Spring and Summer months the garden is awash with colour and today was no different, the view around the ornamental pond and Gardener's house are beautiful, the avenues, the clipped hedges and borders are always clean, neat and tidy and make me feel quite guilty about ours at home.  The vegetable patch looked good too, full of all the seasonal produce. From the garden we made our way along the Lime walk past the statue 'Apollo' and headed onto the show ground on the Southern lawn. There were marquees large and small, small tents, huge tents, trailers and caravans  all selling various foody products as well as items and gadgetries to do with food. The aromas drifting across the arena was enough to drive a hungry man crazy. Lots of stalls selling locally produced food and gifts which was great to see. The art and craft marquees were full of various displays and stalls, all tempting the visitors. We listened to some of the celebrity chef's giving foody talks and demonstrations which were quite entertaining and informative before heading off to the music tent for a sit down and rest the weary legs for a few minutes. After another walk around the arena we headed out for a walk around the South Lake, unfortunately the sun had disappeared behind some huge grey clouds for the next thirty minutes or so, which was disappointing as there are some lovely views from the far corner of the lake looking back towards the house. It was nice to see the 'Prince of Wales Fountain' working this morning, sending a huge plume of water some fifty feet into the air. We continued our walk around the lake and headed back towards the house, the 'Atlas Fountain' was looking good over on the left. By now the sun had come out again so as we were outside the west wing we stopped for coffee and cake in the Fitzroy Restaurant, well as we had the dogs with us we sat outside which was extremely pleasant.  After some refreshment (Pot of tea and a Yorkshire scone) we headed over to the Garden Centre for a browse. Always a nice garden centre, everything looks well-presented and smart  as well as having some fine looking plants, we purchased a plum tree for the garden and some bits and pieces. Looks like it is going to be a busy afternoon once I get home. 
 
 
Friday 28th July 2017
 
It was a pleasant morning today, the overnight rain had blown over and the weather forecast looked quite promising. I didn't need any persuading so headed off to Fairburn for the rest of the morning.  I was a good one hour later than normal arriving at the reserve just after 10.00am, I felt as though I was trying to catch up the hour I had lost with being late up. I had been to a business meeting the night previous and I think it must have been that that had disrupted my sleeping pattern. Anyway it was a quick chat with the wardens and a coffee before I headed over to the 'Pick up Hide', the little froglets were still all over the place as they hop across the footpath on the way to the hide, barely one centimetre long, they look like little blue bottle flies as you catch sight of them through the corner of your eye, you have to be careful where you place your feet. 
It was quite a muggy morning when I unpacked the camera gear at the hide, 18C with a strong North Westerly wind which blew straight through the window openings, fortunately it was nice and bright and the heat from the sun took some of the cold blast of the wind. 
Everything looked quite colourful this morning, the light was good which accentuated the colours of the reeds, bulrushes, Himalayan Balsam and Purple Loosestrife set against the blue sky, it looked very picturesque as my eyes scanned the lake looking to see what wildlife was about on the water and around the fringes of the lake.
A lone little Egret was on the far bank of the lake, patrolling the mudflats, the Green Woodpecker was quite vocal behind me and proved quite a distraction at times, needless to say I never found it! A pair of Common Terns flew over the water and did some fishing, I always think they look a classy bird with their black head and forked tail, they always look clean and tidy and white. They hover for a few seconds over the water, selecting their prey before diving straight down into the water, sometimes from a height of over thirty feet, great to watch. I scanned the wooden fence posts several times during my visit looking for the Buzzard but to no avail today, it must have been resting elsewhere on the reserve. The Coot chicks are getting bigger by the day and losing their fluffy down coats, they still stay close to their parents who busily go about their business providing food for them. The Moorhens were doing well too with several youngsters dotted around the lake. Several pair of Mallard were seen around the water's edge, their youngsters/juveniles nearly the same size as their mother.
Over on the feeders to the right of the hide were lots of visitors, Male and female Blackbirds were busy hoovering up the seed spilt on the woodland floor. There were lots of Greenfinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Chaffinch today. Several Robins dropped in, all feeding on the floor, the juveniles are beginning to lose their speckled chest and the red breast is beginning to show through nicely. It was good to see the Coal Tit, their distinctive white patch on the back of their neck being quite visible and also several Willow Tits, without the white patch feeding on some of the loose seed placed on one of the fence posts. 
The mornings visit wouldn't be complete without the Grey Squirrels and Wood Pigeons, both frequent visitors to the feeders. 
 
 
Thursday 27th July 2017
 
It is many many years since I visited Temple Newsome, so I was quite looking forward to having a walk around the gardens and parkland today with M & G. The parkland was designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown for the 9th Viscount Irwin in the 1760's, so they are steeped in history. We headed for the walled garden after a walk alongside the lake. The first thing that struck me was how full and colourful the borders where. I have quite an interest in gardens though am by no means a plants man The guide says that there are some 800 yards of herbaceous borders, rose beds and herbs. The displays are stunning and Leeds City Council who own the house and gardens have done a superb job of maintaining them.
The collections of Delphinium, hardy Korean Chrysanthemums, Phlox and Aster are displayed within the borders and there are several collections of roses laid out in beds inside the garden, the scent wafting in the air as you walk past them. 
Until 1922 all the fruit and vegetables for the landowner were grown here, after the park was bought by the Council it was a short-lived zoo and then re-landscaped as a rose garden. Last year for the first time in almost 100 years vegetable growing was reintroduced.
Sadly within an hour of us being there it started to rain, checking our rain apps it was quite apparent that if we stayed out much longer we would get drenched so we headed to the car for the thirty minute journey home, it is not much fun walking around with two wet soaking dogs. We will definitely try and visit again sometime next week once the weather forecast looks more favourable.
 
 
Monday 24th July 2017
 
It was a dull and overcast morning, 14C as I arrived at the reserve at Fairburn Ings this morning. As I got out of the car I hadn't realised that the strengthening North Easterly wind had a bit of rain in it so I was pleased I had put my winter jacket in the car. The heavy overnight rain had left puddles all over the place. After a quick chat with the wardens and a coffee I made my way along the 'Discovery Trail' to the 'Pick up hide' having to watch were I put my feet, lots of tiny baby froglets no more that 1cm in length were busily hopping across the trail, not much bigger than bluebottles, every now and then I stopped to watch as they avoided some of the bigger stones on the pathway. I settled down at the hide for 9.30am, as I put my camera bag on the floor I had a quick glance out onto the lake, literally in front of the hide on the water's edge was a Common Sandpiper busily feeding, its long beak sinking deep into the mud searching for small crustaceans. I hurriedly set up the camera, securing it to the shelf and fired off several shots of this new arrival, before it saw me. Fortunately it stayed around the hide for most of the morning, completely oblivious to my presence.
Several pairs of Coots were on the water with their young families this morning, it was fascinating watching these youngsters as they grow up, they tend to be quite brave at times as they venture off from the relative safety of their parents to one of several small islands on the lake, it is only then that they realise where their parents are and go scooting back almost running across the top of the water to the security of mum and dad. The pair of Mute Swans swam round from the back of the lake to another of the tiny islands and spent most of the morning stretching, wing flapping and preening. Meanwhile the Sandpiper was contently walking along the shoreline near the hide constantly searching for food.
I watched at least four lots of Mute Swans fly over the hide heading off towards the Lin Dyke hide. I noticed in the book in the visitors centre several sightings of the Cattle Egret which had been seen down at that hide, I think it has been there for several days now.
Over on the feeders were the usual tits and finches, I could hear the Long Tailed Tits in bushes beside the hide but they were reluctant to show their faces this morning. It was nice to see the Willow Tit though, it made several appearances during my time at the hide. The Juvenile Robins were getting much bigger and their red chest beginning to show through the speckled infant feathers.
On the floor beneath the feeders a pair of Rabbits were busily feeding on the spent seed from the feeders, every now and then a Bank Vole would wiz out of its little hole near the fence post, pick up some seed and zoom back, they certainly down dawdle about above the ground.  The Grey Squirrels were regular feeders this morning a pair of them at times, although they didn't like each other's company and quite often little squabbles would develop when one would encroach on the others little bit of territory.
As the day progressed the hide saw more and more disruption, what with birders and groups of children on ranger guided activities which was great to see, so as the time marched on towards lunch I called it a day and headed back to the centre and home. A lovely morning.     
 
 
Friday 21st July 2017
 
I had a pleasant couple of hours over at the Ings this morning. It was 16C when I drove into the car park on the reserve at Fairburn. The sun was shining and there was a light South westerly wind. After a quick chat with the wardens and a coffee I headed over to the 'Pick up hide' for the rest of the morning. It was relatively quiet on the lake with a pair of Mute swans which spent most of the morning preening. There were several families of coots with chicks ranging from youngsters to juveniles on the water's edge, along with Moorhens although their chick looked much younger than the Coot chicks.
 
A Buzzard had landed on a distant wooden fence post and stayed for a good hour, looking one way, then the other before flying off towards the far corner of the reserve towards the 'LinDyke hide'. A Little Egret landed on the water and started feeding straight away, it stayed for most of the morning. 
 
There had been several sightings of the Cattle Egret over the last few days seen over by the 'Flashes' and the 'LinDyke hide', although I kept my eyes open for it there was no sign of it at the Pick up hide.  
 
Over on the feeders, it was nice to see the Goldfinch this morning, it brought a bit of colour to the feeders, along with the male Chaffinch, the Chaffinch colours are looking really bright and vibrant at the moment. Greenfinch paid a visit too, along with one of my favourites the Dunnock. The juvenile Robins were looking good, several of them were showing slight glimpses of red on their chests. The male juvenile Pheasant was hovering around the feeders this morning picking up the spent seed from the floor. 
 
Rabbit and Bank Voles were showing well this morning, both under the feeders, the voles are so fast, no sooner have they left the safety of their little nest hole, collected some seed from under the feeders and before you know it have returned back to security of their little hole. 
 
The Green Woodpecker was quite noisy this morning around the hide, I still haven't been able to see it yet. 
 
As the morning progressed the wind picked up to and by 11.15am was getting quite chilly, at this point I called it a day and headed back to the warmth of the visitors centre and a coffee before the drive home.  
 
Monday 17th July 2017.
 
Both myself and fellow wildlife photographer Graham Breeze had seen  the same photographs on the social media late last week of a Spoonbill at the Tophill Low Nature Reserve. We have just had a pair of Spoonbills nesting and rearing a family at the reserve at Fairburn recently, but that aside, after a successful visit a couple of weeks ago photographing their Kingfishers and Little Egrets we arranged to visit the Tophill Low reserve today to see if we could find the Spoonbill. It took us just about a one hours drive this morning to get to the reserve, that is until I very nearly drove over a Grass snake as I turned off the main Driffield road into the reserve, it was a lovely warm sunny morning and the snake had been enjoying the early morning heat coming off the tarmacked road surface, checking my rear view mirror I watched as it slid off the road and back into the relative safety of the undergrowth at the side of the road.
It was just after 9.00am as we purchased our tickets to enter the reserve, for a change it was nice to be able to walk round with a short sleeved shirt on rather than layered up like I was on our last visit. The wardens were just opening the doors to the new visitors centre as we arrived, so we popped in for a chat and had a good look around. The viewing gallery looks superb and offers great views across the reservoir which should come into its own when the Autumnal Waders start to arrive in a few months' time. 
It is a good five minute walk from the centre to the first of the hides we visited today the'North Marsh hide'.  When we arrived there was a couple of photographers already set up in there and they told us that they had had some good sightings of the Kingfishers, (no Spoonbill)  so we were hopeful for the same. 
The wardens had told us earlier that the second brood of Kingfisher chicks had fledged earlier this morning, so fingers crossed we should get some nice sightings. It wasn't long before we could hear a pair calling to each other in a Willow tree to the right of the hide. A few minutes later the male bird started fishing directly in front of the hide, he made two dives one after the other in quick succession, the first dive was unsuccessful, the second dive was more rewarding as he returned with a Stickleback, after what seemed like a minute of mouthing this small fish, tapping its head on the perch and generally manoeuvring the fish in its beak he swallowed the fish head first. This same bird stayed on the same perch and a few moments later dived and returned with another fish and promptly swallowed that too. We had a good hour in the hide watching both male and female Kingfishers fishing along the small stream in front of the hide.
As time moved on we decided to have a look at the other hides around the 'D' reservoir. By now the sun was shining quite brightly and the temperature had risen to the mid-twenties, it was very warm, especially when you are carrying a significant amount of camera gear on your back, and a tripod. After a ten minute walk or so we arrived at the Hempholme Hide, we know the Kingfisher had fledged earlier today but after ten minutes or so without any sighting  we decided to head back and have a look around the South Marshes hide, adjacent to the 'O reservoir. It was a steady fifteen minute walk through the woodland to the South Marsh hide, a 'new' footpath had been laid when the new centre was built which means you don't have to walk back to the car park, thus this new path cuts a bit of the distance between the hides. We normally get some nice photographs here, it was from this hide that we saw the Otter last year, along with several Kingfishers and Little Egrets. By now the temperature had got really hot to such an extent that you could burn your hand on the shelves inside the hide, they were that hot. We counted at least seven Little Egrets around the water's edge and on the marshes. There were lots of Geese and several Grey Heron on the water but still no sign of the Spoonbill. After about thirty minutes the heat became quite unpleasant, to such an extent our camera bodies were getting a little hotter than I would have liked, so with the time just after lunch time we decided to head back to the centre. Before we arrived we called in at another hide  near the lagoons, it was in a bit of shade but very little bird life, we could hear some frogs and toads croaking by the water's edge, I put my camera gear back into the rucksack prior to the walk back to the car and just as we were about to leave the hide a Grass snake, about eighteen inches long came heading towards us gliding across the top of the water at quite a speed, Graham managed a couple of pictures but alas, my camera was securely packed away in its case so I had no chance of a picture. It was a steady five minute walk back to the centre and the car. Another great day at Tophill Low.  
 
 
Sunday 16th July 2017
 
I had been receiving a few mailings this past week telling me how nice the 'National Collection of Water Lilies' was looking at Burnby Hall Gardens in Pocklington, so with a free morning and the chance of a pot of tea and scone at the end of it, we headed off to Pocklington. It was a lovely morning, bright, dry with sunny spells 16C. We arrived just after 10am, I like to get here early and parked up as although there is a good car park it is a little on the narrow side, anyway, there were only three other cars parked in front of me so there was plenty of space, although when we left at about 1.30pm there was an attendant on the gate as the car park was as good as full. 
From the Visitors Centre we headed off around the lake in an anti-clockwise direction, I don't know why but is seems the most convenient way to walk around the gardens. The lawns looked immaculate. For those who have never been to these gardens it is basically a beautifully kept garden with a massive pond in the centre, stocked full with some wonderful species of water lily, that many in fact that it houses the National Collection of Water Lilies, as well as the lilies the pond is well stocked with some several different species of Koi and Carp, they must be some of the most well fed fish in the country.
As you follow the footpath around the main lake, the fish seem to follow you, occasionally their heads pop out of the water as much to say 'we are still here and we are hungry too!' The water lilies are looking superb at the moment, the reds, whites and yellows seem to complement each other as they sit resting above the huge green leaves. Suddenly from in amongst the lily pads up pops a tiny little Moorhen, barely a little over a week old, quickly followed by another one, and another, playing a game of 'tig' as they run along on top of the lily pads chasing after their leader.
We continued our walk around the garden, stopping to look at the Doves nesting in the white Dovecote, they seem to be completely oblivious of all us tourists invading their space and especially to those eager people wanting to take selfies with them. We continued our stroll alongside the lake and stopped at the first bridge to take some photographs, another family of Moorhens were swimming and chasing each other amongst the lilies. Looking across the water there is a huge rockery which is undergoing a bit of a face lift at the moment, but still looked very impressive.  Continuing our walk around the lake we came to the 'Stumpary', a large garden circled by a huge collection of tree stumps, many with some wonderful carvings engraved into the exposed roots. At this point we were about half way round the gardens, there were some incredible works of art in the form of wild animals and birds in various places amongst the tree stumps and up the trees, all made from wire netting, very, very effective.
Now on the other side of the lake we headed back to the visitors centre through the rockery which is currently being re dressed and planting will start this autumn. There are lots of little tracks and paths that take you off on all sorts of small detours all with lovely views across the water, some of the 'wire netting' animals had been placed around the bolders to great effect. Nearer the centre and tea room we headed into the secret garden which was very pleasant ending up at the tea rooms for tea and scones. A lovely morning and a gem of a garden. 

Friday 14th July 2017

We had a lot of overnight rain last night which continued into the early hours which made for a very wet dog walk this morning. It was a cloudy and overcast morning with the occasional sunny period, 16C and quite a strong North Westerly wind.

I had a free morning today so without hesitation packed the camera gear and bino's and  drove over to the reserve at Fairburn Ings for a couple of hours. It was 9.15am as I drove into the car park and parked up for the morning. I was pleased I had put my winter waterproof fleece in the car this morning as the wind was quite chilling at times. I popped into the visitors centre for a coffee and quick look at the sightings book before I headed over to the 'Pick up hide' for the rest of the morning.

A Little Egret was busily feeding on the far side of the lake, its legs gently stirring up the mud sediment around its feet hoping to disturb some small crustacean or small fish, after about twenty minutes it started to head towards the hide before a flock of six Jackdaws started to harass it and it flew off over towards the coal tips. A pair of Mute Swans flew in and landed in the middle of the lake and spent a good hour preening, occasionally stopping for a good stretch and wing flap before resuming with the preening. Moorhens with their chicks in tow were busily exploring the shallow waters, the chicks still very much dependant on their parents for providing them with food.

It was interesting to watch 3 adult Moorhens gesturing with each other, chest to chest, with their bum's in the air, this continued for about a minute before they all went off in their own different ways.

The Purple Loostrife is in full flower at the moment and the bluish/purple flower heads swayed gently in the breeze.

Over on the feeders, the Willow Tits were showing nicely and regular visitors to the feeders during the morning, quite often I just catch a fleeting glance of one and that's it but today there where several popping in and out.

Great Tits and Blue Tits were regular visitors along with their juveniles, still with their fluffy feathers, many looking a bit bedraggled.

A juvenile male Pheasant had quite an interesting standoff under the feeder with a large juvenile Moorhen, it was fascinating to watch both birds at close quarters, the young Moorhen would stand bold upright, stretching out its neck to look much taller than it actually was, then they would face up to each other, wing flap, have a peck at each other, and because the Moorhen ran off into the undergrowth I presume the Pheasant won this little battle.

There were lots of juvenile Robins around today, some with a light brown speckled chest, others, slightly older with the red just showing through their breast feathers, interesting to see these youngsters tackling the feeders, the adult birds tend to stay on the ground and hoover up all the spoils spilt from the feeders.

Dunnocks were plentiful today, I could listen to their call and song all day, they stand so proud on a branch as they sing their little song.

I had a couple of glimpse of the Willow Warbler today as it came in for some food, not as frequent as last weeks when I was here, but still nice to see, they look very familiar to the female Chaffinch, without the yellow markings though.

As the morning progressed the wind got stronger and stronger, coming from the North West it blew straight in your face, by 11.00am I had quite a headache as a result. I persevered till 11.30am when I called it a day and packed the camera gear away and headed back to the centre. Needless to say having ventured a hundred yards from the hide it was like a warm summer's day, by the time I had another coffee in the centre and a chat with the wardens, the headache had gone and I headed for home. Another great day at the Ings.

 
Sunday 9th July 2017
 
I had a lovely visit to Castle Howard this morning arriving just after 10am. It was a warm and sunny with the temperature at times creeping well over 20C. The reason for the visit was that the 'Bentley Driver's Club' were calling in during the day. So with some time on my hands until the first cars started to arrive I had a walk through the walled garden. The gardens at Castle Howard always look good, no matter what time of year you visit and today was no exception. What stood out for me today though were the roses and the lilies, their colour and scent was quite striking. There are some lovely vistas too with paths neatly cut and hedges finely trimmed, there is always something to catch your eye when you turn the corner. 
After leaving the walled garden I headed for the house, some of the Bentley's had started to arrive and were being positioned on the gravelled tracks around the South lawn. These cars were looking superb, and what a setting for them. The 'Bentley Driver's Club was actually formed in 1936 by an enthusiastic owner Keston Pelmore, the club continued to grow but sadly the second world war took its toll on many of the members including Keston Pelmore.
Today the Club is thriving and has societies around the world. I spent several minutes chatting to many of the drivers today, some local and some from all parts of the country, all a very nice, polite and interesting set of people with a genuine love and passion about their vehicles. I never counted the number of cars but there must have been at least thirty to forty. Personally I liked the look of the Vintage models, post 1919, they have so much character and look to be lovingly looked after by their owners, though they do look hard work to drive and steer, I am not sure how effective their heating systems are and being opened toped vehicles you have very little protection from the elements.. The 'Derby' models post 1933 look to be more stylish with a more streamlined body, beautiful upholstered seats and walnut dashboards. The more modern 'Early Crewe' models were built from 1946 1998 and still look like a modern day vehicle. That said the 'Modern' vehicles 1999 onwards look stunning, the 'Continental' GT v8 models have a 4 ltr twin turbo v8 engine they have a top speed of 188mph and accelerate from 0 60mph in 4.6 seconds. The high end model like the 'Flying Spur' w12, is a 6 ltr twin turbo w12, with a top speed of 200mph and o 60mph in 4.3 sec. some beautiful vehicles.
At times it was an amasing sight watching the cars being driven along the southern aspect of the house, they looked quite at home here as they parked up in front of the house. As the morning came to a close the organisers arranged for a photo call of all the vehicles with their owners in front of the house an amasing picture and a good time to head off to the restaurant  for some lunch and look forward to the chaotic drive home along the A64!
 
Friday 7th July 2017
 
I had another early start this morning as I had to be in Harrogate for a mid-morning meeting, fortunately that finished around 11am so rather than go straight home we headed over to the gardens at RHS Harlow Carr for a walk round and more importantly some brunch. No matter what time of the year you visit here there is always something different to see, albeit the planting along the borders, the streamside walk planting or the formal gardens. Today there was a display of walking boots of all shapes, colours, conditions and sizes, which had been planted up with primarily bedding plants, they looked quite a picture all lined up on the walls as you walk into the gardens. After descending the steps we turned left and  headed over towards the learning centre, on past Dermot's garden and headed down towards the lake, there were lots of marsh orchids amongst the long grass. Following the streamside path is always a picture this time of year. Today there were several school groups having an outdoor lessons which was great to see, especially as it was nice and warm summers morning. We continued our walk alongside the stream, the views looking over to the right towards the entrance and garden centre looked stunning, when we reached the pump house we stopped and had a look at some of the paintings and crafts that were on display inside this quant building. From here we walked up through the Alpine garden and up towards the kitchen garden, back along the top path and returning to the visitor's centre. We had a lovely brunch in Betty's restaurant before heading back to have a look around the book shop. I think they sell an excellent assortment of books and it is not very often that I come out of there without buying something to read, today was no exception. Before leaving we popped into the Garden Centre and like the book shop came out with two boxes of Alpine plants, looks like I am going to be busy planting this afternoon! 
I was interested to read in one of the leaflets that they have opened up a trail from Harlow Carr through to Valley Gardens, looks like a good excuse for another visit.
 
 
 
Thursday 6th July 2017
 
It was a hazy, humid and overcast morning today, with a light westerly breeze as I drove into the visitors centre car park
There had been a lot of publicity on the local television earlier this week regarding the first Spoonbill family to have settled on the reserve and had a family, that chick has just recently flown but staying with its parents for the time being. I was a little apprehensive this morning with more visitors being on the site than usual especially with this extra publicity, fortunately the Spoonbill traffic went along the Coal Tip footpath, quite a distance from where the Pick up hide is situated, although I did see a few more visitors than normal asking for directions from the hide.
I settled in to the hide at around 9.30am this morning, I could see a Grey Heron on the far side of the lake quietly feeding in the shallow water, closer to the hide were several moorhen families with their young, what was interesting to see was that several juvenile moorhens were feeding the chicks too, something I had never seen before. A pair of Mute swans flew onto the lake and spent thirty minutes preening and wing flapping before flying off towards the 'Lyn dyke hide'. Black headed gulls were regular noisy visitors on the lake this morning, once or twice they dive bombed the Grey Heron. 
On the fence posts to the right of the hide a Buzzard perched itself and sat there for a good ten minutes before flying off towards the visitors centre. A pair of noisy Oystercatchers flew over the hide heading for the Heronry and, there was a constant stream of Cormorants all flying over heading towards 'Lyn Dyke'. 
The feeders to the right of the hide were busy this morning, the young Moorhen kept scavenging under the feeders and taking food back to the water's edge to feed their younger chicks. Great Tits were regular visitors this morning along with the Chaffinch, it was good to see a Willow Warbler there today also. Young Dunnocks were busily singing in the bushes and Long Tailed Tits too, their distinctive high pitched shrill quite audible from behind the hide, they seem to congregate there first before hitting the feeders, so to speak. Several pairs of Chaffinch were busily feeding their chicks, though some of the chicks looked much bigger than their parent so obviously they were doing a good job.
Still no sign of the Sand Martins this year, I cannot now really imagine them returning this year, although if the weather stays favourable there is still the possibility that they could open up some of their nesting holes, time and weather will tell. 
A pair of Grey Squirrels were active on the feeders this morning, along with a rabbit who was busily hoovering up the spoils left by the squirrels. Nearer to the hide at ground level were a pair of Bank Voles which kept popping out from their nest under the fence.
Graham Breeze ( whom I photographed Kingfishers with at Tophill Low reserve last week) popped into the hide this  morning, tapped me on the shoulder and promptly showed me a selection of photographs he had taken a few minutes earlier of a Bittern, from the 'Broad Walk Trail' just round the back of the hide. These are relatively rare birds here at Fairburn, although you occasionally hear their 'Booming' call but seeing them is another matter, though this fella was quite a poser, alas, needless to say by the time I arrived it had disappeared deeper into the reed beds. It is certainly great to see so close at hand all be it on someone else's camera, let's hope it makes it home here at Fairburn. 
 
 
Thursday 29th June 2017
 
Up bright and early this morning. Yesterday had been a cold and wet day (I actually put the central heating on for the evening) and this morning didn't seem much better,  it was a wet and damp dog walk on the Barff at 6.00am. After a quick breakfast I picked up my photography friend Graham Breeze from Selby and we drove over to the Yorkshire Water Reserve Tophill Low, near the village of Watton, on the outskirts of the small market town of Driffield arriving an hour later at just after 9.00am..
It was about twelve months ago since our last visit, at the time the new Visitors Centre  was just a mass of iron girders, today the building was complete and looked quite impressive. 
After purchasing our visitor tickets from the machine in the warden's hut, we made our way on foot past the new centre and the 'D reservoir' to the North Marsh hide. The footpath was a bit slippy underfoot, but with all the rain we have had this last twenty four hours it wasn't surprising. No rain was forecast today so fingers crossed. We were the first two in the hide this morning and opened the shutter windows to let some light and fresh air in. No sooner had we set up our camera gear then the first Kingfisher appeared, it flew along the line of the stream and landed on a tree branch about 30feet in front of the hide, on the water's edge. It didn't stay for long before it flew off downstream to another perch amongst the reed beds. What felt like just a few minutes another Kingfisher returned, this time to a different perch, shortly followed by a smaller Kingfisher, I presume its juvenile, within seconds the adult bird dived into the stream, returning with a small stickleback and after quite a ritual getting the fish the right way round in its mouth presented it to the younger bird. For the next two hours we were spoilt with these beautiful birds visiting us on a regular basis to various perches along the stream. As well as the Kingfishers the Moorhens were quite active too, it is the first time I have seen a moorhen climbing up a Bulrush to peel back the fibrous head of the plant, its beak covered in the yellow fibrous strands of the plant, they have huge feet which made it quite a clumsy climber but quite able when needed.
Just before lunch we ventured out of the hide and decided to have a look around the South Marsh adjacent to the 'O reservoir', this was where we saw the Otter last year. I was amazed at the number of Marsh Orchids on the path verges by the reservoir on the way to the South Marshes hide, they were all over the place. We set the gear up on arrival in the hide, there were lots of birds, Greylags, Mallards Black Headed and Common Gulls all making their fair share of noise on the far side between the 'finger islands', closer and left of  the hide was a Little Egret, contently scouring the shallow water for some food, the white sheen of its feathers producing a lovely reflection on the still water. It wasn't long before a Kingfisher came and landed on the fence post to the left of the hide, it only stayed for a matter of seconds before flying off into the reed beds, shortly after it left though another Kingfisher arrived and hovered within a metre of the other bird before flying off, giving us some  great photo opportunities. By now time was marching on so we made our way back towards the car but adjacent to the reservoir were a pair of Roe deer grazing on the grass at the side of the footpath, needless to say as soon as they saw us they were off, heading straight into the security of the reed beds. 
A great day out and good journey home, now the job of editing several hundred pictures of Kingfishers

Tuesday 20th June 2017

 
I drove into the car park at the RSPB reserve at Fairburn at 9.00am. It was a grey and cloudy morning, very humid 19C with just a light westerly breeze. Yesterday was the warmest day of the year so far with temperatures reaching 31C in the Selby area. After popping into the Visitors Centre for a coffee I made my way down to the Pick up hide. 
Two Engineers were busy working on the wires on the pylons in the distance, I recon they will have been grateful that it wasn't too windy.
Moorhen with their juveniles were busy patrolling the fringes of the lake, occasionally heading into the reeds for a feed. Mallard and Tufted Duck were enjoying this humid weather along with the Black Headed Gulls who spend the morning harassing the young Jackdaws. Several Wigeon flew onto the lake during the morning for a rest for about thirty minutes before heading off to pastures new. Nice to see several Lapwing too.
Over on the feeders, Tree Sparrow and Great Tit were regularly feeding this morning, along with male and female Chaffinch, the bright orange breasts of the male birds looked beautiful in the morning light. Wood Pigeon were all over the place today, on the floor under the feeders, on the Sand martin wall and patrolling along the water's edge in front of the hide. Robins were regular visitors this morning, I had put some mealworms out when I arrived and they seem to be quite partial to them, along with the Squirrels and Pigeons!
Male and female Pheasants were hovering and scavenging under the hedge bottoms, even a Magpie had a session under the feeders. It was nice to see the Bank Voles back at the hide this morning, they were regular visitors last year and early this until they got flooded out with the winters rain, they too were quite partial to Meal Worms.
A pair of Rabbits were busily feeding on top of the Sand Martin wall and along the waterfront in front of the hide. A very pleasant morning.

Sunday 18th June 2017

Father's Day today, the weather forecast was for another warm, sunny and hot day.
 
After breakfast we decided to head off to have a look at the 'Yorkshire Post Classic and Vintage Car Rally' at Castle Howard. Leaving home at 9am in good time for the start of the show at 10.00am, needless to say shortly after setting off I hit the A64 curse, stationary traffic just past the Hull road turn off, which had washed back from the Hopgrove roundabout junction, the traffic was either stationary or crawling for the next hour till we reached the dual carriageway prior to taking the turn off for Castle Howard. The planners, road designers responsible for this stretch of road should hang their heads in shame. What is normally a 45 minute journey took one and three quarter hours!
 
Because of today's event and the anticipated hundreds of extra visitors we had to park in the special car park adjacent to the north lake and walk up the slope onto the North Lawn. 
The North Lawn was an absolute picture of Classic cars and some vintage cars, all lovingly restored and looking in pristine condition, the car owners and families all close by sheltering from the heat and mid-day sunshine. Personally I am not a great lover of the Classic car, much preferring the vintage models, but that said I could relate to many of these cars on show today, several from my childhood. From the North Lawn we made our way past the house to the Atlas Fountain which looked a picture as it always does, I stopped to take several photographs before walking to the end of the South Lawn where a huge arena had been set up with trade stands, charity stands and food outlets. A full programme of events had been set up throughout the day, on our arrival several vintage cars were being paraded around the arena. A gentle walk around looking at some of these cars you start to understand the amount of time and money that the owners have spent restoring these vehicles to road worthy condition. 
 
By mid-afternoon we decided to head for home before the rush to the exits, it was a shame really as I would have liked to have seen some of the other displays which had been arranged for the afternoon. 
After driving through the Castle Howard Estate we came to the A64, the westbound traffic was stationary so we ended up driving south via Gate Helmsley to Murton via the 'back road'. A lovely day out somewhat spoilt by the heavy traffic.
 
Friday 16th June 2017
 
It has been a month since I last visited the reserve at Fairburn, so I packed the camera gear and after breakfast headed off to the reserve. It was a lovely morning, 16C with a light westerly wind which just kept the temperature down a little,  it was very pleasant though when the sun came out. 
I was curious to know it the Sand martins had returned to the wall at the Pick up hide again this year.  Looking over the lake from the hide I could see several pairs of Mallard around the water's edge along with Moorhen and their young chicks. A Grey Heron flew over, did a circle of the lake but never looked likely to return, probably due to the fact that there were several pairs of Common Tern fishing in the area and they would have pestered the Heron had it landed. 
I had a good look at the Sand Martin wall and seventy five per cent of the nesting holes hadn't yet been hollowed out, I saw one or two birds flitting in and out but that was it. 
Over on the feeders it was relatively quiet too. A Grey Squirrel was busily helping itself to the food, a male chaffinch kept its distance until the Squirrel disappeared for a few moments. A juvenile Dunnock was singing its head off completely oblivious with what was happening around it, namely another Grey Squirrel had appeared on the scene, both squirrels then caused mayhem chasing each other, sending the feeders flying through the air in their attempt to get at each other. Things only settled down when a Jackdaw flew in and settled on one of the fence posts. A female Pheasant popped in and started to scavenge under the feeders, closely followed by three of its juvenile chicks, all looking fit and healthy.
I was surprised by the number of Wood Pigeons about today as well as a flock of Jackdaws. A Great Tit kept popping in and out visiting the feeders along with several young Blue Tits.

 

Sunday 11th June 2017
I don't often venture very far on the weekend due mainly to traffic congestion on both the A1 or the A64. But today I put that theory aside and headed off to RHS Harlow Carr, still full of enthusiasm after our visit to Chatsworth earlier in the week.
It was a lovely morning, arriving in the Car Park for just after 10am. Needless to say the car park looked half full, I think the predicted fine weather for the day had brought everybody out.

We started out walk around the site by visiting the 'new' Learning Centre. Although it has been built for several years now this was my first look around, so to speak. Today was an exhibition by the Bonsai Society, there were some remarkable trees/shrubs on display and made quite an impression. From the Learning Centre we continued our walk left past the new show gardens that looked really quite good, lots of colour and great planting ideas, further on to the gazebo and sunken pond, past Dermot's Show Garden and headed down towards the stream, the fringes bordering the footpath have been left to grow and on closer examination are full of 'Common Spotted Orchids', well maybe not quite full but they are there if you know where to look. The lake always looks a picture, never mind what time of year and today was no exception.  We continued our walk following the stream to the exhibition house, the colours of the plantings were amazing. I could quite easily have walked around again and again as your eye seems to catch something that you missed first time round. Today I compensated for not walking round twice by walking round exceptionally slowly, which suited Jenny quite nicely. It is a wonderful time of year to visit, the colours of the borders especially along side of the stream were wonderful. Heading back to the centre the vistas are quite amazing. It was noon as we made our way into the café for brunch. I am already looking forward to my next visit.  

 

Wednesday 7th June 2017

After quite a wild and windy weekend the early part of the week wasn't much better either, with strong winds and heavy rain showers. Today I have just returned home from visiting RHS Flower show at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. I cannot believe it was 2012 when I visited the RHS flower show at Chelsea, so it was nice to be able to compare them both.
The morning started off well, we had some overnight rain but at least the sun was shining. 
It is a reasonable one and a quarter hour drive from home to Chatsworth but unfortunately this journey took us two and a half hours due soley to the volume of traffic entering the show. The organisation was excellent, the volume of cars incredible, fortunately we were able to park within  a ten minutes' walk of the stately home which wasn't too bad considering where other people had to park. (I wish I could have had a pound for every car parked today, phew.)
The majority of the show was set up the other side of the river which was quite nice as the house made a nice backdrop. First stop though was for a coffee break and to determine our whereabouts' in the showground.
After a coffee we headed for the great conservatory, a huge inflatable tent which forms quite a centrepiece between both the Devonshire and Cavendish Floral Marquees. A massive centrepiece was suspended from the ceiling with mist jets spraying the plants to keep them moist. Some wonderful displays and arrangements spread out from the centrepiece. Both the Marquees were full of exhibits, some of the floral arrangements were quite stunning.
Outside the marquees were rows and rows of trade stands and more plant displays, selling everything you could imagine for the garden, from garden furniture, every kind of hand tool, lawnmowers and hedge trimmers, fancy lighting and ornaments, the list was endless.
The show gardens were excellent, with some on one side of the river and others amongst the trade stands, in fact we missed some of them.
A great day out, the weather stayed fine and dry although it was wet underfoot. Due to the nature of the event there is lots of walking involved to see everything and get around the site, fortunately it was on flat level ground. I enjoyed the show much better than the Chelsea show and will definitely be returning next year.  
I hope all the cars were able to get out of the car parks ok, the ground was cutting up quite badly as we left mid-afternoon, fortunately there was lots of car park staff to assist when and were necessary.

 

Tuesday 23rd May - Thursday 1st June 2017
We have just returned home after staying with our friends Peter and Geri in Moraira, a small town in Southern Spain, situated on the coast between Alicante and Valencia. This was our second visit, our last being in 2015. 
Sometimes it is nice to get away from home for a while. We have been busy for the last three months decorating and refurbishing the house, so this holiday was great just to have a rest, relax and have a good catch up with our close friends and we are grateful for Peter & Geri for inviting us to share their villa with them.
We had a late afternoon flight from Leeds Bradford airport, flying in an Airbus A320 aircraft, one which I knew quite well as during part of my 'working days' I was involved with manufacturing parts of this aircraft. Traveling at 37,000 feet and 500 miles per hour, the flight to Alicante airport took just two and a half hours, a good flight with great views of the Pyrenees Mountains towards the end of the flight. Peter and Geri met us at the airport for the one hour journey to Moriara.
After a good night's sleep and breakfast on the sun terrace (it was 23C at 8am in the shade!) we drove into the town for some shopping and a beer in one of the seafront bars. It was nice to walk along the promenade, past the castle and towards the marina. The sea was a lovely clear blue colour, and you could see shoals of fish swimming in the water. Blue sky with not a cloud in sight, it looked all set to be a warm day. We headed home for lunch and a quiet relaxing afternoon. Had a wonderful evening meal out in the town at 'Casa Toni's' a great restaurant serving excellent food and huge Gin and Tonics.
The following day we drove into Moraira for Croissants and coffee, before driving onto the small town of Polop, the ladies had a look around the market whilst Peter and I climbed to the top of the hill and had a look around the Church of Pedro and the Cemetery Literario de Polop.  The whole area has been restored and well worth the climb, with some great views looking over the tops of houses to the mountains beyond. From Polop we drove into the mountains to Guadalest for brunch in the piazza, again some superb views of the reservoir below us, and some lovely narrow streets with lots of character and charm. We headed for home but stopped off at the small town of Albir for coffee, Albir is situated between Benidorm and Altea. The beach, another 'blue flag' is beautiful and clean, the promenade has Hollywood style plaques set into the pavement for those stars who have won awards at the Annual Albir Film Festival.
Friday was another lovely day, warm and sunny and a good day was spent in the town around the Marina, admiring some of the huge super yachts. Saturday we drove over to Al Portet, a lovely bay about a mile or so east of Moraira, Peter and I walked from the Marina to Al Portet back in 2015 a stunning waterfront walk with beautiful views across the bay. We had a drink along the seafront as Jenny ventured into the water for a paddle! Later that evening it was all change and glad rags on for a great night over at 'Benidorm Palace' a great show, good food and photographs, home for 2.00am! Sunday was a day spent recovering!, although Peter and I had a ride out to Ifach Golf Club, one of Moraria's local 9 hole courses. It is a lovely clubhouse with stunning views looking over the first, second and third fairways. The beer was nice too. Our evening meal was spent dining at a nice small restaurant in the town by the sea.
Monday and we had a drive out to the bowling club at 'The Inn on the Green' in Javea, I am not a bowler but they had a very good sports clothing shop which was well worth a look, especially for the girls. From there we drove to the Arenal beach in Javea for coffee and a toasted croissant, very nice. It was slightly overcast today but still warm. We headed off to the headland and the lighthouse at San Antonino, some great views looking over the bay. Later that evening we drove into Moraira and the 'Gemisant' restaurant for an excellent evening meal.
The following day and a croissant and coffee in Moraira set us up well for the drive over to Altea. The girls went round the market whilst Peter and I walked into the old town and had a look around the cathedral, a beautiful building with a blue domed roof and surrounded by small narrow streets and whitewashed buildings. That evening we met some other friends, Hillary & Brian in Teulada and had a pleasant dinner at 'La Brisa' restaurant.
Wednesday was a quiet day, it was very warm again, 23C in the shade on the balcony at 8.00am this morning. We had a quiet walk around the town, lots of families on the beach today, enjoying the sunshine. We headed back to the villa for brunch. It was our last day so we did some packing of sorts before heading out to our favourite restaurant 'Casa Toni' for a wonderful evening and excellent evening meal. Thursday soon came around too quickly, home day today, after breakfast we headed into Moraira for coffee and croissant, I did some last minute photographs before it was time to return to the villa and prepare for the journey and flight home later that afternoon.
We had a superb holiday with our great hosts Peter and Geri who were excellent tour guide too. Thanks folks, cannot wait to return in the future.

 

 

Friday 19th May 2017.

It is not very often when it happens, but today was one of those days when I had a free morning to spend photographing at Fairburn Ings. Unfortunately the weather was a little disappointing, so it was winter clothing on today!  It was quite a contrast to yesterday.  I arrived at the visitors centre just after 9.00am. It was raining heavily, with a grey cloudy sky and very overcast, 9C, with a light North Westerly wind. I was reluctant to leave the warmth of the centre but needs must, so with coffee in hand I made my way to the 'Pickup hide'. The Green Woodpecker was very vocal when I arrived, it was hiding somewhere in the undergrowth behind the hide, and no matter how hard I looked for it I never found it. On the water in front of the hide were several Common Terns, (posh seagulls) they looked quite elegant and have a lovely body line, they were diving into the water after hovering from a height of about 30ft, a few minutes later they would take a rest on one of the many fence posts along the water's edge.  In the field with the Highland Cattle must have been a flock of well over a hundred Canada Geese, contently grazing and resting amongst the wild grasses. Newly arrived chicks were few and far between today, I only saw the same Coot I saw yesterday with its youngster in tow, I presume the other youngsters had anchored down in the safety of their nests until the weather improves and it stops raining. A small flock of Black headed gulls flew in and made a lot of noise at the far end of the lake. Over on the feeding station there were lots of little finches, Dunnocks were busily hoovering up the food spoils which the Grey Squirrel had spilt out of the feeders and onto the woodland floor, I love these little brown jobs, they have a wonderful vocal range when singing. Juvenile Blue Tits were out in numbers today, many still with their baby tufts and looking wet and bedraggled from the mornings rain. There were lots of Great Tits and Robins too. Both male and female Chaffinch were about, along with several Tree Sparrows hiding amongst the undergrowth. Everything soon disappeared though when a Jackdaw flew in and landed on one of the tree branches next to the feeders, they have a really menacing call and up close are a significant threat to the much smaller birds on the feeders. It stayed around for about a minute before flying off around the back of the hide, several moments later normal service resumed and it was  a hive of activity again on the feeders. A male Reed Bunting even popped by for a meal on the fatball feeder although it soon got short changed when a Greater Spotted Woodpecker decided that he was going to tackle the fatballs before they all disappeared. 
A pair of Grey Squirrels were a nuisance on and around the feeders all morning, they are so agile though even on some of the most flimsiest of branches, how they keep their grip and balance is quite remarkable.  
Lunch time was approaching so I reluctantly packed the gear away and headed back to the Visitors Centre for a coffee before heading off for home. A great morning at the reserve regardless of the weather.

 

Thursday 18th May 2017.

After a pleasant early morning walk with Meg and Gracie I headed off to the RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings. It was 9.30am which is quite late for me when I pulled into the car park and unloaded the camera gear. It was a lovely morning 11C with a light westerly wind and the sun was shining nicely.
 
I collected my coffee from the visitors centre after exchanging some pleasantries with the staff in the shop, I am not normally able to get to the reserve on a Thursday so today was quite a change with different faces around the reserve.
 
I headed off along the 'Discovery Trail' towards the 'Pickup Hide', one of the first things I noticed was how the grass and bushes have suddenly  greened up, the young leaves have turned and blossom is now in full bloom on the Hawthorn bushes which makes a sight in the morning sunlight.
 
The hide was busy this morning as I settled down behind the window to the left of the hide. There was lots happening on the water though with 2 Mute Swans landing in front of the hide and staying for about 30 minutes, feeding and preening, their long necks forming all sorts of contorted shapes as they cleaned their glossy white feathers. A little further away from the hide three Greylag Geese flew over before turning and landing on the water. Several pairs of Mallard were dotted around the lake along with one coot and its chick. Several Grey Heron and Cormorants flew over the lake this morning but none chose to land.
 
Jackdaws seemed to be all over the place this morning, they scattered the finches which were on the feeders..
 
It was nice to see the Yellow Iris's beginning to flower, especially those on the left hand side of the lake.

Wednesday 10th May 2017.

I was up bright and early this morning just after 5.00am with Meg and Gracie for our morning walk around the Barff, a misty sun breaking out behind the power station casting some long low shadows across the farmland to the woodland of the Barff.

The dawn chorus at this time of year is quite amasing and I have probably said this before, 'if you could bottle it up and put it on a prescription it would give people a real boost to the day'. I love listening to the sound of the Tree Warblers, they have such a creamy tuneful song. We had a very pleasant walk, the Bluebells on the North East side of the Barff are still looking good but in places the ferns are taking over, another couple of weeks and the ferns and nettles will have suffocated them for another year.  After an hour or so we headed for home and breakfast.

It is some time since I last visited the reserve at Fairburn and as I was on top of the jobs at home, for the time being anyway, I decided to visit again. I packed the camera gear into the back of the car and headed off to Fairburn. I arrived and parked up at about 9.15am, there were several cars already parked, their owners like me taking advantage of the nice weather. I took a walk along the wooden broadwalk to the Swan feeding platform, there were lots of Mute swans milling about but I was surprised at the low number of Mallards down there, normally there are quite a few, they could have been on their nest in the reed beds I suppose. It was nice to see a lone Avocet on the mudflats to the left of the lake, just paddling around in the mud its long bill penetrating the surface in a sweeping movement searching for food.

I retraced my steps to the visitors centre for a coffee and a catch up with the wardens before heading over to the 'Pick up hide'. By now the sun was shining and there was a very light breeze blowing across the water, the air temperature was 14C which was quite pleasant for that time of day. I only had a winter fleece with me this morning, I had left my heavy winter jacket at home. Looking through the hide window it was nice to see the mallards hard fast asleep on the water's edge, several Moorhen and Coots were swimming close to the reedbeds. A lone Grey Heron was over on the far side of the lake and a Little Egret was stationary in the reeds on the right hand side of the lake. It was good to see the Common Terns resting on the fence posts and logs on the water's edge, a small flock of about a dozen Terns were on the water, suddenly they would take it in turns to fly up out of the water, hover at about two meters above the surface then dive head first back into the water, this ritual repeated itself for about thirty minutes till they all flew off over towards the 'coal pit trail'.

A lone Cormorant flew over, circled above the hide before landing on the water, this is the first time I have actually seen them in this lake, usually they stay in the trees over the fields to the right of the hide. Shortly after the Cormorant landed I could hear the honking of a pair of Canada Geese flying behind me, over the hide and they to landed on the water, what a noisy pair, continually calling to each other and making as much noise as they possibly could, fortunately after a few minutes they took to the air and flew off in the direction of the 'Lin Dyke Hide'. A wood pigeon came in and landed in front of the hide on the water and had a good preening session in the water, it stayed for about ten minutes having a good clean.

Behind the hide and to the left in the Silver Birch Trees a Green Woodpecker was being very vocal, alas no sign of it when I went to investigate.

Over on the feeders it was relatively quiet, several Tree Sparrows kept popping in for a quick snack, along with the Blue Tits which preferred the fat ball feeders. The Dunnocks were plentiful this morning singing their heads off before dropping to the floor for some food then returning to the tree branches for a rest and more singing. A pair of Robins flew in, one landing on a fence post the other on the floor, they had a quick feed before flying deeper into the bushes, appearing every now and then for a quick snack before returning into the undergrowth. A Jackdaw flew into one of the branches for a few minutes to scavenge some of the dropped seed from the feeders.

At about 11.00am everything went quiet, all the birds disappeared from the feeders, something must have spooked them, then over on the right, behind the Sandmartin wall, sitting on a fence post was a lone Buzzard, a huge bird with quite distinctive brown and white markings, sadly although I managed to get some pictures it was too far away to get a decent one without a very heavy crop.  A Crow came and landed on the fence post next to the Buzzard then a Magpie on the post at the other side. The Buzzard could have taken either bird out had it wanted so I presume it had just fed and had landed on the fence post for a rest. It stayed there for a good thirty minutes before flying off towards the Visitors Centre.

I had a lovely morning down at the hide today, I met some of the usual photographers I see on my visit so it was nice to have a good catch up too, but lunch time was calling so I headed back to the centre for another coffee before setting off for home.

 

Wednesday 3rd May 2017

It was a cold start to the day today but the early morning mist soon burnt out once the sun got a little higher in the sky. I had a free day today so put the dogs in the car and headed off for a walk around the South Lake and Ray Woods at Castle Howard. It was about 11.00am as we parked in the car park. By now the sun was shining brightly but there was still a cool North Easterly wind, I was pleased to have packed my windproof fleece, needless to say there were several people walking around in just their shirt sleeves, they must have been cold or made of hardier stuff then me.

We set off through the courtyard, stopping for a quick coffee before heading off through the ticket office and had a pleasant walk to the house. The last time we visited was only several weeks ago and all the daffodils and Snowdrops had long gone but being replaced by clusters of yellow Cowslips, they looked lovely gently blowing in the easterly wind.

It was good to be able to get some nice photographs of the house set against a lovely blue sky, quite often when I visit there is a dull grey sky. Today the house looked resplendent set against a blue back drop.. From the house we headed south to the Atlas Fountain and onto the South Lake, it was nice to be able to walk around the lake today, it had been cordoned off on my last two visits. The light this morning was amazing; the colours in the trees around the lake and the lake itself looked extremely colourful and vibrant. We continued walking along the lake, occasionally stopping to take photographs before heading on to the Temple of Four Winds and into Ray Woods. The trees in the woods always amaze me, such a variety, different shaped leaves, different coloured trunks, and different textured bark. The star of the show today had to be the Azaleas which were flowering nicely, lovely rich pink colours, some white and some purple, lots a colour around every corner; it was a delightful walk and felt like quite a tonic.  We had a sit on the bench at the top of the woods for ten minutes, just admiring the view,  before heading back to the house and courtyard for a late brunch.

Sunday 23rd April 2017

I have just returned home from a wonderful walk around the Barff this morning. It was good to see the early morning sun rising in the east which brought a touch of warmth to the cold overnight air.

I have been fortunate that during April I have been able to get onto the Barff with Meg and Gracie between 5.30am 6.00am most mornings, a lovely time of day, on some days with no wind, the scent from the Bluebells hangs in the air and every now and then drifts across in the light breeze, you can virtually taste the pollen being blown through the air.  The Bluebells on the Barff have been excellent this year, they started flowering around the beginning of April, although the green leaves started breaking through the woodland floor late February. By early to mid-May though the ferns and nettles will have forced through them and start to smother these hardy blue flowers for another year. This April has been quite exceptional weather-wise, in that we have only had a fraction of our monthly rain fall coupled with only a handful of very light frosts. We have also seen temperature swings of between 10degrees to 15degrees throughout the day.

 One of the main threats to the native Bluebell is that of an invasion from the Spanish Bluebells, looking at the signs it looks as though the Barff's are still native, but I am no botanist and I think I/we would have heard by now if they were aliens.

Bluebells are actually protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which prohibits anyone from digging up the bulbs in the countryside and landowners from removing bluebells from their land for sale. The species was also listed on Schedule 8 of the Act in 1998 which makes trade in wild bluebell bulbs or seeds an offence.

Bluebells are protected because they face many threats and are an important species to preserve. Threats in the UK include the loss of ancient woodland habitat, the illegal collection of bulbs and cross-breeding (hybridisation) with non-native bluebells.

Not many people will be aware but Bluebells are quite poisonous. All parts of the bluebell plant contain toxic glycosides that are poisonous to humans and animals including dogs, horses and cattle.

It looks as though it is going to be a good year for berries and fruit to, the hawthorn bushes are covered in blossom at the moment as are the Rowan trees, I have even noticed many of the Holly bushes flowering too.

The birdsong is quite amasing at this time of day, quite a cacophony of noise coming from the trees and bushes in the woodland, we sat on an old decaying log for about 5 minutes today just listening to the lovely song of the tree warbler, I heard several warblers today around the old pumping house and again along the 'Bypass trail', the song only broken by the call of a Green Woodpecker. A lovely morning and two tired dogs, so hopefully a bit of peace when I return home.

Friday 24th March 2017

I remember as a young child along with my brother, sat in the back of our parent's car as they took us on the weekly car journey from home, through the streets of Hull to visit our Grandparents who lived in the small coastal village of Aldbrough, on the east coast, situated between the seaside villages of Hornsea to the North and Withernsea to the South.

On route we would drive through the village of Sproatley and see this massive house on the left called Burton Constable Hall. Some sixty years later and I have just made my first visit to look around the grounds and surrounding parkland.

We parked the car in the car park at about 11.30am and with the dogs called in to the reception area to pay and have a look round. It was mid-March and the house was still closed, but the coffee shop was open. It was a beautiful sunny day although you still needed a light jacket on to give some protection from the cool wind.

The house is set in over 300 acres of parkland so with the pocket map in hand we found our bearings and had a very pleasant hour or so walking around the grounds before making our way back to the courtyard café for a lovely late brunch, where we sat outside watching the Archers practising their sport in front of the main hall. What was really nice was that attached to the café was the doggy café were if the weather had been inclement we could have sat with our dogs eating our food undercover and in pleasant and warm surroundings.

Records show that the medieval system of farming called 'ridge and furrow' was used during the Middle Ages at Burton Constable, which was typical of the open field system. By 1517 a deer park was created.

The landscape architect Lancelot Capability Brown was commissioned to transform the parkland between 1772 - 1782 which included landscaping the fishponds into two lakes separated by a bridge. He also planted many of the tree clumps on the parkland as well as ha-ha's.

Much restoration work has been carried out since 1999 which has involved planting thousands of trees to re-create the tree clumps originally started by Capability Brown as well as replenishing the avenues to both the southern and western aspects of the hall. Many of the surviving 'ha-ha's have been restored along with work to the beautiful Capability Brown bridge.

We will definitely be coming back in a few weeks' time to have a look around the hall and another walk around the grounds. 

Tuesday 21st March 2017

We have the decorators in at the moment so life is a bit hectic and with the two pups at times quite chaotic, with furniture from one room in another room, carpets up, no curtains, the smell of wet plaster and paint, hopefully we should be back to normal in a weeks' time or so.

The weather forecast looked pretty good for today so I put the two dogs in the car and headed off back to Castle Howard to hopefully photo the daffodils and Azaleas.  It was just after 11am as I parked the car in the car park. I took the dogs for a walk around the cricket pitch first and on into the woods heading towards the gatehouse to get rid of some of their enthusiasm bearing in mind they had been out with me for an hour or so before breakfast!

I changed my jacket when I got back to the car, picked up the camera gear and booked in to the ticket office, for such a nice day it was relatively quiet, not many tourist coaches in today. From the ticket office it is a pleasant five minute walk to the house passing the walled garden on the right, to the left the grass meadow is awash with daffodils which look to form a huge yellow blanket on the floor. On walking past the house the sun was shining and the house looked absolutely magnificent basket in sunshine. We made our way down to the South lake and walked along the water's edge stopping every now and then to take a picture. Meg and Gracie are getting the hang of things when I have the camera in hand as I drop the leads and tell them to sit and wait whilst I take the picture, then reward them with a little treat after I have them back in hand so to speak, they think it is great fun, mind you it is costing me a fortune on little doggie treats, but worth it. From the lake we made our way up to the Temple of Four winds, the views back across the lake and over the Howardian Hills in the opposite direction are beautiful, we stayed for about five minutes just taking in the views and having a bit of a breather too. From the Temple we walked into Ray Wood, some of the Azalia were in full flower and looked lovely, walking past the reservoir I caught a glimpse of some of the carvings on the bottom of the central monolith. The walk through these woods is quite pleasant with some unusual trees and shrubs many just waking up after the winter. The sunlight was shining on the remnants of the small pyramid, covered in moss which hides some unusual carvings on the stone. From there we made our way back to the top of the hill and sat on the bench to admire the views of the house and the terrace of daffodils which line the pathway back to the house.

By now it was mid-afternoon so we headed back to the car, I loaded the dogs back into the car and headed back to the coffee shop for a pot of tea and sandwich which I brought back to the car where we had a pleasant picnic sat outside under a tree, Meg and Gracie thought it was great fun! Another lovely walk, time for home. 

 

Tuesday 21st February 2017

Although I have been visiting Castle Howard many times throughout the year, I have rarely ventured or explored Ray Wood, the woodland situated to the East of the main house.

After breakfast and with the weather forecast looking pretty good for the morning, I packed the camera gear along with Meg and Gracie and drove over to Castle Howard for the morning and my main purpose being to walk around the South Lake and to explore Ray Wood. We had a great morning, I had taken M & G for a walk before breakfast so fortunately they had lost some of their energy earlier in the day, but they were well behaved as we walked from the house up towards the Temple of Four Winds.

It was nice to see the daffodils poking through the grass though it will be a few weeks yet before they come into full flower, we continued our walk up the hill and through the gate into the woods, snowdrops covered the woodland floor, gently swaying in the light breeze.

The woods are covered in a maze of tracks and woodland trails.

These ancient woods cover an area of approximately 25 acres and contain quite a collection of plants, the original woodland date back to the 16th century though it wasn't until the early 1700's that work began to build boundary walls, benches and summerhouses. Work also started on the fountains and pedestals. The woods became a popular visitor attraction, but by the mid-18th century most of the features had disappeared.  The reservoir which feeds the fountains was enlarged and rebuilt during the 1850's.

During the early 1940' the woods were clear felled for the war effort, and not replanted till 1946 with a selection of mixed hardwoods. It wasn't until the late 1960's that George Howard and James Russel a plantsman worked to reinstate the original walkways. They also introduced approximately 800 species and varieties of rhododendron. They added glades of pieris, wild roses, rare magnolias, hydrangeas, viburnums, maples and rowans, many of these shrubs came from China, Chile, Argentina and Japan.  Sadly the woods became overgrown and neglected but in 2010 work by the staff and volunteers began to restore the gardens back to their former glory. Today there are clear paths and trails to follow, the trees and shrubs are clearly well maintained by staff from the Arboretum Trust. At the moment the woods are full with swathes of Snowdrops in full flower, clumps of early flowering daffodils also add colour. The woods will be awash with colour though in May from all the rhododendron species, so I will be looking forward to another visit in a few weeks' time. 

 

Monday 20th February 2017.

All grandchildren gone and the house just about back to normal, Meg and Gracie both exhausted, we decided to pack the car and with the dogs head into the Dales to see the Snowdrops at Thorpe Perrow Arboretum in Bedale.

We had a safe and uneventful fifty minute journey in the car, arriving just before 11.00am on a cold and overcast morning.

As RHS members we had free admission today which was extremely nice. The lady on the desk gave us a brief outline of the Arboretum, what to look out for and where to visit and a map of the site, at this point I noticed the lemon drizzle cake in the café window behind where the guide was standing. Something nice to look forward to after our walk.

Thorpe Perrow Arboretum has been on my radar for several years now, probably since I joined the Howden camera club as many of the members go there quite frequently to capture the trees and colours throughout the season, so I was looking forward to having a walk around and see them for myself.  

 The Arboretum has one of the finest private collections of trees and shrubs in the country. It has been built on a plot approximately 100 acres and was the creation of one man, Colonel Sir Leonard Ropner (1895 - 1977). Today it is now owned and managed by his son Sir John Ropner.

 It is home to some of the largest and rarest trees and shrubs in England.

We followed the 'Snowdrop Trail' a route from the visitors centre, past the 'pet cemetery' and Henry's Island to the lake, following the lake to the bridge and onto the Milbank Pinetum planted by Lady Augusta Millbank in the mid nineteenth century and on to the Falcon Centre, (a place to visit without M & G) from there we headed to the Jubilee oak a fine specimen and a lovely spot to have a sit down to soak up the views. There are 24 varieties of Snowdrop in the Arboretum and they all made for a lovely picture.

The gardens are all marked out in sections with all the pathways identified with names such as 'Cherry Avenue' Carolyn's Walk', 'Acer Glade' and 'Lime Avenue' just to name a few. Each Section inter-connects with its neighbour via paths, grass walks, glades, bays, or avenues. Many of the trees and shrubs have come from various parts of the continents from around the world, having origins in China, Japan, North America, Chile, and Europe.  

During the early summer of 2004, 67 trees within the arboretum were recorded and designated as "Champion Trees" by The Tree Register of the British Isles.

On one of our little breaks I was reading that Snowdrops are used a lot in herbal medicines, an extract called Galantamine is used to treat the nervous system as well as people suffering from Alzeimer's Disease, amazing.

After a pleasant walk of about one and a half hours we decided to head back to the Visitors Centre for a pot of tea and a slice of that lemon drizzle cake I saw earlier, absolutely wonderful, what a great walk and certainly a place to visit again in several weeks when all the daffodils are in flower.

 

Tuesday 14th February 2017.

It has been a hectic weekend; Jenny's daughter, her husband and three grandchildren arrived for the half term week late last week, so it has been none stop so to speak since they arrived. Today, after breakfast we headed over to Doncaster and a walk around the Wildlife Park, it is just a forty minute drive in the car. The grand children are no strangers to wildlife having lived in London for many years with London Zoo just a 5 minute walk from their home and were regular visitors, so it would be interesting to see what they thought.

We arrived just after 10.30am and the car park was quite full even at that time in the morning. The weather was bright and sunny with a cold wind so everybody was well wrapped up for the walk. I had packed the big camera with me and a 400mm tele lens so hopefully I should be able to get some nice pics of the animals. Our first stop was to look at the Meerkats and Yellow Mongoose just inside the entrance to the park, they are such characters, especially when they sit up on their hind legs on lookout duty, they look so bright and alert. After a short walk we entered 'Lion Country', it was great to see and hear the lions up and about, one of the males was extremely vocal as he strutted about, the females weren't far behind, some trying to sleep after their big breakfast, others content to have an amble about and watch all the visitors. I always enjoy reading about these lions how they were 'rescued' and brought over to this country and settled in at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, it was a great feat of organisation, fundraising and some significant generosity by some major companies that enabled the Lions to start a new and better life in this Country. They certainly looked fit and healthy and very content in their surroundings. After watching the Lions, we headed over to 'Leopard Heights' but they were well out of sight for our visit, the Giraffe's though on the opposite side were out and about and being very photogenic, One of the girls was heavily pregnant so was being closely monitored by the staff. After a pleasant lunch in the 'Masai Coffee House' we made our way further around the park to the 'Land of the Tiger'. This is another great story how the park is taking part in a programme to save the Siberian Amur Tigers from extinction, at least two of the tigers were very active today, they looked in excellent condition and their colours looked superb as they strutted about, one stopping to have a break on its raised platform, the other walking about in front of the waterfall.  From there we followed the path round to the Polar Bears, They were contently sleeping over on the far side of their lake adjacent to their outdoor shelter, every now and then one of them would lift his head, have a good stretch before settling down again to sleep off its breakfast. The other pair in a separate park of the park were also contently sleeping off their food. One of the things that struck me seeing these bears was how big they were and their paws looked huge, I was well pleased I was well out of their way. We continued our stroll around the park into 'South American Viva' and passing the Squirrel monkeys and Marmoset monkeys, the Mara look strange looking animals, like a cross between a deer and a hare, but lovely to photograph and on this part of the park we could walk amongst them which was great, though I don't know what they must have thought having all these visitors walking through their living space.  Further on we watched the Giant Otters as they swam and chased each other round the park, diving into their big lake and out again running round and into their living accommodation, they certainly are Giants. From here we headed back to the visitors centre and a look at the Baboons, wow, several little babies clinging to their parent's chests as they chased each other around their huge compound, several of them being quite vocal too. Next to them the Painted Dogs, late last year one of the females had a litter of puppies, and although the staff had created a specially den for the birth the female reverted back to her native instincts and dug out a den in the woodland part of the park which is where she had her puppies, today the puppies looked gorgeous as they played games with each other whilst the parent dog watched on.

A great day out with the family, grandchildren had a fantastic day, all content in the car as we drove home. 

 

Monday 1st February 2017

I have just had the most ridiculous couple of weeks ever which has prevented me from getting out with the camera. It started with a dripping tap in the upstairs bathroom which, whilst looking for the cold water stop cock led to a leaking washing machine in the kitchen downstairs, whilst in the process of fixing the bathroom tap I found another couple of union joints which were loose and had to be tightened, both under the said bathroom sink. Needless to say that after several days of cutting down spanners, skinning my knuckles due to extremely limited access, we are now all secure and leak free. I then had a request to replace a bulb in the bathroom, not having any spares in the house, popped out to the electricians store in Selby, only to be told that they stopped making that type four years ago! We actually have six of these sunken ceiling lights, the outcome being that I had to purchase six new units and bulbs, remove the old ones and re wire the new ones. Anyway, all sorted, I wonder what else can go wrong?

This morning was a good one, I had a lovely walk with Meg and Gracie earlier in the day and after breakfast decided to have a couple of hours away from the house and headed off to the reserve at Fairburn. It was 11am before I got settled in at the 'Pick up hide' and remarkably quiet for this time of day, the foggy, dull damp drizzly weather keeping all but the hardened visitors away. The water level in the lake in front of the hide was quite high from all the rain we have had this last couple of weeks. Several pair of Mallards were swimming about along with the Moorhen too. Nice to see the first signs of Spring were in the air as at least two pair of Mallards were busy mating. A little Egret flew in to the reed beds to the right of the lake and spent the next thirty minutes preening. The area around the feeders was busy today, Reed Buntings were plentiful, along with Greenfinch, Chaffinch and a big male Bullfinch which seemed to dominate the area like a big lion in the Masai watching over its Pride, albeit no other Bullfinches around today, the Dunnocks were regularly seen hoovering up under the feeders along with a pair of Blackbirds and Tree Sparrows. Lots of Hen Pheasant around the hide today, since the reed beds have been cut back there is far more visibility to the front of the hide and you can get good sightings of these great birds as they head for a drink at the water's edge.  Several Goldfinch kept popping in to the feeders for a snack, their colours looking really vibrant. What was a little upsetting to see was that several of the Chaffinch had a fungal type of growth on their legs and feet, 'Fringilla papillomavirus' tends to affect Chaffinches I have seen it here on the reserve several years ago. These growths may vary in size from small nodules to larger warts that appear to cover the whole leg. It is such a shame because other than that these birds look in really good condition. It was good to see the Willow Tit this morning, it paid several visits to the hide during my stay along with the three Robins. As lunch time approached I headed back to the Visitors Centre and home, another lovely morning albeit a short visit but great to be out in the fresh air. 

 

 Monday 23rd January 2017

I woke early today about 6.00am, looking outside it was a bitterly cold morning, well below freezing and thick fog. I had pencilled in this morning for my first visit to the RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings of 2017, according to the weather forecast on radio 4 they were predicting it to be a dry day with no rain or sleet with the sun eventually breaking through the mist and fog. But first I had to take the pups out for their morning walk. It was extremely dark when we arrived on the Barff, I was thankful that I had my small torch with me as there was very little moonlight as we set off for our walk amongst the woodland. The frost had been quite severe and had penetrated the ground making it quite firm to walk on which made a pleasant change from the thick wet mud of late. By 7.30am the early morning light was just breaking through although sunrise wasn't till around 8.00am. We had a good walk though and by the time we arrived home we were ready for our breakfast. I sorted the dogs out and settled them both down before leaving for Fairburn, packed the camera gear into the car and headed off to the reserve. It was still quite foggy when I left home, the temperature gauge in the car read -2C, but as I drove through our next village the sun was just beginning to break through giving some spectacular wintery views across the bare arable fields adjacent to the main road. Unfortunately within a couple of miles the sun had disappeared and the area was shrouded in a thick freezing fog.

It was 9.30am as I drove through the gates to the reserve, the temperature had warmed up slightly to -!C, at least there was no wind otherwise it would have been quite bitter. I popped in to the Visitors Centre to exchange pleasantries to the reserve staff and volunteers and had a cup of coffee whilst I scanned the sightings book, reports of a Bittern and Bearded Tits being on the reserve made for some good reading. I headed back out into the cold morning air, the frost making some amazing patterns on the plants and bushes alongside the 'Discovery Trail'. I continued my walk to the Pickup Hide, lots of young Robins seemed everywhere, several were savaging for morsels of food on the floor whilst others were busily flitting from one tree to another in search of a quick snack. On arrival at the hide, all looked quiet, the area infront was quite calm, just a couple of pairs of Mallard and the odd Water hen and Coot, no waders as such, I finished my coffee and headed further along the trail to the Kingfisher Screen. As I arrived I must have disturbed a Grey Heron which flew off downstream towards the 'Cut Hide', but after several minutes it returned and settled down just behind the sluice gate. Looking at the water as it flowed under the bridge where I was standing the stream was teeming with young fish, shoals of them, their silvery bodies flashing as they swam towards the sluice and the waiting Heron.  Shortly after the Heron arrived a Little Egret arrived and after an initial confrontation between the two the Egret settled down on the left hand bank a safe distance away from the Heron which was in the water. A family of Mallards swam up stream closely followed by another Little Egret which flew up to the sluice gate, narrowly missing the Heron, although it did try to dive bomb it as it came in to land on the right hand side of the stream. The Heron was having none of it and quickly scattered the family of five Mallards back down stream before setting about the newly arrived Little Egret on the right. The Grey Heron continued to fish and guard the sluice for another thirty minutes or so, within that time the first Little Egret was quietly content preening itself on the left hand bank, either that or petrified that if it moved closer to the water it would be set upon by the bigger Grey Heron! After an hour at the screen the cold was beginning to work its way up from my feet, so I packed up the camera gear and headed back to the 'Pick up Hide'. A pair of female Pheasants where busily hoovering up under the feeders to the right of the hide, I could hear lots of Long Tailed Tits chirping away behind me in the bushes and within a few seconds they came on mass to the feeders, six of them flitting in and out, they get a beak full of food and fly back to the safety of the bushes to eat it whereas the Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch and Tits all seem quite content to sit at the feeders and eat on the job so to speak. Dunnock, Willow Tit and Robin all took their turn at the feeders all scattering though when the Grey Squirrels, two of them this morning decide to have a feed from the same feeders.

As lunch time approached so did more and more visitors so I packed the camera gear away and headed back to the warmth of the visitors centre and another coffee before I headed off for home.

A great morning at the reserve, hopefully I can arrange another visit for later in the week.

 

Wednesday 4th January 2017

 
A winter's morning at Harlow Carr. 
Our first visit of the New Year, although I always enjoy a walk around these gardens no matter what time of year. It was a fresh and cold morning, we had had a slight ground frost at home but by mid-morning when we arrived at Harlow the sun had come out which gave some respite for the cool westerly wind that kept blasting across from time to time. 
It was nice to see a blue sky with some sunshine, the sun casting long shadows over the tree tops, occasionally catching some of the ornamental trees and highlighting the beautiful colours of the trunks and branches, some red and some white but both looking quite amazing on this winter's morning. Everywhere was looking quite pristine, the lawns were looking neat and tidy the borders too. Several of the staff and volunteers were busily raking up and trimming some of the old growth on plants that had died back and hibernated for the winter, it certainly made you feel as though you wanted to tidy up your own garden a little more after seeing how tidy they keep the gardens here and especially at this time of year.
After a walk around the gardens for an hour or so it was nice to get back to the centre and enjoy a bowl of soup and pot of Yorkshire Tea in Betty's and start to plan our own gardening jobs for when we get home.
 
 
Thursday 29th December 2016
 
Well, that's December 2016 just about over and with the exception of two very light snow flurries that's the only snow we have seen this month. Several good hard frosts though, the last deep one was on the 29th of this month and coupled with a slight breeze drops the air temperature significantly. I have had several veryearly morning dog walks on the Barff this month and the air temperature has been recorded at -3C coupled with a light breeze the wind chill can be anything down to -5C. I do not mind early morning starts, in fact I quite enjoy them, not that I am anti-social, but it is nice sometimes to have a quiet walk around the Barff by yourself with the dogs by your side, I like listening for the bird song or watching the young deer feeding on the holly bushes dotted around the place, or watching the Grey Squirrels chasing each other around and amongst the trees. One of the other reasons why I enjoy the frosty mornings of course is that it firms up and hardens up the ground, most of my dog walking on the Barff is done away from the main footpath around the bottom, consequently with all the damp weather of late can get quite muddy and boggy at times, so it is nice to complete the walk with two dry and clean dogs.
 
Before the sun rises it is nice to hear the Tawny Owls calling to each other, they can be quite vocal around the top of the Barff some mornings. The Greater Spotted Woodpeckers are still active and can be heard most mornings pecking away at the tree trunks in their search for food. The Green Wood Pecker is quite vocal too and has been all year, its distinctive squawk always breaks the silence. The little finches are quite resilient too with the Great and Blue tits and Robins seen every day.
 
We have had a few misty mornings of late and quite often some nice inversions, it can be quite eerie some days looking from the top of Tap Hill over towards Selby seeing the town covered in a white fog with just the towers of Selby Abbey poking through. We have also had some nice sun rises too, the sun breaking through behind the power stations around 8.00am with some lovely cloud formations. Oh well, no sign of snow this back end, let's see what 2017 brings.
 
This will probably be my last post for 2016. Can I thank all my followers throughout 2016 for their kind comments and support and I Wish you and your families all the best for a peaceful and Happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one.
 
Wednesday 14th December 2016.
 
A lovely day today, we had arranged to meet our friends Pedro and Mavis at Doddington Hall on the outskirts of Lincoln, for a lunch date in the restaurant which is situated in the grounds adjacent to the hall. We had been here early last year for a meal so knew what to expect and today was no exception, but with the added benefit that this afternoon the hall was open too. We had a good browse through the well-stocked farm shop and purchased one or two stocking fillers and met our friends for an excellent lunch. The restaurant  and adjoining café is located in the Farm Shop in what probably would have been part of the courtyard/stable block/Farm office in the grounds of the hall before being converted and tastefully decorated. Anyway, we all had an excellent meal, a good natter and catch up, after a coffee we headed over to have a look around the house. Last year when we came the house was closed, today was quite a treat to be able to have a look around the inside. After checking in at the Gate House, as you walk outside the view of the Hall as you leave the house is quite amasing. The hall was built in 1595 by Robert Smythson and since has never been sold. The house is still very much a family home and has been passed down through the female line to the current family Claire and James Birch who took over the property in 2006 from her father Anthony George Jarvis.
Today and for the Christmas period, the house had been tastefully decorated to reflect the time of year, there was also a theme of Fairy tales as you wandered from one room to another, taking you on a journey and into the world of Hansel and Gretel, the Princess and the Pea and the Snow Queen just to name a few, all very well put together, it was good for us elderly adults so I think it must have been quite magical for the families visiting with young children.
By the time we left it was early evening, still lots of visitors coming to have a look around the hall as well as shopping in the farm shop. It was great to catch up with old friends again in lovely surroundings and at this time of year.

 

Friday 9th December 2016

After a hectic few weeks I managed to find some time to head over to the reserve at Fairburn for the morning. I hadn't been since mid-October so was looking forward to the visit and see what has changed over the last six weeks. It was a mild, cloudy and dull morning as I drove into the car park, the car temperature gauge read 12C. I called into the visitors centre for a coffee and chat for a few minutes before I headed over to the 'Pickup hide'. It was nice to be back, so to speak, a lot of the high weeds had been cut back prior to reaching the hide, the biggest transformation though was when I looked through the hide windows to the lake opposite, it looked for all the world like a bomb site, but there was a reason for it looking like it did. All the undergrowth, reeds and weeds bordering the lake have been scraped away, in order to improve the habitat for the nesting birds this spring and later in the year, I have to say it did look a bit drastic though. After a few sips of coffee I had a good look through the binos but didn't really expect to see any waders as the water's edge hadn't yet been clearly defined, I am sure once the water level has risen by several feet the whole area will look significantly better. Over on the feeders all the usual characters were there, a Grey Squirrel was being pestered by a pair of Robins who was dominating one of the feeders, male and female Pheasants were busily scavenging on the floor for the remnants which the squirrel had discarded from the feeders. Great Tit and Blue Tits waited their turn amongst the bushes along with the Tree Sparrows. Several Dunnocks were busily going about their business on the woodland floor, trying to avoid the big footed pheasants. As soon as I finished my coffee I headed over to the Kingfisher screen as I had hear several reports that the birds were showing well around the sluice gate, and I wasn't disappointed, after several minutes a female bird landed on one of the branches over hanging the stream, had two unsuccessful dives into the water and came up and landed on the sluice itself, fortunately it stayed long enough to enable me to get a couple of photographs.
Heading back to the centre I met a photography friend Graham and we decided to head off to have a look at St Aiden's, just on the outskirts of Castleford. Legal matters regarding land registry and other issues are currently preventing the RSPB from leasing the land form Leeds City Council, so until these are resolved the visitors centre and car park remain closed. I had never been to St Aiden's before so was quite fascinated to have the chance to have a brief look around. We parked up on the road side and walked through what would eventually become the car park to the visitors centre.  To the right is a huge disused drag line, (called Oddball) which was used during the open cast mining excavations, low and behold but nesting amongst this vast piece of machinery is a Kestrel which seems to have made it its home, looking at the wooden pallets around the bottom of the machine it looked as though there were other nesting sites too. As time was marching on towards lunchtime we headed off back to Fairburn and lunch and coffee in the warmth of the Visitors Centre.

Monday 28th November 2016

The weather forecast for today looked pretty good, so as I hadn't been over to the gardens at RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate for several months I decided to pack the car and head over there for a visit. I always enjoy a visit to these gardens no matter what time of year or whatever the weather decides to do on the day that I visit. As soon as you walk through the reception area and walk outside and stand on the patio area before descending the steps,  the view in front of you always takes your breath away, the vista seems to change on every visit, the colours, the light, the shade, the weather all make the gardens a special place to visit, and late Autumn is no different. Gone are the bright and colourful shrubs that adorn the borders, most of them have been well cut back before the winter weather sets in. Out come the bold rustic colours of the leaves as they start to die back, forming a golden blanket on the ground below, the trees come in to their own during these winter months as they start to shut down and shed their leaves, the colours of the tree trunks vary from a deep crimson red to a bright and shiny silver colour. The same with many of the hardy shrubs, they have lovely red and golden branches with a silky smooth texture when you touch them, their colours stand out on a typical grey autumnal morning. The riverside walk is quite a picture this time of year and this time it was that good that I went round it twice before a visit to Betty's and brunch!

 

Wednesday 23rd November 2016.

After a pleasant early morning dog walk, we decided to have a ride over to Castle Howard for a walk and to look at the house now that it is all decorated for Christmas. I always enjoy going to Castle Howard no matter what time of year, but Christmas at the house is always quite magical and this year is no different. The rooms are all very tastefully decorated some traditional, some modern and some very modern. The lighting is very subdued due to the main curtains being closed and this although causes a few issues for the photographer it creates quite a special ambiance in the house. The colours look beautiful the lights from the flickering candles, the light from the roaring log fires in the rooms all adds to the special experience. One of the centre pieces in one of the state rooms this year is a typical family house scene (pictured left) with floral garden and Christmas lights, looking through the house windows into one of the miniature rooms you can see a miniature Christmas tree. In another of the state rooms is a 'gingerbread' model of the Castle Howard estate, which has been mounted on a snowy scene with a model train circling the estate, all very effective, it must have taken hours to make. There are some beautiful floral arrangements around the house too. Finally, the chapel, the last area to visit before you reach the gift shop, the lighting in here was improved several years ago and is well worth popping in to admire the décor, the fluted pillars, the ceiling decoration and paintings, it all look amasing. I love coming in here to admire the workmanship, the colours and paintings. It is nice also to be able to sit for a few minutes and reflect on what you have just seen as well as just having some time to yourself to reflect on the things that are personal to you.

 

Friday 4th November 2016

Just returned home from a hectic day filming Red Squirrels in Hawes to the North of the County.

I was due to go up North several weeks ago but due to flash flooding in the dales at that time the visit had to be canceled at the last minute. I picked my friend and fellow photographer Graham up from Selby at 6.45am. We arrived in Hawes just after 8.30am, slightly late due to a road traffic accident near Castle Bolton just outside of Leyburn, fortunate nobody was seriously injured but one of the cars looked to be a write off. Anyway, we met Simon Phillpotts (Wilddales photographer) in the car park in Hawes and he took us further up the dale to his hide in the woodland. The weather was fine and dry although there had been quite a lot of overnight rain, there was a light breeze which just kept the temperature down, the sun was trying to break through the trees but for the time being everything was quite grey. After a short walk from Simons car we arrived in the hide and opened up the hatches. Within several minutes we had squirrels visible around us, that is on three sides of the hide, they were busy running through the grass scavenging for food, then, would hurriedly try to cache the food before the other squirrels found it, their front paws scurrying on the grass to make a safe place for their precious winter food.

By mid morning the sun was breaking through the trees but unfortunately it was straight in front of us which made photographing the squirrels quite challenging at times, I was shooting with an ISO varying between 1000 - 4000 at times due to the poor light and shadows through the trees then stepping down the aperture to compensate for the sun light giving me a shutter speed in the region of 1/200 sec at 5.6. As lunchtime approached so did the rain, how pleased I was that we were under cover, it didn't seem to bother the squirrels though, they went about their business continually searching for food as usual. 

We had lots of other visitors too during our stay in the hide, with Coal Tits, Chaffinch, Male & Female Pheasant, Blue Tits etc all regular visitors scavenging from the remnants of the squirrels left overs. As early afternoon approached the cold started to bite a bit, I was wearing my thick winter gear with several layers but the cold was slowly coming up from the floor, through my boots, once it starts cutting into you it is very hard to keep warm and becomes quite unpleasant. It was amazing watching the squirrels though, they are extremely fast as they go about their business, many of them are starting to grow little ear tufts as their winter coats start to come through. After my final cup of flask tea we decided to call it a day. Simon came and collected us from the hide just after 2.00pm it was good to be able to stretch the legs again as we made our way up the inclined track back to his vehicle. As we gained height above the tree line the sunlight on the moors looked quite stunning, the autumn colours of the bracken and ferns looked like the dale was covered in a blanket of gold. After a few minutes drive we arrived back in Hawes, exchanged pleasantries with Simon packed all the camera gear back into my car and headed home. I think I will be busy now for a few days editing pictures of Red Squirrels, always great fun!

Friday 21st October 2016

After a hearty breakfast we packed and said cheerio to the hotel, our home for the last three days and headed off to Hardwick Hall for the morning.

Sited on a hilltop between Chesterfield and Mansfield, overlooking the Derbyshire countryside, Hardwick Hall was designed by Robert Smythson in the late 16th century. Ordered by Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury and ancestress of the Dukes of Devonshire, it remained in the ownership of her descendants until the mid-twentieth century. The house is now under the control of the National Trust

Bess of Hardwick was the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I, and her house was conceived to be a conspicuous statement of her wealth and power. The windows are exceptionally large and numerous at a time when glass was a luxury, leading to the saying, "Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall." The Hall's chimneys are built into the internal walls of the structure, in order to give more scope for huge windows without weakening the exterior walls.

The house's design also demonstrated new concepts not only in domestic architecture, but also a more modern way in which life was led within a great house. Hardwick was one of the first English houses where the great hall was built on an axis through the centre of the house rather than at right angles to the entrance.

Each of the three main storeys has a higher ceiling than the one below, the ceiling height being indicative of the importance of the rooms' occupants: least noble at the bottom and grandest at the top.

A wide, winding, stone staircase leads up to the state rooms on the second floor; these rooms include one of the largest long galleries in any English house and also a little-altered, tapestry-hung great chamber with a spectacular plaster frieze illustrating hunting scenes.

Hardwick was one of Bess's many houses. Each of her four marriages had brought her greater wealth; she had been born in the now old Hall at Hardwick, which today is a ruin beside the 'new' hall.

After Bess's death in 1608, the house passed to her son William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire. His great-grandson, William, was created 1st Duke of Devonshire in 1694. The Devonshire's made another of Bess's great houses, Chatsworth, their principal seat. Hardwick thus became relegated to the role of an occasional retreat for hunting and sometime dower house.

As a secondary home, it escaped the attention of modernisers and received few alterations after its completion.

From the early 19th century, the antique atmosphere of Hardwick Hall was consciously preserved. A low, 19th-century service wing is fairly inconspicuous at the rear.

In 1950, the unexpected death of the 10th Duke of Devonshire and the subsequent death duties (rated at 80%) caused the sale of many of the Devonshire assets and estates. At this time, Hardwick was occupied by Evelyn, Duchess of Devonshire, the widow of the 9th Duke. The decision was taken to hand the house over to HM Treasury in lieu of Estate Duty in 1956. The Treasury transferred the house to the National Trust in 1959. The Duchess remained in occupation of the house until her death in 1960. Today, Hardwick Hall contains a large collection of embroideries, mostly dating from the late 16th century, many of which are listed in the 1601 inventory. Some of the needlework on display in the house incorporates Bess's monogram "ES", and may have been worked on by Bess herself. There is a large amount of fine tapestry and furniture from the 16th and 17th centuries. A remarkable feature of the house is that much of the present furniture and other contents are listed in an inventory dating from 1601. The Sea Dog Table is an especially important piece from around 1600, and the Eglantine Table has an inlaid top of interest to musical historians.

After a fascinating morning looking around this huge spacious house and marveling at all the tapestries and furnishings we headed off to the cafeteria for brunch and a welcome sit down. By now it was early afternoon and we had to get home to collect the pups from their stay at the Health Farm, so we said our goodbyes to our dear friends and headed for home.

 

Thursday 20th October 2016.

After a hearty breakfast in the hotel we headed over to Buxton for the morning and a tour of Poole's Cavern which lies on the outskirt's of this small town.

The show cave boasts to be one of the finest in the Country so I was quite looking forward to our journey underground. Officially opened as a show cave in 1853 by the 6th Duke of Devonshire, The Cavern has been attracting visitors since the early 16th Century although the main entrance to the cave has been moved since then to make accessibility more easier. Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots is said to have visited in 1582 and the writer Charles Cotton in 1681 listed the cave as one of his 'Seven wonders of the Peak' that in itself brought new found fame to the cave.

The great carboniferous limestone cavern has many strange and wondrous formations, sculpted over millions of years. Archaeological explorations in 1981 and 1983 have suggested that the cave was occupied from the Bronze Age. Some of the finds have been interpreted as suggesting that one of the chambers was used for religious purposes by Romano-Britons; an alternative explanation is that the cave was a metal-workers' workshop.

The name Poole's Cavern derives from an outlaw, Poole, who reputedly used the cave as a lair and a base to rob travellers in the fifteenth century.

The Cavern is around 310 metres (1,020 ft) in length, and includes chambers named the Roman Chamber, Great Dome, Poached Egg Chamber and Sculpture Chamber. Some items of interest include large stalactites/stalagmites called the Flitch of Bacon and Mary Queen of Scots' Pillar, as well as stalagmites with a porous texture and "poached egg" colour, which has been attributed to minerals leached from lime-burning on Grin Low above.

We had a very knowledgeable and informative guide who's expertise made the tour even more fascinating. The lighting in and along the main chambers and features was very well placed, towards the furthest point of access the lights were turned off to give us an impression on what the cave  was like in complete darkness. What it must have been like for the early explorer's doesn't bear thinking about. The cave system is known to extend further but todate it has not been explored. Back in 1998 a video camera was lowered down a borehole which revealed the existence of a further chamber, named "Seventh Heaven" This was a great tour and well worth the entrance fee. 

 

Wednesday 19th October 2016.

Just returned home from a wonderful three day break in the Peak District, a place I haven't really visited since my S & R days so it was nice to visit old haunts like Buxton & Bakewell.

We met our good friends Pedro and Mavis at Chatsworth House last Wednesday and on arrival jumped on the tractor bus for a tour around the estate, a little bumpy on the back side but the journey gave us a good overview of the grounds and estate around the stately home. I am pretty certain that I haven't visited Chatsworth before and had been really looking forward to having a look around the house, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The original house was built by Sir William Cavendish and his third wife Bess of Hardwick in the mid-16th Century. The house has since been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family.

As soon as you step foot in this great house the first thing that hits you is quality, the furnishings, the art work is quite remarkable and has evolved through the centuries to reflect tastes and passions and the interests of succeeding generations. The ceiling artwork is quite staggering. Today Chatsworth contains works of art that span 4000 years, from ancient Roman and Egyptian sculpture, and masterpieces by Rembrandt, Reynolds and Veronese, to work by outstanding modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Edmund de Waal and David Nash. I could have spent a good hour in the Painted Hall alone, the artwork, the quality of the plaster work, the colours, just take your breath away. There are over 30 rooms to explore, from the magnificent Painted Hall, regal State Rooms, restored Sketch Galleries and the Sculpture Gallery. I could have gone round twice and certainly look forward to my next visit. The other highlight of the day was our afternoon tea in one of the restaurants in the Stable block, phew.

 

Wednesday 28th September 2016

It has been a bit of a hectic week really, I am still catching up with jobs around the house and garden since our few days away in the Lake District. Anyway, this morning I headed off to the reserve at Fairburn Ings. My last visit here was about a month ago, I was late arriving and after a chat with the reserve wardens and a coffee it was 10.45am before I headed over to the Pick up hide and got the camera set up and all clamped up. The sun was shining as I looked across the water in front of the hide, good light conditions, 17C, with a strong North Westerly wind. The staff in the visitors centre had told me about sightings reported to them of a passing Osprey which had been seen here at the reserve and also over at St Aidens earlier in the week, alas no sign of it as I scanned the sky and treeline around the lake this morning. I did see several waders though with several Bar Tailed Godwits, Sandpipers and Snipe all busily probing the mudflats in search of a tasty meal. A lone Mute swan flew in and landed on the water, I always think they look quite clumsy when they come in to land with their big feet flapping about as it makes contact with the water, needless to say it landed quite safely and spent the next thirty minutes preening itself. Around the hide were several Magpie flying about, I am certain their nest site is well behind the trees on the right hand side. Over on the Sand Martin wall I watched a busy Grey Squirrel cashing some peanuts which it had taken from underneath the bird feeders, unfortunately what the squirrel didn't realise was that as soon as he buried his treasure the Magpie flew in and stole it for himself!

On the feeders were lots of Tree Sparrows and juvenile Chaffinch, under them were several young Hen Pheasant and a young Cock Pheasant all busily hoovering up all the spills from the feeders above them. It was nice to see some Greenfinch too, I hadn't seen them here for several months, although maybe they weren't coming to the feeders whilst I was there. Although still quite sunny, as the morning progressed the wind speed did to and after a couple of hours at the hide I decided to retire to the warmth of the visitors centre for another coffee and to get the circulation going again in my finger ends. A lovely morning again at the reserve.

Wednesday 14th September 2016

Today, I along with another photographic friend Graham Breeze, from Selby, had arranged to drive up to Hawes in the North of the County and spend the day with Simon Phillpotts another professional wildlife photographer, photographing Red squirrels in one of his woodland hides. I try to get up there at least once a year, sometimes twice to photograph these lovely small mammals,  unfortunately, freak heavy rain showers last night caused significant flash flooding, resulting in us having to postpone the visit at short notice. Not wanting to waste the day we headed over to Yorkshire Water's Tophill Low Nature reserve nr Driffield, in East Yorkshire, this was my second visit with Graham, our aim to photograph Kingfishers. The drive over there took just over an hour. After parking the car in the car park adjacent to the wardens hut  I quickly glanced at my watch as I put on my waistcoat, 9.00am, so we had a full day ahead of us. The weather was fine and dry with reasonably good light as we headed over to one of the dozen or so hides situated around the two main lakes known as 'D' and 'O'. We were going to one of the Northern hides renown for good sightings of Kingfishers (pictured left), needless to say the one and three quarter hours we spent in there we had no sightings, that was until I had dismantled my camera in preparation to move to another hide, when one of the little blighters flew in and landed on one of the branches just outside the hide window, fortunately Graham managed to capture some nice shots as it sat and posed on the branch. It is a pleasant five minute walk past the new visitors centre currently being built, to get to another hide adjacent to 'O' reservoir. We set up the camera gear and waited to see what turned up. On the far side of the lake we counted four Little Egrets (Pictured below right)  contently paddling amongst the mudflats along the waters edge. The first time I visited the hide a week or so ago we were sat looking out the side window when we noticed a huge 'V' shaped water ripple, as though there was something under the water heading towards us, I had my bino's trained on it as the ripples got bigger and bigger the closer they got to the bank, after about thirty seconds our curiosity was answered when an Otter swam out of the water and promptly into the undergrowth in front of the hide. There we were with some pretty sophisticated camera gear between us and neither of us got a shot at it! The adrenalin rush was remarkable, needless to say we never saw it again whilst we were in the hide. We did see lots of Kingfishers though, they were coming in to feed, landing on a depth marker post before hovering in the air, spotting their prey, diving into the water before returning to the same post with their catch. They would sit with the little mino between its beak, flicking the fish in the air trying to maneuver it into the correct position before promptly swallowing it head first. Checking the watch the birds were flying in approximately every twenty to thirty minutes. During our stay a fellow birder called in to the hide to ask if we had seen the Pectoral Sandpiper reportedly on the water in front of the hide, these are a relatively rare bird for this part of the county, but after scanning the water's edge with his scope he pointed it out quite clearly. Unfortunately it was too far away to get a decent photograph coupled with the fact that the sunlight was shining straight into the camera lens. I really struggle to identify one type of Sandpiper from another and know that there are at least twenty different species of them, but this was a definite sighting. I reckon within a day or so the reserve will be busy with birders from all over the country looking for the same Pectoral Sandpiper. One of the four Little Egrets we spotted earlier in the day had flown across to our side of the lake and was feeding nicely in the shallow water in front of the hide. I enjoy watching these birds they look so elegant with their white pristine feathers as they stroll through the water vibrating their long legs to disturb the small crustaceans in the mud below. Time marched on and by mid afternoon we decided to call it a day. A great day out and certainly looking forward to another visit in the near future.

Sunday 11th September 2016

I have Just  returned home from a few days in the Lake District. I always look forward to going over there and could quite easily settle down there and retire!  I like being in and amongst the mountains and close to water which I enjoy the most, as well as the stunning scenery. Our base as usual was in the lovelyBorrowdale valley and the Borrowdale Hotel. I had planned the trip several weeks ago after reading a 'Photographers guide to the Lake District' and noted several places I would like to visit during our short stay. They were nothing strenuous and all within easy reach of the car, so I thought I would get no earache from her indoors!

We arrived at the hotel on a Sunny and warm Wednesday afternoon, the weather was so warm that we actually had afternoon tea with Meg & Gracie in the gardens of the hotel, it was wonderful just to be able to relax surrounded by lovely fresh air and mountains, bliss. The following morning we woke up to rain, a persistent drizzle. The dogs had slept reasonably well in our hotel room but were up and ready to go out for a walk at 6.00am, so it was winter waterproofs on and out we went. It was quite dark for this time in the morning and probably a little darker due to the rain, but there was no wind so it wasn't too bad really. We had a good walk for nearly two hours along the broadwalk along the southern shoreline of Derwentwater, returning to the hotel just before 8.00am. Fortunately although the dogs were wet through they were clean and not muddy, so after a good dry down with several towels we were all ready for breakfast. The weather unfortunately didn't improve at all during the day, so after everyone had been fed we had a drive into Keswick. The dogs settled contently in the back of the car and were hard fast asleep when I pulled up in the car park in the town centre. After a look around several of the shops it was a morning coffee in 'George Fishers' before returning to the car and heading off to the car park near the lake to let the dogs stretch their legs for a few minutes. The rain was coming down in bucket fulls as we walked passed along the line of rowing boats berthed up on the shore line. Meg & Gracie thought it was great fun getting their feet wet in the lake again but didn't know what to make of the ducks and geese. We headed down to the view point at 'Friar's Crag' a nice short walk with a stunning view looking down Borrowdale. Unfortunately today all we could see was a heavy grey sky with lots of rain, we watched for a few minutes as the rain clouds made their way up the valley in our direction so we promptly turned around and made a swift walk back to the car. Heading back towards the hotel I took a single track road up to Watendlath, a small farmstead with a large tarn that on a sunny day is extremely picturesque, on our way up the narrow road I stopped off at Ashness Bridge to take the classic Biscuit tin photo with Skiddaw in the background, only today the mist and drizzle was that low you could only see a few hundred yards. Further up the road I stopped off at 'Surprise View' which normally offers excellent views across Derwentwater towards Catbells on the other side of the lake and deep into the jaws of Borrowdale overlooking Lodore Falls Hotel to the left, alas today you could just make out the hotel below and that was it. Back in the car and further up the road to the tarn, it had stopped raining so with the dogs I headed off around the tarn for a nice picture looking across the water back towards the farmstead, lovely. Back to the car and within minutes of driving back down the single track road I clipped my drivers side rear tyre on a boulder, within seconds the alarm was going off in the car so I pulled over into the 'Surprise view' layby of sorts. The tyre was split badly and needed replacing, unfortunately when I checked the toolkit to remove the tyre there was no implement to remove the locking nut covers on the wheel, so I was snookered really, fortunately 'Volvo Assistance' and 'Keswick Motor Services' came to the rescue and within 30 minutes of the call I was back on the road and we made our way back to the warmth of the hotel. The following morning, Friday, was a very similar start as Thursday, wet and overcast although with the rain fall from the previous day as well as overnight rain our morning walk along the shore was somewhat curtailed due to the amount of floodwater. I was somewhat restricted to where I could go today with having a 'pram wheel' spare tyre fitted, (Keswick motor company were excellent, they ordered a new tyre which arrived the following morning and fitted it for me late Friday afternoon, brilliant service, which meant for the journey home on Saturday morning I wasn't limited to 50mph) so after breakfast we drove back into Keswick to have a look around the shops and then back down to Rosthwaite and 'Yew Tree Farm' for brunch (The tea and Lemon Drizzle cake is to die for!). The views looking over towards Castle Cragg looked lovely, even in the drizzle and rain. The rain was persistent so we headed back to the hotel. Early afternoon I drove back into Keswick to have the new tyre fitted ready for the journey home in the morning. Lets hope on our next visit to the Lakes the weather improves and I must try to avoid puncturing my tyres, it is getting expensive!

Friday 26th August 2016

It has been a busy week for me this week, what with being away all last week I have spent this week catching up on jobs around the garden namely tidying up the borders and grass cutting as well as freshening up the pond. I have just got around to editing pictures from last week. Anyway, earlier today I spent a few hours at Fairburn Ings. It was a lovely morning, 15C, a blustery NW wind, sunny and a lovely blue sky when I drove into the car park at the reserve, just before 9.00am. I had a quick catch up with the wardens in the visitors centre before I made my way along the trail to the Pick up Hide, it looks as though I was the first visitor there this morning so I promptly set up the camera gear and had a good look across the lake. I noted in the sightings book that one of the wardens had spotted an Osprey over the reserve earlier in the week so that was something to keep my eyes open for. I counted twenty female Teal on the lake along with a pair of Lapwing and a couple of Moorhens. A flog of over thirty Canada Geese flew over the hide in formation and made plenty of noise as they went. A lone Green Woodpecker was calling in front of the hide its distinctive call scaring the smaller Finches on the feeders, I'll get a photo of it one of these days but this morning it kept well out of my sight. A juvenile Robin kept popping in to have a feed on one of the feeders as did the young Greater Spotted Woodpecker though  the Woodpecker preferred the suet pellets to the bird seed. The young Pheasants are looking good at the moment and look to have grown quite a bit since my last visit. A juvenile female Blackbird (pictured top left) sempt quite comfortable scavenging on the floor under the feeders with the Tree Sparrows and Chaffinch. I must check with the wardens to see if they have been ringing recently as I counted three Tree Sparrows with id tags on. The Magpies normally fly over the feeders at the Pick up hide but this morning a pair landed under the feeders, needless to say they cleared the area and it was a few minutes before the young Finches were brave enough to return. As the morning progressed the North Westerly wind got stronger and colder and blasted through the hide windows. By eleven oclock I was getting quite cold so decided to call it a day and head back to the centre for a coffee.

 

Sunday 21st August 2016

I have just literally returned home from a superb weeks holiday at Kilcamb Lodge (www.kilcamblodge.co.uk) in the small village of Strontian on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, on the west coast of Scotland. This was my second visit, the last being back in 2011 and it was nice to be back again.

As you do, I had been keeping my eye on the weather map for several weeks prior to going, and to be quite honest, it was not good, the North West corner of the country had been shrouded in blue, which meant rain, rain virtually every day for the last fortnight!. Fortunately, by some stroke of luck when we arrived the rain disappeared and we had a glorious week of sunshine.

This is a wonderful part of the country and the journey from home isn't too bad either, once you get on the A82 North of Glasgow the scenery is quite breathtaking, especially alongside Loch Lommond and further North as you approach and drive through Glencoe, the bleakness and solitude takes your breath away. With having both the dogs in the car I had to stop several times on route for their comfort break so it was 6pm before we arrived at the Corran ferry for the short boat journey across Loch Linnhe to Ardgour, from there it is just a short twenty minute drive to our wonderful hotel in Strontian

After settling in  I took the dogs for a good walk around the grounds and alongside Loch Sunnart, it was good to watch the Oystercatchers along the shoreline and a lone Grey Heron standing in the shallows looking for an evening snack, a pair of Cormorants were sat on a buoy in the middle of the loch wings outstretched in the early evening sunlight, the loch was flat calm and a slight mist was beginning to form on the mountain tops on the other side of the Loch, there were some magnificent reflections across the water.

The following morning we took the dogs for a good long walk into the Ariundle Nature Reserve just north out of the village. The weather was a bit missly to start with before the sun broke through and turned into a warm and sunny afternoon. The reserve is a fine example of an ancient coastal woodland and recognised for its old oaks, many being several hundred years old. The reserve has a rich abundance and variety of fern, mosses, liverworts and lichens too. Our walk followed the banks of the river Strontian,  which formed the main route to the 'lead mines' which were further up the valley and above the tree line. After a mile or so the path crossed the river, it was good to pause a while on the footbridge and watch the Dippers as they flew from boulder to boulder before diving into the water in search of food and emerging with a tiny grub. We continued along a raised broadwalk down the valley and made our way back to the car, a lovely walk no matter what the weather or time of year. Coffee and cake beckoned at the nearby by visitors centre.

The following morning we headed northward to the tiny village of Dorlin and a walk around the inlet to the ruined castle Tioram which sits on the island EIlean Tioram in Loch Moidart,  This 14C castle is sited in a superb position on a rock tidal island near to the mouth of the River Shiel near Acharacle and would have controlled all the sea traffic to Loch Shiel. The sandy beaches were deserted and a superb place for the dogs to run of some surplus puppy energy for thirty minutes or so. On our way back we called at the newly opened Salem Jetty shop for afternoon tea, very pleasant and sociable. Before we arrived back at the hotel we stopped off at the wildlife hide at Garbh Eilean, beautiful views across loch sunnart to the seals basking on the rock outcrops on the small islands opposite. There were several Grey Herons basking in the afternoon sunlight, along with Cormarants and Oystercatchers. I had a good luck for the Otters but unfortunately today or this afternoon anyway they were playing hard to get. Arriving back at the hotel with two exhausted dogs we had a very pleasant evening in the hotel.

Tuesday morning and beautiful sunny morning, I took Meg & Gracie for a good walk along the Loch Sunart, they being typical Labradors headed straight for the water and had a good swim in the Loch. After breakfast we drove back to Ardgour and continued northwards along the A861 heading north along the western shores of Loch Linnhe. The scenery was stunning, the sunlight coming through the trees, reflections in the Loch and the Nevis range of mountains behind Fort William looked huge and majestic as their reflections glistened in the water. We stopped for a coffee at the Glenfinnan monument but the visitors centre and car park was packed with overseas tourists all hoping to see Harry Potter, so we didn't stay for long and headed along the 'road to the Isle' and the small town of Mallaig. On arrival, this lovely town was packed with visitors too, I should have realised really that the 'Hogwart Special' runs from Fort William stopping at Glenfinnan before terminating at Mallaig, That aside the same train journey is quite spectacular with stunning scenery. After a brief walk around Mallaig we headed south and followed the coast road before stopping at 'Silver Sands' to stretch our legs and give the dogs a good run. The beach was amasing (pictured right) vast, clean and virtually desserted. After the walk we continued our journey south along the coast road to Acharacle andarriving back at our hotel late afternoon.

After out busy day yesterday we stayed closer to home on Wednesday and explored the Ancient woodlands of Ariundle again, what a lovely walk along the river Sunart, the moss and litchen on the trees looked amasing, the density and lushness of some of the ferns too, mind you with the amount of rainfall this area attracts I am not surprised everything looks so green and lush. Afternoon tea was taken at the hotel and like all the other meals here was superb.

Thursday we were in the car again and a journey south to have a look arounf Oban, a busy little town on the coast, stopping on the way back in one of the Forestry Commision sites for a good dog walk.

Friday, our penultimate day, so we had a drive out to the Ardumurchan Lighthouse situated at the most westerly point on the British Isles. A lovely journey through some spectacular scenery, though it is a single track road from the hotel to the lighthouse a journey of approximately thirty miles.the views from the lighthouse towards the Isle of Slye, Muck, Eigg and Rhum makes it all worthwhile. The 36 metre granite tower stands 55 meteres above the rocks and was built in 1849 using granite shipped over from the Isle of Mull. It was designed by Alan Stevenson, the uncle of Robert Luis Stevenson. Although still fully operational the lighthouse has been automated but still provides a vital role for the shipping navigating the waters off Scotlands west coast. The keepers cottages have been converted into a small visitors centre whilst the others have been converted into holiday lets. After a walk around the Peninsula  we headed back to the car and our journey back to the hotel before stopping at the excellent National History centre for coffee and most wonderful carrot cake at Glen Borrowdale.

Saturday, we left the hotel at 10.30am, stopping at Loch Lommond and Southwaite services stations for coffee before arriving home at 7.00pm, the end of a lovely holiday. 

 

Monday 8th August 2016

It was a much cooler morning today 14C as I pulled into the reserve at Fairburn Ings, a strong North Westerly wind cut into your face as I unloaded the gear out of the car and made my way to the visitors centre. The sun was shining though with a lovely blue sky. Fortunately I had packed a fleece jacket in the camera bag and within minutes of arriving at the hide I had to put it on, the wind certainly was blowing this morning. It was very quiet around the feeders, a lone Cock Pheasant was strutting under the empty feeders hoping for some scraps of food that may somehow drop from them. Plenty of Chaffinch though flitting between feeders searching for any signs of food along with the Tree Sparrows. Looking out through the front windows a pair of Green Sandpipers were busily probing the shallow water for food. The resident pair of Black Headed Gulls were both resting on the main island. A Grey Heron flew in for a couple of minutes, had a paddle and preen before flying off towards the Lyn Dyke hide. Back to the feeder area and a Collared Dove, Robin and Blackbird were all scavenging around under the feeders. In the field to the right of the hide I counted nineteen Highland cattle busily grazing amongst the rough pasture, they look big beast even from a distance. The Blue Tits youngsters were looking as though they had had a rough night on the town, with their adult plumage coming through, another week and they will be fine I'm sure. It was unseasonably quiet at the hide this morning, I haven't known it as quiet as this for a long time, whether or not it was the strong cool wind or the lack of food in the feeders I don't know, but after an hour or so I called it a day and headed back to the centre for a coffee and a chat with some friends.

 

Friday 22nd July 2016

I had a free day today, so after the early morning dog walk and breakfast I packed the car with the camera gear and headed of to the reserve at Fairburn for the morning. I arrived just after 9.00am, it was a lovely morning with a light North Westerly wind, 20C with 60% humidity and cloudy. I popped into the visitors centre for a coffee and read of the sightings book before I made my way to the Pick up Hide. Looking through the hide windows across the water everything looked lush and green, the water level was quite low with plenty of mudflats for the waders to explore. The Purple Loosestrife was in full flower which looked beautiful as it swayed gently in the morning breeze. The Green Woodpecker was extremely vocal behind me, needless to say that I couldn't see it. On the water a pair of Black Headed Gulls and Moorhen were on the far side, two Canada Geese flew onto the lake from over my head, both being quite vocal as they landed on the water. On one of the small islands I counted seven Jackdaws. Closer to the hide a juvenile Greater Spotted Woodpecker was feeding busily on the remnants of the fatball feeder. It was quite amusing as the morning progressed, a pair of Grey Squirrels were controlling the feeders, and under them were three Hen Pheasants and a Cock Pheasant collecting the remnants on the woodland floor. The Cock Pheasant looked to be getting quite agitated about the Squirrels and sure enough as one of the squirrels landed onto the floor quite a fight developed between the two of them, the Pheasant seeing off the squirrel with several powerful pecks to its head and body. That was the last I saw of the Squirrel. The male Chaffinch were regular visitors this morning and looked really colourful with their orangy red breast and grey head glistening in the morning sunlight. Lots of foliage around today which made it difficult to see the birds. It was nice to see the baby Robins about today, their brown speckled breast giving their game away. Three young Hen Pheasant chicks kept popping in to scavenge under the feeders. A Jay with a pair of Magpie's kept threatening the area but could only get as far as the Sand Martin Wall. Dunnock, Tree Sparrows and a baby Wren were also busy feeding under the feeders. Blue Tits, Great Tits and Greenfinch were regular visitors during the morning too. A lovely quiet morning, time for another coffee.

 

Monday 18th July 2016

Up bright and early again this morning with the girls, I will be quite pleased when it starts getting a little darker in the morning when hopefully they will sleep a little longer! We had a good quiet walk around the Barff  which is one of the benefits of getting up early so I shouldn't wish for darker mornings really. The weather forecast looked pretty good for the day so we packed the camera gear into the car along with Meg and Gracie and a little doggie picnic and set of for Castle Howard. I needed some more pictures of the walled garden in its summer finery. Walking through the courtyard is always special, we normally have a seat on one of the benches and discuss a strategy on what we are about to do etc, namely walk through the walled garden and then walk around the South Lake before dinner. It always amazes me as we sat with the dogs at the number of people, complete strangers really, who come up to you and want to chat about the dogs. Had we not had them with us I'm sure they wouldn't have been as chatty. It is great, many of the visitors are on holiday, away from home and in many cases away from their pets too so by coming over to see Meg & Gracie reminds them of their own. They are becoming quite popular with all the overseas visitors too with many of them taking pictures of them both with their phones, cameras and i pads, hey ho. On leaving the Courtyard we made our way into the Walled Garden, the border adjacent to the wall was amass of colour with some beautiful Alliums standing upright with gorgeous massive blue flower heads, the roses too proving to be equally as colourful. As we turned the corner into the central part of the garden the Delphiniums took your breath away. Even the Vegetable plot looked amasing. I could have spent hours in here just marveling at the planting, colour and scents. From here we headed out through the East Gate passing the Atlas Fountain and walked down to the lake. Mallards were loitering on the banks keeping close watch over their sibling chicks, a pair of Mute Swans came in to land, the Coots were making a lot of noise as we walked passed them. We rounded the corner and headed back along the north side of the lake, the grass had been kept a little longer here and was full of wild flowers and with them lots of Dragonflies and Damselflies. The view from the lake looked magnificent, the house standing proud in all its grandeur. By now the sun was at its highest and very warm, the dogs were beginning to tire so we headed back to the car via the courtyard cafe were we picked up a coffee and sandwich. We had a pleasant lunch under the shade of one of the Oak trees bordering the cricket square, needless to say that Meg and Gracie enjoyed their picnic too.

 

Friday 15th July 2016

Another early 5.30am start with M & G this morning. The weather forecast looked pretty good too so after a good walk and breakfast we loaded the dogs into the car and headed off to Frasethorpe, a small village between Skipsea and Bridlington on the East Coast. We used to take Poppy and Bridget here several times a year so they could have a good run on the sand and swim in the sea, they thoroughly enjoyed it. This was our second visit since we have had Meg & Gracie this year.

I was amazed at the large numbers of wind turbines that have been erected around this area, what a complete and utter blot on the landscape. Whilst I agree we need to look at alternative power sources I am pretty certain that with the technology we have available in the 21st Century we could source our energy without such a impact on the landscape.

I drove into the car park adjacent to the sea front at approximately 10.15 am. and parked up. The tide was far out and the sands were virtually free from people, just the occasional dog walkers in the distance. The sun was shining 20C and with only a very light wind, it looked extremely pleasant. On our first visit earlier this year the dogs were very hesitant about entering the sea, so today I had put a pair of shorts on in an attempt to get the dogs into the water. It was a good three to four minute walk from the car to the waters edge and as nobody else was in close proximity I let them of the lead, they ran the last two hundred yards straight to the waters edge, had a quick paddle and promptly ran back to find me. I spent the next forty five minutes with them paddling in the water, no more than knee deep, we headed northwards towards Bridlington which we could see in the distance. It was quite a while since I had had a paddle in the sea, the dogs were splashing about nicely as they chased each other around me and occasionally jumping up and soaking me through. They gained in confidence the longer they stayed in the water which I was pleased to see, though I think one of the reasons Meg was jumping up at me was that she wanted to be carried! The morning sun had nicely warmed the water which made it a little more bearable and enabled us to have a good walk and play in the shallow water. Just after 11.00am we headed back to the car, still walking through the water, occasionally the dogs would set of along the sand for a good gallop before returning to me in the water. It was nice to get back to the car though and get dried down. Within minutes the dogs were asleep as we loaded them into their crates in the back of the car. After a cup of tea from the mobile tea van which was parked up in the car park we set of for home, with not a murmur from either dog. A lovely morning for them both at the seaside..

 

Wednesday 13th July 2016

I had a free day today so after the early morning routine and breakfast I loaded the camera gear into the car and headed of to the reserve at Fairburn for a couple of hours. It was a bright start with a fresh westerly wind and 15C when I arrived at the hide at about 9.30am. I was pleased I had packed a fleece jacket in my rucksack as the wind was strengthening from the west and at times howled through the hide window and straight into your face. The water level in the lake had dropped since my last visit with quite an expanse of mud around the edges of the water and the island in the middle was harboring a pair of Black headed Gulls, six Rooks and a host of Mallard, Coot and Water Hen. Through the bino's I spotted a Little Ringed Plover patrolling the waters edge searching for some small aquatic invertebrates or insects. At the far side of the lake were three Lapwing busily going about their business. I was looking through my record book and this time last year there was a pair of Avocet on this lake with two young chicks and the Sand Martin wall nest holes were virtually full, this year I haven't seen any nesting Avocets and only a fleeting glimpse of the Sand Martins. On an amusing note though I watched a big red Pheasant as it set about a Grey Squirrel under the feeders to the right of the hide, lots of wing flapping and pecking by the Pheasant soon sent the Squirrel scurrying off up the nearest tree. It was good to see a pair of juvenile Hen Pheasants with their mother feeding under the feeders. Young Jackdaw were busily flying in for the fat balls along with the Greater Spotted Woodpecker. Looking back over the lake you could see heavy rain showers coming towards the hide, fortunately although the hide is quite open, the roof kept the rain off me.It was good to see the big Highland Cattle as they roamed the field to the right of the hide, they are a hardy breed and a little shower of rain like this certainly wouldn't disrupt their business. The Purple Loostrife amongst the reed beds was flowering nicely and added a splash of colour. During the morning a pair of Green Sandpipers flew in and landed on the shoreline, they spent a good thirty minutes feeding at the waters edge. By now it was nearing lunch time so time to head back to the visitors centre for a coffee and some brunch.

 

Tuesday 5th July 2016

A very early start this morning. I had heard M & G paddling around downstairs for some time, the sun was just rising in the east so I and hurriedly got dressed, it wasn't until I had made my way downstairs and glanced over my shoulder at the kitchen clock which said 4.30am, what on earth am I doing getting up at this time in the morning? I took the dogs out onto the garden to stretch their legs, picked up my waistcoat and their leashes and set of for a walk. It was a lovely morning, a bit grey, the overnight dew had made the grass very wet underfoot and within 5 minutes my boots were wet through along with the dogs bellies. It was 5.00am by the time we reached the Barff and looking over the fields a low mist or temperature inversion hung in the air, with just the hedge tops showing through, quite a magical sight really, I used to see it a lot in the lake district when the valleys were shrouded in a vast sea of mist but higher up the peaks the sun would be shining through. Fortunately, by the time we had walked up to the top of Tap Hill on the Barff the whole of Selby and outlying areas was shrouded in mist. What a shame that 90% of the people would never see it. After about an hour's walk around the Barff we headed for home. I had a free day today all be it with the pups so after breakfast the three of us headed off to Castle Howard, but this time instead of looking around the house and gardens we turned left at the entrance roundabout and drove into the Yorkshire Arboretum. It must be a couple of years since my last visit so I was looking forward to it. Bridget and Poppy used to enjoy coming here so I am sure Meg and Gracie will too. We had a wonderful morning walking amongst the trees, such a variety, many of the fir trees had some  remarkable looking cones on them. The grass terraces were very wet still and the ground staff were busy hard at work grass cutting. The grass was much longer than I remember it on my last visit several years ago, much of it though made really good meadow land with a host of wild flowers swaying gently in the morning breeze. This was good to see as most of our meadowland disappeared during the late 1930's.  This loss of meadowland had a major impact on our native pollinators three-quarters of butterfly species are currently in decline and there have been significant losses of wild bumblebees. By creating these meadow pastures it goes some way to reverse the loss by creating and managing large expanses of wildflower meadows, thereby providing more food for insects such as bumblebees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths. Another benefit is that in early spring they provide a mass of colour which on a sunny day attracts a wide variety of butterfly.  After following the Bastion wall we stopped at the area around the Santa ponds to photograph the Orchids, from there we headed over to the Dew Pond and onto the Arboretum Lake and back to the visitors centre and cafe for cake and coffee. The whole walk took us about two hours, and in that time we hardly saw a sole. We mustn't leave it another year before another visit.

 

Tuesday 14th June 2016

Up bright and early this morning with Meg & Gracie and was out walking them both on the Barff at 5.30am. It is hard to believe they are both just over seven months old and full of mischief. 

I've just spent the last three days scraping moss and weeds out of our block paving, a nightmare of a job and extremely tedious, but at least it is out of the way for another year.

It was slightly cloudy and overcast first thing this morning and very humid. I had a free day today so loaded the camera bag into the car and headed of to Fairburn for the morning. After a pleasant chat and coffee with the wardens, I headed off along the discovery trail to the Pick up hide. I was the first one there this morning which makes a change for me and quiet, lovely really. The Little Egret was still on the lake in front of the hide, along with several Tufted ducks and a Shoveler. Over on the feeders juvenile Jackdaws kept flying in to feed on the fat ball feeders along with the Greater Spotted Woodpeckers. Reed Buntings were patiently waiting their turn once the bigger birds had flown. It was good to see several juvenile Robins, their speckled chest markings showing nicely in the faint sun that was trying to break through the early morning gloom. Occasionally the quiet was broken by the raucous call of a pair of Jays that appeared to be loitering with intent, namely to chance their arm at predating some of the young chicks that were patiently waiting for their parents to feed them. The Great Tit chicks were probably their own worst enemy making a lot of noise waiting to be fed, although looking at the size of them they all looked big enough to feed themselves. 

The Grey Squirrels soon cleared the birds away, a pair of them arrived, one after the other, stealthily making their way along the tree branches before clambering onto the feeders, a fight followed as they both headed for the same feeder the loser making a slight retreat until its mate had finished feeding.

The Long Tailed Tits, four of them had been biding their time behind me and when the feeders were clear quickly nipped in onto the fat balls, had one of the quickest feeds and were off, not to be seen again that morning. Lots of Blue Tits about this morning, some looking quite disheveled whilst others looked in pretty good condition, their breast feathers glistening in the morning sunlight. Several Dunnocks were busily hoovering up all the loose seed on the floor under the feeders, I've not yet seen one actually on the feeder but I'm sure they must. Coffee time was fast approaching so I dismantled the camera gear and headed back to the centre for lunch. A great morning.

 

Wednesday 8th June 2016

Today was the first opportunity to get out with the camera since returning from our tour of Southern Italy. I packed the car and headed over to the reserve at Fairburn Ings. It wasn't until I opened my log book that I realised it was 5 weeks since my last visit. What a difference and how the reserve had changed within those weeks. The most notable being how much the hedgerows have grown and the associated flora and fauna. Everything was looking lush green so I new they had had their fair share of rain too. I headed to the visitors centre for a coffee and an update from the wardens, to be told that there had been good sightings of Spoonbill, Cuckoo and several visitors had heard the Bittern. I headed over to the Pick up hide and set up the camera gear. It was just after 9.00am, the sun was breaking through the low cloud, very little wind at all, and extremely humid, the temperature was 16C Looking over the lake was quite a picture, lots of activity on the water, the flag irises were in flower, and the trees and bushes had leafed up and the reed beds had grown to about four feet in height. A Little Egret (pictured right) was on the far side of the lake, it actually stayed on the water all morning, just occasionally it would take off and do a circuit of the lake before landing in a different part of the water Its beautiful white plumage looking good in the morning light. A pair of Mute swans looked to have taken up residence on one of the small muddy islands, though were probably just resting. A pair of Lapwing were busily feeding on the waters edge. To the left of the hide a Shoveler duck was busy feeding swinging its head from side to side under the water in its search for food. A pair of Shell Ducks were on the far side of the lake along with several Tufted Ducks and Coots. I haven't seen as much activity as this on the lake for quite a while. 

It was busy on the feeders too. Within minutes of me setting up a juvenile Jackdaw flew in to feed under the hide before venturing out in view of the camera. Lots of Tree Sparrows flitting in and out along with Great Tits and Blue Tits. Under the fence a pair of Mallards were quite content basking in the early sunshine only moving after a Grey Squirrel had partly emptied one of the feeders on the floor when they would venture out from their sheltered spot to hoover up under the feeder. Suddenly all the small finches disappeared, and a big Jay flew straight onto the peanut feeder and fed on the nuts for about a minute before flying off in front of the hide and out of sight. A Red Pheasant came out of the long grass behind the Sand Martin wall it strutted and paraded and made a noise before being spooked by a Rabbit and flew off back into the undergrowth!

I don't know what has happened to the Sand Martins, this time last year the wall was full with them, all feeding their young chicks. I never saw any this morning, neither did I see any Avocets, again, this time last year there was a pair on this lake with young, no sign of any Avocets at all this year which was disappointing, I wonder why? It was nice to see a Red Legged Partridge pay me a visit, I like these colourful birds as they scavenged for food on the floor. Goldfinch arrived mid morning for a feed with a pair of Greenfinch. Several Dunnock were minding their business as they searched for food on the floor. Behind me I could hear several Canada Geese flying about before coming into view in front of the hide, four of them banked right and flew in formation like the Red  Arrows, heading for the Lin Dyke area of the reserve. Coffee and cake beckened so left the hide and headed back to the centre and the car, before I left I had a walk to the main lake via the Swan feeding platform, no sign of Avocets on this lake too. This time last year I photographed atleast two families with their chicks here. It was nice to see a Mute Swan with her six young Signets as she gracefully guided them around the shallow water. A lovely morning at the Ings.

Wednesday 1st June 2016

Just returned home from a very pleasant holiday to Southern Italy, 'discovering' the heel of Italy with some close friends. From Gatwick airport we flew to Bari Airport a journey of approximately two hours thirty minutes on arrival we drove South to Lecce and our hotel for the next two nights. The following day we headed off further South to Otranto the most Easterly City in Italy and a look around the 12th Century Romanesque Cathedral with a remarkable  mosaic floor dating back to the year 1166.

The following day we drove over to Ostuni a beautiful little city known as the 'White Town', beautiful white painted houses perched on a hill with a cathedral dating back to the 15th Century. Following a lovely afternoon we headed over to Selva di Fasano and our base for the next three nights.

Thursday morning, after a comfortable night we drove to the town of Matera the Subterranean City, which has been designated a world Heritage Site since 1993. The cave dwellings were quite remarkable, and one of the oldest inhabited human settlements in the world. The dwellings had none of todays utilities which we take for granted, no running water, electric or sanitation, their farm animals used to live in the same space as the inhabitants!  upto eleven families were known to have lived in some of the 'sassi's', what was even more remarkable was that the last remaining habitants weren't finally re-housed until the 1950's.

Friday, probably one of the highlights of the tour was a drive to Alberobello a small, picture postcard town in the Itria valley, to have a look at the 'trulli', (pictured above) which are circular, conical roofed white washed dwellings. Since 1996 the 'capital of the Trulli' has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, perched on a slope these tiny houses are quite unique due to their dry stone building construction. Many of the buildings are still occupied and serve as private homes, many of the occupants, for a small fee, will willingly show you around their home.

Saturday we headed over to the Castellana caves to have a guided tour through the limestone caves, only discovered as recently as 1938. The guided tour through the cave system lasted about an hour with some marvelous rock formations. After a coffee we headed over to Ruvo di Puglia and a look around the 13th Century Ruvo Cathedral. A short walk took us to the Jetta museum where there was a remarkable collection of Terracotta figures and pots decorated in mythical scenes which gave a good insight into the early life of the Magna Graecia. A short drive took us to Trani, a small harbour town just north of Bari and our hotel for the next two night.

The following morning we headed over to Castel Del Monte a large octagonal castle/hunting lodge built by Frederick 11 during the mid thirteenth Century. We returned to Trani for brunch at one of the many small bistro restaurants situated alongside the harbour (pictured right), a pleasant afternoon and evening before we headed back to Bari in the morning and our flight home. 

Wednesday 18th May 2016

I had had a disturbed night with the pups last night, Meg has just nicely found that she can bark and when she barks I go running to her! she thinks it is great fun. Unfortunately when I put them to bed at around 10.30pm she settles with her sister for a few minutes whilst I lock up and turn out the lights, leaving them both downstairs and settled on their respective dog beds etc. No sooner had I got into bed that she started to bark, I popped downstairs to see what the fuss was all about and as I opened the kitchen door she went hyper,  jumping up, licking me, running around as though I had been away for several weeks let alone a couple of minutes. I took them both outside into the garden for a run round and to see if they needed the loo again, after a few minutes I brought them back in, fortunately this time they settled and slept. I heard Meg barking and running around the kitchen floor the following morning at 2.30am! so I went back down stairs and into the garden with them both etc etc. back to bed till 5.00am. This time I stayed up and took them both out for an early morning walk around the Barff. It was a lovely morning despite my lack of sleep, short sleeves and summer waistcoat which made a change from a thick fleece and waterproof jacket.

The Bluebells are at their best at the moment and look amazing, covering a large area of the Barff more so on the eastern side. Another week and the ferns and nettles will have smothered them so this morning it was nice to see them in all their finery. We had a lovely walk, no sign or sound of squeeky trees at the moment, the birds must still be sitting on their eggs. We are going on holiday next week so hopefully when I return the young chicks will have hatched and the Barff will be full of the sound of the youngsters begging for food from their parents. A good walk and hopefully two tired out dogs, lets hope they give me some respite today.

Wednesday 11th May 2016.

Up bright and early this morning, the pups had me up at 5.00am, the sun was shining outside so we had a good quiet early morning walk on Brayton Barff. The Bluebells are looking at their prime at the moment and at 5.20am the aroma drifting across the woodland smells beautiful. I've been watching several woodpecker trees for a couple of weeks now and I am quite hopeful that we should have several broods of Greater Spotted Woodpecker chicks in a couple of weeks time, something to keep an eye on when I come back of holiday. But for now we, Meg, Gracie and I enjoyed a pleasant walk.

After breakfast I had arranged to go photographing at the 'National Centre for Bird of Prey' in Helmsley, so I had made arrangements to put M & G into our local kennels for a 'Doggy Care day', this served two purposes really, firstly, I couldn't take them with me on this photo assignment and secondly I will be flying out to Southern Italy in a couple of weeks time and wanted them both to have a taste of life in the kennels with other dogs etc, before we leave them for our holiday. As it turned out they had a great day in doggy care apparently and seemed none the worse for it when I collected them late that afternoon. 

I packed the car with all the camera gear and two dogs and headed off towards their kennels, I dropped them both off no problem at all, this was their first time away from home since we have had them so I was a little apprehensive, they never looked back as the kennel staff walked them off to their accommodation for the day, nothing more for me to do than leave and head off up to Helmsley. It was a pleasant 40 minute drive arriving at the centre around 10.30am, leaving me enough time to sort the camera out and pop into the cafe for a quick coffee before the 11.30am flying display started.

I have always liked visiting here, and try to visit several times each year. The centre opened a couple of years ago on the Duncombe Park estate and within that time has continued to develop into a superb centre for the birds. Charlie Heap the director and his small team established the centre  from scratch and should be justly proud, he certainly isn't hesitant about getting his hands dirty and played a significant part in building the aviaries. He continues to do a stirling job with the birds and his staff and flies the birds three times a day. 

The first flying display started at 11.30am, a 16 year old Harris Hawk called 'Vienna' came soaring above the watching visitors head as it flew over the flying ground before settling on one of the many tree trunks which act as huge perches for the birds, after 'Vienna' then came 'Laura' a 5 year old Lanner Falcon, a stunning bird as it circled the flying ground. The next bird in the display was a huge Great Horned Owl (pictured left) , wow, what a magnificent looking bird and lastly in this mornings display was 'Zonda' a 2year old Grey Buzzard Eagle, what a big, stunning bird as it sat on the tree trunk before setting off to do some circuits of the flying ground. The flying display lasted for about thirty minutes after which I made my way over to the cafeteria for a sit down, cup of tea and sandwich, all extremely nice. The next flying display didn't start till 2pm so I had plenty of time to follow the 'Hawk Walk' around the aviaries. The huge Sea Eagles were out of their aviaries, and sat calmly on perches in the paddock area, occasionally hopping off them to enjoy a wash in their huge bathing pools.  Time was marching on so I headed back to the flying ground for the 2 o'clock display. The first raptor was 'Atlantis' a White Tailed Sea Eagle' a huge bird which looked stunning in the afternoon sunlight flying gracefully over the ancient oak trees and soaring effortlessly on the gentle breeze. Following the Sea Eagle came 'Bernot' a 5 year old Common Buzzard, its colouration quite distinctive of the Buzzard. Then the star of the show weighing in at just 130 grams was 'Scoma' a Burrowing Owl, this young bird was full of mischief, unfortunately though it was reluctant to burrow as earlier in the week it had been spooked by a family of rabbits who had taken up residence in one of his burrows! It more than made up for it though as it flew amongst the watching audience by sitting on the empty benches and fence posts. The final bird of this display was 'Urana' a five year old Lanner Falcon it looked amazing as it flew over us and circled high above. A most enjoyable afternoon, time marched on so it was time to head for home and collect the pups from their day care.

Thursday 5th May 2016

Another early start to the day, the pups had me up at 2.30am this morning! no sooner had I got them settled after a walk around the garden, and back to sleep then they woke me again, this time it sounded as they were running a marathon around the kitchen floor, chasing each other and running into the doors for maximum noise effect, anyway it worked. I looked at the bedside clock and it showed 5.15am, oh well! I was up and out on the Barff with them both for 5.45am. There was a was a thick fog when we set off although by the time we got to the Barff the weak sun was trying to burn through the mist. It was quite atmospheric really with beams of sunlight casting long shadows through the trees. The Bluebells are still looking beautiful at the moment, as you walk along the track you can occasionally smell their delicate scent wafting in the air. It will be another week before the grass and nettles start to smother them and another chapter in the nature book will be written when the ferns and nettles take over from the Bluebells.

The Nuthatches were extremely vocal this morning, it seemed as though they were present at every corner of the Barff. We spent a quiet five minutes sitting on the floor watching the Goldfinches in the young Mountain Ash trees, I love looking at these birds, their red facial markings and white faces make them look quite distinguished, its a shame they are so bad at housekeeping. As I was sat watching the Goldfinches playing in the trees I watched a Great Tit taking nesting material into the bough of a big old beach tree.

By the time we arrived home the sun had broken through the morning fog and mist and it was a barmy 12C. I had just made a cup of tea and as I looked over towards the pond I saw a flash of light brown which caught my attention, a Mistle Thrush had just landed in the bird bath and was having a good splash about. We don't often see these in the garden so this was quite a treat, fortunately I still had my waistcoat on, I always try to keep a small ixus camera in one of the pockets so, rather than go outside to get a picture I wedged my arms on the window sill, pulled in the zoom and took a couple of pics through the kitchen window. the wire fencing that I have around the pond at the moment to keep the mad pups out, somewhat spoils the picture but this was too good an opportunity to miss.  

Anyway, after breakfast I had an important meeting to attend in Harrogate, so packed the camera gear in the car and if time allowed pop over to RHS Harlow Carr afterwards. Fortunately, my business was all done by late morning so headed over to Harlow Carr for brunch and a walk around the gardens. By now the temperature had risen to  22C, possibly the warmest spring day of the year so far. We had a lovely walk around the gardens which always look immaculate but what really caught my eye this visit were the masses of Tulips, their colours covering virtually all the colours of the spectrum and made quite a picture. It was nice to see lots of visitors enjoying the gardens today, many bringing picnics and sitting out on the manacured lawns enjoying the sunshine. What a lovely afternoon, but  I couldn't stay for long as I had to head home and see what the pups had been upto.

Wednesday 4th May 2016

Well, that's April out of the way and here we are in the first week of May, it only seems 5 minutes ago since I was putting up Christmas decorations! I've had some early starts this week, Meg our 5 month old lab has just learnt to bark, Gracie has some way to go yet thank goodness. The downside to the barking melarky is that as soon as its light in the morning, (around 5.00am) she's up and about and wanting to fight with her sister and causing general mayhem and mischief in the kitchen. In order to safe guard the well being and respectability of the house, and before it is chewed to pieces, I try to pre-empt her by getting up at 5.00am to reduce the damage and to her sister. The good part about all of this is that we (me, Meg & Gracie) have had some lovely early morning walks on Brayton Barff.  It is nice and quiet at that time in the morning, by quiet I mean not many people about. The Cuckoo has been quite audible several times this week around the top of Tap Hill, which is great to hear. Chiffchaff seem to be all over the place at the moment, along with Nuthatches, it seems just a couple of years ago I spotted my first Nuthatch nesting in one of the trees in the car park, today as I walked around I could hear them in at least five to six different locations and two of those being in nest boxes. Robins too, where do they come from? especially around the farm shop area of the Barff. Quite often on our walk I pick up the main footpath  near to where the farm shop was and leash walk the dogs along the main footpath towards the car park, I counted eight different Robins this morning as they flew down onto the path, sometimes just a few feet in front of us completely oblivious to my presence let alone my two mad Chocolate Labrador  companions. Its also been nice being able to have a walk without the winter gear on. After breakfast with the weather and forecast being so nice I packed the car and headed of to Castle Howard and another walk around the South lake. The weather was amazing, a lovely blue sky, sunshine and 18C. The house was looking stunning in the morning sunshine as was the Atlas Fountain which was in full flow after its winter servicing and looked beautiful with the house as a backdrop.

Monday 25th April 2016

Up early this morning and managed to get out with the dog first thing, I was back home for 7.00am having been out for an hours walk on the Barff, well although I was out for the hour much of that time I spent on my hands and knees photographing the Bluebells which are looking stunning at the moment, and it gets the dogs used to my camera etc etc. The rest of my morning was free for a change so after a quick coffee and breakfast I headed over to the reserve at Fairburn Ings. It was just over two weeks since my last visit and at this time of year a lot can change within that time. The road from Fairburn to the reserve is still closed so it was a detour through Ledsham again. It was a lovely morning, a cold north westerly wind and 8C but the temperature rose slightly once the sun broke through the early morning mist and gloom.

I arrived at the reserve for 9.00am, had a coffee from the visitors centre and chat to the wardens before heading off to the Pick up hide.The daffodils are still in full flower and look good along the Discovery Trail, the blossom on the hawthorn hedging is flowering nicely too and forms quite a picture against a bright blue and cloudy sky.

There was nobody else at the hide when I arrived so all was quiet, less the sound of bird song in the trees behind and around where I was sat. Within a couple of minutes I had the camera set up and ready for a mornings photographing. The first thing I noticed was the large numbers of Dunnock (pictured above) in the bushes, singing their heads off. A pair of Red Pheasants were scavenging underneath the empty feeders, their golden colours looked quite stunning in the morning sunlight. As well as the Dunnocks I counted at least  three to four Robins, all singing away looking for food, they all looked in good condition too.

Several weeks ago there were reported sightings of a pair of stoats (accompanied by photographs) in front of the hide, well at 9.40am. I saw one, I glimpsed it out of the corner of my eye as it ran along the waters edge and through the rushes towards the Sand Martin wall. I swung the lens round and watched as it ran full tilt up the bank and into the bushes to the right of the wall, although I had it in focus in the lens I couldn't get a clear picture, which was a bit frustrating, but it certainly gave me a buzz for the rest of the morning. What was more frustrating was that I couldn't get a sight of its bushy tail to see if it was actually a stoat or a Weasel, the weasel has a black band around the tip of its tail and is the only way I can tell them apart. Needless to say it didn't show again whislt I was there.

Behind me was the continuous bird song from Chiffchaff. Looking over towards the Lin Dyke hide the two 'Cormorant trees' were full of Cormorant sitting on their nests, quite a sight really especially as one or two had just returned from a feeding trip and were stood on the tree branches with their wings outstretched drying their feathers in the bright sunshine.

All looked relatively quiet on the lake in front of the hide, a pair of Mute swans spent the morning preening. Several Mallard were scattered around the waters edge, including one pair with at least six chicks which only looked a couple of days old. Over on the far side of the lake were three pair of Canada Geese feeding on the rushes. To the left of the hide and circling a couple of hundred feet in the air were a pair of Buzzards, their huge broad wing span enabling them to circle with complete ease, just tilting their feathers to change direction, after a couple of minutes they headed off towards the river Aire.

Back at the hide it was good to see several Sand Martin visiting the sand martin wall. it always amazes me how they appear to fly straight into their nest hole in the wall at full speed, though they have it of to a fine art. All the finches were visiting the feeders including the Reed Bunting, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Chaffinch, the male Chaffinch looking extremely colourful at the moment. As lunch time neared I headed back to the visitors centre, stopping for a few minutes to watch a pair of Male Bullfinches in the hawthorn, with their jet black plumage and beautiful orange breast, a great way to end a lovely morning at the Ings

 

Wednesday 20th April 2016

Parcevall Hall Gardens, Wharfedale

Woke up to a bright and pleasant morning. I was out with Meg & Gracie by 6.30am, the Barff is  looking quite a picture at the moment with the Bluebells in full flower on the South eastern side and the trees beginning to colour up. After a good energetic walk we headed home for breakfast. After which I packed the car and we headed off into Wharfedale. I hadn't been into this part of North Yorkshire for many years. It is a journey of about one and a half hours from home. I had read somewhere about the gardens at Parcevall Hall at Skyreholme, just outside of the village of Appletreewick. The weather forecast for the day looked encouraging so fingers crossed things don't deteriorate as the day develops. As we headed up the dale towards the latter part of the journey the roads narrowed into single file with passing places which made the journey quite interesting but no problem. We arrived at our destination at just after eleven oclock. Sun still shining, lovely blue sky and a temperature of 16C, shirt sleeve weather. We left the car park and followed the track alongside Tarn Ghyll Beck which led to a small tarn. We sat on one of the benches to admire the view along the valley and the huge swathes of daffodils swaying gently in the light breeze. There were some