Category Archives: Mammals

Mustela nivalis, unless I'm very much mistaken

A day out to Blackpool on Thursday (Jen's birthday). The weather was atrocious: incessant driving rain. We took flasks of tea, bought chips at Harry Ramsden's, and ate them in the car looking out to sea. There was nothing to see, apart from some very miserable-looking gulls and starlings. But it was a day out.

As we rounded the last bend up the hill towards home, a weasel scuttled across the road in front of us and disappeared into the grassy bank. Not as good as a badger, but pretty nice to see.

From now on, I shall refer to that corner as Weasel Corner.

Missed opportunities

Jen and I spent yesterday evening in a noisy pub in Mytholmroyd with some of her family. Five of us caught a taxi back to Hebden Bridge afterwards. With characteristic gallantry, I took one of the small pulldown child-seats at the back. Jen sat next to the driver, who took what I, until then, thought of as my secret shortcut down the one-way lane through the woods.

"Badger!" cried Jen, as we headed into the wood.

"Ooh, yes!" cried her mum and two brothers in unison.

Jen's niece and I, squashed up in the back, did not see the badger. This is an extremely sore point. I have never seen a live, wild badger in the UK. I have had several near-misses, including a practically identical episode in the back of my college mate Dave's dad's Alfa Romeo, driving through a wood in Cheshire in 1985. And our next door neighbour tells us she has seen them in her garden. And I more than half suspect that badgers have been clawing our sycamore tree. But, as yet, this 47-year old is still a British badger virgin.

I saw a badger in Ireland once. Jen and I were driving back from Dingle, through the gloaming, along the coast road towards our holiday cottage.

"I bet there are loads of badgers around here," I observed.

Ten seconds later, a badger ran across the road in front of us. I slammed on the brakes and pointed the car's headlights at the clump of bracken the badger had run into. To my delight, the badger stuck its head out to see what on earth was going on.

"I bet there are loads of naked ladies around here," I observed as I put the car back into gear. But my Irish luck did not hold.

Badgers are like sea turtles. I keep missing those too. Like the time we were on holiday in Tobago, and decided not to go for a romantic nighttime walk along the shore on the very night that, according to loads of the other guests at our hotel, a huge turtle decided to haul herself ashore to lay some eggs in the sand. Then there was the time in the semi-submersible boat off the Great Barrier Reef, back in 2000.

"Turtle!" cried Jen (and pretty much everyone else on board).

Not me: I was too busy trying to avoid being vomited on by the seasick woman on the seat behind me.

I might have blown my best chances of ever seeing a sea turtle, but surely it is only a matter of time before I see a badger!

Where was I? (And how I spent my summer)

It has been pointed out to me that I haven't updated this journal in several months. Not that it needed pointing out, you understand: I was painfully aware of the fact. To be honest, I had been toying with the idea of scrapping the whole thing and using the lifesgrandeur.com domain name for some other, as-yet-unidentified purpose.

I've been very busy, you see. I've been writing my book. In fact, I've written my book, and am now looking for a literary agent. Literary agents are extremely difficult to get hold of, apparently, but it's definitely the thing to do, if you can manage it. And, if you can't, there's always the self-publishing-on-Kindle option.

And the weather has been so damn awful, you see. ‘The crappiest summer since records began,’ the Met Office said. Or something like that. So I haven't been getting out as much as I'd like.

And then there's the backlog, you see. I haven't posted here since mid-June. That's over four months' worth of posts I would have to write. Which is a daunting prospect to say the least.

So, tell you what: why don't I just post a whole bunch of photos of stuff I've seen since mid-June, with no commentary except the photo captions, and we'll carry on from there as if nothing happened. Which it didn't, I suppose.

Of course, this means I won't get to tell you about all the stuff I didn't manage to photograph, like the two female goshawk sightings in Anglesey (or, more likely, the same female goshawk twice—my first ever goshawk sightings), and the stoat that failed to spot me sitting on my favourite rock, and the peregrine falcon which flew right by my windscreen while I was stuck in a traffic jam on the M56 near Frodsham Marshes only last week. But you're not interested in goshawks or stoats or peregrines if there aren't any photos, are you?

So, without further ado, on with the pictures. First, a few shots I failed to include in my last post:

Lapwing
A lapwing spotted just below the Moor on a walk on 13th June.
Common haircap moss
Common haircap moss.
Gorse
Gorse.

❀ ✿ ❀

Song thrush
On 25th June, on a walk around the lanes, I spotted a song thrush next to the daytime moon.

❀ ✿ ❀

I took another walk on the Moor on 12th July—a longer walk than usual, up to High Brown Knowl:

Mitchell Brothers' Mill
Looking down from the Moor towards Mitchell Brothers' Mill.
Caterpillar
An unidentified caterpillar. (I am hopeless at caterpillars.)
Curlew
A curlew circled above me, emitting alarm calls.

❀ ✿ ❀

Red grouse
I was back up on the Moor on 18th August, bagging grouse. (The red grouse is one of the stars of my book.)

❀ ✿ ❀

Sexton beetle
On a knackering walk with friends in the Yorkshire Dales on 18th August, I added this sexton beetle to my entomological photograph collection. (But, if you look very closely, you will see that there is more than one insect in this photo.)

❀ ✿ ❀

And then, in September, came Anglesey: one of my favourite places in the whole world. The photos are here, and the slideshow is here, but here are a few of my better snaps:

Guillemot
A rather tame guillemot.
Wheatear
Quite possibly my best wheatear photo so far. One of my favourite birds (and another star of my book.)
Raven
It's pretty much guaranteed you'll see a raven or two, if you visit the Anglesey coast these days.
Sandwich tern
This sandwich tern was fishing by the rocks every day. It had a newly fledged chick in tow, and was teaching it how to fish—feeding its lazy and noisy offspring in the process.
Bottlenose dolphins
I looked for them every morning, and was eventually rewarded with the sight of a group of three or four bottlenose dolphins heading off across the bay.

❀ ✿ ❀

And, other than a couple more walks which did not yield any photos of note, that's about it. We're up to date!

May 2012 update

I'm behind with my updates again. A quick summary might therefore be in order:

Sun, 06-May-2012: After a matinee screening at the Hebden Bridge Picture House, Jen and I bought a bag of chips and went to eat them by the packhorse bridge in the middle of town. I could not believe it: there was a dipper feeding in the shallows less than ten feet from where we were standing. It caught a small fish and spent about a minute battering it (no pun intended) against a rock before heading off with it upstream. Lends a whole new meaning to the phrase fish & chips. Needless to say, I did not have a camera to hand.

Wed, 16-May-2012: Went for a walk on the moor up to High Brown Knoll. Took a cracking photo of a robin in a garden at the side of Wainsgate Lane on my way up. Also saw a number of wheatears and curlew on the moor.

Robin
Robin
Wheatear
Wheatear

More photos from the walk »

Sun, 20-May-2012: A walk with Jen on Blackstone Edge. Saw a number of golden plover: quite a rare bird for me! Even managed to get some snaps:

Golden plover
Golden plover

More photos from Blackstone Edge »

This week and last: A large, brown hare has been hanging out in the field behind the house. Finally managed to get some decent(ish) photos:

Brown hare
Brown hare
Brown hare
Brown hare
Brown hare
Brown hare

Wascally wabbit

A pair of rabbits were hopping around on the other side of the fence behind the house this afternoon. I watched in amusement as the bolder of the two squeezed through the mesh in the fence and began to graze on the freshly mown grass on our back lawn. It is much tastier than field-grass, by all accounts.

Then the rabbit began to dig in the lawn. I decided to leave him to it.

Snow

Wednesday 4th saw a blizzard blow out of nowhere overnight. I struggled to get home from Dad's. The following day, Maundy Thursday, I was supposed to be working, but Jen sent me a text message as she arrived at work: “Fabulous day for a walk. Get on them hills.” What more excuse did I need?

Snow drift
Snow drift

The snow had mostly gone, but there were still thigh-deep drifts in places, especially alongside walls. On the way up to the moor from Nook Cottages, I had a Mexican stand-off with bolshy sheep. Then I saw the lamb lying lifeless at her feet. She was trying to protect it, poor thing. Out of respect I gave her a wide berth.

On the moor itself, the track was under several inches of snow. Somebody else had been up there before me, heading the other way, so I walked in their footprints to make the going easier. Then I got to a deeper bit, the snow gave way, and I was suddenly stuck to the top of my legs in snow. It took me a full minute to struggle out.

Rabbit footprints
Rabbit footprints
Lapwings were tumbling above the fields below me, and a pair of curlews flew overhead.

The snow was more patchy as I headed up the hill and along the edge to the trig point, skylarks in full song. There is something incongruous about hearing skylarks as you wade through snow. Unlike the weather, they certainly realised that it was supposed to be Spring.

There were lots of rabbit and grouse tracks in the snow. I love walking alongside animal tracks: it's almost as if they are accompanying you. Time-shifted companions.

Red grouse
Red grouse

On my way back down through the field, the sheep was still there, suckling her ‘dead’ lamb. It hadn't been lifeless; it had just been born—it was still coated in membrane.

More photos »

Spring?

More like summer. Three days of unseasonably hot, sunny weather, with more promised.

I stood for twenty minutes, leaning over the gate near the compost heap, soaking it up. A couple of butterflies, several bumble-bees, lapwings calling, and a pair of rabbits in the back field. I have been seeing quite a few rabbits there in recent months, which is unusual. I think they might have established a new outpost nearby. They have even been digging in the lawn by the compost heap.

The larger of the two rabbits, which I assume was a male, was very active, hopping back and forth, scratching in the soil, and rubbing his chin against spiky, dead nettle stalks, presumably leaving his scent. The sap is rising. He had a sizeable, ginger, Mohican strip at the back of his neck. Do rabbits usually have these? I have not noticed them before.

It's about now that I start looking optimistically for swallows, but the earliest I have seen them up here is on my birthday, 2nd April.