The dark is rising-day 2

I have continued on with my reading of the dark is rising with chapter 2. Today Robert MacFarlane sets the questions:

  • What roles do animals play in TDIR?
  • What knowledge & agency is given to the more-than-human world (weather, landscape)?
  • Which sentences seem strongest, strangest to you…?

Within the chapters covered so far the unease of the animals plays a large part in the atmosphere of the story. The rabbits are uneasy with Will. We know before he does that something is coming. Something is changing in him. The rooks attack the walker. At this stage we don’t know whether they are a force for good or ill. However as with their use in Alan Garner’s the Weird Stone of Brisingamen you assume they are a bad omen. Rooks have a bad reputation that it is hard for them to shake off in literature.

Within the second chapter we are introduced to the rider on his jet black mare and the pure white mare. Again we have the symbolism coming through; dark and light, good and evil.

The landscape is described with wonderful imagery placing you right there in the forest with Will. As with the already mentioned Alan Garner weirdstone stories landscape plays it’s role in creating atmosphere. The story recalls a lost landscape of thick English woodlands. In many ways it echoes the darker elements of the woods of fairy tales. The woods providing for people, while also presenting a hostile landscape. Interestingly Susan Cooper left England in 1973 as the book was published to live in America. There is an element of nostalgia for a world now gone.

The writing is excellent with a good sense of mystery and forewarning of things to come. The strongest sentence within the first few chapters, for me, has to be, “Tonight will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining.” It stands out and captures the imagination, hooking in you in to want to find out more.

With today’s questions focussing on the animals I’ve been keeping an eye on my local wildlife.

I failed to find a rook, but did manage two other corvid family members. A crow and jackdaw at Hornsea Mere.

The community orchard had many blue and great tits singing their hearts out today. With the winter leaves off I managed a few decent photos, managing to sneak round for a short with no intervening branches.

As well as being Winter Solstice today it is also National Robin day. So here is my garden’s robin.

The trail camera picked up quite a bit of activity on the nut feeder.


We’ll see tomorrow what day three brings us in the dark is rising.

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The dark is rising

“Tonight will be bad, and tomorrow beyond all imagining”

Yesterday marked the start of the dark is rising reading group starting point. Susan Copper’s dark is rising is a fantasy book starting from the 20th December. Julia Bird and Robert MacFarlane have invited people to take part in a mass read along of the book having realised many people reread it at this time of year. The time the book is set.

Originally published in 1973 it was the second in the dark is rising sequence, but can be read as a stand alone. Last night I made a start reading the first chapter. This opening chapter sets the scene perfectly building up the suspense the day before Will’s, the main character’s, birthday.

The weather the last few weeks has been perfect for a read of the book. We’ve had snow, mist and fog. The atmospheric swirls of low lying mist over the fields on my way to work would have made for an ideal journey home to read the next part. But last night was the calmest it has been for weeks. So it goes. The book links heavily to the landscape and the first chapter makes good use of the animals unease. I’m going to have to keep my eye on the rooks the next few weeks.

I’m looking forward to my next reading session. There is no set pace to read it, but Robert MacFarlane is setting questions to go with the read. It looks like hundreds are taking part, giving us a wonderful communal read through the powers of the internet. Posts are being shared through the two hashtags #thedarkisrising and #thedarkisreading


The last butterfly of the year

Butterfly Conservation asked the question, “who will spot the last butterfly of 2017?” It sounds like the title for an apocalyptic horror movie and seeing this tweet I thought I was unlikely to see anything of note. I wasn’t heading out to any reserves or any special walks. Then today preparing my outdoor classroom I discovered a beauty overwintering in one of our school sheds.

This beauty of a peacock butterfly is hiding in our school shed along with a group of ladybirds avoiding the chill frosts outside. A pleasant surprise on a wet, damp morning.

The children were excited to see the ladybirds. We left the butterfly alone. I don’t want to disturb it with 70 children, but the ladybirds high up on the roof seemed safe to show. Peacocks being rather dowdy with their wings closed, there wouldn’t be much to see. It’s nice to show the children that even our shed serves a purpose in helping our wildlife.

Variety in the garden

As we move into frostier weather the garden is looking tattier leading to me questioning what I want planted and what I want to remove. I’ve been reading Christopher Lloyd’s-the well tempered garden giving me lots of food for thought. But today has seen a mass influx in bird life vindicating what I wanted the garden to do. I wanted to encourage wildlife into the garden and today has seen a massive variety on the feeder.

Having discussed previously keeping the feeders stocked for Winter I’ve been trying to keep my feeding station stocked with a variety of food. However as there are many hungry birds with the frozen ground the seed goes in  day, even with two large seed feeders. The fat balls and suet blocks last a bit longer. However it is worth it for the spectacles I’ve seen today.

I have feeders spread over a feeding station and hung on the trees and shrubs. Some are in cover, some are more open to encourage different birds to feed.

The birds are clearly struggling for food at the moment as my bird count has hit 14 species just during this morning.

I’ve seen:

  • wrens
  • Sparrows
  • dunnocks
  • blackbirds
  • starlings
  • robins
  • wood pigeons
  • blue tits
  • coal tits
  • great tit
  • herring gulls
  • common gulls
  • jackdaws
  • goldfinches

Notice, all plural, even the robins. The robins are normally territorial fighting other robins off, but clearly the need for food is trumping that instinct today. It’s a joy to see the goldfinches, which didn’t used to spend winter up North, but are gradually moving up. The birds were eating a mixture of the food provided and scavenging from the garden. It’s good to know what I’ve put in place has increased the variety on last year.

A couple of today’s visitors. With so many birds out this morning I haven’t wanted to go out and interrupt for photos and risk scaring them off. So not the finest photos I’ve taken.

Time will tell whether in another year I’ll have managed to entice any greater numbers into the garden. But either way 14 species is a clear indicator that putting food out makes a huge difference to what comes into the garden.


The secret life of the owl

Last night was the night of my work Christmas Party. A jolly affair with a meal much better than I expected from a party held at a Rugby Stadium. One of the downsides of our move to Hornsea is that it places us quite far out of town, so if I want a drink I face an expensive taxi. As such I was driving and had a night of sobriety and people asking, “what are you drinking?” followed by looks of disgust when I named a soft drink. The journey home though takes me through a run of country roads flanked by wide hedges.

Coming along one of the few straight sections of road a white outline swooped past. I slowed the car to a crawl and the shape hovered back. I was treated to the momentary spectacle of a barn owl flapping slowly alongside the car, probably dazed by the lights. The wings displayed spread out, snow white, against the moon lit sky. Just for a moment we looked at each, the wide eyes peering at me from the heart shaped face, before it moved on with its night time hunt.

A barn owl from earlier in the year at the owl sanctuary.

Owls are a fairly common sight for me driving in and out the countryside to work in town. During Winter their hunting hours are extended further increasing the likely hood of a sighting. That said, they never fail to leave me with a sense of wonder.

Today I have the house to myself as Amy is out with her sisters being treated for her birthday. Alice is sleeping. So I had a chance to sit and read a book. An actual hard back book. Normally I do much of reading through the kindle with the back light as I read before bead with Alice asleep next to me. So print books are a rarity for me currently.

Settling in with a cup of tea I got down form the bookshelf John Lewis-Stempel The secret life of an owl. John Lewis-Stempel’s book meadowland has been one of my favourite nature reads over the last few years. A book written well. A book worth reading again and again. Many nature books are full of terrible self reflection or poor quality prose, but I’ve found all of the books I’ve tried by John Lewis-Stempel to be highly engaging. The secret life of an owl is just a short read at 88 pages, but I went for the hardback because of my love of owls and the book is a lovely produced little hardback.

secret life of owls

The content describes the lives of owls. A little bit on the anatomy of owls. Descriptions of the different owl pellets you might find and how they are produced. It dips into poetry and literature for further owl references. Several famous owl owners are mentioned such as Florence Nightingale and Picasso.

The book goes onto describe the owls of Britain and then the relationship between humans and owls.

For the price it is quite a short book. But an enjoyable quick read. It lacks the commentary on the state of the English Countryside that runs through many of Lewis-Stempel’s books. But it made for an enjoyable read to settle in for an hour with. A good introduction to owls. For a greater level of depth there is a Collins New Naturalist on owls. If you’re looking for a present for a nature lover the secret life of the owl will make an excellent gift. 

Winter feeding

The last month has been busy with Christmas preparations beginning. The disaster that is my Nativity play has begun. So blogging has been low of late. But now I’m getting past deadlines. Quite a bit has been happening in my garden and progress has been made on my school outdoor area, which I will try to update during the next few weeks.

After thick snow descended on Thursday the garden has been well coated with ice on snow. It had just thawed on Saturday. This has left the garden with lots of hungry birds struggling to find food.

Through Winter it’s important to help the birds. The water sources freeze, so I’ve been trying to get out to crack the ice in the bird bath. The food I put out disappears quickly. The seed goes in a few days. So as well as the seed I try to keep the peanut feeders filled with either peanuts or suet pellets. These seem to last a bit longer than the seed. So even when it’s been a busy week and I haven’t got out to replenish the seed I’m still leaving something for the birds.

Haith’s have been helping me out as they sent me a bag of their help to fly Autumn/Winter mix to review. This is a seed mix with high energy and oil content to  help give birds that fat and energy they need to survive the Winter. Haith’s bird food is put through a cleaner process. The grain dust created during harvest can be damaging if seed is not cleaned. Much of the bird food you buy won’t be cleaned in this way.

Haith’s sent me a bag of both the cleaned and the unclean mix. I wonder if from the photo you can spot the difference?

On the left is the cleaned and the right the unclean. I was surprised at how much of a difference I could see in the two batches. While I’m not able to do the test taste to appreciate  the difference I’m sure the birds will appreciate it at this time of year when food is scarcer.

Before filling the feeders I also gave them a good clean out. I’ve talked about it before, but it is important to clean feeders to limit disease spread.

Before I’d left the garden the birds were already sneaking in, clearly ready, for a feed.

Over the day I’ve seen a good mix of visitors: sparrows, great tits and blue tits got in to test it first. Then pigeons, starlings and jackdaws followed. Then had wrens, dunnocks and robins in and out.

Then a few herring gulls came in, although not for the seed.

Alice has enjoyed getting out to explore the garden again after several days of frost. She checked in on the bug hotel and gave the flowers a sniff.

Thanks again to Haith’s for sending the bird food to review. The birds seem to be enjoying it. It’s been nice to get out briefly into the garden and then sit in doing data input while looking up to see the birds enjoying the new seed.