Hawk Walk

Today saw me out with my dad and nephews at South Cave Falconry. We previously visited to see one of my nephews fly a hawk at the end of the Summer. For Christmas we booked a hawk walk for my dad with space for one other to share the experience. The hawk walk takes you from the centre through the woods with one the centres handlers.

As you go the hawk leaves your arm to explore the branches and returns to your arm for food. My dad had his turn on the way out.

The hawk explores the trees, stumps and the ground. On the way out we were heading uphill, so the hawk mainly stuck to short flights between branches and back.

Then on the return walk I took my turn with the glove and the hawk did slightly longer glides as we headed back down hill.

We had a Harris’s Hawk for our experience. These are beautiful birds found through South Western United States to Chile, Argentina and Brazil. They are sometimes found in Britain, where they have in all likelihood escaped from falconry centres. They live in woodland habitats as well as semi-desert. So the woods around the centre are not a million miles away from their natural habitat. They exist on a diet of small birds, mammals and lizards. Within the woods today the hawk found the remnants of a few unidentified mammals distracting him from the walk. Harris’s hawk is unusual in that it will hunt in packs, where as most raptors are fairly solitary. They will hunt in family groups giving them the chance to catch larger prey than they otherwise could on their own.  They are popular amongst falconry centres for the comparative ease to train in comparison to something like owls, which take much longer if they can be trained at all. Harry Potter has a lot to answer for with people thinking owls will make god pets.

Truly a magnificent bird. A wonderful shared experience I would recommend treating someone to.

New Year at the Bay

For New Years Eve we had a quiet night in as Alice isn’t quite ready for parties. New Years Day we headed up the coast to Amy’s dad’s house at Robin Hood’s Bay where we had a lovely meal at the Hare and Hounds in Hawker. Amy had the trio of pork and I had the home made burger with goats cheese. I just expected a few pieces crumbled on the top, but it was a solid slice of grilled goats cheese. It was all delicious. Alice had a good wait, so had walked back and forth across the pub multiple times before food. But she did quite well for her age. She has decided to reject booster seats now. She wants either a chair to herself or my knees to sit on. She knows her own mind for a one and a half year old.

The next day saw a good sunrise over the bay with breathtaking skies. I think I said it last time I went, but photos don’t do it justice.

The next day we got out for a walk. I was taking photos as we went for the New Year Plant Hunt organised by the BSBI. The aim being to monitor what wildflowers are in bloom in Winter.

A few seen on the way.

Red Valerian

The winter heliotrope. A rather delightful low laying wildflower.

Plenty of gorse along cliff faces.

We had a nice walk along the beach. We didn’t quite make it to Boggle Hole, just down the coast. Boggle is a local name for a hobgoblin, a mischievous little person. Boggle Hole was one of the spots the smugglers on this stretch of coast used, thus the name.

Alice was keen to get in the howdah today trying to clamber in before we were ready.

Continue reading New Year at the Bay

Folklore Thursday- squirrels

It’s been a while since I did a folklore Thursday post. Yesterday, while out for a walk with Alice and Amy, we saw several squirrels and managed a few photos. So they seem a good focus for this weeks folklore. Published a day late as I didn’t finish it for Thursday.

Following on from The Dark is rising reading group the British folklore seem most appropriate. The squirrel is connected to Queen Mab; the fairy queen. First written reference to to her was by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. Mab is presented as something of a hag bringing blistered lips to young women and sometimes interpreted as herpes.

Her chariot is an empty hazelnut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,

Queen Mab may have come from the Irish Queen Medb. Medb is often represented with a squirrel or magical birds on her shoulders. A fairly promiscuous goddess featuring within the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. Her main part in the story is setting the cattle raid of Cooley in motion. It has been suggested that her name possibly originates from mead, meaning intoxication and linking us nicely back to TDIR. Medb is also connected to the Morrigan, who opposes Medb warning the bull to felle before the cattle raid of Cooley. Again linking us back to Alan Garner’s writing, which has featured much within discussions of TDIR reading group.

Squirrels are often used for a symbol for mischief and anyone who has watched them on their bird feeders can see why. While it was a grey squirrel I photographed and it is an invasive menace to the red squirrel I can’t bring myself to dislike one of the few wild mammals I get to see on a regular basis.

The dark is rising-day 4 the magic of names

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” J.K. Rowling

Today’s set question on the dark is rising: Speaking aloud (en-chanting) is vital in TDIR, as is the knowing of names. What are the powers of language in this book (from which so many people read aloud?

Within TDIR people can gain power by knowing someone’s true name. Maggie Barnes is prevented from harming Will early on through the use of her true name. The concept of names having magic is an old one in folklore. Rumpelstiltskin being one of the best known. An old tradition states that un-named children could be stolen by fairies and replaced by changeling’s. In the hobbit Bilbo avoids giving Smaug his name. More recently in the Studio Ghibli movie spirited away the character Chihiro loses her name to the witch Yubaba.

The ability to name things correctly remains important for the modern world. Conservation efforts need accurate identification of species to support them appropriately. Unfortunately the loss of knowledge like wildflower names, bird names and insects endangers these efforts.

Within my own practises mantras play a part. A sacred syllable instilled with power by uttering it out loud.  Within other faiths prayer plays a significant role as does communal recitals of readings, songs and prayers. Words undeniably have power. Within TDIR Maggie is stopped through the use of her name. The light characters avoid their names being known. The lady also avoids her true name being used when first meeting Will.

I have just reached the chapter, the book of gramayre. Robert MacFarlane having posted this as the word of the day; Gramayre being the old French for knowledge. The book being a grimoire. So it looks that words will playing a role over the next chapter.

Today ended with a bright red sunset. Knowing the old rhyme this can only bring ill for Will tomorrow.

“Words are, of course, the most powerful powerful drug used by mankind”

Rudyard Kipling

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.

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.