Introducing Jimmy…

Jimmy the Crake is a man about town; a man on a real mission, as you can see from his calm, confident, determined air. He’s also, quite possibly, the world’s (or, perhaps, the Hebrides’s) most non-secretive, sanguine, confiding corncrake. Dapper, suave, with a degree of rural sophistication quite befitting his environment, and well able to carry off a zoot suit and bandana combination, here he is striding about his business.

IMG_8414 (2) (Custom)

And in full view of me stood not only watching him but also zooming in on him.

Set off here against a backdrop of the nettle bed stirring into post-winter life just above the shoreline, but yet to regain its full stride, Jimmy soon made his way along the fence to the corner of the garden, where a stone stands proud and which he seems to have made his calling post. From here – twice yesterday in the daytime – as well as several times from elsehere, he rasped, bass steel comb struck along a hard edge, regularly but in short bursts, for the next few minutes before moving on. It’s not for nothing that corncrakes are more usually seen than heard. You see, I’m stood – uprooting a stack of dandelions which have leapt into life while I was away in Sofia – on a bank on higher ground no more than 20 metres away. An afternoon-long activity which is far from complete. Movement into and then from the house, to pick up the camera, and then my somewhat clumsy attempts to creep along and and down the garden, treading less like Grasshopper than Keystone Cop, to where I could get a shot unencumbered by wood or galvanised wire mesh seemed to have little impact on his desire to engage in his primal duty of calling out.

IMG_8437 (2) (Custom)

This is my third summer here and I – very briefly – saw one corncrake the first year, with two other calling males nearby, but saw none (at least, not here in Ardivachar) and heard few others last year. And Jimmy has only arrived in the last week or so – he wasn’t here before I left for Sofia.

A level of bravery perhaps aided by the presence of another calling male a couple of crofts up into Ardivachar; or otherwise, male corncrakes being the love-’em-and-leave-’em types that they are, by the desire to keep an eye out for other women, Jimmy already having found one mate this season (oh yes – I saw her too: a little more traditionally shy, she was spotted in the dense vegetation contributed by irises and nettles a little distance away, Jimmy in fairly close company). Indeed, yesterday I was as likely to see corncrakes as I was starlings. Well, almost.).

Regardless, it seems a good plan to leave the bottom section of the garden unmown again this forthcoming summer, just in case we’re hosting, or otherwise providing cover for, any of Jimmy’s off-spring. The apparently rising population of corncrakes across the UK, where the further reaches of the Hebrides chain, and Orkney, play a key role, is good news and thus a bit of inaction in the garden this summer seems to be entirely justified in support of Jimmy’s attempts to do his best on behalf of the future of his species. Amongst which a lineage based on greater confidence of approach, and less skulking around in the nettlebed, would also surely be a good thing.

Advertisements

Integration of the western Balkans – Sofia 2018

Just back from Sofia, where I was attending a symposium for the 20th Anniversary of the SEER Journal, which I founded along with my good friend and colleague, Peter Scherrer, and which I still help to edit alongside Bela Galgoczi, Senior Researcher at the European Trade Union Institute (and who has capably edited the Journal for three-quarters of its life). If Peter and I were the parents then Sofia was the maternity hospital, so Sofia as a location for the 20th Anniversary symposium was well-chosen – and those invited, including some who contributed articles to the very first number, as well as the SEER’s welfare guardians (its Editorial Board, and researchers and leaders of trade unions from the western Balkans) – meant that the birthday celebrations were attended by many friends and supporters.

Back in 1998, we reckoned we could pull together enough interesting material to fill one volume, so to be still going 19 years later, 70 regular issues and nearly 800 articles on from our first number, plus several special issues and two paperbacks, including in the language of the ‘western Balkans’ as well as in German and in French, represents a pretty good achievement for which we are very grateful to our sponsors: in the first place the Hans-Bockler-Stiftung, and latterly the ETUI, as well as Nomos Verlag, our publishers. Pleasingly, we have also now completed a full 76cms of SEER – the internal width of one of my bookshelves. Vol. 21 will start bookshelf no. 2.

Our keynote was given by Christophe Solioz, whose formal symposium paper ‘Europe from the post-Wall era to post-crisis future’ can be found in .pdf form on his website and which we’ll be carrying in edited form in a future issue. Other colleagues, including KNSB President, Plamen Dimitrov, and Luben Tomev, the Director of ITUSR, KNSB’s research institute, also brought welcome comradely greetings.

For me, apart from looking back over our history, I also focused a few remarks on the impact of Brexit on EU integration, especially as regards the potential loss of budget finance within the EU’s post-Brexit multi-annual financial framework for projects like integration of the western Balkans post-Brexit (e.g. here); as well as on the shadowy figures behind Brexit and the increasing organisation of extremist nationalists amidst not only the current ‘rogue’ regimes in Hungary and Poland, as well as in Austria where they form part of the government, with key ministries, but also given the tensions within Bosnia and Herzegovina concerning the increasing militarisation of Republika Srpska and the explicit support being given by the government of Croatia – a member of the EU, let’s not forget – to nationalists in the Croat-dominant cantons in the south. It is no surprise that extremist nationalists – some having been ejected from Hungary – see the western Balkans as fertile territory (here and also here).

Here’s Cde. Scherrer and myself at the symposium:

IMG_9636 (2)

(Thanks to Bruno S. Sergi for the photo.)

The book that Peter is presenting me with, by the way, is Paul Strand’s Tir A’Mhurain: a typically thoughtful gift being not only about South Uist – The Land of the Bent Grass (or marram) – but also a book which has a complex and quite astonishing political history, according to the introduction by Fraser MacDonald (linking to his Twitter since his blog is, unfortunately, quite literally unreadable) in The Guardian to this, 50th anniversary, collection of photos documenting life in South Uist at the time of the installation of the MoD rocket range. Indeed, many islanders were fearful that the range would bring immense changes to their lives and so a documentation of exactly what that was, both in photographs and in text, is extraordinarily useful. I was aware of the book – a regular visitor to bookshops in Scotland, I could not possibly be unaware of it – but I had no knowledge of its fascinating origins. Following up, it is interesting to note that prints of some of Strand’s photos – authorised in their production by Strand himself, and thus as rare as hen’s teeth – have quite recently been bought by Scotland’s National Portrait Gallery.

We timed the symposium to coincide with the summit for trade union leaders from the region organised by the Bulgarian trade unions KNSB and ‘Podkrepa’, and in conjunction with the ETUC and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, with the intention of drawing up a statement to go to Thursday’s EU-Balkans summit, also being held in Sofia under the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU for which integration of the region with the EU has been a priority. You can read the trade union summit declaration here at the ETUC website (in English) or here at the KNSB website, if your Bulgarian is good enough (along with the following two entries for 9 May further down the page). Like a lot of these things, the words of the statement need to be turned into a practical, workable agenda for action – noting that wage convergence is an achievable target, in the context of the region’s productivity reserve, as well as a principle – but these things are not easy to co-ordinate and produce, and it is good to see the many trade unions of the region come together in support of a common goal.

IMG_8277 (2) (Custom)

Hands clasped in friendship and in solidarity outside the headquarters of KNSB, in one of the perhaps lesser-photographed examples of this style of architecture still prevalent around Sofia (though its history is actually a lot more modern, dating from 2004, I think).

I’ve argued before that what we need is a bold vision of integration from the EU, not more warm words, progress reports and initiatives. Not least in the face of the problems that the western Balkans faces outlined above, the need for concrete proposals, investment and a clear prospect of integration continues to be clear – as does the path of continued destabilisation where these things continue to be lacking. Thursday’s summit needs to deliver on an agenda targeted towards solid progress on accession, a prime requirement for which is that the EU lifts its head from its own problems – of the divisions of the sort which marked drafting discussions over the summit declaration – towards a contemplation of the problems to which inaction will surely lead.

These are troubling times but the SEER Journal will, in its next period, strive to carry on providing a platform for discussion on the western Balkans’s path to the EU. In the meantime – happy birthday, zhiveli and, of course: solidarnost!

Harris and Lewis, including on Sunday

Just back from a two-day break at the weekend in Harris and Lewis – first time for me for the latter; second time for the former (we toured around south Harris, from Leverburgh to Leverburgh via Rodel, Tarbet and the west side, on Easter Saturday). The weather was just gorgeous (sunny and with the beginnings of a real warmth to the sun), which helped, as did some excellent overnight accommodation on the west side of Lewis, at Barvas, just at the end of the road across the moors from Stornoway (and a place with as high a concentration of Gàidhlig speakers as South Uist).

Arriving off the ferry on Saturday late morning, and with a short delay caused by a non-working charger for the electric car in Lochmaddy (we needed to use the slow charger in Leverburgh to give us enough juice to get to Tarbert, where the rapid charger was thankfully working), there wasn’t time for a lot else on Saturday other than a visit to the excellently preserved and maintained blackhouses at Gearrannan.

It was also a good time to experience the ‘quiet Sunday’ still enjoyed by our northern cousins (and which I also recall of my own, very distant, hometown of my youth in the south of England).

Coming back south on the Sunday, we did a full run of the rest of the west-side tourist attractions – the Arnol Blackhouse, the spectacularly-sited broch at Dun Carloway and Callanish (I, II and III though there are several more). Being Sunday, nothing was actually open: the sites themselves are open access but Arnol was closed, as were the visitor centres at Callanish and at Dun Carloway. This was not unexpected – we knew beforehand that nothing was likely to be open – but I felt the loss of information that was the result more keenly since trips to Lewis are not that common. We don’t have many blackhouses (or whitehouses) left on Uist (an interesting thing by itself since, at least in this corner of Lewis, there are ruins (as well as restorations) a-plenty, and it would have been good to have explored that with knowledgeable staff); I know a little more about brochs having visited the sites at Mousa, on Shetland, and at Glenelg; but it would have been good to have found out a bit more about why Callanish III is billed as ‘one of the most interesting stone circles at Callanish’.

In the 20 minutes we were at Arnol, at least four other cars showed up: at £5/head that’s a sizable loss of revenue. I know it’s not about the money and you’ll find no argument from me about protecting workers’ rights or about the need for families to enjoy time together. It’s not uncommon in Europe for museums to be be closed one day a week – though Monday is often that day. And that is, obviously, a very different day to Sunday. But families are interested in trips out, too – and a custom which draws on the power of the church and which acts to inhibit people from finding out more about the way people lived their lives in the past because of the way (some) people choose to live their lives now never made much sense to me. That custom will change in time (indeed, it already is, bit by bit) and that has to be a good thing, although I can see increased traffic on a Sunday being a bit of an issue – many of these attractions are essentially at the linear end of someone’s street, or in the middle of their village. There’s always the internet, I guess – though finding out information on-screen, later, as opposed to asking an on-site expert is never a good substitute (and, nine times out of ten, will never actually be done).

Fortunately, on a Sunday there are natural wonders also to be enjoyed (although often these are also to be found only by travelling past the houses of people enjoying a ‘quiet Sunday’, as the picture below also relates): the legendary beaches on the west side of Harris never fail to disappoint on days like these. Here’s a view across turquoise waters to the smooth white sands, backed by marram grass dunes, of world-famous Luskentyre:

IMG_8216 (Custom)

This is not quite the ‘money shot’ of Luskentyre – this one’s taken from the main road above Seilebost and on the way to Horgabost – although you can easily see where the money shot is: to the right of the little estuary adjacent to the main beach and thereafter down along the dunes, with the smooth curves of the estuary itself as a prominent foreground feature. (And, just in case, there are of course no filters being used here.)

And, this last Sunday, you (probably) wouldn’t even have needed your coat.

Where have all the eider gone?

Gone to eiderdowns, every one (it seems). (Apart from this one mature chap, obviously.)

IMG_0195aYet, despite looking so glitteringly handsome as he floated amidst the seaweed in the afternoon sun of Easter week (only the blush pink chest is not quite so evident in my picture here), he has no mate (or, at least, it’s not apparent that he does). And, actually, he’s the first eider I’ve seen in the bay all winter.

Last year’s breeding season wasn’t a great success: we had (at least) four pairs but only three chicks ever made it into the eider creche and at least one, and maybe more, of those didn’t survive: the rest of the eider, the males having already departed, were all gone early and none has returned all winter. In contrast, I can recall a couple of pairs lingering here for the whole of the previous winter before being joined by a couple of other couples. Although perhaps that, rather than this, was the exception.

Competition for scarce food sources is, as always, the most likely explanation for wildlife moving on in this way: this winter, the high tide, especially when driven in by a north wind, has brought a feeding frenzy of herring, common and black-headed gulls stabbing at the morsels drifting in on the tide and it’s likely that they’re snaffling much of what the sea has to offer. Here’s a small section of the water in the bay at high tide, taken on Friday evening last week, to show what I mean:

IMG_0224a (Custom)

Spot also the pair of oystercatchers watching on from the shore with a look of stoical bemusement. They tend to feed on buried shellfish patiently winkled out from the sand once the tide has started to retreat or on the early incoming tide, although oystercatchers usually feed a little lower than the high tide line and they can dig for worms on the machair – something denied to the eider whose diet is entirely sea-based. Similarly, eider – sea-going ducks – tend to dive for their food, which gulls tend not to do. Left entirely to its own devices, nature tends to look after itself, as we know from sparrowhawks and songbirds; and, more recently, from the tentative relationship between pine martens and red and grey squirrels.

So, it may not be just the scarcity of food which is keeping the eider away, although it may surely be one factor. And, after this all-too-brief show, this one eider’s away too. Perhaps they’re just hiding somewhere around the bay.

Apart from the colours of the male (and the variety: last year’s numbers included an eclipse version), eider make the most fantastic calls calling to mind a deeper, perhaps tenor, version of Kenneth Williams in full surprised mode. Colour and good humour all wrapped up in one package means that the prospect of not having them around the bay this spring, and replaced in the latter case by the manic, panicked screaming and mocking of gulls, would definitely be a loss.

UPDATE 15/4/18: Up a little earlier than usual this Sunday morning and my reward was the arrival, with no little ceremony, of a small armada of eider flying in close formation as they do, bulk notwithstanding, and landing in the bay. Closer inspection revealed five males and five females, with at least two pairs seeming to take a close interest in settling round-here-abouts.

UPDATE 19/4/18: A group of 7 males and six females cruised in on this morning’s receding tide to preen and sunbathe following the very rough southerly winds we’ve had these past few days, plus I spotted another pair drifting a little further away. So – record numbers. After all. 🙂

Here’s a group of 6 plus 6 😉 with the seventh somewhat stand-offish male omitted to focus a little better on the main group:

IMG_0435 (Custom) (1)

Stick a brew on, Calvin (3)

It’s bottling day.

This was due originally to take place early last week but, with a small, unscheduled time lag arising from a delayed start to fermentation (note to self: do not shock the yeast when pitching; aerate the wort well; and the advised ‘cool, dark’ temperatures of 15-22 Celsius, well, it really needs to be a bit warmer than that in the cool of a Hebrides house to encourage the yeast to come out to play), and with fermentation likely to have finished a couple of days ago (at least as far as the visible evidence is concerned), I left my brew for a few more days happily lying on.

IMG_0324 (Custom)

The observant will note that, with 4ltrs of beer in the demijohn, these five bottles must be a somewhat odd size; or otherwise that something else may have happened. They are indeed 660ml bottles (ex-Innis and Gunn Original, actually) but that ought to have made six bottles, not five… Disaster struck as a result of an over-enthusiastic application of the bottle capper, post filling, which left the neck of the fifth bottle in shards across the kitchen table and a good chance of a few more in the bottle itself. As well as a rather tense capping of the sixth bottle. It’s really not worth the risk of drinking the contents, strongly tempted though I am, so I’m just back from pouring 1/6 of my hard work straight down the sink. Grrr.

I did get an early taste of the beer when bottling – flat, at this stage (carbonation happens as a result of secondary fermentation in the bottles) and certainly cloudy (it’s the colour and consistency of hefeweizen, quite naturally since I’m not using a secondary fermentor or finings), but certainly tasting of beer, being both dry, hoppy, bitter and citrusy (as expected). And alcoholic, too; although I’m not going to be measuring its actual gravity (my kit suggests it ought to turn out, eventually, around 6.3%). And how did I come to know this at this early stage? Well, after going to the trouble of sterilising the bottles, the caps, the siphon and the racking cane, the siphon has to be started somehow… which seems to defeat the object of sterilisation somewhat. Still.

All being well, the (rest of the) beer should be ready in 2-3 weeks; pending which all remaining five bottles are back in the same place in the kitchen where the demijohn stood, and underneath a towel (which has the dual purpose of keeping light out and adding some form of protection against an over-active conditioning process).

As for me, I’ll get on with the cleaning up before getting on with brewing the next batch

The Aurora – probably an unpopular view…

Most readers will probably know that the aurora was very visible over Scotland last night, including over Uist. This was the second time I have seen it, the first being a dozen years ago in Perth, when I got a glimpse of the typical ‘curtain being waved’ manifestation. Last night, I was alerted by Andy Stables’s Twitter, posting of an ‘extreme’ substorm underway, and dashed outside to catch a view of ‘STEVE’, the oddly-named aurora-like effect showing to the west as a ghostly, pale white, shape-shifting pillar, standing at 60 degrees to the horizon and looking something like an inverted horse’s tail, and well captured by Bob Moss from his garden on Skye.

Repeated trips outside later in the evening revealed a more traditional green aurora, showing as a thin arc low in the northern sky and, from our house, clearly spanning its full width from north-west to north-east; with occasional flares and pillars. This was of such a brightness that it was even visible from inside the house (with all the lights out!) – though clearly better outside, in context and with some association with the elements.

It wasn’t as visible as this lovely example (from further north) of the aurora set against the stones at Calanais on Lewis, or this, from Barra (from further south) but the cameras here are – quite correctly – letting a lot more light into the exposure, brightening the image and, therefore, also brightening the aurora. Here, in stark comparison, is my best effort, taken at 0107 on my handheld pocket camera, with the ISO cranked up as far as it will go (3200 – oooh!):

IMG_7702

Hmm. (For the full experience, you might need to be in a darkened room, too.) That’s the bright lights of Balivanich to the right and the bright star in the top left corner is – I think – Capella in the Auriga constellation.

Clearly, the picture is not as ‘good’ as others; but, arguably, it is ‘fairer’ in that the relatively low ISO captures a better representation of the reality, of what the naked eye could actually see of the aurora at that point. It is – and here’s the probably unpopular bit of my view – somewhat uninteresting since it is not as good in real life as you can see on the internet. Clearly, photographs don’t lie – they can’t capture what is not there – but, equally clearly, they can misrepresent when they let so much light into the camera to capture an image which the human eye, because of its own limitations, struggles to see in as much detail. I can’t imagine a better night to see the aurora – an ‘extreme’ sub-storm, no clouds and a cold, late winter night offering apparently clear light (though today, which offers dreamily cloudless skies and a beautiful view for those on the morning flight, which has just gone over my head on its way into Balivanich, is a little hazy to the north and it may well have been the same last night). And, of course, there is no structure in my image from which to capture some foreground interest.

Yet, if this is as good as it gets, then people may well be better off viewing pictures of the aurora than chasing it. Still beautiful, and offering a perfect arc across the sky, but not as powerfully majestic as you might think and, therefore, somewhat underwhelming. A natural wonder that can’t fail to stir the emotions, but, perhaps, only more memorable in the human eye than a rainbow as a result of its rarity. That’s obviously not a view that will go down well with Visit Scotland, but better to be prepared for the reality, I think, than to be disappointed. Naturally, further into the Arctic Circle, where the storm’s strength will be better felt, the aurora will be stronger too and better viewable than the rather faint, but nevertheless obvious, green smudge on the sky that I saw last night. I could of course be entirely wrong – and that, for whatever reason, this was not as good as it gets.

Other than the aurora, it was, however, a wonderful night to be outside: the complete absence of cloud, coupled with the night being clear, and cold, as well as the lack of light pollution on Uist, meant that so many stars were visible that it was difficult to pick out even some of the major constellations; the plethora of stars putting on a uni-colour show that was, otherwise, as good and as absorbing of self as any firework display. I also saw two shooting stars (though I didn’t wish on them, obviously). If the lack of cloud cover continues, I’ll be out again tonight to take in all that breathtaking beauty, aurora or not.

‘STEVE’ was something else, though.

Stick a brew on, Calvin (2)

Coincident both with the last ever London Drinker and with the opening of a new Brewdog in my hometown, I managed to choose today finally (FINALLY!) to get around to brewing one of the beers I blogged about obtaining some months back. Well, it is just about the first time since then I’ve had a guaranteed time at home to keep an eye on things as they ferment and then undergo a secondary fermentation once bottled. Despite my original purchase being the product of a Twitter advertising campaign (one reason for me never ‘liking’ things on Twitter…), Brew Craft Beer has never once contacted me subsequently by e-mail or even by post; a level of marketing tardiness in this day and age which ought, in principle, really to be a prompt for another purchase.

Anyway, of the two kits I bought last summer I went for the IPA. Aside of a couple of small holes in the brewing instructions (resolved with the aid of a few scribbled notes for next time), this was a pretty smooth, if very long, process: three solid hours, plus equipment preparation (sterilisation) and then decanting into a demi-john, and then the washing up, is a fairly solid investment of time into something whose results are far from certain and certainly not guaranteed. Truth to tell, I suspect that the yeast might have been a little close to the end of its life (expiry this month), and I managed to overheat the water at the start of the mash (the difficulties of working with an electric hob, not gas!). Concentration, and speed of reaction, here is really important. The most significant problem, however, was at the sparging process, during which you really need an industrial-size sieve: I used the biggest one available in our kitchen but it was big enough to handle little more than one-third of the wort at one time. I think I remember my Dad using an old pair of Mum’s nylons at this point but, it seems, these days, equipment needs not only to have been thoroughly washed out, as in the past, but fully sterilised, too.

Time will tell as regards the taste of my IPA – eleven days in the demi-john and then a further two/three weeks of conditioning in the bottle – but this has so far been a rewarding process and one definitely worth repeating (and a good job too: the yeast in the Dilly-Dally is also up this month). Brewing in small batches is a pricey business, though: £12 for 4ltrs of beer, for just the raw ingredients alone (as I moaned about previously), makes this an expensive hobby in comparison to popping down to the Co-Op and picking up a few bottles of fully-formed and matured Innis and Gunn, currently at £2.89/660ml). But then, price has never been much of a prompt in comparison to experience gained and knowledge won.

IMG_0126 (Custom)

Time starting to do its telling (demi-john not here in its final position, obviously).

Now, I just need to find a local crofter who could do something with the draff. And, also, I need to start to think about a recipe for making Marmite, just in case that Unileaver loses attention on the UK as a result of its HQ move yesterday 😉 Though making Marmite is, it seems, quite another business entirely from that of making beer. (And, by the way, hats off and absolute respect for a live and active blog post that is just about celebrating its seventh birthday.)

And, as a reward for making it this far through a post about beer (and Marmite), here’s something for that handful of individuals for whom these things are not so important: the view from my kitchen window as I was watching my pots (or, indeed, not). Specifically, somewhat to the left of the position of the demi-john, looking East North-East and taken just before 2pm on an incoming tide.

IMG_0109 (Custom)

 

There she goes…

In a similar way to what happened to me just a couple of weeks back, I’m again sitting in my usual chair by the window, working on something or other on the laptop, when I caught the movement in the corner of my eye of a large dark object just below eye level moving this time right to left. A cat, perhaps: no, quite clearly an otter barrelling over the grass just outside the garden door and then down over the rockery towards the fence which divides our garden from the grassy strip separating us from the shore. Just managing to grab the camera which I keep on the adjacent window shelf and zooming in as quick as I could on the animal’s shape and general direction, I managed to get something on, er, film:

IMG_0090 (Custom)

The picture quality is clearly pretty poor – though it is, ultimately, a shot of an animal moving with a fair amount of speed taken through a window and on a day that was both wet and (though this has little to do with the quality of the shot) blowin’ a bit of a hoolie in the direction of the window glass. But, nevertheless, a moment of joy worth capturing as I realised – and impressively quickly, for me, precisely what I was seeing.

This is the second otter I’ve seen from this position in a couple of weeks: the other one to capture my attention was further away on the croft land which surrounds our property. I watched him – I’m guessing wildly here from his sheer bulk – move fairly slowly over the land towards the shore before taking a sharp left and heading for the cover of the remains of a long-ruined building. I got a shot of him too, but heading away from the camera reveals little more than a fairly sizable rear end and not much to identify it as an otter other than what is in my head of what I had seen a few seconds previously. This one here, I think, is a female – again, judging by the size: this one appears smaller. Her front end has been blurred by raindrops on the glass, but you do nevertheless get an impression of hindquarter power and muscle as she bounds determinedly and hastily towards, and then under, the bottom rail of the fence, as well as the denseness of the fur. A date, perhaps – or simply in search of tea. Beyond the fence, she disappeared on to the shore (at more or less high tide, but held somewhat at bay today by the force of the wind, she may have gone straight into the water or otherwise tracked over the seaweed-covered rocks), leaving no further trace but a blurred memory. And a snatched photo.

A she and a he, eh? Just 50 yards and a couple of weeks apart. I hope they meet – though I suspect they already have.

Two photos to bookend the day

Firstly, this morning’s sunrise (yes, dear reader: I do occasionally manage to catch one) was spectacular: this was taken at 08:34 when the orange colours were at their most intense, contrasting with the silhouetted infrastructure and the foothills of Thacla, looking south-east from our lounge window:

IMG_7481 (Custom)

Sunrise was at 09:07 for us, although the sun didn’t poke its head above Thacla for another 25 minutes or so after that (just before it did, there was the most gorgeous light blues and silvers and mid greys of the sky and clouds, with the oranges having faded to the most gentle of lemons – given my title here, that one will have to wait a bit longer to see the light of day…). And the silence being broken by the whistled song of a single blackbird (to confirm the impression I had of a few posts ago, I have seen a couple of blackbirds skittering around our land, one – a young male, brown at the front end and black at the back – taking a lengthy rest on the bottom bar of our fence just yesterday).

After all this natural drama, an exciting day of pensions followed, competing towards the end with my view from the west-facing office window, looking out over the croft buildings and houses of our neighbours, this one (actually a composite of two snaps) looking south-west and west taken at 16:22 and with the buildings deliberately under-exposed to highlight the colours in the sky:

January sunset 1

As early in January as this, it’s good to see light in the western sky stretching out well after five o’clock, too. The year is on the move and seeing (and hearing) simple evidence of that is both heartening and refreshing to the soul.