Woodpecker

great spotted woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

I love to see birds in my garden and especially at the feeders, which I can clearly see through my kitchen window, and since I do most of my computing at the kitchen table I do take frequent glances outside.

Over the past years there has always been lots of pigeons monopolizing the feeders and keeping all but the bravest of small birds at bay. But over recent months I have noticed something of a change. There seems to be far fewer pigeons about. Instead of the usual 8 or 10 at a time we seem to be down to only one or two, maybe three, at less frequent intervals. Pigeons are a bit of a nuisance and, yes, I have often said that we have far too many; but I don’t dislike the birds and would not like them to disappear altogether. I can’t help wondering if the steady increase in birds of prey in the area is to blame. I often see buzzards circling around and have also seen peregrine falcons on occasions, which are known to catch pigeons and other birds in flight. I have also come across complete bundles of feathers on the ground which could not possibly have been left by a cat for example. We no longer have a cat, but even when we did there was no way she would tackle a pigeon!

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

On the plus side, the reduction in the pigeon population has allowed far more of our small garden birds to visit the feeders. As well as the usual blue-tits, coal-tits, great-tits, long-tailed-tits, robins, sparrows and various finches that have ventured in when the pigeons are around, we have been visited this year, since the pigeon’s decline, by several nuthatches – the first time that I have ever noticed them in our garden. They are a joy to watch. Blackbirds are also regulars but there seems to be an increase in thrushes as well, and particularly I have noticed redwing thrushes feasting on the Pyracantha berries against the fence this year, having been noticeably absent for a couple of years.

Starlings had been gradually increasing too, a nuisance in some areas and considered pests where I grew up, I hardly ever saw them here until a few years ago and gradually we saw a few more, but never more than half a dozen or so. Now they have now disappeared again and I wonder why.

However there is one bird I have never seen in my garden before, though I know other people outside my immediate area who do have them regularly, and that is a Great Spotted Woodpecker. What a wonderful surprise to see one, a female, fly in to our feeders. Just the one, just the once – so far; at least when I have been looking. Perhaps with this spell of cold weather we have been having she will become a more frequent visitor, then perhaps I may get my own photo instead of sharing the one above which, along with the picture of the Nuthatch, I found on the Internet!

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Snowflakes

Tiptoeing silently overnight
snowflakes fell,
the world turned white.

Gobblers

Red berry gobblers have stripped the holly
almost overnight!
I have salvaged the few bits they missed,
for Christmas.

Christmas Cake

One of the problems with going on an Autumn holiday and not getting home until Christmas is only a shout away is that everything becomes a rush to catch up. However, I have today at last made my Christmas Cake and have just extricated it from the oven.

We don’t eat a lot of cake these days so I don’t do much baking, but Christmas is that bit special and I usually make a point of making my own. Last year I didn’t get home from our Autumn vacation until early December, giving me even less time, so I admit I cheated and bought one. It was nice, but this year I was determined to do it myself once more. (Sorry, no picture as it is still cooling down in the tin and won’t be decorated until nearer the time.)

In the past I have made a recipe inherited from my mother but this has caused a few problems in recent years. It requires the cake to be put in a cold electric oven which is then turned on and the cake baked for however many hours, then you turn it off and leave it in until the oven is cold. I usually arranged to turn it off just before I went to bed and it could then stay there cooling down until morning. The first problem with this is that the recipe was devised pre-fan ovens and although my oven is electric it is a fan oven. This simply fact actually alters the required cooking time and I never managed to perfect the adjustment so sometimes the cake came out just a little too well done around the edges – still nice in the middle though. The other problem is that most of my family are not actually over-fond of rich fruit cake (I love it!) and now the offspring have all-but left the roost this particular recipe makes a cake that is far too big for my current needs, and again, with the cooking problems it presents too much of a problem to half the quantity and re-adjust the cooking time – it’s not as if it is something I do on a regular basis so that I can practice variations, it needs to be right first time.

For the last several years I have been thinking of trying a different recipe to make a smaller cake and have from time to time researched in various recipe books. Just before we went away and conscious of the fact that I am trying to edge towards a wheat/gluten-free diet (see previous post here) I found a couple of recipes in two gluten-free cook books I have acquired and decided to try one of those. Gluten-free? The only discernible difference from your average rich fruit cake recipe is that it uses rice flour rather than wheat flour.

I have made the one that I thought sounded easiest, though there was not much to choose between them. If I am sufficiently well organised I might make some notes on what I think of it and maybe try the other one next year so that I can decide between the two which one to favour in the future. I can’t wait to try it.

 

Strain

Editing done, now I can rest
repetitive strain round my thumb and wrist.
Too long computing, I’ll stop for today,
sit down and rest, let the pain fade away.

Leaves

Scuttling like crabs,
leaves across the lawn,
windblown.

Food For Thought!

“In one year, three times as much rubbish is dumped into the world’s oceans as fish are caught, by weight.”

(From the RYA Members magazine. Winter 2017)

Pedalling

On a bright and crisp morning
I pedal the cobwebs away —
me and my bike against the cold!

Last Leaves

Strong winds today
are doing their best
to strip the last
of the leaves away.

Back Home

Well, I have been back now for just over a week and am still not fully back in writing mode! I have been away for two months and have had a blissful break away from all things computer – well not quite all.

I took my computer with me as well as plenty of notebooks and pens but I confess I wrote nothing, apart from my diary and a few postcards! I also took watercolour paints and painting pads but again didn’t touch them. The time wasn’t entirely computer free, as I say I had it with me and I did look in occasionally to check emails and visit Facebook as I dreaded returning home to find hundreds of emails and notifications in my inbox. Checking emails beside the pool – bliss!

Not that I have been idle. We took our tandem with us and managed to go out for a ride most days. No heroic distances; I think the longest ride we did was about 26 miles and some as few as 5 or 6, but it was out in the fresh air enjoying the scenery. We rode along sea-fronts, around towns and villages and along ‘Via Verde’ paths (greenways, disused railway lines). We visited friends and relatives and had fun trying to communicate beyond the language barriers. I speak a little of both French and Spanish and one memorable conversation was with a Frenchman who spoke little English. I was trying to talk to him in French when I came up with a Spanish word by mistake (brain just thinks ‘foreign’!) and apologised. It turned out he also spoke a little Spanish so we had an interesting conversation in three languages, inserting the words we couldn’t remember in one language for those of another and completely understood each other!

Bread Dispensing MAchineSince my return home I have been running around in small circles trying to catch up with myself – garden to tidy, washing to do, magazine to edit and Christmas just around the corner.

It took a few days to get around to downloading all my photos but here’s one I just have to share with you. I have never seen anything like this before – a bread-dispensing machine in France. You could buy either a one euro or a two euro loaf. We bought a one euro loaf from it and I have to say it was really delicious and fresh, as if the machine had only been filled that day. I just had to take a photo. It was a Sunday, shops are shut in France on Sundays and we really needed some bread so it was wonderful to come across this machine a short way away from the motorhome ‘Aires’ where we had parked up.

The weather was mostly warm and sunny, except driving back through France when it gradually became colder with some frosty mornings as well as rain, and we were thankful that we had taken winter woollies with us. We are still adjusting to the cold back home, but it is good to be back!

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