Talisman of Spring

This morning we had a few tasks to perform picking up the car from the garage and sorting out finances at the bank to name two. It was late morning before we found ourselves driving towards Derbyshire a picnic in the back of the car. Both of us were wrapped up like the Michelin man advert. It was a lovely day but the thermometer was reading just above zero so a cold day.

We stopped at Cromford Canal. Unfortunately as this is a half term week the place was heaving consequently there were dogs everywhere and the only wildlife near the mill were some mallards a few swans and a coot all looking hopefully at passers by in expectation of food. This appeared more dangerous than they anticipated judging by the violence with which some small boys were hurling crusts of bread at the birds.



Further on a couple of moorhens swam about busily amongst the old reeds. There was a work party on the canal removing the marginal vegetation with grappling hooks, garden forks and other tools. Unfortunately this section of the canal was devoid of little grebes. Indeed in view of the number of dogs off the leads and either in the water or prowling the bank it is a wonder that any wildlife still lives in this stretch of water. I was worried about the fate of water voles along this stretch of the canal without the marginal vegetation their habitat is threatened. Still we made the most of it. The trees yielded very few birds  the usual blue tits great tits and robins. Further down the canal we eventually found a lone little grebe cowering under the opposite bank. Once we had found one others appeared as is by magic and we eventually located three pairs. The moorhens seemed unperturbed by the noise and disturbance.


Just before we reached the railway junction I found the first lesser celendine of spring. This was my first talisman that spring is on the way and all is well with the world.


Lesser Celendine

In the wood I spotted a few shoots of wild garlic another indicator of spring.


Wild Garlic

The first bridge was devoid of views of dipper or grey wagtail but we did watch a nuthatch busily attacking a mossy branch and a little further on a treecreeper came very close to us. A pair of dunnocks were excavating the leaf litter  we flushed them as we approached unfortunately. Still they only moved a few metres away until we had passed.

We noticed the river was high and we stood for some time on the stone bridge with the sun on our backs waiting to see what we could find. A flash or gold above our heads was our first indicator of a grey wagtail. It obligingly perched on a rock in the middle of the river and strode up and down for a few minuted giving us excellent views.

We made our way back to the car for lunch and decided to call at Carsington reservoir. It was till sunny when we arrived early afternoon. Our first bird in the hedgerow was a willow tit. Once we had un-stiffened ourselves we plodded towards the hide avoiding small children on bikes, runners and a wheelchair. The hide was full of people several of them were volunteers, but a couple of excited children were watching the birds and commenting on them constantly. We found a female reed bunting, a host of tree sparrows, more willow tits and in the distance a great northern diver in winter plumage. I found a redshank in a bay over the other side of the reservoir and your father set up his scope so the children could see it. We finished the day with a walk towards the hide at sheep dips, but the wind had increased  and the waves were blowing up, so apart from a solitary male goldeneye and a small group of teal on the margin of the water, it was deserted. The passerines had also deserted the wood, so we called it a day and came home. Still five more species seen for this year and a good walk.

The hazel was covered in catkins



The common polypody and the harts tongue fern were both covered in spores and growing prolifically.


Harts Tongue Fern

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Common Polypody





Ivy Leaved Toadflax



Finally I was charmed by the sheer diversity of plants on the stone walls a small stone crop, ivy leaved toad flax in addition to the ferns. Mosses covered every damp surface and lichens decorated both the trees and the stones. It was a whole community in miniature with minute forests and lakes the size of puddles.  Comparing the experience with last February we did not find Coltsfoot, nor Dogs Mercury nor Spleenwort despite being told that this spring is particularly early.

Anyway time to pull myself together. The only other news is I bought a book of natural history walks in Derbyshire. I mat the mother of two of your school chums. I hadn’t seen her for twenty years but she still remembered me. I am ashamed to say I couldn’t for the life of me remember her name and spent the entire conversation trying hard not to show my appalling memory. we had a delightful talk and I was very encouraged by this conversation. I find it rare to meet someone whose values and interests coincide with my own. Once we started on discussing our gardens it was as if I had seen her yesterday.

I am rambling on. Thank you for the phone call with all your news and I will speak to you soon

Your loving mother


Birdwatching in Leicestershire and Rutland

Dear Son,

Today we decided as the day was bright and sunny we would go birding around Leicestershire and Rutland so we quickly assembled a rudimentary picnic and flask of coffee fuelled up the car and set off for Eyebrook reservoir having looked on line for what was about. 


We realised our limitations as we stepped outside the vehicle. the wind had obviously come straight from Siberia and passed through every item of clothing was were wearing. Within minutes we were chilled and after half an hour we were shivering uncontrollably. Still the drive was very beautiful. flocks of lapwings over the meadows were very attractive. The early cherry trees were in blossom and the hazel trees were full of catkins. On the way we had excellent views of red kite hunting over the A606 and of kestrel also hunting along the road verges. We stopped off at the little owl tree with no success, unsurprisingly the little owl shared my sentiments and was keeping well out of the wind inside the tree trunk I suspect. 

This disappointment was ameliorated by the sight of over 50 field fares and a single redwing in this field. We spent a few minutes watching these delightful birds feeding before a car appeared in the lane and we were forced to move. We found a small flock of very plump red legged partridges, huddled against the wind.



A curlew and a green sandpiper  were feeding in the edge of the mud near the bridge of the reservoir, whilst a small flock of dunlin rushed and scurried amongst the legs of the lapwings all resting on the mud. A single stonechat was perched briefly on a thistle seed head.


On the water there were lots of goldeneye ducks the males dived every time we managed to get a fix in the binoculars, the swans were all feeing together in s flock. I assumed this was to maximise warmth. imagine our surprise when in amongst them we found a pair of male smew in full winter plumage and a couple of red headed females as well. We found all the usual suspects, coot, moorhen, tufted ducks, mallard, shoveler, teal and wigeon, cormorant and a variety of gulls. A red kite hunted close to the car providing us with excellent views, a pair of buzzards hunted the fields above the reservoir. 

We found a grey heron looking as miserable and hunched as usual was keeping out of the wind at the far edge of the water and three little egrets crouched in the rough grassland at the dam end of the inflow. On the opposite side of the road from the inflow the bird feeders were alive with four species of tits ( blue tit, great tit, long tailed tit and coal tit). We saw a large flock of lapwing with other waders fly around before returning to feed on a field. We tracked the birds down and found approximately 20 golden plover their dark eyes making them look particularly sleepy. Over a dozen dunlin scurried amongst the larger waders. At the main car park chaffinches robins and dunnocks fluttered on the ground beneath the feeders whilst the tits and a solitary tree sparrow fed on the seed.



We could hear the calls of the wigeon on the water beside the car. We ate lunch inside the car and made our way to the north arm of Rutland water where we were rewarded with a male goosander and four black necked grebes a little grebe. 

As you can see the place was very attractive 


By mid afternoon the cold had seeped through my clothes and I was finding it difficult to maintain any heat so I persuaded your father to head for home. We had just settled ourselves down to watch some TV with a mug of tea when the storm struck and it grew dark the snow came swirling down then turning to  hail and sleet some fifteen minutes later. It has developed into an extremely cold might with an amber warning of snow tomorrow. This is a pity as I had hoped for a drive to Sherwood Forest to search for some woodpeckers. 

We had 55 species of bird, with thirteen new species for the year. The highlights were the smew.  the temperature was five degrees but the wind chill made it about freezing.

More updates later in the week 

your loving mother 




The Murder Mystery Evening

Dear Son,

As a birthday present my friend Angie invited me to attend a murder mystery evening with her at the book cafe in Derby yesterday. Accordingly I dressed in causal clothes Angie’s dog has a habit of smelling ones crotch something that is more disconcerting when wearing a skirt or dress. Having been smelt has my hands licked and my clothes pawed at we caught the bus into town and met up with two cousins of Angie. Both of them lovely people and good fun. After a quick cup of tea we headed to the book cafe where we were escorted upstairs into a Georgian room with a lovely chandelier big windows and comfy chairs. 

We were given a glass of Prosecco. We talked and chatted for at least an hour before the performance started. Without food and with no suitable distrction Angie and I made short work of  bottle of Australian Rose. A woman dressed in a blue dress and wearing a suffragette rossette started off the proceedings by introducing herself as a suffragette Charity Kase (Yes the name was that corny)




She attempted to give us all pamphlets promoting the suffragettes of Derby (S.O.D. s for short) and her slogan don’t be silly be a S.O. D. An admirable sentiment I am sure you will agree.


A young man then entered dressed in a loud blazer a straw boater and grey flannel trousers Hugo Larst.


He had obviously modelled himself on Bertie Wooster and played the silly Ass very well. He attempted to help a rather frumpy maidservant Amelia Cook with her baggage and was rebuked by the suffragette for oppressing the woman. I am still trying to work out the logic of that statement. Apparently she was perfectly capable of carrying her own bags despite being overwhelmed with them. They were followed by an older man with an obviously fake moustache this was apparently Tom Braider the well known explorer and rhino wrestler complete with full khakis pith helmet and blunderbuss. he immediately started to argue with Charity about the place of women in society.


Then a rather decrepit butler entered complete with black suit and hat  Jeeves fallen on hard times I thought.


Lastly a version of Angie from work turned up loud brash mutton dressed as lamb bossy with the same fake reddish hair colour called Augusta Wind.


Thankfully after she had sacked her maid, insulted the explorer and derided the suffragette someone apparently shot her. She collapsed taking a few dramatic moments to die in the corner. I wondered if it had been one of us the audience who had shot her for her bad acting and poor dress sense. Having wanted to shoot her twin from work it was a very satisfying projection. We were given a list of suspects and then came the chance to talk to the suspects.



Someone had stolen Augusta’s kiss and tell autobiography and this provided a number of the suspects with motives. 

The maid turned out to be completely wet and it was consequently elicit much information from her. The butler was so pompous and verbose it was hard to get much out of him.


The explorer was rather good at double entendre e.g 

“Could you tell us how you manage to wrestle an animal capable of destroying a jeep with your bare hands?” My question.

“Its all a matter of getting ones hand one the horn and then twisting it. I expect you have often had your hands on the horn madam…..” This was addressed to Ang not me  obviously however it caused a burst of rude laughter. However he claimed his gun was not loaded no double entendre intended.

The silly Ass had a lisp and couldn’t pronounce the letter r rather like Jonathan Ross. He also had a sneer that would have given Rick Mayall a run for his money. This made me attempt to get him to say as many words with this letter as possible. Think of Pontius Pilote in “The Life of Brian”. He was obviously Augusta Wind’s love intewest but wefused to be dwawn on her chawacter claiming he was too much of a gentleman to tell tales. 

I derived great entertainment from asking fatuous and silly questions of these stock characters. I derived similar interest from eavesdropping on the conversations of those around me and by just being silly. Small extracts of the manuscript kept being produced to help us, 1908 obviously the year the photocopier was invented.






At some point after an hour and a half we got access to the buffet. There was a stampede it was as though people were starved. I admit to being hungry, unfortunately by the time I got to the buffet there was very little food left. I don’t like to be first in the queue, as being fat, I think people will notice and comment on my greed and gluttony. We got a second bottle of Rose and stated on this. Then came another shooting  of the explorer as the manuscript was discovered and he claimed to know the identity of the murderer. Well the Rhinos around Derby will be pleased to be free of his attentions. Perhaps that is why there are so few rhinos around Derby they have all been wrestled.

Then we had to fill in a sheet as to who had done the murders. All of our group got the correct murderers and the correct method but none of our group got the motive. By the end  lulled by the innocent taste of the alcohol, I had consumed a whole bottle of Rose and a glass of Prosecco. 

Considering I usually only drink a maximum of two glasses of wine in an evening and then only occasionally I was certainly under the influence of alcohol and had to concentrate on walking back to out lift. Your father collected a rather giggly wife from Ang’s house and I fell into bed about midnight. I had a lovely evening the food wasn’t that great but the fun was in the entertainment. I probably didn’t behave with the greatest dignity but I do feel a lot better for having let my hair down so to speak.

I hope you enjoy my account of proceedings.

Your loving mother