Friday, 6 April 2018

s p r i n g ?

“It's like winter is really mad and keeps storming out of the room and then coming back yelling, 'AND ANOTHER THING!'” So said some wag on the internet. Or like when you lift your head out the hangover bucket, get your breath back and think that's your stomach absolutely empty, only to feel your guts spasm, and there's more on the way. So here we are marching through April and temps are still in single figures. The crocuses and daffs are stunted and confused having been up to their trumpets in snow at least twice and the skiers aren't sure whether to put their kit away or wax it up.

Regulars will notice I haven't blogged for a bit. This is because I haven't run for over a week now. Not a planned taper for Manchester on Sunday but a combination of things: bad weather being the main culprit. But also, my mum, on her journey back to childhood, has been unwell and is having a holiday in hospital currently. Her situation is usually, at best, only one hand on the wheel. But recently she almost gleefully put that behind her head as well and bid adios to any rational behaviour. To be fair she had infections and/or viruses and it wasn't willful, even though to the casual observer it might have looked that way. Which left me a few DIY chores in her house not dissimilar to the way some people toddler-proof their homes. Also the amount of times the help visit daily has been increased. 

I have never been much of a one for tapering. My marathon pb (in 2014, blogged here) was week 4 of a race-every-weekend spate including winning a 36 mile ultra, the E2NB 20 miler and Goatfell hill race. I am blessed with decent recovery so have in the past pushed training up to the final week. This time I have inadvertently not run at all for ages, although I have been doing a good bit of cycling and walking. But more eating, and drinking wine than is wise, and I am approaching the start line entirely spherical, glad of Manchester's reputation for being a flat course therefore easy to roll a fat bastard along. Nick was saying similar having gorged himself on Easter egg chocolate last weekend. I'm stupid I'll admit but not THAT stupid. (Well actually I did find this SUPERB wine in Tesco's (Canonmills - not Duke St, (crying emoji) called Jam Shed and it does exactly what it says on the bottle.) Anyway it's Nick's fault I am doing Manchester. And Mary's. We saw Nick had signed up and thought it would be better than Stirling again, or any of the other Scottish ones. Mary has now dropped out as she is currently hobbling with sore IT bands and a mysterious condition that has been hurting her for a few weeks now. Latest thoughts are maybe a vit D deficiency. A real shame as we were so looking forwards to the curry and beers and social after the race. 

Anyway, on Thursday the snow melted a bit and the sun came out. Temps were still single figure but it looked like an ideal day to pop along to the Botanics and see if the robins were singing. (Spoiler alert: they were!) I cycled via the Water of Leith to see if any of the usual suspects were there. Sure enough a heron was sunning itself on the nearside bank. And an obligatory mallard or 2. Still no sign of butterflies despite the facebook groups being knee deep in this year's fluttering friends.

I took a hike round the rock garden bit as it is always pretty but really I was heading to the Chinese garden where a robin or 2 resides who will take the bread out your hand and in return happily pose for close-ups. Of course as soon as you rely on stuff like this it never pans out and first time past, no robin. I had a bit of a wander then doubled back as I could hear a cheery song. Then I saw the little fellow about shoulder height in a shrub looking right at me as if questioning whether I had his bread and would I kindly get it out. I did. There were 2, and while one kind of held back, the other would fly to my hand and take the bread without landing then fly off to eat it. I got a couple of ok pics but headed off to look elsewhere before returning and getting better pics.

The alpine cold frames were ablaze with flowering mosses and miniature delights. Right enough they wouldn't be discouraged by the cold weather, especially in their greenhouses.

I then wandered off piste and back towards the Chinese gardens but back through shrubs and trees on smaller dirt paths. The place was really busy and I was trying to avoid running-and-screaming kids. The children were mostly reasonably behaved but generally just too abundant. The place, weekdays, is usually much quieter, and better for it. (I'm guessing it's Easter holidays.) I was beginning to wonder if the absence of squirrels was due to the noisy children.

Then I'd come upon a squirrel. I'd get out the bag-o-nuts and rattle it. This always gets their attention and you can immediately tell from the response, from rabidly keen to nearly indifferent, whether you have a willing model or not. I stopped a few times for middling subjects - they'll run over but are wary and need a few nuts chummed out before taking them from your hand.

So nearly every time I coaxed squirrels over it would attract the attention of passing children. They would see what I was up to and want to do similar. Trying to avoid total grumpy grinch behaviour, I would give the kids a handful of nuts but then be obliged to move on. Because middle aged men without kids are not allowed sustained interaction with unrelated kids. That's the rules. Especially if you are dressed in running kit and clothes vaguely reminiscent of Jimmy Savile!

I found myself rambling back towards the Chinese garden and could hear the robin singing his heart out. I would imagine they are territorial and so this prob is the same one as last time, although I was surprised to see 2 together, earlier. 

So we had quite a good chat and even the busloads of squawking kids and passing tourists didn't scare him/her off. A few blue tits and little brown jobs hung about the periphery and then about 4 squirrels down near the main path also got involved. Eventually I had to give several children nuts to join in, and so I moved on again, but not before I got some video of a particularly friendly squirrel who would scamper up my leg for a handout at waist height.

It was generally a bright day with the sun moving in and out the clouds. I was surprised and pleased the TZ100 (that 1" sensor earning its keep) managed to produce some reasonable quality snaps of the robin on the ground and in the undergrowth where there really wasn't much light at all. I also shot quite a bit of (4k) video which almost came out better than the stills. Mainly of the robin singing (and later up the tree, also singing).

Someone on facebook was rolling out that old aphorism about there being no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing (and bad attitude. C'est moi!) I have to admit to disagreeing with that, especially when it comes to taking pics. There is no way I'd have got anything interesting the couple of days prior when the sun stayed hidden and the snow would have kept most (the robins, the dippers, the squirrels) indoors. To say nothing of the unpleasant wind and cold, and lake sized puddles. Sorry, there is bad weather and we just had a belly full of it. If still in doubt ask my sister, a farmer, who will be bringing the corpses of Spring lambs out the snowy fields this week. (Sad faced teary emoji.)

Before leaving I had a last tour round the rock garden via the duck pond. There didn't seem much going on at the pond so the bread went back in the pocket and I was about to head off when the birdsong in a nearby tree caught my ear. I eventually spied a robin way up high and managed to get a couple of shots and some video, holding my arms up until they ached. I think maybe the weirdness of the angle upwards accounts for it looking slightly misshapen. Maybe it was just weird looking? Good singer though. I will be putting the video clips and some stills into a wee video shortly, though I have new software so it might take a while. I spent several hours yesterday watching youTube videos on how to work the editing software (cyberlink PowerDirector 16), after buying it online.

Now this is a fairly dull photo but every time I see it, it makes me think of a lovely warm pillow or duvet and I want to have a nap. I took it because there were gnats (or wee flies) dancing in the sunlight just above (but they didn't come out.)


On the way home I deliberately passed by the Water of Leith again in case the heron was doing something useful or just in case there were ospreys or kingfishers. You really can never tell. Just near the old B&Q where that raised walkway lets you see over, there were a pair of dippers doing their stuff in the fast-flowing, brown, swollen waters. RESULT! I could hardly have been more delighted to have seen beavers. I just checked the properties of the first and last image and I was there over 35mins. Since they stayed over the far side of the river I was pretty sure most of the stills and video would be poor quality. Most was shot at max zoom and the other side of the river was in shadow. I couldn't even tell what they were sanding on. It looked like a log from where I was but when I got home I saw it appears to be a bike's back wheel and mudguard. Grippy tyre making a good stance. Last ever bike ride. But a good one.

I am a huge fan of dippers. Not only because they are cute as anything with white bibs over chocolate fur, I mean feathers, but they fly with superfast wingbeats like large humming birds then plop into fast flowing water totally fearless (and murky brown meltwater that must be absolutely BALTIC) then pop out and shake themselves down before doing the same again. And one of the pair appeared to be missing a foot. The video shows it pegging along, sans pied, with characteristic bobbing motion, undeterred and managing on just one foot. And not whinging on facebook or going on a Saturday night tv show and making an emotion-laden back story about it.

Twice, one of the pair came over to the nearside bank and I hurriedly shot off a handful of pics. I bolloxed up the other time being too excited and possibly scaring it off.

This is the scene without zoom, dipper skimming over surface.

The white fronts of the birds help make them more visible, though once they plop into the river they become almost invisible, rising every few seconds but looking like a rag floundering in the brown water. They are fabulous swimmers, but don't look like it on the surface. A great end to a very pleasant afternoon. Has Winter got any more up it's sleeve? Has Spring arrived for good this time? Will the butterflies ever re-appear? Watch this space.

Oh and I'll be running a marathon on Sunday as well. (angry/smiley/tearful emoji???)


  1. Excellent post Pete great images and text, a super day out, love them Dippers, don't get them down here.

  2. Thanks Brian, the dippers are fab. Video is fun as well but won't get edited till next week.