Sunday, 31 January 2016

Around the Queen's Sconce

"Sconce Park" is an odd sort of name for a park, is it not? There is no such named-place around here, and sadly, my childhood fancy that it had something to do with Scones proved to be wrong, although you can get them at Rumbles cafe.

No, "Sconce" is derived from the Dutch "Schanz" meaning "Fort" and that is indeed what it was, back in the Civil War in 1646 where it overlooked the combined besieging forces of Sydenham Poyntz and his Parliamentarians, alongside their Scottish allies. They were parked at Sandhill Sconce, on the other side of the Trent and Devon, a musket shot away and a site now underneath a traveller site.

On the other side of town, the King's Sconce watched over the enemy based at Winthorpe village; this is a feature now lost under development on the North-East edge of town, near the river. Not to be outdone, the Scot's built their own Edinburgh Sconce, larger than the King and Queen's constructions put together.

In my childhood it was always a slightly threatening structure, where I was once hit by an elder child in some sort of case of mistaken identifty. It's structure was unprotected, and its steep ramparts, designed to absorb the impact of cannon fire, a real struggle to climb especially among the thorny, grasping gorse bushes. The route up was over a sandy climb, and the centre was always squelchily muddy.

The park never felt quite safe, and rough kids abounded with their 1982 World Cup issue footballs. At night, unspeakable things went on, their rubbery remains left for young children to find.

Now, after a splendid refurb programme, the park and The Sconce are far nicer places, two nature reserves combining with this historical artefact and a cafe to make for a pleasant place to visit.

Hopefully my pictures will give you an idea of the scale and shape of the space, a sort of pinch waisted square with arrowhead bastions at each corner for the cannons. A few years ago, "Two Men in a Trench" filmed here, firing a two pounder cannon at wicker and earth barriers on the football pitches beyond.

I would have easily been in their range, visible atop the fortress on a bright day.


All text and images copyright CreamCrackeredNature 31.01.16

Friday, 29 January 2016

The Squabble in the Hedgerow

You may get the impression that my walks through the past few days have blessed me with little wildlife vignettes, some I get to photograph,  while some I don't, like the grebe feeding its young I wrote about yesterday.

This little incident, I'll call a score draw. It was when I was slowly walking the bark path in the old oak wood at Sconce Park, listening for bird calls and enjoying how silent the soft bark was making even my clodhopping footsteps. Hopefully I wouldn't scare anything away.

Looking up the bank, I spotted a robin sat low in the bushes, silhouetted against the bright sun. I managed to get the one picture, and then I circled up the bank to try and get the light in the right place to really do the bird justice.

As I did so, I noticed another bird approach from further along the line of bushes. "Trouble here" I thought aloud, and immediately afterward, the two birds launched at each other.

There was something rather sumo like it. The birds both aimed at a spot of bare earth, and collided with each other on the ground in a chaotic tangle of legs and wings, the birds shapes rendered senseless by the ferocity of their attack; they didn't fly at each other, they just seemed to roll themselves up into a ball and throw themselves.

The second bird came of worse, it seemed, and retreated back to a branch further away. But it didn't give up, and had another two or three goes, launching madly into attacks that the established bird easily repelled, apparently merely by letting the other bird bounce off it, like its little red breast had a big "S" on it somewhere.

I wasn't able to photograph any of the fighting; it was far too fast for my fingers and camera, but I got several snaps of the victorious bird, who is obviously getting ready for the breeding season with a spot of early male bluster.

I wonder how he'll do. Hopefully next time, he'll be gracious enough to look at the camera.


Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Grebes and the Primroses

Today has been a wonderful day.

This morning I spent a couple of hours walking around Sconce Hills Park with my camera, on a bright day with a clear blue sky reaching to the edge of the universe, the sun taking the edge off the cold west wind. Hazel catkins are out now, with a spot of early - and I mean early - blossom as well.

I walked the river, scanning the alders for siskin and redpolls AGAIN, saw none AGAIN, and crept along the soft bark path in the old oak wood to see what might be around. Sadly no treecreeper today, and the goldcrest I only heard rather than saw, but there were still plenty of things to photograph, as you shall see in the coming days.

In the afternoon, I went for a run that eventually turned into a walk after about 7km, my legs were a bit dead after yesterday's run. The sky had darkened, rain fell desultorily. But it was still worth it, as on London Road lake, I watched as a great crested grebe - in full summer regalia - dive beneath the service a few metres out and bring up a fish, possibly a small roach the length of my middle finger, and rather than swallow it itself, present it to one of the two stripey headed youngsters cruising the waters along with it.

Guess what? No camera again!

I ran the whole length of Clay Lane, a sea of mud dredging the strength out of my legs, and then through a rather sparse feeling Beacon Hill Park. Then, I was trundling down Beacon Hill, when I noticed that primroses had appeared on the grass verge, another early riser this spring. A few metres further on, another orange flower was out, but I couldn't recognise it.

Outside for more or less 5 hours today, so I've had a good one! Hope you did too.


All text and images Copyright CreamCrackeredNature 28.01.16

Devon Pasture in the sun

Alder catkins by the Devon

My favourite stump

Sun explodes through old oak wood

Hazel catkins

Clay Lane in the mud


Lesser celandine?

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Long Range Fieldfares

I set off today on the same route as I ran last week, when I ran through storms of starling, fieldfare and finches. But the weather was so different, it's gone from cold and frosty to warm and windy and this has clearly affected the number of birds on view.

There was barely a bird to be seen as I ran through the Grange Road fields, and the hundreds of starling occupying the trees like Christmas decorations by Hawton church were clearly paying their devotions as well.

A sharp shower did very little to enliven my mood, especially when I decided to hide my camera case under my gilet to make me resemble a pregnant Elephant Man. Luckily the rain didn't last for long, and when I reached the fieldfare field along the Hawton-Farndon road, I was delighted to be able to 1) get my camera out and 2) realise the batteries weren't flat.

Sadly the fieldfares were rather far away, and my shots are thus not great but I'm still glad to have captured the bird for the first time.. Interestingly, there seemed to be a few starling mixed in with them, trundling around feeding off the land.

As I watched, a huge flock of pigeons swept by above, joining hundreds more in the stand of trees where I've seen starling gather before. They then flapped down to the arable field on the other side of the stand, to wreak havoc on the farmers young crop.

The run ended up being a strong 8 miles, but it wasn't good birding weather I think. Still, I'm glad to have snapped my first fieldfares.

Even if they are only "record shots".


All text and images copyright CreamCrackeredNature 27.01.16

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

More Spring Emergences

I've been lazy today, my fitness band agrees with me too. The wind put me right off running, instead I headed off for a couple of walks to see what I might see.

I had an inkling the library garden irises might be in flower now, and so it proved. There's something wonderfully alive about their colouration, as if they are snakes or some kind of dangerous insect. As ever, the library park is a study of how many different greens you can cram into a small area; in the wet weather we have had today, it looks even lusher than usual.

Actually, looking at them again, the irises remind me of the sandworms from "Dune".

"Mmmmmmmmmmmm Shai H'alud".

So, my afternoon walk took me along the cycle path, where the Sustrans kingfisher put on a short show for me today, giving me a flutter of its neon behind as it took off from a perch next to the drain. The ducks were bobbing about on the wind tossed lake, and gulls wheeled overhead. Gorse bushes are in bloom, the ones the council left when they purged the greenery in order to dig out the fly tipped fridges.

From there, I made my way through Friary Road park, where I noticed a new plant in bloom way ahead of schedule; grape hyacinth. The aconite is still putting on a strong show too, but not so many snowdrops around here.

Then I made my way along the river, enjoying the sight of the boats, and trying to spy siskin in the alder trees where everyone in the whole universe is seeing them apart from me! Daffodils are out at the barge pun, the baby ones at any rate.

It was a pleasant walk, and so mild too despite the strong wind. I've just settled down to "Winterwatch" - in Newark, there has been precious little winter to watch.


All text and images copyright CreamCrackeredNature 26.01.16

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Owl Land in a Lowering Sun

The weather is suddenly giving us warmth again, and the return of a strong wind from the South.

I headed out in this today, on route for The Owl Land. Since the work on the southern relief road began, the Sustrans 64 has been closed until they build the flyover over the new road; seeing as this was supposed to happen this January and it's still a sea of mud down there, I'm guessing they are waaaaay behind schedule due to the wet winter.

In practical terms, it means running down there entails a one mile detour past the amusingly named "Bantycock Open Cast Mine" where they dig gypsum up, before reaching the Owl Land from the Staunton road.

Of course, the short-eared owls that give the Owl Land its name were not on view, indeed, no-one seems to have seen one their for years. But I did flush out a couple of skylarks - recogniseable from their white tail edges - and also what I think was a snipe from by Cotham Flash pond - this has white streaks on its back to tell it apart from a woodcock.

The light was beautiful on the Owl Land, crepescular rays from the sun emerging from the clouds. It was peaceful. "The Infinite Monkey Cage" on Radio 4 was amusing and educational. Baxter's soup is back at 50p a tin in Asda.

That, my friends, marks a good day.


All text and images copyright CreamCrackeredNature 25.01.16

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Happy Hedgehog Has Heavenly Haggis

We celebrated Burn's Night yesterday. I got to celebrate it again today too, in leftover fashion.

Haggis is offal marmite, I suppose. People will happily eat liver and kidney, yet choke back vomit on the thought of eating haggis, as if heart and lungs are involved in the production of more unpleasant substances of those aforementioned organs.

I'm the other way round, I will eat haggis but no other organ things. It's the Scottish blood.

Mum insists we celebrate each year, and woe betide me if I turn up in my work gear. Burns is to be respected, even if it was the wrong night. We can't pipe in the Haggis, but I did pretend, and mum has to recite the Selkirk Grace that Burns himself did at a dinner on St Mary's Isle Kirkcudbright. Our home town.

Some hae meat and canna eat
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

It usually takes her three goes to get all the way through, but she makes it. Luckily it's the Selkirk Grace, and not the rude version of "Coming Through the Rye" that is associated with Burn's night. Burns wrote that one with his diamond ring on the window of a pub in Dumfries, up the road.

Of our two guests, only one was a haggis virgin. He was happy with the whisky, but you could tell he was only pretending to enjoy the mighty haggis, "Chieftain o' thae Puddin Race". His chewing was far too slow.

Our guest was a wuss.


All text and images copyright CreamCrackeredNature 24.01.16