RSPB – Leighton Moss

LOW RES Leighton Moss map

Itching to go out walking again, I was looking for ideas for places to go to this weekend. I don’t know why but sightings of bearded tits at RSPB Leighton Moss popped up on my Facebook wall. So I decided to look at their website and planned on taking a few hours walking along their trails of woodland and reed-bed habitats.

Leighton Moss is the largest reed-bed in the NW of England. They have breeding bitterns and is the only home to bearded tits in the region.

We visited after a 1.5h drive, on a cloudy mid-September afternoon. Unfortunately too late to see the bearded tits on the grit feeders. However we did manage to see plenty of other wildlife, predominantly garden and woodland birds.

Among the many feeding stations we passed, we managed to spot hungry blue, great and long tail tits. A friendly robin sang to us for food but we had none. There were many chaffinches having squabbles, but the stars of the day (for us) was a small marsh tit and surprisingly bold nuthatches!

We also saw goldcrests flittering about the trees, but they were so fast that David couldn’t get a picture! Maybe, one day!

Leighton Moss has many walking trails to choose from. David and I did them all save the salt-marshes as they were not on the main reserve. For the three hours we were there, we put in a reasonable four miles of walking.

We stopped for lunch at a bench on the Causeway path, and watched as house martins swooped overhead and red and blue dragonflies darted about. Even the odd speckled wood butterfly made an appearance.

Of the many hides on the reserve I was very impressed with Lilian’s hide. It looked newly made and was very spacious, with bowed windows looking out towards the reed-beds and comfy seating. David snapped a good photo from here of a grey heron.

Not far from Lilian’s hide is the nine metres tall skytower, which gives unparalleled views over the reed-bed towards Morecambe Bay.

The path leading from Grisedale hide offered us two wildlife experiences. The first was on noticing something moving inconspicuously in the reeds, we looked a little closer to find a tiny field vole. He was so cute!

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Field Vole

Further along the path we were surprised by a sudden splash of water! We did not see what made the noise but there are otters residing in the area. I’d like to think we startled one as we made our way along the path.

Overall, I enjoyed our visit to Leighton Moss. At first the £7 per person admission fee for non members seems a little steep but there is free car parking, a shop and cafe in the visitor centre, with the reserve open from dawn to dusk. So £7 for the whole day is good value for money especially as you can walk around the paths as many times as you like and rest a while in the hides.

Membership at £4 a month would be viable if we visited these places more often, but alas only every now and again do we visit an RSPB site. Perhaps that is something to be rectified in the future?

Have you visited Leighton Moss reserve? What were your impressions?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

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Product Placement – Haith’s

* This post comes courtesy of Haith’s – Bird Food Specialists since 1937. If you want top quality bird seed and feeders from a British family run business, then Haith’s has all the products your garden birds need!*

Recently I was approached by Haith’s to review some of their products. I have to admit I was secretly flattered that my opinion mattered, so I agreed. Within a few days three products arrived via post neatly packaged, there was much detail to keeping the products safe in transit.

goodiesThe products to be reviewed  were: 

  • MultiFeeder Plus: a feeder which holds not only seed but water and two fatballs, ideal for attracting different species of wild bird or for hungry birds during the winter.
  • Fat balls (small): I was kindly gifted six of these suet balls to trial, which come helpfully with no nets.
  • (Original) wild bird food: Compiled from a recipe dating back to the 1960’s.

I was eager to fill the feeder up and see how my numerous garden visitors would receive the need addition.

The multifeeder needed to be constructed. The instructions included were easy to follow, even I could follow them! Indeed I managed to fit the parts together without asking David (the product expert) for help! There is a domed cover to keep the larger birds at bay and to keep the rain from ruining the seed. The inner well can be used for water or other types of seed or mealworms. The two fat ball holders have sharp spikes in which to pierce the suet to the feeder.

The fat balls came all individually wrapped in cardboard packaging, to prevent them from crumbling, and the wild bird food, filled with high-energy sunflower seeds and wholegrain cereal, is packaged in a sealed brown paper bag.

seed

Haith’s bird food comes SuperCLEAN™, which means in production they eliminate dust and husks which can damage birds respiratory tracts.

Once the multifeeder was filled with water, wild bird food and fat balls, it was time to hang the feeder outside and see what the visiting garden birds thought of the fare on offer.

What the birds thought of the multifeeder:

It took a while for the birds to take to the new feeder. They were scared of the dome. Though we had one intrepid fledgling starling enjoying the fat balls and seed.

Over the coming weeks, the dome started to attract other birds. Like a blue tit and fledged goldfinches!

At this time of year, end of summer/beginning of Autumn my garden is awash with bird families after a busy year of breeding. Fledgling starlings still with their baby feathers are hungrily looking for food, and suet fat balls are their favourite foods. Goldfinch young with their brown heads are all vying for sunflower hearts, whilst house sparrow families look for smaller seeds and cereals.

The wild bird food and fat balls were a hit with all classes of bird.

What I thought of the multifeeder:

I didn’t care much for the detachable fat ball holders, as once the fat ball had been pecked and became crumbly, then the fat ball easily fell off and was lost to the voracious beaks of pigeons. The six fat balls were soon devoured this way, they only lasted a week in my garden!

Being made of plastic, I was a little worried for the durability of the multifeeder. However we discovered that it was more robust than we gave it credit for as it survived a fall of 1.5m without shattering. We have very raucous starlings who don’t have much in the way of table manners!

The two trays for different types of food or water is a good feature. Come winter you could feed suet pellets in the small dish while still offering normal seed or sunflower hearts in the other. There are many variants yet to be tried.

Overall, the multifeeder is a good addition to any feeding station. The starlings loved it, and I liked how robust it was. I will monitor how many birds take to the multifeeder during wintertime and do a short follow-up review. I can see many tit species enjoying the differing feed on offer and we have yet to see a robin this year.

I thank Haith’s for this opportunity to sample their products.


Links:

If you are interested in purchasing any of the products included in this review then follow the links to the individual pages.

Haith’s website offers more bird foods, such as peanuts, niger and livefood. If you would like to see their entire range follow: http://www.haiths.com/bird-food/

To hold all these different types of food, there is a designated page for all of Haith’s feeders, including feeding stations, window feeders and tables, follow this link to see their range: http://www.haiths.com/bird-feeders/

Tomorrow Isn’t Promised

daf69acd5b56a7e615a891b2cd2769d8Recently I have been thinking of my own mortality. It’s not a topic many people want to discuss. Whilst contemplating the end of life, the phrase tomorrow isn’t promised, cropped up. This made me think of being mindful. To live life in the present. It is a mantra I have been trying to follow every day this year; to take each day as it comes and not to think too much of the future. However much we may plan, life has a way of throwing spanners in the works! So enjoy today and be thankful for the people we share our life with and of the places we see along the way. Life is like a journey. It’s not the destination that matters, but our route along the way!

So as a little recap of the year so far, here’s some of the people and places that have made my journey through 2017 a joy!

I am thankful to have David in my life. He is quietly strong, someone who you can depend upon and a wonderful friend. I love you with all my heart! We have been on many walks this year. Lake District walks to Thirlmere, Dodd Wood and a walk through the bluebells at Rannerdale.

We have shared walks along hot, sunny beaches, picked our own strawberries and visited nature reserves. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather be on these walks than with you, David!

On many of our local walks, to Liverpool Festival Gardens, Sefton Park and Crosby Beach, we have taken bubbly, lively Riley with us.

If I have to mention Riley, I have to mention Artie and Evie and my wonderful aviary of foreign finches.

My mum has been a constant support over the years and I thank her for her love. We shared a special afternoon tea at Jam, Liverpool in March.

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Mum and I

Music has such a big place in my heart, and the music of Hans Zimmer is right up there with the symphonies of Mahler and Rachmaninov. In 2017 I luckily saw Hans’ World Tour visit Liverpool. To say his music is electrifying is an understatement, just listen to his Dark Knight medley from his live concerts!

A new passion of mine has become wild swimming. This year I have had seven wonderful swims. Blea Tarn was not disappointing.

Work takes up a lot of my time but working with Sue and her guide dog Kallie often doesn’t feel like work. It feels like muddling through a day with a friend. Sue has become a wonderful confidante.

I have tried to read and follow as many blogs as I can. There is one blogger who has become an online friend (we shall have to meet in person one day, with our dogs) and that is Sharon from her wonderful blog sunshine and celandines. I have enjoyed our many online chats on the culture/holidays and walks we both blog about!

I love street art. So when there is a new Wild in Art animal trail or a mural, I try and visit. Birmingham’s Big Sleuth was entertaining and Paul Curtis’s For all Liverpool’s Liverbirds mural was a must for any Liverbird to visit!

I have tried to notice the smaller things in nature this year. It really does make you more appreciative of life. Feeling the warm sun on your skin to foraging for berries. Seeing a bird of prey being harried by a family of swallows or seeing a snowdrop during the coldest of days makes your heart swell. These small events make life’s worries and trivialities disappear or seem easily overcomable (if that’s really a word!)

There’s four month’s left of 2017, but for now I want to live for today and feel blessed with the memories of the places I have seen, with the people I hold dear.

Thank you for reading,

Live life in the moment

Christine x

Angle Tarn and Beda Fell.

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Angle Tarn

With a planned walk to Angle Tarn on the itinerary, David and I headed towards Patterdale. We parked the car opposite the Patterdale Hotel and paid the very reasonable £4 for all day. At 9.30am I was surprised at how busy the village was with walkers. With a grey leaden sky and a chilling breeze we headed down the lane and took a left turn onto Goldrill Bridge. We followed signs to the tarn and Boredale Hause.

I found information on getting to Angle Tarn rather sparse online, perhaps that was why we took so many wrong turns. What should have been a two to three hour walk ended up being a five and a half hour epic! Things started to go wrong when we reached the first of many forks in the path. We interpreted the walk featured on The How Cottage website wrongly and took a left turn instead of a right. After walking for half an hour, we found that we were heading out onto Place Fell overlooking Ullswater. I knew this was the wrong direction so we turned tail and retraced our route back to the fork, where we took the right-hand path.

After reaching a second fork we took the top pathway. In hindsight it would have been far easier if we had taken the lower path as this would have seen us directly to the mountain pass of Boredale Hause. Instead it was the beginning of our woes as the top path branched off before Boredale Hause and we ended up traipsing across mossy blanket bogs, soaking our tired feet in mud and water. I soon grew fearful as we seemed to be heading in the wrong direction to Angle Tarn. The sky darkened broodily causing my sense of isolation to increase. With map skills at a minimum, GPS not functioning properly, and David doggedly wanting to see what was at the end of a steep path, we walked for further than needed. Instead of heading south we headed east and ended at a cairn overlooking two valleys. However we had inadvertently bagged another Wainwright, this time Beda Fell. With my mood as morose as the weather I didn’t take a picture. Thinking back the scenery was impressive, I just wish that it didn’t look so desolate. I was not enjoying myself out on the fells!

Almost close to tears and wanting to give up, we retraced our footsteps back down the path. Some of the pathways were not clearly defined, but (luckily) we finally ended up at Boredale Hause and its cairn. There were numerous paths leading from the cairn and one that was sign posted with red flags (the coast to coast walk). We followed this path which seemed popular with other walkers. It was also aiming in the right direction for Angle Tarn. I had not given up totally of seeing it. The well defined path was gravelly underfoot with sheer drops in places. I didn’t look down! There were however stunning views of Brothers Water nestled among the Hartsop Dodd fells.

We had been walking for three hours, our feet had started to blister when I saw David ahead of me jump for joy! Over a hill we spotted the dull tinge of cloud reflecting water. Angle Tarn spread out before us enticingly with its two islands and spit. We stiffly walked to the promontory and found a little cove where we set up camp and had lunch. I was too tired to be happy. I had found the whole experience underwhelming.

Even though I felt cold I decided to continue with the planned itinerary and go for a swim. It ended up more of a dip as I felt so exhausted! Terence said that the water temperature was 15°C. From our cove the main island was only a few metres away. Once in the water I decided to swim over and explore. I had always wanted to swim to an island and Angle Tarn’s island was not too far away.

After my swim, we returned to Boredale Hause and thankfully our journey back to the car park was uneventful. Our descent took two hours. On the way down, David spied a huge golden ringed dragonfly at the side of the path. Out came the lenses and he managed to snap a great photo of it!

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Golden Ringed Dragonfly

In calculation, we had walked for over five hours, ten miles in total and my Samsung Health clocked a whopping 26,000 steps! It was an eventful day, one I won’t forget in a hurry.

Have you walked around the fells of Patterdale? What were your impressions of the area?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Blea Tarn and Brothers Water.

I was almost deterred from swimming in Blea Tarn and Brothers Water as they have been designated SSSI’s or Sites of Special Scientific Interest. However with both having been on my ‘to do’ list since the very beginning, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Blea Tarn:

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Blea Tarn and the Langdales

David and I drove to Blea Tarn at the start of our few days away to the Lake District. As we came from the direction of the Great Langdale valley the tarn looked rather uninspiring. Undeterred we parked up at the National Trust Blea Tarn car park, and paid the rather steep charge of £5.50 for 4 hours. Parking is right across the road from the tarn with an accessible walk to the waters edge and stunning views. I was surprised the area wasn’t more busy, we only saw a handful of people!

We followed the National Trust trail and took a gentle meandering walk past the tarn, gazed at towering Scots Pines before heading out towards the fells and then the ultimate viewpoint over Great Langdale, which was stunning!

During our walk we saw common spotted orchids, golden ringed dragonflies (to fast for us this time, though we would see them again during our walk over Beda Fell), and a beautiful summer visitor, a pied flycatcher.

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Blea Tarn

We returned to the shingle beach of Blea Tarn where we set up base and I stripped to my new tankini. Terence the turtle registered a balmy 18°C but with the wind I soon cooled quickly. Here’s some pictures and video of my very enjoyable swim, the best of the weekend! The entrance into the water was easy underfoot. No scrambling over rocks is always a plus in my book!

Brothers Water: 

We got to the shores of Brothers Water after a five hour hike around Beda Fell. At 3.30pm there were only a few dog walkers around, I had the entire lake to myself! Tired and with aching feet we stumbled along the shingle shore towards the waters edge. From there I struggled into a new swimsuit and waded out ungracefully into the shallow and reedy waters. I did not stray too far from the shore, though in hindsight I think maybe I should have ventured out further. I was afraid of fronds catching at my ankles, much like Loweswater. However the waters were silky against my tired limbs and the views were soul nourishing. Pictures of Brothers Water to me, always looked like a mini Wast Water but once there the lake was reminiscent of Buttermere. The water was a warm 17°C but the swarm of flies that hovered about the surface of the water, and then me, was slightly off putting. I think with being exhausted from a mentally challenging walk, I didn’t enjoy swimming at Brothers Water as I should have. The real stars were the small fish that swam in shoals in the shallows. If anyone can ID them for me that would be great! Here’s a small selection of pictures and video of my swim.

Have you visited this tarn/water? What are your memories of them?

Where do you think I should swim next?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #34.

This weeks Sunday Sevens, devised by Natalie at Threads and Bobbins, will be coming to you from the Lake District.

B&B: We seem to spend more time exploring the northern part of Cumbria than any other area. Keswick is our town of choice and we have been visiting the same B&B in Braithwaite (10 mins drive from Keswick) for the past three breaks. Hermiston Guesthouse is run by the lovely and welcoming Phil and Helen whose five bedroom establishment is situated before the grand Skiddaw range. This time we were given the quiet ground floor room, Whinlatter, with views of their garden. Hermiston has become a home from home and every stay is just as comfortable as the previous.

Wild Swimming: We spent a few days in the Lake District to mainly do some more swim/walks. Swimming in Blea Tarn was a highlight of the break and one off the ‘to do’ list!

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Angle Tarn

#Walk1000miles: I actually thought my mileage this week was going to be good, but I have only managed 27 miles. A big chunk of that was aided by a five hour hike on Friday around Angle Tarn, more to follow on that epic day! My annual total is now at 710 miles. Not long to go now!

Wildlife: While walking around Beda Fell David spotted this gorgeous Golden Ringed Dragonfly at the side of the path. He was a big one!

Local produce: On the way home we decided to stop off at Grasmere to buy some famous gingerbread. Sarah Nelson in 1854 created the recipe which is still being used today. The gingerbread is a curious mix between a biscuit and a cake. If you like ginger then you will like this. I found it enjoyable with a cup of tea.

We also bought a couple of small bars of Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake but haven’t tried them yet.

Food: No visit to Keswick would be without visiting my favourite lake, Derwentwater, (sorry Buttermere.) We spent a lovely evening sitting on a beach, enjoying the views, with swallows somersaulting overhead, while eating fish and chips from The Old Kewsickian chippie.

So, that was my weekly highlights, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve

Still nursing a bit of a hangover from 30 Days Wild. Our forays into nature have continued.

Sunday dawned bright and cheerful. While David got up at 7.30am, I turned over to snooze for longer. However five minutes later David came charging back into the bedroom, ‘we’re going out, he said. We had been debating the previous evening whether to stay at home or visit a Wildlife Trust nature reserve. It all depended on the weather.

‘Shall I get up now?’ I mumbled sleepily. I guessed the weather was favourable.

‘No, later.’ So I snoozed until 8am when I got up for breakfast. We were out of the house by 9am! We drove for an hour to Ormskirk and Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve and spent the next three hours walking along woodland paths and gazing over lakes.

On our bimble we saw many fluttering red admirals and a wonderful comma butterfly. Flashes of blue damselflies darted about and brambles were covered in hundreds of bees and hoverflies. The woodland scented air was filled with the hum of insects and the chatter of birds. Calls from great tits, wood pigeons and dunnocks graced the airwaves.

Thanks to a kind gentleman, we even spied a great crested grebe during a visit to one of the hides. I think David has captured the Grebe beautifully.

The great crested grebe is a conservation success after being nearly hunted to extinction for its plumage during the 19th Century. The grebe has adapted to the aquatic lifestyle and is cumbersome on land and in the air, preferring to dive under water to escape or hunt. During spring they have an elaborate courtship dance of fluffing their crests and mirroring each others’ head twists.

We walked a total of five miles around the three main paths of Mere Sands Wood, and visited a meadow with selfheal, where small white butterflies flittered over head. It was a peaceful way to spend a Sunday.

As the day progressed and the sun burned down the reserve and car park grew busy. There is a £2 charge to park all day with a licence plate recognition camera. There is also a visitor centre with literature and gifts.

Have you ever visited Mere Sands Wood? What is your favourite Wildlife Trusts nature reserve?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2017 – Finale

o0OhgWNNSadly, it’s the end of June and the finale of The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild! Though it has been a challenge this year, I have enjoyed stretching myself to experience nature through different activities.

Initiatives like this makes you more appreciative of nature. Whether listening to birdsong, smelling a fragrance or IDing a tree or plant. It gives colour to our lives.

Day Twenty-nine: Thursday. 

As I’m writing this my skin feels so itchy. It’s psychological. I decided today to have a look at the washing-up bucket pond we set up last year. In the space of a year, the rockery plants have grown, and we had to change the oxygenating plant as the mare’s tails died. I’ve never pond dipped before so I didn’t know what to expect. The pond is not very big so I just used a glass to scoop up some of the water. I beheld hundreds of strange floating, twisting insects. In hindsight I should have took a video but a blurry picture will have to suffice.

After some research I was shocked to find that the little critters are all mosquito larvae. Images of malaria breeding insects came to mind. I read that there are approx. 30 species of mosquito in the UK. Only females drink blood as they need the protein in blood to create their eggs. In warmer climes they are the biggest killer of humans. Makes you thankful the UK is often cool!

They are often the first to colonize a new pond and other pond life and birds eat these insects. So I’m wondering, is it a good thing for these insects to be a part of my wildlife yarden? What do you think? Perhaps I need to get another oxygenating plant to help clean the water some more? Some advice would be most appreciated.

Day Thirty: Friday.

For the final day of 30 Days Wild I decided to open a bottle of the elderflower champagne and toast to the wild!

As I have never tasted elderflowers I didn’t know what to expect. The bottle kindly didn’t pop, and what was decanted into champagne flutes was a fizzy, light coloured liquid that had a hint of zest and a floral bouquet. It reminded me of grapefruit. David said the drink was refreshing but my mum said it was an acquired taste. I enjoyed it, but don’t think I could drink a lot of it.

Have you made elderflower champagne? What was your experience?

Summary: 

My third year of participating in 30 Days Wild has been a memorable one. From blissfully hot summer days to endless days of rainfall. My favourite highlights included, making elderflower champagne, beach combing on Crosby Beach, strawberry picking on the Wirral and visiting Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve.

What random acts of wildness have you enjoyed doing over the course of the month?

Looking ahead: there are still many activities to keep wild well into the summer months and into autumn and winter too. Taking part in the annual Big Butterfly Count, which begins 14th July to the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch come January. There is no excuse for us to not stay wild!

What future activities are you looking forward to participating in?

A Look Back:

2015: Moths and butterflies

2016: Dancing in the rain and IDing weeds.

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

A Year in Books – April to June

april to juneEven Artie looks shocked at the amount of literature I have devoured this quarter! It has been a very productive period. 13 books I have read between April and June. While sitting on buses during the daily commute I have been able to immerse myself in narratives that have taken me to occupied France, to the inhumanity of Auschwitz and war ravaged Afghanistan.

I have laughed with Maude who was looking for Elizabeth and cried with Conor when his mother faced an incurable illness.

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

I think this has to be my favourite read of 2017, so far! I had no expectations when I opened the pages but from the very beginning I was enthralled by the skill of writing and the subject matter. The narrative is slightly fractious due to it being narrated by a woman with dementia, but it is written in such a way that you slip from the present to the 1940’s very easily. Maud is seeking her friend Elizabeth, however underlying her search is a historic case of her missing sister. The first person narrative is funny, poignant and highlights the fear and confusion dementia sufferers have. It’s a very enlightening book, fabulously written. I won’t spoil it for you but the ending is sad yet hopeful too. I’d definitely recommend this book, it is a book I wish I could write!

The Taxidermist’s Daughter – Kate Mosse

I hate to say it, but I am not a lover of Kate Mosse’s writing. I still have to read the last installment of her languedoc trilogy. I don’t know what it is but I just can’t warm to her style of writing. I did think her Mistletoe Bride collection was readable but not memorable. The same could be said about The Taxidermist’s Daughter. Though Mosse can evoke a dreary Gothic atmosphere (i.e. rain and flood waters rising on a Sussex landscape), I just didn’t think her characters were developed enough. Neither character of Connie or Henry were likable enough to care what happened to them. It’s one book I’ll probably forget I’ve read.

Perhaps you have a different interpretation?

To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee

I really didn’t know what I expected from this book, but as I began to read it, it wasn’t what I had imagined it would be. Narrated by six year old Jean Louise it is a fictionalised account of growing up in the American South in the 1930’s. To me it seemed a book of its time as class and race hierarchies were commonplace. Though the main core of the plot is the trial of Tom Robinson accused of raping a white girl, the events leading up to it is seen through the eyes of Jean Louise and so the injustice of the system is even more shocking. I did enjoy the novel and would recommend, but its not one that has stayed with me.

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Another of the best reads this year! I reviewed this book in my Sunday Sevens #28.

Folly – Alan Titchmarsh

I read this book on the recommendation of reviews on goodreads. I wish I hadn’t. The narrative was laborious and characters two dimensional. Titchmarsh had researched the area of fine art galleries and auctions indepthly, but just did not create a tale interesting enough to capture the readers imagination.

The book received a higher score on goodreads than The Haunting but I felt the story wasn’t as strong.

Do you have a different opinion?

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

I read this book before seeing the film and I must say the book is by far better than the film! It is a very emotive story. Thirteen year old Conor O’Malley is struggling to accept his mother’s terminal illness. The monster who calls helps Conor come to terms with his emotions. I must admit I was choked when I finished the novel. Though written for the young adult market I think it’s a story that can be read at any age.

The Lonely – Andrew Michael Hurley

This book was a 2015 Costa awards winner for a debut novel. It’s a Gothic tale with most of the action happening on a desolate coastal area in Lancashire. It is narrated by ‘Tonto’ whose brother Hanny is mute. A group of Christians visit the area at Easter hoping for a miracle, what they find is much more darker. The landscape is forbidding, the locals unfriendly and ultimately the miracle is only eluded to. Nothing is spelled out and I think that was the novels downfall. For me I didn’t care about the characters, in fact most annoyed me and at the end I was left feeling I had read a lot of words that didn’t make much sense. If you like vague narratives then this book is for you!

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

This book had been on my Kindle for over a year. While looking for new books to read I remembered the stage play that was in Liverpool and which, I wish I had gone to see as it had rave reviews. Hence why I downloaded the book. So I decided to give it a try. The book lives up to its hype. The tale is of two boys, Amir and his ‘servant’ Hassan. The narrative is from Amir’s point of view, of a young boy growing up in Afghanistan before the Russians arrive and then the Taliban. Always trying to capture the eye of his father, Amir is jealous of Hassan and it is only later that we discover the true relationship between both boys. Amir who comes from a wealthy background managed to flee with his father to the USA, while Hassan stays in Afghanistan.  The story is beautifully written, the language lyrical. The ravages of war is sometimes too hard to read. Hosseini’s book makes you realise what hell it must have been like to live in Afghanistan during those turbulent times. Hosseini has set up a non profit foundation to help refugees returning to their homeland after three decades of war.

The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas – John Boyne

The narrative of this book is so painfully naive as it is written from the viewpoint, of a child called Bruno. The Final Solution is viewed by this nine year old who has accompanied his family from Berlin to ‘Out With.’ The book relies heavily on the readers knowledge of ‘Out With’ (Auschwitz) and who the sad people in the stripped pyjamas behind the fences are. I think the book is more agonisingly sad because of this foreknowledge. Bruno who isn’t happy at Out With, finally befriends a boy from the other side of the fence, Shmuel. I won’t spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t read it, but the final chapters will leave you sobbing!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

It’s difficult to find the right words this book made me feel. Written in the 1980’s, though it can be applied to today’s world too, more so when news of atrocities to women in Europe, the Middle East and beyond occur daily. Offred is a Handmaid of the dystopian Republic of Gilead, (you don’t find out her real name!) It is a place after a catastrophe. Nuclear war has decimated the world and the human populace (birth rates have plummeted). In it’s place has risen a religious order which has reduced women to property (once again). I find the implications of the book hard to swallow as the unknown leaders have imposed a strict order on the women. Those who are breeders (the Handmaids), those who are not (the Wives) and those who are servants (the Marthas). There are other classes in the Gilead regime like the Aunts (who train the Handmaids), and Commanders (the highest ranking men). Everyone has their place in society, even the poorest of women like the Econowives.

Offred as narrator, I think is quite unreliable as her tale is rather vague. There are flashbacks of her life before the catastrophe. There is a general feeling of threat and violence but it is so muted in the narrative that by the time you come to the truly atrocious scenes you are left feeling numb. I found it hard to like any of the characters. Perhaps my Western upbringing has caused me to react negatively to this book?

As an aside I am currently enjoying the dramatisation on Channel 4, though again some of the episodes have left me reeling.

Have you read the book? Watched the series? What are your thoughts? Do you disagree with my ideas?

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

Much like the Handmaid’s Tale, Hosseini’s second novel, (also based in Afghanistan,) is about the bonds between two women and of their daily struggles during the restricting Taliban regime. Women were among those who were so poorly affected by this regime and Hosseini writes eloquently about the physical and mental abuse of Mariam and Laila. Though I did not enjoy the novel as much as I did the Kite Runner, the narrative does keep you engaged. Like the Kite Runner it is a story of sacrifice and endurance. There is a resolution but like many human stories, it is tinged with sadness.

Finger’s in the Sparkle Jar – Chris Packham

I don’t know why but this book left me feeling sad. Maybe it was because of the curious mix of narratives that sat uneasy with me? Or perhaps it emphasised that however beautiful nature is, it can be brutal! After getting to grips with Packham’s switching from first person narrative to third, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I preferred it when Packham wrote in the first person, his experiences seemed all the more real. The scenes with the fox and kestrel had me close to tears!

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak.

As the end of June was in sight, I hurriedly finished The Book Thief. It was with a tear in my eye that I read the harrowing final parts of the novel. Another book set during World War II. The narrative is told by Death. There is a balanced mix of humour and sadness as Death goes about his job of collecting souls. Though the novel is about Death, the story is a very human one. You quickly grow to like the characters of Liesel, Rudy and Max, and even though Death prepares you for each of their fate, the sadness is still real.

Have read the book? Seen the film? What was your favourite?

41HJJM1VNYLFor July’s first read, I have chosen The Child in Time by Ian McEwan. I don’t know what to expect but hopefully it will be as well written as his Atonement.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations? Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees. for creating the challenge.

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2017 – Week 4

o0OhgWNNIt’s the last full week of the Wildlife Trust’s, 30 Days Wild. How fast has June flown?! Though it’s been a challenge this year. However, I think I’ve managed to make my week four, wild with diverse activities.

If, like me you are looking for inspiration on where to visit, why not try the Wildlife Trusts’ Nature Finder app? With over 2000 nature reserves it’s a helpful aid to search for the wild!

Day Twenty-two: Thursday.

Plantlife have launched The Great British Wildflower Hunt. Their aim is to help more people identify wildflowers. They have downloadable identification sheets with helpful pictures and information on 20 popular wildflowers. You can do two counts. One in the city and the other in the countryside. I opted for the city.  I was able to count a very respectable 13/20, though there is still a lot more I could learn about wildflowers.

Have you joined in this count? What were your highlights?

Day Twenty-three: Friday. 

A week ago I planted some of my accumulation of freebie wildflower seeds. One pack I received with my 30 Days Wild mailing, the other I requested via Nestle Cereals. In just seven days my seeds have sprouted into seedlings. Hopefully they will flower come August!

seeds

Seedlings

Day Twenty-four: Saturday.

Today as we were visiting local pet shops I decided to visit a nature reserve we drive past every-time we travel from Liverpool to St. Helens. Stanley Bank is a nature reserve with an easy 1 mile walk. It’s part of the larger Sankey Valley Country Park. On a rather grey day there wasn’t many insects on the wing. There were however lots of wildflowers gracing the path as we followed a stream, watching a pied wagtail flit from bank to bank. There were lots of bird song from the canopy of trees above our heads. I could identify a blackbird, blue and great tits and wood pigeons. Here’s a few pictures I took of our short woodland walk.

Day Twenty-five: Sunday.

The plan for today was to visit Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve near Crosby. I had planned the weekend around the weather forecast which said that Saturday was to be drizzly and Sunday just a grey day. However Saturday’s visit to St. Helens remained rainless while waking up on Sunday the rain fell like rods. Feeling a little miffed to say the least, I dawdled breakfast and then left for Lunt at 10am, when thankfully the rain started to ease up.

Only 40 minutes drive from Liverpool, Lunt Meadows is 77ha of land along the River Alt. It is a relatively new reserve being only opened to the public since 2015. The habitats include wetland and fens. During our visit we only saw a handful of other walkers, mainly with their dogs. David and I took a leisurely three hours to walk around the reserve.

During excavations of Lunt Meadows archaeologists discovered a rare Mesolithic settlement by a group of nomadic stone-age hunter gatherers who lived in the area 8,000 years ago. It made me think of what their life must have been like and what they would think of the area today. If you are interested in what the archaeologists found, you can read more here.

While walking along the River Alt, we enjoyed watching swifts swoop past us. It made me feel dizzy watching them as they skimmed over the water. I later read that they live their life of the wing, even sleeping whilst flying! Butterflies we had disturbed fluttered before us. I was excited to see my first sighting of a large skipper! The air was filled with the chatter of warblers and the hum of bees. At one stage even small toads hopped across our path. We managed to pick one up and its padded feet felt cold and wet. Here’s just a small selection of pictures David and I took of our wonderful visit.

We will definitely visit Lunt Meadows again, hopefully in better weather!

Where is your favourite nature reserve?

Day Twenty-six: Monday. 

Inspired by a photo featured on Thomas Heaton’s photography YouTube by Cora Iwanowsky, David set out in search of a garden snail to photograph. He searched our yarden, under overhanging plants and behind pots. After selecting the right model, he gathered stones from our fireplace and placed them in our fountain. He then positioned the model at the pinnacle of the display. He quickly took some photographs before putting the snail back in the yarden, none the wiser of what had just occurred. Here’s David’s attempt.

snail

Snail on Stone by David Evans

David’s antics got me thinking about garden snails and that I knew nothing about them. So here’s a few facts about these abundant garden friend or foe.

  • Are classed as a terrestrial gastropod mollusk.
  • Are native to Europe.
  • Have a flat “muscular foot” that helps them move, aided by the release of mucus to reduce friction (hence snail trails).
  • Feasts on plant matter and debris.
  • Has nocturnal habits and rests during the day.
  • During hot periods they can retract into their shell and seal it shut, this induces a hibernation state and they can remain like this for several months.
  • Most hibernate during the winter.
  • Their fastest speed is only 1.3 centimeters per second.
  • They are hermaphrodite (both male and female) but need another snail for sperm transfer.
  • Can lay up to 100 eggs and up to six batches a year.
  • Are a food in France and Spain.

Who would have thought the common garden snail could be so fascinating! Their induced hibernation amazed me!

Day Twenty-seven: Tuesday. 

wild-challenge-blue-badge-experience

The RSPB’s Wild Challenge, is an initiative to get children and families that little bit more wild. I think it is a great resource once 30 Days Wild has ended. There are three levels of challenges, bronze, silver and gold, with a list of activities to achieve before each level is reached and a certificate awarded. Having a wild sleep-out, learning about moths and going on a bug safari are some of the activities you can participate in.

Have you signed up for this challenge? What are your thoughts on the initiative?

Day Twenty-eight: Wednesday. 

As we were visiting family this evening and didn’t have much time available for anything too wild! David and I decided to take Riley to Newsham Park. Riley having not been to this park before, was excited at all the new smells. He even chased and barked at the congregating seagulls. Indeed it was weather for seagulls as it had been raining all day. The field we let Riley run free was sodden with water and soon Riley and our feet were soaked too! The park boasts two lakes, a band stand and Newsham House which Queen Victoria visited during her reign. However, all we managed to visit on this dreary evening was the gardens.

Summary:

Even though the weather was unsettled this week, we did manage to see lots of wildlife. Highlights for me was visiting Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve and seeing that my wildflower seeds have sprouted.

What random acts of wildness have you enjoyed doing this week?

A Look Back:

2015:  Passion Flowers and a trip to Norwich

2016: Moth sighting and no tech day

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x