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Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Downs, The White of Snow and Broom Lakes...

Working up near Dunstable Downs, I hope to be able to get out and enjoy the incredible scenery and wildlife. A rich chalk grassland, the highest point of Bedfordshire, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, numerous Sites of Scientific Interest, and two scheduled ancient monuments definitely make it worth a visit (sold it to you?!). My first walk across the top of the downs to take some panoramic shots proved successful. A red fox weaved its way through open fields, dodging the crows, and continuously got hassled by the magpies. The fox squatted on occasions, scent marking the fencing and leaving its feces across the downs.

The Downs on an overcast day - you can see five counties on a good day!

Watching fox on the Downs!
A 360 view from the top of the Downs

 A few weeks back, I posted about how incredible our world can become when covered in the bright white of frozen water, chaotically fallen as snow. Momentarily, spring looked like it might be on the way; as the snow drops finished flowering, and began to decay, daffodils started to spring up across grass verges and under hedgerows.

Death of the snow drops

Daffodils by the river

Not quite. As I am sure you are aware, more shocking weather, more snow, and more ice engulfed the country. Which has meant news reports packed with horror stories and a great deal of moaning from pretty much everyone I have spoken to.

Snow showers!

Icy water of the River Ivel

The problems snow, ice and freezing temperatures cause are clearly an absolute burden on peoples lives. Yet, there is no denying its beauty. Seeing the ice on the river, and then the light, white snow fall from the sky, I could not help but wonder what it was that makes snow white. Essentially both snow and ice are frozen water molecules. Yet while ice is clear, snow is white. The difference is in how the water is frozen. Snow contains air gaps, tiny bubbles of air pockets. And it is within these air pockets that light is reflected back in all directions, with no preference to any particular wavelength of light. The sunlight is therefore reflected in its natural colour, containing all wavelengths, which appears white.

Hefty chunks of snow, floating down to earth

Collapsed shed of Stotfold

Unfortunately for Sky, she has just moulted... 

A new car has allowed me to spread my wings slightly. My first day after picking it up, Haz and I took Sky and Ellie over to Broom lakes. The wind cut across the open fields where the sand is currently being extracted before the land is turned into more lakes, and what could potentially be a wonderful area of natural beauty. A standalone tree, bare and battered, overlooks the icy lake of coot, grebe and wigeon. Like a skeleton, the naked tree defines the essence of winter. Stagnant, waiting for spring.

Tree against the Sky

After a harsh winter, I look forward to the burst of new life spring brings; the sunshine scattered with heavy showers. I then look forward to the warmth of a summers evening, sitting in the garden with tea and biscuits watching the garden birds work furiously to bring up their young (with the exception of my bodies insistence that pollen is some kind of alien virus attacking my body, and needs disposing of through a constant stream of tears and snot). After the hot, sticky summer days, I long for a cold snap, where I can wrap up warm and feel invigorated after battling the wind and ice. After our first lot of snow and ice, I felt ready for spring. But this extended winter is hanging on. I love a cold and snowy winter, but I also love the sun and spring. I do not know about you, but I am about finished enjoying this coldness and am ready for some spring action.

Looking forward to more of these: sunsets from Dunstable Downs

Squeezing in! Sky and Ellie in the boot of the Micra
Until next time... 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Shifting weather, yellowhammer and a confluence of rivers

For a moment, for a day or two, it felt like the transition into the season of spring had begun. Temperatures had risen, clouds gave way to blue skies, and people were even down to their t-shirts. And now the days are noticeably longer, drawn out as the planet's orbit moves us around the sun, holding the Northern hemisphere closer to our solar system's star. The reeds bordering the river glow golden, catching the light as they gently sway in the wind.

Golden reeds blown in the breeze

Last years cygnet, now with its own territory, stands proud in front of the setting sunlight

Venturing further afield, Joey, Sky and Pa joined me for a stroll by the confluence of the Ivel and the Great Ouse. Where the modest yet mystic river I grew up on joins this leviathan of a river; the fourth longest river in the United Kingdom at 143 miles from its source to the mouth at the Wash.

The River Ivel, on the right, joins the Great Ouse on the left

Roxton Lock

Looking back up the two rivers; The Ivel to the left, and Great Ouse to the right

Walking home from my Nan and Grandads after dropping off some birthday presents, the sun set over Fairfield as I crossed the fields with Sky and Haz back into Stotfold. The hedgerows flutter with brilliantly bright yellow birds, showing off their pure white tail bars as they flee further along the hedgerows upon our approach. The yellowhammers call 'cick' repetitively, usually ending in a high-pitched, slightly electronic 'tee' sound. As the males get older, their heads become a brighter yellow in colour, with fewer striations. Females leave the males to the fanciful colours, and appear far more drab with a greater amount of darker streaks, obscuring the yellow plumage. 

The sun goes down over Fairfield

Yellowhammer; another example of the wonderfully exotic coloured birds we have here in the UK

The sun's final moments before the Earth rotates us away 

A fond farewell for another day; gloriously coloured skies

Now it is cold again. Only five days ago, people were hot and bothered wearing only t-shirts. And, hopefully, some form of clothing from their waist down as well. And now the hats, scarves and gloves are back on again. Snow fell today. Yesterday, the bitter winds kept my hands in my pockets for most of the 13 mile Uncle/Nephew walk to Shefford and back along the Navigators Way, where I took this panoramic in preparation for the wind turbines being built behind our back gardens in Langford. If I am honest - I can not wait to compare the before and afters!

The fields of Langford; soon to be the site of the closest wind farm to a village in the UK

A token, winking photo of Sky...

On the 1st of March, the BBC released a story reporting that 100 million Sharks are killed annually, with the major driving force being the demand for shark fin soup in China. The act of finning has to be one of the most inhumane treatment of an animal I have ever heard of. To dispose of a finless carcass still alive, to sink and painfully drown on the seabed. It has to be up there with the live skinning of animals for the fur trade.

Quality of data remains uncertain, but what is beyond a shadow of a doubt is the fact that these animals are being caught and killed at insanely unsustainable rates, for totally pointless and selfish reasons. I particularly like the quote from Ding Liguo:

"Materialism is well developed in China but other things, such as morality, haven't progressed so well"