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Sunday, December 25, 2005


Saturday 17th December

The Festive Season started in the afternoon on arrival at the house of my gorgeous sister Jill at Poytnon, Cheshire. After a visit to mother in a nearby residential home, and a little seasonal shopping, I joined Jill and my neices Jenny and Jemima together with nephew Joe and girlfriend Kerry, to exchange presents (other nephew Jack and wife Miki are in Japan). We had a meal of of Jenny's Tai soup (I courteusly tried to quietly swallow the spongy toffu without it touching my taste buds) followed by a more substantial turkey chunks with roast vegetables. All were washed down with champagne, red wine and malt whisky.

Sunday 18th December

I arrived in icy Cumbria mid-morning and obtained more Yule Fayre at the excellent (but not the cheapest) Booths supermarket in Ulverston. The afternoon was spent warming the house and preparing for the arrival of former student, Maalie Courtier, long-time friend and décor advisor Carolyn Lorraine. Upon arrival she immediately set to decorating the Christmas tree and "tidying up" any conceivable article that was not of urgent practical importance, whilst I prepared lobster bisque and a lasagne for dinner.
Carolyn takes a break from decorating the Christmas tree

After dinner the Yultide hamper provided by Alun and Trudy was unpacked, revealing an astonishing array of fayre from Madeira wine to maple syrup, anchovy relish to Christmas pudding.
Supper comprised freshly brewed rich roast Christmas coffee supported by a selection of chocolate liqueurs discovered in the Yule hamper.

Monday 19 December

A lazy start to the day with a breakfast of Champagne, smoked salmon, Philadelphia cheese, lemon, strawberries, green and red grapes and more Christmas coffee. And another chocolate liqueur (or two. Ooops!). This was to celebrate Carolyn's very recent qualification as a Chartered Biologist and election as a Member of the Institute of Biology (C.Biol & M.I.Biol.) to add to her Hons BSc.

The morning passed filling some local bird feeders and walks to the post office. After lunch I was beguiled by Carolyn to take her for "a bit of shopping for some bits and bobs" in Barrow. Health warning: don't ever go shopping with Carolyn Lorraine without consulting your financial advisor for a risk assessment! I'd thought we'd finished with a Tesco's trolly containing melon, asparagus, gravey granules, white wine, Leffe, sausage meat, pork pies, chicken drumsticks and even a herring for fishing bait. But Oh no! It was off down to M & S for browsing through the lingerie section for half an hour. Ho hum. But back in Maalie Court a mug of mulled wine each soon banished memories of the agonies of shopping.

The taste of mulled wine inspired a craving for mince pies and so it was off to the kitchen, pastry out of the freezer and a dozen pies (also sausage rolls) were ready within the hour. Dinner commenced with melon au porto (except the active ingredient happened to be Madeira) followed by feuilles de canard à tangérine (duck breast sliced laterally to look like leaves) and a selection of vegetables.

Relaxing by candle light to Mandolin Rain and carols, the hamper was once again raided for pistachios, biscuits for cheese, after-dinner mints, all washed down with Christmas coffee with squirty cream on top. Oh yes, there was another chocolate liqueur (or three).

Tuesday 20 December

Today was the annual English Nature Volunteers (Cumbria Team) festive scrub-clearing and barbecue at Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve near Silverdale. The clippings from the clearing activity were excellent fuel for the bonfire which cooked chicken, potatoes and warmed garlic bread to supplement sausage rolls and mince pies. All were washed down with a warming punch brewed by the site manager Rob Petley-Jones.

English Nature Cumbria Team volunteer wardens. Manager Rob has the festive hat.

Carolyn used the time for more shopping in Barrow, returning with a bag of clothes for inspection. We decked the rooms with boughs of holly, before embarking on a stroll through Askam to admire folk's Christmas lights and decorations which rival Blackpool illuminations. Target was the London Pub in Duddon Street for a drink and a game of dominoes. Dinner was the remains of Sunday's lasagne followed by warm mince pies with squirty cream.

Wednesday 21st December - the Winter Solstice!

A Happy Winter Solstice to all my readers. May the strengthening of the sun's rays warm you and bring fertility to your gardens, and anything else you have in mind.

After a late (11.00am) breakfast of porridge with golden syrup and squirty cream on top, Carolyn zoomed off to the Midlands in her swish sports coupé - via Barrow to exchange a new pair of jeans that I agreed made her bum look big. Well, what was I supposed to do - tell lies?
The next hour was spent hunting for those little essentials of male existance that she had "tidied up" - and I still can't find my albatross skull. Then it was time to pack away the Baileys and the Archers and the Tia Maria and white wine, and bring out the McEwan's Export, Famous Grouse and Côtes du Rhône. Went into Barrow to do some proper shopping and bought a new pair of wellington boots.

The evening was spent at Max and Sheilagh Scattergood's party on Walney Island with a gathering of "birdy" people. Max is a retired army chef and has actually catered for Her Majesty the Queen during her various visits to H.M. Forces bases overseas. So the buffet was something really special with a whole salmon, boned chicken, loads of various salads, seafood etc. My favourite was the roast ham, the glazing was exquisite!

Thursday 22 December

I was kindly invited to stay overnight at Max's and first thing after breakfast I dashed down to the Observatory to drop something off, then straight up to Muncaster Castle World Owl Trust to do a little ringing around the feeders with trainee Jenny Holden. We ringed a nice selection of 31 birds, mostly Blue Tits. It happend to be the Owl Trust's office Yuletide nibbles party and I was invited to join the staff there. So two parties in two days is excellent going!
Back home, thawed out the frozen pastry and made a pigeon pie. Yum!

Friday 23 December

Up at 7.00 to go bird ringing. Finished up the squirty cream on my porridge (Wah!) and exchanged a couple of text messages with Simon, my mate in Australia. Ringed at Roudsea Wood and caught about 70 birds including Nuthatch, Great-spotted Woodpecker and 3 marsh Tits, my study species. Finished the pigeon pie for lunch.

Saturday 24 December Christmas Eve

In response to concerns expressed about my diet, I was up early and at Booths in Ulverston by 8.30am to buy salad materials. These were supported by a replacement tin of squirty cream (just in case), tin of golden syrup (for porridge) and frozen pastry (just in case). Is was a lovely clear morning with skeins of hundreds of Pink-footed Geese appearing out of the sunrise headingoverhead north to the Solway.

Then on to Ellerside Moss where the pale winter sun was struggling to lift the morning mist from the bog. Back at Askam I commenced my annual Ancient Yuletide Custom and Practice: the festive digging of lugworms in the Duddon Sands for fishing tomorrow morning. An hour in gorgeous clear sunshine produced sufficient for my needs, the worms are now cool in my fridge somewhere between the Stilton and the ham.

The afternoon passed topping up local bird feeders then a blitz in the kitchen to make final batches of Welshcakes, mince pies, sausage rolls and some thick leek and potato soup with the stock from the pheasant pie. Dishes done, lit a galaxy of candles and listened to the complete Handel's Messiah on CD to complete the Yule atmosphere. It simply reamains to sort out the fishing tackle for the morn.

Sunday 25 December Christmas Day

My alarm went off at 4.00am and I was fishing at the end of Askam pier by 4.50 on a clear calm frosty morning. Not a single bite, but the calls of wading birds and waterfowl over the estuary was an evocative start to Christmas Day. Squeaking within the crevices of the pier turned out to be rats, no doubt attracted to the smell of my flask of glogg (mulled wine with rum). I abondoned the pursuit of fish at high tide and was back in the house before the first grey streak of dawn (though I did hear the local cock crow thrice), seriously wondering whether this particular Yuletide Custom and Practice was sufficiently rewarding to become Ancient.

Sausage rolls, Mince pies, Welshcakes, Coffee with rum and extra squirty cream


Apéritif: Byrrh; Katherine Jenkins

Home made leek and potato soup with pheasant stock with fried wholemeal bread croutons;
Ensalada mixta with marinated Spanish Queen olives and fillet of Thai spiced mackerel;
Côtes du Rhône: Cellier des Dauphines Millésime 2004;
Roast hen pheasant with asparagus and assorted seasonal vegetables and Oxo dressing;
Luxury Christmas pudding flambé avec Famous Grouse topped with fresh whipped cream;
Stilton with savoury biscuits;
Dates, nuts, fruit, sweets and assorted comfits;
Iced Mocha Cappuccino.

Digestif: Coñac de Puerto de Santa Maria; Darcey Bussell; Billie Piper

Monday, December 12, 2005


The weekend 10-11 December welcomed Katrina Cook, a Maalie Courtier, to Maalie Court. Katrina is a curator of birds at the Zoology Department (Bird Group) of the Natural History Museum at Tring and is also a distinguished wildlife artist . Events of the weekend included a tour of Askam Pier and village, listening to my collection of Kris Kristofferson albums, and watching the complete 5-hour video of the renowned BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. On Sunday in fine weather we visited Walney Island Bird Observatory and joined observatory member and local birder Colin Raven on a round of the Heligoland traps. Whilst we were unable to catch anything, birds seen included 6 Greenshank, 2 Black Guillemots, a drake Scaup, a Little Egret and a wintering Great Northern Diver, the latter being the 187th species for my Cumbria bird list.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

My 2006 Bird Species list

The first ninety-six (seen in January) are in systematic order. Thereafter they are added as they are seen. Dates interpolated are when updates are made.

1-31 Jan: 1.Red-throated Diver; 2.Little Grebe; 3.Great Crested Grebe; 4.Fulmar; 5.Cormorant; 6.Little Egret; 7.Grey Heron; 8.Mute Swan; 9.Pink-footed Goose; 10.Greylag Goose; 11.Canada Goose; 12.Brent Goose; 13.Egyptian Goose; 14.Shelduck; 15.Wigeon; 16.Gadwall; 17.Teal; 18.Mallard; 19.Pintail; 20.Shoveler; 21.Pochard; 22.Tufted Duck; 23.Common Scoter; 24.Velvet Scoter; 25.Goldeneye; 26.Red-breasted Merganser; 27.Marsh Harrier; 28.Sparrowhawk; 29.Buzzard; 30.Kestrel; 31.Pheasant; 32.Moorhen; 33.Coot; 34.Coot; 35.Avocet; 36.Ringed Plover; 37.Golden Plover; 38.Grey Plover; 39.Lapwing; 40.Knot ; 41.Sanderling; 42.Dunlin; 43.Ruff; 44.Snipe; 45.Black-tailed Godwit; 46.Bar-tailed Godwit; 47.Curlew; 48.Spotted Redshank; 49.Redshank; 50.Turnstone; 51.Black-headed Gull; 52.Common Gull; 53.Lesser Black-backed Gull; 54.Herring Gull; 55.Great Black-backed Gull; 56.Woodpigeon; 57.Collared Dove; 58.Green Woodpecker; 59.Great Spotted Woodpecker; 60.Skylark; 61.Shore Lark; 62.Meadow Pipit; 63.Rock Pipit; 64.Grey Wagtail; 65.Pied Wagtail; 66.Wren; 67.Dunnock; 68.Robin; 69.Stonechat; 70.Blackbird; 71.Fieldfare; 72.Song Thrush; 73.Mistle Thrush; 74.Chiffchaff; 75.Goldcrest; 76.Long-tailed Tit; 77.Marsh Tit; 78.Coal Tit; 79.Blue Tit; 80.Great Tit; 81.Nuthatch; 82.Jay; 83.Magpie; 84.Jackdaw; 85.Rook; 86.Carrion Crow; 87.Raven; 88.Starling; 89.House Sparrow; 90.Chaffinch; 91.Greenfinch; 92.Goldfinch; 93.Twite; 94.Bullfinch; 95.Snow Bunting; 96.Reed Bunting; 3-6 Feb: 97.Eider; 98.Greenshank; 99.Red-legged Partridge; 100.Scaup; 101.American Wigeon; 102.Peregrine; 10-12 Feb:103.Siskin; 104.Stock Dove; 105.Dartford Warbler; 106.Redwing; 107.Kingfisher; 108.Firecrest; 109.Water Rail; 313-14 Feb:110.Goosander; 111.Smew; 112.Ruddy Duck; 113.Red Kite; 114.Tree Sparrow; 115.Bewick's Swan; 116.Whooper Swan; 117.Yellowhammer; 118.Brambling; 119.Grey Partridge; 120.Tree Creeper; 121.Guillemot; 122.Razorbill; 123.Linnet; 124. Woodcock; March:125. Crossbill; 126. House Martin; 127. Sand Martin; 128. Swallow; 129. Green Sandpiper; 130.Kittiwake; 131.Wheatear; 132. Sandwich Tern.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


The weekend commenced on Friday evening 2 December with elder son Alun and partner Trudy "Strudles" and me meeting in Ambleside. I presented a slide show to the Cumbria Bird Club describing work conducted during my 27 expeditions monitoring wildlife near the North Sea Oil Terminal in Shetland.

After a few errands on Saturday morning we caught the 11.55 train from Askam, following the scenic coastal route bordering the estary of the River Duddon through Kirkby, Foxfield, Millom and Silecroft. The estuary looked especially attractive at the top of a very high tide and the sea covered all the saltmarshes. The 35 minute ride was eased with a thermos flask of hot Ribena, which myteriously turned out to be Tivoli-style glogg!

Dismounting at Ravenglass we made straight for the bar of the Holly House Hotel with suberb views out over the estuary where the rivers Esk and Irt converge. We ordered pints of the local Cumberland ale and a splendid lunch.

Jim, Alun and Trudy enjoy lunch at the Holly House Hotel, Ravenglas

After lunch a stroll through the quaint village of Ravenglass was in order, in calm windless winter's afternoon light to the sound of the piping calls of Curlews, Oystercatchers and Redshanks. There was time for another visit to the Holly House Hotel for additional refreshment before catching the 16.06 train back to Askam. Evening comprised a braised chump of pork washed down with cider.

On Sunday morning Alun competed in the annual Ulverston Christmas Pudding 10K Road Race. He finished in the commendable time of 45 min 04 sec, that is 2 min 04 seconds faster than in the same event last year.