Sunday, 28 May 2017

In Which Poppy And I Run Ten Miles And Learn The Value Of Wild Waters



Half Marathon training requires, at some point, upping your distances, so that when you come to run those 13.1 miles you aren't feeling every single inch of them. This week I needed to get a ten mile run in, so Pop and I set off together on Thursday morning to do just that.

Ted accompanied us for the first four miles, but as we know, he doesn't much like road running beyond that distance, so he was dropped home at that point with a nice pile of squid chews to keep him happy while Poppy and I set off on the remaining six miles of our run.

We'd gone out early as the heat was rising but even so it was very warm by 9.30 and Poppy was so focused on her running she hadn't been able to bring herself to stop long enough to drink from the water bowl at home during the Ted drop off. I had managed to get her to take some water from a bottle poured into a container, but not much. As dogs can't sweat they regulate temperature by panting and I was a little concerned she'd overheat, so as we ran along hedgerows frothing with cow-parsley and festooned with creamy white hawthorn flowers by lush green fields where horses gazed, lazily flicking flies from their sleek flanks with long black tails, I was keeping my eyes peeled for water. 

We found a pond, but the sides were so steep and so be-nettled we couldn't reach it. By the time we'd got to six miles I was starting to worry. The sun was really hot and there was very little shade and of course we've had so little rain there were no puddles which is what Pop usually drinks from.

It made me think about how reliant we are on water and how much we take for granted the simple unthinking ability to turn on a tap at the first sign of thirst. I wasn't worried for me because we were only a few miles from home and I knew I would cope with that, but Poppy is small and furry and her little legs work ever so hard when she's running, and she's so brave she never complains and I knew she would keep going beyond the point it was good for her. 

I slowed down and suggested we walked: she declined, as I knew she would. I suggested we ran along the top of the bank so her paws weren't on tarmac: again, she said don't be ridiculous mum, I'm fine.

By that point I was sweating from the heat and my shoulders were very warm and although we had another three miles to go I was thinking about aborting the run and walking Pop home for water, when I noticed a small stream running along a ditch that was covered in tall grasses beside us. I stopped and showed it to Pop, who jumped straight in and waded along it, up to her tummy in wild water. She drank and wandered a bit further along and drank again. 

I would never ordinarily have noticed that stream, quietly meandering along the side of a small country lane beside a strip of ancient woodland, but now it held all my attention and all my thanks. It enabled us to continue our run, it gave Poppy vital refreshment and it made the difference between ticking a box on my training programme and not being able to.

Probably, that little water course has been there, flowing quietly through the land since the rivers first settled their courses after the ice withdrew ten thousand years ago. I wonder how many people know it's there?

We got home in one hour thirty-five mins having run our ten miles in good order, climbing 210 metres of elevation at a 9:32 minute a mile pace and burning over a thousand calories, all stats recorded by my GPS. What the GPS can't record however is how smoothly the run went, how I still had energy left to go further at the end but chose not to, how my muscles were fine afterwards and how I didn't feel sleepy at all, how much it boosted my confidence ahead of the HM, how well I felt I'd judged pace and how chuffed I was to find running up three steep hills presented me with no real problems. It also can't record the small drama of searching for wild water so Poppy could keep going and how grateful I was to that simple little life-giving stream pottering along the edge of the lane.

Running wouldn't be the same without Pop. I hadn't realised how integral a part of my half marathon training and my running generally she is. The thought of not being able to train with her was a salutary shock. She is company and encouragement and someone to share the whole thing with. She is brave and tough and joyful and I honestly am not sure whether I would have got as far with my running as I have if she weren't here to share it with me. So this post is really to say thank you to Poppy, who brings so much to our lives here that in three short years she has become indispensable. I count her as one of my very best friends and I can not imagine running without her.

Hope you're all having a good weekend? We're on half term here, a small break between GCSEs. L is doing well, remaining outwardly calm and attending all the revision lessons offered. If he doesn't get Stirling marks at the end of it, it won't be for the lack of trying which is all you can ask of anyone. I am just glad he isn't tying himself in knots as many of the children I know who are taking exams now are. We put way too much pressure on our young folk so I spend a lot of my time supporting him to do his best without worrying himself into a knot over it.

CT.


Monday, 22 May 2017

In Which I Run A 10k Race In Rather Hot Weather


Yesterday we headed out to a 10k with 500 club runners. It's not my natural hunting ground, club runners being a fast, focused and highly competitive bunch and this race also being three laps on tarmac, but it was part of my half marathon prep so I was looking forward to it. 

There were a couple of inclines on the course which served me well, but otherwise it was flat, flat, flat. It was also hot, hot, hot and I had deliberately turned my usual race strategy on its head and set off far faster than I normally would to see what would happen. I was really sweating after the first mile or so.

The increased pace was fine for the first couple of kms, then I started to feel it in my legs rather than my lungs. I'd run a three mile parkrun the day before so I wasn't as rested as I would usually be before a race, but this was a deliberate strategy- I wanted to push myself a bit as I've been staying in safe mode for a while now. 

I decided the only way to maintain the pace was to set my sights on a group of runners a few metres ahead and not let them get out of my sight. I remained broadly with that group for the next few kms: sometimes they were ahead of me, sometimes I was ahead of them. We see-sawed like that until about 7k.

At that point I started to find it really hard work. The heat was biting, the faster pace was telling in my legs and I still had a 3.5k lap to go. I began to drop back from the group and found myself running beside a chap from Salisbury running club. 

There's a strange kind of silent alchemy or chemistry that develops between runners in races. When you're tired, the best thing you can do is to find someone to fall in with and run beside who's going at a similar pace. It can make the difference between finishing the race and not. You keep each other going.

After a minute or two I started to feel more on top of things so I said to him: thanksyou're keeping me going, and he said: you're doing the same for me. He was very decent and slowed down at the water stop so I could get a drink first, but I waved him on as I had the Trusty Hydration Vest on. We ran beside each other for about another half a km, agreeing we'd both set off too fast and it was bloomin' hot weather for racing and what on earth were we doing with our Sunday morning, then the next hill kicked in and he gasped that he needed to slow down and on I went, refreshed from the brief respite and the camaraderie of his company.

I glanced at my GPS and saw that I was close to equalling or maybe even improving on my previous 10k time. I realised it would be flipping disgraceful to waste all the hard work I'd already done by slowing down now.

It's amazing the difference motivation makes. I picked up the pace again, caught up with the group ahead whom I'd run most of the race with, over took them and then set my sights on a bloke who'd been running with me for most of the race but who had surged ahead.

We came round the corner with me gaining on him but him still ahead. We ran through the start heading down to the finish; the crowd were clapping and yelling and blowing whistles, and I saw M who roared Go On! Go On! I glanced again at the GPS, realised I was in with a chance of breaking my previous 10K PB if I ran like my life depended on it, so I ran like my life depended on it. Every runner I know has the ability to summon energy to sprint to the finish line of a race, even if a km before they feel like they can't run another step.

There was 500 metres to go. I caught up with and overtook the man I'd been chasing and could hear from his breathing he had nothing left in the tank so I raced on past four more runners, and then to a lady in an orange shirt. As I overtook her she called out well done! keep going! And I gasped back thanks mate, reflecting yet again on the generosity of runners.

The finish line was looming; my blood was thumping in my head, my legs were going like the clappers and felt like they didn't belong to me, the crowd was screaming, my arms were pumping, my carefully controlled breathing had disappeared into rasping gasps and my face was screwed up with the combination of exhaustion, concentration and effort (and of course there was a photographer snapping away at that point, just as I was looking at my most attractive- the photo will be worth posting for comic effect alone). I was almost out of energy but the finishing line was rushing up to meet me. I pushed until I couldn't run any more, crossed it, stopped the GPS, and as I bent over with my hands on my legs gasping for breath saw that I'd smashed my previous PB by over a minute. I then had to sit down quite quickly because I felt faint and sick, but the elation soon put paid to that and by the time M appeared I was grinning like a mad idiot and gibbering about how ecstatic I was to have set a new PB. 

The lovely lady in the orange shirt came in and we congratulated one another with the universal sign of Well Done among runners (a high-five), then the guy whom I'd overtaken on the final stretch and we high-fived too. 

I haven't felt so chuffed about a race result since the Cub. To give you some perspective, M got round in 38 minutes and the winner in 30, so I was by no means Mrs Speedy Pants in the context of the other runners, but at this stage in my running, if I tried to run that fast I would now be dead, so 51 minutes is plenty good enough for me :o)

Tomorrow, a gentle 4 miler beckons, then on Thursday 9 miles. The Half Is Approaching.....

Hope you're all well?

CT.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

What Ted Saw


Greetings Friends. Long time no woof. How are you all? Poppy and I are well. This week, while the sun shone, we decided to have a look round the garden and see what we could find. Poppy was Quite Happy for once just to follow me around, because she'd run 6 miles with mum in the morning and, while not quite tired out, was at least not as full of beans as usual. I had only run 3 miles before being returned home and fooled with a small pile of squid chews so I didn't notice mum and Pop going out again. Hmmm.

Anyway, this is what we found....

First of all we found a small fluffy UFO vibrating on the bird feeders.


Turns out it was a baby Coal Tit learning about the garden from his Mum.


Next we found a baby blackbird having a nice sit down on the fence....


Then Poppy suggested we went up to the pond and there we found a love-heart of blue damselflies....


And Mum's crab spider asleep on her flower....


We explored the potatoes growing in their sacks and found a dock bug sunbathing....


And then Poppy screamed, because a very large blue dragonfly had flown into the garden and settled down among Mum's anemones. Its wings waggled in the wind and it bounced up and down. I was Suspicious, and told her it was a bit early for dragons, but she wasn't comforted. She rushed indoors to get Mum who explained that Naughty Grandad had sneaked into the garden and left the dragons there as a surprise.


I calmed her down with a Goldfinch....


Then had to hurry her away before she ate this grey-haired mining bee, because we all know how Mum feels about bees being eaten......



Luckily, at that moment the GSW came in and had some suet......


And Pop was distracted enough to sit down for a bit and watch him.


After that we went back up to the pond and found two large red damels pretending to be one long one (although they didn't fool anyone, even Poppy knew they were two really).



Just as we were discussing this, a huge squawking started from the feeders. We rushed down the garden to see what was happening and found a large family of starlings there. The babies were shouting their heads off and the parents were looking harassed.


We calmed ourselves down by looking at this swollen-thighed flower beetle. Only the boys have fat legs, the girls are a good deal slimmer....


After all that I was exhausted and had to have a lie down on the grass in the sun to recover...


But Pop carried on looking and was Very Smug Indeed about finding this wasp beetle resting on an ox-eye daisy. Mum told her it was a type of Longhorn Beetle who spends years chewing dead wood before it emerges onto the flowers in our garden. Later I found Poppy chewing a stick. Honestly. Everyone knows she's a Jack Russel, not a Longhorn Beetle. The things I have to endure, I ask you!



Well, that's all from here for now. See you soon.

Ted x

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Lymington 10k and Half Marathon Training


Last Sunday was the Lymington 10k in aid of the RNLI (lifeboats). It was a warm day and there were loads of people there, including a few that we knew. It was a lovely course, going through the lanes and out along the seawall and along the sea path around Keyhaven and the salt marshes before heading back into Lymington.

I've just bought a hydration vest so I can carry water with me and sip it when I run instead of having to stop at the water stations to pick up cups and try and glug the stuff down while running. It invariably ends up splashing everywhere and you either gulp the lot and end up with a stitch or you don't get enough and feel dehydrated. I took the new vest with me to try out and was amazed at the difference it made.

It has a bladder of water in the back accessible by a long tube that you drink through, so you can have as much or as little as you need, when you need it. It also has two pockets for bottles at the front. These are made of a soft material so as you drink, they reshape to your body making them more comfortable. I put electrolytes in those.

I decided to try it out at the race because I've only got two more competitions before the Half and I didn't want to be trying it out then. And I will need water on the Half. Ordinarily I wouldn't need water on a 6 mile run such as Sunday's, but it was a warm day and it is amazing how quickly you lose water and salts running even in mild temperatures. 

The upshot is that the vest was blooming fantastic and worth every penny. I wasn't aware I was wearing it: it did't rub, it wasn't heavy, it didn't move about, and having the ability to sip the water whenever I needed it revolutionised the run for me.

I put in a respectable time and more importantly felt I'd run the race well. Being overtaken by about a hundred runners over the first three miles can be demoralising, but I have learnt that  if I can hold my nerve and not get sucked into trying to keep up, and maintain a steady pace for the first four miles, I've then got plenty of energy left to pick up my pace from mile four and then I'm the one doing the overtaking. For me it's important to finish strong.

This morning, Pop and I went out for a 6 mile run round the lanes near home. Ted did the first three but complains about doing any more mileage on the lanes so we dropped him home, bribed with squid chews not to bark, and did the last three just the two of us. That went well. I am steadily upping my mileage week on week now in prep for the Half next month.

I also did an hours' yoga class this afternoon and have another 3 miles to run later as we're leaflet dropping round a local village for a race we're involved with organising, so I definitely feel I'm getting plenty of exercise at the moment!

With Parkrun on Saturday and another 10k race on Sunday, my weekly mileage for this week should end up being around 21 miles, which I think is about right at this stage of training.

Anyhoo, that's about it from here for now. Hope you're all well.

CT :o)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

All The Small Things

Alium

Common Blue Damselfly

Female Chaffinch

Common Blue Damselfly

Female Crab spider

Fledgling Great Tit

Female Green Veined White

Great Tit nest box

Hover fly on nepeta

Large Red Damselfly pair ovipositing (egg laying)

Pond skater with common malachite beetle prey

Orange Tip egg (inside circle)

Female orange tip, just before egg laying

female orange tip nectarine on honesty

Peacock on lilac

Large red damsel

Tree creeper's nest inside crack in oak trunk


This afternoon, I heard the female cuckoo calling her I've laid my egg noise. It was welcome, because last year I didn't hear it once. It's an unusual sound, like the last bits of tap water running through the plug hole after a bath. She called yesterday too, or possibly it was a different one as they tend to lay on alternate afternoons. Somewhere, nearby, there will be a dunnock nest with lots of tiny eggs and one mysteriously enormous one in it and, presumably, a slightly puzzled mummy dunnock sitting on it.

It's been a week of all the small things here. The baby great tits fledged. There is always one who is too small to leave the nest but goes anyway, despite not being able to fly properly. At this time of year, I am on permanent baby bird watch. I scooped the little fellow up and posted him back through the nest box despite his protestations, where mummy found him and fed him until he jumped out again half an hour later. I know because I was watching and waiting for it. I rescued him again but I'm afraid it didn't end well. It rarely does with one so small and vulnerable. At least the others made it OK.

The following day the same thing happened with the goldfinches' children. That one led me on a merry dance under the picnic table, down the crack in the pavings and beneath the fence into the middle of next door's drive. I did retrieve him (with much swearing- from him) and settled him under a patch of nettles in the garden away from the dogs. I am hoping that one had a happier ending because I didn't find evidence to the contrary.

The crab spider returned to her patch on the ox-eye daisies yesterday. I say returned, but of course this is a new generation. I've been keeping an eye out for her ever since the flowers bloomed this week. I'm also on the look-out for her husband who is very small, stripy and busy by comparison. He zooms about all over the place whereas she stays put in her flower, blending with it and eating bees to store fat for laying her eggs, after which she dies. I watched her shoot a strand of silk from her perch on the apple tree which landed in the ash opposite. She then shimmied along the silken thread, gained the ash leaves and dropped down onto the ox eyes beneath them which is where she's been ever since. Clever, clever, clever.

With the sunshine has come the damselflies. They're closing (hatching) out of the pond on a daily basis, which is just as well as most of them only live a day or two, a week at most. First came the large reds, then the common blues and yesterday, the blue-tailed. They are also busy egg-laying on the vegetation in the water.

I am also feeling relieved that the orange-tip females have finally arrived. There are four eggs on my cuckoo flowers. They lay one pointed orange egg just beneath the crown of the flowers because the larvae are cannibalistic. Last year we had three caterpillars (you may remember they were all called Brian, which is my go-to name for all caterpillars). They all made it to pupation before I lost track of them.

The Swifts arrived back in Romsey earlier this week. I find myself going to town on every whim imaginable just so I can see them and listen to them. I have whispered a prayer that they might find their way over the three miles that separates us to nest under the eaves of our house. Similarly, the white throats are also back from Africa. The males are chirping in that busy way they have from the middle of hedges. I feel myself observed by their impossibly beady eyes every time I walk by. I love their attitude, bold and cheeky.

May bugs, ermine moths and wasp beetles are all out on the wing now, so worth keeping an eye out for all the small things in your garden this week- there is a great deal to see if you just hunker down and observe.

Hope all are well,

CT :o)

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Training on the Clarendon Way


The Clarendon Way is 26.2 miles of Chalk trackway running between the ancient cathedral cities of Salisbury and Winchester. Every October, it plays host to the annual Clarendon Marathon, Half Marathon, Relay and (this year) 5 mile races. This October I'll be running the half, so to get used to it (and to train for my other half marathon in June), M plotted an eight mile section of the Clarendon for us to run with the dogs this morning.



We ran the first 4 miles of the Half route a couple of weeks ago, and I've walked bits of it before doing bird surveys, so knew it was hilly in places. Having run it this morning I'd revise that down to just hilly, pure and simple. You're either going up a hill, along the top of a hill, or down a hill pretty much the whole way. The Clarendon is billed as a tough race and I see why. But nothing worth doing ever came easy, right? (actually, I'm not sure I believe that, but I do believe that a challenge or goal that you have to work hard to reach is good for you).


I'd been reading about the 8:1 ratio for marathon running and training, where you run for eight minutes and walk for one, run 8, walk 1 and so on until you've completed the distance. I wanted to give it a go, but after the second walk section I found it so unsettling to my physical and mental rhythms that I gave up and went back to running and only walking up the steepest bits where I needed to. 


M who is a deal faster than me, went ahead in the above photo. Poor old Teddy can't bear his people being strung out along a track and rushed between the two of us woofing anxiously. In the end we took pity on him and ran at the same pace which he was much happier about. Pop was completely unbothered either way. As long as she's running and everyone's vaguely in the right area she's happy :o)


The miles went by fast, considering the terrain, and by the time we reached the other car, almost eight miles later, I was feeling strong and positive. I've clocked up 25 miles of running this week and done two sets back to back, so all is going according to plan at present.


With such beautiful countryside to run through it's hard not to feel inspired and motivated. When I got tired I was imagining all the other feet who've run that path on the marathon in varying stages of exhaustion and the thought pushed me on. There is also something magical about travelling from one village to another without using a road to do it. It taps into ancient and wild ways of crossing the Land and that has an energy all of its own. 

Friday, 5 May 2017

Half Marathon Training and Nests Galore


There's been a fair amount of Marathon Talk going on in our house this week. 

I'm two weeks into eight week Half marathon training and it's going well. Steady increase in distances at a slower pace and so far, so good. Running four times a week with three rest days. Yoga every day. Core stability work that's improved my balance which is useful when you're running over lumpy, bumpy, hilly woods and fields. Belly breathing - all good stuff. I feel focused and determined and (as important) I'm loving doing it.

One unexpected benefit of the training is I've gone off fatty, sugary foods. It's fruit and vegetables all the way here. I feel well on it and my energy levels are coping with the extra miles so it's obviously doing me some good. There must be a chemical change connected with running longer distances. I've wanted to back off sugar for years and now, suddenly, it's easy. I guess your system tells you what type of fuel it needs.

Outside in the garden, there are nests full of baby great tits, blue tits, goldfinches, robins, sparrows, starlings, stock doves, pigeons, woodpeckers, nuthatches, coal tits, chaffinches and tree creepers. I know where about half of them are. The coconut halves filled with suet last barely half a day. There are tree bees nesting in a hole in the wall of the house and we've more orange tip fellas flying about than you could shake a stick at. Haven't seen any ladies yet though, which is a worry. More bees are nesting in the chimney pot, the one next to the one the Jackdaws claim each year as their own, and our pipistrelle bat gentlemen continue to do well in the hole under the roof.

The weather has followed a pattern all week- chilly morning, warm afternoon. I'm after putting my sweet peas, honeywort and nigella seedlings out this weekend. Poppy will be disappointed as she uses the empty sweet pea pot to stand in and peer over the fence at the neighbours.

Anyway, that's it from here for now. Hope you're all well?

CT :o)










Monday, 1 May 2017

Poppy's First 10k Race



Today was Poppy's first proper 10k race. I decided to take her at the last minute after seeing dogs were allowed. We left Teddy at home with a pile of squids chews as bribery compensation because, to be frank, he wibbles about on runs, like to stop to sniff and pee on every blade of grass and barks excitedly when he sees other dogs. Pop, on the other hand, is a consummate professional who takes her training runs extremely seriously - when she did the Christmas Parkrun with me she was perfect, so I had no worries at all about her weaving in and out of other runners' legs and tripping them up: once she's on her running lead and we've set off she runs straight and true like an arrow and doesn't stop until I do.

It was a lovely, low-key event with about 200 local runners and a 5k attached for the children. It started in the village playing fields, crossed a lane and wound up and over some beautiful Chalk countryside, including through bluebell woods and along the edges of fields. There were some challenging hills on the 10k course which Pop and I kept going up. It has turned out to be one of my top three favourite races to date.

We set off at the back of the field so we wouldn't get in anyone's way (Pop unsure why we weren't at the front where clearly her ability and speed ought to place her), and got stuck in a mass of fairly slow runners as a result. Everyone was lovely as always, smiling at Pop and chatting away. Things eased once the first hill bit, sorting the fitter runners from the slower, and we moved steadily up the field from then on, enjoying some steep hills where our six legs were working well together.

Each time we ran past someone they exclaimed oh no! beaten by a dog! but we all know that, despite small appearances (and very short legs), Poppy is a tough-as-nails JR lass who takes no prisoners and is perfectly capable of running 14 miles without blinking. This general underestimation of her abilities was particularly noticeable when we finally caught up with and overtook a couple of blokes I'd been steadily gaining on for a mile up a long, arduous hill. Once the land levelled out and began to go downhill (through gorgeous bluebell woods) Pop and I picked up the pace, caught up with the two blokes who very kindly stepped sideways on the narrow woodland path so we could pass. Clearly, they hadn't realised I was running with a pooch because as we shot past them they started laughing and bemoaning the fact a tiny dog was running faster than them. I had a chat with them at the finish where they congratulated Poppy on a terrific run and I reassured them that she's fit as a flea from running with me and marathon training with M, which I think made them feel better.

By now were were about 5 miles through the race and it was getting hot. There was a water stop with drinks for the runners and a bowl for dogs ahead. I didn't need any myself but I was worried about Pop so we stopped briefly and she drank thirstily. Then we were off on the final stretch, leaping over fallen trees (a photographer told me he hoped he'd got the pic of the two of us in the air together- it will be one for the running gallery on the wall if he did), round a bend, up a hill, into a field where the views were breath-taking, then on the home straight which was a big whoosh downhill over the Chalk back into the village and the finish.

Some runners who'd already finished were back out on the course cheering people in and they all said well done to Poppy, which she loved. We overtook the man in front then there was no one else ahead as we careered through a farm yard and out into the final field. As we approached the finish tape Poppy saw her dad, standing off to one side. She made a bee line for him and got her legs tangled in the lead with the result that she ended up trying to gallop along three-legged. She'd run the best part of six miles with no lead entanglement at all and one sight of dad and that was that. I stopped (twice) to unwind her legs and we finished in a time just shy of 56 minutes, which for a hilly 10k and Pop's first proper race was pretty good I reckoned.

I was SOOOOO proud of her! We had a lovely cuddle at the end to celebrate and lots of people who we'd gone past on the race came up to stroke her and tell her how well she'd done.



She may even get into the local paper after she was part of dad's running club group photo at the end, along with Alice's dog who'd run the 5k. She's been telling Ted to expect reporters lining up to interview her for Dog Monthly as a result :o).



When we got home she had two squid chews as a well done, told Teddy all about it and then fell fast asleep in her bed, bless her. I think she is well on her way with her running career now and I certainly loved every minute of racing through the countryside with my furry daughter.



Hope you've all had good weekend,

CT :o) 

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Reed Warblers, Tufted Ducks, Reed Bunting And A New Challenge

I paid a visit to my friend, the river, after walking the dogs this morning. The fishermen will be back from May 1st so my time of unrestricted wandering is drawing to a close. I will still have access, only less frequent. I was hoping to see water voles but despite good field signs the voles themselves remained hidden. 

The river took pity on me and shared some wonderful things in their place. The reed warblers are now back from Africa and out in force. I sat on a bench and watched one displaying. He flew high up above the reeds, singing like mad, then dropped back into the base of the stalks, only to hop back to the top in stages and zoom up into the air again, singing his scratchy song all the while. He repeated the process several times while I sat and admired him. Presumably, the robustness of the display was necessitated by the fact his arch rival for this pristine patch of reeds was sitting singing in the willow tree nearby. I wonder who will win? If possession is nine tenths of the law then he's there.

Reed Warbler (male)
A little further along I came across a male reed bunting. I've never seen one on this stretch of river before. He was hunting caterpillars, which the adults eat in spring although their more usual diet is seeds. It's possible he was also finding food for his children. Reed buntings have suffered a 30% decline since 1970 but their population has stabilised with around 250,000 territories in the UK. Interestingly, birds that utilise wetland habitats (such as  this one) breed more successfully now than those using farmland. Good old high intensity farming is likely to be the culprit there.


Reed Bunting (male)
I headed up to the other beat, which is more wild in many ways, and found a pair of grey wagtails bobbing in a tree. There are 38,000 breeding pairs in the UK following a 40% decline since the 1970s and they can be hit very hard by bad winters. I felt a bit seasick watching the constantly bobbing tail and after a while moved on to see what else I could find.


Grey Wagtail (male)
The cetti's warbler has set up a territory at the top the river near a bend in the water where a thicket of trees provides excellent cover. These are shy birds, restricted to a few sites in southern England, East Anglia and Wales. They look like an over-sized wren and have an enormous voice with a short but loud burst of song. They arrived in Britain in 1961 and were first confirmed to be breeding here in 1972. There are thought to be over 2000 males holding territories here now but, like the great wagtails, these birds really suffer from cold winters, and also from wetland drainage. This is my photo from last year because they really are impossible to see!


Cetti's warbler

A flash of blue caught my eye at that point; a kingfisher, whirring away up river towards a group of ducks. I had to look them up when I got home because ducks are not my strong point id-wise. These are Tufted Ducks and there are over 16,000 breeding pairs in the UK. Unlike many other bird species, their population increased during the 20th century. They are colonial, often nesting in groups. There were six of them on the river today...


Tufted Duck (male with crest, female without)
Back home and it is all go in the garden. I've located the nests of great tit, blue tit, tree creeper, sparrow and goldfinch, and suspect we've also got coal tits somewhere nearby because they're back and forth from the feeders all day. Coal tits nest in the ground in mouse holes. The nuthatches are also feeding babies- their nest is in the tree creeper's oak. 

Oak trees can hold a number of nests of different species at any one time. Last summer, a local oak I know had jackdaws, kestrels and a barn owl all nesting in it at the same time!

We've already got two baby blackbirds being fed by dad on the lawn, and a baby dunnock visiting the ground below the feeders. The bullfinch male was busy stripping the seed heads from dandelions we've let grow in the lawn. We're trialling a new grass-cutting system this summer: the whole thing gets cut on a longer setting, but half the lawn keeps its daisies and dandelions one week and we rotate that with the other half the following week. So far it's working as you can see from the bullfinch using the seed head.

Male bullfinch

baby dunnock
I'm hearing the cuckoo most evenings now, he calls close to the house at around 7pm. Last night I was thrilled to hear two of them. There was one on my morning walk and one down at the river as well. The females should be arriving any day which may account for the increased calling of the males.

Finally, in Running News, after Sunday's road race and the musing that followed I have entered an off-road half marathon which takes place this June. I've got eight weeks to get fit for it. I'm really pleased to have something new to focus on. Although I've got a couple of halves booked in for the autumn I felt I needed something significant to tackle before that. This one goes over the Downs so it will be hilly (yay!) and most of it is away from tarmac (yay again). It's run by a running club so there won't be too much razzmatazz (another yay). The prize is a beer tankard and some local beer to go in it, so all in all I think it will be right up my street :o)

I'm also contemplating entering the ballot for the London Marathon which opens next week. M has a good for age qualification which means his place is assured and he's planning on using it to enter for 2018 so I thought I might as well give it a go too. That t-shirt mix-up last Sunday has a lot to answer for!

Hope you're all well?

CT.