'I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out 'til sundown, for going out, I found was really going in.' John Muir

I've seen the top of Everest (from a long way off), smelled the breath of a whale (from way too close) and lived on a boat in Greece (for a few years), but I continue to experience some of my most precious moments right outside my backdoor.

If comments are proving difficult to do, please email me; sleepysparrow@yahoo.co.uk

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Slow Terns?

Not the Prairies but Gronant Dunes

I blog about SLOW things mainly. Taking time for noticing, sniffing, watching, being.  The little terns at Gronant beach don’t have much time for being slow right now.

This Sunday we responded to a plea on Facebook from the wardens at Gronant, the chicks are beginning to hatch and the kestrels have noticed.  Kestrels mostly eat voles and lizards but they will take little tern chicks.  The wardens reckon that having people placed carefully along the beach might help keep them at bay.   

From the path to the viewing platform, I spotted a reed bunting dressed like a country parson, singing in a tangled rose bush. It’s not a glamorous song but he’s persistent and I like his style.  High in the wide blue sky, specks of skylarks sang without pausing for breath.  And I’ll swear I heard the fishing reel sound of a grasshopper warbler coming from the tall grass. 

The edges of the board walk were lit up with deep pink orchids and silver sea holly like a glitzy catwalk.  As we approached the beach, the  creaky cries of little terns could be heard over the whistling marram grass.  We watched them overhead, bright white, like freshly laundered hankies fluttering in the breeze.  Some had tiny silver sand eels dangling from their beaks, others were chasing, swooping, landing, lost among the pebbles in the fenced-off colony.  

We chatted to Jack the warden, who was very bright-eyed even though he’d been on duty since 4am.  As we spoke a kestrel appeared, hovering over the dunes.  Jack ran off to the far end of the colony and we watched to see what it would do.  It hung motionless over the marram grass at the back of the colony then circled high and moved away.  Maybe our presence put it off?  Through my binoculars I could see it in aerial combat with a pair of buzzards. Obviously it has chicks somewhere in the vicinity and felt threatened by the presence of these big birds of prey.  So it goes in the natural world. Buzzards bother kestrels, kestrels bother little terns, little terns bother sand eels. 

Whether we helped see the kestrel off I don’t know. I do know that it was fantastic being at the colony. It felt big and wild there, we had a real sense of being right in the middle of nature's battle for survival.  And for me, I’m pretty sure a spell on a windswept beach under a big blue sky certainly helped my survival. I felt alive and ready for anything...though perhaps not being carried off by a kestrel.

Gronant has the potential to be the largest little tern colony in the UK this year but they need help.
If you’ve an hour or two to spare, get down there for a bit of reviving wildness and give a hand to protect these feisty little birds in the process. 

Or search for Gronant Little Terns on Facebook - their photographs of little tern chicks are very cute!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Slow France

‘I have travelled the world, seen sights, met fascinating people, but only when I returned home did I become aware of the beauty on my own doorstep.’  Rabindrath Tagore

Sometimes it takes going away to make you appreciate where you live even more.  

And you can still be SLOW...

We are just home from France. We hadn’t planned to go. We were in the campervan, not too far from home, pedalling along the Mawddach Trail, the most beautiful cycle path in Wales, sneaking up on quiet herons, stopping to watch great crested grebes with their Everton toffee chicks.  A day or two later we trundled off to Hay on Wye to wander among musty books and lemon-drizzly-tea-shops.
Then the van just seemed to want to keep going south. So we stopped in a layby, booked a ferry from Dover, slept on the prom and next day we were in France.

I continued with the Wildlife Trusts #30 Days Wild Challenge (to do something wild each day in June) while we were away.  There are birds in France I don't hear in Wales, a nightingale sang in the Somme, turtle doves purred in the poplar trees of Champagne and a beaver nibbled reeds in a quiet corner of the largest lake in France (Lac du Der, south of Reims).

Being A Slow Tourist

We felt a gentle pull to the West and found ourselves in Normandy.  On the beach at Dives Sur Mer, from where a certain William the Conqueror set sail in 1066, I made patterns with shells on the beach.  I left them for the tide to play with and went for a long walk under a 'Monet sky' (The Impressionists were inspired by the wide skies and alabaster cliffs of this coast, we followed their Trail over the next few days).

When I came back, a little French girl in a turquoise swimsuit was busy adding to my display, a beautiful fish, more flowers and abstract patterns.  She was lost in her creativity. Maybe I had inspired her. Maybe she will be an artist one day, or maybe she just had a real fun SLOW day on the beach?
Fish added by little girl

Back home, the garden welcomed us with a couple of pints of strawberries, a bundle of rhubarb sticks and some curly kale.  I walked around with my cup of tea, dead-heading, pulling berries, inhaling the vanilla scent of clematis and apologising to my birds for being away. Slowly, they returned to the feeders and pecked at my apple offerings. 
The blackbird meanwhile, had discovered a corner of the bed where the strawberry net hadn't reached and was brazenly helping himself.  I let him go for it, enjoying seeing the strawberry colour smeared on his yellow beak.
It's nice to be home.


Sunday, 14 June 2015

3 Wild Days - Continuing with The Wildlife Trusts #30 Days Wild challenge...

 Day 11
I saw this thistle in the local garden centre, it was covered in bees, so I bought it and planted it in the garden. Bees came very quickly.

Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum'

Day 12

Alerted by the shrill squeaking of baby birds, I went into the garden and saw newly fledged bluetits being fed from the fat cake hanging in my tree.

Day 13

I cut Charlie's hair outside. His lovely salt and pepper locks made ideal slug deterrents around the courgettes. No need for the blue pellets of death!

Monday, 8 June 2015

30 Days Wild - Day 8 - HapBee Birthday

Today is my lovely sister's birthday.  As part of her present I adopted a bee, a queen bee of course, from http://www.planbeeltd.com/adopt-a-bee/

Each bee purchase goes towards helping the honey bee population recover and supporting honey-bee related initiatives throughout the UK.
I gave the bee the name of Jenny, after my sister and she proudly took the adoption certificate to work to show her students.

A bee has just left this poppy!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

30 Days Wild - Day 7 - Sparrow Poem

Today, in between putting broken egg shells around the base of my courgette seedlings and sheep wool pellets around the tiny pea shoots (to persuade the slugs to go elsewhere), I spent some time on the garden bench jotting down poems. Here's one I wrote earlier...

Passer domesticus
Scruffy urchins of the bird world
street-wise, cock-sure
surviving by your wits

and your hard-faced cheek,
like 'Angels with Dirty Faces.'

In your crop-eating-outlaw days
you had a price on your head,
were picked off for pennies
by persecuting posses.
Then you learned which side 
your bread was buttered 
and muscled in on small town gardens.

You were chased away from feeders
by people who preferred
the glamour of goldfinches
the bally-hoo of blue tits.
But now you're rather rare
and they want you back,
will gladly sacrifice
their finely tilled seed beds
to your early evening dust bath.

30 Days Wild - Day Six - Celebrating Sparrows

Sparrows have lived alongside humans longer than any other wild bird.  But we haven't always tolerated them. During WW1, Rat and Sparrow clubs were formed in order to 'save food for human consumption.' Hundreds of thousands were killed.  3d was paid for a fully fledged bird, 2d for an unfledged bird and 1d for an egg.  Their decline has continued and now they are on the Conservation Red List, meaning they are a species in need of urgent action.

Thankfully, they seem to be doing well in my garden. They're my favourites.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Day Five - 30 Days Wild - 'if you build it they will come.'

We built a small pond in January and have been waiting since then for the wildlife to come.  Every day I performed the pond gazing ritual, bending low and staring into the water, searching for life.

I wasn't expecting newts or frogs, just a humble pond skater to come and walk on the water on its long lean legs.  Well, today I got my wish.  A pond skater was in our pond, or rather on our pond.  I've christened it Torville because of its skating prowess. I watched it through my close focus binoculars and it was mesmerizing.
Torville the pond skater

Apparently, they are aggressive predators, pouncing on insects that land on the water's surface.  They are very agile and can jump to evade a predator.  

But how did it get in my pond?  Well, it flew here. They hibernate through the winter and then re-emerge in spring.

They are also known as water striders, water skimmers and my favourite, Jesus bugs. So far there's only one and it's fairly safe as their main predators are frogs, toads, fish and newts and there aren't any of those in the pond yet.  

However, birds eat them too and there are rather a lot of them in my garden. So from now on, birds are no longer allowed to drink from the pond steps (built to allow hedgehogs to escape) only from the birdbath. I think it's going to be quite time consuming being a pond skater's body guard.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Day Four - 30 Days Wild - Bay Watch

Appreciating a proper beach day, at last!

Enjoying the colours, man-made and natural.  

I kept an eye open for the slice of a dolphin's fin breaking the surface of the sea or the smooth curve of a porpoise.  

I'll be taking part in the National Whale and Dolphin Watch from 25 July to 2 August.


Last year I stood on the end of Llandudno Pier for three hours peering through my binoculars.  Eventually I saw a porpoise and while I was distracted, a herring gull, who had had his beady eye on me for some time, swooped in and snatched my cheese and pickle sandwich out of my hand!

Volunteers are always needed to help with the survey.  The web site will tell you how to get involved.  But watch out for sneaky sea gulls!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

30 Days Wild - Day Three - Berry Watching

Today I have been mostly watching fruit!  
I took some time to appreciate the different stages of development.
It never ceases to amaze me how delicate pinky-white apple blossom turns into tiny fruit and then into mouthwatering red apples.

Developing apple



Blueberry Flowers

I have a blackbird who loves my strawberries too.  Even when I net them, she manages to sneak under and take the ones at the edge of the bed.  I sit and watch her doing it, she watches me, watching her.  I've planted three large clumps of wild strawberries especially for her but I think she enjoys the challenge of getting under the net and taking mine.  
The ancient Romans believed that strawberries alleviated the symptoms of melancholy.  Me and my blackbird agree.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Wild Wind - Day Two of #30 Days Wild

In my lunch hour today I stood out in the wild wind among a little group of trees and reveled in their movement and sound. 
I leaned against the trunk of one tree and felt like I was on a tall ship with the foresail billowing and the mast creaking and the deck swaying beneath my feet.
Above all the noise of leaves and branches I could hear a blackbird singing, bright and lively as a sailor's hornpipe. I tilted my head and watched the thin tops of the trees swaying madly.  After all this time 'at sea' I felt quite dizzy and when I finally went back indoors I knocked into a desk or two before I eventually got my land legs back!

Monday, 1 June 2015

30 Days Wild...and Slow - Day One

Here's a great SLOW thing to do this month.  

Join me and thousands of others and do something wild everyday.  

Take up the challenge set by The Wildlife Trusts and;

'Make room for nature this June, no matter where you live or how busy you are.'

So, here goes... Day One

Stroke some lichens - very gently - It's impossible to just look at them. Shut your eyes.  What do they feel like?  The ones in the photo were hairy and crusty and springy, like cornflakes and porridge and my Uncle's beard!

Things to like about Lichens -
They are actually a partnership of two organisms, a fungus and an alga.
There are more than 1,700 species in Britain.
They are very sensitive to atmospheric pollution.There are very few around industrial cities.  Search your local churchyard (a good place for lichens) and you'll get an idea of how good the air quality is where you live. (I vaguely remember looking for lichens around our school during a particularly interesting biology lesson about air pollution).
They used to be important sources of dyes for cloth, different lichens give different colours.

#30 Days Wild

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Slow Tourist

I set myself a few goals this January. One of them was to write a book to encourage people to slow down and notice what's on their own doorstep. 
OK, I've written the book.  It's only small, roughly 7x5 inches and 24 pages long, but it's full of suggestions of ways to get to know where you live slowly and intimately. There's space to doodle and make notes too.

That was the easy part. The hard part is how to promote and sell it.

I've done some craft fairs, standing smiling behind a table of books not knowing whether to make eye contact as people approach or if it will put them off.  Is it better to just let them browse or get in there and start talking?  I hope the book and the blurb on the back speaks for itself but maybe people want to hear from me.  It's all a great learning curve.  The lovely shop at Theatre Clwyd agreed to take some books and the writing magazine I subscribe to is going to do a review (Writing Magazine).  But I find it hard to sell myself. Confidence, that's the thing to have, and I don't have much.  

Writing the book was the easy part. Will I be 'big' enough to sell it?  If anyone's got any tips, I'd love to hear them. I'll let you know how I get on!

I used www.blurb.co.uk (Bookwright) and the free software is great.  The process has been interesting and fun and I loved doing my own art work - some collage, some photographs, some doodles.  
I would recommend anyone thinking of creating a book to -
DO IT!  

You can see a preview of my book in blurb.co.uk's bookshop, search for The Slow Tourist at home.

If you'd like a copy for £5, including UK postage, let me know!

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Early Morning Garden Party

'Get Uuuup Now, Get Uuuup now'. 
That's what a woodpigeon cooed outside my bedroom window this morning. I felt like turning over, but if I had I'd have missed these early morning garden treats...

Mr And Mrs Sparrow chewing the fat

A starling with lovely spots

A baby sparrow waiting to be fed

Blackbird taking a bath

This male sparrow sits here every morning, chirping for all he's worth to attract a mate, no luck so far.

Tulips still asleep

Wide awake primroses

Glowing rhubarb

Courgette seedlings

So thanks for waking me up wood pigeon.  I'm glad I didn't miss this early morning in my garden. It was a real treat for the senses and set me up for the day ahead.  
Take your morning cuppa outside for 10 minutes before you rush on with the day, you never know what you might see, hear, smell.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A New Way

'One's destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.'  Henry Miller

This is a quote from my book The Slow Tourist.  Today we decided to follow the instructions on page 14 and walk along a public footpath we've never been on before.  Here is what we found...

Bluebells beginning to appear
clumps of primroses
The Spirit of the Woods

A Bluetit's bottom

Silver Birches like brushes painting the sky

A peacock butterfly enjoying dandelion nectar

A tree window

A secret bank of primroses

Blossom alive with buzzing bees

And a fine view of Moel Famau

We've lived here for over 30 years and never followed this footpath before.  We walked for three hours and didn't see another person, only birds, bees, butterflies and lambs.  We had an epic adventure - without going very far, just like it says in my book

It also says;
Get an OS map of your area, find a footpath and follow it. Take a note book and pen, draw the flowers, bees, birds - just doodle, you don't have to be an artist.  Write what you see, how you feel.  Record the sounds on your mobile phone or a simple sound recorder, make a sound scape of your patch.  Who knows, in years to come, what you record in your notebook might prove to be of real interest to someone.  You might record a species that no longer exists or one that's new for that area. Even if you live in a town, sketch the buildings, record sounds in the parks, look for wildlife like peregrines nesting on tall buildings. 

But most of all, just enjoy what's on your doorstep.