Archive for December 2013

New arrival – welcome, Jake



Tomorrow will see the addition of Jake to the household here at Derwyn Towers.

Jake is a rescue dog, a springer spaniel who’s currently at North Clwyd Animal Rescue. He was a stray, picked up somewhere near to Ruthin, evidently, and is about 3 years old.

His role in the house will primarily to be loved and cared for, which I’m sure he’ll manage and repay in spades, as springers have lovely personalities.

His secondary role is to be taken for lots of walks, and by doing so, to help me to regain some degree of fitness and hopefully lose some weight into the bargain. Since springers are endowed with boundless energy, I can’t see him failing from lack of effort.

So, welcome, Jake. I’ve no doubt that you’re about to turn our cosy world upside down, but I’m sure we’ll adapt and be the better for it.

Image processing in Android

Finally found a decent RAW processing app for Android – RawDroid. Works very well, and integrates with other installed image processing apps, but the demo version is SLOOOOW and puts watermarks on the images. The Pro version is just over GBP3, though, and promises better speed with no watermarks, so upgrading looks like a no-brainer.

That’s a job for this evening, in the hotel.

On more birding in The Algarve

My last post described how easy it was to see lots and lots of dickie birds in The Algarve. So easy, in fact, that it caused us to doubt the wisdom of laying out E125 in advance for a day’s local birding guide’s services.

She’d helpfully provided us in advance with a list of birds that we were likely to see, which stretched to a very ambitious 94 species. As you might expect, such a long and exhaustive list included quite a few species that we’d seen before, many of which are very common in the UK – Great Tit, Chaffinch, Robin and many species of duck, etc. Nonetheless, there were just as many tantalising entries that we’d never seen and which aren’t UK-present, including Sarah’s personal wanna-see, the Hoopoe.

According to the list, we’d already seen 30-ish species in our first full day here, but many of the ones that we hadn’t seen are amongst the most common in the UK. So, with about 60 still on the list to see, it seemed rather ambitious and unlikely that we’d add very many more to the roster of what we’d already spotted by ourselves.

How wrong can you be?

Our guide, June, was really on top of her job and knew where to look for every, and I mean every, bird on the list. Having started out at 8am, by 5pm, we’d not only seen all but 17 birds on the list, we’d seen 7 that weren’t listed. Only 3 of the 17 were species that aren’t present in the UK, and they just happened not to be in the expected locations when we arrived. You can’t win them all!

We’d seen the remaining 14 before anyway, and most of them are very common – just not in the Algarve.

Highlights? Well, Sarah got to see her Hoopoe. We got a lovely view of several particularly attractive birds – Southern (Iberian) Grey Shrike, Sardinian Warbler, Marsh Harrier, Purple Swamp Hen and the wonderfully-named, and I kid you not, Zitting Cisticola. (The name refers to its call, not its complexion.) We also got distant, but distinct, views of Little Bustard, Black Shouldered Kite and Iberian (Azure-Winged) Magpie.

The day came to a happy close when looking unsuccessfully for a Stone Curlew, but we were rewarded instead with a lovely view of a Little Owl, perched on the wall of a nearby derelict building.

So, we got full value for our investment, thanks to June.

If you are even vaguely interested in bird-watching, you can’t expect to improve much on The Algarve. There’s lots to see at this time of year and the climate is ideal – lots of sunny days with temperatures of 18 degrees Celsius, or thereabouts.

Gutted that we didn’t get to see my personal priority, though – a Chaffinch.

On birding in The Algarve

And by “birding”, I don’t mean going on the pull in some sleazy nightery on The Strip in Albufeira.

Never having been on a holiday whose prime, if not sole, objective was staring at as many different and hopefully new avian creatures as possible, my expectations were unclear. However, having been here for two full days now, it’s becoming apparent that I’d underestimated the area’s potential. Without boring my audience (you know who you are) with a list of every species that we’ve seen (already over 30, with very little effort), suffice to say that it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Apart from things that don’t appear very often in the UK, unless they’re blown off course by a severe Siberian draught, there are species that you’d have to make some effort to see.

Consider, for example, watching Redshank, Little Stint, Little Egret, Turnstones, Terns of unidentified variety, Sanderlings and others along a 150-metre stretch of river bank, being accompanied by a saxophonist of limited ability and imagination. Well, such is Tavira, the town that we’re staying in for our first 3 nights. (The 150-metres of river bank is directly outside our hotel!)

A ten-minute walk took us to a place where Flamingoes hob-nobbed with Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, Greenshanks and more of the above mentioned birds.

A 15-minute drive up the coast to Cabanas saw even more variety, with Hoopoes, Spoonbills, Redstarts, Crested Larks, Blackcaps, Cetti’s Warblers and more parading themselves before our eager binoculars. (There were 2 or 3 other types of warblers, but I’m hopeless at telling them apart.)

Tomorrow will see us on an accompanied trip with experienced local birders, so we’ll hopefully see some even more unusual birds. I’m hoping for some Storks, Cranes and a Bluethroat, but I’m not holding my breath. Given what we’ve already seen there can’t be much left…

On Dancing and Stilton

v. dance, danced, danc·ing, danc·es

1. To move rhythmically usually to music, using prescribed or improvised steps and gestures.
a. To leap or skip about excitedly.
b. To appear to flash or twinkle: eyes that danced with merriment.
c. Informal To appear to skip about; vacillate: danced around the issue.
3. To bob up and down.
1. To engage in or perform (a dance).
2. To cause to dance.
3. To bring to a particular state or condition by dancing: My partner danced me to exhaustion.

1. A series of motions and steps, usually performed to music.
2. The art of dancing: studied dance in college.
3. A party or gathering of people for dancing; a ball.
4. One round or turn of dancing: May I have this dance?
5. A musical or rhythmical piece composed or played for dancing.
6. The act or an instance of dancing.

[Middle English dauncen, from Old French danser, perhaps of Germanic origin.]

One of my long-standing personal maxims is “Can’t dance, won’t dance”. I never was much good in the wiggling-to-music department, but if anything my prowess on the dance floor is diminishing, if that were possible, with age.

I have a different view of other people’s appearance when dancing in comparison with my own. Virtually everyone else appears graceful and co-ordinated, even when doing what is now popularly referred to as “dad-dancing”, at weddings and other such gatherings (although I’ve yet to witness it at a funeral…) The problem is that when I attempt it, I feel awkward and horribly out of kilter, and judging by some people’s reactions (including open laughter), I’m not wrong.

Some people have a natural fluidity of movement and exuberance of spirit that enables them to fling themselves around with abandon, and yet maintain an air of dignity. Not me. Even my most reserved shuffling about looks like a one-legged penguin on anti-depressants.

I envy such people, but at the Great British Folk Festival this weekend, at Butlin’s in Skegness, I felt I’d found my soul-mate. It was a gentleman of slightly fewer years than me, but who looked equally ill at ease when dragged up to “dance” by the woman he was accompanying. My heart bled for the poor guy, who was limited to a kind of bobbing up and down, completely out of time with the music, arms semi-raised in a cross between disco and boxing, that bore as little resemblance to dancing as my own pathetic threshings. He looked every bit as comfortable and at home on a dance floor as I do. I could have hugged him. An entrant for “Strictly Come Twitching” if ever there was.

Thank you, sir. I no longer feel quite so alone in this world.

On Stilton

I’m usually quite keen to experience new foods, or variations on old favourites. Being something of a fan-boy for cheese in general, and a cheese on toast (the luncheon of champions) aficionado, I thought I’d give Stilton on toast a try, for two reasons: a) I’d never tried it before, and b) more significantly, it was the only cheese available in my fridge when lunch time swung around.

My verdict? – Don’t bother.

Strangely, it doesn’t melt quite the same as a nice Cheddar, Red Leicester or even a crumbly Lancashire or Cheshire. It’s possibly due to the mouldy bits, but it just doesn’t quite hack it in the melting department. The flavour isn’t really good for cheese on toast, either. It’s just, I don’t know, wrong.

So – there’s today’s top food tip.

Be glad that I do it so you don’t have to. No, you don’t have to thank me.