Wednesday, 1 December 2021

a ship in the air

There's always something new to see in the sky if you're lucky. This appeared over Devizes the other day as I was cruising along the canal. You don't get the full 3D effect in the photo, but it was like the hull of a ship seen from underneath, cruising in turn along the sea of cirrocumulus stratiformis, or mackerel sky.

In vaguely technical terms (thank you, Richard Hamblyn's Cloud Book) the cloud layer is composed of ice crystals and supercooled droplets. Locally, the droplets are triggered to form precipitation, which falls as streaks - 'fallstreaks' or 'virga'. Hence, the description of what you see here as fallstreak or punch hole clouds.

But it does remind me of a boat. And particularly the one in Seamus Heaney's poem  from his collection 'Seeing Things', where he talks of crediting marvels, a mission statement I could entirely go along with when I first read it, and indeed still do

Lightenings viii

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

the Kennet and Avon Wildlife Calendar 2022

My 2022 Calendar is now on sale for £10; if you're too far away from the K&A, or simply can't find my boat, then you can get one from Devizes Books, or online in my Etsy shop, free postage in the UK.

I'll also be at the Floating Fair at Bradford on Avon this coming weekend, December 4-5.

fox on  Pickle Hill, Vale of Pewsey

a wren at Smelly Bridge

starlings at Sells Green, near Devizes

a badger and otter at Bishops Cannings

jays in Conkwell Woods

more otter fun

Monday, 29 November 2021

Waving to Kelvin and Helmholtz

At dawn, I went out to say good morning to the starlings in the reed bed. The canal was icing over; as the morning went on, the ice advanced from either side to meet in the middle, before the sun warmed things up enough to melt it away again.

But over to the east I saw row of curlicues in the clouds, like two intertwined sine waves.

It was a Kelvin-Helmholtz wave.You get these when a warm air mass is sitting on top of a colder one, and they're moving at different speeds. Very exciting, if you get excited by that sort of thing.

I do.

Sunday, 14 November 2021

some like it otter

Here's the otter chasing a pike. I was worrying that our local otter had been killed; it hadn't been around for a few weeks, and I read that one had been killed down at Foxhangers, which is not so far away as to make it unlikely, given their wide-ranging habits.

But towards midnight last night, that familiar bump and swish, and I knew it was still with us.

This is the last picture for my 2022 calendar, which has been sent off to the printers and should be available within the week.

Friday, 5 November 2021

the jays are busy in Conkwell Woods

The latest picture for the canal calendar shows Hibah and Clare on their boat Hunky Dory, cruising through Conkwell Woods on the Kennet and Avon between Bradford on Avon and Bath. There's the Dundas Aqueduct in the background. Hunky Dory, by the way, is a rather nice little boat that they hire out; details here on their website.

I like the sound of the jays screeching in the woods here in autumn, as they busily dedicate themselves to the task of redistributing acorns. Hence their name, Garrulus Glandarius - 'noisy acorn muncher'.

Only a few weeks now before the next Floating Fair at Bradford on Avon on the weekend of 4-5 December. We missed out all the fairs last year and earlier this year because of the lockdowns. So whiule I may wish that there were more stringent rules on distancing and masks in public places, I'm very glad that we'll be doing the fair again, because they're great fun.

And I must get the damn calendar printed ASAP!

Sunday, 31 October 2021

the yickering of badgers

It was about 3 in the morning that I heard the otter go by, bumpity swish along the side nearest the bank, as they do when they're hunting the fish whose escape route is limited by the boat hull.

So I got my head torch and went out, in time to hear a great kerfuffle up by the swingbridge; a badger's furious yickering.

I wandered up there, and over on the other side two dark forms separated and went in opposite directions. One turned to look at me and showed its distinctive black and white face, before disappearing under the bridge.

So it seemed like a good incident to recreate in this picture, though I've set it at dawn, so there's more to see.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

a sail leaving harbour

We came up the flight of locks at Caen Hill and spent a couple of days alongside in Devizes, recovering from the exertions of the ascent, though it had been made far easier by kind friends who'd come along and helped. But then it was time to move out into the Vale of Pewsey. We were fortunate to find a couple of prime moorings right by the swingbridge at Bishops Cannings, with a fine view across the Kestrel Oak field, and looking the other way across to Tan Hill, hidden there in the morning mist.

Listen to the morning sounds here. Somewhere in there is the last hoot of the tawny owl; and the dongdong of cowbells,  bringing a touch of the Tyrol to Wiltshire.

The night was so clear that the Orion Nebula (M42, to use its Proper Name) was clearly visible as a nebulous thing, and you could make out all of Lepus the hare, below Orion and endlessly chased by Sirius the dog star.

I got out of bed and opened the hatch cautiously, keeping all lights off so as not to mess up my night vision. There was a very noisy munching right net to the hatch; for the otter, as for big hungry tigers, table manners have no place. And it's hard to eat raw fish delicately, to be fair.

Presently the otter finished munching and departed; so I went out with the headtorch, in time to hear a great yickering coming from up by the bridge. When I got there, I saw the otter slink one way and another bulky form go the other. Then it turned and displayed its unambiguously badgery face to me, before trundling under the bridge and out of sight.
My cruising companion for the last couple of months has set off eastward now. Yet another farewell-but-just-for-now. It's all a bit ships that pass in the night, life on the canal. Or perhaps more like ships that pass in the day.  I remember a departure from Valletta, when our Filipino deckhands called across to their compatriots on an incoming bulker, "Mabuhay!" ...the easy camaraderie of the sea. And then on Condor 10, leaving St Malo for the last time, and seeing another Condor boat going in, and we waved to each other in passing, friends and acquaintances separated by water but maybe meeting up somewhere again, somewhere along the way.