New Year, new resolve

I’d resigned myself to another year of the viscous circle of clearing up after moles, cutting grass and tidying up after moles again. I decided to spend a little time looking up ways to, hopefully, persuade them they might like to look elsewhere for their worm-chasing tunnelling needs.

The most common repellent methods that look simple enough to make seem to include castor oil, water and washing up liquid. I decided to give it a go and today I deployed the concoction for the first time. I added some peppermint oil for good measure as that was another recommendation. Now my lock sides at Walsham are molehill free (for now), grass seeded and minty fresh.

I do it far more in hope than expectation but at this point I’m willing to give it a go. Cross your fingers for me.

Brightening up

We’re now officially past the longest night of the year and the winter solstice so this is the 1st sunrise of the lengthening days over the Walsham weir pool. And it was a pretty good one. With all the grey days lately that gave me something to smile about.

I am also doing my but with some cheerful artificial lighting. we’re going with a ‘more the merrier’ approach rather than tasteful and understated. Well, we all need a bit of cheering up at the moment don’t we?

This year’s trend in tree decorating

I’ve discussed before my confusion with the poo bags deliberately hung in trees and that has by no means left me. This week however I was baffled even further. While I was out strimming and litter picking I came across this.

Take a moment to think about that…. Either someone hung their own mask up in a tree for reasons unknown (weird) or in the middle of a pandemic someone took the time to pick up a used mask and hang it up for someone to (re)claim it. However it got there of course I had to remove and dispose of it. Over the last little while I have collected enough to mask a small army. Fingers crossed the end is one day nigh for the need of their use and their thoughtless disposal.

Who needs a chainsaw?

After we have storms or blustery weather I always go for a wander to make sure all my trees are happy and safe. There are often branches and trees that need dealing with and this week was no exception. I made an early start to check for damage and there were a few casualties that need clearing. One was in the Navigation that I needed reinforcements for (thanks Emily and Laura 😊) but Walsham got off relatively unscathed thankfully.

Even if I have large trees reportedly down I optimistically take a small handsaw. It inevitably leads to comments from passers by that I’m going to need a bigger saw and occasionally a man to help me. The less said about that the better. As much as I love my chainsaw you’d be amazed what you can achieve with the right handsaw and a bit of stubbornness.

This willow had clearly had a bad night and was dangling over the path and needed urgent action. I could have driven to collect the chainsaw and get geared up but I chose the stubborn perseverance route.

It was a bit of a fight but I managed to make relatively short work of this 20+ year old casualty. No petrol needed, just a bit of elbow grease.

Clinging on to summer

There are lots of clues giving away that autumn is in full swing and winter is near. The leaves are turning and falling and swan parents are shooing away their cygnets to get ready for next year. Some of nature is carrying on as if nothing is happening. The grass is still growing like crazy and I bumped into this little chap on a lock beam at Pyrford. It always feels like summer when the dragonflies are around.

It’s not unusual to see common darters still flying in October or even November but it still cheered me up on a grey day. The cooler days mean they need to save their energy, so he sat still long enough to get a halfway decent picture. If it was still summer this chap would have been halfway to Walsham before I got my phone out of my pocket. I might miss the summer but there are some advantages.

It reminds me though, I need to get my paint brushes out. My lock beams are in need of some attention. I’ll have to see if the weather gods are kind. It’s not a job for the winter.

Hiding spiders

I like to think I’m pretty observant where wildlife is concerned. I have a terribly rude habit of loosing focus on conversations with humans to watch dragonflies that happened to flit into my field of vision. I notice the movements in the foliage that give away the presence of some sort of creepy crawly. Having said that, I am always surprised quite how many spiders webs have been hiding in plain view. These grey days might in many ways be uninspiring but there are still some bright sides. Nature always gives you something to smile about even on dank mornings like this.

Painting to feel normal

It’s funny how you miss things you never thought you would when you can’t do them for a while. I must admit, painting bridges was never one of my favourite jobs. All that time on your knees, on the concrete with a scraper and wire brush, only for people to stick there fingers in the wet paint despite all the signs isn’t something I ever looked forward to.

Bridges originally designed for horses don’t lend themselves well to social distancing. I haven’t been able to get to the long overdue painting, until now. It was too busy, too inconvenient and too impractical for everyone who wanted to keep socially distant while enjoying their walks. With weekday visitor numbers reducing slightly and the good weather seemingly set in it, was time to get my paint brushes out of mothballs. Thankfully a couple of my favourite volunteers were up for the task and we were able to get a long overdue couple of coats of paint to some of my scruffiest bridges.

Newark hasn’t looked this good in a while
The sun even came out
And so did the wildlife

I think I still enjoy the result more than the process, despite being desperate to get back to the painting. With this one of the last jobs I’ve been able to get back to since the rules of the world changed last year, it does feel like another step forwards or maybe backwards towards the mundane we all took for granted and maybe missed. I do reserve the right to whinge a little about my achy knees but that doesn’t mean I’m not happy to be back to smelling of paint.

How many lives does an eel have?

Eels have a remarkable life. They are born on the other side of the Atlantic and take 2 or 3 years to float and swim their way here with the Gulf Stream. I’m sure they have multiple daily brushes with death on their journeys but all being well they get to spend the next seventy years or so happily in UK waters before returning to their birthplace to breed and carry on their fishy legacies. It’s no wonder with all those variables that numbers are declining. We already know we have eels right to the upper reaches of the Navigations and fish and eel passes built, in progress or planned to give them a helping hand.

I found this one in a puddle on my way to the weirs the other morning. Despite what was no doubt a shocking start to its day, its luck had not run out yet. I’m not sure how it got there, they have been known to cross wet grass on their way to enclosed lakes but I suspect this one managed to wriggle itself free from the beak of a heron or some such. The one upside or all this torrential rain, if you are a previously airborne eel, is the amount of puddles we had. Consequently it had somewhere, albeit in the middle of a usually busy towpath, to catch its breath.

They seemed very happy to see my bucket
And the Navigation

I hope it hasn’t run out of the luck it’s going to need yet. There is very little chance of me living to see its offspring but now at least there is a better chance that there will be some.

Welcome to the world

I was out and about pulling pennywort again when I came across this little one. The newly emerged or temeral damselfly had just left the water and shed its larval case. When they are this new they don’t have any colour and look quite different. The adults take a little while to rearrange their bodily fluids (so clever!) and harden so they are able to embark on their 1st wobbly flight. In an hour or so they go from mud dwelling nymph to flying, air breathing adults. It takes a little while for their colour to develop so it won’t have taken long for them to look more like their colourful neighbours and potential mates and adversaries.