July 2020





21st July


Now that life’s slowly returning to a new normal, it’s nice to report some positive achievements from this unusually challenging year.


On the writing front, I’ve just submitted my first sci-fi story to a prestigious competition, and should know by the end of September whether or not I’m a lucky a prize-winner. My full-scale revision of The Lay of Angor is also complete, and the original trilogy condensed into one book. The resulting Chanson d’Angor is much tighter, funnier in places, and with a lot more suspense in the storyline; I’m very pleased, and hope its intended readership will enjoy it. Meanwhile Martine’s translation is progressing well, and at least she and her French proof-reader both like it – so am crossing my fingers that a wider French audience will share their taste!  (The revised single- volume edition will also be released in English as an e-book and possibly in paperback too).

Hubcap’s been equally busy at Beckside. Project Pond (see June 2020) is well-nigh finished, well-nigh full of water, and the spoil bank a riot of cornfield-mix flowers, with a sunken hose line connection to the rainwater cistern. Although it as yet looks very turbid and unappetising (Hubcap likens it to a Serengeti watering-hole trampled by wildebeest), there are already robber-flies and water-boatmen skimming the surface, and a population of small aquatic beetles established round the rim; you may also be able to make out the dark line of stirred silt across the right of the image, where some larger creature had traversed it shortly before I took the photo! With so much water in, we can now see where a section of bank - the area in shade on the upper left quadrant) needs extra clay puddling to bring it level with the deeper part; fortuitously, some friends recently dug several tons of the stuff out of their smallholding, and will be delighted if we truck a vanload away for this purpose! I guess that will be our next job; and for the moment, we're hoping the pond continues to hold water well now that the period of incessant rain seems to have stopped and we're getting a bit more sunshine.


Pleased though he is with Project Pond, Hubcap’s even happier with the progress of Project Swift, his campaign to help this beautiful, increasingly rare bird to find nesting sites around our estate.


It began in the New Year, when he installed a swift box on the gable ends of our house and our next-door neighbour’s; and developed last month with his acquisition of a swift-call CD from Swift Conservation to play out of our bathroom window, a few feet below the box. To our mutual surprise and delight, it worked immediately (it can often take several seasons to attract them). First the swifts began to circle at height, then swoop closer to investigate, then to cling on and inspect; yesterday he saw a complete entry of both boxes; and today, a pair of swifts went in, and stayed in, our neighbour’s box! (His is on an east gable, one of their preferred orientations, and superior to our west-facing gable). This is great news; the prospective residents are probably this year’s juveniles, who will remember these sites when they fly back to Africa and, we hope, return to nest in them next Spring.


Fired with inspiration, he also began making simple swift-boxes (see below) to pass on, free, in hopes of building a local colony. (A friend with a hardware supply business gave generous support by selling him the expensive marine ply, ready cut to length, plus all necessary fittings, at cost price – this means they’re only costing c. £5 apiece). The first finished box has just gone to a friend for his birthday; then another neighbour’s going to have one, as well as several of our customers, and who knows who else? I’m immensely proud of him for doing such a great thing, while as for Hubcap himself – the sight of those swifts folding themselves into our boxes has been the crowning glory of his year!         (Continued below pics)


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And talking of birds, last Monday we finally achieved our objective of visiting an RSPB reserve for the first time since taking out our joint membership at Christmas, with a trip to Fairburn Ings near Castleford in West Yorkshire.


Over the past 60 years, this site has changed from industrial coal-face into a richly bio-diverse landscape of lakes and rolling soil-heaps overgrown with tall grasses, reeds and wildflowers (see left, and panoramic view top left). Fairburn Ings is a mecca for serious twitchers, with some 200 bird species, including spoonbills, being sighted there; and although we’re not serious enough to spend hours waiting in hides, we thoroughly enjoyed strolling round the various pathways spotting geese, cormorants, egrets and herons, to name but a few, as well as plants including wild orchids and fragrant ladies’ bedstraw.


The Visitor Centres and loos haven't yet re-opened, so if you're planning a visit it's as well to be prepared/take your own refreshments - nonetheless, it's a most irewarding site, and highly recommended!  

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