A lipogram

B is at our door, smiling and happy. A bullfinch was in a bush! Its front was bright pink. 

For B, it’s a first sighting of this bird and it brings a buzz of drama to a humdrum Friday walk back from junior school.

It’s put on B’s list of unfamiliar birds caught sight of last month, joining a buzzard from six days ago. B is proud and glows with joy.

black gray and orange bird

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Writing a lipogram, as I’ve done here, is writing something but leaving out a letter. It’s a suggested exercise in a *creative writing book I have, and its purpose is to challenge the writer by extracting them from a rut.

I can guarantee that it certainly was a challenge and it took a lot longer than expected to write those first few lines without using a specific letter. Had I written it without this restraint/challenge, I’d have been able to dash it off far faster. As it was I had to choose my words carefully and aim to make sense. Even so, it’s stilted and doesn’t flow too well – but it is a true story as everything I’ve written about happened about an hour ago.

Have you spotted which letter it was?!

*Back to Creative Writing School by Bridget Whelan

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Snowy avian activity

Snow. Quietness reigns. Manchester airport is closed. Choir rehearsal is cancelled because of bad weather. A bit of a disappointment as it’s Queen week (“come along in moustaches and curly wigs for a bit of fun to rehearse Don’t Stop Me Now“). My Freddie Merury outfit lies dormant. Out come the binoculars and camera.

We don’t often get much snow here so it’s a bit of an event. I hear on the weather forecast that the Cheshire Gap and North Wales are affected. The garden, nearby woods and field look like fairyland. The dog – now one year old – explores his whitened environment and with snowy muzzle, eventually comes back into the house to find the nearest radiator.

Meanwhile I’m scanning higher levels, following the avian antics of a gang of goldfinches as they fly from treetops to garden feeders. A lone buzzard suddenly swoops down on to the field, scattering snow from the branch it’s perched on; I wonder what small mammal it’s spotted. A shy female bullfinch lurks in the hedge then takes off the very second I reach for my camera. Likewise the three siskins who pause together on the topmost branches of the bare apple tree. I wish for an extra pair of hands so I can hold binoculars and camera at the same time.

The same happens when I see a reed bunting perched on a snow-laden conifer in next door’s garden. But the pair of magpies on a distant treetop stay still, only coming to visit after some food has been put out by husband, clearing paths and making sure there’s fresh, unfrozen water in the bird bath.

The blackbirds are busy at ground level, pigeons descend from their treetop roosts to see what’s going on, the nuthatch commandeers one feeder and the blue, great and coal tits get active on the other. The robin, ever-present, puts in an appearance. The garden looks like a belated Christmas card.

Rufous Motmot

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What better thing to do on a cold, gloomy and snowy January afternoon than trawl through the archives of photos taken in Costa Rica. We were there getting on for two years ago, and I’ve still not ID’d some of the birds and other wildlife we saw.

I knew this was a Motmot, but had forgotten what sort. The guide must have told us because as soon as I looked it up I remembered the “Rufous” part of its name. I clearly remember, though, that the guide pointed out its tail which was moving from side to side, like a pendulum. “Tick tock” he said.

Rufous Motmots eat invertebrates, small vertebrates and various fruits. They feast on beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, scorpions and small crustaceans.

Anhinga

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These birds are pretty spectacular, and I was delighted to get this shot of one, wings spread and gleaming in the sunlight, at Brazos Bend State Park near Houston.

They are  sometimes called snake birds or water turkeys. Their full description can be read here.

That aside, what really attracted me was the detail of the feathers on the body, giving a fluffy look, and the silvery gleam of the wing and tail feathers.

I’d never seen or heard of an anhinga before, but on my first visit to Brazos Bend I saw one and asked a ranger what it was. Thereafter, and on almost every visit since, I’ve seen several, maybe perched on a branch or partly submerged tree sticking out of one of the lakes, but usually at a distance.

This one, so close to the path was obligingly close, very still and rather beautiful.

Pintail

P1060583I’m rather fond of pintail ducks. They have beautiful markings on their backs and bodies, their feathers are varying soft shades of brown and cream, and they have those distinctive pointy tails, after which they’re named.

They are elegant, classy birds and I saw this one recently at Martin Mere Wetlands Trust.

The sun was low in the sky, casting a golden light on the pebbly beach of the lake where this Pintail was waiting for the late afternoon feeding session of Greylag Geese, visiting Whooper Swans, Ruff, Coots, Mallards, Shelduck and many more!

Magpie

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This handsome magpie was perched near the marram-covered marshes at RSPB Marsh Side, near Southport on the Lancashire coast.

Magpies have a bit of a bad reputation and are not liked a lot, as they have a reputation for predating nestlings and eggs of song birds. But their main diet consists of beetles, flies, caterpillars, spiders, worms and leatherjackets. In winter they will eat fruit, berries and grains and scavenge from bird tables and feeders, and they do eat carrion and can catch small mammals and birds. So theyr’e not entirely carnivorous, but neither are they vegetarian.

We have at least one family of magpies living near us. They visit the bird feeder, have learned to balance on the fat ball holder while having a good peck at it, and they certainly do scavenge given the opportunity.

Close up, they’re stunning, striking birds, especially when their black plumage catches the light and takes on a sheen of purple, green and blue.

They’re known as thieves, attracted to bright shiny objects. Rossini wrote music for them – The Thieving Magpie. Monet painted one in his snowy winter scene La Pie, and in Cheshire, where I live, traditional half-timbered black and white houses are known as magpie houses.

There are a few collective names for magpies; the one I like best is a mischief of magpies, which captures their slightly cocky attitude, especially when they’re seen strutting around.