Monday, 28 May 2018

Evening serenade in hospital

Lying in bed a short while ago in my hospital bay I heard the beautiful sound of a Blackbird singing in the little courtyard outside the window. It was long after dark so it must have been being tricked by the lights from the hospital windows.
Sue has often said that Blackbirds have a special evening song that is different from their normal daytime one and I think she might be right

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Birdwatching from hospital - without binoculars

Saturday the 5th of May 2018 was the day chosen by the organisers of eBird (a global online bird database run by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, in the US) for their “Global Big Day”. 
On this day they encouraged birdwatchers (of all levels of skill and enthusiasm) from around the world to get out and see or hear as many birds as they could and record them on eBird. 

I was in hospital that day, having my fifth lot of chemotherapy and wasn’t allowed off the ward, so I spent as long as I could standing in the window counting all the birds I could see or hear. I didn’t use binoculars because my window was directly opposite another wing of the hospital containing wards, offices etc and I didn’t want people to think I was spying on them. 

I was able to watch during three periods: from 11am to 11.45; from 6.18pm to 6.23; and from 7.59pm to 8.29. During the whole day I recorded fifteen species. 

The species and minimum number seen or heard during the day were:

Mallard                                 1
Black-headed Gull                2
Herring Gull                         7
Lesser Black-backed Gull    1
Feral Pigeon                         4
Woodpigeon                         5
Jackdaw                               1
Carrion Crow                       2
Swallow [Barn Swallow]    3
House Martin                       3
Blackbird                             2
Starling                                 4
Pied Wagtail                         3
Goldfinch                             2
House Sparrow                    1

Given that I didn’t have binoculars and my view was mostly of a hospital wing, a small courtyard, a distant view of a car park (with plenty of bushes) and some trees even further away, I was quite pleased with that. 

However, I thought the low numbers of Swallows and House Martins, and the complete absence of Swifts was a bit disappointing. It was a warm spring day and in days gone by I would have expected to see good numbers of these birds flying round, feeding on aerial insects, even in an urban area. The low numbers of these species could be because of various reasons or a combination of them, such as habitat loss in their African wintering grounds and/or their U.K. breeding grounds, expansion of the Sahara Desert, Spring hunting in the Mediterranean, absence of nesting sites on buildings in towns and cities, decreased numbers of aerial insects because of pesticides and/or lack of suitable breeding habitat for the insects. Some of these factors could well be linked to human-induced climate change. 

In an aside from birds, one interesting (but not very welcome) thing that happened during my count was that I managed to get sunburnt, from just standing in the window for an hour and twenty minutes. 
My chemotherapy makes me more susceptible to sunburn but I wasn’t expecting to need to use sunblock while I was in hospital!

Friday, 25 May 2018

Snapshot on the life of a Victorian inventor and auctioneer’s clerk

Hi all. I just read this and found it immensely entertaining and interesting so wanted to share it here so that more people get the chance to read it. 
It is a diary for the whole of the year 1888 by a chap called John Alcock, who lived in Cheadle, Staffordshire, UK, and was the Great-Grandfather of an old friend of mine, Rob Alcock, who himself grew up in Cheadle (although as you will see, John moved around a bit).
I recommend reading it from start to finish - I read it in two sessions of a couple of hours each, last night and this morning. It’s amazing how attached you can get to someone you never met, who was writing 130 years ago and who is writing about pretty everyday things.
The link I’ve copied in here is for the first diary entry, on the 2nd of Jan 1888. There are some blog posts before that but they are background information about the family leading up to 1888. I didn’t read them until after I’d read the whole diary. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Common Storksbill - weed or wildflower?

I snapped these pictures of a pretty little plant yesterday morning. It was growing out of the cracks between the paving-bricks (if that's the right term) on the path in front of the door of Holy Trinity church here in North Ormesby. I first spotted it growing there last year and when I pointed it out to a friend that I was with, she said "we call those weeds". I don't really like the word weed, and particularly when applied to a lovely little plant like this. I prefer to think of it as a wild-flower.

It is called Common Storksbill and the name comes from the shape of the fruits, which have long pointy beaks, supposedly like that of a stork (which doesn't deliver babies, by the way). It is quite a common plant of dry grasslands, and sandy ground, both inland and near the coast.

There are many different species of Storksbill, but Common Storksbill, as the name implies, is the commonest one in the UK. They share this shape of fruit with two other closely related groups of plants - the Cranesbills (the true Geraniums) and the plants that most people think of as Geraniums, which are actually Pelargoniums. They are all in the family Geraniaciae, but are in three separate genera (the plural of genus).

The scientific name for this species is Erodium cicutarium. The first bit - Erodium -  (the genus name) comes from the Greek word 'erodios' meaning a heron (bringing a third type of bird into the story of this family). The second bit - cicutarium -  (the species name), comes from an old Latin name for Hemlock (the poisonous herbaceous plant, not the North American tree), and it was given this name because the leaves are apparently similarly shaped, although they don't look that similar to me.

On a final note about names - in North America, where this plant was introduced from Europe in the 18th century, it is known as Redstem Filaree, although I haven't been able to find out the origin of the name Filaree.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Real First Post

Hello Everyone. I think I have ironed out most of the wrinkles with Blogger and got the blog looking almost like I want it, so I am going to start with a proper post, introducing myself and my blog.

My name is Colin Conroy. I am 48 years old, was born and brought up in Liverpool, and since then have lived in many places, including Aberystwyth, Manchester, Dorset, London, Lebanon (for most of four years), Canada, the West of Ireland, London again, and now Middlesbrough. For many of these years I lived in a variety of different types of Christian community. I may write more about these in future blogs

For most of that time I was a single man but in 2013 I met a beautiful lady called Sue, and in October 2014, when I was 45, we were married, at St George’s Church in Southall, West London.

On the 31st of July 2016 we moved to Middlesbrough, in the North-east of England and in May of 2017 we at last moved into our own house in the North Ormesby area of the town. Ever since we first started talking of moving here, we have realised that many people from other parts of the UK, and particularly London, have no idea where Middlesbrough is, except for a vague notion that it is somewhere (waves hand dismissively) ‘up there in the North’. With that in mind, I have included a map of England in this blog post, specially adapted to help you find Middlesbrough. It is in the very north of Yorkshire, but closer to Newcastle than to Leeds, York or Hull. Although outsiders often mistake the Middlesbrough accent for the Geordy (i.e. Newcastle) one, it is actually quite distinct and I often think it falls somewhere in the middle of a triangle of which the corners are occupied by Yorkshire, Geordy and (perhaps surprisingly) Liverpool accents. I might write more about this in a future blog-post.

One of the reasons I decided to write a blog was so that I could have somewhere to share my enthusiasm for the natural world and to tell people about the birds, flowers, insects and other wildlife that I see all around me, and I am sure that most of my posts will be on this theme. However, I think it will be a good place to share my musings on other things as well and so there will probably be a fair smattering of random thoughts and experiences in there as well.

If you like what you read, please feel free to follow my blog, and perhaps even tell other people about it. 

Bye for now

PS This is a picture of Sue and me on our wedding day

Monday, 21 May 2018

First Post

This is my very first attempt at a blog post. I am having difficulty getting Blogger to work as I want it to (and as it looks like it out to be able to), and I am just testing to see if things change once I add a post.