Saturday, 26 January 2019

New windscreen for the Col'n'Suemobile

On New Year's Eve while we were driving down to my brother's house in Essex our windscreen (that's windshield for my north American readers 😊) was hit by a stone and chipped. I didn't get round to phoning the insurance company about it till yesterday and I was told that because of the size and location of the chip (bigger than a 5p piece and in the middle of the windscreen on the driver's side) it could not be repaired and the glass had to be replaced as soon as possible.

So this afternoon a nice man from Autoglass came and replaced the windscreen and the wipers too (it is recommended that you get new wipers when you replace the glass so I opted for that as they were going to need replacing soon anyway).

I figured that I might not be the only one who found the whole process interesting, having never seen a windscreen being replaced before (I'd seen one being repaired when the chip was smaller than this one), so here are some photos I took, with the rest of the story being told in the captions.

Many thanks to the nice man for doing a great job and for letting me take photos and write about the whole process.
Before - the little white mark you can see just above the steering wheel is NOT the chip -
it's about 8 inches to the right of that and is not visible in this picture
This is the best picture I could get of the chip - it was bigger than a penny and smaller than a 10p piece
The nice man's van - the thing on the top is a canopy that can be used if it's raining

The first stage is to put in seat protectors - presumably that's in case the glass shatters while it's being taken out 
This is what I am calling the 'glue-cutter' - I'm not sure what the proper name for it is. The string goes around the outside of the windscreen (I didn't see how he got it through from the inside to the outside) and then the nice man attached a handle to this apparatus and wound it in. The string cuts through the old glue as it is wound in
This is the string being pulled through the gap that the nice man must have made (but I didn't see it)
The 'glue-cutter' in action - the last bit was a bit tricky and took a bit of effort. After getting the glass off he told me that he could tell that it had been replaced at least once before (before we owned the car) - this may have been why he had some difficulty getting it off
This is what a car looks like with no windscreen 
After the glass was taken out, he used a sort of chisel to get all the old glue out and then he applied a layer of primer to the glass and one to the car (this photo) and then a layer of glue to the glass (which is basically the thick rubber seal you can see on any car) 
The new glass waiting to be installed (but before the glue was applied)
The last stage - this is the new glass being held in placed by two sort of sucker things - again I don't know what the correct name is so 'sucker things' will have to do.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

South Gare in winter - birds that look a bit like sparrows but aren't

On Friday I went to South Gare for the first time in what seems like ages. At first I didn't see very much, apart from the ever present gulls, although there had been reports of a few interesting birds there over the past few weeks. 
After walking around the salt marsh near the end of the Gare, and tottering around on the rocks, I was standing at the edge of the beach when I realised that just a few metres from me there was a small flock of Snow Buntings (Plectrophanax nivalis), feeding among the Marram Grass and scattered stones. I followed them for ten minutes or so as the worked their way along the breakwater, and managed to get a lot of quite good photos. 

In the summer (the breeding season) the males of this sparrow-sized species are very neat black and white birds with black bills. The females are duller and browner but still with a lot of white in the plumage. In the winter they both become browner, with yellowy-orange patches, and the bills turn yellow. Although about 60 pairs of Snow Buntings breed in the UK (at the tops of mountains in Scotland), most people here only see them in autumn and winter, when about 10-15,000 birds  come into the country. They can mostly be found at the coast. The flock I saw (about 20-30 birds) has been in the same rough location for at least the last three weeks. 

After leaving the Snow Buntings to get on with their feeding (small birds at this time of year have to feed pretty much constantly during daylight hours to stay alive), I managed to get some good views, and a few photos, of two other sparrow-like birds, one very common one, and one scarcer (although on this occasion more numerous) species.

The common one is the Linnet (Carduelis cannabina), which breeds all over the country and can be found in quite big flocks in the winter. They are closely related to Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) although very different-looking. Male Linnets have bright pink chests during the breeding season but lose the colour in the winter, when they look very like the streaky brown female, although with a grey head. I saw only a few Linnets on this trip - probably no more than ten, although it is hard to estimate numbers precisely when they are flying around in a flock with a very similar looking species, as these were.

The other bird, normally much scarcer, is the Twite (Carduelis flavirostris). About 10,000 pairs breed in the UK, mostly in northern and western Scotland, and north-west Ireland, with some also breeding in Snowdonia (North Wales) and in the Pennines in England. As with the Snow Bunting, numbers are boosted in winter with birds coming into the British Isles from more northerly climes. An estimated 100-150,000 birds spend the winter here, again mostly very near to the sea. They are small streaky brown finches very like a female Linnet but with a yellow bill and an unstressed buff-coloured throat. Males have a pink rump, although this can be hard to see. The name comes from the thin drawn out flight call, which sounds a bit like the word 'twite'. I reckoned that there were at least 40 Twite flying around the end of the Gare, although there might have been many more.

Snow Buntings can be very hard to see as they are well camouflaged against the rocks and sand,
and they often feed very quietly and inconspicuously
When they do fly, the white on the wing can be very obvious
A lovely view like this takes a certain amount of patience. I was extremely pleased  with this shot

Linnets are surprisingly pretty birds, even in winter, when seen close up.
This is a male, with his grey head
The Twite is a very flighty bird, as is the closely related Linnet, and so I was very happy to
get even this poor quality shot of three birds. 
In this zoomed-in version of the previous picture, showing the left-hand bird of the three, the unstreaked, pinky-buff
throat, the yellow bill, and the pink rump (which show that this is a male) can be seen. Both Twite and Linnet have
some white in the wings, which can also be seen here

Thursday, 10 January 2019

A winter's day in Doggy

I had a little walk around my local area today, and rather than writing down notes, I used the voice-memo function on my phone to record myself doing a running commentary as I walked along.

This is a (very slightly edited) transcript of that recording.

Thursday, around 2pm:

I’ve come out of the library in North Ormesby ('Doggy' to its friends) and I hear the sound of Starlings and House Sparrows chattering. It’s really quite loud, and as I go onto Esk Street I see in the hedgerow a good twenty or thirty House Sparrows and a similar number of Starlings. They’re making a right racket. A bit further down two Blackbirds hop out of the hedge onto the pavement and I can hear another one flying behind me and making that rattling, scolding call that they do.
Overhead is a flock of Starlings and there’s a seagull… it looks like a Herring Gull I think. And there’s another Herring Gull, flying over the houses on Maria Street. As I walk a bit further down Esk Street a Pied Wagtail flies up off the road - I didn’t even see it there until it flew. I hear it doing its ‘chizzik, chizzik’  flight-call (leading some people to call them “Chiswick Fly-overs”).
A couple of Carrion Crows up in a Sycamore tree are joined by another Blackbird.

The new play area on Esk Street is looking quite nice now. The grass is all grown. The new evergreen shrubs in the flowerbeds with all the bark chipping underneath them… they’re looking quite well maintained, and there’s cherry blossom just coming out. Oh, and there’s a Long-tailed Tit, flying along the little line of young trees that have been planted, to the lovely little blossom tree. Now I can hear the ‘drr drr drr’ of a small flock of Long-tailed Tits. There’s one, two, three... four, five, six, seven… eight. Tiny little pink, white and black birds like a fuzzy ping-pong ball with a long tail. And they’ve gone into the honeysuckle, erm, hedge I suppose you’d call it, next to the basketball court. Just behind them is where all the fairground equipment is stored. It looks like just a big storage yard but there’s still life there.
In the playground, amongst all the grass there’s Red Deadnettle, Groundsel, Field Speedwell, Chickweed, Spear Thistle, what looks like a Dock (maybe Broad-leafed Dock),  Sow-thistle. The grass is growing through the plastic netting they’ve put down to protect it - it’s looking okay. It’s still winter and once it gets a bit warmer I’m sure it’ll grow well and you won’t be able to see the netting.
One of the young trees has been broken off by vandals but there are some shoots growing from the bottom, so that’ll still survive.

Walking down the footpath from Esk Street, down towards James Street … it’s actually nicer than I remember. There’s a bit of litter and a bit of dog poo, but it’s more open, less enclosed than I remember it being. Going past the school on one side and the yard with the fairground equipment on the other. A couple of guys are welding some of the equipment together - doing repairs I think, getting ready for the spring and summer season.
I can hear more House Sparrows in the hedge now, and there’s a couple of Woodpigeons just flown away. And the catkins in a small Alder tree. There are two different kinds of catkins … male ones hanging down - yellow with pollen - and the little female cones that look a bit like tiny pine cones.
A little bird hops across the path. What is it? Oh, I can see - it’s a Dunnock. Its greyish head and brown streaky body. Like a Robin but without the red breast and with more grey on the head. My mother (and everyone of her generation) used to call them Hedge Sparrows, but they're not closely related to our other sparrows.

And round onto James Street. Up in the tree - what are those things up there… like round balls. As I get closer I can see they are Woodpigeons.
I like the way they’ve used old tyres, in the school playground, and also in the Esk Street playground - they’ve half buried them, so that the top bit’s sticking out and they make, like a kind of mini obstacle course I suppose.
There are a couple of Goldfinches up there in a tree on James Street - just chattering away, making buzzy calls with little twittery notes.

Walking further down James Street to Harrison Street - there are two big planters with nothing in them, apart from wood chips, covering the soil. They’re a good three metres by seven metres, with car parking spaces in between them. Something could be done with that I think.

Coming round towards the church and the Market Square, I can hear more Starlings up on the church tower. They seem to like the high vantage point. 
These trees in front of the church had a flock of 60-odd Waxwings in a couple of years ago… no sign of any this year, although there were a few over in Sainsbury’s car park in Middlesbrough a couple of weeks ago. They're pretty birds, like a pink Starling, with  funny hairdo and waxy red and yellow tips to the wings. They come down from Scandinavia in winter to feed on our berries. They seem to like the trees that they plant in supermarket car parks and housing estates.
There’s a lone Black-headed Gull on top of a street light at the end of Kings Road on James Street. He’s not got his (or maybe her) black head, because he’s in winter plumage.

After walking down the first bit of Kings Road I turn right, and then left onto Kreuger Alley (I wonder where Kreuger Alley gets its name from). There’s lots of Pyracantha - Firethorn - here, with its little orange and red berries. That should be good for birds to feed on.
Going further down Kreuger Alley there’s a big open area where it looks like maybe a couple of houses were knocked down - it’s all sort of waste ground… sometimes cars park on it. Looking through onto Westbourne Grove, there’s a whole lot of Buddleia in there which is providing cover for some birds that I can see. What’s that? Oh, it’s another Blackbird. Its just flown out onto a garage roof.
And there’s a Feral Pigeon strutting around in the site of another former house - it’s drinking out of a puddle. It’s lifting its head after every mouthful - which is interesting because I read that pigeons are among the few birds that can suck water up without having to lift their heads to let the water roll down their throat… this one’s definitely lifting its head though. I can hear the sound of the pigeons wings as they flap away.
I didn’t realise this alleyway had a name until today, but this is still Kreuger Alley. Coming up to the end of the alley, to where it comes out onto Kings Road, there’s the back yard of a house with a high wall and lots of broken glass stuck on the top of it - just next to that there’s a whole lot Clematis growing over the top of the wall. It’s been cut back a bit but it looks like it might be quite nice when it’s flowering.

Getting back to my house - I can see that I really need to tidy up the front yard. There’s a whole lot of litter that’s been blown into the corner underneath the plants. And lots of grass growing out from amongst the slabs. You might think grass is just grass, but a lot of this is a plant called Water-bent (a funny name for something that grows out of dry paths and pavement edges). It’s not native to this country but has colonised cracks in paving stones, starting off in London and working its way around the country… so it’s definitely made it up as far as Middlesbrough. 

And now I'm home and it's time for a cup of tea!"