Saturday, December 15, 2012

Greetings from the Marches!

Yes, friends, we're still in the depths of deepest, darkest Shropshire.  It's amazing how many of you still don't know where that is, so I'm going to be a good Geographer and give you a map!

View Shropshire in a larger map

We know some of you don't know where it is because those same people haven't been to visit us yet!!!!!

The rest of this post is going to be our normal solstitial letter, where we brag about our doings over the past year and boast of our achievements.  Actually, not quite!  It has been a normal year, with normal ups and downs and just a few high and low points.

Low points include the wettest drought on record - we started with very low water reserves and ended up with water pouring down our valley, though fortunately not into our garden or our house.  It seems to have been cold, damp and grey for most of the year, though I do remember some nice weather in the spring .  Looking at our gardening blog, however, I find that there are some photos taken on sunny days, so there must have been some good weather at some time - it's just hard to remember.  Why don't you take a look for yourselves?

The lowest point came last month when I found out how sick my aunt Susie really was.  I didn't get there in time to see her before she passed away, but I did spend a week with her twin sister, Louise, and re-established contact with some of my far-flung cousins.  Why does it take a sad occasion to bring people together?

Here's a picture taken when the twins came to visit us in 2007 - Louise is on the left and Susie is between Louise and me.  I wish it were easier for me to use the phone and communicate with Louisa - she's the only one of her siblings left.  The twins were my mother's youngest sisters.

As usual, most of the high points have been travel or visitor related.  We've had several trips on the narrowboat and we've done a bit of birding.  I'll let John tell you about our New Year's adventure in Scotland and his trip to Bulgaria.  You can find out about our narrowboat adventures on Longsdon's blog.  At the end of a two week trip into Cheshire (never more than 40 miles from home!) I took off on Eurostar to meet my friend Anne in Paris.  We had a lovely weekend, laughing, exploring, laughing, eating, laughing, drinking, laughing, talking, laughing ..... you get the idea!
Visitors brought great pleasure during the year - it's always good to see friends, catch up with their lives and show them around our lovely and interesting part of the world.  Sometimes we even leave our little valley and venture forth to meet them in other parts of the country, as we did with the Herberts in January when we all met up in London for some sight seeing and theatre going!
But the biggest high of the year was our annual Church Stretton Arts Festival followed by a trip to Dublin. After another year of hard work, we were rewarded by two weeks of great music, dramatic performances and an art exhibition to rival any in the county.  Highlight photos of the festival, taken by John, can be found in the photos section of the Arts Festival web site.  

Then it was off to Dublin.  This was a proud moment as John received the Luke Howard Award from his former student Gerald Mills.  I'll let him tell you more about it.
Well, I'm off to bed now.  John will pick up tomorrow and tell you how his year went.

I wish you all the very best for the holiday season and 2013.

Nighty night!  ...Joan.
Hello - John here!  It now falls to me to spill the beans on a few other things we have been up to this year.
In January we spent a week over New Year near Nethybridge (which is itself near Aviemore) in the Scottish Highlands.  The excuse was birding (lots of highland specialities like Black Grouse and Crested Tit) but we met some interesting people, ate some wonderful food, celebrated Hogmanay (although I did not give full rein to my Mackintosh ancestral proclivities) and (I) sampled some delectable single malts.  The weather was, however, appalling (cold, windy, snowy) but what else would one expect in the Highlands in January?  Our guides seemed to specialise in finding the coldest, windiest place to have lunch and our trip home was complicated by fallen trees on the railway track that made life interesting.

In late April-early May, seeking birds again drew me to far places - in this case Bulgaria for 10 days.  Joan did not accompany me this time.  The party was a group of people associated with bird clubs from southern Shropshire.  We flew to Burgas on the Black Sea (on a cheap flight with a lot of very noisy people intending to spend the next few days on the beach) and spent time looking at the coastal marshes.  We then headed south-west to the small town of Mahzharavo in the eastern Rhodope Mountains and explored that area to the Turkish and Greek borders.  Hawks, eagles, vultures and other raptors were very prominent here.  After this, we moved further west to Pamporovo, a ski resort in winter but surrounded by magnificent coniferous forest - a new habitat that provided yet more new birds!  We then headed north and returned to Burgas along the central valley to Burgas, birding on the way, for a bit more coastal habitat before flying back.  It was a great trip in all respects.  Bulgaria is very interesting, the people friendly and it is so cheap!

As Joan said above, we took our first trip to Ireland in August, to attend the International Conference on Urban Climate in Dublin.  My proudest moment was receiving the Luke Howard Award from my former student Gerald Mills (who is currently President of the International Association for Urban Climate).  Luke Howard (1772 – 1864) was the first person to make a study of the distinctive climates of built-up places.  He also created the familiar classification of clouds (cirrus, cumulus etc).  If you want to know why I was given the award, look at this issue of the IAUC Newsletter.  (There is a bit on the first page but the main citation is on page 47.)  After the conference, we stayed on in Dublin and briefly visited the south-east of Ireland.  I am sure we will be back in the near future.

Other than these trips, most of my time is spent doing ornithological "citizen science".  I am "Ambassador" for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden BirdWatch programme in Shropshire and do lots of talks to various organisations on garden birds and making their gardens better places for birdlife.  I also write a regular article ("Birdlife in your Garden") in the local Stretton Focus magazine.  If you want to see any of these, go to the magazine archive website and browse through any magazine from December 2010 onwards.  In addition to this, I remain as data manager for Shropshire and co-ordinator for the south-central part of the county in the BTO bird atlas project.  The national atlas survey is now over but the county effort is continuing until next summer mapping birdlife in Shropshire at a 2 km square level of resolution, as a basis for conservation work.  Finally, I have just become involved in the Community Wildlife Group effort in south Shropshire.  CWGs are composed of regular folk who do surveys of local wildlife (again, with an eye to conservation and protection), under the guidance of professionals and experts.  Surveys vary with area but the Strettons area group last year focused on Red Grouse counts on the Long Mynd, butterfly surveys and hedgerow and road verge studies. Want more?  Try this.  Not "citizen science" but definitely birdy, I also co-teach a bird-watching course for the Shropshire Ornithological Society and National Trust.

I think that is enough self-promotion for this year.

Have a great festive season, whatever "fest" you celebrate.  Take care and keep in touch.