Category Archives: just for fun

For the Love of Owls

owls,. Little owlFirst you should know: I love owls. When I was at college, I lived for a time in a cottage opposite a field. We had a visiting Little Owl. I first encountered it when I came home at dusk to find Something sitting on the stone wall that surrounded our garden. I thought a child had dropped a stuffed toy and I reached to retrieve it. Until it OPENED ITS EYES.

It was a Little Owl. And they are really small, as you see. 1.5 bricks tall, max. But the message was direct, unmistakeable and compelling: DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.

I’ve been a huge fan of owls ever since.

A Holiday of Owls

Arctic Hare, photographed by Andrew Thompson

I’ve just returned from a trip to Finland, where they take their owls seriously. Travelling with my Companion, the Birdwatcher, on an amazingly rewarding trip organised by Bird Holidays I saw some spectacular creatures, including a truly magical Arctic Hare, scampering across a road and into a snow-dotted field..

But it was the owls that got me there in the first place and the very first bird I saw was…. well, let me set the scene.

Owls: Scene One

It is morning. Overcast, but not raining. Our local guide – whom I shall call Aragorn for the purposes of this blog, since he was certainly a Strider – stops our convoy of two people-carriers and helps us scramble over a ditch and into the forest. It is shadowed, but not dark. A bit like a cathedral, come to think of it.

We move softly, speaking in muted tones. Everyone except me is a proper accredited bird-watcher. I do my best to emulate them and not bump into the trees.

We stop. Everyone raises their binoculars. Intent on something.

So do I.  I can see… trees. Pine trees. Birch trees. Bushes. Not a single bird.

Behind me the Birdwatcher says, low, “Got it?”

Gulp. No.

First Owl Encounter

He gives me co-ordinates: middle tree, scar on the right of the trunk? I nod. OK, then up a bit, to the right a bit, see the big branch at 45 degrees, go up along that and…  I see a sort of deeper shadow half way up the tree. Tangled branches? Twigs? Leaves? But what’s that semi-circular something sticking up in the middle of it?

Great Grey Owl photographed by Andrew Thompson

And there she is. A great grey owl, on her nest.

Now I’ve got the binoculars on her I adjust the focus – and step back in shock. For she is BIG.

“Look at her in the scope,” says the kindly UK leader.  I do. And she is wonderful.

In the scope you lose all sense of size. Instead I have the strangest feeling that our eyes are actually meeting.

I study her face – for owls have real faces, unlike most birds. That circular visage, with its pale back-to-back commas emphasising the eyes, makes her look like a Trojan warrior, wearing an armoured nose guard. But she is SO not human.

The whorls of feathers are like rings in a tree which tell you how old it is. I keep wanting to call her plumage foliage. This feels like a very ancient creature.

And then the eyes! Calm but alert. Confident. Golden.

“She knows we’re here all right,” someone says, whispering. Out of respect? I think so, at least in part. I feel suddenly very humble. And privileged. Very, very privileged.

I remember what the gardener, who lived next door to  our Little Owl cottage, used to say. If you look into an owl’s eyes, you should bow to him. So I do. It feels the right thing to do.

Owl Fact One

One of the great pleasures of this holiday is our companions. They know so much, yet they are kind and encouraging – and an education. When I tell one of them about Gardener Bob’s instruction to bow to an owl, she nods approvingly. “A photographer lost an eye to an owl, didn’t he?” says someone. “Yes. The great Eric Hosking,” she replies.

Barn owl taken with a flash bulb 1936. Eyke Suffolk by Eric Hosking

Great indeed. The man photographed birds in black and white from the twenties onwards, carving out a career in a genre he virtually invented. The results are spectacular, as this glorious gallery demonstrates.

There is now a charity in his name which offers bursaries to support natural history and ornithological research through the medium of photography and allied arts.

Anthropmorphising Owls

Watching owls is special for so many reasons. But I think a great element in the wonder of it is that they come one at a time. They don’t flock, like crows or goldfinches. They’re dignified solitaries. Or murderous, like the Little Owl. Or permanently irritated Professor Brainstawms.

Of course, it’s not an individual reaction – their facial “expression” is in the DNA. But sometimes they cheer me up just to look at them and imagine what they’re thinking.

Tengmalm’s Owl by Andrew Thompson

Like this delightful Tengmalm’s owl surprised by visitors – at a proper distance, of course, under Aragorn’s meticulous direction. But their hearing is acute and, when we tiptoed up, she heard us.

And doesn’t she just look like a woman who’s come down two flights of stairs to answer the door to Jehovah’s Witnesses? Bless her!

Owl Fact Two

Owls will always hear us coming, though we approach softly as foot can fall. It’s because of those not human faces, I’m told.

“They’re like a great radar dish,” a birdwatcher explained. “They pick up the noise that voles make underground.”

And then go into that inhuman rotation of the head – some can turn as much as 270 degrees! – so they can lock onto their prey.

 

Owl Encounters

The pleasure of an owl encounter is that it is unpredictable. They might be there. Or not. They might come, especially if Aragorn is playing their call. Or not. They might sit in a tree half a mile away and sneer at you. Or soar away the moment they detect your presence. Or worse.

Hawk Owl photograph by Andrew Thompson

On one day Aragorn took us up a hillside path to where he thought, if I recall correctly, a hawk owl might be seen. He told us to wait for him. “I will go first. They can be aggressive.” And he strode off into the trees, a heroic advance party of one.

Eventually my Companion Birdwatcher said thoughtfully, “It would be ironic if those turned out to be his last words.” The others nodded.

I had the feeling that they all thought it wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

Aragorn survived – but the owls were not in the giving vein that morning.

Hawk Owl

We had several goes at finding a hawk owl and, in the end, one found us. It was waiting for us when we came out of a forest lodge after a candlelit lunch.

And it is extraordinary. There’s the long tail, the glorious plumage as if someone has tipped petals of may blossom over it, and then there’s it false face.

Yes, truly, a false face on the back of its head. And it’s a pretty damn creepy one, too, like an Etruscan helmet with eye slits that you can’t see into. It made me recoil, when I saw it in the scope. So I think it must give even a flying enemy a pretty clear warning.

But what I remember is the owl itself, silhouetted against a winter-white sky, watching us watch it through our binoculars and scopes and the naked eye.

And I felt how difficult it is to understand another species. This must be what it will be like when the human species meets its first extra terrestrial.

Ready to write that Dr Who episode now, then!
Sophie Weston Author

Sophie       

with huge thanks to Andrew Thompson for permission to use his lovely photographs of our Finnish trip. Dear Reader, please credit him, if you wish to use any of them yourself.

Also much appreciation to bird holidays.co.uk for a wonderful trip and especially to Andy and Aragorn for allowing me scope time to digest the amazing sights. There were far more birds than this – and I haven’t covered even half the owls we saw. It was magic. Thank you! 

Spring colours : yellow and blue?

Spring colours : daffodils in flower among trees

Spring colours — and all aspects of spring, as we said a few weeks ago — gladden the heart. But have you ever noticed that Spring flowers are mostly yellow and blue? Think daffodils, like those above, grape hyacinths, a drift of bluebells…

mist of bluebells among trees

Spring colours: is white included?

Continue reading

Easter : Just Chocolate and Fluffy Bunnies?

Easter bunnies and eggs

Image by annca from Pixabay

If we believe the torrent of adverts, Easter is just a foodie challenge, mostly directed at children (and their parents).

How much chocolate can you eat and in how many different shapes and sizes?

Monster chocolate rabbit anyone?

Easter Eggs

Straw-decorated Easter eggs, image by Jan KameníčekEaster traditions vary across the world, though a lot of them feature Easter eggs, like these beautifully straw-decorated eggs from the Czech Republic. Like jewels, aren’t they?

Not surprising that eggs feature, perhaps. Not only do eggs symbolise new life and rebirth, they were a forbidden food during Lent. There probably wouldn’t have been many about, early in the year. The old stock of eggs would have been gobbled up on Shrove Tuesday, in yummy pancakes.

Fabergé Coronation Egg by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia CommonsThink of those amazing Fabergé eggs, given as gifts to the women of the Romanov family after a Russian Orthodox Easter service. Of course, Easter would usually have been later there than in non-Orthodox countries — most years, the Orthodox Easter is later than the Western Christian Easter. In 2019, the dates differ by a week. But in 2025, the dates will be 31 March and 5 May. (Children in places like Cyprus may get Easter eggs twice over, if they have friends from both communities.
Good, eh?)

Here, in the Libertà hive, we’ve been doing a little research about Easter traditions. Hive members chose their own area to pursue. (And they do not have to come clean about their level of chocolate consumption, either…) Continue reading

A Moving Post (if you’ll excuse the pun) : Liz and Sarah tell all

Moving is never easy

moving day boxesLiz: Moving is a two-way problem. Either you’re upsizing, in which case you don’t have enough furniture, or downsizing, in which case you have too much of everything.

moving van awaits

My Old Man said Follow the Van…

 

 

 

Sarah: To make things worse, I moved twice within twelve months (I know, madness, but we had A Plan… more of that later).

moving boxes ready to load

Liz: Aargh! I have just downsized from a five bedroom, four reception house to a two bedroom flat. I had too much of everything and what I’d have liked to have kept was mostly the wrong size. Where on earth do you start!

moving preparationsSarah: I know exactly what you mean!  We had a dream of moving to the west coast of Scotland but we had no property in mind when we moved out of our old house, so no idea what we would need to keep. All I knew was that we would not need much Continue reading

On the Beautiful Blue … Nile? Temples, Gods…and Balloons

Listening to the New Year concert from Vienna, and in particular to the lilting Strauss waltz, On the Beautiful Blue Danube, I was struck by a subversive thought: the Danube isn’t BLUE.
Danube at Budapest and text: on the Beautiful Blue Danube?

(The image above isn’t Vienna either, it’s Budapest. But that greeny/brown river is the Danube.)

And I was reminded of a trip on a river that is actually blue and which has inspired many stories over the centuries. This was my subconscious providing the inspiration. Again.

On the Beautiful BLUE … Nile?

Continue reading

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night party by PhizI am posting this on Twelfth Night. Well, at least, what my family have always called Twelfth Night. That’s the 6th January. It is a family birthday in our house, so it kind of sticks in the memory.

Only — maybe Twelfth Night is 5th January. The Anglican Church think that’s the right date.

SO WHEN is Twelfth Night?

Continue reading

Broken Resolutions : the Libertà Hive Comes Clean

new year fireworks happy new year from libertà message

New Year’s Resolutions. Broken Resolutions?

New Year resolutions about to become broken resolutions?How many of us have resolved to become a better, slimmer, fitter, kinder person in the year to come? And how many of us have broken our resolutions and admitted defeat before a month — possibly a week — is out?

If you haven’t, dear reader, you’re a very special kind of person and a cut above the rest of us 😉

girl in despair as result of broken resolutionsHere in the hive we’re fully prepared to admit our failings.

So our resolution for this year — coming a little early in our Sunday blog, because 1st January occurs on a Tuesday — is to come clean about (at least some of) the broken resolutions from our past.

Asked to confess at least one broken resolution of previous years, this is what the hive members said. Feel free to gloat… Continue reading

Rosie M Banks Interview

Rosie M Banks, mysteryRosie M Banks is a mysterious figure. In theory she is a writer of fiction (romantic) created by another writer of fiction (humorous). She is not even a major character in any of his novels. But she inhabits PGW’s world as solidly as Bertie or Lord Emsworth, albeit at considerably further distance from the reader.

Last week, I looked at her first appearance along with many other romantic novelists who figure in Wodehouse World. Though she stands head and shoulders above the others.

This week, as a Christmas treat – mainly for myself, I admit – I thought I would ask this towering figure of our genre to speak for herself.

Hello from Rosie M Banks

Rosie M Banks romanticRMB  How very kind of you, Sophie. Libertà Books is one of my favourite websites. I’m very honoured to be asked.

SW [you get the feeling she has been interviewed many times before. Many, many times] Our pleasure, Ms Banks. First question, if I may: did you always want to be a romantic novelist? Continue reading

Mnemonics: spelling and those dreaded lists

exclamation mark in fire; just right for mnemonicsMnemonics for spelling

Mnemonics, as a word, is no advert for English spelling. And English spelling most certainly needs help. What’s the point of that silent M at the start? (Blame the Greeks. Their spelling isn’t easy either.)

English spelling (and pronunciation) may well be the world’s worst. How many students, trying to learn English as a foreign language, have been flummoxed by:
through, thorough, cough, enough, hiccough, sough, dough?

I often have problems with words where changing the spelling changes the meaning: practise/practice and the like. The spellchecker is no help to me with that, of course.

My regular bugbear is affect/effect. I have to stop to work out which is correct when I’m writing.
The Oxford Dictionary tells me that affect and effect are quite different in meaning, though frequently confused. (A statement of the bleedin’ obvious?) Continue reading

Odd titles wanted: for books written and unwritten

old books waiting for odd titlesAuthors often agonise over titles for their books. Not just odd titles — any title. And finding the right title may be the very last thing an author does. Sometimes, authors never find their title at all; their publisher supplies one instead. (And the angst that process can create could be a subject for several blogs, on its own.)

Odd Titles Competition

Rackham_town_mouse_and_country_mouse

Mice — but not nude at all, in this Rackham illustration

There is actually a competition for odd book titles. It’s called the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for the Oddest Title of the Year. It was started by The Bookseller to provide entertainment at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1978 but has since grown quite a lot. The very first winner was:

  • Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice

The most recent winner was by Michaela Giles and rejoiced in the title of:

  • The Commuter Pig Keeper: A Comprehensive Guide to Keeping Pigs when Time is your Most Precious Commodity 

Continue reading