Posts Tagged ‘curlew’

My new book and Scottish Nature Photography Awards

February 21, 2020

The delay in posting this has been caused by the very enthusiastic response I have had following the publication of my new book Dunbar in the 1950s (cover below). The book is the result of my research over the last five years into aspects of Dunbar – my home town – in the 1950s. The book’s contents are:

Chapter 1 – The whales at Thorntonloch in 1950 revisited; Chapter 2 – Rationing; Chapter 3 – Housing; and Chapter 4 – Entertainment Chapter 5 – The Store: The Co-operative shops in Dunbar; Chapter 6 – Lipton’s shop; Chapter 7 – George Low & Son: The shop, the businesses and the auctions; Chapter 8 – MJ and B Williamson’s shop; Chapter 9 – AT Smith’s shop; Chapter 10 – Louis Allen’s shop; Chapter 11 – Knox the Newsagent’s shop; Chapter 12 – Carruthers’ shop and restaurant/cafe; Chapter 13 – Conclusion.

This is an oral and social history of some aspects of life in Dunbar in the 1950s. Although the book focuses on one town, most of the book could relate to any small town in the UK in the 1950s and some chapters, such as Rationing, Housing and shops such as The Co-operative or Lipton’s would also be relevant to major cities at the this time. The chapters were chosen according to whether I had access to people to interview and, in the shops’ chapters, could provide me with contemporary photographs. Oral history allows the authentic voices of people from different social strata to be recorded. I am hoping to set up a Dunbar Oral History Archive (DOHA) later this year. Social history allows people who would not normally appear in history books to have their voices heard, particularly working class people. This book features the memories of both working class and middle class people.

My new local history book (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

Many of the photos given to me by my interviewees are quite unique. In the photo below, Jimmy Combe, who has lived all his life in Dunbar, is seen here not long after he joined the Cooperative – known locally as The Store – returning from delivering messages (Scots for shopping) to houses in the West end of Dunbar. The photo was taken by street photographers Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor who later became famous folk artists. You can see the bike – known as a message bike – in the photo, with East Lothian Co-operative and possibly Dunbar underneath. Jimmy was 14 when joined the Co-operative in 1947 and worked his way up to become a qualified grocer and later store manager.

Jimmy Combe – message boy

The latest exhibition at Waterson House in Aberlady is focused on African Wildlife but I am featuring the previous (still touring) exhibition of the Scottish Nature Photography Awards. As you might expect, there is a very high quality of photographs on display. I was sent the first and second winners by a member of SOC staff and they are presented here with permission. We all have our different opinions about what might or might not win such competitions and in this case, my own vote would have gone to the second prize winner. The magnificent photo below shows a curlew – my favourite bird – with its impressive sounding scientific name numenius arquata, in its full splendour. I have noted before on the blog that I see curlews regularly through my scope on the rocks in front of our house. Only two days ago, I was watching a curlew doing exactly what the photo shows. The bird bends its head to the side and inserts it fully underneath a rock. It only does this for a short time, as it raises its head again to check for danger. On perhaps the third probe, the curlew straightens up with a crab in its beak. At first, I thought that the crab might be too big for this long-beaked hunter, but the curlew nonchalantly tossed the crab into the air, opened its beak fully and devoured the unfortunate crab, which was in the wrong place at the wrong time on this rocky Dunbar shoreline.

This is a very graceful bird, with its flowing feathers, sharp eye and even sharper, penetrative beak. I like the way the photographer has captured the light on the bird, highlighting the patterns on its back, white breast and legs. An enviable talent took this shot.

Eurasian Curlew with Shore Crab by Toby Houlton

The winning photograph is shown below. When you enlarge the photo, you see what I imagine many people might think to be an even more graceful animal. There is no doubt that this is a beautiful shot and possibly unique, as it captures the young roe deer (good photos) with the flowers in its mouth. I like the way the photograph frames the roe kid between the grasses. Your eye is immediately drawn to the deer itself, with the blurry grasses acting as props. The roe kid looks as alert to danger as the curlew always does. So, roe kid or curlew – who would you vote for as winner? If can see this exhibition on its tour, then do take the opportunity to see it, as you will be very well rewarded.

Roe Kid Flowers by Phil Johnston

John Hatton linocuts at SOC and Valencia architecture

November 13, 2019

The current exhibition at Waterstone House in Aberlady, the home of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, includes a series of stunning linocuts by the wildlife artist John Hatton. Other artists showing their work are Max Angus, Paul Bartlett and John Foker, but I was most attracted to John Hatton’s work, and he kindly gave me permission to download some art from his website. Original linocuts and some of his greetings cards can be bought at Waterston House for another week.

The first work to stand out for me is this beautiful portrayal of eider ducks in the photo below. Through my scope from the back of my house, I often see groups of eiders near the rocks and if the tide is in, I can get a superb view of the male birds’ necks. Eider have the intriguing scientific name of Somateria mollissima and you can often hear their chortling calls when they gather in groups in Dunbar Harbour (good photos). If you click on the audio here and if you are of a certain age, the ducks’ calls may remind you of Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men.

What the artist captures here best is the delicate green on the neck of the male birds, as well as their black and white plumage, which contrasts with the dull brown of the female birds. There are impressive shapes in this portrait – of the rocks, the water and the birds themselves. Hatton also captures the birds’ calm as they glide along, making circles in the water. This is not a completely naturalistic depiction of the eider ducks but is in some ways more effective than a close-up photo might be. The artist’s keen eye for detail and mature ability to contrast colours and shapes stand out here.

Eider ducks by John Hatton (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

The second example from the exhibition shows a curlew in the photo below. Curlews (Numenius arquata) are also frequent visitors to the rocks lining the shoreline at the east end of Dunbar where I live. Through my scope, I can watch a curlew bend its neck and put its powerful beak under a rock or stone, and sometimes it will emerge with a small crab. The bird will toss the unfortunate crab in the air, open its beak, and swallow its prey whole. The curlew has a very recognisable call (click on audio) which rings around the shoreline.

In this linocut, the artist has managed to show the curlew’s beautiful stature and its elegance, in the form of its extended beak and delicate feathers. The detail shown in the curlew’s plumage is stunning and your eye is drawn down the bird’s back and front. I like the contrasting colours between the black and white of the front of the bird and the light tan over black on its back. John Hatton manages to show the flow of the bird’s shape and you can imagine it walking through flowers in a field in the countryside during the nesting season, when the birds disappear from the shore. There are many more works by this artist in the exhibition, which is very well worth visiting.

Curlew

Early last month, I went with my pal Roger to Valencia, on our annual venture to see a city and its football team. Valencia (good photos) is a stunning city and it’s clear why so many tourists choose to visit. It is one of these cities that you can easily walk around the central area. There are also long stretches of pristine beach which are a mere 15 minutes away on the bus. We staying in an apartment not far from the impressive Plaza del Virgen (good photos) which contains the magnificent cathedral and basilica. the first photo below is of the very attractive fountain which sits at the edge of the square. The fountain – La Fuente del Turia – represents the river Turia and has Neptune lying in the river. The second photo is of the famous basilica, one of the most visited sites in the city. It has a very attractive pink exterior and an impressive dome, which has a famous ceiling (good photo) inside. It is cavernous inside and built to impress.

Turia Fountain in Valencia
Pink basilica in Valencia

Further down from this square, you come to the beautiful Placa del Ayuntamiento with its mixture of traditional and modern architecture. This square houses the magnificent town hall and the central post office as well as having another impressive fountain in the middle. I took a video of the square.

Everywhere you go in Valencia, you see the emblem of the city (good photos), which is a bat on the king’s head. In the photo below – of one of the original gates to the city, you can see the bat clearly at the top. The bat was supposed to have landed on a king’s head when he reconquered the city from invaders.

Finally, a building to appreciate and bring a smile to your face. In the photo below, you can see this finely decorated building, where the owners of the first floor apartment have revealed the main window and balcony – a clever and artistic touch.

Lucy Newton exhibition and back to Wagga Wagga

January 8, 2019

We recently visited Lucy Newton‘s superb exhibition of wildlife paintings at Waterston House, Aberlady. The exhibition runs until 16 January and it really is worth a visit. I last reviewed Lucy Newton’s work on the blog in 2017 and I did wonder if this new exhibition could be a as good as the previous one. The new exhibition is not just as good but better than the previous one, with the artist’s intelligence, skills and brilliant technique on show to even greater effect. Lucy Newton kindly sent me examples of her work.

The first portrait below is an exquisite depiction of a curlew – my favourite bird – which I regularly watch through my scope on the rocks near our house. The actual painting is much more effective in terms of the quality of the bird’s features and background, but I do like the way the artist has portrayed the elegance of the curlew with its long beak, strong upright stance and delicate colours in its plumage. There is a slight haughtiness but not arrogance in the curlew – it knows that it is bigger than other birds and can delve further under the rocks than the others also. I recently watched a curlew twist its head and push its beak under a rock. The beak emerged with a good sized crab wriggling in it. The curlew nonchalantly tossed the crab in the air, opened its beak and swallowed the crab whole.

Curlew by Lucy Newton (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The second painting below is of a grey wagtail and again, this reproduction of the work does not do it full justice. The colours of the wagtail immediately catch your eye, the delicate greys and the striking yellow contrasting very well with the more Impressionist depiction of the rocks behind. The detail in the bird’s feathers is very impressive and Lucy Newton captures the tense awareness of the bird – ever alert to what might be happening in its environment. The artist catches the softer elements of the wagtail’s plumage, but also the sharp lines of its beak, legs and tail to very good effect. I looked at this painting for quite a while, forever noticing some new detail.

Grey wagtail by Lucy Newton

The third example from the exhibition is of a red squirrel and here Lucy Newton’s artistry shines out. Look at the bristling tail of the squirrel, its soft ears and nose and very keen eye. Again the sharp portrait of the animal contrasts with the softer background of the tree trunk, with its gnarled features and lichens, which are so softly painted that you feel that if you reached out, they would be delicate to your touch. Few artists have the ability to draw and paint the squirrel’s fur in such beautiful detail, but Lucy Newton has the imagination, skill and remarkable technique to produce such an outstanding piece of art. Get to see this exhibition if you possibly can. Unsurprisingly, many of the paintings had been sold.

Red squirrel by Lucy Newton

In the 2000s, we lived in the New South Wales town of Wagga Wagga for 3 years, when I worked at Charles Sturt University. I then taught from my home in Dunbar for another 6 years, going back to Wagga (as the locals call it) for 6 weeks every year. We returned to see many friends at Wagga Wagga Road Runners on our recent visit to Australia and stayed with our very good friends Paul and Sonya – superb hosts. The Murrumbidgee River (good photos) flows through Wagga Wagga – designated as an inland city – and there are some lovely walks along the river close to the centre of town. The photo below shows some of the beautiful gum trees along the riverside. The gum trees of course shed their bark, not their leaves and then they reveal smooth trunks. I like the reflections in this photo – of the trees, the riverbank and the cow on the far side.

Gum trees on the Murrumbidgee in Wagga Wagga

One of the remarkable features of the river at dusk is the arrival of very excited and very loud sulphur crested cockatoos – photo below. If you check the link and scroll down to Calls, you will hear the screeching noise these birds make. Imagine the racket you will hear if you go down to the river at dusk and maybe 200 birds arrive to roost, but not before they produce a deafening cacophony. They are attractive looking birds with their distinctive yellow crest and white plumage and will land quite close to you.

Sulphur crested cockatoo

We also made a nostalgic visit to the Pomingalarna Reserve (good photos) to walk around one of the many tracks. When we arrived in Australia we quickly discovered that you cannot run (my wife) nor cycle (me) in most country areas as you can in Scotland, so you need to go to designated areas. The reserve is well known as the home of two mobs of kangaroos and it is unusual for a visitor to the park – runner, cyclist or walker – not to see a kangaroo. We only saw some of these amazing animals from a distance, as the photo below shows, but we did see a large group bounding across the grass and into the forest – a fascinating sight. The second photo is from 2011 and shows the kangaroos on the golf course at the entrance to Pomingalarna. When conditions are very dry, the kangaroos will venture on to the course to find water. Note the flag on the green in the background.

Pomingalarna is a very interesting and attractive part of Wagga Wagga as it features a wide variety of trees, animals and birds, so it is well worth a visit if you are in the vicinity.

 

Kangaroos at Pomingalarna

Re-reading Thomas Hardy and walk to Seafield Pond and West Barns Bridge

December 17, 2017

Recently, I’d come to the end of the new books I’d bought and, looking along my bookshelves, I picked up a copy of Thomas Hardy short stories (cover below). I bought this book in the mid 1970s and opening the book and starting to read the first story The Three Strangers, I was immediately taken back to Hardy’s eloquent and flowing style. The story begins “Among the few features of agricultural England which retain an appearance little modified by the centuries, may be reckoned the long, grassy and furzy downs, coombes or ewe-leases, as they are called, according to their kind, that fill a large area of certain counties in the south and south west”. What struck me was the length of the sentence – typical of nineteenth century writers like Hardy – and the local words used by the writer. “Furzy downs” are stretches of rural land covered in what we might call gorse and a “coomb” is a deep valley. More explanations here. In his excellent introduction to the short stories, the novelist John Wain wrote that Hardy once said that a short story “must be unusual and the people interesting”. Wain also notes that Hardy’s short stories are unlike more modern versions, which tend have a single theme around which a tale is told. In Hardy’s stories, such as “The Withered Arm” or “The Distracted Preacher” the reader is presented with different characters, some of whom have their own intriguing tales to tell. It is the context of the stories – rural Dorset in the early to mid-nineteenth century – that distinguishes them from even contemporary short fiction. The isolated cottage in “The Three Strangers” or the village in “The Grave by the Handpost” where ” a lane crosses the lone straight highway dividing this from the next parish” and where “the whispers of this spot may claim to be preserved”. There are also echoes of Hardy’s novels in the stories such as the character William Dewy of Mellstock and the town of Casterbridge. Hardy is a superb story teller and in each story, the reader is given an early indication of what might be to follow. In “The Withered Arm”, the setting is “an eighty cow dairy” in the early evening and, with most of the cattle milked “there was opportunity for a little conversation. “He do bring home his bride tomorrow, I hear. They’ve come as far as Anglebury today”. Hardy continues “The voice seemed to come from the belly of the cow called Cherry, but the speaker was a milking-woman, whose face was buried in the flank of that motionless beast”. The reader knows the setting and is intrigued by the conversation. I have enjoyed reading these stories again after many years and I encourage you to try them.

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Short stories by Thomas Hardy (Click on all photos to enlarge)

There’s a good 2 mile (3.2k) walk from our house to Seafield Pond (good photo)  and West Barns bridge. The most picturesque route is firstly to  Dunbar Harbour (historical photos), then along Winterfield Promenade and on round part of the picturesque Winterfield Golf Club. I was headed for Seafield Pond first, to try to get some more photos of the pond and its birds. A previous attempt can be seen here. When I got to the pond, it was frozen over and not a bird to be seen, just some bits of wood from the nearby trees stuck to the ice. There was however, a nice reflection (see below) from the adjacent caravan/mobile home park, where you can now hire a “Deluxe running water wigwam with WC” – what next?

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Seafield Pond at Belhaven, near Dunbar

The birds were all on the beach over the wall but firstly I walked along to West Barns bridge, which spans the Biel Burn (small river). It was a very sunny day and the previous night’s sharp frost can be seen on the entrance to the bridge here.

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West Barns bridge and the Biel Burn

Because of the position of the sun in the early afternoon, there was a superb reflection in the water below the bridge, with the brilliant blue water becoming paler and paler as the sun caught it fully on the bend of the river. This part of the Biel Burn is where the fresh water meets the incoming tide.

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West Barns bridge

I know a few people – of a certain age – who spent quite a bit of their youth on the Biel Burn guddling for trout, and they each have their own secret method. This is a form of fishing in which the potential fish catcher does not use a rod or a net, but his/her fingers to catch the trout. I’m assured by two former poachers that it is an art and not a science, and that an expert guddler is born with a gift. There’s a PhD in there somewhere for a dedicated scholar e.g.  “Guddling: A phenomenological analysis”. Guddling was – and probably still is – carried out in shaded areas, such as at the tree line end of this photo.

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Guddling spot near the trees on the Biel Burn

It was on my way back along what is known as the Dump Road as there used to be a council tip nearby, I tried to capture some of the birds on the beach and on the water on Belhaven Bay. I was using my zoom lens and it’s difficult to get very clear photos without a camera stand. The two best were firstly, a redshank on the move, with some nice reflections of the rocks and the vegetation.

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Redshank amongst the rocks and grass at Belhaven Bay

I’m more pleased with the second photo, which is of a curlew flying off across the water. While the beak is not all that clear, I do like the light on one wing and the shadow on the other, plus the reflection in the water. I used my Sports setting for this one.

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Curlew flying over Belhaven Bay with the tide in

So a very rewarding walk on a cold but bright day and on the way back I reflected how lucky I am to live in such an entrancing environment.

Richard Allen and Jan Wilczur exhibition and lifeboat exercise

July 13, 2016

Another dazzling array of talent on show at Waterston House, Aberlady at the moment, in the form of an exhibition by Richard Allen and Jan Wilczur. The show includes Allen’s paintings and linocuts and Wilczur’s paintings of birds in a wide variety of settings. Both artists kindly sent me photos of their work. Richard Allen’s linocuts are smaller pieces than his paintings but no less effective for that. As can be seen in the portrayal of the curlew below, the linocuts in the exhibition draw your eye to the flowing lines in the picture and the almost abstract quality of the way the lines make shapes e.g. the curlew’s eye. Although the linocuts present us with birds, the flow of the lines reminded me of Australian Aboriginal drawings and paintings.

Allen Curlew

Curlew by Richard Allen

In contrast to the linocuts, Allen’s paintings are full of colour. Some of the bird portraits have a lightly surreal feel to them, such as the Drake Goldeneye which clearly shows the ducks but includes a variety of areas in light and dark blues which are not naturalistic. One of my favourite birds, alas not seen as much around here as when I was young, is the lapwing aka peewit because of its call. Allen’s painting of the lapwing, shown below, was for me one of the highlights of the exhibition. The natural setting, the dignified portrayal of the bird and the range of colours on the bird and in the flora all combine to very good effect. Look at how the lapwing’s crest bends as do the reeds.

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Lapwing by Richard Allen

Jan Wilczur has provided visitors to the exhibition with a stunning range of paintings. For me, the most striking and one I went back to several times is Bullfinches – shown below. When you first look at this painting, you see the birds, especially the striking red breast and piercing eyes of the top bird. The lower bird – a female? – seems to be a little shy, as if aware that she is being painted but the colours on the head and the wings are delicate and draw your attention. Come back to the painting and you see the branches and the berries. the little globules of berries hanging precariously, it seems, from the branches, which seem animated with their hand-like twigs waving in the air. So – that’s what I see – what do you see?

Wilczur Bullfinches and sloes

Bullfinches by Jan Wilczur

The second painting I noted down on my phone Memo was Long Eared Owl which is a fascinating work of art. Central to the picture is the imperious looking owl, a beautifully manicured bird without a feather out-of-place. It looks dressed to go somewhere. I like the subtle colours on the bird’s feathers and face and those penetrating eyes. Then you see the trees with their irregular notches, some of which could be small owl feathers that have drifted off and stuck to the trees. I think that the trees may be silver birch, one of my favourite trees.

Wilczur Owl, Long-eared a

Long eared owl by Jan Wilczur

The two artists have set up an exhibition which is a must see for anyone in the area and the quality of the linocuts and paintings transcend what might appear to some people as a narrow subject. Richard Allen’s book of linocuts Coastal Birds is available at the exhibition and is superb value.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the sound of a helicopter close by attracted my attention and it appeared to land in a nearby park. I then saw it hovering above two RNLI lifeboats outside Dunbar Harbour. I went to the harbour which is just along the road from my house and took photos from the harbour wall. I’ve been having problems with my camera lately – just got the normal lens repaired – so I put on my longer lens. The photo below is perhaps not as sharp as it might have been but it does capture the helicopter and lifeboats, which were on a training exercise. There are many more photos – and better ones I think – here (scroll down to see photos). The 2nd photo below is of the lifeboat returning to harbour at the end of the exercise.

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RNLI/Coastguard exercise

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Dunbar lifeboat returns to harbour

 

Howard Towll and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie interview in Dubai

March 11, 2015

A new exhibition at SOC’s Waterstone House features 2 artists, Howard Towll and John Busby. I contacted both artists to ask for photos or permission to download and the former got back to me. Howard Towll’s exhibits were very appealing to the eye, with a mixture of wood block and lino block prints. He is also a painter and one of the striking works on his website is Curlew at Dusk – see below. Everything is subtle in this painting, in particular the reflections in the water of the curlew and of the rocks and seaweed. We get quite a few curlews on the rocks at the back of our house and through my scope, I often watch the patiently searching bird, which thrusts its long beach into the rock crevices to seek out food. One of the lino prints in the exhibition is Gannet Heads – see below. What I find most intriguing about this print is the sharp lines of the birds and their determined expressions. They could be soldiers marching to orders or runners/cyclists completely focused on winning the race. Looking through my scope, I have just had my first sighting of gannets  flying to the Bass Rock this year. My choice of the wood block prints would be Eiders, as these are another species which I often see in the sea around Dunbar. There is an attractive abstract quality to this print, which captures the soft green on the back of the male eider’s neck. The call of the male eider duck is a gurgling, burbling sound and can be heard clearly when groups of eiders are in Dunbar Harbour.

 

Curlew at dusk - H Towll

Curlew at dusk – H Towll

Gannet Heads - H Towll

Gannet Heads – H Towll

Eiders - H Towll

Eiders – H Towll

While in Dubai, we went to the Dubai Festival of Literature in the plush Intercontinental Hotel. I went to see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who was talking about her novel Americanah, which I reviewed on the blog last July. In her interview, Ms Adichie talked articulately and intelligently – and often quite humorously – about the novel’s contents and about her experience of living in America as a black woman. It was a fascinating insight into the novel and she explained that, as a writer, she was two people – the writer as performer on the stage being interviewed, and the writer sitting alone in her room, writing a novel. “These are not the same person” she said. One aspect of the novel which was given much attention, was hair. In the novel, the protagonist visits a hairdressing salon and there is an interesting and amusing discussion of African women in America getting their hair done. She hinted that some of the coverage in the media may have been sexist. This highly intelligent, thoughtful and very attractive writer – who has amazing hair (photos below) – held the audience spellbound for the one hour session. My wife went to see Jenni Murray who hosts Woman’s Hour in the UK and found it a fascinating talk.

Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie

Belhaven pond, curlew and ducks and festive greetings

December 25, 2013

A walk down to Belhaven Pond last week, to see if I could get some decent bird photos, but there was a scarcity that day – a few mallards, some coots who scampered away on my approach into the middle of the pond. Tennyson’s poem The Brook begins with “I come from haunts of coot and tern”. The pond itself is extensive (see Photo 1, included from here, under the Attribution  Agreement) and is beautiful on a sunny day – on my visit, it was cloudy. I was lucky however, that a woman and her daughter were throwing bread into the water and immediately, out of nowhere it seemed, a group of greedy – and pretty aggressive – seagulls arrived. Photo 2 shows two of them about to grab some bread. The gulls soon got fed up, having eaten the big pieces of bread and 3 coots arrived to eat the scraps from the big birds’ table. I then walked back down what is known as the Dump Road, as there used to be a landfill site where the caravan site now is. About half way along, I looked over the wall and could see two curlews among a large gathering of what I think were teal. Photo 3 shows the curlew on its own, with its distinctive long beak. Curlews, which have the splendid Latin name Numenius arquata, suitably august for a large bird, have a very distinctive call. Photo 4 shows the curlew amongst the ducks.

As this is the 24th December, I send you all festive greetings, wherever you are and whether you are in midwinter as I am or in midsummer. So:  Glædelig Jul og Godt Nytår,  Prettige feestdagen, Bula Vinaka, Hyvää Joulua ja Onnellista Uutta Vuotta, Joyeuses fêtes, Frohe Feiertage and Felices fiestas. If your language is not here, English will have to do, I’m afraid.

belhaven pond

Belhaven pond

Seagulls at Belhaven Pond

Seagulls at Belhaven Pond

Curlew at Belhaven Beach

Curlew at Belhaven Beach

Curlew and ducks at Belhaven Beach

Curlew and ducks at Belhaven Beach