Sunday, 29 November 2009

A Dazzling Array of Talent.

Reed Bunting posing, originally uploaded by Steve_C.
As the FC United game against Kendal was called off yesterday due to a waterlogged pitch at Gigg Lane we all headed off to Pennington Flash for a bit of a walk and some birding.

It's a great place for The Kids as there a number of accessible hides, a small play area and a chip van, so it's possible to get them interested without seeming to hit them over the head.

The easiest and most 'spectacular' hide is The Bunting Hide, in front of which food is left out in Winter. This leads to a parade of some of the most beautiful birds we have out there - the Bullfinches in particular looked as if they just been into make-up to have their colours touched-up. There were also the usual sights - bright robins, greenfinches (there was a dead one on the floor of the hide which provoked some interest from My Young Ghouls), chaffinches, dunnocks, blackbirds and even a pair of mute swans which had made themselves at home in what can only be described as the small puddle underneath the tables.

It was all wonderful to see, but there was a feeling that I was shooting fish in a barrel. Not to the extent I've felt it at some nature reserves, but it still felt as if seeing birds there was not as satisfying as when I see them 'on the hoof' and in an urban setting. I think that a large part of the joy I get from seeing birds in Manchester or Salford is the knowledge of how run-down, dowdy and poisonous the areas had been in the past.

Six months ago I wrote, with breathless excitement, about seeing a Kingfisher shoot under Victoria Bridge adjacent to the site of the old Victoria Bus Station. On Friday, my perceptions heightened through the use of my Kingfishervision super-power, I leant over from the Salford-side, old tax office to my rear and looked down into the scrubbage which has grown on the bank down there, inaccessible to all. From towards Albert Bridge something approached, and my first thoughts were that it was a blue tit, as I've seen them hopping to and fro on the weeds. Instead, it was another Kingfisher, which landed just below me and proceeded to stare into the water.

It was raining quite heavily and a cold wind, aided by the intensity of my staring, forced tears from my eyes which made it difficult to watch, but I persevered for a few minutes until it upped and flew under the bridge. I crossed and looked down again until I spotted it. This time I was able to use my small, cheap binoculars to get a look straight at it. Unromantically, it squirted out a shot of white feces, then dropped briefly into the water. After it emerged empty-beaked, it headed off again, up towards Chethams.

I headed off to work.

Thanks to Steve C on flickr for this lovely shot of a male Reed Bunting, which was part of the dazzling array of talent on view at Pennington Flash.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Nine to Five.

Papa Blackbird, originally uploaded by LuLu Witch.

If I opened up the BBC News website one day, and discovered a link to a story which said that scientists had conclusively proved that birds operate a shift system I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit surprised. It was something that I first started noticing when I was pushing my eldest son around Heaton Park on a daily basis, back in the Summer of 2001 when he was brand new and all that.

On different days and at different times there would be a noticeable surfeit of one species of bird in particular. One day it might be blue tits, other days, robins, twittering across the paths, breaking the daytime silence. Half an hour later, another species would be in the ascendancy. I’m sure that there’s a logical and no doubt scientific explanation for it, but it always felt like they were taking turns, clocking on and off duty, as the day went by.

I was put in mind of this early today when walking to work between Salford University and Manchester House I was confronted by a small army of blackbirds. Male, female, on paths, in bushes, up trees, static and scattering to the four winds as I passed by. Normally, I may see one or two, but today was definitely their day at the coalface.

I also had happy encounters with a pair of Little Grebes - a male by the abandoned footbridge, and a tiny female bobbing up and down into the water by The Old Pint Pot, and a Kingfisher skirting the Manchester bank of the river as I peered over the metal and wood-barrier round the back of Café Rouge in Spinningfields.

Thanks to LuLu Witch on Flickr for this great photograph of 'Papa Blackbird' in Sheffield.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Between The Wars.

Ghost Poster IV - Salford., originally uploaded by mithering.

Spotted at the end of Greengate, Salford, near the old Victoria Bus Station, ghosts from the past. Dating from the time of the Miners' Strike (1984-85) , nearly twenty-five years on they've almost faded away.

Ghost Poster II - Salford.

This poster refers to the Wapping Dispute of 1986, another to a May Day Rally of 1983.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

'How I Wrote Elastic Man' Issue Two, Alan Moore

It must be said, I have no real desire to read Alan Moore’s output these days, but the impact and power of his earlier work, particularly the Warrior-published twin giants ‘Marvelman’ and ‘V for Vendetta’ and his 2000AD work, especially 'The Ballad of Halo Jones', in the UK and his ground-breaking work on DC’s Swamp Thing in the USA is undeniable. The black and white 'Marvelman' strips with Garry Leach’s ‘court artist’ photo-realist style and Bissette and Totleben’s scritchy, scratchy, surface-irritant work on Swamp Thing blew me away at the time and maintain their power whereas their contemporary and fellow standard bearer for the 'Comics Aren't Just For Kids' campaign 'The Dark Knight Returns' doesn’t.

This 1988 interview is from Newcastle-based music and youth culture show, The Tube, and features Moore talking about, amongst other things, 'The Ballad of Halo Jones', his never-completed future-world tale of the unemployed.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Islands In The Stream.

Grey Wagtail, originally uploaded by nickpix2009.

Last week’s relentless and heavy downpours meant that the water levels in The Irwell rose quite dramatically. It also meant that many of the usual birds to be spotted, either in the river or on the bank, were taking shelter elsewhere. The Grey Wagtails which feed between Victoria Bridge and the Irwell Street Bridge came up with a novel way to ensure they got their fill. In the river, vast islands of debris, comprised of garden waste, twigs, furniture, and an inordinately large number of footballs, careered, Laputa-like towards the sea at great speed. As they passed, the wagtails would fly aboard, then rapidly bob around searching for insects, before disembarking further down the river.

Thanks to nickpix2009 on flickr for this picture of a grey wagtail.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Pennies from Heaven.

penny for the guy, originally uploaded by mrpattersonsir.

Oops, here we go. The pixel ink is barely dry on my review of Belle Vue #2 and I'm already lurching into nostalgia myself. Ah, well, I did say so...

When was the last time you saw a kid, like this Glaswegian street urchin above, doing Penny For The Guy? Going, "Penny For The Guy?". Whatever happened to kids stuffing old clothes with newspaper, sticking a Halloween mask on it, dragging it down to the local shops to do a bit of good old begging for money to buy fireworks, before committing the Guy to the bonfire. On bonfire night. Not the weekend before or the weekend after, and not as some joint Halloween/Bonfire Night 'extravaganza' organised by some bunch of money-grabbing, safety-jacket wearing, stand behind the line, men with moustaches.

What used to be a random collection of street-focussed celebrations of pyromania, preceded by weeks of dragging bits of timber, old settees, cardboard boxes etc onto the local croft and punctuated by rumours of raids from other streets' kids, all armed with paraffin and matches of course, is now completely neutered and drifting into obscurity. It's not that we didn't light fires all year round anyway, it's more that this was the one time the adults condoned it. Although there was usually one Dad (always a Dad) who took it upon himself to light the bonfire according to his timetable, and not to that of the kids who had spent all their recent post-school hours scavenging and stockpiling wood and who had gone home to get their tea before coming back to find their work reduced to beautifully-glowing ashes.

At one point you could wander the streets of any major city on Bonfire Night and encounter any number of bonfires in various settings - back gardens, sports fields, school grounds, crofts. Nowadays, you get the odd organised fire, but even they are dying off. The availability of Apocalypse Now-level public display fireworks from the local paper shop and the commerce-driven, sugar-sweet pull of Halloween has meant the B of the Bang of Bonfire Night is spread over a longer time and no longer focussed on November Fifth.

Anyhow, the last time I saw a kid doing Penny for the Guy was outside Shalimar Stores, opposite Salford's lumpy Cathedral. It was about five years ago. The site behind Shalimar was also the last time I saw a random, roadside, disorganised community bonfire. The wood had been building up there for days before the final act on the fifth, I passed it every day on my way into work. This week, I'm still making the same journey, but the local kids are no longer dragging, stacking and guarding piles of wood and settees.

Thanks to mrpattersonsir for the beautiful photograph.