Birds in Winter

Northern Europe is experiencing some of its coldest weather for years and I hear on the BBC radio that people in the UK are ‘suffering’ from temperatures of maybe minus 5 degrees C (23 F).  Perhaps they and we should spare a thought for our feathered, and indeed furry, friends here in the Val d’Hérens.  We have had negative temperatures in excess of minus 20 degrees C (-4 F) overnight and not much higher than -10 C (14 F) during the day recently.  How these creatures survive is a minor miracle.

I have no pictures of the hares, foxes or deer that visit us overnight, (though we have seen or heard them) but below is a selection of the wide variety of birds that have regularly visited our feeders over the past couple of months.


Cross country skiing, Evolène to Les Haudères

Our good friends Arthur and Michelle have been staying with us since last Friday.  Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great over the weekend.  We did go out for a walk on Sunday, but my pictures were so grey, I didn’t think they were worth publishing.  However, yesterday the sun came out with avengeance, so we decided to go cross country skiing up to Les Haudères and back.

If you’ve never tried it, you should.  ‘Traditional’ is relatively easy to do being, at its simplest, just a walk on skis.  It can be a bit more complicated than that obviously and a good balance is required for any slightly downhill stretches, where you slide along in the grooves.   The ‘Skating’ technique is very much more demanding, though those Olympians make it look far too easy!


York (England) – City Walls

When I lived in York, my lunchtime running pals and I used to regularly run around the old Roman Walls, now in 3 separate sections, which circumnavigate the City centre.  We would leap off some of the steps which were 4 or 5 high and unsuspecting visitors would pin themselves to the walls as we came careering through.  (I should add that no women or children were hurt in this process and that dogs are not allowed on the Walls.  We’d also generally do it in winter when there were very few visitors).  Pete managed to get us and the route featured in the UK “Running” magazine as “Our Favourite Run”.

So, when I was back in the UK last week, Pete, Colin and I re-lived old times by walking along the route – all the way from and to the start and finish outside the Rowntree’s (now Nestlé) chocolate factory and offices where we worked.   The first picture below was taken 21 years ago (almost to the day), with our mate Tim.  I should also point out that the “Bars” in some of these pictures are “Gateways” into the City, unlike the one in the Maltings, which is one of the best pubs in York and where we stopped for lunch. 🙂  Cheers! 🍻

La Borgne riverside walk

While I was away, the snow continued to fall in the Valais region of Switzerland.  And, for the past few weeks, the temperature has been well below zero (32 F), even during the day.  So we are still firmly in the grip of winter here in the Val d’Hérens.  All things considered, this is a good thing, especially for the ski resorts.

Although yesterday was meant to be a little cloudy, I decided to take a walk along the riverside from Evolène to Les Haudères, partly to test out my new camera in the white, wintery conditions.

To remind you, it’s a Sony Cybershot, DSC-WX500 and, I have to say, that I’m quite pleased with the quality of the images (though you may not be able to tell, as I always shrink them to around 200kb before posting).  However, I’ve lost the ability to take one point colour photos and, surprisingly, black and white (or at least, I haven’t found that setting yet).  On the plus side, the camera does not switch iself on accidentally when I put it away in the cover, and the panoramic photos work 100% of the time. (My old Lumix didn’t like it when the lighting was different from one side of the image to the other and, frustratingly, just gave the message “Move the camera more quickly”!)   I also like the fact that I can switch the aspect ratio quite quickly from 4:3 to 16:9 (or 3:2 or 1:1), which I think helps to frame some shots much better.

Melbourne, Australia (last of many)

It’s obviously not for nothing that Melbourne has been voted ‘the most liveable city‘ 7 years running.   So it would be remiss of me not to finish this series of posts with a few more pictures, all taken in and around the city centre.  Even for a non-city person I was pleasantly surprised, (but I still wouldn’t live there myself!)

The Razorback path, Alpine National Park, Victoria

Although I had planned to climb Mount Bogong, one look at the Razorback from Mount Loch convinced me that it just had to be done.  The Razorback is an iconic route and the most frequently used to get to the top of Mount Feathertop.  The path starts near the village of Mount Hotham and follows a ridge most of the way along, though it’s not as sharp or hair-raising (or should that be hair-cutting?) as the name might suggest.  The views seem to go on forever in all directions, as you can see in some of the pictures below.   I’d already been up Mount Feathertop, so I simply walked along the ridge for about 8k or 5 miles and returned the same way.


Mount Loch, Alpine National Park, Victoria

After quite a strenuous walk the day before, I decided to drive further up the Great Alpine Road to Mount Hotham to do a relatively easy walk to the top of Mount Loch @1,865m or 6,119ft.  The route followed quite a wide and easy track for maybe 3k or 2 miles before turning off to the summit.

As well as an excellent base for walking, Mount Hotham is also, perhaps better, known as a ski resort.  Though I found it strange that the village was situated towards the top of the mountains and the ski pistes ran down into the valleys.  Well, I was ‘Down Under’! 🙂

Beechworth and Mount Feathertop, Alpine National Park, Victoria

I guess there’s only a certain amount of the big city a mountain man can take.  So, with Joanne and Aaron going back to work after their holidays, I took off for a few days to the Alpine National Park.  My aim was to climb (well, walk to the top of) the two highest mountains in the state of Victoria – Mount Bogong (@1,986m/6,516ft ) and Mount Feathertop (@1922m/6,306ft).  My base for the next 4 nights would be a sleepy little village called Harrietville, which sits at around 600m/1,969ft, just below Mount Feathertop.  So it was my first challenge – where I took the Bungalow Spur route to the top.  (See map / last pic).  I’m afraid I have no idea what all the plants are called, but I found it fascinating to see all the different shapes, sizes and colours.  There was also clear and quite eerie evidence of the bush fires which had swept through the area 10 to 15 years ago.  Thankfully the whole area is recovering well, as you will see.

On my way to Harrietville, I stopped off at Beechworth, which is an old gold mining town.   There, I called in at the Burke museum and had a wander down to lake Sambell.


National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) – Melbourne

Although I went to the NGV the first week that I was in Melbourne, I went again to re-take some pictures and, if truth be known, to get out of the 42 (107) degree heat.  The Gallery is another ‘must see’ (and free) venue, if you ever visit Melbourne, and it isn’t just about paintings, as you can see from the images below.

My daughter Jo, wasn’t with me the 2nd time, but I’ve included a picture taken with her phone, as she happened to be wearing a dress which blended in nicely with the artwork entitled Flower Obsession by Yayoi Kusama.  Visitors were handed a flower to stick onto the walls, floor, furniture or wherever they felt was appropriate.


Australian Open Tennis

It was perhaps appropriate that the first picture I took with my new camera was of Rod Laver (or rather, a bust of him) outside the magnificent arena which bears his name.  He was a childhood hero of mine and I’ve been a fan of tennis ever since.  One of my ‘claims to fame’ (if you can call it that) is that I played at Wimbledon as a youngster.  Not on the main courts you understand, but on the outside, red shale courts in a schools tournament. (I thought I’d mention that here, as I may never get another chance!)

So, even before I’d set off to Oz, I’d bought myself a 3 day ground pass, for what I thought was a bargain price at 120 AUD (i.e. 96 USD or £67).   With this I could attend any 3 days in the 2 weeks of the tournament, excluding Saturdays and Sundays.  I had other plans for later in the first week, so I ended up going for the first 3 days.  My thinking anyway was that many of the best players would be on the outside courts early in the tournament and so it proved.  I managed to see eventual Quarter finalists, Sandgren and Edmund as well as one of my favourite players, Verdasco.  A big advantage of watching on the outside courts is that you can get really close to the action to appreciate the speed and skill of these great players.

It was not all about the tennis though as there’s plenty of other things going on, especially in what they call “The Oval”, where there are various stalls and some musical performances.  I really enjoyed a local singer (well, Tasmania is quite close) called Hugo Badel.  And the fun didn’t stop there, as I discovered when I got back to the Melbourne city centre.  (Note: The venue is within easy walking distance, though there is also a tram).  The James Squire pub was giving away a free pint to anyone who had been to the tennis!  So there are no prizes for guessing where I went each day… Well, the temperatures had been as high as 42 degrees C (or 107 F).  Cheers James! 🍺🍺🍺