Sunshine

It has been consistently sunny all week here, apart from a few very short rain showers. My dad said there was lightening in Somerset, but around here the weather has been uncharacteristically dry and warm.

A flock of Oxford Down sheep graze in the woods near my house, and on Monday a lamb worked out how to climb the wall, tempted by appetite, lots of vegetation on the other side, and a sense of adventure. The perimeter of the garden had to be made lamb-proof but at least it cuts down on the weeding I have to do.

Trail cameras

The trail camera video and photos should be here tomorrow or Tuesday. There are some really nice bits this week, so check back.

We looked at our timelapse images. Unfortunately the Victure camera has smushed them all together into a more compressed video. While I can see why most users of the camera would prefer that, that's not what we want. We resituated the camera to the tree on which 'Stream Cam' is attached, but looking in the opposite direction to avoid overlapping of the camera's infrared light and sensors. We get lots of good video from this camera in the stream so we hope having another one will yield good results.

While we were collecting the cards and copying files from them we commented on how fast the vegetation was growing and how tall it is these days. Dan told me about giant hogweed, a species introduced to the UK years ago as an ornamental plant. Its defence mechanisms are pretty developed. The furocoumarins in its sap causes phytophotodermatitis, an inflammatory reaction that's caused by a botanical agent that causes light sensitivity in the skin. Exposing the skin to ultraviolet light will cause redness and delayed darkening of the skin, edema, and blisters. I had no idea a plant could evolve to be so nasty!

After a walk to see if the local pub was doing food at 8.30pm (it wasn't), we came home and got pizza. Dan got a cheeseburger pizza. It looked wrong.

On Sunday's camera check we had the second encounter of the day with a huge hornet, the first being during our day trip out (more on the later). In both cases they seemed to be huge. Moments after we thought they'd gone they'd be back buzzing around our heads. As beekeepers, we need to be keep aware of the Asian hornet, another invasive species like the giant hogweed, and report any that we see to be investigated and added to the list of asian hornet sightings. However, today's hornets seemed both very likely to be the European hornet. Dan headed back to my house to put on his BBWear Ultra Bee Suit, which offers enough protection to be impervious to hornet stings. With the confidence that this brought he set about trying to trap the hornet so that we could identify it. Returning to the wood, the hornet seemed to have gone, so we copied the files from 'Den Cam' and 'Cow Cam', packed up, and that low buzz returned. However, the hornet only flew high above, in observation drone mode. We headed back to my place for pizza and cake, and ordered some VespaCatch hornet attractant so that next time we can try to get it to land in the hope that we can identify it.

Meeting with other human beings

Adam FC and his family have been visiting the city of Bath this week. I think the last time I saw him was September, so relatively recently compared to other friends. We went out for tapas and wandered around Bath. I really enjoyed seeing them again. The tourists seem to be returning and the place is a bit busier again.

Regular readers will know that Dan and I tried to get to Frome (pronounced to rhyme with 'broom'; International Phonetic Alphabet: /ˈfruːm/) last week. I'm pleased to report that this week we were successful. Despite coming from Somerset, I don't think I've been to Frome so far, or at least, I can't remember visiting it. Back on the other side of the county, people talked about it as though it was rather dull, but to be fair, most Somerset towns aren't really very remarkable. So it was a nice surprise to arrive there and see that the town had an identity of its own.

The first thing we noticed after getting off the 'smol tren' and heading for the town was the riverside footpath leading us there. On a hot summer day like today it was an unexpected pleasure to to stroll through meadows and listen to the river Frome going by, flowing over the rocks. We talked about how a paddle down the river would be nice one day, and indeed, the Frome Canoe Club are set up to do just that (and more).

The mile or so of meadow gave way to the B3090 Market Place, with many cobbles streets coming off it. In the last few years Frome seems to have turned into somewhere rather hip compared to other towns in the area. The population is young, keen on promoting independent trade, establishing and supporting community schemes, and even enacting political and economic change.

Due to the pandemic, there was no usual monthly Frome Independent Market, and Frome Museum was also closed. Instead we had some 'dirty' burgers, which I liked, as well as frickles — fried pickled gherkins - which were 'okay'. The pub started out quiet but became busy as a party of nineteen joined the beer garden. I think it might take a while to get used to pubs again. Afterwards, we rejoined the river, heading through Whatcombe Fields for a longer walk, but the heat and sun became too much and we instead opted for iced coffee and ice cream at a table at a café on a pedestrianised street.

Cloud warming

Messing about with radio is a fun thing to do outside. You get less interference compared to when you do it inside, plus you can do other things like gardening while you're waiting for your replies or whatever.

This week I cut two bits of copper wire to 5m, screwed them to a balun, and hung one end from my roof and the other end from a tree. Without an antenna tuning unit, the resulting bit of wire was resonant at about 14.2MHz and therefore ideal for the 20m band. I got an SWR of about 1.6 for this. Now I have a mast and no part of the antenna is up in the trees, I can see a big difference. JS8Call is less busy there but there are still interesting people to chat to. At 14.078MHz using this antenna, things work out well, even though there are people using MFSK modes just 2kHz up at 14.080MHz, which are overlapping with JS8 users. It doesn't matter though; JS8, FT8, etc., use so little bandwidth that there's room for everyone. Tuning it to the 40m band, I dipped into 7.078MHz, which is much busier, being the usual world hangout for JS8Call users, and managed to get a bit of connectivity and chat going just as night fell. But on the 20m band, the shorter antennas required means it's a good place to hang out to chat to and encourage newcomers. Results can be better than for 40m or 80m too. A station SM6TWY in Sweden, could communicate with me with no errors on only 10W. F4HVQ, near Paris, was using a portable 10W station and we were similarly happily yapping away on Friday and Saturday. And it seems the path to OH8STN's station in Finland is much better. We can easily exchange messages at 'fast' speed. He tells me my transmissions are 'usually solid copy', which is astonishing when you consider we are chatting on such low power across Europe, a distance of over 2000km.

He was raving about his new sky loop antenna, a design that many people report as working very well indeed and giving low noise. The noise floor at OH8STN's location was is very low, but even though I live in a rural location, I do hear a lot of noise on my antenna. It would be nice to get this lower. A sky loop is a large horizontal loop of wire, a large as possible really. The goal here is to mount a polygon of as much wire as possible as high above the ground as possible. In an effort to use as much wire as possible people usually run it around the border of their property, or on small masts at the corners of their roofs. Many people use these sky loops for just receiving signals, but reportedly they are great for transmission too. For an 80m band antenna you could put 80m of antenna wire in a triangle configuration. An antenna tuner is also necessary because typically the SWR is hard to control though it is possible to make a resonant antenna on a given band. The feedpoint impedance of a sky loop antenna varies with its shape and configuration, but most places I've looked seem to say it depends on the number of sides of the polygon, so around 100Ω for a triangle, 120Ω for a quadrilateral, and 160Ω for a circle. So we need to find, or ideally build, a balun suitable for the shape. It will take some experimentation, but maybe Kipz's NanoVNA v2 will help us out here. Plus, a new mast came this week — another DX Commander one — so, with the help of a tree and perhaps with a bit of borrowed farmland, we have the makings of a huge triangle. All that remains is getting a lot of wire! I've been recommended DX-Wire in Germany for this so I'll try to put in an order when they re-open. This might be a great project for the summer.