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Showing posts from 2015

Inglorious Bustards

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In Norwich Castle Museum there is a room full of mounted bird skins. In this room there is a large glass case and in this case are contained the skins of a drove of great bustards. The last drove of the species to have ever walked on the sandy soils of North Norfolk. Quite often on the way home from school, between changing buses, my friend and I would dive into the castle, quickly divest ourselves of our satchels and coats and spend a few precious minutes in this room ogling the exotic looking birds; the huge wing span of a white-tailed eagle, the vibrantly coloured bee- eaters and even close up encounters with humble rooks perched next to their tree top nests complete with clutches of blue-green eggs. And of course the bustards, these huge turkey-sized birds that were totally outside our experience yet somehow held a link with our county’s past. They told tales of a long ago world which to our young imaginations seemed quite romantic; we failed to comprehend the true significance of…

A New Hope

We are quietly sat on a bench, my friend and I, as we tuck into the booty of the season spread between us - a pack of mince pies, a small box of chocs and a steaming mug of coffee. Simple fare but totally adequate for this much welcome catch up and mardle about our year, the highs and lows, our engagement with all things wild and thoughts for the future. And I get to steal the occasional glance into her lovely brown eyes, so I'm more than satisfied with the arrangement. But although we are surrounded by the sounds and sights of wild birds; the ‘pinking’ of chaffinches, the chittering of blue tits, the distant squawking of wildfowl on the broad, my friend confesses to unease over her role in the conservation life she has chosen. She loves her job and the wonderful people she works with, but I detect seeds of doubt. Can she really make a difference in the face of so much ill intent? Is there really a point is caring? These thoughts resonate with my own mindset of late since I’ve oft…

Broadland Afternoon

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Ranworth, a small and pleasant village in the heart of Broadland is a lovely place to stroll around on a bright winter’s day. I visited earlier this week savouringthe blissful peace of the season.Gone now are the pleasure craft jostling for a berth at the busy staithe, the cruisers, canoes, day boats, and dinghies. Gone too are the steady stream of holidaymakers keen to take a short adventure through a freshwater swamp and visit the NWT Broads Wildlife Centre sited at the terminal point of a 500 metre Boardwalk. Gone are the screeching terns, the arrowing hobbies, the chuntering reed warblers and twittering swallows. But all is not still: a new cast of characters has moved in to take advantage of the tranquility. Birds of all kinds are using the unmolested waterways and wet woodland as a winter sanctuary; somewhere to rest and feed to survive another day. Come with me for a walk through this wildlife haven and together let’s see what we can find.
Our first stop is to search through the…

There's Nowt so Queer as Folk

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Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to become involved in much interaction with members of the public on all matters wildlife. Most of these encounters are simple pleasant exchanges of information about the weird and wonderful things they have seen or would like to see, but now and then an amusing incident would occur, not to mention the intriguing and downright bizarre.
Let's begin in the early 80s when the RSPB hosted an annual migration hotline for kids, the idea being youngsters could ring up and let us know about the first migrating spring birds they had seen. Great stuff -and it worked. Of course this was well before the advent of mobile phones and the Internet so necessitated a volunteer (me) manning a proper hard wired telephone between 6-8pm whilst all alone in Norwich HQ. It was on one of these lonely vigils that I received a call from a chap who was obviously rather distressed.....
'I've just hit a pheasant' he blurted.
Not really knowing how to respond…

Don't be a Passenger

Whilst people have been engaged in the frenzy of Black Friday (Saturday, Sunday, Monday….) profligacy, efficiently clearing the shelves of various 'discounted' goods they believe they need, I have been reading a book by Mark Avery entitled ‘Message from Martha’ documenting the frenzy with which the passenger pigeon was even more efficiently cleared from the ecological shelves of North America. It is an incredulous read, at once bewildering, beguiling and utterly depressing. At least I found it a struggle not to become hopelessly sad and deflated over the way in which man drove a bird, once the most numerous on earth, to utter extinction within a few decades. The scale of slaughter is incomprehensible, just as the scale of the passenger pigeon population was incomprehensible; billions of birds darkening the skies for days on end as they migrated across the vastness of the continent we now call USA on a front wider than a mile; breeding colonies that stretched for tens of miles;…

The Tree of Life

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Looking through the windows of the Garage (it's actually no longer a garage - we converted it to a lounge area years ago - but old habits die hard), I have a clear view of the remains of a cherry tree. Once the pride of the garden with a tight mass of eye smarting, white candy floss blooms in spring, it is sadly now just a pared down skeletal stump with a few twisted antlers of decaying wood. Where once hundreds of lithe young branches would whiplash in a summer breeze, its corpse now stands bare; a sorry disease stricken remnant of past glories.
I had to take a saw to this once splendid specimen some 10 years ago, regretting each stroke of the toothed blade but knowing for safety's sake that it needed to be done. I cut the branches so removed into manageable chunks and piled them in a shady spot under a hedge where they have subsequently provided a breeding, feeding and hiding place for myriad small invertebrates, amphibians and mammals whilst they rot. The remaining trunk has…

Portuguese Portrait

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The minibuses came to a halt, pulling into a conveniently sited recess along a road bisecting gently rolling coastal heathland. Our group of eager nature lovers disgorged as quickly as their maturing bodies would allow in order to see up close booted eagles, a pair, that we had spotted hunting low over the sandy ground. Binoculars were swiftly raised in the expectation these raptors would fly away from the press of humanity pouring from their metal boxes like toothpaste squeezed from a tube, but the eagles had another imperative; the need to find food outweighed their natural fear of all things human. These beautifully marked birds were on migration, moving south from breeding grounds in the north of Portugal, or maybe somewhere in Spain, to spend the winter in Africa. Now encountering the vast expanse of the Atlantic, they would have to change course and move along the southern shores of the Iberian Peninsula to find the narrower crossing point across the Gibraltar Straits. Meanwhile …