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Showing posts from April, 2015

Gorillas That Are Missed

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When we visited Rwanda last September we were privileged to be able to spend an hour in the company of a group of mountain gorillas. It was at once an exhilarating and unnerving experience. On the one hand you know you are being looked after by expert guides, yet on the other you are within a few feet of some of the most powerful animals on earth. During our far too brief stay with these magnificent creatures we were entranced by the gentleness of the dominant silverback, Ugenda, who had given the group his name. He had taken a young male under his wing in whose company he was snoozing and generally lazing the morning away. The other silverback, Wageni, was a touch less tolerant and on one occasion actually charged us, an episode that got the heart thumping and left you feeling pleased you had a spare pair of trousers back at base. It was of course all much ado about nothing; we had made too much eye contact whilst taking our snaps, and he was simply putting us in our place. The grinn…

The Dead Sea

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Even with an intermittent cooling breeze and plenty of water you soon feel drained whilst walking around in the heat of the desert surrounding the Dead Sea. We spent most of Wednesday there in the company of Carmel Zitronblat, a birder based in Jerusalem, who kindly agreed at short notice to try and find some of the special birds of the area for us. One thing became quite clear, quiet early: you have to work very hard to see birds in this harsh landscape. Not only are they thinly distributed but they all blend in so well with the rock strewn landscape. No brightly blazing kingfishers here, just for the most part small birds cloaked in various pale browns and whites - the perfect camouflage. And it was hot, very hot, even early in the morning. Still we did alright. The area we visited was essentially the strip of sun scorched land between the Dead Sea to the east and the imposing Judaean mountain range to the west that thrusts up from the desert floor to dominate the horizon for tens o…

The Fisher King

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We are in Israel and it is hot. We have 5 nights in Jerusalem followed by 4 nights in Eilat on the Red Sea coast. We have naturally spent some time strolling around the old town and will see several important Holy Land sights over the next day or two including Bethlehem, Masada and the Dead Sea area. Impressions so far are mixed which is perhaps not unexpected in a country that is itself something of a conundrum. The people are friendly and very helpful but tension is obvious and military personnel at times seem to outnumber tourists, which is for us an unusual and perplexing situation. To cap it all a sparrow crapped on my head yesterday which I thought a most unwelcoming act. Anyway let's not worry about the violent history and the politics because I'm sure as hell not going to be able to make any profound judgments on those topics. Let's stick to what I do know something about, the wildlife.

We spent most of today at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, a one acre plot in th…

Nostalgia Just Ain't What it Used to be

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I mentioned in my first post that my mate and I used to keep written records of bird's nests we found and unusual things we observed. Now at the time we were doing this birds were everywhere and their conservation was not high on anyone's agenda. It wasn't so much of an issue then: lapwings nested in every field, even well into the suburbs of Norwich would you believe; tree sparrows, redpolls, bullfinches and turtle doves were throw away species that didn't afford a second glance; swallows nested in barns, boat houses, sheds and outbuildings all over the place; spotted flycatchers, yellow wagtails, snipe and sand martins could be found with little effort, and species like house martins were so numerous we used to walk through Thorpe St Andrew and watch birds feeding young in nests built above the doors of nearly every bungalow. Halcyon days indeed.
Although our efforts were purely amateurish, the power of recording does prove itself in the sheer numbers of nests our pr…

Breckland Easter

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There is not much of the real Breckland left. Thanks to the commercial afforestation in the interwar period of the last century most of the extensive open grassland heaths have disappeared. Where once great bustards, stone curlews, lapwings and woodlarks held sway in the miles of gently rolling semi-desert landscape stretching from mid Norfolk to the border with the Fens, now thousands of acres of pine forest stretch in regimented lines as far as the eye can see. Ironically the best preserved areas are those forming the MoD training area to the north of Thetford which for obvious reasons is not actively farmed or accessible to the general public. Other remnant heathland can be found on nature reserves such as those managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust at Weeting and East Wretham. Although the thick stands of monotonous pine do provide refuge for various species of deer and those ubiquitous grey squirrels, their overall wildlife value is limited. However once the pines are felled for …

Changing the Guard

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The cold nor-westerly’s we’ve had over the past week has retarded bird migration here in Norfolk, yet despite nature not co-operating as well as it may there are nonetheless sure signs that spring has arrived. My weekly stint at Cley Marshes and the surrounding area has allowed sight of a few goodies that promise of the warmer, more vibrant and colourful days to come. Last week at Weybourne, chiffchaffs were in full voice with at least four birds periodically singing from a patch of pool side willows. I’ve also heard them singing recently in various places around the county including Mousehold in Norwich and even in the middle of Sprowston where the songster could hardly be heard for the incessant noise of the passing traffic along Wroxham Road. Some of the earlier birds may well have been overwintering adults able to set up territory earlier than the migrants, but a lot of the birds now present will be freshly arrived from their North African wintering grounds or maybe even from Extr…