Showing posts from July, 2015

An Ill Wind

It surely is an ill wind that blows no good. The winter storms that resulted in the devastating sea surge along the east coast during December 2013 caused extensive damage to the overall ecosystem of the North Norfolk marshlands and dune systems, the effects of which still resonate. Most of the affected areas are only slowly recovering. And yet........
At NWT Cley Marshes for instance there is more shingle now, piles of it; powered 100 metres inland by the uncontested might of the rampant North Sea. This mass of eroded rock fragments has covered some grassland where skylarks used to sing their sweet song and has smothered small pools where tiny starlet sea anemones once dwelled. But it has also created opportunities for those birds that love to nest on these exposed expanses and has allowed NWT reserve staff to fence off large tracts of the newly extended habitat to create larger undisturbed zones. To date little ringed plovers and avocets have taken advantage of these quieter areas an…

Death on Wings

Great skuas are tremendously powerful birds and the northern isles of Gt Britain holds a substantial breeding population. Here they raise their chicks on the extensive moorland, protecting them fearlessly from trespassing sheep, other skuas and humans. One of their main food sources is the vast number of other seabirds using the steep cliffs of the islands as a summer home. We watched some of these pirates harassing gannets fishing offshore, forcing these much larger birds to disgorge their catch so they could pilfer the spoils. But the more sinister and ruthless side of the Bonxie was to be witnessed amongst the throng of auks nesting on Marwick Head on Mainland Orkney. Here they would cruise along the cliff face ever watchful for unattended chicks or vulnerable lone birds fishing close inshore. Once a victim had been chosen there was no escape. Impressive birds, but deadly.


Remember the Tufty Club? No, of course you don't, you're all way too young. Well, let me enlighten you. The Tufty Club was the hub of a road awareness campaign run during the 1950s and 60s, its figurehead, inspiration and main star being Tufty Fluffytail, a red squirrel. Children were urged to join the club and received a badge for their trouble. It was very successful and certainly engendered in us kids the need to be careful when crossing the road. The fact the powers that be chose a red squirrel to connect with children goes to show what a familiar and endearing creature it once was; every wood and park had them. Tufty and his pals held sway until the introduction of that Darth Vader in the making the Green Cross Code Man, aka David Prowse. It wasn't the same.
Red squirrels are, as we all know, our native squirrel, the only true wild squirrel inhabiting our countryside. Only it is now absent from most of it. Vast tracts of lowland Britain are now populated only by the a…

The Drummer

It's been raining here in Orkney, every blasted second of this miserable, grey, cold and windy July day. Sheeting down from low thick cloud from dawn, which happened at about 1am, until dusk which will occur very soon at midnight. Everybody has been walking around cloaked in Goretex with long sleeves, long trousers and even longer faces seeking indoor means of entertainment. Not an easy task on an island that caters far more for sheep than people. Still the roses look nice.

It was a different story yesterday. Then the sun broke through around midday transforming the drab  of the moors into sheets of verdant green; the sea from steely grey to bright vibrant blue; the meadows to carpets of buttercup gold. Beautiful.

At Marwick Head on Mainland watching fulmars ride the updrafts over high sea cliffs was exhilarating. The birds stalling into the breeze at eye level, demonstrating ably their complete mastery of the air, is one of those sights that would make anyone with any sense of ae…

Bass Rocks

From a distance it looks like snow. Only when you look closer with the aid of high powered optics do you realise the snowflakes have wings. Gannets. Tens of thousands of gannets. Wheeling around a tall offshore slab of volcanic rock, festooning every conceivable nook on its barren surface, carpeting the ledges, cramming onto narrow shelves and forming floating flotillas around its base. A truly awesome sight that cannot fail to impress all who make the short boat trip to experience the spectacle that is nesting season on Bass Rock.

As you draw nearer to the colony small parties of these large ocean wanderers appear close to. Some have clumps of seaweed in their beaks; males arrowing single-mindedly towards the rock to reinforce their nests. Others have possibly been fishing far away from home, perhaps off the Norwegian coast, and are returning to feed their single young. But it is only when the sheer cliffs loom close, dwarfing your tiny boat and rendering it and all its passengers in…