Thursday, January 11, 2018

The "High Tops"......but with a difference. 3.1.2018.

Not a lot of opportunity for birding today and the routine spells out locally produced nothing new.

In the afternoon I went with my daughter Rachael to the cinema within the Edencourt Theatre in Inverness. She'd got hold of tickets as a part of my Christmas gifts for a showing of the film " Mountain".  I can't recommend it highly enough ( forgive the pun ! ). It's not a natural history film as such but the scenery shots are absolutely spectacular. There was a real spiritual and artistic aspect to parts of the film with shots of avalanches, "rooftop vistas", ski-ing descents and even erupting volcanoes and close up shots of lava flows.

I confess I found the shots of tent "villages" and columns of people queuing to  access the summit of Everest less than inspiring. The "must have" mentality of conquering this majestic peak somehow relegates the sheer beauty of the surrounding landscape.  And then I reminded myself that to many outsiders the congregating masses of birders comprising a major "twitch " might seem just as offensive.  Live and let live I guess.

At several junctures there was footage of some of the extreme activities now taking place in high places, some of which appear completely absurd.  Solo climbing vertical cliffs almost came across as de rigeur ! Launching off high cliffs within mountain ranges on a bike, plummeting downwards with the whole situation then relying on the deployment of a parachute was spectacular. I confess I really enjoyed the somewhat more mundane filmed descents down precipitous snow fields and through woodlands !

Try and see it at one of your local, privately run cinemas. It is well worth it.

Wrong kind of Grand Slam ! 2.1.2018

With Andy Murray's hip injury making the headlines it wasn't at all compensating to be part of the idiom !

Dawn saw me out with the dogs in what was Baltic weather temperatures. A misjudgement led to my upending, going horizontal and slamming down on the frozen ground with its ample ice covering. Whilst I sustained no direct injuries I did give my head a wallop. Thankfully no aftermath arose from that part of the drama, but the next few hours did increasingly confirm which body bits had made contact with the cold , cold ground !   The worst part is actually getting up from ice covered ground.....not a wholly dignified process and a bit reminiscent of animals taking their first steps after being born !  Morning walking duties completed the rest of the morning was given over to garden birdwatching.

It proved to be quite interesting with Yellowhammer, Lesser Redpoll and a small group of Goldfinch appearing and overflying Fieldfare and Pink-footed Geese being seen.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

And so it begins......2018 !

In retrospect 2017 was both a good and bad year in a personal sense. A great trip out to Morocco in Spring, various trips around the UK and periods spent at Spurn contrasted against a couple of near disastrous family experiences that were far less enjoyable .  Thankfully, all is now improved and, hopefully, 2018 promises to be a more consistently productive and happy year ( once I've got my Speed Awareness Course out of the way on the 23rd January ! ).

So, what of the onset of 2018 ?  I'm up near Inverness, Scotland in what has been cold and icy weather so far, but is gradually set to improve. Walks out during the day ( with the dogs ) has produced little within the nearby coniferous woodlands or adjacent agricultural areas with far more activity in the garden around the feeders. Best of the bunch has been Long-tailed Tits, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Tree Sparrow, Treecreeper and odd Greenfinch with occasional Red Kite and Common Buzzard overhead.

The star performance was from a Long-tailed Field Mouse.  This individual repeatedly appeared out of its "hidey hole"  , ran down to a group of House Sparrows gathered around some food I'd scattered under the bushes, retrieved a supply and sped off !! Except it did it several times leaving the sparrows literally bewildered. What the hell was that ? There was no reaction whatsoever ! Animal theatre at its best.

With daughters accounted for after the Hogmanay celebrations the next day or so proved to be a football filled, crisis-free series of days. A good start !


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Spurn depicted even earlier than 1958 , 1950 in fact !!!

I found this reference yesterday whilst researching out some details on Spurn.  It's a film made in 1950, so almost seventy years ago, and less than a decade after the Spurn Bird Observatory was brought into being. I'd never seen it before and suggest it's essential viewing for anyone with an interest in Spurn, its birds or the Observatory.

Click on this link       Film on Spurn Bird Observatory

There are a number of remarkable things about the scenes depicted. Clearly it was de rigeur to wear a long macintosh,  a  flat cap , stout boots and carry a large stick when driving a Heligoland trap, oh , and be in a suit, preferably with waistcoat !!!  Plus too, note the sheer numbers of people involved in guiding the birds into the trap.

Early days, even to the extent of showing the preferred way of using a Dolland and Aitchison Target Major telescope ! It might all look rather amateurish, but it must be acknowledged that , from such efforts, grew the observatory network we see to day, including Spurn which grows from strength to strength.  Who would have thought that those early efforts by Ralph Chislett and his colleagues would result in the situation we see today where an award winning book on the birds of Spurn has been published, on land being owned and a new observatory building set up. Tribute indeed and one that leads to a confidence that other such initiatives are likely to follow in the future.  A great place, a great example and continuing great efforts in the cause of  bird migration studies. And remember, you can do your bit too by becoming a Friend of Spurn ( see the Observatory web site for details ) so that the necessary ideas of the future can move forward.

Spurn remembered 1958 !

Now I suspect this entry will cause some hilarity in some quarters, not without justification I guess !!  Even a glimpse at the reproduced diary entries below , the writing style, the layout, the simplicity and so on, points at humble beginnings. But that was how it was , folks !  It serves to show that enthusiasm was high and efforts just as focused even if the outcomes weren't perhaps as extensive as today.

In August, 1958 I was sixteen. I'd been to Spurn before on day trips but never stayed over for any period. A birding friend of mine at grammar school , Geoff Aynsley, and I decided to spend a holiday at the observatory during the last couple of weeks of August. This involved getting a train from Barnsley to Doncaster,   Doncaster to Hull  and then a bus to Spurn from Hull itself.  No M62 in those days !

There was no full time warden in those days, but one, Lt.Colonel H.G. Brownlow, was in residence at the Warren for the autumn of that year, supervising ringing and general arrangements and soon had us sorted out. We met up with other birders staying at the observatory ( Bill Curtis, Colin Pask, Ken Hardcastle , George Edwards and Charlie Winn ) and were soon into the swing of things.  The initial thing we were "recruited into" was a drive on the Heligoland trap. A "semi-long" in the parlance of our military advisor !  This started at the gate I believe, but his  "long version" started at the Blue Bell and involved disturbing each and every bush so hoping that any hapless birds made their way towards the Warren trap. In a way it was exciting stuff really ! After that we went seawatching for the remainder of the day, but were also given some "lucid" rejoinders from Charlie Winn as to what our responses should be to the almost incessant requests for long and semi-long heligoland drives.  Charlie became a close friend during the time I was in Yorkshire , an ace birder and , shall we say, an exceptional character !  His three wheel "van"  ( watch a similar version owned by the Trotter family in "Only Fools and Horses" ) guaranteed a near death experience  when negotiating Hull traffic and roundabouts !


Click to enlarge images.

I was to spend many days , if not weeks ,  at Spurn in the decade afterwards, and since returning from Scotland recentlyI can again take my fill of this wonderful place. This particular  holiday though still stands out vividly in my memory as do many other periods which followed "in the early days". A rite of passage in many ways and an intro to a lifetime's passion.  Things have changed , and continue to change at Spurn , but that essential magic is still present. For example, there were three fields to cross from the Warren to the coast in those days ; nowadays the rigours of coastal erosion  have ensured the sea is a very close neighbour of Warren Cottage itself.! 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Autumnal Equinox

Today ( 22nd September ) marks the occasion of the Autumnal Equinox within the Astronomical  calendar. This means that our night and day are of approximate equal length as the Equator passes the centre of the Sun.   Our North and South poles are not tilted towards or away from the Sun, as on other occasions, but are aligned to , theoretically at least, the same amount of daylight to both of Earth's hemispheres.

The next notable occasion is that of the "winter solstice" on the 21/22 nd December, with the 21st being the shortest day of the year in the context of daylight.

The Meteorological Calendar is derived from the Grigorian Calendar  which we assiduously follow . The seasons are simply split into three monthly blocks, which makes forecasting and the comparison of statistics easier to follow. These are straightforward.....Spring is March to May inclusive, Summer is June to August, Autumn is September to November and Winter is December through to February.

And , if you really want to be precise, we now have 100 days left to the end of the year!!!  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Huddersfield and Halifax RSPB MG first autumn meeting.

The first meeting of the autumn/winter was last evening. After all the usual formalities were dealt with by David Hemingway ( Group Leader ) we were treated to a very entertaining and informative talk by John Gardner on " Iberian Birds".  A very varied array of bird photographs was shown from a variety of locations in northern Spain including some superb shots of Great Bustard in display. Similarly close up shots of both Bonelli's and Golden Eagle were impressive. I wasn't aware previously of the extent to which photographic opportunities and facilities were laid on with a whole series of hides having been created for that purpose at various different spots and local guides providing the necessary back up too. Quite a business . The one that John Gardner used utilised road kill as bait, i.e. dead Rabbits, for the eagles in question with some obvious regular success at the site on the boundary between Spain and Portugal overlooking the immense "jointly" protected nature reserve. I doubt the process or habit of using tethered white pigeons ( by other people ) is legal (?) but clearly the local populations of eagles are thriving and taking full advantage of the situation.   My favourite photograph.......Bluethroat, a real corker , but many others similarly competed !!!

The Group are visiting Rutland Water on Sunday, one of a series of trips that are organized throughout the year.  Why not pay us a visit ? Take a look at the website of the group for all the details of both meetings and trips.  

Inaugural meeting Penistone and District Countryside Society.

Tuesday evening saw the first formal meeting of the Penistone and District Countryside Society ( South Yorkshire ).  This is the brainchild of Chris Tomson, previously a farmer at Broomhead in the Peak National Park and now an Agricultural Advisor with the RSPB.  Currently his main ( work ) "target area" is the Yorkshire Wolds and it was on this area and the theme of farming and wildlife that he presented the first talk to the embryonic group. The intention is to hold a series of meetings in winter and a programme of outside visits to areas of interest in the Spring and summer.

It was a great evening with a series of attractive and hugely relevant photographs, most of which had been taken by Chris himself. Now we all know that our farmland bird communities have reduced in recent times, decimated by the increase in intensive farming methods and the rapid turn around between summer harvested crops and those sown for over-wintering. And it's easy also to lay blame and criticise such innovation and call out for change. Hopefully change there may be, given that it's estimated that many farmland bird species, for instance, have reduced by 60%,  that due to the specificity of insecticide sprays the food upon which many species depends is a thing of the past and due also to the spraying of crops the botannical diversity of the countryside has plummeted. But also let's remind ourselves that the call for increased food production ( predicted at needing to double by 2050 ) comes from successive Governments, who we elect, who operate on our behalf and whose policies we should be prepared to confront as necessary. In all these situations the "adult way" is to participate, identify opportunities for change and work hard at gaining support for suggested changes , not stand on the byelines and bleat !!  Certainly the "targetting" of important agricultural areas and the adoption of these principles is symptomatic of the RSPB's approach which is enjoying success. OK, as yet, it might only be 5% of farmers who are participating , but the potential opportunity for change is just around the corner with the schemes under consideration by DEFRA in a post-Brexit situation.

I felt more optimistic when I came out of the hall than when I went in. We'd heard of endless examples of  a wide variety of projects,  from Syngenta's Operation Pollinator scheme  ( Operation Pollinator ) to much smaller scale, almost personalised projects introduced by individual farmers. One of these, at Ryedale, near Malton, I felt particularly encouraged by . It's aim is to support Corn Buntings, by planting to assist food availablity, by providing breeding habitat and even song posts and I'm looking forward to receiving more information on this in due course.

So a great start. But what next. Well, another meeting is already planned, on the 17th October.

Click to enlarge!

Do come along and mention it to your friends too. It's always difficult introducing something new like this but I'm sure support will grow over time. Given sufficient interest is evident a Committee will be formed and a longer series of meetings organized. So, watch this space.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

West Mere farm, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire.

This is where I stay when at Spurn. It's immediately on the left as you enter the small village of Kilnsea and offers B and B as well as three small self-catering  accomodation units.  It's home from home , believe me!

There are other places to stay at, of course, the Observatory itself, the Crown and Anchor and several caravan sites ( Driftwood, Sandy Beaches, and Kew Villa, the latter being operated by Spurn Bird Observatory ). Contact details are available at the end of this posting.

What can be said is that notable birds have been seen in the immediate vicinity of any of these. Within a couple of days of arriving at Westmere recently a young lad had photographed a Rose-coloured Starling on the telephone wires outside his bedroom. Not bad !.

Having spent 16 years living on Islay I'd missed "east-coast falls " and so I was determined this year to spend as much time as I could in a catch up situation. For me Spurn was the obvious place to be. It also has the obvious advantage of providing access to sites further up the coast where particular migrants might find landfall. During my recent visit I went up to Bempton to take in the Greenish Warbler which had been there for a few days. So, having been there in Spring and part of August/September I'm now poised for a long spell within October basing myself in one of the above self catering units. Such provide comfort, convenience and flexibility . "Mine hosts" are Sue and Andrew Wells for which nothing is too much trouble. I've already placed my bookings for 2018 so ensure you move early!

Access to Kilnsea Wetlands is just down the road and easily withing walking distance, as is the walk across a couple of fields to the North Sea coast. A similarly distanced walk across the fields will bring you to Sammy's Point adjacent to the Humber with its attractive stand of mature bushes so  beloved of a variety of migrants.   And, of course, you're not that far away from the Penninsula itself , the Canal Zone, the Observatory's Church Field area, Beacon Lane and the Warren area where visual migration watches and sea watching activities take place.  So, a busy day followed by a self catering preference or a meal at the Crown and Anchor washed down by Timothy Taylor's beer. A life style for the Gods .

If you've never been birding at Spurn , then try it. It's a phenomenal place which , admittedly is changing radically given the breach of the |Penninsula which took place in recent times. What the future holds is anybody's guess so now is the time to take it in. Where else can you stand on a narrow penninsula with the North Sea to one side of you and the mighty River Humber flowing past you on the other.  A unique place and experience and a mega place for birds.

Spurn Bird Observatory
Westmere Farm         
Kew Villa Campsite             E-mail
Sandy Beaches          
Crown and Anchor              Ring   01964 650276    

Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder Award.

Apologies for a belated entry on such a relevant topic. These awards were presented on the weekend of the Spurn Migration Festival after the participants had spent a proportion of their day being assessed in a variety of ways. The awards were presented on the Saturday evening by Professor Ian Newton and Dr. Andy Clements with all participants being acknowledged. Whilst there was an outright winner,  apparently the final marks had been close, all were clearly to be firmly congratulated. In Ian Newton's encouraging  words, "please do keep involved as we need you in the future" !

This is now a firmly established part of the Observatory's programme and the competition will certainly continue in the future. For details of what is involved then refer to the Spurn Bird Observatory website.

I have to admit I had a vested interest in the proceedings this year.  Sami, the son of long standing friends Sarah and Steve Sankey, now resident on Orkney, was one of the contestants, although sadly not the winner this time around !  "Team Sankey" had never been to Spurn before so the weekend necessarily included a whole variety of involvements, including sampling Timothy Taylor's beer at the Crown and Anchor  ( that was for Dad and me whilst Mother and son went on the bat walk which, incidentally, was very successful and something I'll sign up for next year ) !!

Now it's not everyday that anyone can visit a new place and find part of it carries the same name!!  Here's Sami at Sammy's Point on Humberside which is an integral part of Spurn. Unfortunately the weather was less than kind and we had to rush off  anyway to try and see a Sabine's Gull which was flying out along the Humber. Sadly we missed it ( much to Sami's disgust ) although there'd been previous compensations given the showy Wryneck and Long-billed Dowitcher  which were present.

Altogether a very enjoyable weekend for all and one to remember.  Well done , Sami !

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Let the Spurn MigFest commence !

There's now less than 48 hours before the commencement of the SPURN MIGFEST. Registration formalities can be completed on the day ( Friday ) , so don't let the imminence of it all put you off. take a look at the Spurn Bird Observatory website for details or contact the BTO for information.  Whatever, don't miss it !

Set out below is very full programme of events taking place and other details of less formal activities,  ( click to enlarge the image )

There's something to entice everyone, a keynote lecture by Professor Ian Newton on Migration and a hogroast to restore those depleted energy levels.  Don't miss your opportunity to attend this event !!!!

An update of sorts from Spurn, with apologies !

Well, folks, it's always said that it's bad to start off with an apology, but I've no alternative. I haven't managed to keep up with a daily Blog on what's been happening at Spurn as things have been a bit more intensive than I thought in the "personal time management department".  Most definitely could have done better !!

However, daily updates are available on the Spurn website, with results from the efforts of the guys who make available countless hours monitoring visual passage and sea passage, besides details of what has been ringed and recorded generally.

Suffice to say I've been having a great time , which has included Red-necked Phalarope, Pectoral Sandpiper, Rose-coloured Starling over several days, Citrine Wagtail, Great White Egret and Greenish Warbler ( although this involved a trip to Bempton ) besides species like Pied Flycatcher, Curlew Sandpiper, Arctic Skua and the like. A couple of reasonable days seawatching were absorbing and I'm looking forward to more when I return in October !

And now , well in less than 48 hours , it's The SPURN MIGFEST.     What's not to like.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Egret bonanza. 25.8.2017

Due to some necessary phone calls I was a bit late in getting "off the blocks". I decided to take a walk along the river bank west of Sammy's Point way on towards Patrington. It was glorious sunshine, excellent visibility and I caught the tide just right. Full tide when I started, with the river surface calm and glass like and the waters gently lapping against the bank,  the waters gradually receded providing the exposed mud that the numbers of Shelduck offshore had been waiting for. All the while flocks of Dunlin and Ringed Plover winged their way up river to feeding areas. There was a marked absence of hirundines which linked with the reports of the good counts from the Observatory of birds moving out yesterday. Whilst I didn't have anything special, it was a good morning.

After lunch straight out to Kilnsea Wetlands where two Great White Egrets had been reported ( isn't technology wonderful! ).  Except they weren't there when I arrived  ( ! ) although one turned up shortly afterwards.

Seen like this they're quite big chaps in reality !!

Shortly afterwards the other bird turned up too.  Mediterranean Gull was again present ( there's been up to 15 ) and the Little Stint showed well, although odd other species I wanted to see appear to have moved on. A nice Short-eared Owl moved over the site ( mid afternoon ! ) and a few Yellow Wagtails were near the hide.   Again, entertaining times.

Finally , a session seawatching. Again an Arctic Skua, Common and Sandwich Terns on the move as were several groups of BHG , a splendid adult Mediterranean Gull above me, and single Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel and Redshank.

Tentative explorations ! 24.8.2017.

Whilst I suspect I might look like some "hominid land crab" when on the move at least things are relatively back to normal, albeit at crawler pace!

And I now have a new weapon in my ornithological armoury. I've purchased one of the radios used by "Spurn regulars" which allows everyone to keep in touch and , hopefully, not miss too much. Thanks to Paul Collins ( Warden, Spurn Bird Observatory )  and to the supplier in Hull for the support.

Being the absolute non-techie I didn't fiddle with it when it arrived and therefore received a rather old fashioned look when I called in at the Obs. and enquired as to the next stage. A knob was dutifully turned to "ON"  ( how embarassing )  and the unit handed back .... and , there you are, operational. There are those of acquaintance who will forsee endless disasters emerging from now on ranging from incomplete reportage, and variations on a theme, but I've realised benefits already and heaven knows how useful it will be in OCTOBER !!!!!

On to a careful stroll along the Canal Zone , although little was present , except a southward moving Common Buzzard ( picked up through a report of the bird over Kilnsea on THE radio. Goal in one I thought ! )
Kilnsea Wetlands area for most of the afternoon didn't deliver anything beyond what I'd had before but was extremely rewarding in terms of views of a variety of species.

Not quite the intention for the day. 23.8.2017

The usual walk down to the coast in fine, bright and sunny weather was welcome, although it didn't produce much that was different to yesterday other than a Mistle Thrush. The passerines were still around and attracting the attention of a Sparrowhawk and a couple of Wigeon hove into view.

And then disaster struck in the form of back trouble, don't ask me from where or how, but I ended up for the rest of the day either on my bed or on the floor. Agony, "old man's back" I reckon. Not much fun getting old at times! And that was it as far as birds were concerned.

Spurn.....the start of it all. 22.8.2017.

Well, perhaps not the most auspicious start given it was overcast with drizzle and visibility down to 150 m. at times!  But, of course, all that can be good for birds, so onward.

Down through the farm to the coast with various waders on the north Field wetlands ( Greenshank, Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and overflying Curlew and Whimbrel ) A couple of Sparrowhawk found the Linnet flocks of interest and numbers of passerines were feeding on the field edge with Beacon Lane ( Blackbird (15+) Song Thrush, a Wheatear, several Dunnock besides the Linnet parties ). Unfortunately visibility over the sea was virtually non-existent although odd Sandwich Tern could be heard on the move. Around 700 Starling were strung out along telephone wires as well as numbers of Woodpigeon.

Back for breakfast with the weather now gradually improving. A knock on the door revealed a wee lad whose bridge camera almost engulfed him ! "Is this the Rose-coloured Starling" he enquired politely. And it was, taken through his bedroom window a few minutes previously. He then proceeded to say it had moved on to wires just outside the farm and there it was showing well. Sadly I didn't get his name ( I hope he reads this somehow and gets in touch ) as he's certainly a future if he keeps involved as his knowledge and photographic skills were first class. Eight years old  with class shots of Little Stint, Greenshank and more !

After a quick visit to Patrington I spent a time at Sammy's Point but nothing particularly of interest was present. then on to Kilnsea Wetlands where a variety of waders was in evidence including Little Stint and Greenshank.  A Brent Goose, several Mediterranean Gulls and 8 Little Egrets were present and increasing numbers of Redshank as the tide started to rise on the Humber, besides duch and an ever changing assemblage of gulls.

Finally, a seawatch to round off the day. A couple of Arctic Skua, 2 Sanderling , a Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher and Common and Sandwich Tern moving south plus a few Gannet and a Fulmar north provided a nice variety. The observatory "seawatch count team" had had 542 Oysercatcher move through during the day and 790 Common and 97 Sandwich Tern during the evening roost movement.

Not a bad start!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

And finally......Spurn!

After a hectic day "organizing" things I'm now ensconced at Spurn for a while ! Daily Blogs will follow that I hope will entice you to visit if you haven't yet visited this absolute first class migration site, linked with convenient wetlands nearby, the Humber Estuary and, of course, the North Sea.

This morning wasn't the best with visibility down to 200m at times, drizzle and wet conditions underfoot. I set off across the fields from the farm, but could hardly see across the first two wetland areas and certainly not a part of the sea itself. Guess it could have been a morning for successive tea drinking !  Nonetheless, a few waders, a couple of Sparrowhawks hunting passerines ( Linnet, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Dunnock and a Wheatear ) along Beacon Lane, but basically that was it. A mission to look for the Rose-coloured Starling was somewhat downgraded on discovering around 700 Common Starlings strung out along local telephone wires ( although it was good to see such numbers ! ).

Breakfast finished I was approached by a wee lad, whose bridge camera almost engulfed him, and asked if he'd got a picture of "the Starling" which he proudly displayed.  He most certainly had, and from his bedroom window at that and, whats more, the damned thing was still sitting there outside the farm ! He'd also got some other tremendous photo's and clearly has a developing gift. I wish I'd got his name as "watch this space" I guess is the best compliment I can offer. So not a bad start , particularly as the weather was improving.

Visits to various sites produced a variety of species. A walk along the Humber from Sammy's Point, a spell at Kilnsea Wetlands late afternoon then saw successive waves of Redshank coming off the Humber around high tide to roost, and a number of Mediterranean Gulls in evidence supported by Greenshank, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and a large flock of Golden Plover on nearby farmland.

The end of the day saw me seawatching and witnessing the stream of Common and Sandwich Terns moving south to roost. A couple of Arctic Skuas introduced momentary mayhem, around 150 Oystercatcher flew south , as did a small number of Gannet, so the day wound down in fine fashion with Atlantic Grey Seal and a couple of Porpoise to boot.  I was well satisfied for a first day !

BirdFair memories.

This year I only attended the BirdFair for two days ( Friday and Saturday ).  Having worked there in the past, volunteered there in the past and, more recently, simply attended the weekend, this was certainly the one I've enjoyed most.  Why?    I'm not actually sure, as there were "downsides" ! I supposedly "scheduled" 13 talks and managed to attend one  ( Martin Collinson, well worth it ! ) and I arranged to meet up with particular friends and missed them completely. But overall the whole event was vibrant , brought repeated contacts with friends, produced extremely useful discussions and updates with past colleagues and others and, generally , just came together terribly well, including, dare I say , some putative arrangements relating to future trips!! Successions of friends flowed into vision, messages were passed and arrangements concluded, even a couple of nice "street meals " consumed. And I gained a hell of a lot of information which I sought out or received.  So, I enjoyed it enormously !

I confess I bought a few things, but have determined a strategy that I believe produces a feeling of success from the beginning.  Some clothing , a couple of books I wanted and pies from Brocklesbys ( conveniently retained by them until my departure ). Friday morning saw me "sorted" in terms of a whole list of personal needs ( or dreams " ) so I was off to a good start and was free to gossip, get educated and updated, and, generally dip into various things at random. I will apply that approach in future, which I suspect is what it's all about really anyway.

Work underway on the .Birdfair mural depicting the species/habitats which will benefit from the proceeds raised over the weekend.

May I wish our Birdfair every success for the future. Well done, and thanks.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Book review. "Where the wild thyme blew " by Peter Marren.

This is a book which I've had tucked away for quite some time. . Dipping into it, immediately after I'd first purchased it, I came to a conclusion that this was a book that warranted an "undisturbed read", a book that shouldn't be read in five page instalments, but one that should be savoured, absorbed and enjoyed to the full. I'm pleased to say I've just had a couple of days of unmitigated pleasure !!

Now I'll not take up space writing about the man himself,  Peter Marren,  as the essential "building blocks" of the person , his love of nature, his scholarship, his acute powers of observation and insight, not just associated with natural history, but of us humans as well, are a major part of what makes this book so unique. I'm a little older than Peter Marren, by about eight years or so, therefore this book pitches up against so many of my own recollections and, indeed now, has so enjoyably reinforced and elevated them.  Whilst the major part of this book is autobiographical, his love of wildlife and how that developed, his insatiable curiosity for virtually everything in the "outside world" is woven through the other events of his early life, but with such good effect.

As things move on,  the personal exposure of opinions, emotions and attendant facts of every day life were a particular pleasure for me. Memories were unlocked in me that I suspect had never seen the light of day in recent times. Tastes of food (mainly sweets ! ), TV programmes,  books, advert jingles, pop songs, Christmas presents....they're all there with , eventually, even sex and rock an' roll resting alongside the angst and self doubt of teenage years. Even my memory of my first French book at grammar school ( "Toto" and his blessed aunt ) was unearthed and fondly served up !  So, so much, and all interlaced with mischievous humour, honest analysis and motivations of the time.

If I said that the natural history parts of the book are less prominent than the autobiographical parts , then I'd be telling the truth. But don't let that put anyone off.  The enthusiasm for exploring "wild places" ( some not very far from home ), and the life they play host to, never diminishes and I have no doubt is replicated among many of us who were also ensnared within this obsession with the natural world.

I'm conscious this is not a terribly  bona fide book review, but more a letter of thanks to Peter Marren for providing us with a first class book, but so be it and I hope it's interpreted as an outright recommendation . The honest admissions, the intimate revelations , but also the very graphic descriptions of what being caught up with a passion for birds, or butterflies, or botany, really felt like and how different it was experiencing that within the 50's and 60's compared to the opportunities today and what that must mean for anyone starting out.. But for anyone , yes anyone, between the ages of 60 and 80+, this is a damned good read whether you're interested in natural history or not. There'll be moments when you laugh out loud, when emotions rise and your eyes fill at some long lost memory now prised loose and there'll be a feeling of camaraderie and liberation too  ( "I'm glad someone else felt like that" you'll say to yourself and feel better for it !! ).

Peter Marren ,  thank you! ( but you forgot the "Wagon Wheels" ).