Sunday, 31 March 2013

My second painting since 1980


Last April, after producing my first painting since 1980 (which you can see here if you so desire), I thought that I would be bashing them out throughout the year at a prolific rate. I was wrong... it's taken me almost a further year to create the second. My inspiration is once more a mixture of Hockney/Klimt (God, that sounds pretentious) and is based on the shingle beach at Dungeness and the abundant vegetation present (in the painting represented by Wood Sage). The posts in the background mark the line of the old railway track, long-gone but whose ghost still haunts that magical part of Kent.

I admire fine artists who deal in realism, not just because of their immaculate skills but because I just cannot paint like that. My efforts have always been based on graphic shapes and patterns, but it wasn't until I visited the Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy last spring that I had the confidence to use bold colours (and lots of them). For the first time in my life I can practice such art without fear.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

It's back!


This picture might not win any awards, but to me it is 'garden gold'. I glanced out of a window this morning and was delighted to see that 'our' Black Redstart had returned. After hopping about on the front lawn in perched on a neighbouring wall and allowed me to grab the camera and take a few record shots - against the light unfortunately. This bird has now been in the area for 10 days (seen on only three of those days). My wife and I have been keeping an eye out for it since the last sighting (Monday afternoon and evening), so I think it's fair to say that our garden is but a small part of its regular routine. As far as we're concerned, it's welcome to drop by whenever it wants!

Friday, 29 March 2013

An ex-Kittiwake



I started the morning at Canons Farm, but it was hard work. David and I were distracted by a phone call from Gordon Hay, who had been experiencing a far better time than us over at Holmethorpe, what with him having seen Little Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Redshank and LRP. However, being slaves to the patch we soldiered on. After I parted company with David I roamed more empty fields and found myself back at the car...

Before I knew it I was pulling up at Holmethorpe where, after meeting up with Gordon and Ian Kehl, I was soon scoping an adult winter plumaged Little Gull that was feeding over the surface of Mercer's Lake. Both of my fellow birders then had homes to go to, so I strode out to check the gulls that were following a tractor ploughing the fields on Mercer's Farm. Gordon had earlier seen an adult Mediterranean Gull here, so I was pleased to confirm that it was still present. I later saw it on Spyne's Mere.

I ended up at the Watercolours Lagoon, momentarily entertained by a White Wagtail until I spied a dead gull on the shoreline. A look through the binoculars suggested that it was a Kittiwake, which I confirmed shortly afterwards - a freshly dead adult winter bird. This echoes the demise of a Kittiwake last weekend at Tice's Meadow, also in Surrey. All quite sad but exciting at the same time.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

A Black Redstart's tale

Last Thursday, my wife told me that she had seen an 'interesting' bird in the back garden. "It was grey", she said, '"with white sides and showed some red when it flew". Although she is not a birdwatcher, her knowledge of common garden birds is pretty good, so I was intrigued. A non-birder is never specific, and their colour descriptions can be misleading - was her 'red' in fact 'bright chestnut'? Exactly where on the sides was the area of white?  After showing her images of such species as Fieldfares, Bramblings and Waxwings, she was adamant that these were not her mystery bird. It didn't re-appear so I then forgot about it.

Yesterday I returned home from work and, after a few minutes, she mentioned that the 'interesting' bird had been back again. She had seen it not only in the back garden but also hopping about on the front lawn. This time she could be more specific. It was smaller than a thrush (but larger than a finch), was a dark grey all over and the white on the side was quite striking. Most interestingly she could now confirm that the bird's tail was red...

I then had my suspicions and showed her a photograph of a male Black Redstart. "That's it!" she said, "That's my bird!" I now suffered several emotions. Slight doubt - Was it really one? Realisation - She was most probably correct in her identification. Envy - What a great bird to see in your garden. Panic - Had it gone?

It was now 18.10hrs and the light was starting to fade. The previous Thursday's sighting had been at this exact time. I pulled up a chair, grabbed my binoculars and sat at the dining room window that looks onto the garden. And bugger me, three minutes later a spanking adult male Black Redstart flew into the garden, landed no more than 4m from me, hopped about the patio for 30 seconds and then flew up onto our roof. Bloody hell!

This morning saw me with camera in hand to try and photograph this stunning bird (my 82nd bird species recorded in or over the garden). It was a no show, but there's always this evening. Could it be a migrant that is utilising the relative shelter of suburban gardens to 'sit out' this freezing weather? Has it wintered nearby undetected? Questions, questions...

Monday, 25 March 2013

And the winner is...


The competition for the first 'North Downs and beyond' Wheatear trophy was fierce. I had asked for blogger calm ahead of the arrival of Britain's favourite spring migrant, but this was totally ignored. In fact, the use of Wheatear images was at plague proportions.

This afternoon, the official cut-off point was reached. After several counts (and disqualification of Wanstead Birder for flaggrant posting of exotic Wheatear species) we had a tie. Both Plovers Blog and Not Quite Scilly had uploaded an unforgivable three images. However, the West Countries favourite blog won, due to the header shot also showing a white-arse in all its glory.

I was able to nip down to Seaton this afternoon to present Gavin Haig (right) with the trophy. Gavin was understandably overcome with such an award, his second this week following Cadbury's naming him their 'Chocolate Button Ambassador of 2013'

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Bloody fools and those that aren't

It's a bloody fool who looks out of the window or watches a weather forecast and decides that 'it's no good for birding' and, based on such gut instinct, decides to stay indoors. I should know, I've been that bloody fool on more than one occasion.

With a biting easterly all the way from Siberia, snow, wind chill and a blanket of dull greyness you could be forgiven for thinking that bird migration would be halted. Not a bit of it. This weekend has seen Red-rumped Swallow and Common Swift on Scilly, a Bluethroat and Kentish Plover in the Portland area, quite a few Ring Ouzels strewn across the south, three (or four) Stone-Curlews (including one at Wanstead), a passage of overland Little Gulls, Common Redstart, Hobby - I could go on. Obviously not all birders have been fooled into thinking that their efforts were bound to go unrewarded.

In Surrey, Tices Meadow outdid Beddington with Kittiwake, Little Gull, Black-tailed Godwit, LRP, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Dunlin and Pintail. Beddington hit back with three Little Gulls this afternoon. The Canons Farm collective stood scoping empty fields wondering why Wanstead seems to attract Stone-curlews until a sizeable flock of Golden Plovers alighted. There's a lot going on despite the weather.

The end with, back to me being a bloody fool. In April 1980 at the end of a three week stay at Dungeness, the wind went northerly, the temperature fell and I predicted that sea passage would cease, no migrants would come in and a lie-in was the only choice for the following morning. So, after getting up at dawn for the previous twenty days I kept to my sleeping bag - only to be awoken by the joyous return of the dawn sea-watchers who had witnessed a White Stork come in off the sea and over their heads. I wasn't very happy.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Help the Aged

The snow stopped early afternoon, so I ventured over to Canons Farm where I met up with David, Liam and Jamie. The first two named birders are very young, very keen and very proficient, but were OK with an old duffer like me wandering around with them. I was able to go into 'Father Time' mode and regale them with twitching tales from the black-and-white era - how we used to have to walk to Cornwall for a rarity, that you couldn't buy cream cheese bagels and cappacinos on site at any rare bird, that gulls were just that - 'gulls' - and that they possessed no identification problems as we didn't look at them unless they had clean white primaries. And of course I dusted down the old favourites, such as Wallcreepers, Varied Thrush, Hudsonian Godwit, et al. David has heard it all before but politely 'ooh'd and ahh'd' in the right places. Liam most probably wondered who the delusional old git was...

Spring at Canons Farm...

It was quiet. The resident Barn Owl was roosting in the favoured barn (but didn't emerge from it to hunt by 18.27 when I left). A flock of 200 Fieldfares and 100 Starlings messed about nearby. The lads had seen a Wheatear earlier in the day that must have been wondering what all the white stuff was.

And talking of Wheatears, I'm pleased to report that most of my linked blogs have decided to ignore my plea not to post images of Northern Wheatears this spring. Click on most of the blog list (to the right) and you will find plenty of pictures of white-arses to admire...

Friday, 22 March 2013

What a difference a year makes.

Look out of the window. What do you see? Snow? Grey skies? Leafless trees whose branches are being bullied by a biting easterly wind? Thought so. This makes it very hard to believe that this time last year we were at the start of a heat-wave, the very same one that started off a hose pipe ban and reduced southern reservoirs to cracked mud.

On March 24 2012 I was at Beddington SF and saw the following: Small Tortoiseshell (26), Peacock (8), Small White (7), Brimstone (2) and single Red Admiral, Comma, Orange-tip and Speckled Wood. What are the chances of seeing even one of these this weekend.

So, for the time being, let's celebrate being cold, wet and muddy - and if you do come across a confused butterfly or a hardy Wheatear, look upon them with a mixture of pity for their circumstance plus admiration for their bloody mindedness!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Historical Hawfinches

To put the Juniper Bottom Hawfinch flock into context, this may well be the first three-figure UK flock for 29 years and the largest in Surrey for 47 years. In recent winters any double figure count of this species is unusual. I have had a very quick trawl through my available literature and have found these 'hundred plus' counts:

SURREY
Holmwood Common:  flocks of 150 and 100, March 1919
Leatherhead: 'hundreds', February 1927
Earlswood: c100, February 1966

SUSSEX
Site not specified: Walpole-Bond submitted a count of 200 in the early 20th century

KENT
Loddington: 'several hundred', early 20th century
Boxley and Tunbridge Wells: up to 100 at each site c1920
Bedgebury: 100, January 1975 and 150 in the winter of 1984

ESSEX
Epping Forest: 200 in February 1942

OXFORDSHIRE
Blenheim Park: 122 during the winter of 1984

NORFOLK
East Wretham: flock of 183 January 1975 and another of 151 in February 1980

Sunday, 17 March 2013

100+ birds and 100+ birders


Dawn found me at Juniper Bottom near Mickleham, waiting for the arrival of the wintering Hawfinch flock that I first found eight days ago. The light was poor and the precipitation an annoying drizzle that didn't quite want to turn into proper rain (although by mid-morning it had). The first Hawfinches arrived at 06.40hrs, and for the next half hour up to 30 birds appeared, the largest flocks being 12 and six. At 07.45hrs and a little further up the valley the Hawfinch 'mother ship' finally appeared, in the guise of 80 birds spread out across a Beech tree and flanking Yews. They kept in view for maybe 10-15 minutes before doing what Hawfinches do best - just disappearing! At least 110 were present this morning. By 10.30hrs, apart from the odd call and fly-by, they had seemingly gone.

Almost as numerous were the birders. The most in view at once was 40. I reckoned on 100+ in total. For all you keen students of birding demographics there were six women and just three men under 30 years old. I could do a paper on this sort of stuff...

Friday, 15 March 2013

Top 10 NDB birding moments

Recent events have reawakened the birder in me and has led to a certain amount of looking back through my local ornithological record, now grandly christened the 'NDB uber archive' - yes, I know, the stuff of children, but us blokes never really grow up, do we? It is surprising what constitutes a birding highlight. Rarity or being self-found need not necessarily add weight to a species right to become a cherished memory. Time and place can have such an effect however.

In chronological order I would like to present my 'Top 10 North Downs and Beyond Uber patch' highlights.

May 1974 Jay, Sutton
The bird that started it all. I could only identify the improbably coloured bird on the back garden lawn because a fellow pupil at school had recently painted a picture of one in art class. At the time I asked him if it was a parrot. His answer that I could see this bird in my back garden was met with much scoffing. I can still clearly see this particular Jay, 39 years later, I can still feel the sensation of incredulity as I realised that I knew what it was. I started birding immediately.

May 1975 Woodcock, Epsom Common
Cup Final Day, West Ham versus Fulham (2-0 to The Hammers, both goals scored by Alan Taylor, if you're interested). After the game I rushed off to join a local RSPB group at Epsom Common, a place that I had been watching regularly since 'The Jay'. There was promise of roding Woodcock. My bird guide showed me several species that caught my imagination and this cryptically marked wader was one of them. As the light started to fade, our leader took us to a clearing in the woods. With the fly-by timing of a Red Arrow jet, our Woodcock came into view, all long-bill and dumpy body, grunting and 'tchicking'as it went. After several repeat performances I left the common in the gloom, but with a beaming smile on my face.

October 1976 Bluethroat, Beddington SF
I was a trainee ringer at the time, under the tutelage of Ken Parsley and Mike Netherwood.That autumn we were mostly mist-netting finches in an area of Fathen. This particular Sunday was no different. We had been ringing Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Linnets at a steady but unremarkable pace. Ken and Mike went off to check the nets leaving me to sit back and finish off my flask of coffee. When Mike returned, he was clutching a bird bag with a big grin on his face. "I bet you can't tell me what's in this bag" he said. To this day I do not know why, but without thinking I blurted out "Bluethroat?" And it was. I sat at home that evening, still not quite believing that I had seen such a rare species so close to home.

April 1991 Garganey, Holmethorpe SP
A pre-work, very early morning visit, due as much to our new-born daughter having woken me up as it was a desire to go birding. When a spanking drake Garganey swam out from a small clump of reeds in the half-light I could have cheered. No one was about, it was dead calm, quite warm, and all was alright with the world.

June 1996 Little Bittern, Epsom Common
This one came out of the blue. I had helped create the large Stew Pond on Epsom Common back at the end of the 1970s (a small amount of volunteer work, clearing scrub, etc), so it was fitting that a stunning male Little Bittern chose this very place to spend three days. I didn't see it until the end of its stay as I had been on Jersey. The time between arriving home from Gatwick Airport and leaving for Epsom Common was measured in seconds rather than minutes. The bird climbed up onto the top of low willow scrub and was out on show like a primma donna, before flying off and diving into cover. It wasn't seen again.

September 2000 Honey-buzzard, Banstead
I had been tracking the number of Honey Buzzard sightings that had been coming into the bird information web sites over the course of the afternoon and it was unprecedented. I arrived home and, over a cup of tea in the kitchen, was telling my wife about this amazing event when I looked out of the window. You couldn't make it up, as low down and coming towards us was a juvenile Honey-buzzard. Binoculars were at hand so we were able to go outside and watch this impressive bird as it passed overhead, seemingly within touching distance.

October 2005 Hawfinch, Headley Heath
The far westerly valleys are steep sloped and wooded, with grassy, open tops. I was in place in the gloom of an early autumn morning and surrounded by Hawfinches (eight of them to be exact). They had flown over from a far wall of trees to feed in the scrub around me, with fleeting but close views obtained to the accompaniment of lisping metalic ticks. And then they were gone - melted away without warning. It was a highly personal showing that I felt privileged to be in attendance to.

January 2008 Chaffinches and Bramblings, Canons Farm
The 'Big' Field was, for a few weeks, a feeding station to a mixed flock of c3,000 finches. They were mostly Chaffinches (peak of 1650) and, most impressively, Brambling (peak of 1200), taking advantage of flattened flax. I spent many hours watching the wheeling mass of birds, at times close enough to appreciate individually, but most of the time they were several hundred metres away but at distance even more of an avian spectacle.

November 2010 Hen Harrier, Canons Farm
When I took an excited phone call from David Campbell late one afternoon as he was watching a male Hen Harrier I was extremely pleased for him and highly gripped off by it in equal measure. The fact that the bird had seemingly settled in a field close to Canons Farmhouse as the light went gave me some hope that it might have roosted. The following morning I was in place when it was still pitch dark, and, after being joined by Neil Randon and Mike Spicer, an unmistakeable pale grey blob became visible in the middle of the field as it started to get lighter. As the light increased the bird took to the air and headed due west without ceremony. The show had been brief but I have rarely been so taken by a bird.

May 2012 Dotterel, Canons Farm
The facts are these: 15 Dotterel spent almost 9 hours in a field at Canons Farm on May 4th 2012. They were the first Surrey record since Queen Victoria was a young woman, a major London listing unblocker and a good sized flock for anywhere in the UK. The whole event was surreal, with a procession of 'names' turning up to pay homage. The birds shone out of the mud and overcast skies, and all seemed unreal. As I watched them it just didn't seem right that these birds were here at 'our' humble farm. Of all of the birds that I have seen locally, this species seems to be the least likely to put in a repeat performance.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A bit more about Hawfinches

I've been looking at the OS map over the past couple of days, trying to work out where the Mickleham Hawfinches might go when they are not there - which is, if truth be told,  most of the day. The facts are these: the birds have been seen between 07.30 - 11.00 (ish), not always on show but a bit of time spent will repay those who wait. After that, nothing (and between myself and others there have been birders present until early evening). That would suggest that they do not roost at Juniper Bottom. However, if 50-60 birds were present by 07.30 last Monday morning, then the roost cannot be that far away either. But is that too much of an assumption to make? It's light not long after six at the moment, so a quick preen and a shake of the wings would see them away with over an hour to spare to get to Juniper Bottom.

I have found Hawfinches on three previous occasions in the area. Firstly at the western end of Headley Heath in October 2005. Eight birds were very active an hour after dawn, haunting the far valley, perching in the tree tops just east of the Bellasis Centre. They then flew across the valley and spent time in scrub only a few metres from me. A magical few moments were had before they melted away and not only that, a Ring Ouzel was close-by too.

Next was a singing bird (plus two others that remained silent) in a wood west of the Mole gap in April 2011. Best to say no more about this sighting.

Later in the same year, and back on Headley Heath, a July wander produced a flock of 10 birds in the same general area as that of October 2005, with another unattached single bird being found south-east of them.

Considering that I do spend quite a bit of time in the general area during the summer months, four sightings over the past eight years might seem a poor return. However, on each occasion I have been looking down rather than up and each time it was the Hawfinches calling that alerted me to their presence. I wouldn't mind betting I've walked past a fair few during this time as they have watched me in silence.

The current flock are intriguing. Have they been there all winter? Is it a regular wintering flock? Are these numbers exceptional? We will, of course, not be able to answer these questions with any certainty, unless there is somebody who has been aware of them but has kept it to themselves. Very few birders haunt this area, certainly not during the winter. My sightings were all during plant/insect forays and not in the winter. I have visited the area this winter already, just the once, in January. I parked the car in the Whitehill Carpark but instead of walking along Juniper Bottom I crossed the road and climbed up onto Mickleham Downs. had I gone the other way, who knows...

This area is worth looking at. There are numerous steep sided valleys. mostly wooded, with open tops giving stunning views (the Victorian's called this area the Surrey Alps). It is well known for its moths, butterflies, plants and fungi. But not for its birds. Maybe that will change if the Hawfinches turn out to be regular.

This Saturday I intend to return to comb the area in the hope that I can locate them away from Juniper Bottom. According to BWP winter flocks of Hawfinches keep intact at least until late March, so they should still be there. I have my hunches as to where they might be...

Monday, 11 March 2013

My Hawfinches?

Possessiveness is a funny thing – it can even infiltrate your birding...

On Saturday I was lucky enough to find a flock of a dozen Hawfinches at Juniper Bottom, close to Mickleham. Hawfinches are one of my favourite species, no doubt partly because of their unpredictability and elusiveness. Anyhow, I alerted the local birding scene and was soon joined by David Campbell, Phil and Jamie. Alas, by the time the ornithological cavalry arrived, the birds had departed.

Yesterday, David returned (he is, if nothing else, persistent) and was treated to a minimum of a hundred Hawfinches. He phoned me from Juniper Bottom in a state of shock. I went back in the afternoon, but the birds had once more cleared off. But not the birders. There were three groups, and by and large they were all decent chaps, but this unsettled me. Whenever I have been to Juniper Bottom in the past (admittedly looking for plants and butterflies), other birders have not been a part of the scene. They had, of course, every right to be there. In fact one of them, Nick Unwin, was a thoroughly nice bloke and we had quite an interesting chat.

Mentions of these birds appeared on the internet, in bird forums, on news feeds, on blogs. ‘My’ Hawfinches had become public property and I didn’t like it. This is quite a strange reaction, I must admit. I’m glad others have seen the birds (particularly David) but cannot pretend to like a mini birding invasion on one of ‘my’ patches or the joint-ownership of ‘my’ birds. The truth is it isn’t my place or my birds. It just feels as if they are. This isn't an advocation of suppression - I like sharing in any find that I make. I suppose it is an admission that the personal contact that is made with nature (such as stumbling across a Hawfinch flock when you are not expecting it) is sullied a little when it (or they) become a shared event.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Pots and kettles


This is a very healthy Spurge-laurel at Juniper Bottom (between Box Hill and Mickleham Downs). Most early springs will see me posting an image of one (or several) of these plants ... and there I am cracking on about people posting images of Wheatears! Pots and kettles indeed...

My wandering up the Juniper Bottom valley was rather good, with a fly-over flock of at least 12 calling Hawfinches, up to seven Marsh Tits, a few Siskins and, icing on the cake, a Raven flying over Juniper Top itself - a NDB uber patch tick no less. I think this is how I ought to approach my birding in the coming months - don't actually go out with the intention of doing so, but carry my binoculars just in case.

Friday, 8 March 2013

It's a bird's life

The CJ Wildlife catalogue arrived in the post today. I never knew that birds had so much food choice...

Three types of sunflower hearts, 17 sorts of seed mixes (including Vitality Mix and Robin Blend), two types of peanuts, pinhead oats, rolled oats, sultanas, sprinkle food, Oystershell grit - I could go on - oh, alright then - Nutrobal Dietary supplement, sprinkle support, Niger seed, suet, mealworms, bran, Buffalo worms, Waxworms, peanut butter (with or without insects), suet (in seven varieties), fat balls (in various shapes and food combinations), peanut cake tubes (original, coconut, hi-protein, with insects, gourmet robin, very berry) - I'm sure you get the picture. It strikes me that there are children in the UK who will not eat so healthily as a bird being fed by a customer of CJ Wildlife, and that is no joke.

I was half expecting Jamie, or Delia, or Heston to appear on a spread in the catalogue unveiling a celebrity bird recipe that we can all buy at inflated prices to tempt our feathered love-ones with when they are fatigued with natural foods such as berries, snails and insects.

What next, birds having to make reservations at bird tables as to be able to try Nigella's 'Caterpillar Risotto in a rose-hip jus'? Or ceramic finger bowls with lemon-water so that our Greenfinch's can wash their bills after dining? Whatever happened to lobbing out stale bread on the lawn or hanging bog standard peanuts in a red plastic string bag from a tree? I tell you what happened to all of that, some bloke from CJ Wildlife designed 1,001 different types of apparatus to put the food into - sod using a tree or a lawn. You can buy ornate metal lamp posts to attach the 305 different food containers that themselves resemble something from an Ann Summers catalogue, or strange wooden feeding trays that look as if they have been hand-carved by a team of Hans Christian Anderson inspired elves.

This is big business. Somebody once told me that the money to be had in birding isn't from running tours, or selling optics, or writing books - it's from coming up with 57 varieties of peanut cake tube.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Let the deluge begin...


I've decided to embrace the coming 'Wheatearfest' and am proud to bring you  - as far as I'm aware - 2013s first Northern Wheatear image, courtesy of one Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. He took this picture of his wife as she was strolling around the grounds of their London home.

The Prince wrote: "This bird flew towards us, having been prancing about the lawn. Liz said it was a sparrow, but I've never seen a sparrow with such a white arse before. Later, I asked my son Charles to take a look at the photograph I had taken, and he has confidently identified the bird as a female Brambling, which apparently winters in the bottom of lakes."

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Wheatear counter


Yes!! There are Wheatears in the UK - birds have been recorded in Ceredigion and Devon today (at least), so as a service to all those of you who like posting pictures of the little blighters I've installed a 'Wheatear Photo Upload' counter. As you can see from above, plenty of images already uploaded - and it's only March 5th! Let's see if we can make it two million before the spring is over. And don't forget - those big Greenland-types make for further photographic opportunities at the end of April and throughout May. We need something to take over from the zillions of Waxwing images that have been gumming up the system, don't we...

Monday, 4 March 2013

Food for thought



Birding. Searching for plants. Moth trapping. Sharing time in the field with friends. Talking over the days events, or those of several years ago, in the pub over a few pints. These are moments that are not just about following a keen interest in natural history, but are also an important part of our life as well. Most of us will also have family, employment and other life strands that entwine to give us our purpose on earth. It is a lucky person indeed who can embrace all of this and live their life without experiencing the emotion of regret at not having done a particular something, or procrastinated to the point of having failed to fulfil a wish. The world of today is one of incessant deadlines, noise, needs and expectations. It can be difficult to take the time to step back and look at what we do and were we want to go next.

The recent loss of a friend and my own questioning of what I do (and ultimately what I want out of life) has made the following words all the more meaningful. They come from a nurse who has spent a number of years looking after the terminally ill. These are the regularly occurring regrets of those whose time is short. I think they deserve reading and heeding. It was too late for those who formed them - but we still have time to do something about them if we agree with some (or all) of them. You can apply each observation to any situation that you choose or tailor it to your own way of life. Be honest with yourself...

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
‘This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.’

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
‘This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.’

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
‘Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.’

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
‘Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.’

I wish that I had let myself be happier.
‘This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.’

Carpe diem and all that... and as somebody once said to me, and it has stuck in my brain, "remember Steve, there was a bloody fool on the Titanic that pushed away the desert trolley!"

I am the Walrus

It is not often that I would consider rushing off to the Orkney's for something, beit a Hawk Owl or a chance to see Elvis arm-wrestling with Lord Lucan, but a Walrus resting-up on a North Ronaldsay beach (click here) got me thinking about doing just that - however, it seems to have now gone back out to sea and will hopefully return to a Walrus's idea of normality very soon. What are the chances of a Polar Bear on Fair Isle? Arctic Fox on Rhum? Narwhal off Cape Wrath?

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Kent worthies

Three more worthy blogs for your perusal, all from Kent-based birders. The first up is Martin Casemore's 'Ploddingbirder'. He seems to be out in the field, camera in hand, on an almost permanent basis, mostly on Walland Marsh and Dungeness, which as any regular visitor to North Downs and beyond will know, I consider to be my spiritual home. Secondly, a blog from one of Kent's top listers - Mike Buckland's 'Travels with Birds', - who has recently returned from Japan. His spectacular images of several species of crane (many in their thousands) are but some of the many highlights on offer. Last but not least is Paul Trodd's Plovers, more birding thrills from the worlds best shingle peninsula. All three offer vicarious birding at its best.

Whilst adding the above blogs to my list I had a 'moment' and accidently deleted all of my other worthies! Then blogger decided to play up, so I will repopulate when it allows me to...