Showing posts from February, 2013

Books that I urge you to read

Over the past few years I've recommended a number of books. Most of these have possessed a literary bent and are books that not only inform and entertain the reader but also transport them to the very places that the author is writing about. Each can also skilfully express the spiritual and personal side of observing nature, something that is entirely missing from academic tomes. In no particular order I would strongly urge you to pick up the following: Waterlog by Roger Deakin . One man's journey around Britain finding wild places in which to swim, be they pond, river, moat or loch. The author is a keen observer of wildlife and with each swim unlocks the inter-connectivity of all around him. Congo Journey by Redmond O'Hanlon. This is a book that leaves you frightened, soaked in sweat, confused and knackered after reading it. Mr O'Hanlon is an Oxford academic who decides to go in search of a mythical dinosaur that is said to still exist by the pygmy tribes of the

Used to be a birder

With the number of introspective posts flying around recently I have become, well, a bit more introspective. There are people out there (yes, you dear reader) who may quite rightly ask why anybody who can see such negativity in the simple pleasure of 'bird watching’ bothers to carry on. I haven’t been out birding for over a month. It’s been cold and grey, the Six Nations Rugby has been a distraction at the weekends and I’ve nursed a troublesome head cold – all good enough reasons not to be going out into the field. But these are not the reasons why I’ve not gone out - I just haven’t had the inclination to do so. And I’ve not missed it. Maybe I need to come to terms with the fact that birding just doesn’t tick all the boxes any more, and most probably hasn’t for a while. This realisation has been masked by my interests in other wildlife. There were signs – my not rushing off for local goodies (such as Great White Egret and Bittern at Beddington); my perusal of natural history p

Top 50

I've made no secret about liking lists, and that doesn't just apply to birds, moths and plants. Because I'm a sad person with more time on his hands than is healthy, I put together my top 50 albums (after seeing several Top 100 album lists online) - I just had to have a go. If I did this tomorrow a few of them might change positions. I will apologise to Dean Stables in advance - there's nowt here to tickle his musical palate I'm afraid. Don't be shy, there's more to life than things that fly, come up with a few of your own choices and share! They are, in descending order (ie Number One first...) David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust David Bowie – Hunk Dory Neil Young – Everybody Knows this is Nowhere Lou Reed - Transformer Primal Scream – Screamadelica The Who - Quadrophenia Radiohead – The Bends The Doors – LA Woman Queen – Queen 2 Undertones - Undertones Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark Spirit – The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sa

Kevin Ayres

Kevin Ayres, erstwhile member of Soft Machine, doyen of the fabled 'Canterbury Scene' and top-notch English music eccentric has died in France at the age of 68. You might wonder what place this news has on a blog that supposed to be about natural history, but the two are closely linked in my world. When I was a wide-eyed teenage birder in the mid-to-late 1970s I was fortunate to be admitted into the 'inner-circle' of the Dungeness birding Gods. They were all a good 10 years older than me but treated me as an equal, even though I didn't mesure up to any of them in any way. There was Peter Grant, Ray Turley, Tim Inskipp, Tony Greenland, Mark Hollingworth, Dick Burness and Keith Redshaw. Keith lived in the house next door to the observatory and it was to his back room that we used to regularly decamp after an evening in the pub. We would then descend upon his ample record collection and play music into the wee small hours. It wasn't unknown to do so until it beca

Take note...

What do you do with all of your sightings? After you have spent a day out in the field you will return home with a notebook (possibly) and a head (certainly) full of species, numbers, places and a hundred-and-one other snippets of information. What then? We all differ at this point I’m sure. For the record I take my field notebook and make a computerised record of the day, possibly adding a bit of narrative (if the mood takes me). If I have recorded a particularly early or late date for a migrant, a high count or a ‘new’ species for a site/county, then these will be entered into another data base. If I’m involved in any survey then the records will be uploaded via the relevant software. Photographic mages that I have taken will also be sorted and filed. I try to do this on the very same day, so as not to get a backlog as much as to ensure that I remember to actually do it. I have a cupboard full of notebooks, trip reports and lists. It is a personal history of my time in the fi

First butterfly for 2013

The first butterfly of the year is always a highlight, so this short post is just to share with you my first for 2013 - a slightly tatty Red Admiral that was nectaring on a neighbour's cultivated heather, on-and-off, for a couple of hours early this afternoon. It was too flighty to allow a photograph. With a return to colder continental air promised by Wednesday that might be the only one I'll get to see for a while.

Little boxes. Big boxes

I was walking on Mickleham Downs this morning. Not a lot doing, but I was struck at how the Box varied in appearance. This very local plant is common here. You normally come across it in clumps looking like 'messy shrubs', although where it has grown to tree-like proportions it seems to ditch the lower branches (no doubt there isn't enough light for them to leaf) and become a different beast altogether. I took a few pictures to illustrate the point... Box in the open, a collection of messy 'shrubs' Mature Box. Note the lack of lower leafing branches and more tree-like appearance. Baby Box at the base of a Beech

Mrs Malkoa

We shared some marvellous moments together - a Hooded Pitta perched in the open at Taman Negara; a Great Argus sweeping past us like a stately carnival float on the Jenut Muda trail; Cutia and Blue Nuthatch in the same field of view at Fraser's Hill; savouring her home made food; quaffing social beers and wines; laughing at the absurdities of life; walking around her garden being shown the latest successes. God bless you Janice. You will always live on in these treasured memories. Mark, my thoughts are with you.

More worthy blogs

Let me introduce you to three 'new' blogs that I've added to my worthy list. The first is one that was on the list already but had 'dropped off' by accident (and I've only just noticed), and that is Jonathan Lethbridge's 'Wanstead Birder' . It really doesn't need any bigging up here, as it is already one of those blogs that everybody likes - well written, stunning photography - but I bet he can't tap dance or juggle! There must be something that he can't do all that well... Second up is Bill's Birding , a teenage natural history obsessive from my home county of Surrey. What with him and David Campbell showing us old gits how to do it I'm going to have to reassess my view that birding is only populated by those that suck on Werther's Originals, wear comfy slippers and cultivate nose and ear hair. Lastly (but of course, not least) is the Surrey Moths and Butterflies blog that a few enthusiasts have banded together to ensure

Bathing in the glory of others?

“We look back on past ages with condescension, as a mere preparation for us... but what if we’re only an afterglow of them?” J G Farrell Try putting   the above quote into a birding context. Are we currently luxuriating in a warm birding bath whose water was run by birders from time gone by – or are we constantly topping it up with our own hot water? Let’s look at the evidence... OPTICS Binoculars have always been half-decent. Zeiss and Leica have been around for quite a long time and there were even a few very good British binocular manufacturers in the post Second World War period. But not telescopes. The birder of the 60s and 70s had draw-pull monstrosities that seized up in cold weather and were optically poor. I had a Nickel Supra and it was pants. Then, sometime in the early 80s, a squat, green, rubberised scope came onto the market and blew the world of telescopes apart. It was an Optolyth, it was optically streets ahead of everything else and changed the way sco


Neil Randon has recently responded to my post ‘Then and now. Go figure’. This gave me further food for thought. If I really am asking where the originality and free thinking is in birding today, then I really have to ask myself (and any readers of this post) a simple question. ‘Why do you go birding?’ This question is easiest answered when you first start out to take an interest in this fascinating subject. My answer would have been ‘to see what’s there’, but it would also have included ‘to be able to put a name to what I see.’ And why did I choose   birds and not stamps, planes, football or beer mats? The chances are because it got me out of the house and gave me a sense of adventure – an afternoon wandering around the alien environs of a sewage farm beat sticking hinges on a stamp in my bedroom.  So, forty years after I started on this voyage of discovery, why do I now need to get bogged down in ornithological mind games and when did it start? In my case, it would have