Sunfish in Sunshine

As we sailed back from Spain last week the horrendous seas caused by the tail end of Hurricane Henri started to quell. Looking over the edge of the deck rail I reckon we saw around 20+ Sunfish. This one had just the tip of one fin poking out of the waves.

2015 09 16 Sunfish Bay of Biscay_Z5A8419





Given the invasive numbers of Yellow browed Warblers that were turning up further north and given I’d already found three here on the hill last week not but 800m from Falcon Cottage; I wasn’t in the least bit surprised when one started calling from the garden on Saturday. It or probably another brighter individual is still here today.

I wasn’t even surprised when yesterday a Lapland Bunting flew over the house; and I certainly expected the sixty or so Blackbirds, Redpolls, Siskins and Swallows that were using the garden as a staging post on their way south. What I wasn’t expecting however was what I flushed from a bush across the field.

When dawn broke I went for my usual walk locally. The mist was transient and at times quite thick as it overpowered the sun which was desperately trying to burn it off. I checked the far corner of the field and had given up on finding anything of true note when I noticed around 50 Blue Tits on the wires above the large hawthorn. They weren’t happy. I expected to raise my bins and see one of the two local Kestrels tolerating some incessant mobbing. Instead a Grey Shrike bolted from its perch over my head and landed way distant. Detail lost in the mist. From what I saw I’m pretty sure it was a Great Grey Shrike and not something rarer. Surprising yes! Given I’d not heard of any others this autumn throughout the whole of the country; although one at Horsey around the coast made landfall later the same day.

Yellow browed Warbler



The blind leading the blind

I’ve been doing a lot of research in museums lately. Grubbing about in crates, cabinets and archive warehouses. More on that at a later date.

I heard on the grapevine the other day that the RSPB had also been doing some research in the archives. They have been looking up old occurrences of a couple of bird species with a view to gathering evidence to support more ‘re’-introductions.

Don’t laugh … Black Stork and White Pelican are apparently on the agenda.

Below is a photo of a Black Stork I took in France some years ago. Could these become a regular sight in British skies?

I do wish the money that the RSPB spend on reintroductions was put to more useful purpose. It’s not reintroductions at the top of the food chain that really matter. Releasing White tailed Sea Eagles and Red Kites is all very well and it’s crowd pleasing stuff; but they are unsustainable in the long term if we don’t get the food chain below them functioning correctly. More specifically the bottom of the food chain … the insects. These are the bottom blocks upon which all the other species blocks sit. If they are removed the pyramid will just come tumbling down. We, the human race, are part of that pyramid.

I remember driving my first car  to Bridlington one summer in the 1970’s from where I lived on the slopes of the Dearne Valley in Yorkshire. It was a Morris Marina 1.8L GT. Mustard with a brown vinyl roof. Proud of it I was. I guess the journey was 70 or 80 miles. I specifically remember having to stop three or four times to clean the windscreen of dead insects. When was the last time you had to do that? In the last 40 years we have sprayed insects out of existence in our quest to produce more crop from the same acreage of field. It’s all about money!

To put the mini-beasts back we need to put money into converting some farmland back to heath, grassland, pastures and marshes. I read the other day we waste around a third of all the food we produce. We don’t need all the food we grow. We could do this; it’s possible. We could effectively pay farmers to ‘farm’ insect life. We already give subsidies for ‘bee crops’. Do this and small mammals and reptiles that feed on the insects would increase. Lager mammals and birds would increase as a result. No need to reintroduce top predators … they would eventually move back of their own accord. Get the habitat right and we’ll get more insects. More insects, more everything else.

Our subscriptions to the RSPB should surely be wholly and fully directed towards land conversion. We need to start converting land and increasing efficiency of food use soon. The quicker the better.

Not really sexy though is it? Who would pay their subscriptions for that? It’s better to be seen to have an instant result. So let’s stick a few big birds back in the countryside.

Sadly it … is … all … about … money!

Black Stork


In your face

I was photographing hoverflies feeding on Ivy earlier this week when a ruddy great Hornet buzzed in. I took the opportunity to take a few macro shots as it preoccupied itself feeding on pollen. With my face just inches from the stripy beast I beat a startled retreat backwards when the insect grabbed a hoverfly with lightning speed and a crack of its jaws. After that I gave it a healthy circumference using a longer lens!




The Decision

The other week I got a letter; or more correctly an email with a letter attached.

It concerned my submission of a description submitted to the BBRC (British Birds Rarities Committee) for the Italian Sparrow seen here on several occasions the year before last.

Because the bird generated so much interest the letter is repeated here in full. It is addressed to the three people, including myself, who submitted a description.

Dear Carl, Andy & Phil

Many thanks for your submission to the British Birds Rarities Committee of Italian Sparrow at Northrepps, Norfolk on 23 Aug – 06 Sept 2013. Unfortunately, the committee has found the record to be Not Proven.

As you can no doubt guess, this record provided the committee with a collective headache! Ultimately, it was decided that while there was nothing wrong with the plumage of this individual, a 1st record of this species would require DNA evidence and it was unfortunate that this eluded us on this occasion. As this was submitted as an informal record, we will not publish it in the Not Proven section, but instead put it into a new Appendix entitled ‘Appendix 4. Records held where either taxonomy or identification criteria have yet to be finalised’

It is worth clarifying that a not proven vote does NOT imply that the voter believes the observer to be either incompetent or dishonest in any way, but in many cases just that there is a risk of a genuine error having occurred because not quite enough evidence could be assimilated by the observer(s) in the time available. Experienced and highly competent observers will often submit records on much lower levels of evidence than less experienced observers, but these are sometimes not accepted because the confidence felt by the observer in the field may not be matched by the detached assessment of the voters.

Requesting a recirculation

It is possible to submit a record for a recirculation to the committee. However, there are some fundamental requirements before such records can be re-circulated.

  • We would not reconsider a record at the request of either the observer or the county recorder unless there is new information given which may affect the original decision.
  • We would not consider ‘retrospective information’. This includes
    • Drawings done several weeks/months after the original sighting
    • Subsequent experience of the species

Many thanks for your submission, we hope that you will not be too disheartened by this decision, and hope and look forward to receiving further submissions from you in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Paul French, Chairman.

I guess we knew it was coming. A positive decision without DNA would always be a difficult one, however I would draw your attention to the wording

“… nothing wrong with the plumage …”

Just to rub in the salt on the very morning I received the email the sparrow once again put in an appearance at the bird feeders.

Sparrow sp


Look me in the eye

The amazing bi-coloured eyes of a Red veined Darter. Scarce dragon this. Second generations in Norfolk are a real treat.

2015 09 20 Red Veined Darter Felbrigg Norfolk_Z5A8614


Look mum … I can jump just as high as you!

Among the Common Dolphins in the Bay of Biscay last week was this very young animal with parent. Looking at the photo closely it’s possible to see the vertical creases along the body where it was folded in the womb.

2015 09 17 Common Dolphin Bay of Biscay_Z5A8340


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