Bones of contention

I’ve been trying desperately to complete the final part of research for my book: ‘Cetaceans of Norfolk’. I’m now coming to the conclusion of writing up notes into a coherent volume which has taken me the best part of 9 years to complete.

I have been visiting quite a few parts of Norfolk over the last few days, some of which I’d not visited before, to photograph and measure whale bones. Some bones were used as arches some as fenders and others as fence or gateposts. Given whale bones are loaded with oil they last a long time; several hundred years longer than wood when partly buried in the earth. Given this is a resource that is no longer available the county has a decreasing number on show but there are still a few scattered through the county in gardens and farms. They are part of our heritage. I feel they needed to be audited and recorded, so as part of the book there’s a chapter dedicated to whale bones within the county.

I visited one rather remote farm yesterday. On the approach track was a large display of Primroses the like of which I have never seen before. I’d spoken to the lady occupier on the telephone so she was expecting me when I visited. I was quite taken a back as to how derelict the farm looked. The lady was extremely old and her health had obviously suffered of late. However, she was helpful in guiding me through the very overgrown garden to where the bones lay flat among the brambles. I took photographs, measurements, thanked the lady and left.

When I was little we had two farms in the family. I know how much effort is needed to upkeep farm land and farm buildings. It saddened me greatly that such a wonderful lady was living in what could be described as a near dilapidated house and garden. I guess it was the contrast between the beauty of the approach track and the semi derelict farm buildings and garden that took me by surprise. As I sat in the car writing up my notes, I felt quite sad that poor health and circumstance was limiting what the lady could do to upkeep what had obviously been at one time a thriving, living farm. However, I looked up and a face at one of the windows of an outbuilding brought a smile to my face.


The Birds and the Bees

We all have our nemesis. Even the humble bee.

Thanks to information from friend Cieran I visited a little hub of bee activity this week. The nesting site of a colony of Hairy footed flower Bees was buzzing with activity including some of the Hairy foots cleptoparasites Common Mourning Bees.

Now, Hairy Footed Bees give you more or less what it says on the tin. Well at least the males do. The females however are a dark round miniature football of a bee without the hairy feet. Well, how many females do you know that want hairy feet? They do wear orange stockings though.

The Common Mourning Bees however have go-faster white spots down their chassis. These guys sit and wait, then creep into the burrows of the HFFB’s and lay their eggs. When the grubs hatch they eat the eggs of the HFFBs as well as the stored pollen put there for the offspring of the HFFBs to feed upon.

You would think with all this coming and going, creeping and subversive tactics it would be enough. No. There were hundreds if not thousands of Yellow-legged Mining Bees amid the colony. Again, you get what you pay for with these small andrena bees; bright yellow legs! Their nemesis is the sleek ‘wasp-like’ Painted Nomad Bee, sporting orange legs and antenna. Yet another bee with cuckoo like tendencies. The male’s green eyes are quite a sight. Not known in Norfolk until 2006 I found a singleton roaming around the colony looking for a partner in crime no doubt. He’d even chosen her a nice big flower to tempt her into a bit of cold outdoor mating. Buuurrrr!

If cold northerlies halt the birds in their tracks … there are always the bees to look at!


What do you do?

Those of you that know me will already know I work with four wildlife charities. I think it’s important to give back; to always take and not return something back into the ‘kitty’ seems wrong. Wildlife provides me with a living, one I enjoy; so, it’s important to me to be able to help out wherever and whenever I can to sustain that wildlife.

My daughter, who is in Leeds studying music, contacted me the other day about the rubbish that was left by people in a park close by to where she is living. She was disgusted that people could be so selfish and non-caring about their environment. Indeed, the pictures were eyebrow raising, not just for the environmental damage, but for the poor guys that had to clean up the whole bloody mess.

It occurred to me some time ago that those that care have to do more to make up for those that don’t. So I wanted to go a step further than the time and effort I currently give. I thought I should give and support conservation groups that can do more than I can in the little corner of Norfolk where I live. I don’t mean join the RSPB or the Wildlife Trusts or the National Trust that we all support so we can park in their car parks or get free entry into reserves. I mean international organisations that can make a difference. So, last week I joined two. I paid out my dollars to three conservation organisations that in my view were doing something to better the environment where i didn’t get any direct benefit myself. I feel the ones I chose do something that needs doing to better this Ark we call earth.

Not caring comes in various guises. I have just read an article on Skipjack Tuna. Of the 15 or so commercially fished tuna species in the world Skipjack is the smallest. They are about the size of a bulldog. If you have any tuna in the cupboard it’s probably Skipjack Tuna that’s in the can. The can maybe says ‘caught by pole and line’ which is the most sustainable way of catching tuna. Netting, which still goes on, is not sustainable. Only around 20% is apparently caught that way. All interesting, but the fact that caught my attention was that if you laid end to end all of the Skipjack Tuna caught in the North Pacific in 2018 they would circle the earth nearly a dozen times…. W.T.F.That’s an awful lot of biomass to take out of the ocean in one year … isn’t it?

I wonder if those fishermen catching those tuna put something back into sustaining the ocean or whether they ‘take for free’, without even caring.

OK, Skipjack are prolific breeders and they have been deemed by several authorities that the populations are sustainable buy hey! … let’s get real here. You don’t have to be Einstein to know that something is sustainable until it’s not. You don’t need an IQ of 180 to know that we need to stop doing things that are akin to raping our planet. We have to learn from past mistakes or species after species are going to go the way of the Passenger Pigeon. We need to start building systems and processes that bear the cost of using ‘resources’ that presently are taken for granted. Resources that are taken for free. Even talking about wildlife as a resource seems wrong. In the words of ‘Seaspiracy’ for the time being at least, ‘leave the oceans alone’.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying I do everything right. I’m not pontificating. I’m still learning about how I can help the planet during my stay here. What are you doing? Let me know so we all can learn.

In the meantime, I thought I’d leave you with a photo of a Blue fin Tuna seen in the Bay of Biscay a few years ago. Wonderful, fascinating creatures.


Fancy a Chat?

This young male Black Redstart was taking advantage of the fly bonanza on the undercliff at West Runton.

Now that full lock-down has started to ease it’s just great to get out and have a chat!


Raptor Central

I was sat in the study yesterday when Mark up the road messaged he’d walked out onto Sheringham golf course and was looking West. I guess he could half see the reported White tailed Eagle in the distance circling over a heat haze ridden Cley. He thought it might come our way.

The morning was one of those semi-murky days where the sun never quite manages to break the clouds. A still day, full of promise of raptors circling upwards and moving along the North Norfolk ridge. I’d already been down to the sea earlier. There were things moving; long lines of Scoter, a few Gannet and Red throated Divers. A lone Sand Martin zipping its way West was the pick of the bunch and my first for the year; but after an hour or so I decided to go home and put a few final touches to the NNNS AGM that was taking place by way of a Zoom meeting in the evening.

There were four White tailed Eagles scattered around Norfolk yesterday. It was likely at least one would work its way over West Runton. When I got Mark’s message I decided to sit for a while at the lounge window and see what would fly over. I’ve seen quite a few White tailed eagles around Norfolk over the years. Two graced the airspace over the garden where I used to live in Northrepps and I’ve even seen one from the north end of Water Lane where I now live in West Runton … but they are always nice to see.

I didn’t have to wait long before a Red Kite circled above and it wasn’t long after it was joined by another, then another and finally a fourth. A Sparrowhawk also joined the throng. It would have been inconceivable 40 years ago to have a group of Red Kites hanging around the Norfolk coast but these days spring wanderings such as this are more or less expected. Still, they are brilliant to see.

What with Ospreys being introduced into coastal North Suffolk, and White-tailed Eagles into West Norfolk the county could turn into raptor central.

One of the Eagles did work it’s way along the ridge pasts Felbrigg and I probably would have picked it up from the window … if I hadn’t been back on the laptop! Even as I post this the following morning there’s another Kite outside my lounge window. Glorious birds.



Tania recently asked me ‘What was the best wildlife moment of my life?’ I had to think carefully because I’ve had a few experiences over the years. However, I came down on the side of the first time I saw a Moose in Canada.

As kids we’ve all seen pictures in books of things that enthrall us. Well, these images get burned into young minds. Indelible records that never leave us. Images that perpetuate actions later in life. Seeing the Golden Oriole on a Brooke Bond Tea card. A front piece in a book of the ‘Mallard’ steam train. Rupert flying on the back of an eagle in the tale of ‘Rupert and the Diamond Leaf’. A drawing of a Moose in a book about North America was one of those images. It was very ‘Landseeresque’ in the style of Monarch of the Glen; a moose with full headgear. I wanted to see a Moose. I needed to see a Moose; it was firmly on my bucket list.

Planning the trip to Canada in 2012 I’d taken a look where they were densest in number. The biggest ‘bags’, after all they are still a ‘shootin an a fishin’ community out there, were around the Gaspe peninsula. I must say at this point that everyone I’d talked to about Moose said they were difficult to see; something that was reinforced by what I’d read, but hey you have to try don’t you?

The trip fitted in nicely with the close season so there was less likelihood of being shot and the weather in August was usually quite pleasant.

One year later and twenty miles along a rather bumpy slate, scree like track and a few miles walk into thick forest I’d taken a seat aside a small pool where the heat of the day would surely bring in a Moose. Several hot and quiet hours later the apparition of being appeared between the trees.  Silently and slowly, it came nearer. A big boy with full palmate antlers. So moved was I to see such an iconic creature I was almost scared to sound off the shutter on the camera. I remember welling up at seeing such a modern-day dinosaur.

What was your best wildlife moment?


About the village

Near to where we live is a horse sanctuary. I’ve always thought the open fields and good supply of insects would be ideal for Ring Ousels but I’ve never seen any here … so far. However, until they arrive in a couple of months there are always the Mistle Thrushes to watch. Charismatic big thrushes these birds. When disturbed they fly off with a complaining chatter otherwise they hop about as though they own the place.


I Spy a Snipe

There was a dog walker ahead of us so we slowed down a little to give him and his spaniel room to get by. As the dog sped passed us it flushed a Snipe from the ditch that ran away from us down to the retting pond. We stood a while to see if it would come back as the dog dog ran off and its owner followed. In not but a minute the bird dropped back into the ditch having done a big circle around the village. There must have been some tasty morsels in the wet ditch worth coming back for.


Bumbling about

After last weeks snow it was a real shock to the system to be able to walk outside in shorts this weekend. the Crocuses were out as were a few Daffodils. A Buff tailed Bumblebee was making the most of the pollen providers.



In the recent hard weather the East coast has had an influx. Videos, photographs, tweets and facebook postings have all been about ‘Woodcock’. Indeed there has been a large hard weather movement from the continent of this woodland wader.

I went out last week and inadvertently flushed at least two from within 200m of the front door. Another flew high overhead. I went out with the camera a couple of days ago to see if I could at least get a few shots off. The snow had become crispier and it crunched as I placed my feet. Not as easy to get close to these birds now as it was when it was sugary soft silent stuff (try saying that after a few Shackleton’s)

As I crept towards the small pine belt where I had previously flushed up a bird from under a wall, I stood still and scoured up and down for at least 20 minutes. Nothing. I went around the belt on the other side of the wall only to flush a bird from open ground where I least expected it to be. At the same time a second bird flew up from exactly where I’d been standing minutes earlier. I must have been almost stood on it. Grrrr. It wasn’t until I wandered the other side of the coast road and searched a likely looking spot I saw one feeding in among brambles. The lovely underestimated cryptic plumage these birds have makes them difficult to find unless they move.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

April 2021


<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: