Archive for Jan, 2014



A couple of years ago when we went to Canada, I had a conversation with a local Acadian birder. When he knew where we were from he asked if I had seen the White Crowned Sparrow at Cley-next-the-Sea some four or more years earlier.

When the Sparrow, a native of North America, arrived in North Norfolk in January 2008 it stayed for a while in gardens close to the church and lots of people came to see it; after all it was only the fifth time the species had been seen in Britain. Every visitor threw a coin or two in a bucket that was put towards the restoration of the stained glass north window in the church. In commemoration of the tiny avian provider a small panel within the window was given over to an image of the sparrow. It was this story to which the Canadian birder referred. Good acts of generosity have a wide audience.

A week or so ago I found myself on the green in front of the Three Swallows Pub … almost next door to Cley church. I called in and took a photograph or two of the now famed window. Whilst there I also saw the window in the east transect. This much earlier window details St Francis of Assisi surrounded by birds. I could see waders, Egrets, Herons, Owls and Wagtails among others. At his feet stands a Bluethroat; testament perhaps to the areas continued association with rare and migrant birds.

The Window

2014 01 14 Cley Church Window Cley next the Sea Norfolk_Z5A5753

The Original

White Crowned Sparrow IMG_3804

The other window

2014 01 14 Cley Church Window Cley next the Sea Norfolk_Z5A5755

2014 01 14 Cley Church Window Cley next the Sea Norfolk_Z5A5773

2014 01 14 Cley Church Window Cley next the Sea Norfolk_Z5A5777

2014 01 14 Cley Church Window Cley next the Sea Norfolk_Z5A5778


Purple Patch Visitors

A walk along the Seafront the other day gave an opportunity to watch a few waders. The houses that fronted the promenade had unusual visitors to their bird tables. Turnstones continuously commuted between the gardens and the beach. Joining them down on rocks however were one or two interlopers. A couple of Purple Sandpipers, visitors from the north, were feeding avidly.

Purple Sandpipe


You are Somebody

If you have not heard of ‘The Cove’ you have been living in a bubble.

‘The Cove’ is an inlet near the small town of Taiji in Japan. It’s on the Pacific coast a couple of hundred miles south west of Tokyo and each year between September and May it is the location of regular Dolphin drives. Each year around 20,000 Dolphins of a number of species are killed in Japan. We are led to believe this is for food. Despite the current series of hunts only being carried out since 1962 it is defended by the Japanese Government as being tradition and no different from the killing of cattle.

I am assured that both the USA and UK Ambassadors have informed the Japanese authorities of their indignation. The indignation and disgust of a sea turning red with the blood of highly intelligent mammals is something in which we should all be ashamed; animals killed in a slow torturous manner is inhumane.

At the drive last Tuesday there were representatives present from Swim with Dolphin and Dolphin Display Parks present. Out of the 200 driven into the cove they had their pick of 52 dolphins to enter into their entertainment industry. Those considered too small and young for meat and not fit for the performance industry were driven back out to sea. Think about that for a second. The part of the brain in a dolphin put aside for socialising is bigger than ours. Highly intelligent social young animals that have watched their mothers butchered will now be fending for themselves.

That aside there’s a twist in the tale. The monetary worth of the Dolphin meat is a mere bagatelle when set against the millions of dollars exchanged for animals sold for performance. This has to be one of the main ‘real’ reason behind the Dolphin drives.

Somebody needs to do something.

If you think about it long enough like I did  you will realise YOU are somebody.

  • So what can you do? Well you can start by not sponsoring theme parks, zoos or the like that use captive dolphins and persuade others not to visit too by explaining why.
  • If you see any advertising for these parks or anyone selling tickets – such as Virgin Atlantic or British Airways – send them an email telling them why they shouldn’t be involved.
  • Japan as a nation relied upon our goodwill during their terrible time during the earthquake and sunami in 2011. They will be relying on us again in 2020 to support their Olympics. Don’t.
  • Don’t visit Japan and support their tourism industry.
  • Call the Japanese Embassy in London: 020 7465 6500. You won’t have to talk to anyone just leave a polite message on the answer phone regarding your disgust at what the Japanese Government is allowing in Taiji. It will take their time and effort to filter out and delete messages to which they don’t wish to listen. It will make them think.

Dolphins should be free to swim the oceans of the world. Japan is missing a trick. They could easily become the world centre of the wild cetacean tourism industry. 神々の名前で一人でイルカを残す。

Bottlenose Dolphin


A done deal with a Gloss finish

Sometimes I get asked by people to put a name to a bird they have seen … not always as easy as it seems. The other day however it was a done deal. As I picked up my guests in some very foggy weather for their tour on Tuesday they stated that earlier in their holiday they had seen a bird  feeding in the pasture opposite their cottage which they couldn’t identify. After a brief description it became apparent what they had seen. Something that was like a large dark Curlew but wasn’t in their British Bird book led me to proclaim Philippa and Robert had seen a Glossy Ibis. One had been seen in flight nearby over Martham on a couple of occasions earlier in the week.

I received a text the following day from Philippa to say two Glossy Ibis were now feeding in the field opposite their cottage. Today we called in to see the duo and they were showing very well indeed. I would suspect given their size difference they were a pair. The males are generally larger than females.

Nice to see … plus the ringtail Hen Harrier, six Marsh Harriers, two Green Sandpipers and a Barn Owl at the same site.

2014 01 24 Glossy Ibis Martham Norfolk_Z5A6330


A Screw Against the Wall

I’m of course referring to the Wall-Screw Moss – tortula muralis – one of our commonest mosses. What else?

The mosses on the walls here around the village stand out at this time of year. Swollen with moisture from the damp air they have turned a verdant green; a green in sharp contrast to the greyness of the dull January Countryside. Each rounded mound of the Wall-Screw Moss sits proud of its station. It’s only by getting close that the miniature forest becomes apparent.

tortula muralis (wall screw-moss)

ttortula muralis (wall screw-moss) 1


Any ideas?

Ichneumon Wasps sometimes called Ichneumon Flies are arguably the largest group of creatures in the world. Some authorities place the number of species around the 100,000 mark worldwide. These distinctive insects with their slender wasp like shape parasitise other insects.

It’s not often I hear a scream from the kitchen. I was beckoned. The cause of the commotion was an Ichneumon Wasp. It’s January. Almost every self-respecting insect should have had its feet in the air months earlier. So why did Falcon Cottage have an Ichneumon wasp in the kitchen?

In fact it was courtesy of Morrisons … it had been packed in a lettuce… originating from the warmer climes of Spain.

Now there’s a whole argument here about introducing species and what damage they can do but putting that aside I tried to identify this particular species. Whatever it was it was tenacious that’s for sure, having spent the best part of a week in the fridge and presumably having been inside the packaging since leaving Spain.

This is a family that is notoriously difficult to identify and true to form despite having distinctive dark tipped wings (something I’ve never seen before on an Ichneumon Wasp) I found it impossible to give it a name. Any ideas welcome.

2014 01 17 Ichneumon Wasp Northrepps Norfolk_Z5A5918


When does representation become art?

I recently put together a short course for a couple of people who wanted to know a little more about editing photographs. One participant had requested I show him how to substitute a more interesting sky behind his photographs of birds, particularly those in flight.

Such a substitution is easily completed within Photoshop; but should we do it?

When does the cropped out branch in the corner of the photo become unacceptable? Is unacceptability the embellishment of a feather or of a whole wing? When does a faithful representation of ‘what was’ turn into something that is a representation of ‘what could have been’? To be fair … each to his own; and I really mean that. However, should if we alter a photo make it known or can we just accept that in this digital age the alteration of a photo is something to be expected and the representation has become art? I suspect the answer lies within the use of the photograph.


Kestrel with Substituted Sky


Black Curlews

Black Curlew is an old English name that refers to the Glossy Ibis. It is the use of this name in old texts that lead us to believe this bird once bred on these shores during ancient times.

As far as I’m aware Glossy Ibes (the plural never sounds right) are not currently breeding in Britain but there are certainly a lot around; scattered across the country in singles and small groups. This is usual of late. The species is prone to late winter wanderings and a few landing on our doorstep from time to time is to be expected. It is a bird more at home in the warmer climate of the Mediterranean. In 1993 a regular breeding pair took hold in Spain but by 2007 the population in the Iberian Peninsula had increased to 3777 pairs. In the Camargue the breeding has risen from 14 pairs in 2006 to 478 in 2010. Despite numbers globally decreasing, in Western Europe numbers appear to be on the up!

The first breeding record for France outside the Camargue took place in 2011 just outside Nantes … just 300 miles from the British Coastline.

As we watched a Glossy Ibis feeding in the flooded grazing meadows in the Glaven Valley here in Norfolk the day before yesterday I couldn’t help wondering how long it would be before Black Curlews once again became a regular backdrop to our countryside.

Glossy Ibis


The Camera on the iphone 5s part 2

Often something is too far away to photograph. Why even bother to get the camera out when all you will get, even with a long lens, is an undiscernible blob. A follower photographer and I were discussing just such a situation when we were watching Crossbills the other day. They were miles away. He used the expression ‘Leave it to the digiscopers’

I used to digiscope quite a bit. It started in the early nineties. The first time I saw a digital camera placed on the back of a spotting scope (digiscoping) was on the Isles of Scillies; the well-known wildlife artist, Ian Lewington, was photographing a Red eyed Vireo. I was amazed he could get such frame filling photos from so far away (and I don’t think he would mind me saying) with such a Heath Robinson set up. Everything was screwed to an aluminium plate bolted to a tripod and was to be fair very much hit and miss. I immediately went out and bought some kit. Digiscoping, with patience, can give excellent results over long distances exceeding the capabilities of traditional photographic equipment. A telescope can make a very good camera lens. Despite all this I found digiscoping highly frustrating and have and will still  prefer traditional methods of photography; but it does have its place.

How did I put it in the last post? … ‘things have moved on’. I recently bought a digiscoping kit for an iphone. It fits both Kowa and Swarovski scopes and various iphone versions are available. Rather than describe all the detail the following video explains everything. A picture does indeed paint a thousand words.

… and hey, get this. The guys and gals at Kowa have even developed a free app. downloadable from the app store for your iPhone called ‘Telecamera’. It enables you to independently alter the autofocus point and autoexposure point within the frame; as well as colour balance. Shutter speed and f stop selection has to be just around the corner… doesn’t it?

I shall no doubt publish a few digiscope photos as and when the occasions arise.

2013 12 28 Digiscoping Kit Northrepps Norfolk!cid_829708C5-9D1C-4D29-A096-AF02C690BCF4


We had history me and her

There I was staring wistfully from the cliff top out across the sea to the north. I was scanning through binoculars dreaming of seeing a large cetacean surface amid a crash of white surf.

My vision was fully obscured for a second. I dropped the bins expecting to see one of the Herring Gulls that had been floating around. Instead I was being buzzed by a female Kestrel. We stared discerningly at one another for an instant and she carried on quartering the cliff face and I relaxed comfortably back into my daydream of finding a Fin Whale.

On my way back to the Landrover I came across her again. She was perched on a branch over the footpath. The light behind her was blinding. She could easily see me but I couldn’t see her clearly at all. If I was to get a photograph I would need to walk underneath her, turn and raise the camera. She would surely fly off as I did this.

I walked slowly and kept my hands in my coat pockets. Birds don’t like hands. Raise your hands in the air 200m from a roosting flock of gulls and every one will take to the air. I held my breath and as I passed underneath reached for my camera and turned slowly. She was still there. We obviously had history me and her; she knew I meant no harm. The spell was only broken as she glided down to the ploughed field to land on a morsel her keen eyes had picked out among the furrows.


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Jan 2014


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