Archive for Apr, 2021


Master of camouflage


High Overhead

It was a notification from friend Andrew that had us looking skyward.

He had been stood on the hill at Northrepps when he’d picked up a Marsh Harrier flying West high-up. When we eventually picked it up as it flew towards us at West Runton it was really high … I mean REALLY HIGH! It was trying it’s best to migrate North and go out to sea but was having a really problem with the strong Northerly wind.

Would we have noticed it at upwards of a 1000 feet above? I doubt it. Andrew can still hear crickets … which gave him the nickname of ‘Dog-ears’. I reckon we should christen him ‘Hawk-eye’


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.

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Apr 2021


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