Author Archive for Carl Chapman


Looking for Whales and finding butterflies

It’s not every day you get a message stating there’s a whale 14 miles inland. From photos sent to me it was obviously a Minke Whale – maybe quite a young individual and obviously quite dead; although earlier in the day it had been seen alive. Oh what the hell, I needed a few photos of buildings in King’s Lynn to complement the chapter on whaling in the book I’m writing, so a trip to the other side of the county was on the cards anyway. So I might as well go and have a look at this whale in the Great River Ouse at the same time. Perhaps take a few measurements and maybe try and sex it for the records. To be honest I’ve enough on at the moment but it was an opportunity to have a break.

When I got to Downham Market there was no sign of the damn whale. I confirmed with a local chap exactly where it had been the previous evening. Tell me again … exactly how do you lose a whale?

Overnight there had been a hell of a south westerly blowing, it even woke me up it was that loud. Combined with a high tide the wind had obviously dislodged the animal and it was floating free somewhere. The question was, upstream or downstream? The tide was running in and all floating objects were going upstream. However the strong wind had been pushing downstream overnight as had the tide. I decided to check both. I climbed in the car and ventured forth on rolling fen roads for mile after mile. The thing is, fen roads are built on a peat subsoil that absorbs and loses water through the season; so the ground ends up swelling and shrinking. It rises and falls like a bride’s nightgown. You end up travelling on tarmac something akin to the world’s longest fair ride. Anyways, I checked the length of the river from bridge after bridge between Denver sluice and Kings Lynn – nada, nothing, nil! All I found were a swift, which clipped my ear as it flew southwards against the still strong wind, and a Common Seal which was almost as lost as the whale. It stared at me with one of those sorrowful big eyed looks and I’m sure it shrugged its shoulders and raised its eyebrows at one point.

For my troubles I got a good chastising from an Anglian Water worker for parking in a gateway but even that was preferable to the bull which headed at a not inconsiderable pace in my direction causing me to beat a hasty retreat. Next time I see a sign saying ‘Bull with Cows in Field’ I might take more notice.

However, as I was packing up and heading for my photographic foray in Kings Lynn I spotted something small in the grass. It wasn’t a whale. It was a blue butterfly. A Common Blue. Not that unusual sure, but a very contrasty Common Blue. A late one too.

Forever looking for whales and finding butterflies.




In the aftermath of Irma there maybe a few wind blown waifs moving continents. Some North American birds will maybe end up here. Birds can succumb to strong winds. Regular vagrants to the sea off our shores are Wilson’s Petrels. Maybe there will be a few around on the Isles of Scilly when we do the tour there next month. Maybe there will be an American Redstart, after all there’s one in the Western Isles off Scotland as I write this. There’s no reason why there wouldn’t be another when we are on the Scillies. There will be some vagrant birds that’s for sure. There will always be something to see. There are always a few inter-continental visitors.

This Wilson’s Petrel was taken off Chile this January.



Some creatures can be right before your eyes … but can take some finding. I was thinking back this week to January … the 15th to be exact. A memorable wonderful day of new things. As I walked on the isolated island of Magdalena, off Punto Arenas in southern Chile, I passed a shoreline of stones. The Magallenic Penguins were perhaps the highlight, or maybe the Sei Whales or the Commerson’s Dolphins we saw on the return ferry journey. However, hidden among the rocks were Rufous chested Dotterels. Simply unseen until seen. So many highlights to mention … in such a wonderful place.


My mate Wiggie

The small cupboard next to the freezer holds doggie treats … and Wiggie knew that. Every visit it was customary for Paul to say ‘no’ and me to say ‘yes’ to a few treats. I heard this week the little lass had sadly passed away. She’ll be sorely missed.



We saw this Chinese Water Deer on tour last weekend. A small alien from the other side of the world but no less beautiful for that.



Visiting Travellers

As we walked down the dunes on Sunday there was a flock of swallows making their way slowly south towards Africa. Feeding as they went. Then they rested a while before moving on again. They are enough to lift any heart. Unencumbered, no ties, able to fly where they wish. Not without reason we say something or someone is as free as a bird. They travel between continents at will – do you envy them?


Breaking Cover

Sat in the hide last week as we looked out over the marshes this little fella broke cover. He came out of his hidi-hole and stepped into the sunshine for a bit of a preen; and who can blame him. Some good weather over the last few weeks here in Norfolk. However, experience tells me we’ll pay for it in the long run.

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September 2017
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