Grumpy Old Birder http://grumpyoldbirder.com Sun, 17 Nov 2019 13:12:06 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.11 Grumpy Old Birder rants about the world of birdwatching, wildlife conservation and more... Bo Beolens clean episodic Bo Beolens bo@fatbirder.com bo@fatbirder.com (Bo Beolens) bo beolens 1997-2017 Birding Rants Grumpy Old Birder http://fatbirder.world/grumpyoldbirder/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/powerpress/iTunesPodCoverGOB.jpg http://grumpyoldbirder.com Monthly GOB 100 – Birding http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-100-birding/ Wed, 07 Feb 2018 08:43:31 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1533 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-100-birding/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-100-birding/feed/ 0 GOB 100 Birding This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine February 2018 Like my childhood self I am in awe of the vast blueness of sky over the summer reed-bed. Is this ineffable depth, breadth and beauty God? Unknowable and … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-100-birding/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 100 Birding

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine February 2018

Like my childhood self I am in awe of the vast blueness of sky over the summer reed-bed. Is this ineffable depth, breadth and beauty God? Unknowable and visceral, my sated awe becomes tranquillity.

But not silence, as Gaia’s breath is ruffling reed-stems and bush leaves, lullaby-like but not soporific. Like a distant melody drawing forth a vague memory of music, an ear-worm that awakens attention. Beneath it a deeper beat of insects buzz.

Momentarily my eyes are drawn to the flutter of a butterfly never settling for inspection. Bombastic bees bounce and drift, bounce and drift, bounce away as my eyes are taken by the pop-up perching of streaked perfection ruined by scatter-brain song. The Sedge Warbler drops down in an instant. My vision is drawn across the straw-yellow sea of reeds. Periodic Reed Buntings punctuate the scene. If it stays up in view it self-identifies punching out song to proclaim its maleness.

The melody is building, but there is a contrapuntal chorus breaking into awareness. Marsh Frogs are making their maleness known too. Like a cough in the concert hall a Moorhen’s unnecessary alarm momentarily distracts, but is forgiven as the musical complexity captivates. As if a contralto’s aria is unexpectedly performed at full volume a Cetti’s Warbler whispers across seven fields. Subtle by their distance Jackdaws chack and jack like an audience murmuring appreciation.

Steady strong flight creeps into the eye corner gliding across the pools and ditches between beds. Sun glints on a golden headdress as she flies in to relieve the calico male from nest duty. He doesn’t harry but soars preferring another hunting ground. Mrs Moorhen skitters again fearing for her clustered brood. Plovers take to their flapping flight as duty calls them to see-off the predator. Obscured before they flew, a lone Greenshank dips and struts elegance, wading majesty. The Sandpiper peaks from behind a bulrush to bob and bow across the mud picking invisible flies where they use a puddle’s meniscus to consider reproduction.

Over their heads a life-long couple hover and dive together. White-wings folded she settles on the mud to receive the silver fish he offers, an hourly tribute to her fertility. Having danced they drift away to couple on a safe islet elsewhere.

Their flight takes my eyes back to the never empty summer singing sky-blue. Hirundines have gathered while I supped on nature’s grounded feast. They throng and turn invisibly high, or water skim and skirl head high each shrill call a thrilling summer proclamation. Massed they suddenly starburst like a rocket as summer’s scimitar winged hunter dives for fast food. Luckless the Hobby peels away to soar again with seven fellows circling and sating their hunger on the midday Odonata hatch.

The high sun’s warmth has hatched thermals and Buzzards circle as they drift across the scene. The kettle slowly steams across the sky until even binocular enhanced views are too dim.

Drawing back again to the high blue I see true summer – Swifts are teaching all others how to fly. There can be nothing more truly sky-borne than Swifts. All else seeks to emulate the mastery they demonstrate. Fledged into the sky they know only air until adulthood forces their too-short feet into cliff crevice or roof space. Is it my soul that soars with them in religious rapture or just ornithological euphoria? They are the crescendo’s end, the peak of perfection, an avian art-form.

Tired eyes may search out the dapper dress of Bearded Reedlings or summer seeking ears my listen for Turtle Dove purrs or Cookoo calls, but the high ridge has been conquered when the Swift summit was reached.

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GOB 100 Birding This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine February 2018 Like my childhood self I am in awe of the vast blueness of sky over the summer reed-bed. Is this ineffable depth, breadth and beauty God? GOB 100 Birding This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine February 2018 Like my childhood self I am in awe of the vast blueness of sky over the summer reed-bed. Is this ineffable depth, breadth and beauty God? Unknowable and … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:23
GOB 99 – Tree Huggers & Tree Muggers http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-99-tree-huggers-tree-muggers/ Sat, 06 Jan 2018 09:06:10 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1516 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-99-tree-huggers-tree-muggers/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-99-tree-huggers-tree-muggers/feed/ 0 GOB 99 Tree Huggers & Tree Muggers This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine January 2018 Who could resist running one’s hand along the skin-smooth bark of a beech tree or hugging a hornbeam? Can anyone doubt the primal pleasure … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-99-tree-huggers-tree-muggers/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 99 Tree Huggers & Tree Muggers

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine January 2018

Who could resist running one’s hand along the skin-smooth bark of a beech tree or hugging a hornbeam? Can anyone doubt the primal pleasure of hearing the wind ruffling the leaves of a poplar or knowing of the reassuring longevity of a craggy old oak? Well the answer turns out to be the municipal muggers who are more concerned by possibly litigation than certain deforestation.

In a week where I received an invitation from the London Borough of Waltham Forest to the opening of their new nature reserve, I also read about the utter foolishness of another London borough. It seems Wandsworth council have plans to remove an avenue of 150-year-old chestnut trees on Tooting Common. Is the heartwood rotten or have our increasingly frequent storms damaging them? The answer is a resounding no! So why are 51 magnificently mature trees being replaced by 64 saplings? It’s not that they are dangerous, but that they might become so. One fell over and some others need pruning. The council culling is the worst sort of euthanasia, chopping down the hale and hearty because ‘THEY MIGHT ONE DAY GET SICK’, makes me shudder as I approach an age when Wandsworth might consider me ready for the scrap heap, just in case I go gaga and become a financial burden.

Are they alone in their municipal madness… not a bit of it. In Sheffield, the last batch of mature trees in the borough will probably have been under the axe by the time you read this. Why? Because of a ridiculous private contract that puts the maintenance cost of mature trees as far greater than that of saplings.

There is something desperately wrong with a society that puts a lower value on a massive and ancient oak than they do on a small, non-native sapling. Town trees are not just pigeon perches, they are a lifeline. Every survey ever undertaken shows how nature can go a long way to putting right what we get so wrong whether its urban pollutants or the destroying of souls by turning everything in our environment into concrete. We need trees for our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Even the most arcane accountant must put a huge financial value on arboreal assets.

Us ordinary citizens are up in arms whenever trees are threatened. It doesn’t matter whether you are a woolley-minded liberal, a dyed in the blue wool tory or a red and ragged socialist, everywhere real people really care about trees in a way that is almost druidic. There is a little ‘green man’ in us all no matter how urban we have become. But this community upsurge alone will not save the day.

We need to legislate. We cannot afford as a society to be ludicrously litigious. The reasonableness of common-sense is being replaced by the t’ching of cash when we can cover up our own recklessness by suing ‘the authorities’. Individual judgements cannot dictate to society as a whole in this way so we need to enshrine in the statutes a greater degree of personal responsibility. Don’t go out in a storm then sue the tree owner when the gale brings its branches down on you, stay in doors! When a conker falls on your conk its an act of nature not the fault of an elected official who recklessly let the horse chestnut tree stand.

What is more important to defend, the health of the nation or the liability of those whom we elect?

To paraphrase the old ode… I think that I will never see, a poem lovely as a tree. If we let the council axes fall, we’ll never see a tree at all!

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GOB 99 Tree Huggers & Tree Muggers This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine January 2018 Who could resist running one’s hand along the skin-smooth bark of a beech tree or hugging a hornbeam? Can anyone doubt the primal pleasure … Continue r... GOB 99 Tree Huggers & Tree Muggers This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine January 2018 Who could resist running one’s hand along the skin-smooth bark of a beech tree or hugging a hornbeam? Can anyone doubt the primal pleasure … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:56
GOB 97 Garden Cities http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-97-garden-cities/ Sat, 11 Nov 2017 11:52:37 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1493 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-97-garden-cities/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-97-garden-cities/feed/ 0 GOB 97 Garden Cities This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine November 2017 I watched the World Athletics Championships Marathon wending its way through the historic streets of the City of London and was struck by two things over and … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-97-garden-cities/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 97 Garden Cities

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine November 2017

I watched the World Athletics Championships Marathon wending its way through the historic streets of the City of London and was struck by two things over and above my dual admiration and horror that anyone can run more than twenty-six miles in a couple of hours, and that anyone would want to. Surely a gentle stroll (or in my case lurch) a few meters down a track to a bird hide would ease their stress levels and keep them fit in heart and soul if not in body.

Having spent a lot of my working life in the Capital I was struck by its fine architecture and reminded of the splendid street names. These days, new estates end up with the boring names of boring councillors or some twee theme like garden flowers or Scottish counties, who would name a road Threadneedle Street today, let alone Cold Bath Lane, or a local favourite of mine Poor Hole Lane, commemorating the pit hapless serfs were dumped into having fallen foul of the plague.

As we are increasing cut off from the country one would expect us to become more ‘urbane’ instead of having all colour drained from our brains.

And that was the second thought that struck me as TV drones gave me a bird’s-eye view of the super fit African runners leading the rest… the only green on view was the colour of the Ethiopian’s vests! Pan out and, of course, London sports some wonderful parks, a few even being wildlife havens. At street level a bistro or two has some topiaried box and pubs flourish an occasional hanging basket, but I spotted just two rooftops that sprouted greenery. One was clearly bedecked in a sedum blanket and another had one corner with some turf and a few potted trees surrounding what I assumed was the Directors’ roof retreat of some merchant bank or insurance company.

We are being left behind the rest of the world in imaginative planting.

One of my first overseas trips was to see family in New Zealand with a stopover in Singapore. Even then that city was one of the greenest I’ve seen with every street an avenue, every unpaved yard a shrubbery and every hanging walkway a hanging garden with vines spreading along the walls and almost reaching the traffic below. Now this city of gardens strives to be a city within a garden. Despite its teeming millions, traffic congested streets and towering habitations it seeks to bring the country back into the town.

Where are we who pride ourselves of being the epitome of urbanity in humanity? A cold, grey blot on the landscape. While one hand tries to diminish exhaust fumes and motorised congestion the other hand has just the barest suggestion of life enhancing foliage. All those flat roofs could be a million lungs of sedum, grass or greenery. If Milan in the heart of a country that we distain for its lack of wildlife protection can create an incredible vertical forest on residential towers, surely, we could manage a bit of turf on the city’s flat roofs?

Best kept villages may encourage household gardeners and Britain in Bloom might muster municipal horticulturists to turn roundabouts into floral tributes but, as a nation we need to do so much more to bring country into town and use our redundant rooftops to be natural air fresheners.

Who knows, a few more plants might feed a few more passerines, encourage a few more pollinators and fix noxious discharges before they drift into the food chain, or from lining our children’s lungs with lead.

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GOB 97 Garden Cities This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine November 2017 I watched the World Athletics Championships Marathon wending its way through the historic streets of the City of London and was struck by two things over and … Cont... GOB 97 Garden Cities This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine November 2017 I watched the World Athletics Championships Marathon wending its way through the historic streets of the City of London and was struck by two things over and … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:46
Mad Hatter http://grumpyoldbirder.com/mad-hatter/ Sun, 15 Oct 2017 15:51:15 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1479 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/mad-hatter/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/mad-hatter/feed/ 0 Mad Hatter A tribute to Al Batt I knew it was March because the hares were going mad. They were haring across the fields. Three hares chased each other, stopped and thought about it and then chased each other back … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/mad-hatter/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> Mad Hatter

A tribute to Al Batt

I knew it was March because the hares were going mad. They were haring across the fields. Three hares chased each other, stopped and thought about it and then chased each other back the other way. I knew it would stop when one decided not to be chaste any more. Their antics were not as pointless as they seemed.

I know about pointless, I’m a birdwatcher. An acquaintance, unable to get his head around the why of birding asked if I took photos of the birds I chased. He was a golfer, I asked him if he took photos of a little white ball going down a hole… now he got it, …birders are mad.

I went into the bird hide. There is room in there for a dozen birders or one person talking loudly. Luckily it was his day off. I looked over the scrape. It’s called a scrape as the birds are scraped together to make ends meet. Today the scraping must have been from the bottom of the barrel as it was very quiet. The wind whistled through the viewing slots and a few teal whistled while they worked up an appetite. A lone curlew was poking his nose in where it did concern him. One egret was hunting fish by himself, he had no egrets.

Sparrows scattered from the willows when a merlin flew through so low it had to hop up each time it encountered a tall weed. Magic! But that’s what you’d expect from Merlin. I went back to the car to join Hawkeye. She likes company when we are birding, …her own. I told her the birding was very quiet so far, she told me to keep it that way.

It was trying to be Spring, but no one had told the Winter breeze still visiting from Siberia. It still kept trying, buds threatened to burst, blossom on a cherry was wondering where the bees were. A solitary bee had set his alarm too early and made a bee-line for the blossom.

Some birds had been queuing all night and got worms. I recall my grandmother used to ask me if I had worms when I squirmed on her lap. Anyone would have squirmed if granny had ever brushed their hair, no wonder my dad was bald. Dad was a policeman and a fisherman. When he was on nightshift he would collect worms from people’s lawns using his flashlight. He kept the worms in a tin, no one knew as he kept it under his hat. Thrushes who queued all night resented my dad getting to the worms first.

Cows wandered the marshes. The fields were scattered with molehills and cow pats. Very occasionally three or four cow pats walked a short way so I could tell they were grey partridge. They knew spring was around the corner as they cuddled in a lovey-dovey covey.

It wasn’t that early but the larks were up. I listened intently to their song, it said summer had started the long journey north.

A buzzard circled high above. Rabbits didn’t notice, the buzzard had his eye on them. Rabbits aren’t that bright, if they were they would stop eating their own droppings and think about a decent breakfast instead, I know I was, so was the buzzard. Some rabbits had bright eyes from watching Watership Down, they scattered to their warren at the shadow of a passing crow. For some reason, I wondered if I would see a white rabbit disappear down a hole, I was birding in wonderland.

I’d love to go birding with Al Batt but no-one has offered to cover the air fare. We birders have deep pockets, but they are full of bird seed and snacks. Mine are full of rye in case there are a couple of dozen hungry blackbirds about.

You probably think I’ve gone All Batty, Y the L not.

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Mad Hatter A tribute to Al Batt I knew it was March because the hares were going mad. They were haring across the fields. Three hares chased each other, stopped and thought about it and then chased each other back … Continue reading → Mad Hatter A tribute to Al Batt I knew it was March because the hares were going mad. They were haring across the fields. Three hares chased each other, stopped and thought about it and then chased each other back … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:27
GOB 96 Tales of the Unexpected http://grumpyoldbirder.com/1469-2/ Sat, 07 Oct 2017 16:01:52 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1469 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/1469-2/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/1469-2/feed/ 0 GOB 96 Tales of the Unexpected This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine Autumn 2017 Outside a summer gale is rocking every bush in my tiny garden… this seems to be an inevitable consequence of sweeping the patio and clearing … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/1469-2/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 96 Tales of the Unexpected

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine Autumn 2017

Outside a summer gale is rocking every bush in my tiny garden… this seems to be an inevitable consequence of sweeping the patio and clearing all the dropped leaves from my pots. But, despite the weather it’s a red-letter day as we have had a new garden tick after 18 years!

Our garden could fit into a couple of decent-sized rooms, but we’ve packed it with pots, and crammed it with every bird and bee attracting plant we can. This includes a cherry tree planted purely for their benefit. Our crop rarely gets fully ripe before its swiped by avian interlopers. Oddly our ring-necked parakeets stick to the seed feeders and the apples we supply leaving the cherries alone. Usually, half a dozen different blackbirds pop in and polish off the cherries. But our red-letter visitors for the last couple of days are a pair of Mistlethrushes. I’ve seen an odd one over the years on a neighbour’s roof but nothing has tempted them into our patch before. It’s been a joy to watch them fly off clutching a half-ripe cherry in their beaks, presumably to the local park where we see half a dozen in the winter.

I assume that they can manage to take the flesh and leave the stone; I certainly hope so as they are surely destined for their brood.

Most of the fruit we produce is eaten during late Autumn or Winter. Pyracantha is so laden one day that the bush threatens to tip over or the branches break, the next its under siege and a few days later completely stripped bare by the blackbirds and, if we are in luck, winter thrushes. Cottoneaster, Elder, Ivy and Honeysuckle all become fast food diners and the grape vine and blackcurrants disappear as if by magic.

We put out currants and sultanas which get eaten by a variety of birds even over-wintering blackcaps, so this year we have upped our game with a gooseberry, raspberry and blackberry bush squeezed into the few gaps in pots or soil… in the hope we can feed more birds and even attract a few new summer species, maybe the ones that, unobserved, devour the wild strawberries that self-sow in half the planters.

It’s one thing keeping the feeders topped up, it’s another to make sure we are growing natural food for them, but even more important is attracting the insects that pollenate and those that are also part of the food chain.

It’s amazing how much pleasure one can derive from just watching mason bees and leaf-cutters sealing the cells of our bee-houses. Butterflies and beetles, moths and damselflies may be harder to ID on the wing than birds, but they too lift the spirits in summer when their flight sights and sounds fill the gap left by busy bird parenting.

But planting borage or lavender is not enough, we need to ban all chemicals from the garden, pond and patio and bring heart back with blood and bone and good old-fashioned manure. Think how big the nature reserve could be if all gardens were free of the chemical cosh that too much agriculture uses. Moreover, we need to lean on the municipality too to stop our parks being polluters.

The more that mad municipalities and over-zealous park-keepers strip undergrowth and mangle hedgerows and grass verges the more we have to do to bring the hedgerows and verges into our gardens. I let the plants spread in bird droppings take hold where they spring up so several pots in hidden corners sport elderberry bushes and I’m hoping hawthorn or blackthorn gets brought in in a similar fashion.

I bought a blackberry bush the other day at the supermarket. It’s thornless which is a bonus, but I’m sure the blackbirds and blackcaps won’t mind, and you never know, they might even leave us a few berries.

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GOB 96 Tales of the Unexpected This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine Autumn 2017 Outside a summer gale is rocking every bush in my tiny garden… this seems to be an inevitable consequence of sweeping the patio and clearing … Continue read... GOB 96 Tales of the Unexpected This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine Autumn 2017 Outside a summer gale is rocking every bush in my tiny garden… this seems to be an inevitable consequence of sweeping the patio and clearing … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:59
GOB – 95 Tales of the Riverbank http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-95-tales-of-the-riverbank/ Tue, 12 Sep 2017 09:59:27 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1457 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-95-tales-of-the-riverbank/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-95-tales-of-the-riverbank/feed/ 0 GOB 95 Tales of the Riverbank This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine October 2017 Boxing is brutal with many more losers than winners. One might argue it saves tearaway teenagers from a life of crime, but, in a progressive society … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-95-tales-of-the-riverbank/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 95 Tales of the Riverbank

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine October 2017

Boxing is brutal with many more losers than winners. One might argue it saves tearaway teenagers from a life of crime, but, in a progressive society it should be banned. I would, on balance, support a ban, despite the fact that I love to watch ‘fight night’ and Mohamed Ali remains my all-time sporting hero.

Shooting for pleasure crosses that line as the object is to kill not win, otherwise shooting clay pigeons would be the chosen, humane alternative. What bothers me most is the effect it has on ‘sporting’ humans; desensitising them to killing, let alone its effect on wild animals. One can make a strong case in support as, where shooting of released game birds goes on, the land is often enhanced for other wildlife. Pheasant shoots in my locality, managing the land for gamebirds, rather than intensively farming it, has led to some of the best raptor watching in England with high densities of small mammals and passerines.

Of course, the same cannot be said for grouse moors or Scottish deer-stalking estates, where the land is managed badly for competing species whether they be predators or rivals.

Angling is hard for me to be dispassionate about as I occasionally indulge. Like many a wildfowler, I enjoy it as much for the wildlife watching as for the fishing. It is bizarre that I find it so hard to outwit an order of animals supposedly many hundreds of millions of years behind me in brain power! On my last outing, the fish won 10.5 to 2.5. I ‘missed’ ten bites, lost one fish in the weeds and caught just two (obviously gently returned to the water). I cannot justify my actions, I enjoy the ‘hunt’ aspect, just as one enjoys hunting for new birds. I dream of hooking a fish large enough to test my strength (although these days that doesn’t have to be that big!). I’d miss the possibility of fishing, but cannot, in all conscience defend it. I cannot lie to myself, fish feel pain and being hooked in the mouth must be nasty. Ironically, my last outing followed a tooth extraction so I did empathise.

That lakeside outing prompted this month’s article.

I rarely rise early to bird nowadays, just like I almost never twitch. I don’t go to reserves because there is some reported rarity, but rather I decide where I want to go and then just enjoy what’s there. In high summer this may well be insects or in spring it might be hares. However, the lake where I fish has one corner spot that I favour for its shade and tranquillity and I know it is popular, so I had to be there before 7.00am to stand a chance of occupying it.

In those few hours rooted to one place my eyes often failed to focus on my fishing float because there were so many distractions. Two pairs of reed warblers flitted from the reed stems to a bush three feet away from me. Yaffling green woodpeckers flew over. Cetti’s called and occasionally popped out from the reeds. Moorhens and ducks paraded their fluffball families for me. Twenty minutes after I set up, a year-tick kingfisher left the bankside vegetation next to me where it had sat unnoticed, streaking by a foot from my rod tip. A frog swam by kicking out his legs lazily then sinking into a weed-bed. Overhead a Marsh Harrier began her day’s hunt. As the sun strengthened Small Heath and Gatekeeper butterflies took to the wing. A common Blue Damselfly landed on my float, but was dislodged by a Black-tailed Skimmer living up to its name. Like a cretaceous monster an Emperor Dragonfly lorded it over the lake.

One might argue that a bird-hide sojourn would give one the same experience, but angling has me just quietly sitting among nature’s glory.

Hear the Podcast:

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GOB 95 Tales of the Riverbank This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine October 2017 Boxing is brutal with many more losers than winners. One might argue it saves tearaway teenagers from a life of crime, but, GOB 95 Tales of the Riverbank This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine October 2017 Boxing is brutal with many more losers than winners. One might argue it saves tearaway teenagers from a life of crime, but, in a progressive society … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:10
GOB 94 – Crop Rotation http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-94-crop-rotation/ Mon, 11 Sep 2017 10:11:27 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1302 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-94-crop-rotation/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-94-crop-rotation/feed/ 0 GOB 94 Crop Rotation This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine September 2017 Half a century ago, a Malaysian friend told me of his dream. He wanted to write, but first needed to earn enough money to buy a small … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-94-crop-rotation/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 94 Crop Rotation

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine September 2017

Half a century ago, a Malaysian friend told me of his dream. He wanted to write, but first needed to earn enough money to buy a small plot of land where he would dig a pond for carp, plant breadfruit trees around it and keep pigs. He would always have water, and food, having carp, pig meat and breadfruit; his dream was of agricultural perpetual motion. Breadfruit would fall from the trees for the pigs to eat, pig manure would keep the trees healthy and shovelled into the pond would feed the carp, any leftovers from the carp would be quickly eaten by pigs!

Not my idea of heaven, even if the breadfruit trees held Broadbills and Bee-eaters, I don’t eat meat, don’t like breadfruit, don’t really fancy shovelling pig dung under the hot sun and the only time I ever ate carp it tasted like mud with bones in! However, it is an ideal sustainable life-style.

Until the industrial revolution every country had its version, here it was a mix of crop rotation, irrigation or drainage and the use of animal and human ‘night soil’. Until relatively recent times, sewage was a blessing not a problem, and land was kept in good heart by its recycling. Pests were kept in check by the continuous switching of crops around the fields. I’m not trying to bring back the night soil men; untreated human waste can carry disease and intestinal worm eggs, but ‘sludge-management’ as it’s called, would save the country millions in imported fertilizer and save the earth from being despoiled and the seas vacuumed clean of all life. However, sludge management would need an upgrade as micro-fibres build up in it from our washing of fleece jackets and microbeads of plastic from exfoliants. Their effects on the land is uncertain.

Sorry if you are enjoying breakfast, but what is it with our use of our toilet bowls as waste disposal units? Eco-conscious city dwellers recycle their Merlot bottles, hang their Harrod’s ‘bag-for-life’ in the crook of their arm and sort their Daily Telegraphs into the paper bin with their shredded restaurant receipts and unpaid tax demands. So why can’t they resist the lure of the flushing maelstrom, but must add to its turbid waters that which cannot rot, so half the country’s sewers are clogged with cotton buds and less mentionable non-recyclables! All too often of course, these eventually flush into our increasingly polluted sea.

I live in ‘Cauliflower City’. Here the fields crow continuous cabbages. Half the crop is rejected by the supermarkets and ploughed back in. Within weeks the same field sports more of the same. When the plough is in action the corvids, gulls and pigeons follow more in hope than expectation. Thereafter, the agri-desert is even devoid of doves.

If you add the cost of fertilizer, herbicide, pesticide, wasted seed and unbought crops together the margins are too tight to sustain individual farms, just the combined ‘units’ of land held by massive businesses. Turning back the clock to rotating crops is a no brainer… millions could be saved on the chemicals used to scour land of disease and the return to a healthy, albeit man-managed eco-system would go towards our own well-being. Stepping back to centuries-old methods would not just see wildlife return, but sold direct to local shops would see farming profits return too.

It is often said that to survive farms have to grow in size, cover every type of agriculture and diversify into other activities. But I submit that a backwards step could actually be the key to progressive farming!

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GOB 94 Crop Rotation This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine September 2017 Half a century ago, a Malaysian friend told me of his dream. He wanted to write, but first needed to earn enough money to buy a small … Continue reading → GOB 94 Crop Rotation This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine September 2017 Half a century ago, a Malaysian friend told me of his dream. He wanted to write, but first needed to earn enough money to buy a small … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:00
GOB 93 – Rubbish Party http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-rubbish-party/ Fri, 08 Sep 2017 10:00:39 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1278 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-rubbish-party/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-rubbish-party/feed/ 0 GOB 93 Rubbish Party This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine August 2017 The ‘Rubbish Party’ won a council seat somewhere in Scotland in the last council elections. If you think this appellation is an unprecedented admission of political ineptitude, … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-rubbish-party/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 93 Rubbish Party

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine August 2017

The ‘Rubbish Party’ won a council seat somewhere in Scotland in the last council elections. If you think this appellation is an unprecedented admission of political ineptitude, let me disabuse you; their main policy is cleaning up local litter.

Litter, as I have ranted before is an issue of utmost concern directly or indirectly responsible for the death of millions of animals world-wide from plastic bags swallowed by cetaceans to grebes strangled by fishing line.

Ironically our massive trash heaps are one reason why gulls became familiar to the most inland of sites. We still send half a billion pounds’ worth of food to landfill, so gulls, corvids and rats have plenty to recycle. The best of us create very little waste and compost our peelings or send food scraps to the bio-digester. But most of us buy it, forget it, then dump it in the bin fooled into thinking ‘sell by’ means ‘die if you eat after this date’. Indeed, many of us ‘err on the side of safety’ and scrap anything even approaching the meaningless ‘best by date’. This viscous cycle of silly sell-by dates, consumer paranoia and supermarket stupidity in selling overlarge packs with ‘bogof’ offers keeps the heaps piling up and the farmer’s prices tumbling. The latter faced with the ‘need’ to offer uniformity for packaging not only add to the ever-growing pile of what is grown but not eaten, but they use more chemicals, maximising yield by minimising loss to wild creatures great and small.

So, gulls dine out on doughnuts and peck at old pizzas risking life and limb from sharp cans and entangling plastic. Learning, of course, that such bounty is available via the shortcut of tearing open black sacks and scattering our household waste down the street before the bin-men can collect it.

As bin collections become less frequent and certain items banned we seem to be replacing the family visit to old friends with an outing to the re-cycling centre. There we unload the garden grass cuttings, bung the technologically surpassed telly and cart our cardboard to the giant paper bin.

If we have indulged in DIY, or have an old freezer we hire a trailer which we have to leave outside the centre and drag stuff in by hand. Why? To stop the commercial exploitation of this domestic service. Apparently, white van men by the million would sneak in their old sofas and builder’s rubble and do what? Recycle them without paying for the privilege!  Can someone please explain to me the logic of this municipal madness!

Two miles from my ‘household’ recycling centre is another ‘commercial’ one where companies and lone traders are charged to get rid of the guts of a refurbed house, or the unsaleable leftovers of a house clearance.

Has any local authority ever compared the revenue generated against the cost of fly-tipping? The ‘black economy’ is peopled by those who pay no tax, drive un-insured, un-roadworthy vehicles – do the local authorities really believe that they will develop a conscience and pay to dump trash? The ONLY reason people fly-tip is to avoid paying.

You may wonder what sparked this diatribe apart from righteous indignation about the despoliation of what passes for wilderness in our over-urbanised land. Well, for years I’ve used a lay-by on a country lane as a raptor watchpoint… I can sit in the car out of the elements and scan the skies over wetland and shoreline. Or I could until the farmer decided to fill it with huge containers, to stop the idiots who regularly heap detritus there!

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GOB 93 Rubbish Party This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine August 2017 The ‘Rubbish Party’ won a council seat somewhere in Scotland in the last council elections. If you think this appellation is an unprecedented admission of political i... GOB 93 Rubbish Party This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine August 2017 The ‘Rubbish Party’ won a council seat somewhere in Scotland in the last council elections. If you think this appellation is an unprecedented admission of political ineptitude, … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:49
GOB 92 – Old Gits & Spoilt Brats http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-92-old-gits-spoilt-brats/ Fri, 30 Jun 2017 12:42:54 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1304 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-92-old-gits-spoilt-brats/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-92-old-gits-spoilt-brats/feed/ 0 GOB 92 – Old Gits & Spoilt Brats This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine July 2017 Rant Warning! Why on earth would you be bothered about disability access to nature reserves? It’s obviously not much of a problem as … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-92-old-gits-spoilt-brats/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 92 – Old Gits & Spoilt Brats

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine July 2017

Rant Warning! Why on earth would you be bothered about disability access to nature reserves? It’s obviously not much of a problem as just about every hide you’ve been in has a wheelchair slot and you hardly ever see any birders in wheelchairs; if they can’t make the effort, why should you? I mean, the only bloke you ever see in the wheelchair slot is some rude old git who doesn’t even answer when you speak to him. All this access rubbish is just part of the politically correct nonsense that plague’s our society. The disabled should stick to blocking Post Office queues and whining about everything. They are almost as bad as the muesli brigade driving round in Chelsea tractors, round in their Berber and Northern Exposure gear, dragging noisy brats into the hides scaring off anything worth looking at and groaning on about how lovely larks are and isn’t that swan pretty. I mean what’s that all about?

Well my friend, let me enlighten you. Those middleclass ramblers with brats are trying to get kids to appreciate nature before it disappears under concrete and tarmac. These urbanites (like most of us) may not know terns from tertials, but given time they just might. That’s if the kids are put off forever by some misery with a long lens and a bad attitude shushing them for getting enthusiastic. Chances are they will have trouble seeing anything out of the hide as viewing slots and elbow shelves are too high for them and the low-level ones in the ‘wheelchair’ space has no seating.

By the way, that rude old git is me. I am by nature curmudgeonly, but the ‘rudeness’ is because I haven’t put my hearing aid in so never heard you speak. I probably have my hearing aids on a setting that lets me hear bird song for the first time in years!

The wheelchair slot is an increasingly common ‘concession’, and sometimes is even fit for purpose with extra knee room, however, mostly it’s just a gap between fixed benches with a lower window. Not so much a concession as a bone thrown to starving dogs. Seemingly an act of kindness, but bringing a sense of benevolence to the bone thrower. The hide has a wheelchair slot and a ramp – what more do you want!

I’m going to tell you, not set back the cause like one TV presenter by claiming that making concessions to disabled people is a threat to wildlife! We don’t need extra paths or closer viewing, but making what is there better for everyone!

I’m an example. My front is curved by over indulgence, but my back is curved by fate. I have to prop my elbows up higher than is comfortable so can’t raise my bins. If the fixed bench is too far away I have to balance on my coccyx or not lean on my elbows. If the benches were moveable and the slot heights variable I, kids, elderly folk and a whole range of non-standard birders would be better served. If paths had periodic benches or simple perches I might be able to make it further than the first hide on a good day with the wind behind me.

Some disabled people must use wheelchairs, and they need concessions… the majority of people with mobility issues need a lot more thought! Hide facilities are not ‘one size fits all’ unless you are six feet, fully fit and very flexible. The vast majority would benefit from variety. Good design costs no more in cash, just a lot more in empathy and brain use!

Why should you care? Because you were young once, will (if you are lucky) get old, are likely to suffer some mobility restriction even if temporary and may, if you have a better attitude, get to breed small people of your own!

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GOB 92 – Old Gits & Spoilt Brats This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine July 2017 Rant Warning! Why on earth would you be bothered about disability access to nature reserves? It’s obviously not much of a problem as … Continue reading → GOB 92 – Old Gits & Spoilt Brats This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine July 2017 Rant Warning! Why on earth would you be bothered about disability access to nature reserves? It’s obviously not much of a problem as … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:45
GOB 91 – Birding Doldrums http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-91-birding-doldrums/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:07:39 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1306 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-91-birding-doldrums/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-91-birding-doldrums/feed/ 0 GOB 91 – Birding Doldrums This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine June 2017 Picture this, everyone around you is just getting into their shorts and sandals, beaming with bonhomie and generally frolicking in the sunshine and you stare out … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-91-birding-doldrums/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 91 – Birding Doldrums

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine June 2017

Picture this, everyone around you is just getting into their shorts and sandals, beaming with bonhomie and generally frolicking in the sunshine and you stare out at the blue skies with a miserable face.

Spring is over and it’s not yet autumn and the rest of the world celebrates while you slump into the shallows of despond.

What’s wrong with you? Get out there and enjoy the verdant foliage and lush woodlands… except, of course, the mass of leaves hides most birds from view… nothing much new is turning up on your patch and the twitching media are hushed except for news of cetaceans, Odonata or Lepidoptera… if you wanted to know about the latter you would be a bugger not a birder your internal dialogue concludes as you sigh inwardly.

Even when you do go out to stretch your legs, or the dog’s, everything is confusion. Mega tick waders first glimpsed turn out to be young redshank… weird warblers and funny finches turn out to be newly fledged old hats. Apart from the faithful blackbirds and raucous Cetti’s warblers most of the birds cannot even be bothered to serenade you as they stay up to all hours grabbing grubs to stuff the mouths of their over demanding youngsters.

When you do get back the will to bird it is nipped in the bud by a spouse or relative expecting you to chuck another prawn on the Bar-B or gather a tribe of gosling-like children and fiddle about in rock pools or exhaust your bank manager’s patience to afford a visit to some madhouse of a mega park where you are expected to enjoy being endangered by fast moving Ferris wheels or lunch hurling switchbacks.

Even the pub is off limits as the garden is filled with nestlings and the lounge bar with musically challenged fledglings who think volume is the whole point of music. Your mates are not available for sneaky outings as they too are required to be grandparents, parents or willing participants in the living hell that is a family holiday in Blackpool, Benidorm or Bournemouth.

Cars that should be parked in the shade of Titchwell or Leighton Moss are nose to tail on the M forty something or the A-road to ferry ports.

Courage mon brave, all is not lost! If you can sneak away from Southport sands or Terra Mitica’s grasp there are birds to be had. Just away from the sands are mudflats and inland are marshes, on the fringes of Benidorm are Black Wheatears and Hoopoes.

If dad looks after the kids you can sneak off for an hour or two of tranquillity, if mum takes the reins maybe you can slip off to a cool hide and test your ID skills out on all those fluffy balls of wader chickery or just enjoy the breeze and baby birds.

Late on a summer evening when the air is cooling over the marshes and the still pools are alive with insect hatches you can watch the wonder that is the Swift as it ploughs through the air sucking up the invertebrate soup with the majesty of the most birdy of birds. If you are in the right place you can soar with the hobbies as they take out drifting dragonflies or chase hapless sand martins. There are still quiet lakes where Spotted Flycatchers ply the sky with their constant looping from their perch into the midges and back to their perch again. The luckiest of us may find a quiet Scottish moor and listen to the clapping wings of a Short-eared Owl’s display or perhaps an East Anglian pine forest clearing to see Goshawks soar, Woodcock rode or Woodlark sing. Stay late on the lowland heath and watch dusk broken by the white flashes of a nightjar’s wing or lay awake in the small hours by a scrubby hillside where nightingales still sing.

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GOB 91 – Birding Doldrums This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine June 2017 Picture this, everyone around you is just getting into their shorts and sandals, beaming with bonhomie and generally frolicking in the sunshine and you stare out …... GOB 91 – Birding Doldrums This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine June 2017 Picture this, everyone around you is just getting into their shorts and sandals, beaming with bonhomie and generally frolicking in the sunshine and you stare out … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:51
GOB 90 – Snap Happy Birders http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-90-snap-happy-birders/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:06:51 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1308 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-90-snap-happy-birders/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-90-snap-happy-birders/feed/ 0 GOB 90 – Snap Happy Birders  This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine May 2017   The photo revolution took off when we no longer needed to buy film. When I was given my birthday ‘box brownie’ it took me … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-90-snap-happy-birders/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 90 – Snap Happy Birders
 This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine May 2017
 

The photo revolution took off when we no longer needed to buy film. When I was given my birthday ‘box brownie’ it took me about two months to use up the first film. 1960’s Eleven-year-olds didn’t take many snaps; when developing the film cost nearly as much as the camera I was never going to be prolific. I remember seeing a wedding photographer with his auto-wind going full blast and thinking he must be really earning it to go through film that fast.

Nowadays the average eleven-year-old takes more pictures in a week than I did in my first year. But like fashion, most shots are ephemera, discarded seconds after they are taken. The rest stack up on iPhones only to be lost forever when the kid gets mugged.

When I started birding only pros took photographs of birds… needing a lot of patience, a hide and a mortgage-financed long lens. Sometime during the last decade birding seems to have become more a photoshoot, with every man and his dog carrying a telephoto lens and digi-scopers using their smart phones. Forums, blogs and mailing groups abound with bird photographs ranging from the breath-taking to the frankly risible. Many seem to have forgotten that high tech and a steady hand may give a crisp image, but doesn’t turn you into an artist.

However, sometimes just having the means to take a photograph turns people into birding paparazzi of the worst kind. Our celebrities are the scarce or vagrant birds migrating in the wrong direction or blown here by a storm. They now get hounded from bush to bush like a drunken starlet in a low-cut gown.

This indefensible behaviour occasionally hits the headlines or even results in unpleasant confrontations, but that’s not the worst of it. Unfortunately, such vagrant birds are probably not destined to live long and most will never home.

What bothers me, greatly and increasingly is that fieldcraft is disappearing along with courtesy and common sense. Everyday birds get pushed off their perches by camera-toting birders. In breeding season I fear for the cuckoos and turtledoves that attract this new breed of shooters.

Last year I watched a camera-toting ignoramus walk the length of a chained-off path to take pictures of a bearded tit. I say ignoramus as he was blissfully unaware that what he was doing was not only bad form but illegal. The path was there for reedbed maintenance not public access and, anyway, such birds are always off limits – disturbing them is more than foolish its birding folly.

I’ve often been asked by non-birders if I take photos. Would they ask golfers if they take photos of golf balls down a hole? Photography is a completely separate activity. Moreover, we need law to enforce the country code, and a ban on cameras in breeding season.

Most birders, who take up photography wouldn’t dream of doing anything to harm a bird, but photographers who take pictures of birds seem unaware of the harm they can do. I recently drove a mile-long reserve entrance track with regular signs telling people to use the car as a hide and stay in their vehicle.

My reward was five short-eared owls hunting together, until two other cars pulled up. One lady hopped out of her car and lent over the roof to take a picture. The other idiot leapt out of his car pulling up the tailgate to get his long lens out. Of course, by the time they were ready the birds had flown and a staff member appeared to tick them off.

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GOB 90 – Snap Happy Birders  This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine May 2017   The photo revolution took off when we no longer needed to buy film. When I was given my birthday ‘box brownie’ it took me … Continue reading → GOB 90 – Snap Happy Birders  This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine May 2017   The photo revolution took off when we no longer needed to buy film. When I was given my birthday ‘box brownie’ it took me … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:57
GOB 89 – Nature Study http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-89-nature-study/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:06:50 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1310 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-89-nature-study/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-89-nature-study/feed/ 0 GOB 89 – Nature Study This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine April 2017 The question I see asked on local birding forums, more than any other, is ‘how do I get the kids interested in birding?’ Some may take … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-89-nature-study/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 89 – Nature Study

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine April 2017

The question I see asked on local birding forums, more than any other, is ‘how do I get the kids interested in birding?’ Some may take to birding like ducks to dabbling, but most will reach their boredom threshold after about fifteen fidgeting minutes in a hide. The more they are encouraged to enthuse over the simple beauty of a rare brown blob doing nothing much, the more, depending on age, they are likely to pine for the X-box, snap-chatting their friends or excluding the real world by attaching ear-buds and focussing on a You-tube ‘epic fail’.

The wild world is not what it was in ‘our day’ whenever that was. Greybeards like me, at junior school in the 1950s remember a very different world. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those who thinks the past was all rosy. I remember rationing and racism, polio and poverty, but there were some valuable practices that have all but disappeared. For example, I remember proudly putting a bird skull or pretty leaf on the school ‘nature table’, which was permanently in the front entrance, for us all to see and enjoy. I went looking for bird’s nests in the Easter holidays, not to rob them, but to marvel at them. Is there anything more perfect in the world than the ball of moss, sheep’s wool and gossamer of a Long-tailed Tits nest?

These days kids may be trailed round a city farm at best, or, at worst, rely on unnaturally vivid Disney-coloured cartoon worlds with nice fluffy talking animals and equally nasty animal villains to miseducate them about the natural world. When I ran youth projects in the 1980s and 1990s I knew kids who really believed that carrots grew in bunches and were shocked when they found out where milk came from… we dared not reveal the truth about the origin of eggs!

If our children and grandchildren are to fall in love with birding they must become fascinated by birds, and to do that they must see how they fit into nature and soar above it. There is only one way and I think that it is more or less constant exposure to the real countryside and daily doses of its wonders. Don’t expect them to enjoy seemingly pointless walks or try to stuff feathers down their reluctant throat too early… boredom is more likely to put them off for life. To be fair, I never went on ‘walks’ either. I spent my entire childhood in fields and woodlands, messing about on streams or building dens out of dead branches… everything I did had a point, albeit an esoteric age-related purpose.

Why not try taking them ‘geocaching’, my grandchildren love it… exposure to fields and fresh air wrapped up in mystery solving and the hunt for clues. With younger children, a walk in the country can turn into a challenging game if you set them ‘treasure’ like an acorn or a snail shell to find before their siblings.

The RSPB is taking the initiative with a brand-new schools’ programme with their ‘Big School’s Birdwatch’, but a few days a year will not hook them on nature forever. In Majorca, every schoolchild must visit the Albufera reserve every year, thus cementing the relationship between freedom from school discipline and enjoying wild things. But none of these are enough.

I say bring back the nature table. Moreover, sport isn’t the only way to get kids to exercise more, so put active ‘nature study’ firmly back on the junior school curriculum and don’t you forget to help them with their homework!

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GOB 89 – Nature Study This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine April 2017 The question I see asked on local birding forums, more than any other, is ‘how do I get the kids interested in birding?’ Some may take … Continue reading → GOB 89 – Nature Study This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine April 2017 The question I see asked on local birding forums, more than any other, is ‘how do I get the kids interested in birding?’ Some may take … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:34
GOB 87 – Waxwing Winter Wonders http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-87-waxwing-winter-wonders/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:05:33 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1314 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-87-waxwing-winter-wonders/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-87-waxwing-winter-wonders/feed/ 0 GOB 87 – Waxwing Winter Wonders (This article first appeared in the February 2017 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) This winter waxwings were far enough south for me to see some on an outing that took just forty-five minutes, including thirty … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-87-waxwing-winter-wonders/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 87 – Waxwing Winter Wonders

(This article first appeared in the February 2017 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

This winter waxwings were far enough south for me to see some on an outing that took just forty-five minutes, including thirty minutes watching time! Half a dozen of these beauties surprisingly, were not gorging on hips and haws, but actually catching flies. That was a new observation for me, but obviously, these birds can only eat fruit when there are fruit to eat, so eat insects when raising a family at their spring and summer homes before there are any fruit about.  Moreover, I happened to be reviewing some really top flight binoculars so got incredible views. With the birds close by and in full sharp focus I could practically count the number of feathers in their erect quiffs.

It struck me how convenient the birds were, perhaps only 500 yards from where I had last seen waxwings a few seasons ago. Then something more awesome struck me… they were less than three hundred yards from where I first saw waxwings decades ago, way before I moved to the area. Clearly not the same birds, so there could be no true site loyalty, (such as is seen in winter swans that use the same isolated ponds to rest on their long migrations and suffer losses when such ponds are filled in).

So why have I so often seen waxwings there, when better berry sites have never produced waxwing sightings by me or others? I’ve pondered this mystery deeply, but not come up with a satisfactory answer; I can see nothing special about the location. Waxwings do not fear man, so winter invasions often favour city centre ornamental plantings. I imagine the added warmth of cities keeps food more available to them, but my site is nothing out of the ordinary.

It begs the question, why are birds where they are, when they are?

There are plenty of good solid reasons, such as the right habitat, the right weather, migration routes, food abundance, roosts sites et al., but there are plenty of times when it seems completely random and sometimes desperately annoying.

Try taking a visiting birder to your ‘guarantied’ spots for particular species… that will be the day when you might as well be at the north pole or in the middle of the Kalahari Desert… not a bird will show. Never, ever, say ‘I always see (add the species of your choice) here’… as it will work like black magic to conjure them elsewhere.

Big days and bird races are another way to charm the birds out of the trees before you turn up. You can prepare your route for weeks in checking sites daily and finding your targets happily munching seeds, but on race day several of those easy peasy lemon squeezy ‘bankers’ will have decided to temporarily migrate.

Try perfectly timing a trip to a part of the country where you can see some special birds too. I went up to Scotland in one May and loved the trip, the only disappointment being missing out on Osprey… we got home to find out that no less than two ospreys had spent that week fishing in our local reservoir!

Of course, if you really want prime examples of birds at the wrong place at the wrong time then consult my old twitching diary… my year of chasing rarities. It wasn’t too full on, but as much as a more than full time job allowed. I lost count of the number of times I arrived in the nick of time, exactly that moment when the bird had just disappeared over the horizon!

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GOB 87 – Waxwing Winter Wonders (This article first appeared in the February 2017 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) This winter waxwings were far enough south for me to see some on an outing that took just forty-five minutes, GOB 87 – Waxwing Winter Wonders (This article first appeared in the February 2017 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) This winter waxwings were far enough south for me to see some on an outing that took just forty-five minutes, including thirty … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:29
GOB 88 – Mindfulness http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-88-mindfulness/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:05:20 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1312 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-88-mindfulness/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-88-mindfulness/feed/ 0 GOB 88 – Mindfulness (This article first appeared in the March 2017 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Mindfulness seems to be the buzzword of the last year or so… it’s a therapeutic technique, the idea being that you achieve a desired … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-88-mindfulness/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 88 – Mindfulness

(This article first appeared in the March 2017 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

Mindfulness seems to be the buzzword of the last year or so… it’s a therapeutic technique, the idea being that you achieve a desired mental state by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, etc. It has come to be a shorthand for those activities that produce the desired serenity.

It’s not a new idea of course, just a recasting of an old one. Hindus were meditating 3,500 years ago!

Our pastimes are not all adrenaline rich activity some are very much in the mindfull mode. Isaac Walton wrote in ‘The Complete Angler’ (1653) “God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling.” He also reported Sir Henry Wotton saying “…angling was an employment for his idle time, which was then not idly spent, a rest to his mind, a cheerer of his spirits, a diverter of sadness, a calmer of unquiet thoughts, a moderator of passions, a procurer of contentedness;” and “that it begat habits of peace and patience in those that professed and practised it.” To my mind everything these guys said about fishing I can say about birding, but in spades!

I have maintained for many years that a day spent birding is a day added to your life.

But like other pastimes some of us are more mindful than others.  Just as there are anglers who trudge the banks spinning lures or whipping flies across rushing streams, so there are birders who want to rush through the countryside chasing rarities or adding ticks. Any long-term reader of this column will know that I believe we ‘…also serve who only stand and wait’. You will also know that more and more pundits are declaring the need for wilderness not for the sake of the planet or even its wildlife, but because it very directly impinges on our own mental health. Sure, we need green and unpolluted spaces to act as the world’s lungs and reservoirs of wildlife, but even if that was not the case they would be needed to keep our souls in fine fettle.

Why is this important to more than the individual birder’s well-being? Simply, because the more we adopt this mindful way of being, the more good we will incidentally do for the birds. Manning the conservation barricades always leaves one open to the accusation that we are just tree-hugging, woolly-minded, liberal do-gooders putting the needs of hawfinches above that of humans. Like you I think this is a spurious argument, but one seemingly in vogue right now as selfish politics seem to reign here and overseas. As a culture, we seem to be losing site of compassion for suffering humanity, let alone cruelty in farming, the unnecessary culling of badgers or the needs of non-furry beasties. If we are back to the days of selfishness and greed then we need do more than admonish and cajole, we need to show how conservation can be self-serving.

If we all want to reduce stress and retain our sanity then we need to find ways to spend time mindfully… what used to be called ‘communing with nature’ does just that.

Have you ever sat on a bird reserve bench with the sun on your face, swifts wheeling over the reed-beds, warblers chattering in the bushes and frogs croaking in the stream; drifting between sleep and wakefulness revelling in the world as it once was and could and should be once again? We birders can leave the rate race’s existentialist nightmare and show others how to join the human race again.

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GOB 88 – Mindfulness (This article first appeared in the March 2017 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Mindfulness seems to be the buzzword of the last year or so… it’s a therapeutic technique, the idea being that you achieve a desired … Continue read... GOB 88 – Mindfulness (This article first appeared in the March 2017 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Mindfulness seems to be the buzzword of the last year or so… it’s a therapeutic technique, the idea being that you achieve a desired … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:41
GOB 86 – Bogies & Bugs http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-86-bogies-bugs/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:04:53 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1316 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-86-bogies-bugs/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-86-bogies-bugs/feed/ 0 GOB 86 – Bogies & Bugs (This article first appeared in the January 2017 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Do you have a bogie bird? One that, despite not being rare you keep failing to connect with, especially after passing someone … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-86-bogies-bugs/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 86 – Bogies & Bugs

(This article first appeared in the January 2017 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

Do you have a bogie bird? One that, despite not being rare you keep failing to connect with, especially after passing someone saying its ‘showing well’!

How about what US bird writer Al Batt calls an ‘onion’ bird? That’s a bird you so badly want to see it makes you cry tears of joy and pent-up emotion. Mine was Wallcreeper, a bird I first saw on a cigarette card sixty years ago; immaculate slate grey plumage made glorious by vermillion wings. When I finally connected with this glory on a boulder as we crossed a northern Indian riverbed in a jeep, tears rolled down my face. This ‘stonking’ bird gave me a stonking headache for the rest of the day, as well as a wide grin!

The twitching community has loads of terms describing esoteric bird categories, their own cannon of bird names, mostly compressed into monosyllabic bursts like ‘spawk’ for Sparrowhawk or shorthand ones like ‘P G Tips’ for Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler. Their generic terms include ‘plastic’ for any feral birds not on the official British list like Emperor Geese or escapees from collections like Hooded Merganser that might confuse us hoi polloi into thinking they were blown across the Atlantic by an October storm.

The extreme end of that ‘sport’ also have a term I hate ‘rubbish birds’ referring to the everyday birds one might expect to see on the worst of birding days in the city centre like Rock Doves and Starlings. I could never dismiss a bird as ‘rubbish’, even the common place has its charms… have you ever really looked at a Starling’s plumage in the sunlight? Moreover, one of the great sites in the avian world is the swirling ariel artistry of hundreds of thousands of Starlings turning as one as they descend into a roost.

I concede that there are ‘weed’ birds, a term I’ve just invented to describe birds that are great to see where they belong but that have no place where they have been introduced. In Australia and New Zealand Common Minas are everywhere out competing with the locals, excellent to see in northern India, not so great in northern Queensland. Invasive introductions often replace the natives whether its House Sparrows in the US or Grey Squirrels in the UK. A Canadian friend of has a name for the European Starlings that have spread across his continent ‘tree rats’.

Of course some of these ‘weed birds’ are the twitcher’s dream one day and their ‘rubbish birds’ a few generations later. In the 1950s seeing a Collared Dove over here would have been amazing now they number tens of millions. In the early 1990s I remember the excitement of seeing my first Little Egret, now every ditch and dyke has shed loads.

I have one more term to introduce, that I coined only a few hours ago… ‘bug birds’. These are the birds which you glimpse as a major rarity only to see for what it is a split second later. Certain birds seem to have this ability to morph from pulse quickening rarity to the commonplace with incredible regularity. Do you know of any? I’ll start you off with a few. Pigeons seem to cloak themselves in raptor jizz; I have often rushed binoculars to eyes prompted by a peregrine stoop or flutter that turned out to be a pigeon taking the mickey. I’ve spent hours staking out a bush with a glimpsed mega that turns out to be a Chiffchaff dressed in odd light. My third is the humble Chaffinch that can set your heart racing with a random call or its wet plumage

This is an international phenomenon. I once birded in Florida where every really interesting bird seemed to turn into a Ruby Crowned Kinglet or what my US companion called a ‘Blue-grey Time-waster’; the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher… and they really bugged him!

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GOB 86 – Bogies & Bugs (This article first appeared in the January 2017 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Do you have a bogie bird? One that, despite not being rare you keep failing to connect with, especially after passing someone … Continue reading → GOB 86 – Bogies & Bugs (This article first appeared in the January 2017 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Do you have a bogie bird? One that, despite not being rare you keep failing to connect with, especially after passing someone … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:47
GOB 85 – Women’s Work http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-85-womens-work/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:04:01 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1318 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-85-womens-work/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-85-womens-work/feed/ 0 GOB 85 – Women’s Work (This article first appeared in the December 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) In the 1970’s TV sitcom ‘I didn’t know you cared’ Uncle Mort says that women are made for the fripperies of life, like … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-85-womens-work/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 85 – Women’s Work

(This article first appeared in the December 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

In the 1970’s TV sitcom ‘I didn’t know you cared’ Uncle Mort says that women are made for the fripperies of life, like DIY and carrying in the coal, whereas men do important stuff like sitting in their shed thinking.

Women have long been socialised into caring, nurturing roles and, whether by nature or nurture many feel the same way about the planet’s wild places. Like children they must be protected with tigress-like ferocity.

Since the last Bird Fair I’ve been trying to give support to two such women and have corresponded with another for nearly two decades. There is something about their fearlessness that puts most men to shame. We stand back or leap in angrily; strong women grab hold and don’t let go until the wrongs are righted. No wonder so many work in conservation.

I’ve known Denise Goodfellow for longer than either of us care to remember. A woman who has literally wrestled crocodiles, she has spent half her life standing up for the rights of native Australians so tenaciously that she has made many political enemies. An artist, author and guide she loves to show people the birds of the ‘Top End’ and has battled away for years to get local tourist authorities to recognise just how important birding tourism is, even to the extent of writing her PhD on the issue. When others might be taking it easy she has set out to combat the invasive species on her property – a relentless two-year battle with Mission, Rats-tail and, in particular Gamba grass… and this means pulling out acres of the stuff by hand! She is single-handedly demonstrating that it can be done if you have the determination… not many people are thanking her, but there are a lot of endangered Partridge Pigeons quietly applauding.

Do you care enough about nature to spend your own money to lease a lake, saving it from destructive fisherman who shoot all the birds? Well Alex Appleby does. She fell in love with the lake and has ever since been trying to raise money to sustain its conservation, well what do you expect from someone who once lived alone (if you don’t count her dogs) on a small tropical island.

Talking of Islands there’s my third friend who currently lives on the popular holiday island of Lanzarote, famed for its volcanic national park and all year round sun. Carmen Portella runs a small tour company there and invited me to take a look at the birds (try migration times when anything from Europe or America might turn up). Less well-known is El Jable a unique desert formed in the ice-age when lower seas exposed the sea-bed and trade winds blew the sand against the towering cliffs of this Atlantic island. More than half the plants that live there are endemic as are a number of races of birds like Linnet, Lesser Short-toed Lark and Southern Grey shrike along with some other wonderful desert species like Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser and Stone Curlew. Despite the fact that the entire island is designated as a World Biosphere Reserve, the desert is unprotected. The problem was bought home to me when Carmen told me how a local farmer had said that when he had shot and eaten Stone Curlew he always found that their crops were packed with desert snails. She is doing everything she can to ensure the desert is not ruined by grant-generating ‘agriculture’ and dune-buggy destruction.

Blokes have had our way for too long, sowing wild oats, fighting wars and organising religion. I think we are the ones who started to see the world as there for our exploitation, incapable, with exceptions of course, of seeing the need to sustain it all for future generations.  Lucky that a lot of us men now ‘get it’ too. These strong women, and others like them need the support of both genders!

To learn more about these women and their causes see:

Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow or Alex Appleby aor Carmen Portella

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GOB 85 – Women’s Work (This article first appeared in the December 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) In the 1970’s TV sitcom ‘I didn’t know you cared’ Uncle Mort says that women are made for the fripperies of life, like … Continue reading → GOB 85 – Women’s Work (This article first appeared in the December 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) In the 1970’s TV sitcom ‘I didn’t know you cared’ Uncle Mort says that women are made for the fripperies of life, like … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:58
GOB 84 – Call me 50 (per)cent http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-84-call-me-50-percent/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:03:07 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1320 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-84-call-me-50-percent/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-84-call-me-50-percent/feed/ 0 GOB 84 – Call me 50 (per)cent (This article first appeared in the November 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Somewhere between 65% and 70% of this sceptre isle’s land is used for agriculture. 57% of agriculture is ‘rough pasture’ and … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-84-call-me-50-percent/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 84 – Call me 50 (per)cent

(This article first appeared in the November 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

Somewhere between 65% and 70% of this sceptre isle’s land is used for agriculture. 57% of agriculture is ‘rough pasture’ and another 24% is grass. Add these together and it means that around 57% of the UK is used to feed animals… We raise some animals for dairy produce and wool growing, the rest is directly for food. This means something less than 15% of our land is used to grow crops (some of which is, of course, used for animal feed, and some small amount for non-food crops. Whichever way you look at it we devote a huge percentage of our land to rear animals. Believe it or not this was my main motivation for eschewing meat over three decades ago… the less meat that is eaten the more people can be fed from the same sized piece of land!

More recently I’ve become a complete convert to the re-wilding movement… the urge is not to turn back the clock to some idealised, misty-eyed pastoral utopia, but to try and save the planet and humanity from irreversible decline. The wild world is not an oversized zoo for us to visit for pleasure, but a vital resource to keep planet Earth from declining into an arid Martian desert. It’s often said that the rainforest is home to thousands of undiscovered medicines and millions of unknown plants and invertebrates. However, more importantly, wild areas are the lungs and header tank that enables us to breath and most of us to drink. Masses of phytoplankton, kelp, and algal plankton in unpolluted seas produce the air we breathe and still hold untold resources and unfound mysteries.

There are great chunks of the undeveloped world that are not much use as watersheds or lungs being dry desserts and barren mountains, yet there is still a lot that is wild. Unfortunately, as any schoolchild knows, huge areas disappear every day burnt to clear land for unsustainable agriculture and unnecessary crops like palm oil and corn syrup.

What I only found out recently is that the prevailing opinion is that to return the world to a sustainable ecology 50% of it should be left wild!

It is of course easy to rail against subsistence farmers in Madagascar who cut down forest, just as it is to vent our spleen on multi-nationals that bulldoze rainforest to plant palms or burn it to encourage grassland growth for cattle, or mobile burger units as I’m sure someone, somewhere calls them. While I am happy to join that lobby let’s start here at home.

If 50% of the UK was given over to wildlife great benefit follows for us all. It doesn’t have to be real wilderness so long as wildlife needs are prioritised and destructive animal husbandry or use of chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and the like are banned. There is room for rough grazing in the right places and even some organic, wildlife sensitive haymaking. While we are at it, let’s inoculate cattle against TB not slaughter badgers!

13% of our land is used for forestry and it could be far better managed for a more natural environment. Moreover, we could lead the world by taking back the uplands for deciduous woodland thus solving many flooding issues and creating natural wildlife corridors on a geographical scale as well as upping the percentage of Britain that’s now forested toward the 30% that should be! We don’t need grouse moors, nor should we go on subsidising sheep raising where it degrades the land. How did we end up thinking it’s OK to give tax payer’s money to farmers, but wrong to keep other types of industry going through government grants?

If land use is judged with the re-wilding yardstick there are still ways for people to make their living and for us to feed our people. Everyone could help by eating meat less often.

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GOB 84 – Call me 50 (per)cent (This article first appeared in the November 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Somewhere between 65% and 70% of this sceptre isle’s land is used for agriculture. 57% of agriculture is ‘rough pasture’ and … Continue ... GOB 84 – Call me 50 (per)cent (This article first appeared in the November 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Somewhere between 65% and 70% of this sceptre isle’s land is used for agriculture. 57% of agriculture is ‘rough pasture’ and … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:21
GOB 82 – Brave Kiwis http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-82-brave-kiwis/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:02:45 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1324 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-82-brave-kiwis/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-82-brave-kiwis/feed/ 0 GOB 82 – Brave Kiwis (This article first appeared in the October 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I remember the first time I visited my parents after they emigrated to New Zealand; as we started our descent into Auckland the … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-82-brave-kiwis/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 82 – Brave Kiwis

(This article first appeared in the October 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

I remember the first time I visited my parents after they emigrated to New Zealand; as we started our descent into Auckland the pilot came on and as part of his introduction to ‘God’s own’ country he said, “…welcome to New Zealand, a country with a population of Forty-six million; Forty-three million of whom are sheep”.

As a recent BBC TV documentary amply showcased New Zealand has a unique fauna due to its separation from Gondwanaland millions of years before mammals appeared on the planet. For the most part the ecological niches occupied by them elsewhere are, or were, occupied by birds instead. Before man turned up seven or eight centuries ago the world’s biggest birds (fourteen species of Moa) roamed the land and were preyed upon by the New Zealand Eagle… the world’s biggest ever raptor, more the size of a small aircraft than a bird!

Even although man wiped out Moas, letting the eagles starve, NZ still has many unique birds and a range of unique invertebrates, fish, amphibians and reptiles including the sole representative of a complete animal order the Tuatara, a mini dinosaur.

Bats made it by themselves but man has accidentally or deliberately introduced many mammals and other species many of which have caused the extinction of native bird species, with almost all the others under threat.

There are more Brushtail Possum in New Zealand than in their native Australia. The good old British Hedgehog thrives there better than here, and is free of fleas apparently lost on the voyage from Blighty. Both out-compete native birds and prey upon their eggs and young. The worst pest of all are mustelids – stoats are the bane of birds everywhere. Rats, mice, cats, hares, goats, feral pigs and deer abound too. Each seems to threaten some poor local. For example, one species of bird the Kakapo eat fruits from the Rimu and Kahikatea trees, the shoots of certain shrubs, and the seeds of Manuka wood and leather wood… now so well browsed by deer than there was no food for these flightless parrots! Ground nesting Kea’s are pushed further and further back in Fjiordland as stoats find their nests and eat the young.

The response has been some of the best conservation projects in the world. For decades the kiwis have been eradicating rats and other predators from off shore islands (and even some in the middle of large lakes) and culling goats, pigs and deer. Left to their own devices remnant populations of some stunning birds like Saddlebacks, Kiwis, Stichbird, and even Kokako and Kakapo have thrived.

These successes led to more ambitious schemes whereby birds were re-introduced to other islands that were predator and competitor free such as the wonderful Tiri Tiri Matangi in the Hauraki Gulf. The next brave step was to establish mainland ‘islands’ of forest where predators and other invasives are constantly kept at bay and rare breeders like kiwis are monitored.

But here’s the thing – a lesson for the whole world surely – their Prime Minister recently announced a thirty-year programme to eliminate ALL the invasive mammals from New Zealand. This will be done by using a poison that only effects mammals. Using baits that will be ignored by ruminants (those 43 million sheep etc.,) and harmless to birds and reptiles, every part of the country will eliminate the problem species.

This is done in the face of some scary opposition. Not the cat owners (he is one himself and emphasises that indoor cats will be safe), but the hunting lobby. They want to keep the deer and wild boar for sport. This is not a timid lobby – a scheme to cull deer undertaken in a National Park saw the warden’s hut and car torched!

Such courage shames UK ministers who issue buzzard-killing licences and fail to prosecute grouse moor owners where Hen Harriers are shot.

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GOB 82 – Brave Kiwis (This article first appeared in the October 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I remember the first time I visited my parents after they emigrated to New Zealand; as we started our descent into Auckland the … Continue reading → GOB 82 – Brave Kiwis (This article first appeared in the October 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I remember the first time I visited my parents after they emigrated to New Zealand; as we started our descent into Auckland the … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:19
GOB 83 – Eat The Rich http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-83-eat-the-rich/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:02:05 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1322 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-83-eat-the-rich/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-83-eat-the-rich/feed/ 0 GOB 83 – Eat The Rich Jonathan Swift of Gulliver fame wrote his famous tract A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-83-eat-the-rich/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 83 – Eat The Rich

Jonathan Swift of Gulliver fame wrote his famous tract A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick advocating that the rich should buy and eat the children of the starving Irish. It was an ironic attempt to show up the British rich for their attitude to the poor. It seems that our elite has a long history of doing what they wish regardless of the sensitivities of the majority.

UK ministers who issue buzzard-killing licences to protect ‘shooting interests’ do so despite an overwhelming public antipathy. Or should that be apathy?

It irks me beyond all reason that the great caring British public loudly proclaim their hatred of the ill-treatment of pets and livestock but seem far less vocal when it comes to protecting the wild world, which if there is any justice, should be treated at least as well as farm stock or fireside cats.

We can be outraged by the notion that some Romans liked to eat snails fattened on milk, peacocks’ brains and flamingos’ tongues. The public issues steam from its collective ears when mention is made of Foie gras, the luxury food made from the liver of a duck or goose that has been horribly force-fed. Is our ire saved up for Johnny Foreigner or our limited supply of sympathy exhausted once pets have been protected from cruelty and farm animals humanely despatched.

Maybe we only understand ill-treatment of wild animals when it’s straightforward? There is reckoned to be something like 75% of the population against hunting fox and deer with dogs. Parliamentary elites may seek to make the illegal practices, that continue, legal again, but there seem to be enough among them to stop that from happening. Would there be enough public outcry if there was not?

Here in my home conurbation there is a presence of protesters, as permanent as a peace camp, against live exports. They will not allow sheep and cows to suffer in European slaughterhouses and would, no doubt carry on the fight into French goose farms had we not decided to Brexit away from the rest of Europe.

How is it then that it is left to a vocal minority to rail against driven shoots, and grouse moor Hen Harrier slaughter? The inane killing of Golden Eagles, Red Kite and any other bird of prey that has the temerity to drift over captive-reared pampered pheasants and red-legged partridges, or worse still set up house on a grouse moor, seems hardly noticed?

It seems to matter little that a tiny percentage of wealthy individuals manage moorland in ways that add to flood risk. Just as it used to be considered acceptable that huntsmen’s horses could ride rough-shod over even those farms which were utterly against the practice, so long as adequate ‘compensation’ was paid.

Thanks to the hard work of a dedicated band of birders whose names you will not know, and a vocal group of well-known conservationists who are willing to put themselves on the front line, the movement gathers pace.

It would take a very small change in the law to stop raptor persecution. If licences were needed for all game shooting that would be irrevocably revoked if any evidence was found on their land of raptor persecution, no matter whom by, I wonder how many ‘shoots’ would survive?

I’ve long aired my dislike of all hunting and shooting, but even I can accept that there are some well-run shoots that manage their land brilliantly for pheasants and partridges as well as for passerines, waders and wildfowl, which are positive awash with raptors. They prove absolutely that it can be done and that eliminating birds of prey is as outmoded as eating banquets of bitterns and sending all the able-bodied paupers to the workhouse.

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GOB 83 – Eat The Rich Jonathan Swift of Gulliver fame wrote his famous tract A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the … Continue reading → GOB 83 – Eat The Rich Jonathan Swift of Gulliver fame wrote his famous tract A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:02
GOB 81 – Rio & Reality http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-81-rio-reality/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:01:16 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1326 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-81-rio-reality/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-81-rio-reality/feed/ 0 GOB 81 – Rio & Reality (This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Do you remember the Rio dictum ‘Think Global, Act Local’? How about NIMBY – ‘Not In My Back Yard’? Not everyone does. … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-81-rio-reality/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 81 – Rio & Reality

(This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

Do you remember the Rio dictum ‘Think Global, Act Local’?

How about NIMBY – ‘Not In My Back Yard’?

Not everyone does. My local Green Party is railing against a plan to resurrect our local airport, which shut down a couple of years back. They are supporting turning the site into housing and recreation instead. Bravo, you may cry! Houses and jobs before foreign holidays and unnecessary overseas food imports. I’m sure they are the very thoughts of the local greens. Oddly, given it is our backyard, the majority of the locals want to see the airport back

Step back and mix a little realism with a lot of globalism. The airport is close enough to London to relieve some of the pressure to create another runway at one of the major London airports. Think back and recall that this used to be the busiest freight airport in the country with a runway big enough to deal with Jumbo Jets.

Yes, but the take-off and landing is over the sea. What is more it’s over an important mudflat; an SSSI with thousands of waders and wildfowl.

Think again, there is no history of bird strike here. Moreover, the birds were as numerous when it was a busy airport as they are now that the tarmac is untouched by landing gear. They are more affected by our massive off-shore wind turbine array.

The infrastructure exists, wide roads joining motorways and a close railway line an extension to which would be low impact. Many permanent jobs would be created where unemployment is currently disastrously high.

Aircraft emissions would be the same, but a local solution has far less environmental impact than the devastation to rural land and existing homes that developing Gatwick or Heathrow further would cause, not to mention the colossal expense and disruption.

Think about those houses and leisure facilities again… promised jobs are few and twenty years down the line. More housing will draw in more people without employment and put a strain on overstretched utilities. In this case a non-existent water table is already being drained dry by Europe’s largest area under glass supplying 15% of the countries peppers, tomatoes and so forth.

That monstrosity employs only part time labour most of which goes to short term visiting Europeans, who earn for six weeks or six months before leaving the country again.

The proposed housing is not ‘social housing’ and it’s not even going to have built in solar panels or water conservation measures.

Did I mention that those wanting to re-open the airport want to create the world’s first aircraft re-cycling operation? Instead of parking redundant aircraft in the dessert – the aviation equivalent of landfill, parts and materials could be re-used.

There we have it agriculture and housing being championed by conservationists because they think its greener than an airport, which, when you look deeper and wider, is just not the case. In the real world expanding aviation is about where and when, not about ‘if’.

What has this got to do with a leisurely stroll in England’s green and pleasant land with your binoculars?

Everything!

The beauty of birds includes all the redness of beak and claw. Flesh tearing and cannibalism are as much part of avian life as pretty feathers and charming song. We have to understand everything that natural life encompasses to appreciate the wonder of nature, not just the Hollywood version. When it comes to the ‘real’ human world we need to delve deep into the realities too, not just hug trees and aspire to veganism.

Don’t get me wrong, passionate opposition to so-called ‘progress’ has its place. But we have to judge every development in the round not jerk our knees thoughtlessly. The weeds growing between the solar panels in your local ‘sun farm’ may be better for the planet than the chemically coshed monoculture they replace.

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GOB 81 – Rio & Reality (This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Do you remember the Rio dictum ‘Think Global, Act Local’? How about NIMBY – ‘Not In My Back Yard’? Not everyone does. … Continue reading → GOB 81 – Rio & Reality (This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Do you remember the Rio dictum ‘Think Global, Act Local’? How about NIMBY – ‘Not In My Back Yard’? Not everyone does. … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:09
GOB 80 – Organics http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-80-organics/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:00:49 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1328 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-80-organics/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-80-organics/feed/ 0 GOB 80 – Organics (This article first appeared in the August 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) My food bill has risen and I’m glad! We recently decided to change what we eat. I’m still a non-meat eater married to a … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-80-organics/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 80 – Organics

(This article first appeared in the August 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

My food bill has risen and I’m glad!

We recently decided to change what we eat. I’m still a non-meat eater married to a carnivore and we still shop at the same supermarkets. The difference is that we have gone over to only buying organic veg and in my wife’s case meat. Moreover, wherever possible (and it sometimes adds half an hour to the average shop) we want British grown organic food.

If you only eat stuff that isn’t injected with antibiotics, growth hormones, and worse, or grown with the aid of enough chemicals to stock a virtual outdoor science lab, then you are unlikely to be ingesting them second hand.

I still have a sneaking suspicion that eating organics is healthier for us, despite the research a year or two back claiming there is no difference. But the decision was prompted not by our own health so much as that of birds and other wildlife. So, while I don’t mind aiding the health of Peruvian Pigeons or Polish Plovers, I’d rather be helping good old British Bullfinches and, perhaps even more importantly, putting the buzz back into British Bees!

It has become ever more apparent that pesticides are nowhere near as ‘targeted’ as manufacturers claim. Bees and other pollinators face a double jeopardy… often they will die the instant they are caught in the spray. However, even more insidious is the effect some pesticides have in the slightly longer term. Two of the worst culprits, neonicotinoids and coumaphos damage their brains so that they ‘forget’ flora scents or collection routes. Carried into the hives they effect the growing larvae, over time populations drop or loose their effectiveness as pollen collectors and the swarm slowly dies off, long after the initial contact with the poisons. Short-term profits lead to wholesale use of chemicals that could lead to our own doom too, so even those who care nothing for animal life should start to worry.

Right now of course we are all squeezed financially, our farmers barely survive supermarket diktats and overseas competition and many families survive only through their visits to food banks. Those of us who are less strapped have no excuse and have to lead the way. If we all started to demand home-grown wildlife friendly food and shopped British whenever we can, we could make a difference. Our government spends huge amounts of our money subsidising all the wrong sorts of farming practice… if we could edge that sideways a bit it could make a tremendous difference.

But bringing pressure to bear on government, retailers and agri-business is not enough when even those of us who care can be ignorantly poisoning ourselves and our garden critters.

Given that our collective garden is a huge percentage of the nation and of overwhelming importance to birds in particular, its incredible that so many of us feed birds and yet at the same time poison ourselves and them by the wholesale use of one of the worst chemical coshes about – glyphosate! The chemical kills weeds by disrupting their ‘shikimic acid pathways’, preventing them from growing and producing new cells. When ingested by mammals (us) it disrupts the production of a vital enzyme called cytochrome P450 the function of which is to help us detoxify. This in turn can lead to the build-up of toxins that cause a whole gamut of organ damage. Moreover, our gut bacteria have shikimate pathways so their growth is disrupted too. This is not only likely to lead to stomach upsets, but may even effect our overall health as its thought that these bacteria are part of our bodies’ immune mechanisms.

I doubt many of you set out and to buy this noxious chemical… but take a look at the content list on the back of the most advertised and widely used garden weed killers and you are sure to find it there.

Hear the Podcast:

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GOB 80 – Organics (This article first appeared in the August 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) My food bill has risen and I’m glad! We recently decided to change what we eat. I’m still a non-meat eater married to a … Continue reading → GOB 80 – Organics (This article first appeared in the August 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) My food bill has risen and I’m glad! We recently decided to change what we eat. I’m still a non-meat eater married to a … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:12
GOB 79 – Birding 101 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-79-birding-101/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 22:00:37 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1330 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-79-birding-101/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-79-birding-101/feed/ 0 GOB 79 – Birding 101 (This article first appeared in the July 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) How enamoured are you of today’s birding scene? Do you relish the technological advantages today’s birders have or miss the old ‘anything about … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-79-birding-101/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 79 – Birding 101

(This article first appeared in the July 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

How enamoured are you of today’s birding scene? Do you relish the technological advantages today’s birders have or miss the old ‘anything about mate?’ days?

Like the famous Curate’s Egg… birding today is good in part, but not everything has got better. Yes, I know I am an aging curmudgeon pining for the ‘blue remembered hills’ of yesterday’s birdwatching, but I’m also a bit of a techno-bitch, slavering to stay apace with ever-changing upgrades and envelope bursting ‘progress’.

There are plenty of changes I can enthuse about but some things get my goat so bad I want them assigned to the fabled Room 101!

Here are my three candidates:

Birding Jargon

“I spent the morning watching viz mig, but it was mostly mipits and by the time I got the call for PGTips a spawk had it, so I dipped on another stonker”.

This is an example of deliberately esoteric language to eliminate communication with normal mortals. Does it really tax these poor souls too much to say ‘visible migration’, or is all that energy saved a necessary boost for twitching? Meadow Pipits and Sparrowhawks may be common, but contracting their name to a single brief word hardly makes them more or less exciting. As for the truncated Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, turning it into a commercial cuppa makes just no sense at all. These guy’s notebooks must be as hard to read as Pepys’ diary!

Stonker is another word that irritates me no end… because it is not a measure of loveliness, but of rarity. I’ve twitched with the best of them, but nothing will lead me to spend hour upon hour watching one LBJ simply because it had a bad sense of direction or go caught out in a storm. I appreciate the cryptic splendour of a common pipit or wren no more or less than a rare one. Rarity does not render anything more beautiful, and a tick is a tick whether you take ten minutes or ten hours to watch it. An adult rose-coloured starling or a lesser grey shrike are stonking birds, olive-backed pipits and juvenile rose-colored starlings are great ticks, but Miss World they ain’t!

Competitiveness

I’m a lister; keeping year, county and country lists, but really do not see this as any sort of competition with anyone other than me. There is nothing on earth that will convince my oldest birding buddy that he and I are not competing! This might, of course, be due to the fact that his UK and world life lists are both longer than mine… but I really, really don’t mind! What I hate most is that some birders feel triumphant when their friends miss out… I mourn other people’s dips. Sit alone watching the funniest movie ever made (Bridesmaids) and you will smile a lot, watch it with friends and you will all be crying with laughter… birding like laughter is best shared.

The Fieldcraft Void

Because of the ‘sport’ of twitching lots of new birders have no experience of how the environment works, no grounding on common birds and other fauna and flora and often no understanding of how to view wildlife with little impact on its wellbeing. Their ID skills may be very well developed, but they may have no clue about what impact they have on avian life, let alone the livelihood of landowners or wider conservation concerns. If all you want to do is get a sight of a new bird with no care for others, the bird itself or the habitat its appeared in, then you need not bother to learn to tread quietly, respect others and put the welfare of wildlife above all else.

I’m not attacking twitching here, only some of the mindlessness that spoils too many twitches. With luck twitchers become birders become conservationists, but until they do I’m for isolating them in cell number 101.

Hear the Podcast:

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GOB 79 – Birding 101 (This article first appeared in the July 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) How enamoured are you of today’s birding scene? Do you relish the technological advantages today’s birders have or miss the old ‘anything about … Con... GOB 79 – Birding 101 (This article first appeared in the July 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) How enamoured are you of today’s birding scene? Do you relish the technological advantages today’s birders have or miss the old ‘anything about … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:01
GOB 78 – Plan Ahead http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-78-plan-ahead/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:59:23 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1332 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-78-plan-ahead/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-78-plan-ahead/feed/ 0 GOB 78 – Plan Ahead (This article first appeared in the June 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) In 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant created the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone. Between 1905 and 1909, several European countries also established them, more … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-78-plan-ahead/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 78 – Plan Ahead

(This article first appeared in the June 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

In 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant created the world’s first National Park, YellowstoneBetween 1905 and 1909, several European countries also established them, more as symbols of national pride than of conservation. In 1914 Lenin established several parks in the Soviet Union. Britain had none until after the WWII.

In 1928 Stalin implemented his first ‘five-year plan’, a set of economic and social goals for the state and its populace to aspire too. As his grip tightened and his rule increasingly relied upon fear plans were fulfilled to the letter often against the spirit they embodied. If the plan required a certain ‘tonnage’ of production, and you were falling short sheer terror led you to start making beds out of lead rather than steel! So it was that ‘state planning’ got its bad name. It seems to have consequences nearly a century later, as UK politicians seem incapable of agreeing long term goals and play politics with sticking plaster solutions to more and more problems.

We NEED some integrated national plans to save peoples lives and livelihoods let alone protect our biodiversity.

Several years of flooding has led to knee-jerk plans to dredge waterways. A drop in the price of oil has led to delays in creating long-term energy solutions, just as the hike in prices let to primary forest being ripped up to plant oil palms.

Why do we need plans? Because the problems we face are complex and so are the solutions, what may help solve one problem can banjax another unless things are looked at together.

Take flooding as an example.  Rather than build ever-higher walls to protect lowland property we need to slow the flow of water. To do this we need to enable highland to retain more water and let it flow out slower by re-cladding the hillsides with woodland or scrub. We must stop draining wetlands but see them as sponges that can soak up excesses and supplement shortages when there is drought. We have to stop building on floodplains and manage them to flood in a controlled way by planting retaining hedges and increasing the number of seasonal ponds.

All well and good until you look at farming subsidies, planning permissions, etc. ALL subsidies should depend on signing up to stewardship agreements that reward hedge planting and upland deciduous forestry. Flood plains need national designation and planning permissions need to be subject to overall national aims.

If we had created proper long-term house building plans a few decades ago with tough insulation rules we would not need to create ever more power. Even now it is not too late to impose new building regulations to save energy and include in it all refurbishment too.

Farming should, once again, be about the nation feeding itself and protecting the land and wildlife. Organic farming should no longer be seen as a health or fringe issue but as integrated into the national plan to conserve and in some places re-wild this land.

Power production should be integrated so that harnessing the power of our rivers, wind and the sea is wildlife-friendly.

Concepts like ‘environmentalism’ are about the complex and integrated nature of, well, nature, which we fiddle with at our peril.

As a nation we need the guts to say, loud and clear, we should grow what we can, not import it because its cheap. To say, there are too many of us and we need to champion childlessness and anything else that stops the population growing. Our plan must start putting right what we have been getting wrong for two generations. Short term profit is creating long term poverty.

Hear the Podcast:

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GOB 78 – Plan Ahead (This article first appeared in the June 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) In 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant created the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone. Between 1905 and 1909, GOB 78 – Plan Ahead (This article first appeared in the June 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) In 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant created the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone. Between 1905 and 1909, several European countries also established them, more … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:02
GOB 77 – Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-77-fings-aint-what-they-used-to-be/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:58:56 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1334 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-77-fings-aint-what-they-used-to-be/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-77-fings-aint-what-they-used-to-be/feed/ 0 GOB 77 – Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be (This article first appeared in the May 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) The thing about ageing is that you tend to look backward at things with more than a hint … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-77-fings-aint-what-they-used-to-be/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 77 – Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be

(This article first appeared in the May 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

The thing about ageing is that you tend to look backward at things with more than a hint of roseate tern to your specs. ‘The Good Old Days’ of birding are no exception. The ‘blue remembered hills’ of youth were full of redstart’s song, hunting red-backed shrikes and red squirrels, red skies blessed every evening and every birding day was a red-lettered day.

The other thing about ageing is, of course, an ever-declining memory. We tend to remember the good times and consign the bad to a cobwebbed corner of our minds.

Anyone of pensionable age who grew up in the countryside probably collected bird’s eggs. Most of us were half-hearted (thank goodness) and after an unlucky few blackbirds had to re-count their clutch, we moved on to building dams across streams or playing endless games of marbles, or whatever fad was in vogue at the time. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s gamekeepers still set pole traps galore and farmers would think nothing of discharging their shotguns at the retreating backsides of us scrumping lads. So it was not all a bed of roses.

Nevertheless, one thing is certain, habitat was under less pressure from all of todays ills, whether it be too many people tramping over it, too many chemicals polluting it, too much of it under concrete or too much agri-business degrading it with monoculture and mixed flora- and fauna-cide.

Another aspect of ageing is that time dilates. When you are nine years old one summer break from school seems and endless age of freedom. When you get as grey as me years slip by quicker than a peregrine can stoop.

But it is not just my elderly impression that the pace of change has quickened; it’s a bare fact. Fifty years ago our local paper mill had a computer, just to work out the wage bill for 150 staff. It had its own temperature controlled room the size of my bungalow. Now my phone has a billion times more processing power. But my last phone, scrapped all of a year ago, seems as archaic and anachronistic as typists and bus conductors.

I moved to my current house seventeen years ago. I was overjoyed by the new birding opportunities afforded by a seaside patch. I found myself within half an hour of every habitat bar mountains. Reedbeds, marshland, seashore, woodland, scrubby hillsides and duck-filled lakes were all on my doorstep.

Most are still there but now the houses have moved ever closer and that which is not deliberately managed for wildlife is impoverished.

My right to roam has not only been curtailed by increasingly annoying arthritis, but by my birding nooks and crannies fast disappearing. Where once I could pull my car off the road to look over saltmarsh to the sea there are concrete barriers and ‘residents parking only’.

The woodland carparks where I used need not wander more than a few yards to see woodpeckers and hear nightjars are now litter-strewn and frequented by a million dog walkers by day and dozens of steamed up cars at night. Every quiet beach seems to have half a dozen dog owners, all of whom are intent on encouraging their mutts to chase waders.

Every grasshopper warbler’ish ditch has been drained or dredged or filled with plastic. Where once I could drive a concrete farmers road there are now impassable barriers erected to stop the ever-growing hoard of selfish idiots who think their old mattresses and fridges should grace the hedgerows… if they haven’t already been grubbed out or mechanically shorn to a tattered shadow of their former bird rich glory.

Fifty or sixty years ago we roamed across the British countryside and watched birds in its rich, quiet corners. Now the corners are ploughed up and fenced off and we are discouraged from entering these agribusiness units.

Hear the Podcast:

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GOB 77 – Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be (This article first appeared in the May 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) The thing about ageing is that you tend to look backward at things with more than a hint … Continue reading → GOB 77 – Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be (This article first appeared in the May 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) The thing about ageing is that you tend to look backward at things with more than a hint … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:02
GOB 76 – Good Things Come In Less Packaging http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-76-good-things-come-in-less-packaging/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:58:29 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1336 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-76-good-things-come-in-less-packaging/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-76-good-things-come-in-less-packaging/feed/ 0 GOB 76 – Good Things Come In Less Packaging (This article first appeared in the April 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Today I bought what I thought was an ordinary box of tissues at the supermarket. I’m an old-fashioned red-spotted … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-76-good-things-come-in-less-packaging/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 76 – Good Things Come In Less Packaging

(This article first appeared in the April 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

Today I bought what I thought was an ordinary box of tissues at the supermarket. I’m an old-fashioned red-spotted handkerchief man really, but Hawkeye finds 101 uses for these throwaway um-necessities. It turned out, when unpacked from my ‘bag for life’ that there were in fact two smaller boxes with a plastic wrapper holding them together, presumably for some bog-off. When unwrapped with the lid punched in to get at the tissue I found that the hole is surrounded by a redundant soft plastic inset.

While at the supermarket the post had come including a padded package with a book in for me to review. The book had been bubble-wrapped despite the fact that the envelope was padded with plastic bubbles too. [Note to all book stores and publishers of, in particular natural history books, post books out in cardboard or ‘Jiffy Bags’ that are padded with flocking].

Why would a birding magazine column be taken up with a rant about packaging you may well ask?

Because we are squandering the future and today’s wealth on unnecessary and potentially dangerous packaging. Canned drinks in sixes or dozens are apparently ‘convenient’. Are we really incapable of counting off to six to put in the trolley. Instead they are clad in cardboard, shrink-wrapped in plastic or held together by half a dozen lethal plastic loops that I have seen strangling gulls.

Plastics now line the alimentary canals of half the creatures swimming in or under the ocean, or those flying above it. Nylon cord, fishing nets and fishing line may make quite good nesting material but it is equally good for slowly sawing through an entangled leg or gill.

A recent news story covered thousands of bright pink bottles being washed up on a West Country beach as if this was unusual in anything but the neon colouring. Fishermen and other voyagers have always thrown their waste into the sea… but in the past that waste was either biodegradable or incapable of being ingested. Amphora from classic times may litter the Aegean seabed but they do no harm. Polystyrene cups, plastic bottles and a myriad of assorted plastic junk is, when intact, a hazard for thousands of years and an unwanted dietary supplement when it finally disintegrates.

We treated ourselves to a new ‘smart’ TV for Christmas, and recycled our old TV to the wall of a relative. The box for the new one went with it, including huge polystyrene packing, plastic ties and baggies. But it doesn’t have to be like that, the last electrical item I bought used nothing but cleverly folded cardboard to do the job

None of the above is really for my, or your convenience… its all about storage and display. Oranges used to come in crates with tissue paper or nothing at all… now they are presented in Styrofoam bras plastic shrink-wrapping. Every cabbage has a plastic bag of its own.

New is now the virtual opposite of improved. How does putting mushrooms in a plastic box and wrapping it with polythene make it better than being in a cardboard trug as they used to be? Fish and chips were perfectly healthy when wrapped in recycled newsprint.

Where do we start to fight back? The obvious answer is birdfeed. I buy my seed in paper sacks, but fat-balls seem now only to be sold in a plastic sleeve, a plastic bucket or a plastic tub. Get your fountain pens out, fill them with ink from a bottle and put pen to paper (better yet send an email) and demand less packaging in birdfeed and refuse to buy anything unless it is in non-plastic, recyclable containers.

We do not have to be slaves to packaging any more than we have to put up with wonderful wildlife TV having to be completely ruined by unnecessary and over loud background music…. But that’s another story.

Hear the Podcast:

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GOB 76 – Good Things Come In Less Packaging (This article first appeared in the April 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Today I bought what I thought was an ordinary box of tissues at the supermarket. GOB 76 – Good Things Come In Less Packaging (This article first appeared in the April 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Today I bought what I thought was an ordinary box of tissues at the supermarket. I’m an old-fashioned red-spotted … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:18
GOB 75 – Clear Fell http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-75-clear-fell/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:57:12 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1338 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-75-clear-fell/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-75-clear-fell/feed/ 0 GOB 75 – Clear Fell (This article first appeared in the March 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Regular readers will know how genuine my affection is for undisciplined dog walkers. They will also know how I believe that our over-romanticised … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-75-clear-fell/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 75 – Clear Fell

(This article first appeared in the March 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

Regular readers will know how genuine my affection is for undisciplined dog walkers. They will also know how I believe that our over-romanticised idea of the countryside coupled with the idea that nature should be tamed, is leading to habitat loss and eviction of wildlife.

Capability Brown looked at the farm fields and forest of aristocratic estates and, in the words of the film industry ‘re-imagined’ them. Not content with nature or agricultural patterns he, and subsequently, we, wanted an idealised picaresque landscape. Like an artist ignoring a tree if it spoils their composition, Mr Brown removed anything that interfered with his idea of how nature should be, and added in anything that nature had forgotten. And so, dear readers, the concept of the ‘park’ was born.

It was not, of course, meant for the hoi polloi. The highborn and high-handed demolished villages, turfed tilth toilers from their tenant farms and ripped up trees in the wrong place to add them in the ‘right’ place. Dry valleys were dammed and streams re-routed for their own viewing pleasure and to show off to other highborn environmental hooligans! This was good news for roe deer, game birds and fountain makers. It was not so good for nature. Unfortunately, we have retained this ideal ever since.

Upper middle-class Victorian ladies sublimated their passions by creating more ‘natural’ borders and turned the cottage garden from a veg patch to a profusion of delightful colours made possible by introducing plants from around the world. Colour caught on and the Himalayas were plundered for Rhododendrons, which now form vast wildlife-free swathes across Albion’s hillsides.

When the stench of horse manure and inadequate sewers offended the noses of the city dwelling nouveau riche, green ‘lungs’ were created. Those who need not toil could promenade these city ‘parks’ knowing that hemlines need not be raised to avoid the ordure, nor their peace shattered by working men and women. For their viewing pleasure flowerbeds were created with planting in neat rows and shade afforded by exotic foliage.

If you’ve not nodded off you may be wondering where all this is going… well, its going down the high road to my local park. When I moved here the park was a well-known Autumn hotspot for firecrests and yellow-browed warblers, Pallas’s warblers and even collared flycatchers. For three year’s running I found firecrests in the same bush on the same day of the year! Being one of the few areas of trees and shrubs on an almost island it was a natural migrant magnet. An almost hidden garden was surrounded be a fence covered in ivy. The playing fields were surrounded by shrubby borders and copses of trees, through which winter flocks fiddled in the foliage with maybe an overwintering chiffchaff and a blackcap or two.

A fenced and wardened ‘safe’ garden had been created so that kids could enjoy the fresh air without constant parental oversight. While I, and other town bound nature appreciators could see redstarts and flycatchers on their way to Africa or redwings and fieldfares avoiding the frigid north. Admittedly, every now and again a person walking by holding their dog’s lead would interrupt our tranquil birding.

But then Capability Brown’s descendants decided that the hidden garden should be viewable from a path that no one uses and the ivy was stripped from its perimeter. Offended by cow parsley and elderberries, ground ivy and dogwood every nook and cranny was cleared of ground cover. NOTHING is now allowed to live under the trees except clipped grass. So, now the off-lead dogs can run through every sheltered corner, and the passing motorists have unobstructed views of stark trunks and bare fences.

Thanks Mr Park-keeper for tidying up the rampant ‘weeds’ and unnecessary under-storey so favoured by skulking warblers and for raking up all that leaf litter that the winter thrushes loved to scratch through!

Hear the Podcast:

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GOB 75 – Clear Fell (This article first appeared in the March 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Regular readers will know how genuine my affection is for undisciplined dog walkers. They will also know how I believe that our over-romanticised … C... GOB 75 – Clear Fell (This article first appeared in the March 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Regular readers will know how genuine my affection is for undisciplined dog walkers. They will also know how I believe that our over-romanticised … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:20
GOB 74 – The Little Lady Will Have A Sherry http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-74-the-little-lady-will-have-a-sherry/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:56:42 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1340 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-74-the-little-lady-will-have-a-sherry/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-74-the-little-lady-will-have-a-sherry/feed/ 0 GOB 74 – The Little Lady Will Have A Sherry (This article first appeared in the February 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Have I banged on lately about sexism in birding? It’s still as prevalent as feral pigeons in Trafalgar … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-74-the-little-lady-will-have-a-sherry/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 74 – The Little Lady Will Have A Sherry

(This article first appeared in the February 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

Have I banged on lately about sexism in birding?

It’s still as prevalent as feral pigeons in Trafalgar Square. It doesn’t matter that ten years after her passing one of the world’s top ten listers is female, nor that many top wildlife writers, bloggers, film makers, conservationists and ornithologists are women.

Birding is blokey. It’s as oriented towards male values as motor racing, football and hiding from the wife in the shed. Women and girls are, of course an increasing proportion of enthusiasts for sport in general. Look along the terraces at Twickenham, Wembley or your local side’s sports ground and female faces are far more familiar than in my youth, or even a decade or so ago. Blokeyness is no longer confined to blokes, but that hasn’t shifted the paradigm. Lads may not be the only ones necking too much beer or getting fighting drunk in Ipswich or Ibiza; the ladies in their lives have become laddish, rather than their boyfriends becoming less boorish.

Disabled people, youngsters and ethnic minorities are still less likely to be birders than white males in their twenties and thirties. And if they, like women, bird, they often adopt the out-dated and outrageous attitudes that define male dominated pastimes.

I’ve noticed that many middle-aged birdwatchers drift away from ‘twitching’. It could be they want to find their own rarities, or that they love the solitude of patch working or the joy of seeing new behaviours rather than new species. But my money is on them no longer enjoying the competitiveness of the ‘sport’ of birding. How long your list is, is, after all, a more or less exclusively male obsession. Ticks equate to notches on the bedpost or the number of cow seals a big fat male can corral into his harem.

A quarter century ago my young teenage son found and announced a rare wader we were searching for. He was ignored and the group of twitchers moved on until they found it for themselves! Women are still assumed to be ‘along for the ride’ rather than equal to male birders in every respect.

I know this to be true….

Last December, Hawkeye and I went down to look at our hometown sea. Storms had been raging (albeit from the west) and I was hoping some interesting birds might take shelter along the cliff-shadowed bays of this southeast resort. Dozens of ships had anchored offshore sitting out the bad weather but little seemed to be moving. A few grebes bobbed among the waves including a nice Slavonian, but no auks, skuas, or even distant shearwaters. There were close in gannets and, unusual for this part of the world many were loafing in the water. I scoped the few gannets that were diving for food in water dotted with the heads of seals.

My wife sheltered from the wind in the car, occasionally tapping the window to point out the growing number of Brent Geese on the tide line and a couple of Rock Pipits hopping along the car park fence. Then, in an almost unprecedented sally she came forth and shook me to say… ‘Did you see the Swift?’

‘A Swift?’ I half admonished’, …in December, are you sure? Describe it’. ‘Well’ the patient lady said ‘it had dark scimitar wings’ and dived rapidly over the cliff edge… she held her hands apart to demonstrate that it was too small to be a Peregrine. ‘I’m sorry’ I said ‘Its just not…’

It was at this point that the Swift nearly parted my hair. We watched it for ten minutes going so fast and close I could hardly get my bins on it. The next day’s crowd were of the collective opinion that it was a Pallid Swift… although I thought it too dark on the back. But, given my display of sexism, what do I know?

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GOB 74 – The Little Lady Will Have A Sherry (This article first appeared in the February 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Have I banged on lately about sexism in birding? It’s still as prevalent as feral pigeons in Trafalgar … Continue reading → GOB 74 – The Little Lady Will Have A Sherry (This article first appeared in the February 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Have I banged on lately about sexism in birding? It’s still as prevalent as feral pigeons in Trafalgar … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:55
GOB 73 – Missed Opportunities http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-73-missed-opportunities/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:56:15 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1342 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-73-missed-opportunities/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-73-missed-opportunities/feed/ 0 GOB 73 – Missed Opportunities (This article first appeared in the January 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I’ve eaten Chicken Kiev in Kiev; bought Moroccan leather in Marrakesh and sat listening to the Beach Boys sing Californian Girls in Long … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-73-missed-opportunities/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 73 – Missed Opportunities

(This article first appeared in the January 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

I’ve eaten Chicken Kiev in Kiev; bought Moroccan leather in Marrakesh and sat listening to the Beach Boys sing Californian Girls in Long Beach with a Californian Girl. Each of which, along with a Tuna sandwich in Tunisia represent lost opportunities.

The thing is that my interest in birds was sparked in my early childhood and the embers were fanned in my youth, but then there was the almost inevitable gap, shared I’ve found by most ‘lifelong’ birders.

Ian Drury sang, “Sex and drugs and rock and roll, are all my brain and body need”. During our young adulthood we tend to spend time chasing the opposite sex, getting on down to the sound and over indulging in alcohol.

Many of us get coupled up and form families, money is short and time even shorter, so hobbies slide to the smallest back burner, barely kept warm for future use.

My travelling days started when I visited family in New Zealand, being routed through Singapore and back via California… all without optics let alone a field guide. On another occasion I went via Fiji on the coat tails of a hurricane, which took the tops off most of the palm trees and blew the birds into hiding. I recall seeing one cormorant, one tropicbird and a strange hook-beaked bird delving into the banana flowers outside my hotel room. I eventually identified what it was, but not until over thirty years later!

I’ve racked my ageing brain, but still cannot remember seeing any birds on a trip to Russia, except for the feral pigeons in Red Square. I must have seen birds in Morocco… particularly as I recall wandering around a fish market on the edge of a harbour. How is it that I can remember Ribbon Fish and Hammerhead Sharks being there for sale, but not what gulls were around the harbour? At the camel market I definitely remember being offered several camels in exchange for my girlfriend, but surely there would have been some birds knocking about the camel pens? The blank spots are so frustrating.

Being a bit of a ‘lister’ makes it worse. On a trip to Poland I managed to create a list of one for Belarus, as I watched a Common Buzzard fly over the border post. I have several species on my Angola list even although I’ve never been there… just watched from the other side of the river separating it from Namibia. I never stepped outside of the airport grounds in the Cayman Isle en route from Jamaica to Cuba, but managed half a dozen birds including an Island endemic and the famed Blue Iguana.

I never lost my love of birds, wild places and nature in general, so how come my bird ticker got turned off for a few years during my salad days?

I remember the point at which it began to come back… it was in Tunisia on my one and only ‘beach holiday’. After a night watching the most incredible light show when noiseless lightening lit up the Mediterranean I was turning lobster red on a sun bed when a beautiful swallow-tailed butterfly got up close and personal with my sun tan cream. Too hot to burn more I had a wander around the hotel grounds to find we were within viewing distance of some saltpans. They were behind chain link and I had no binoculars but the distant, heat haze disrupted pans were alive with waders. I could make out stilts but the rest were obscured… that feeling of frustration marks the beginning of finding my way back into birding.

It was further peaked on our last outing before the flight home… when the guide announced that, if we turned to our left and looked at the salt pans we would be able to see a large flock of ‘Pink Floyds’! Whoever knew about those songbirds?

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GOB 73 – Missed Opportunities (This article first appeared in the January 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I’ve eaten Chicken Kiev in Kiev; bought Moroccan leather in Marrakesh and sat listening to the Beach Boys sing Californian Girls in Long ... GOB 73 – Missed Opportunities (This article first appeared in the January 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I’ve eaten Chicken Kiev in Kiev; bought Moroccan leather in Marrakesh and sat listening to the Beach Boys sing Californian Girls in Long … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:37
GOB 72 – Blackcaps & Spadgers http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-72-blackcaps-spadgers/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:54:48 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1344 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-72-blackcaps-spadgers/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-72-blackcaps-spadgers/feed/ 0 GOB 72 – Blackcaps & Spadgers (This article first appeared in the December 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Not so long ago I told you the tale of my overwintering Blackcaps… well it turns out I will not have been … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-72-blackcaps-spadgers/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 72 – Blackcaps & Spadgers

(This article first appeared in the December 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

Not so long ago I told you the tale of my overwintering Blackcaps… well it turns out I will not have been alone. Blackcaps are not it seems, just overwintering here on the warmer coast. They are actually the first proof that man can affect the evolution of other species. It turns out that these winter warblers are not our local lads hanging about to sun themselves by the sea, but central and eastern European chaps who have decided to shun the Costas in favour of Albion’s shores purely because of our generous attitude towards immigrants. Twenty million households feed their garden birds. Moreover, over the last few years we make sure that there are plenty of fat balls out all winter and we’ve gone over from peanuts to sunflower hearts. Whereas tits coped with peanuts and fiches de-husk just about anything, sunflower hearts can be coped with by many species that normally stick to insects or soft fruit.

I have to say that the Blackcaps are not the only ones who favour high fat treats that are easy to break into mouth-sized morsels. Since we started using huskless seed Robins, Dunocks and passing warblers have taken to using our feeders. (Mind you, Hawkeye still spends my hard-earned on mealworms for the robin and has been know to stand guard to stop the starlings cleaning up before the robins get a look in.) Mind you, any bird wanting a go at the sunflower hearts have to wait until the goldfinches are so full they fall asleep on the perches.

It makes me wonder how much you people are responsible for the resurgence of house sparrows too. Our local lads were down to less than half a dozen regulars but, especially over the last two or three seasons, they have really bounced back. Late summer has seen family parties queuing on the shed roof waiting for their turn at the feeders…. On one day a combined force of twenty-two arrived and six parents got busy at the feeders to sustain the sixteen youngsters who stayed on the warm shed roof and tweeted like mad to get their share. My gutters got cleared and re-positioned when we extended into the loft, luckily one of my neighbour’s maintenance is sufficiently lax as to allow sparrows and starlings lots of nooks and crannies to nest in. My neat row of nest-boxes is distained in favour of his broken airbrick and unused flue.

At the end of last September I took a couple of hours to view my favourite hedgerow… it was alive with migrating Chiffchffs, Goldcrests and Blackcaps. Being a bountiful resource the birds hardly knew what to stuff their beaks with first, but the Blackcaps definitely had two favourites, blackberries and elderberries. Despite a slight chill in the air the bright sun and blue sky was equally alive with hirundines swooping into a nice fly supply.

The hedgerow teemed with bees and wasps of several varieties all drawn to the last ivy flowers. Migrant Hawker dragonflies were also very evident and I saw a lifetime first… a dragonfly taking a midge out of the air as neatly as any warbler.

Despite the all round entertainment I admit to spending most optic time on the Blackcaps. If something else worked along the edge I took a look so as not to miss any year ticks or surprises, but as soon as the warblers were identified and the crests proved to be gold I was back watching a nice fat Blackcap risking inebriation on the over ripe fruit. About the only other birds that would distracted me would have been a late swift or a smart male redstart… but none graced the bushes that morning. Mind you, a smart Lesser Whitethroat can keep me glued to it too.

It would be good to hear from readers what their favourite migrants are. Anyone else a blackcap-a-holic?

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GOB 72 – Blackcaps & Spadgers (This article first appeared in the December 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Not so long ago I told you the tale of my overwintering Blackcaps… well it turns out I will not have been … Continue reading → GOB 72 – Blackcaps & Spadgers (This article first appeared in the December 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Not so long ago I told you the tale of my overwintering Blackcaps… well it turns out I will not have been … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:45
GOB 71 – I wandered lonely as a cloud… http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-71-i-wandered-lonely-as-a-cloud/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:54:18 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1346 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-71-i-wandered-lonely-as-a-cloud/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-71-i-wandered-lonely-as-a-cloud/feed/ 0 GOB 71 – I wandered lonely as a cloud… (This article first appeared in the October 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I blame Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Hardy, Brontë, Burns & Tolkein, Turner, Landseer & Constable. Between them they have led us … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-71-i-wandered-lonely-as-a-cloud/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 71 – I wandered lonely as a cloud…

(This article first appeared in the October 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

I blame Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Hardy, Brontë, Burns & Tolkein, Turner, Landseer & Constable. Between them they have led us to believe in a unique British countryside of bare rolling hills, blasted heaths, heather-clad glens and friendly farmers in a pastoral heaven. If only we had been brought up on the brothers Grimm we might be into vast forests tended by heroic woodsmen. Instead we favour barren hillsides and fields worked by Farmer Giles.

Our cultural memory is beset with ‘blue remembered hills’ where sheep can safely graze. Well folks, the sheep should be safely grazing in the valley not on those heavily government subsidised hillsides. They should be re-wilding from pasture, to scrub to hanging woodland.

Monarchs of the glen roaming in the gloaming are all very pretty, but the predator-free deer in artificially high numbers are stopping the Caledonian forest from re-generating. The upland heaths are only blasted because grouse shooting interests burn them off to encourage new shoots for the farm-bred grouse to multiply in front of their guns

Our picaresque past is peppered with the wholesale slaughter of predators and the decimation of forest for pasture, then shipbuilding, pit props and railway sleepers. Bears, Lynx and wolves were assigned to history until we only have the foxes left for sport and the badgers left to eliminate instead of inoculating cattle against TB.

What are we doing to restore the land to how it was before we decided that every thing the swims, flies, walks or wriggles is bad unless its fit for human use? Almost sweet FA… A handful of beavers are still making their case whereas the rest of Europe numbers have recovered into many thousands due to conservation efforts. The several hundred feral boar are seen as a threat to crops rather than welcome returnees.

Wild goats, chamois et al across much of Europe have gone from a few dozen to hundreds of thousands. The last remnants of Bison have been carefully nurtured back to flourishing herds expanding across international boundaries.

We loudly and rightly condemn European hunters and the mass slaughter of songbirds but we don’t even whisper about the re-introduction of lynx and bears and wolves across their former range.

A few brave souls try to overcome our romanticised concepts to suggest that the rest of Europe can live with lynx, withstand wolves and are not bothered by bears. Yet we hang on to our delusion that we are animal lovers and pioneers of conservation. We don’t love animals we pamper pets, we do not conserve so much as set up tiny sanctuaries for the rightful users of the land to hide in.

Back in the day a handful of the great and good ladies got together to denounce the feather trade. They were the suffragettes of conservation. What we have now is not conservation but conservatism. The National Trust preserves the monuments of past feudalism and lets the heirs chase foxes across their lands. Our government talks about the environment being safe in their hands, but will allow fracking beneath SSSIs. Where are the conservation charities that should be on the front lines? What is the point of re-introducing hairy bumblebees if the honeybees are being killed off wholesale with pesticides?

I don’t eat meat. Not because I am sentimental but because meat production is an inefficient way to grow protein and the cost is rainforest destruction and third world hunger.

I have never had sympathy for those animal rights campaigners stupid enough to release mink into the English countryside. Nor have I saluted rich old ladies who leave their fortunes to the cats home. Its time to stop putting pets on a pedestal and thinking that cows are more important than badgers. We need a radical movement dedicated to the rights of or wild animals over human self-interest. Making Nature’s Home People Proof!

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GOB 71 – I wandered lonely as a cloud… (This article first appeared in the October 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I blame Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Hardy, Brontë, Burns & Tolkein, Turner, Landseer & Constable. GOB 71 – I wandered lonely as a cloud… (This article first appeared in the October 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I blame Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Hardy, Brontë, Burns & Tolkein, Turner, Landseer & Constable. Between them they have led us … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:10
GOB 70 – Sound Advice http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-70-sound-advice/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:52:48 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1348 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-70-sound-advice/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-70-sound-advice/feed/ 0 GOB 70 – Sound Advice (This article first appeared in the November 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I suffer from progressive hearing loss; I am profoundly deaf in one ear, and get periods of complete deafness in the other. I … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-70-sound-advice/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 70 – Sound Advice

(This article first appeared in the November 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

I suffer from progressive hearing loss; I am profoundly deaf in one ear, and get periods of complete deafness in the other. I share this not to evoke sympathy, or excuse my rubbish call recognition, but to urge you to lay down some internal audio tracts for the future, because most people’s hearing fades somewhat as they age.

Despite my audio illiteracy some of my most cherished memories are of wild sounds. Just as aromas can unexpectedly transport you to a past time and distant place, so my inner ear evokes recall of deeply embedded, joyous occasions.

You would rightly expect that some of these memory-captured sounds are bird song. While, by and large, I may not be able to distinguish a tit from a ptarmigan on call alone, there are, nevertheless, some bird sounds I do know… less for the singer, more for what they recall.

The sudden fly-by screams of swifts announce summer. A burst of wren song in the garden lifts your spirits. A deafening Cetti’s call takes you to the waterside and a raptors’ ‘keeing’ takes you to rolling hills and crags. Every curlew call reminds one of Scottish moorlands and lowland marshes. A wood pigeon on a summer evening transports me to a childhood fishing lake.

If I get a distant snatch of newly arrived nightingales, I am taken back to nights spent in a caravan in an ancient Kent wood where I lay listening in the early hours of a summer night, trying to see if this vocal maestro ever repeated a phrase.

I can replay my first African dawn chorus at will. Competing doves like croupiers calling ‘rien ne va plus’ and ‘place your bets’ from two species and a third repeatedly announcing his name ‘I am the red-eyed dove’. A deep oop-oop-oop of a hoopoe mingled with harsh metallic starlings. Kop-kop, kop-kop from a coucal every two seconds echoed over dew-laden grass. A woodpecker probing for grubs in the rotten tree outside my room; the sound that got me from bed to balcony, to see twittering firefinches and cordon blues, their colourful garb muted by a misty morning.

Oddly my most deeply ingrained sound memories of foreign travel are not of bird song but other species.

Driving ‘home’ as dusk fell in a Kenyan national park we stopped by a puddle of a pond, more marsh than mere, and were assailed by a frog chorus. We sat enthralled by the bubbles and croaks, rising in pitch and volume as fast as the sun sank. On that same trip, as we walked back from dinner at our lodge at the foot of Mount Kenya, the trees were suddenly full of the most terrifying screaming banshees which, we later learned were the calls of tree hyrax, a diminutive, arboreal relative of elephants, looking like a cross between a guinea pig and a koala bear with fangs!

Most wonderful and evocative of all was the sound that filled the dawn deep in a Thailand forest clearing… white-handed gibbons’ whooping calls. What a privilege that was, a truly enchanting serenade.

There are songs and sounds for everyone. Just as you can be a fan of Dvorak or Dylan, Mozart or Morrissey so wild sounds and bird songs mean different things to different people.

I would be willing to bet though, that there are two bird songs that top the charts of most UK bird lovers. They are loved not for their versatility, nor their rarity. Indeed the fact that they are so every day is part of the charm. Walk into your garden on a winter day and the robin will faithfully voice his scratchy, mournful song to reassure you that all is well with the world. But top of the pops for so many of us is the plaintive, yet haunting beauty of the evening summer song of our beloved Blackbirds.

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GOB 70 – Sound Advice (This article first appeared in the November 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I suffer from progressive hearing loss; I am profoundly deaf in one ear, and get periods of complete deafness in the other. I … Continue reading → GOB 70 – Sound Advice (This article first appeared in the November 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I suffer from progressive hearing loss; I am profoundly deaf in one ear, and get periods of complete deafness in the other. I … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:00
GOB 68 – What will they think of next…. http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-68-what-will-they-think-of-next/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:51:46 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1353 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-68-what-will-they-think-of-next/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-68-what-will-they-think-of-next/feed/ 0 GOB 68 – What will they think of next…. (This article first appeared in the September 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) “I’m not sure, I didn’t look to see if there is anything about”… was my reply to Hawkeye as … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-68-what-will-they-think-of-next/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 68 – What will they think of next….

(This article first appeared in the September 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

I’m not sure, I didn’t look to see if there is anything about”… was my reply to Hawkeye as we drove towards one our favourite local reserves. Her assumption was that my wish to go birding had been prompted by a rarity report or an alert on the mailing group.

It didn’t strike me at the time that this was evidence of a sea change in our birding habits

In the early 1980s I used to go birdwatching. If I had a few days I picked an area of the country where I could guarantee everyday birds that were not on my doorstep always hopeful, of course, that I would also see the unexpected. My in-laws lived in Bournemouth so a weekend there would allow a drive into the New Forest, a day at Arne RSPB reserve or perhaps an evening spent for nightjars.

Early in the year a search for Dartford Warblers might turn up an over-wintering Great Grey Shrike. A spring day in the forest after Redstarts might also turn up Hawfinch and any time of year at Arne could turn up, well, anything… over the years I saw everything from Spoonbills to Wood Warblers. A decade later and our visits coincided with Little Egret colonisation… you could see half a dozen all in one place? An erstwhile rarity has now become commonplace.

Mooching about in likely habitat was how the vast majority of us watched birds then, unless you were a more casual walker just noting what you came across or a perhaps dedicated patch worker covering the same territory every day.

By the late nineteen eighties I had joined thousands of others who had got the twitching bug and my outings were geared to getting to birds I’d never seen before. Nothing made me more aware of my growing disability than my struggle to see a twitchable Red-flanked Bluetail in Dorset or a walk back from a Derbyshire Richard’s Pipit twitch that, frankly, nearly killed me! Who new years later I’d see the former in my local park, and find one of the latter for myself? The thing is, for a while, I was addicted to bird-lines, pagers and rarity reports and never went birding without a rarity targeted

I didn’t twitch for many years, but by then had got into the habit of seeking out birds that other people had found for me… most of us still do. That’s not to say we don’t ever go to places on spec, or even find our own rarities, just that using communications technology has now become built into birding.

Our birding behaviour have been changed in many ways courtesy of bird song ID systems or master-classes in rarity spotting. Wandering about with your bins for the fun of it seems to be becoming a thing of the past.

I’ve just been reading about software developed to ID birds – apparently it gets the right bird in the top three suggested species 90% of the time… no matter how poor the snap. It made me check the calendar to see if it was April 1st!

It made me think… why?

Why would you want to leave ID to a machine any more than you would want to only ever go out to see what someone else found for you? Surely the enjoyment of finding ‘good’ birds and knowing that you have, along with just enjoying their beauty and behaviour is what birding is all about?

Are we draining the pleasure out of the pastime by abandoning field-craft and turning our hobby into a competitive sport with ever improving sports gear to take the physical and mental effort out of it?

When I re-run my sightings past my in-built computer I either know what I saw, or don’t and am content to let them go. I let what’s missed remain a mystery.

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GOB 68 – What will they think of next…. (This article first appeared in the September 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) “I’m not sure, I didn’t look to see if there is anything about”… was my reply to Hawkeye as … Continue reading → GOB 68 – What will they think of next…. (This article first appeared in the September 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) “I’m not sure, I didn’t look to see if there is anything about”… was my reply to Hawkeye as … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:45
GOB 69 – Swift Justice http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-69-swift-justice/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:51:24 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1350 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-69-swift-justice/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-69-swift-justice/feed/ 0 GOB 69 – Swift Justice  (This article first appeared in the Autumn 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Six swifts sped past my office window distracting me from my keyboard slavery. The screen’s hypnotic grasp eluded, I nipped downstairs for some … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-69-swift-justice/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 69 – Swift Justice

 (This article first appeared in the Autumn 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

Six swifts sped past my office window distracting me from my keyboard slavery. The screen’s hypnotic grasp eluded, I nipped downstairs for some fresh air and fresh thinking. Admiring my own handiwork I surveyed the tiny patch of life in the urban sprawl, glorying in the colourful blooms and buzzing of busy pollinators.

Movement under the feeders caught the corner of my eye and I slowly turned expecting to see a mouse. A fledgling sparrow tried to drag itself under a leaf. Looking more closely my spirit fell as I realised this trembling feather ball was bloody. Close inspecting led to its despatch when it revealed trailed entrails… clearly another neighbourhood cat had overcome my deterrents!

Regular readers will know how much this angers me, but anger is not enough, action is called for.

The cat problem is a symptom of an out of kilter underlying social norm, which, I believe, it is high time we did something about.

Our relationship with animals is the problem. Law and socially acceptable behaviour lie embedded in the mire of our feudal history. In truth the fate of wild animals is not about irresponsible cat owners, callous farmers or greedy landowners, but about our collective and entire way of thinking, which needs to be brought up to date and to reflect our modern social relationships.

Its no good me banging on about irresponsible cat owners. It’s not about campaigning for organic food production nor about shaming estate owners who allow Hen Harriers to be extirpated to protect their grouse shoots. Its about changing law based on land ownership and about responsibility being based on law forged together within a logical framework rather than grown piecemeal.

We need to legislate in favour of wildlife by changing the basis of ownership.

Currently, its all about land. The aristocracy made up laws to suit their privileged position.  So they stopped the peasantry from ruining their sport by tying the ownership of wild things to the land they inhabit. Critters running about on feudal holdings were declared the property of the landowner.  Poaching peasants were deterred by draconian penalties. It went further so that certain animals were declared property even when they roamed free in the wildwood, they could only be hunted by the gentry or, like swans, eaten by kings.

If the hunt tore up the peasants holdings as their horses trampled all in pursuit of a wild boar or hart that was just tough. But if the peasant’s dog chewed into the lord’s pheasants the peasant could be thrown off the land and into a dungeon.

So we have inherited the ridiculous notion that wild things belong to someone who occupies their homeland and that only certain creatures’ behaviour is the responsibility of their owners

So where do we go from here?

First we must establish that no one ‘owns’ wild things. Then we need to specify the detail of any ‘pest’ species and how, by whom and where they can be controlled. Rather than protecting a few, we should protect everything and grant time-limited licences under special circumstances to allow problematic species to be controlled, excluding any locally or internationally endangered species of course.

At present everything can be killed unless protected, this needs turning on its head so that everything is protected unless legislation adds them to the licence list.

Next we need to make owners of all domestic animals, including pets, always responsible for what they do. Owners of wandering pets or stock should compensate AND face penalties too.

Lastly, there should be a duty to protect so that land and building owners make their property useful to the wild world. Like tall buildings having swift boxes and roads having hedgehog or toad tunnels.

Moreover, a new attitude must be solidified into legislation protecting us, and all wild things, from the ravages of the selfish and privileged few.

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GOB 69 – Swift Justice  (This article first appeared in the Autumn 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Six swifts sped past my office window distracting me from my keyboard slavery. The screen’s hypnotic grasp eluded, GOB 69 – Swift Justice  (This article first appeared in the Autumn 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Six swifts sped past my office window distracting me from my keyboard slavery. The screen’s hypnotic grasp eluded, I nipped downstairs for some … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:18
GOB 66 – Vintage Birds http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-66-vintage-birds/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:50:57 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1357 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-66-vintage-birds/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-66-vintage-birds/feed/ 0 GOB 66 – Vintage Birds… (This article first appeared in the July 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Waiting while Hawkeye found more ways to spend my ‘hard earned’ in ‘George’ at Asda my eye’s corner spied the Herring Gulls on … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-66-vintage-birds/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 66 – Vintage Birds…

(This article first appeared in the July 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

Waiting while Hawkeye found more ways to spend my ‘hard earned’ in ‘George’ at Asda my eye’s corner spied the Herring Gulls on the grass verge and their behaviour held my attention. We had a shower last night so the verges were damp and, despite being less than a mile from an ebbing tide half a dozen gulls were paddling for worms. Clomping up and down on the sward like kids playing in their parents shoes. I can’t remember when I first saw this behaviour, years ago for sure.

It got me thinking about what sort of birder I have slowly become and I realised that birding, not unlike drinking alcohol has followed a ‘career’. You start out unaware of booze, then become fascinated and take a tentative teenage tipple before rushing headlong into the student bar or music club. Similarly birds slowly register as things of grace and beauty that behave in fascinating ways before becoming an obsession. My alcohol use peaked in my late twenties and early thirties when the pub was the focus of my social life. Birding followed a similar path filling my spare time until I began chasing variety like the late night emptying of an hotel room’s minibar.

My work with substance abusers made drinking close to where I worked inappropriate and, when I bought my first car, I found myself going to new pubs, but making half a shandy last several hours or drinking a G&T without the ‘G’. That was when I stopped twitching and turned instead to foreign trips and, some years on, working a patch.

I may slip out and twitch a ‘world lifer’ if it turns up close to home, just as I might have a cold beer on a really hot day or a vodka and tonic at Christmas, but twitching and boozing are fast fading memories.

I may go for a local tick or lifer once a year these days, if that, and have a cupboard full of bottles that I have to dust off if ever I take them out at all. If I do take a drink I savour the flavour and allow its mild intoxication to stay just that, mild.

So, I’ve come full circle and find myself once again birding because of a fascination with what birds do and are, rather than how many new ones I can tick. My ID skills go on improving, but they come a poor second place to general observation.

Before I was a birder my dad took me fishing. When sitting by the edge of a lake with reeds on two sides and trees behind you, you are virtually in a hide. Whatever swam or flew was often close by and I recall seeing Great-crested Grebes in their mating dance and a Cuckoo ousting its Reed Warbler step-siblings. Field mice ate our bread bait and grass snakes swam up to us and rustled by. I realised I had become a nature lover by counting how many bites I missed because my float disappeared without me noticing it as I was pre-occupied with dragonflies buzzing my head or Spotted Flycatchers looping from their perch to bag yet another midge.

I now know I’ve come full circle because I am once again just enjoying what I see rather than looking for new pastures. It pays dividends too. In over fifty years I had never seen a water rail in flight… this year I’ve seen this happen twice in different places a few weeks apart. Yesterday my son told me he had seen a couple of Treecreepers actually perched on a fence post and realised he had only ever seen them work their way up a tree trunk or bough.

I think this circle has turned for many people although the most thumbed birding literature is still about ID rather than bird behaviour as it was in Gilbert White’s day.

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GOB 66 – Vintage Birds… (This article first appeared in the July 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Waiting while Hawkeye found more ways to spend my ‘hard earned’ in ‘George’ at Asda my eye’s corner spied the Herring Gulls on … Continue reading → GOB 66 – Vintage Birds… (This article first appeared in the July 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) Waiting while Hawkeye found more ways to spend my ‘hard earned’ in ‘George’ at Asda my eye’s corner spied the Herring Gulls on … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:42
GOB 67 – Road Rage http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-67-road-rage/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:50:25 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1355 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-67-road-rage/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-67-road-rage/feed/ 0 GOB 67 – Road Rage (This article first appeared in the August 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I was asked to speak at the Scottish Bird Fair – or to give it its proper title ‘Scotland’s Big Nature Festival’, and … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-67-road-rage/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 67 – Road Rage

(This article first appeared in the August 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

I was asked to speak at the Scottish Bird Fair – or to give it its proper title ‘Scotland’s Big Nature Festival’, and knowing that there was no way I could take all I needed on a plane, and having picked myself up off the floor when I saw the price of the train, I decided to drive up. Hoping to see some species we don’t get down in the southeast corner… naively as it turned out. So Hawkeye and I loaded up and got going.

It’s a fair old drive so there was plenty of time to watch out for wildlife all the way. The mammals list was extensive. Muntjac, then fox, rabbit, hedgehog, grey squirrel and brown rat were all expected. No less than two polecats was a bigger surprise… although, more than likely they were feral ferrets. Several badgers were inevitable, but as we got further north there were a number of hares and three roe deer. Birds included blackbirds and lots of pheasants with some corvids, two kestrels and various others I could not ID.

Of course the sad truth is, none of these were extant, but each was a squished fur or feather ball on the side of the carriageway.

I assumed that the motorway would be the biggest slaughterhouse, what with plenty of traffic and fast speeds, but not a bit of it. It was the frustrating ‘A’ roads, the ones where you might spend 20 minutes with only the back of a truck to look at. The A1 over the border was carnage with deer in the road or lying barely scratched on the embankments.

You might assume that this is just bad luck… random strikes on critters accidentally crossing the path of an HGV driver. However, looking at the endless English & Scottish fields and the open hillsides en route it dawned on me that wildlife was concentrated on the edges where the habitat was richer. Hedges and verges, motorway banks that the public cannot access, ditches and all were more attractive to bird and beast than the arid agri-businesses and boring monocultures. Its no wonder that animals are drawn to the most dangerous places for them. Pesticides push insects to the fringes, attracted by the warm the areas cars create as they pass through or the weed seeds that are blitzed in the fields left to run riot on the verges. Its as if we magnetise the strips that run between hard surfaces and no-go zones.

It is fortunate that there are still some areas of the UK with huge natural habitats but the more pressure we put on the green world to feed or house us, and the more concrete paves our roads the more wildlife gets marginalised.

The journey north had another profound impact on me. I’ve always thought of the ‘garden of England’ as one of the richest in birdlife and, during migration times or in specific coastal wetlands that may still be the case, but every village I went into in the northern bits of England and the southern bits of Scotland I was struck by how much richer they were than my home county. Swifts, swallows and house martins all seem to be doing well in Yorkshire villages or Scottish towns compared with how thin on the ground they seem to be the southern climes. Warblers, flycatchers and finches seemed to be the norm on village edges, whereas my corner of the world gets skinnier pickings.

Maybe its the intensity of land use in town and country but I am also convinced that the rising sea temperatures are pushing a lot of everyday birds further north and robbing the south of its diversity and abundance.

Johnson said the only good thing about Scotland was the road to England, but I want to emigrate to where the government, the wild places and the wildlife suit my soul.

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GOB 67 – Road Rage (This article first appeared in the August 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I was asked to speak at the Scottish Bird Fair – or to give it its proper title ‘Scotland’s Big Nature Festival’, and … Continue reading → GOB 67 – Road Rage (This article first appeared in the August 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) I was asked to speak at the Scottish Bird Fair – or to give it its proper title ‘Scotland’s Big Nature Festival’, and … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:29
GOB 65 – Blackcap… http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-65-blackcap/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:49:33 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1359 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-65-blackcap/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-65-blackcap/feed/ 0 GOB 65 – Blackcap… (This article first appeared in the June 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) There is something immensely charming about a Blackcap. Their Jet black or red-brown bonnet setting off the subtle grey throat and belly and washed … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-65-blackcap/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 65 – Blackcap…

(This article first appeared in the June 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

There is something immensely charming about a Blackcap. Their Jet black or red-brown bonnet setting off the subtle grey throat and belly and washed out olive wings, gives them a dapper and elegant look.

This winter I think I provided the lifeline to some of these cuties. I’m not sure how many as I saw two adult males at one time and a redcap… the most regular feeder was a male but its impossible to know if this was just one individual.

He made numerous visits and, starlings permitting, stuffed his face for periods of up to twenty minutes. He got dubbed ‘Fatboy slim’ as he was single-minded in his consumption and at times rooted to our diminutive cherry tree, his slender profile fluffing up to keep out the cold when roosting.

I am lucky enough to live close to the beach with coast on three and a bit sides. In Roman times it was an island, but now the former kilometre wide channel, last navigated by sailing ship in the eighteenth century, is a tiny river an athlete could jump across. Being as far southeast as you can get without having a French accent we are blessed with a very mild climate, which means we get a lot of birds overwintering that might not find a niche even a few miles inland. Firecrests and Chiffchaffs are normal winter birds and occasionally we host vagrants and stragglers. This may also explain the number of Ring-necked Parakeets… now several thousand roost and we have even had double figures in our tiny yard, queuing on the washing line where we string up apples for them.

So blackcaps have graced the garden before in just about any month, but have never hung around to feed. They have poked around my flowerpots and like a long-staying chiffchaff managed to find a few mites and midges, but shunned the fat balls and seed feeders and were not even tempted by the meal worms and suet scattered over my garage roof.

What made the difference to them also led to a garden first, a bird that I am hoping becomes a regular.

An old friend was extolling the virtues of fat-filled coconut shells available on the cheap from the Pound Shop. He assured me that they were firm garden favourites. I admit to some scepticism, as he is a ‘careful’ man and not one to spend top dollar on bird feed. I, on the other hand only offer top class sunflower hearts and nyjer, so thought these old chestnuts, oops, coconuts, were superseded by the high class fare I was tempting them with.

Nevertheless, I decided to give them a go and Mrs Grumpy snaffled some of Asda’s finest (other Supermarket offerings also available). In less than 24 hours the great tits and blue tits were stuck in. Then the garden ‘first’ took a look… a great-spotted woodpecker landed on the shed roof, but was scared away by my shout of surprise. A week later he was not only back, but was pounding the coconut’s interior before flying off to the park. My better half managed to see him on his third visit and we still await more appearances.

Ever since the blackcap found the shell a few days later he has been back every day and manages to shoo off everything other than starlings when he wants to perch on the cherry tree and eat his fill.

Thinking about it, coconuts hung up for the birds goes back beyond my childhood, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that they have been garden bird treats for a century or more. Doubtless they are still going strong in many a non-birder’s backyard and are so familiar a source of nourishment that they are a magnet for birds that haven’t really got the hang of other feeders.

No doubt about it, oldies are still goodies!

Postscript: After visits every day for more than a month it slowly dawned on me that there were (at least) two male blackcaps coming to the feeders… ‘Fatboy’ AND ‘Slim’; whose white-fringed wing feather marked him as a second bird.

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GOB 65 – Blackcap… (This article first appeared in the June 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) There is something immensely charming about a Blackcap. Their Jet black or red-brown bonnet setting off the subtle grey throat and belly and washed … C... GOB 65 – Blackcap… (This article first appeared in the June 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine) There is something immensely charming about a Blackcap. Their Jet black or red-brown bonnet setting off the subtle grey throat and belly and washed … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:03
GOB 64 – Listing to one side… http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-64-listing-to-one-side/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:49:21 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1426 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-64-listing-to-one-side/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-64-listing-to-one-side/feed/ 0 GOB 64 – Listing to one side… (This article first appeared in the May 2015 edition of Birdwatching Magazine) Somewhere wreathed in mist and hidden by a time vortex is the schism that divided those who need to note their … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-64-listing-to-one-side/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 64 – Listing to one side…

(This article first appeared in the May 2015 edition of Birdwatching Magazine)

Somewhere wreathed in mist and hidden by a time vortex is the schism that divided those who need to note their observations and those who are happy just to observe.

Like loving or hating Manga, musicals and Marmite, you either love to list or are completely unable to understand why people bother. The obsession may be a relative of the collecting bug. There are those whose minimalist lives have no use for old theatre programmes or a stamp album let alone a lawn infested with gnomes or a wall covered in frog-shaped teapots. They would stare open mouthed at a five year-old collecting bus tickets or an anorak-clad cove noting down the number of the train they are taking to work.

I am by inclination on the listing side of one of human nature’s grand canyons. I guess I need to collect sightings just as, when a boy I needed to collect matchbox covers, stamps and coins. I once even had a world-class collection of cigarette packets, which I guess today would be just a series of blank paper adorned with health warnings.

When I started birding ‘seriously’ as a teenager my diaries were full of lists of birds with ‘lifers’ underlined, year records circled and county newbies marked in red. I progressed from RSPB grey-covered printed lists to a series of ‘Birdwatcher’s Logbooks’ replete with every sighting noted, primitively sketched and everything from the weather and the state of the tide, to my sandwich fillings and the books I had just read put down in detail.

I had summer lists and winter lists, year lists and patch lists, county lists and British lists all of which are as useful, in general terms, as last year’s railway timetable. Even the most avid fellow lister would deign only a passing glance. Some are lost in abandoned attics and a few still cram the top shelves in my study, looked at seldom and in private, like a serial killer’s trophies.

Like many things that time passing erodes the urgency of listing wanes. Most of us grow out of binge drinking and obscure music, fashion following and TV soaps. I seem to be growing out of collecting and listing. My stamp album is in some forgotten corner and just about everything else I ever hoarded has been car-booted, charity shopped or chucked in a recycling bin.

However I cannot quite wipe the slate clean. My world list may not be growing much but it is constantly re-shuffled to accommodate taxonomic change. I have resolved to go to Devon this year to look for a Cirl Bunting as its not on my stagnated UK list ignored because it sits somewhere on my world one. My county list will continue to be maintained and might grow as I do very occasionally twitch a world or UK lifer if it turns up in my county.

Nevertheless, I still keep a year list. Year lists are different, an incentive to see the same old same old. Somehow the fact that it is annually renewed remains an incentive and every year I set out to ensure there are 100 species or more on it by the end of January. When a blackbird or blue tit is desperately ‘needed’ for a day or two there seems a point to listing still. Sadly, that need seems to lessen with each month and by the end of February the list may only have been extended by a bird or five after January’s mad dashing. I guess the driving force is novelty. Each January the commonplace is novel for that year.

I may have put listing to one side but the need for novelty, to see something you have never seen before is almost hard wired into the human brain. Knowing what I have seen makes it easier to target seeing what I’ve never seen before!

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GOB 64 – Listing to one side… (This article first appeared in the May 2015 edition of Birdwatching Magazine) Somewhere wreathed in mist and hidden by a time vortex is the schism that divided those who need to note their … Continue reading → GOB 64 – Listing to one side… (This article first appeared in the May 2015 edition of Birdwatching Magazine) Somewhere wreathed in mist and hidden by a time vortex is the schism that divided those who need to note their … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:55
GOB 63 – Hands up who like fluffy kittens? http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-63-hands-up-who-like-fluffy-kittens/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:48:28 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1361 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-63-hands-up-who-like-fluffy-kittens/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-63-hands-up-who-like-fluffy-kittens/feed/ 0 GOB 63 – Hands up who like fluffy kittens? (This article first appeared in the April 2015 edition of Birdwatching magazine) Hands up who likes furry pets, penguins and Puffins. OK. Now, hands up who likes starlings, snakes and spiders. … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-63-hands-up-who-like-fluffy-kittens/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 63 – Hands up who like fluffy kittens?

(This article first appeared in the April 2015 edition of Birdwatching magazine)

Hands up who likes furry pets, penguins and Puffins. OK. Now, hands up who likes starlings, snakes and spiders.

A few generations back most people considered the wild world a resource created by their deity for mankind’s benefit; ‘useful’ plants and animals or bad or useless stuff. Good things could be eaten or used as fuel and a few were pretty, medicinal or smelled nice. Bad things tried to eat you, stung, bit or otherwise annoyed although some were just considered too ugly to be allowed to thrive so everything else could be destroyed creating space for us to build on or grow crops.

Around then the balance between town and country tipped. More and more of us became urbanised until in some places, like Australia, 95% of us live in towns and cities. This shift may account for our lack of environmental awareness, but ought to stop us splitting the wild world into the good, the bad and the ugly.

I would argue that the cultural capital carried by citizens of the world actually accounts for the number of people who champion cute and cuddly things and either persecute or fail to protect the rest. When coupled with capitalism it is responsible for completely wrong attitudes.

Foxes are bad as they kill chickens, which are owned. Cats are forgiven killing songbirds that belong to no one. Barn Owls kill rodents, which we think of as bad, so they are good. Hen Harriers are bad as they eat grouse which rich people pay to kill.

We killed off the top predators in this country centuries ago… bears, and wolves remain baddies in fairy tales. Our surviving top predator risks the cash cows of commercial interests so we cull badgers.

But this whole way of thinking is wrongheaded. A few nineteenth century giants of science realised that our ecology was an intricate balance necessary for survival.

Most of us at least pay lip service to this need to keep things in balance. A generation of ecological disaster movies warn us to forgo monoculture, stop using broad-spectrum insecticides and think about organic growing for the health of the world. Yet we have a long way to go when it comes to the detail… and that’s where the devil lives

Put aside commercial interest and you find that predators do not challenge food production, but are just a potential predator of profit. Inoculate livestock against TB rather than kill badgers. Be happy with smaller bags of grouse so Hen Harriers can thrive and stop planting winter wheat so farmland bird numbers recover

But while we struggle with keep the environment healthy without it becoming impossible for farmers and others to make a living, some of those vested interests seem determined to muddy the waters.

Brood management might seem reasonable to prevent predators ruining grouse shoots… until you take into account that grouse moors are about two hundred pairs of Hen Harriers short of what they should hold. Helping songbirds survive is reasonable until you realise that those advocates want to help them by culling other birds, peregrines and the like. Some defend their own actions by saying that even the RSPB culls foxes that threaten Little Tern colonies without pointing out that the current imbalance caused by farmers, shooters and us consumers has to be addressed in the short term to avoid local extinctions and redress the balance. It’s not an easy task to educate us all and make people wary of these commercially motivated responses.

Personally I don’t find cats cuddly and, although snakes scare me I understand their place in the scheme of things. But, damn it, I have a hard time convincing my wife that the starlings are as deserving as the blackbirds or robins of the mealworms she puts out. Don’t even mention spiders; she wants them eliminated from the planet!

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GOB 63 – Hands up who like fluffy kittens? (This article first appeared in the April 2015 edition of Birdwatching magazine) Hands up who likes furry pets, penguins and Puffins. OK. Now, hands up who likes starlings, snakes and spiders. GOB 63 – Hands up who like fluffy kittens? (This article first appeared in the April 2015 edition of Birdwatching magazine) Hands up who likes furry pets, penguins and Puffins. OK. Now, hands up who likes starlings, snakes and spiders. … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:01
GOB 61 – Let’s Shake On It http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-61-lets-shake-on-it/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:47:36 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1366 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-61-lets-shake-on-it/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-61-lets-shake-on-it/feed/ 0 GOB 61 – Let’s Shake On It (This article first appeared in the February 2015 Edition of Birdwatching) Popular myth would have it that we used to be a nation of ladies gentlemen… our word was our bond. The great … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-61-lets-shake-on-it/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 61 – Let’s Shake On It

(This article first appeared in the February 2015 Edition of Birdwatching)

Popular myth would have it that we used to be a nation of ladies gentlemen… our word was our bond. The great and good had a code of ‘noblesse oblige’ while the hoi polloi knew their place. God was clearly an Englishman and everything was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Legislation was almost unnecessary except to deter the determinedly evil and a handshake was an unbreakable contract. Voluntary agreements were quite sufficient to regulate commerce and industry, pastime pursuits and internecine un-neighbourliness.

This is, for the most part, rubbish.

Commerce, industry and trade has some gentlemen, just as any other walk of life, but if all controls had remained toothless and voluntary small children would still be cleaning chimneys, drinking water from lead pipes, ingesting loaves cut with arsenic and eating horse offal pies.

Country pursuits are no better. Ladies on horses seem to accidentally kill foxes as often as they used to do it on purpose. Gentlemen fill their Purdeys with lead shot and blast buzzards with impunity and landed gentry are supposedly so incompetent that they are always unaware when their gamekeepers poison peregrines or stomp on Hen Harrier nests.

Farmers chemically scour the land and mechanically trim back hedgerows just when birds are nesting or before they’ve eaten their fill of winter berries while claiming their stewardship subsidies.

Careless anglers discard nylon line that takes years to rot and is a long, slow and painful death sentence to water birds, or fill swims with huge quantities of bait that sours the water.

Even the careful hiker or casual stroller steadily erodes paths and builds unwanted Cairns on hilltops.

In town parks the staff still remove all ground cover and chop out deadwood. It used to be that all ‘parkies’ were professional gardeners filling their grounds with unproductive rhododendrons and blankets of spring bulbs or waves of easily discarded ‘bedding plants’. Despite this dying away through cost savings parks are kept as pet dog toilets not playground let alone the wildlife sanctuaries a little thought could encourage.

Meanwhile homegrown bait-diggers leave their diggings to be back-filled by the tide and crabber’s turn stones over but not back again. Duck hunters stray above the tide lines and delight in potting anything that slips off the reserve that their dogs can surreptitiously recover.

We birders rail against the Mediterraneans for supping on lime-stick caught Ortolans or sportingly blasting anything that flies from a Bee-eater to a Bonelli’s Eagle.

But, like charity, legislation should begin at home. We can no longer scatter stones from our glass-clad domiciles. Its time that the birder’s code of conduct was enshrined in a proper countryside act that tells us ALL how best to behave and sanctions us if we stray.

Voluntary agreements in Fleet Street did nothing to stop trial by the press or phone hacking victims. Self-policing MPs still fiddle their expenses and have wage rises orders of magnitude more than nurses. Voluntary agreements, like verbal contracts they are not worth the paper they are written on.

We need all-encompassing countryside legislation that makes the use of the countryside forever sensitive to the needs of the wild world. Builders, Farmers, Oil Men and Planners cannot be trusted, but nor can casual countryside users. Badgers need saving from Profit Politics, groundwater must come before Fracking and the delicate eco-system has to be protected even from those of us who value it most highly.

If we want to stop hunters and shooters from eliminating predators then we must also agree to culling introduced species. If we stop farmers chemically controlling insects and ploughing in stubble too early, then we need to sanction twitchers who trample crops or invade people’s gardens and over enthusiastic photographers from flushing scarce species. The right to roam is fundamental, but must be coupled with the obligation to do no harm.

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GOB 61 – Let’s Shake On It (This article first appeared in the February 2015 Edition of Birdwatching) Popular myth would have it that we used to be a nation of ladies gentlemen… our word was our bond. The great … Continue reading → GOB 61 – Let’s Shake On It (This article first appeared in the February 2015 Edition of Birdwatching) Popular myth would have it that we used to be a nation of ladies gentlemen… our word was our bond. The great … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:31
GOB 60 – What have you done today to make you feel proud? http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-60-what-have-you-done-today-to-make-you-feel-proud/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:47:28 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1368 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-60-what-have-you-done-today-to-make-you-feel-proud/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-60-what-have-you-done-today-to-make-you-feel-proud/feed/ 0 GOB 60 – What have you done today to make you feel proud? (This article first appeared in the January Edition of Birdwatching) So asked Heather Small on her album ‘Proud’. Two things led to me asking myself, and you, … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-60-what-have-you-done-today-to-make-you-feel-proud/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 60 – What have you done today to make you feel proud?

(This article first appeared in the January Edition of Birdwatching)

So asked Heather Small on her album ‘Proud’. Two things led to me asking myself, and you, that question.

The first was something I cannot get out of my mind despite a few donations to ease my conscience. A TV documentary followed an English doctor’s four-week stint in an Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone. We witnessed people of all ages dying in pain and distress. There was an abiding image of a boy still sat on the edge of his bed where he had died patiently waiting for treatment.

The doctor said: “After thousands of deaths in Africa we have been praying for the world to wake up to this humanitarian crisis… …now they have, because a couple of white people have died in Europe and America.”

The last part of the film took us to a mass grave dug in the jungle that he, rightly, said was now a biohazard site that would have to be left to go back to the wild.

The second trigger came when an old friend was telling me about the trip he had just taken to Madagascar. He saw some wonderful birds, more than half of which were endemics and almost all were lifers for him. But what had struck him most about the whole experience was flying over huge areas of degraded habitat and driving for hours without seeing any birds except for a few egrets. Locals have cut down the forests to plant crops and then have to abandon the poor soils after a couple of growing seasons. In a few years the hillsides are eroded and soils washed to the flood plains, the thick clay clogs the fields so is used to make bricks causing the remaining forest to be plundered for timber to make fuel to fire the bricks.

For a couple of thousand years birding was as innocent as can be. Taking delight in the wonder of flight and feathers did no harm (if you ignore the blip of taking skins for science). Birdwatching revitalised the spirit. Many of us still take delight in this simple pursuit. The thing is this; some of what we do does do harm. It’s hard to get the right balance. Does green tourism do enough good locally to more than justify our contribution to global warming from burning aircraft fuel?

We have to hold up to the light everything we do. We need to be sure that our pastime really is truly green and not ‘Champagne Environmentalism’.

Its not easy… here’s another image from a recent TV series… Sue Perkins on the banks of the upper Mekong releasing hapless finches from a tiny cage that she bought from the market where birds are sold to be released. The more you free, the more will be caught and imprisoned, a real feathery dilemma.

Each one of us has to actively seek out ways to make things better for the wild world, not just avoid doing harm.

The entire world’s habitat is degrading and we cannot wait until the problem laps at our shores to do something positive to turn the tide. If we do not cure Ebola in Africa it will start taking our lives. Maybe not enough people care about innocent African children’s lives, but they deserve our help just like all people in poverty need help.

You might say ‘charity begins at home’, but poverty leads to the vicious cycle of deforestation and erosion that leads to more species extinctions. Devastating forest to plant palm trees for bio-fuel is even worse. Want to feel proud? Then walk the kids to school (its great emission-free exercise) and send the petrol money to conservation charities.

We only have one world, the whole planet is our home and what goes on anywhere on it effects us all sooner or later.

 

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GOB 60 – What have you done today to make you feel proud? (This article first appeared in the January Edition of Birdwatching) So asked Heather Small on her album ‘Proud’. Two things led to me asking myself, and you, … Continue reading → GOB 60 – What have you done today to make you feel proud? (This article first appeared in the January Edition of Birdwatching) So asked Heather Small on her album ‘Proud’. Two things led to me asking myself, and you, … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:56
GOB 59 – Go Ahead… Make My Day http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-59-go-ahead-make-my-day/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:46:00 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1370 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-59-go-ahead-make-my-day/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-59-go-ahead-make-my-day/feed/ 0 GOB 59 – Go Ahead… Make My Day (This article first appeared in the January 2015 edition of Birdwatching magazine) I was lying in bed counting diving Gannets. (When you get to my age sleep is like a birding tour, … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-59-go-ahead-make-my-day/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 59 – Go Ahead… Make My Day

(This article first appeared in the January 2015 edition of Birdwatching magazine)

I was lying in bed counting diving Gannets. (When you get to my age sleep is like a birding tour, every day you go to bed late, get up early and there are usually a couple of toilet breaks along the way). I got to musing about ‘rubbish birds’ and ‘stonkers’

I think these terms define the ‘sport’ of twitching. A rubbish bird can be virtually anything if you see enough of them like starlings and Wood Pigeons, House Sparrows and Herring Gulls. In the US Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, Mockingbirds and Meadowlarks fit the bill… but they would be ‘stonkers’ if they turned up in the UK. A House Crow that bores in Haryana would be a ‘stonker’ in Staffordshire.

For twitchers a glimpsed Lesser short-toed Lark is a ‘crippling’ view but to most birders they are an LBJ; good to have seen, but you wouldn’t need to level the bins at one for several hours. Five minutes sorting out the ID features might be a good investment, but only the first thirty seconds or so will get the pulse racing, and then only if its a ‘lifer’.

Let’s say a juvenile Common Rosefinch turns up around the corner. Yes you’d go see it, but would you set aside the whole day or just turn up for a five-minute gander and make a nice bold tick on your county list.  After all its merely a wing-bar and pink-fringed, black beak away from being a Corn Bunting.

If you don’t twitch, which would you rather see… a Kingfisher or a Richard’s Pipit? Seems to me that those twitchers who can swear to the latter are sportsmen and women not budding birders. They may switch to odonata and coleoptera once they’ve run out of new birds to see, becoming a bugger to satisfy their hunting urge.

On the other hand, if you are a birder whose been building a list then that Kingfisher will stop you in your stride every time and your bins will stay glued to it until it flies and the Richard’s Pipit will be a ‘good find’ or a ‘nice tick’ not the object of hours of adoration.

But what makes a bird make your day?

There is some common ground, but I suspect our sinews strain for different species. I’ve never yet met a birder who could just peek perfunctorily at a woodpecker. Owls and Peregrines always demand our full attention. But we will all also have a special craving, favourite birds that quicken the blood and force our phizogs to grin.

One Swallow may not make a summer, but one Swift does! The first one I see makes me turn the calendar to summer and the last one leaving saddens me. Every screech passed my study window makes me follow their twists and turns of these absolute masters of the sky.

Long-tailed Tits charm us all and its easy to see why Redstarts delight with their smart and colourful clothes, but Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats muted yet they thrill me too. You may share the warm glow that a singing Song Thrush engenders and all Brits love Robins; but its their plaintive winter song that would be one of my Desert Island Discs.

I’m willing to bet that I’m alone with my pick of the day makers. I’ve spent more binocular hours with this bird than any other. After everything I’ve just said about the drab dullards that get twitched I have to swallow hard and humbly when I say that Dunnocks do it for me. Their plumage is so subtle that its unappreciated; all wonderfully cryptic patterns in semi tones. As songsters they are disdained… I’ve seen their song described as weak and scratchy… but for me its like a deep but simple Motzart motif gracing my one good ear as I potter among my patio pots.

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GOB 59 – Go Ahead… Make My Day (This article first appeared in the January 2015 edition of Birdwatching magazine) I was lying in bed counting diving Gannets. (When you get to my age sleep is like a birding tour, … Continue reading → GOB 59 – Go Ahead… Make My Day (This article first appeared in the January 2015 edition of Birdwatching magazine) I was lying in bed counting diving Gannets. (When you get to my age sleep is like a birding tour, … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:49
GOB 58 – Shoes, Ships & Sealing Wax… http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-58-shoes-ships-sealing-wax/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:45:30 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1372 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-58-shoes-ships-sealing-wax/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-58-shoes-ships-sealing-wax/feed/ 0 GOB 58 – Shoes, Ships & Sealing Wax… (This article first appeared in the December 2014 edition of Birdwatching magazine) Birding has gone all hi-tech lately, with apps and software, anti-shake bins and pictures taken through your scope by mobile … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-58-shoes-ships-sealing-wax/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 58 – Shoes, Ships & Sealing Wax…

(This article first appeared in the December 2014 edition of Birdwatching magazine)

Birding has gone all hi-tech lately, with apps and software, anti-shake bins and pictures taken through your scope by mobile phones, but have the essentials really changed?

I started birding with nothing more hi-tech than eyeballs. Sitting by a lake fishing, unable to move due to a freak roller-skate accident (sadly true) the first birds I noted swam into my field of vision or hung about in the trees and bushes around us.

The big white things that annoyingly swam between my fishing float and me often pulling the line and dislodging my bread paste bait were easy; they were swans. A decade later I started calling them Mute Swans, although they were very vocal if I discouraged them with a pebble plopped into the water close by. Dad – my fishing companion – would allow nothing to hurt any of nature’s critters, and I followed suit appreciating natural beauty.

More than fifty years ago the Great-crested grebes that danced over the water in spring were a sight seen only by the privileged, they were not the everyday birds they are today. On the other hand the Spotted Flycatchers that flitted out for their mosquito meals were guarantied everywhere, not in today’s desperate decline.

Swallows and Swifts scooped aerial soup over the lakes, Tufted Ducks dived for aquatic insects and a lanky Grey Heron could be seen in the secluded shallows spearing small fry.

A few years on and technology helped me to tell a Redpoll from a Siskin high in the distant Alders if I could hold the binoculars to my eyes long enough. Old Russian Navy 10×50 bins took some hefting, making up for in magnification what they lacked in clarity, just good enough to tell a Royal Navy Corvette from a Soviet Battleship. I grew into them by the time I lay on my belly on a bank overlooking mudflats distinguishing between godwits or in Minsmere Marsh Hide following a fly-by Marsh Harrier.

Fast forward to the early 1980s and I swapped some heavy Bresser’s for Swift Alpins the lightest binoculars I could find to ease my aching back. A few years on and I developed the usual birder’s need for a scope… Kowa obliged with what then seemed unsurpassable brilliance.

I reluctantly abandoned Alpins on finding that Swaro’s were an order of magnitude better. Not as light but such clarity, colour-true and crisp image right across the lens.

About then was my one and only proper twitching year and I’m surprised at how encumbered I became wielding fieldguide carriers, tape playback machines, waterproof clothing, scope slings and all, you name it and I acquired it, convinced that all were birding essentials.

In my incipient dotage I have necessarily paired back. Sometimes I take the scope, but mostly I sling the bins over a shoulder and thread the lightest weight waterproof jacket through the strap and I’m set for a morning in the field.

They say that once over 42 you can no longer take in new technology… not quite true as when I’m overseas I upload the relevant fieldguide to my iPad and they weren’t even invented when I was that age!

How about you, apart from the bins or scope what are your essential traveling companions or must have tech?

A while back I had a couple of problems when birding overseas. When returning to my hotel from Queensland’s Cairns foreshore I dropped my tripod handle. When I looked for it later the grass had been mechanically mown… only mangled ironmongery remained. In South Africa I pressed the quick release on the tripod head and springs flew in all directions. So I spent three weeks with my scope permanently tied to the tripod.

So now I have one other essential high-tech gadget when I am abroad, a 12-inch dowel wrapped in Nylon cord, together they meet my every hi-tech need!

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GOB 58 – Shoes, Ships & Sealing Wax… (This article first appeared in the December 2014 edition of Birdwatching magazine) Birding has gone all hi-tech lately, with apps and software, anti-shake bins and pictures taken through your scope by mobile … Cont... GOB 58 – Shoes, Ships & Sealing Wax… (This article first appeared in the December 2014 edition of Birdwatching magazine) Birding has gone all hi-tech lately, with apps and software, anti-shake bins and pictures taken through your scope by mobile … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:03
GOB 57 – Jollies, Junkets, Freebies & Fam Trips http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-57-jollies-junkets-freebies-fam-trips/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:45:04 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1374 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-57-jollies-junkets-freebies-fam-trips/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-57-jollies-junkets-freebies-fam-trips/feed/ 0 GOB 57 – Jollies, Junkets, Freebies & Fam Trips (This article first appeared in the November 2014 edition of Birdwatching magazine) It astounds me that those who have get more, and those who haven’t often get that taken away! Stars … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-57-jollies-junkets-freebies-fam-trips/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 57 – Jollies, Junkets, Freebies & Fam Trips

(This article first appeared in the November 2014 edition of Birdwatching magazine)

It astounds me that those who have get more, and those who haven’t often get that taken away! Stars attending galas leave with goody-bags and the rich proclaim their superiority through the gifts their party guests take home. The richer you are the more you score for free what the hoi polloi dream of affording.

Birding is no exception… the best beloved may carry expensive optics given by those promoting their products. If you lead bird tours ‘familiarisation trips’ paid for by a tourist authorities etc. come your way. If you write about the birding world, that world may spread its wares at your feet hoping to impress you enough to review favourably.

Readers often assume that anyone who pens a few lines or has co-led a group will be inundated with exotic birding luxuries. It’s neither that simple, nor that bountiful.

Optics companies want their ‘review’ gear back after a while, only giving away optics to struggling third world NGOs, which is how it should be. Publishers send books, apps, videos and recordings to reviewers, which you might think a great way to build your library. But it’s not so great when they pile up screaming for your time and attention. My shelves filled long ago so I sell the surplus for Birding For All. Ones integrity gets in the way too – I tell it like I see it so some publishers regret sending me books, one even stopped altogether when I didn’t praise a book that bored me to sleep on page ten!

I have been invited on quite a few ‘fam’ trips and even managed to go on one or two. So why on earth would any of the above make me grumpy?

Well, while I’ve had lots of trip invitations that number has immediately dwindled when they realised that I have mobility issues.

Some immediately ask if I can send another member of my ‘team’. I first have to disabuse them, as my entire team consist of just me and Hawkeye, and she goes nowhere without her spider spotter and I go nowhere without my snake shoo’er. Some make no further mention of my mobility issues hoping that I will quietly go away. One immediately sent a mail back to me brusquely withdrawing the invitation.

I personally ran the gamut of emotions from anger through disappointment to a resigned sigh. However, as someone trying to represent less than fully fit nature lovers I was livid.

How dare governments, national birding organisations and eco-lodge owners baulk at tailoring trips to those who cannot walk the mile to their lodge though the rainforest, nor the couple of uphill kilometres to an oilbird cave! Their attitude, no matter how they wrap it up, boils down to a one-word riposte – tough!

On my own trips I have found that a little extra work by guides or tour operators would net the hard of walking all but the toughest of ticks. In five weeks in southern Africa I dipped out just one bird – Dune Lark – there was no way to get me, to it, without my agony or unacceptable disturbance.

However, I have missed loads when tour organisers could not be bothered with sussing secondary sites or think about different access.

The person monitoring Fernandina Woodpecker nest-sites in Cuba took me in his usual vehicle. A guide in India took me to three different Malabar Trogon sites at different times of day. I saw Painted Bunting on backyard feeders in Florida from someone’s lounge and Bachman’s Sparrow because my guide rang a guy doing a two-year study who then took me the prime viewing spot.

Many ageing birders find walking harder. Someone should tell the chambers of commerce, tourist boards and eco-lodges that ‘grey’ birders are a vast untapped market… and I’m the man to trail blaze – albeit very slowly with a limp on short trails!

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GOB 57 – Jollies, Junkets, Freebies & Fam Trips (This article first appeared in the November 2014 edition of Birdwatching magazine) It astounds me that those who have get more, and those who haven’t often get that taken away! Stars … Continue reading → GOB 57 – Jollies, Junkets, Freebies & Fam Trips (This article first appeared in the November 2014 edition of Birdwatching magazine) It astounds me that those who have get more, and those who haven’t often get that taken away! Stars … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:16
GOB 55 – Gone Fishing http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-55-gone-fishing/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:44:57 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1378 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-55-gone-fishing/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-55-gone-fishing/feed/ 0 GOB 55 – Gone Fishing (This article first appeared in the September 2014 edition of Birdwatching) I enjoy watching boxing. I feel that brute force and athleticism combine, creating choreography no less fascinating than the ‘beautiful’ game we English get so over … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-55-gone-fishing/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 55 – Gone Fishing

(This article first appeared in the September 2014 edition of Birdwatching)

I enjoy watching boxing. I feel that brute force and athleticism combine, creating choreography no less fascinating than the ‘beautiful’ game we English get so over in a World Cup year. However, I think boxing is barbaric and should be banned. It damages the pugilists and makes me see beauty where I should see only blood and pain. There is a chasm twixt head and heart.

I supported the hunting ban. The debate pitches pest control and country tradition against cruelty to wild animals. One of my objections to hunting with horses, beside the distress or worse for fox or deer, is that it brutalises the participants and onlookers. The forces that ‘enclosed’ common land to make it private property are the same as think they own wild creatures.

Where am I going with this apart from having a justified dig at those who set out to kill wildlife?

Now here’s the thing. I went fishing a while ago for the first time in about five years. I cannot justify the practice of hooking a fish as it must cause pain. Of course fish are returned to the water and evidence shows that some carp have been caught repeatedly over decades without long-term harm. Anglers do try to do as little harm as possible.

There are more of us who participate in this pastime than almost any other. I was talking a fellow birder the other day whose only reason for not voting ‘green’ was that he was afraid they would ban fishing for pleasure. With five million people regularly fishing and a huge tackle and bait industry that seems unlikely.

I enjoy pitting my considerable human wit against the small brain of a cold-blooded creature and mostly coming off worse! But the enjoyment has little to do with the fish. Golf may be ‘a good walk spoiled’, but it is a focus for exercise. By the same token angling is a way to enjoy nature occasionally interrupted by a fish outwitting you. My late father-in-law fished for nearly ninety years and was unbothered if he caught nothing because he loved angling’s tranquility.

So I sat by a lake occasionally catching small fish. It helped that only a bank separated the lake from a nature reserve. During my seven hours of virtual mindlessness I watched a dozen Marsh Harriers and a party of Willow Warblers appropriately in a willow ten feet from me. A stentorian Cetti’s Warbler burst into song three feet from my ear amid Rosebay Willow Herb popping out to look at me. I watched a beautiful grass snake swim right passed my fishing float. A cuckoo called and flew into a dead tree to make sure I had noticed and a Green Woodpecker looped across the lake yaffling the while. In the afternoon Swifts gathered overhead then Swallows dipped beaks into the lake to skim a drink. A Beautiful Demoiselle thought about landing on my fishing rod then fluttered away. The sun shone in a clear blue sky and the world’s heartbeat seemed to slow while I lost count of the number of ‘bites’ I missed distracted by quiet, unhurried nature.

When a childhood accident prevented boisterous play for many months Dad decided to teach me to fish. He parted reeds for me to see a Sedge Warbler nest full of chicks and pointed out Greater Crested Grebes’ mating dances. If ever near water now I think of powerful Tench pulling my float through the Lilly pads while Spotted Flycatchers feed from a bough and Woodpigeons call in the quiet time before dusk.

I’ve rarely met anglers immune to bird song or a butterfly’s beauty, and most are convinced conservationists. Angling made many of us birders by introducing us to the beauty of the countryside. Fishing may have the hunting instinct at its centre, but at its heart is a love of nature.

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GOB 55 – Gone Fishing (This article first appeared in the September 2014 edition of Birdwatching) I enjoy watching boxing. I feel that brute force and athleticism combine, creating choreography no less fascinating than the ‘beautiful’ game we English g... GOB 55 – Gone Fishing (This article first appeared in the September 2014 edition of Birdwatching) I enjoy watching boxing. I feel that brute force and athleticism combine, creating choreography no less fascinating than the ‘beautiful’ game we English get so over … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:45
GOB 56 – Record Breakers http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-56-record-breakers/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:44:30 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1365 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-56-record-breakers/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-56-record-breakers/feed/ 0 GOB 56 – Record Breakers (This article first appeared in the October 2014 edition of Birdwatching) When an old mate of mine got his newly retired dad into birding some of the birds he saw were a surprise. Before he … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-56-record-breakers/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 56 – Record Breakers

(This article first appeared in the October 2014 edition of Birdwatching)

When an old mate of mine got his newly retired dad into birding some of the birds he saw were a surprise. Before he ticked Swallow he had seen Alpine Swift and he clocked Pallass’s Grasshopper Warbler before seeing Dunnock. Smelling a large rodent eating a ripe kipper my mate took his dad birding otherwise his dad would have dipped on immature Greenfinch having instead ticked Dark-eyed Junco!

They were not Hastings Rarities, deliberately perpetrated by a taxidermist to satisfy customers, but inexperience combined with poor Field Guide use.

Nowadays newbies don’t take notes; they thumb iPad icons or pour over field guides ignoring distribution maps and seasonal indicators, many twitching before mastering common species. With pager and satnav one can genuinely see a Grey-cheeked Thrush before your first Redwing, a Nutcracker before a Nuthatch. Foreign trips add exotics before prosaic patch birds.

Misidentification is not confined to novices we’ve all seen stick species and bag birds. Cheating happens and self-delusion can prevail, some people value integrity less than being considered top listers. But sticking an extra leaf on a three-leafed clover won’t change your luck. One self-proclaimed arbiter of listing, judges reported observations using his own scoring of the birders skills and reputation.

Sightings are reported differently for different purposes. If you see a rare or unusual bird then news services put it out there for twitchers to chase down. But county recorders want to hear about it too. The processes and outcomes are quite different.

When twitchers go for the bird they may corroborate the news or not, and if only one person sees it that too is known. Occasionally something misidentified is re-identified by the throng or a brave birder telling the emperor he’s naked.

Reporting to the county recorder is quite different as you have to send in a description and a panel accepts or rejects the record. Whether reputations effect outcomes is hotly debated. Why is a description wanted? Maybe I see a point when Black Kites and Young Marsh Harriers are commonly confused, which may be important if Black Kite might potentially colonise. But individual records only help to expose trends, so why do descriptions matter? One record, right or wrong, is not scientifically significant. Anyway reporters can just copy a description from a book so they don’t help with evaluation.

Why am I whining on about this? Isn’t it transparently obvious?

Recently I was standing one side of the car searching the air above a lake for hawking Hobbies when Hawkeye banged on the windscreen to point out a bird flying low toward us. I did a double take hastily thrusting bins back to eyeballs… a massive raptor hove into view bigger and bulkier than a Buzzard on steroids. It tried to land in a tree but was seen off by half a dozen Jackdaws and a Kestrel… wait a minute, make that Rooks and a Sparrowhawk, this raptor was awesome and then some!

It turned right around the tree flying to within 50 feet of us, then took another right turn and flew back into the ring woods, lazily flapping away completely disdainful of the merciless mobsters.

It was without a shadow of doubt a Short-toed Snake Eagle; cousin to the ones I’ve seen in central France and across Iberia or maybe the one I saw weeks before in Turkey.

I rang a friend who sometimes works for a birding alert service to ask if the Ashdown Forest Short-toed was wandering to be told yes, but to Hampshire not Kent! He asked if the bird was immature and I ran the internal reel again… I guess so, its chin was light tan not chocolate. Could there be two of these mega rarities in the country? Well, I’m here to tell you there was.

Have I sent a description to the country recorder? Honestly, I can’t see the point.

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GOB 56 – Record Breakers (This article first appeared in the October 2014 edition of Birdwatching) When an old mate of mine got his newly retired dad into birding some of the birds he saw were a surprise. Before he … Continue reading → GOB 56 – Record Breakers (This article first appeared in the October 2014 edition of Birdwatching) When an old mate of mine got his newly retired dad into birding some of the birds he saw were a surprise. Before he … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:17
GOB 54 – Nature’s Wonderland http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-54-natures-wonderland/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:43:35 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1381 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-54-natures-wonderland/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-54-natures-wonderland/feed/ 0 GOB 54 – Nature’s Wonderland (This article first appeared in the August 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) Which is Britain’s largest nature reserve? Is it in Wales, or Scotland or perhaps East Anglia? Look out of your window…yes folks, there it … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-54-natures-wonderland/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 54 – Nature’s Wonderland

(This article first appeared in the August 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)

Which is Britain’s largest nature reserve? Is it in Wales, or Scotland or perhaps East Anglia?

Look out of your window…yes folks, there it is!

Our gardens (there are millions of them) are the most important areas for wildlife for any number of reasons and we can all enjoy them as well as become individual wildlife wardens.

Maybe it’s my recent ‘retirement’ or my increasingly debilitating arthritis, but I just don’t get to bird reserves as much as I used to. I usually go overseas when the weather is worst at home and find that birds are both abundant and varied. When I return to a drab blighty I find it difficult to motivate myself to actively bird, spoilt I guess. Then as just Spring creeps across my corner of the country and the outward bound urges start to come back I get a ‘rheumatic flare’. The spirit becomes most willing when the flesh seems most weak.

Fortunately, lately I have discovered the micro-world. My garden does not over tax my hips… it is possible to complete a circuit in about twenty paces! It’s no Minsmere of course, but it is always full of birds because I put out feed by the sack full. The stars are Ring-necked Parakeets that come to the apples we string up, with a supporting cast of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Starlings and House Sparrows. Red-letter days are when a Long-tailed Tit or Siskin pops in, but these are really infrequent. My garden list, in fourteen years has reached just 44 species, they are mostly fly-overs, including a lost Guillemot an Osprey and four Storks kettling high over sunny Margate spotted by my wife when sun-bathing. However, I’ve seen seven Firecrests in the garden, but just ONE Goldcrest in all that time – southern seasides can have an odd avifauna.

But even in my postage stamp patch I can do my bit.

I’ve never used chemicals and am content to see plants stripped of leaves by hungry caterpillars and flowers eaten by beetles. I never set out to be organic and wildlife friendly, I just wanted urban tranquillity and something pretty to look at. When we moved in we had a concrete yard, a few wall pots, one skinny border of roses and some hedge bushes. Our garage is down the hill and dug into the garden and it had a gravel roof. In one area was a sterile fish pond and a concrete ‘rockery’.

Over the years we tiled the garage roof and fenced it turning it into a pot covered patio. We dug up half of the slabs and crazy paving and now all the walls have climbers, and 80% of the paving is covered in every sort of pot you can imagine.

After a decade it has gone from grey concrete to rainbow hues every month of the year. Recently I’ve started looking at non-avian fauna and have been shocked at how many different bees and wasps, flies and hoverflies visit my flowers. In early June this year I watched two species of damselfly emerging from the now plant rich pool. I’m get a dozen species of butterfly and the moth list is growing thanks to visits from my moth-trapping son.

My insignificant few square meters are the difference between life and death for countless insects. One winter a tristis race Chiffchaff fed for two months off insects it picked off my pots. Just imagine what a difference you all could make if every garden in these islands banished chemicals, dug up the car’s hard standing and disassembled the decking! At the very least all of you could plant some of the top ten insect-friendly plants

Of course it would be even better if farmers went back to old methods of food production instead of scouring the land… but don’t get me started on that again!

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GOB 54 – Nature’s Wonderland (This article first appeared in the August 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) Which is Britain’s largest nature reserve? Is it in Wales, or Scotland or perhaps East Anglia? Look out of your window…yes folks, GOB 54 – Nature’s Wonderland (This article first appeared in the August 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) Which is Britain’s largest nature reserve? Is it in Wales, or Scotland or perhaps East Anglia? Look out of your window…yes folks, there it … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 5:01
GOB 53 – Do Bears Sit in the Woods? http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-53-do-bears-sit-in-the-woods/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:43:13 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1383 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-53-do-bears-sit-in-the-woods/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-53-do-bears-sit-in-the-woods/feed/ 0 GOB 53 – Do Bears Sit in the Woods? (This article first appeared in the July 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) If, like me, you grew up in 1950s England you will probably have a love/hate relationship with the French. The … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-53-do-bears-sit-in-the-woods/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 53 – Do Bears Sit in the Woods?

(This article first appeared in the July 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)

If, like me, you grew up in 1950s England you will probably have a love/hate relationship with the French. The French have been our allies for generations, yet many of our former enemies stand in higher esteem. Perhaps it is like sibling rivalry – simply a matter of proximity.  Supposed to love our neighbours we find it easy to fall out with them.

The enmity does not preclude our love of French wine and cheese, nor stop us raving about French cuisine and we admire their prowess in matters of the heart. We may get annoyed in a French traffic jam caused by noisy, ‘work-shy’ protestors, but we envy the wages and pensions such protests win. Despite all our misgivings we are more likely to holiday in France than anywhere else in the world. Even the worst of Francophobes will concede that ‘la belle France’ is indeed a very beautiful country.

Enjoying the freedom of their half-empty toll roads we head south in our millions for the fine weather, or head inland to the quaint villages, chateaus, lush oak woodlands and majestic mountains. If we get really lucky we might spend a weekend in Paris with a lover.

It seems that, after all, we find a great deal to admire once we get passed a Gallic shrug, a few sneers and their chauvinistic distain of the English language. So much in fact that France is our first choice for an overseas second home.

But wait a minute! Don’t they shoot everything that moves and delight in feasting on larks and buntings? Well, no doubt some still do, but nowhere near as many as once did. Moreover, there are far more wild places than over here because France is twice the size of the UK with a roughly similar population… so they have twice the space that we do.

While we have been paving over the southeast, turning our fields into chemically farmed wildlife no-go zones, and cladding the hills with Lodge Pole Pine the French have been becoming increasingly ecologically aware.

Conservation is not just a subject for conversation, it is ever more real with large national parks and wildlife reserves now well established.

The European Common Agricultural Policy was actually invented by the French to ensure that their small dairy farms and family vineyards would survive to fuel our cheese and wine desires. By contrast in the UK it has been an excuse to rip out hedges, fill in ponds and cynically set aside fields in the short term rather than let some areas permanently revert to the wild. What could have been used to help wildlife and preserve the environment has put fuel into some large landowners Range Rovers and lined the pockets of city investors with land banks.

These same large landowners have prevented the modest reintroductions proposed in Scotland. Some forestry owners rant about the destructiveness of beavers. Rich city folk fuel the unfounded fear of wolves despite all the evidence. A landowner with a couple of Elk is castigated by the same people that encourage the overpopulation of red deer; an imbalance that only serves the stalkers’ guns.

But almost unheralded the ‘chauvinistic, self-preserving, song-bird eating, wild critter shooting’ French have bought back lynx, wild boar, wolves and bears to the Alps and Pyrenees and re-introduced Marmot, Beaver, and Otter. They have even expanded their eagle and vulture populations.

Meanwhile some of us humour loving and courageous British; we denizens of a proud land unconquered for a thousand years are famous for our love of animals and our million RSPB members. Yet some noble Englishmen still stomp on Hen Harrier nests, some notoriously inventive Scotsmen use their ingenuity to hide their poisoning of eagles and kites while some Welshmen still steal Peregrine eggs.

Damn it, we can’t even leave our foxes and badgers alone!

Vive la France!

Hear the Podcast

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GOB 53 – Do Bears Sit in the Woods? (This article first appeared in the July 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) If, like me, you grew up in 1950s England you will probably have a love/hate relationship with the French. The … Continue reading → GOB 53 – Do Bears Sit in the Woods? (This article first appeared in the July 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) If, like me, you grew up in 1950s England you will probably have a love/hate relationship with the French. The … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 5:19
GOB 52 – Curious Beaks http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-52-curious-beaks/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:42:47 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1385 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-52-curious-beaks/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-52-curious-beaks/feed/ 0 GOB 52 – Curious Beaks  (This article first appeared in the June 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) There must be many ageing birders who use their mind’s eye to travel back to their birding roots. They say that, once you are … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-52-curious-beaks/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 52 – Curious Beaks

 (This article first appeared in the June 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)

There must be many ageing birders who use their mind’s eye to travel back to their birding roots. They say that, once you are past thirty you think about death every day of your life. Birders, past fifty start to remember the ‘good old days’… and this month I ‘celebrate’ incipient dotage as I hit the official retirement age, so my birding is increasingly ‘virtual’.

Sometime before WW2 John Players issued cigarette cards called ‘Curious Beaks’. When I was about 8 I found them at my gran’s house and that was the spark that became the burning passion of my adulthood. The spark was fanned alive by hunting for ‘ouzels (Blackbirds) eggs’ and ‘bottle tit (Long-tailed Tits) nests’. Even today the sight of such a nest of feather, moss and gossamer curiously moves me.

I often say that my love of birds began the day a kingfisher landed on my fishing rod and used it as a perch to catch a fish, but in truth that day the slow burning embers burst into glorious flames

I became a birder as a teenager… by which I mean I started noting what I saw and began going out specifically to see birds, rather than just getting to know them incidentally on country walks or fishing trips. I recently uncovered my 1960s birding notes – what birds I saw where. At that time, on summer evenings I accompanied my parents to a rutted farm track running alongside a wood. Dad carried a gallon bottle of water in the car boot to fill one of the dry ruts creating a puddle that we could see when we retreated into the car. Soon The rut soon became fringed with sipping Tree Sparrows and Redpolls and awash with bathing Yellowhammers. From the Sweet Chestnut coppices the evening air was a delight of Nightingale song. Corn Buntings rasped from a fence post and, if we were lucky a Little Owl would perch to preen on the same fence.

I wasn’t yet a ‘birder’. On our last family holiday, we passed Chew Reservoir where a ‘proper’, khaki-clad birder pointed out a Temminck’s Stint, but I was far more enchanted by a family of Kingfishers. They screamed up and down a feeder stream then lined up on a pipe under a bridge to dive for minnows.

My birding days came slightly later when visits to family in East Anglia included outings to Minsmere and Walberswick. My ancient tea-stained RSPB checklist then has new lifers underlined and year ticks given a circle. I never chased rarities but started going where I could build my lifelist. Moving to Scotland extended it when I saw my first Ospreys and Golden Eagles.

My dalliance with twitching was brief. The 1980s culminating in a sort of junior ‘big year’ when I set out to see as many birds as I could subject to the constraints of a more than fulltime job. I’ll still ‘twitch’ in my county for ‘world lifers’ – I travelled the 1.5 miles to get the Margate Dusky Thrush last year… but I’m mostly back to just enjoying birds.

I managed to get a few of those ‘Curious Beaks’ over the years like Hawfinch and Puffin, Spoonbill and Flamingo. Maybe I can still hope to get the rest of ‘the set’ if providence allows me, although I think Huia and Great Auk will stay beyond my reach unless time travel becomes possible. How many others like Shoebill, Bristlebird or Spoon-billed Sandpiper are on their way out too?

As for the commonplace birds of my youth a lot of hard work now might save them for my grandchildren, but fundamental change is needed for them to be around to delight their children. We must stop tying to exploit or tame nature and instead find ways to share with her… she is, after all, our mother, not our enemy.

Hear the Podcast

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GOB 52 – Curious Beaks  (This article first appeared in the June 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) There must be many ageing birders who use their mind’s eye to travel back to their birding roots. They say that, once you are … Continue reading → GOB 52 – Curious Beaks  (This article first appeared in the June 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) There must be many ageing birders who use their mind’s eye to travel back to their birding roots. They say that, once you are … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:54
GOB 51 – Columbus Red Wobbler http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-51-columbus-red-wobbler/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:42:22 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1387 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-51-columbus-red-wobbler/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-51-columbus-red-wobbler/feed/ 0 GOB 51 – Columbus Red Wobbler  (This article first appeared in the May 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) Arching my eyebrows I concentrated as my guide cupped hand to ear and repeated: “Columbus Red Wobbler” I shook my head again when … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-51-columbus-red-wobbler/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 51 – Columbus Red Wobbler

 (This article first appeared in the May 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)

Arching my eyebrows I concentrated as my guide cupped hand to ear and repeated:

“Columbus Red Wobbler”

I shook my head again when he pointed to the LBJ that sang from the reeds, then light flooded the dark recesses of my brain…

“Ah! Clamorous Reed Warbler?” I opined.

“Col-am-brus Reeed Wobbler”, he chuckled, nudging me with his shoulder.

Again he had heard and identified a call, immediately found the caller putting me onto the bird in nanoseconds. His all-round birding skills finding, identifying and pointing out birds are legend. Ask anyone who is the best guide in that corner of the world; it’s no contest.

But legendary skills do not mark him out. A week earlier I was guided by a young man with perfect English who could pick out any singer from the chorus line and direct my eye to it. He too made faultless identifications. He got me to sites for hard to find local specialties despite my lack of mobility. He was personable, although rather serious and totally dedicated to birding having been a birder since he was six years old (twenty years ago). When not guiding he was out looking for new sites for target species.

What separated them was not age or experience, or even the older man’s sense of humour, but was revealed during my first conversation with the lad. He told me that unlike other guides he never argued with his clients or ripped them off. He said he was a bird guide, not an administrator… he left all that to the tour company.

He has yet to learn that guiding is not all about birding talent; that needs underpinning with social and administrative skills.

If you set up for local daily hire your remit is to show visitors as many of the top birds there as you can, you just need to get clients to the birds making sure they know what they see. But if you are taking clients from place to place over several days you need to be a trouble-shooter too.

Through world travel I have found that hoteliers often lie about their facilities, transport companies under estimate journey times (often by 50%) and an ‘a la carte’ menu turns out to be take the set meal or leave it. Most are not deliberately misleading, but combine a desire to agree with the client with a totally different perception of what is acceptable.

Good guides help their clients get around such problems, whether it’s the lack of a vegetarian option, an alien concept of time or that ‘luxury’ accommodation is not just a big room without rats!

I’ve recently took my fourth birding trip to the Indian sub-continent. It has ended my love affair with the area. Gujarat refusing to hand over Asiatic Lions to other states shows that they value tourism above conservation. Cows eating from middens in every village and city street belie their sacred status. Millions of dumped plastic bags decry environmental concern. India has entered the space race and nuclear club and produces half the world’s IT graduates, yet leaves children to beg for food and sleep under cardboard. Is there progress if poverty is ignored?

More selfishly I found it frustrating and depressing that after travelling hundreds of miles we had to face yet another argument (when what was promised in accommodation or facilities was not forthcoming). Moreover, arriving weary and dishevelled then having to confront problems alone for two thirds of the trip took the edge off the wonder of the birds and mammals we saw (well nearly – Indian Pitta, Sri Lanka Frogmouth and Malabar Trogon can make up for a lot!).

Thankfully our second guide took lots of pressure off us… and, seemingly, was never riled by being asked three times in a row to repeat bird names like ‘Wide-eyed Buzz Hard’ and “Wearable Wet Ear”.

Hear the Podcast

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GOB 51 – Columbus Red Wobbler  (This article first appeared in the May 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) Arching my eyebrows I concentrated as my guide cupped hand to ear and repeated: “Columbus Red Wobbler” I shook my head again when … Continue reading → GOB 51 – Columbus Red Wobbler  (This article first appeared in the May 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) Arching my eyebrows I concentrated as my guide cupped hand to ear and repeated: “Columbus Red Wobbler” I shook my head again when … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:23
GOB 50 – The Truth About Cats & Dogs http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-50-the-truth-about-cats-dogs/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:41:59 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1389 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-50-the-truth-about-cats-dogs/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-50-the-truth-about-cats-dogs/feed/ 0 GOB 50 – The Truth About Cats & Dogs (This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) It is time we started to tell the truth about cats and dogs and how they impact on wildlife. For … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-50-the-truth-about-cats-dogs/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 50 – The Truth About Cats & Dogs

(This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)

It is time we started to tell the truth about cats and dogs and how they impact on wildlife. For far too long we have been apologists for our pets… perhaps because we British are so besotted with them!

Myths abound and are often given credence by the very people who should know better… a short while ago the steam rose from my ears when I heard an RSPB spokesmen say that while cats killed millions of birds, reptiles, amphibians and small mammals we need not worry as habitat loss is a far bigger problem.

Instead of hearing the problem, most cat owners just hear that they need not worry. But the fact is that our wildlife cannot take another hit from anywhere as it is under so much pressure from habitat degradation and loss, disturbance, deliberate persecution, human hazards like light pollution and litter – so everything else that decreases their numbers needs to be addressed! One might just as casually and irresponsibly say that Chinese medicine has always used tiger bones, so it is not that which is leading to their imminent extinction.

In many parts of Australia cats must either be kept indoors or confined to escape-proof runs in gardens. In the US cats are now acknowledged as the leading cause of passerine fatalities. But in blighty we bury our heads, ostrich-like, so deep that we are in danger of suffocation.

Of course that analogy is based on a myth about ostriches… but no worse a myth than that ‘Tiddles wouldn’t hurt a fly’ and ‘my moggy is rubbish at hunting’.

Fact – Cats wander miles from home and many nightly use strangers cat-flaps and eat their food, hunt in the surrounding countryside and rarely bring home what they catch. No corpse on your doorstep is no evidence, not proof of innocence. They may only kill the same percentage as they always have, but do the math! There are now 10 million cats in the UK (twice what there were a generation ago). If 5 million cats once killed 10% of 10 million thrushes, then twice as many cats are now killing 20% of 1 million thrushes, which has a great deal more impact!

Fact – at least seven different neighbourhood cats come into my otherwise cat-free yard. Lion manure, high pitched sound and all sorts of physical barriers do not keep them out. They kill birds and deter them from visiting my feeders. But I am allowed no recourse at all! If a dog were to do the same I could take extreme measure to rid myself of the pest and prosecute its owner.

Fact – most of us have told our children they can only have pets if they take responsibility for them, but we adults feel under no such obligation.

Dogs are not innocent – they are often encouraged by their moronic owners to chase waders along the tideline and are not restrained from covering me in muddy footprints or scaring me off a public footpath. I am sick of being told that they are only being playful. I doubt a well-placed Wellington Boot from me would seem playful to their owners! Dogs disturb birds… studies show that bird density is less in footpaths where dogs are allowed than along footpaths where they are banned.

Dogs, on the whole, do not kill wildlife, but they are expected to be under the control of their owners who are legally responsible for their actions… even on their own property, let alone on mine or in the local country park.

Where does that leave us?

Well it must not be blithely ignoring the problem! It is time for legislation that obliges cat owners to be responsible for their pet’s whereabouts and behaviour. They should be under control. KEEP CATS INDOORS (or escape proof enclosures). Moreover, ALL pets should be licensed and identity chipped!

Hear the Podcast

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GOB 50 – The Truth About Cats & Dogs (This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) It is time we started to tell the truth about cats and dogs and how they impact on wildlife. For … Continue reading → GOB 50 – The Truth About Cats & Dogs (This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) It is time we started to tell the truth about cats and dogs and how they impact on wildlife. For … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:13
GOB 49 – Give me my Raptor today… II http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-49-give-me-my-raptor-today-ii/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:40:51 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1428 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-49-give-me-my-raptor-today-ii/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-49-give-me-my-raptor-today-ii/feed/ 0 GOB 49 – Give me my Raptor today… II (This article first appeared in the March 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) Mrs Grumpy and I are fans of Van Morrison and whenever we sing along to ‘Give me my rapture today…” … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-49-give-me-my-raptor-today-ii/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 49 – Give me my Raptor today… II

(This article first appeared in the March 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)

Mrs Grumpy and I are fans of Van Morrison and whenever we sing along to ‘Give me my rapture today…” we change rapture to raptor as we are even bigger fans of birds of prey.

My regular readers will know that ‘Hawkeye’ is second to none in her ability to spot distant raptors, twice getting raptor ‘lifers’ for our tour guides!

On a Scottish moor she managed to spot no less than seven raptor species in 10 minutes, when the only other birds we saw were two skulking meadow pipits!

Her skills ensured success yesterday searching grazing marshes for overwintering and resident raptors – 30 birds of eight species… not counting raptor-shaped distant dots.

Raptors top many birders’ wish lists, but why when they are red in beak and claw and rapacious, so just what we hate in humans! Being top of a food chain makes for superlatives… to catch prey they have to be faster, more agile and energetic than their quarry. To fail is to starve.

A harrier harrying shows more stoicism and persistence than even the hapless moorhen that is fighting for its life. A peregrine stoops faster than superman saving Lois Lane from Lex Luthor. A bewildered starburst of startled pigeons avoid the feather flurry that was a brood-mate which succumbed faster than thought itself.

Raptors are majestic, magnificent and awe-inspiring; feather-clad poems of power and beauty.

So how prosaic must one be to poison eagles or stamp on harrier eggs?

The answer is ‘as prosaic as a banker loving money above all else’. What other motivation can there be to foster an industry geared to those with more money than sensitivity.

When I was a boy wandering the woods that were, no doubt, on private land, I once came across a ‘keeper’s larder’. If you have never seen one this is usually a barbed-wire fence on which a keeper hangs his kills. There is a wall of rooks and crows, weasels and foxes, desiccated or fresh to mark the passing weeks. They are there for one reason alone – to show the employer that the keeper is doing his job by eliminating any creature that he believes is a rival to rich sportsmens’ guns. Any living thing must go that might reduce the number of pheasant or grouse that they can enjoy blasting out of the sky.

Make no mistake, no keeper would pick off species against the express instruction of his master. He would not lock illegal poisons in his hut if he had been told not to by the boss man, nor use them to lace a carcass to kill a fox without knowing full well that it could claim the life of a Hen harrier or White-tailed Eagle just as easily. A shocked look on a landowner’s face when a pole-trap is revealed may be real enough, but not because they were ignorant. It will be shock that their practice has been uncovered.

Gamekeepers know a great deal more about wildlife than their masters… although some also hang on to misinformation just as tenaciously. They are paid to do a job and the paymaster will make it clear that he brooks no competition to the guns.

BUT IT NEED NOT BE SO!

Bird a winter grazing marsh that is farmed more for the pheasants and partridge than the cattle; a properly managed one, and raptors abound! Of course they take some birds as prey, but it will be the most sickly or least likely to survive the winter. Plenty of ‘game’ birds will be left for those who enjoy their ‘sport’.

Wildlife crime is pernicious, ignorant and selfish of course. But it is also theft… raptors cannot be owned like land, they are held in common, belonging to us all. Birders should help stop those who steal from us all!

Hear the Podcast

For Birders who want to help make a difference see: Birders Against Wildlife Crime

http://www.birdersagainst.org

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GOB 49 – Give me my Raptor today… II (This article first appeared in the March 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) Mrs Grumpy and I are fans of Van Morrison and whenever we sing along to ‘Give me my rapture today…” … Continue reading → GOB 49 – Give me my Raptor today… II (This article first appeared in the March 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) Mrs Grumpy and I are fans of Van Morrison and whenever we sing along to ‘Give me my rapture today…” … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:20
GOB 48 – Rose-coloured Binoculars http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-48-rose-coloured-binoculars/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:40:11 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1393 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-48-rose-coloured-binoculars/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-48-rose-coloured-binoculars/feed/ 0 GOB 48 – Rose-coloured Binoculars (This article first appeared in the February 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) I’m waiting for the perfect winter raptor day to dawn bright blue, crisp and frosty – a clear day when I can see far … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-48-rose-coloured-binoculars/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 48 – Rose-coloured Binoculars

(This article first appeared in the February 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)

I’m waiting for the perfect winter raptor day to dawn bright blue, crisp and frosty – a clear day when I can see far across flat fields.

Hard winters bring too much snow between my goal and me. Mild ones, which have predominated for a decade, seem to stretch wet autumn through soaking winter into damp spring. I don’t drive in the snow as my maritime quarter has had no more than a dusting or two in my fifteen years here. Inland it can get a foot deeper with every extra mile! The cold can be kept out with winter wear and a flask of coffee… but the Scotch mists’ fine penetrating rain seems to pass through every layer, under the skin into your soul. Icy winds may turn your nose blue, but perpetual drizzle turns you blue inside.

The raptor haven raises a quandary. Winter visits there can produce Common and Rough-legged Buzzard, Hen and Marsh Harrier, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Merlin and Kestrel. The raptor roll call can also include a near full set of owls. Little Owls sit on a tumbledown cottage, Barn Owls drift along the hedges, Short-eared hunt below me in a deep ditch and Long-eared roost in a scrap of orchard. I dare say staying a while after dusk could add Tawny to the Tally. Once, a couple of years ago I added another three raptors seeing a wing-tagged Red Kite and two ‘foreigners’… a Harris Hawk dangling jesses and an unshackled mystery bird… perhaps an escapee Sharp-shinned Hawk, tearing apart a small duck.

The North Kent Marshes are one of our growing conservation successes half from luck, a part from effort and another chunk by serving entirely different interests.

Centuries of flooding stopped house building until the profit fuelled madness of the nineteen nineties. The recession, a dash of sense and the withdrawal of insurance have stopped that rush. A few farmers kept to tradition either knowing nothing better or from ‘noblesse oblige’. RSPB campaigns and common sense stopped airports and wholesale development. Latterly the RSPB has begun to buy strategic bits of drained land to restore and so join up existing reserves with their vision of geographical scale conservation. Good luck and good judgement have combined to give hope for a uniquely important place.

But here’s the rub. Slap bang in the middle of all this conservation is an area with no protection, yet that is the raptor Winter Palace. If you drive the stop start route glimpsing many other species along the way you will have to pull over every so often to let by a shiny 4×4. Behind the wheel of which will be someone in a flat cap, green wellies and with their checked shirt collar turned up outside of their green wool and suede waistcoat… and that is just the ladies on their way to pick up their banker spouses and broker buddies. When you sit atop the raptor watch-point you will look over shores of uncut maize, piles of protective hay bales and sapling copses. If you didn’t know how the land was used before it will soon become obvious when you hear the discharge of a Purdey or Perazzi. Out of sight I imagine a retriever clumping over the unploughed stubble to pick up the shattered corpse of a French partridge or the warm body of a purpose bred pheasant.

Shelter, feed, cover and copse are all there to help poults turn into shootable adults, not feed Corn Buntings or keep up the Short-tailed Vole numbers for Short-eared Breakfasts.

In the channel that makes this an island many a winter morning echoes to the sound of wildfowlers’ guns taking the pintails or widgeon that grace the flood.

So what do I do? Do I withdraw in disgust or gaze in awe through rose-tinted optics? I cannot lie because I’ve been seen there too often.

Hear the Podcast

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GOB 48 – Rose-coloured Binoculars (This article first appeared in the February 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) I’m waiting for the perfect winter raptor day to dawn bright blue, crisp and frosty – a clear day when I can see far … Continue reading → GOB 48 – Rose-coloured Binoculars (This article first appeared in the February 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) I’m waiting for the perfect winter raptor day to dawn bright blue, crisp and frosty – a clear day when I can see far … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 4:53
GOB 47 – This Other Eden http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-47-this-other-eden/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:39:17 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1403 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-47-this-other-eden/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-47-this-other-eden/feed/ 0 GOB 47 – This Other Eden (This article first appeared in the January 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) January 1st may be ‘hangover day’ for many, but for me it always marks the start of the year list so its barely light … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-47-this-other-eden/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 47 – This Other Eden

(This article first appeared in the January 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)

January 1st may be ‘hangover day’ for many, but for me it always marks the start of the year list so its barely light when I open the blinds. This scares one of the neighbourhood cats out of my tiny blessed plot and I get on the road heading for a couple of my favourite places.

Two minutes from home is the seafront and I glance out at the massive array of turbines set in the silver sea and wonder how many tired migrants their blades swept up this autumn.

I reach the edge of town where the demi-paradise of ‘set aside’ was replaced by a vast fortress of greenhouses. The thin soil was scraped away as hydroponics need level ground. Captured rainwater is insufficient so the nearby marsh is slowly being drained of every drop of groundwater.

Magpies were scarce birds when I was a lad, but these days they seem to suit every habitat. As I drive down the dual carriageway they are evident on every road kill. The fields on both sides of the road are always full of weed-free cabbages because the land is scoured with acid after each harvest, re-ploughed and immediately re-planted with the same crop year after hapless year.

Closer to my destination are roadside orchards – every tree too artificially stunted and thin to develop nest holes. Rejected by the supermarket buyer, the fruit lays on the ground picked over by flocks of winter thrushes. Just as well as the nearby unfenced fields and are already greening with winter wheat – no berry hedges or stubble clad, seed rich feeding grounds here.

Soon I am nearing my goal… the remnant grazing marshes that may again stretch along the entire coast of my county to the envy of less happier lands – if they stop building cramped and crowded houses on the flood plain. But first the road takes me over the very spot where I cast my novice fishing line. Where carp sucked snails from the underside of lily pads now lies tarmac. The other carriageway swallowed up the place I first saw a troop of Long-tailed Tits leave their moss and gossamer home.

Its now fully light and I can see across the hedgerows to the exposed mud of the estuary. A robin sits and rasps out a song atop the ‘Private – No Entry’ sign where I roamed as a child. I park in a layby and step across the burnt remains of a mattress to plonk my scope between a soggy cardboard box and the unmentionable detritus left by a couple who should have got a room. On the far side of the creek a black and white line of 150 avocets shows what can be done if we care for this earth… they were not here when I was young.

My year list is thirty something long when I move on to my next destination… where winter raptors abound and seed-eaters thrive thanks to shores of sunflowers and maize planted as cover for the gun-fodder French Partridge and Common Pheasants.

Last stop of the day is a haven of what could be, if all the farmers gave up agri-business and went back to farming. The only privately owned National Nature Reserve in this realm positively bursts with Peewits and Pintail, Greylags and Golden Plovers. I am there in hope of Short-eared and Barn Owls.

Watching an owl silently drift across the marsh in fading light gives me hope that this sceptic isle will be re-built against infection by nature herself if helped by the hand of man.

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GOB 47 – This Other Eden (This article first appeared in the January 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) January 1st may be ‘hangover day’ for many, but for me it always marks the start of the year list so its barely light … Continue reading → GOB 47 – This Other Eden (This article first appeared in the January 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’) January 1st may be ‘hangover day’ for many, but for me it always marks the start of the year list so its barely light … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 3:45
GOB 46 – The End of Days http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-46-the-end-of-days/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:38:20 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1397 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-46-the-end-of-days/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-46-the-end-of-days/feed/ 0 GOB 46 – The End of Days In the Bahman Yasht, the book of the oldest monotheistic religion – Zoroastrianism, the end of days is… …a time when the sun is more unseen and more spotted; the year, month, and … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-46-the-end-of-days/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 46 – The End of Days

In the Bahman Yasht, the book of the oldest monotheistic religion – Zoroastrianism, the end of days is…

…a time when the sun is more unseen and more spotted; the year, month, and day are shorter; and the earth is more barren; and the crops will not yield the seed. And men become more deceitful and more given to vile practices. They will have no gratitude. Honorable wealth will proceed to those of perverted faith. And a dark cloud makes the whole sky night, and it will rain more noxious creatures than water.

That’s a bit dark, even for me, but I won’t pretend that I will not be happy to see the back of 2013. For reasons unrelated to birding, this has been my worst ever year.

It has also been one during which I have not birded overseas and, since I began recording these things, I’ve clocked up one of my poorest year lists too.

When I was in my twitching salad days (can salad twitch?) December would have been a month for trying to catch up on the winter specialties that I dipped out on back in January or February. To be honest it’s been a while since I bothered with that.

Oddly, at dawn on 1st of January I know I will not only be reinvigorated and determined to clock up my longest year list ever, but also listing will seem important again. For how long I don’t know as every year the will to list and the enthusiasm to chase rare birds seems to diminish. This year it had gone by March, who knows, next year it could end before January is out.

Don’t mistake this for a lack of enthusiasm for birds or birding. I am still obsessed and still love to see birds that cannot be classed as ‘every day’… but the urgency has gone to drive eighty miles to see a willow tit just because I haven’t seen one since last year.

It’s also less important to see birds in the UK that I’ve not seen here before, especially if I’ve seen them elsewhere. I still haven’t made it to 400 UK species, and, you know what? I don’t care any more. This year it was a thrill to get to 300 for my county with the help of the cemetery thrush… a twitch that took me to the very edge of town, nearly two miles from my door. Truth is I am not sure I would have bothered had it not been a world lifer at the same time. To see something in the natural world that you’ve never seen is always worth some effort. Nothing can be more satisfying than seeing a bird on your own turf that ticks all the boxes for county, country and world.

Having said that, observing behavior that you’ve never witnessed before can be much more enjoyable, no matter how prosaic the species.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel and have seen around two and a half thousand bird species worldwide and think that I can probably tell you the exact place and circumstances of my first sighting for most of them. In a few cases, of some longed for or iconic species, I can probably tell you the second time… I don’t think a third viewing of any species is etched on my brain ‘though.

On the other hand I can tell you about every time I’ve heard a starling ‘murmuration’, seen a peregrine stoop or harriers pass food from mate to mate.

The older I get the more incredible the wild world seems to me, not just in its incredible variety, but also how the jigsaw all fits together to make a stunning and literally awesome picture.

The older I get the more I am fearful that we are witnessing the end of days for this richness. As people take up ever more space and take more from and give less space to nature, it sometimes feels as if the apocalypse that is foretold by so many religions is just around the corner.

As I drove through town today, taking an unfamiliar route to the sea in the hope of a loafing diver or passing gannet I was struck by the old and new houses I drove by. Here and there are flint-walled cottages isolated among a sea of bungalows and Elizabethan buildings surrounded by modern flats. I let my minds eye filter our anything built since the First World War, it left me with a few cottages and churches among the fields, orchards and untilled land.

You used to be able to walk to the end of the street to hear larks sing or see hares running…. Now its one hell of a trek to the end of the street, and from there you’ll be able to see the edge of the next town

Perhaps it’s just me feeling like this because it’s December… …when the days are shorter; and the earth is more barren; and the crops will not yield their seed for months to come.

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Postscript

I took this picture (I really, REALLY did) out while birding this foggy December morning… perhaps I should get out more after all!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

12-12-2013

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GOB 46 – The End of Days In the Bahman Yasht, the book of the oldest monotheistic religion – Zoroastrianism, the end of days is… …a time when the sun is more unseen and more spotted; the year, month, and … Continue reading → GOB 46 – The End of Days In the Bahman Yasht, the book of the oldest monotheistic religion – Zoroastrianism, the end of days is… …a time when the sun is more unseen and more spotted; the year, month, and … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 5:25
GOB 45 – November http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-45-november/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:37:01 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1399 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-45-november/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-45-november/feed/ 0 GOB 45 – November Thomas Hood famously wrote: No sun – no moon! No morn – no noon – No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day. No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, No comfortable feel … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-45-november/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 45 – November

Thomas Hood famously wrote:

No sun – no moon!

No morn – no noon –

No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,

No comfortable feel in any member –

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,

No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –

November!

Well, Hood’s prophetic poetry still holds for the most part, except for the intervening variable of global warming.

In anticipation of the storms of October and the murk of November I tidied up my garden. I trimmed back the dead foliage and flower heads and upped the ante on fat-balls for the feathered visitors. The untidy corners are deliberate nature havens, not, as the boss says, evidence of indolence.

Storms certainly came… I watched the forsythia bush at nearly seven feet high touching the pavers with its topmost leaves as it bent double. I wondered if we would still have a fence by morning… last time it went missing I only found one panel in our street the rest is most likely still English Channel flotsam.

My shed roof already leaks. I pondered the possibility that it would not be a problem because the whole roof might blow away.

When it finally stopped raining some days later we put back the fragile feeders and thanked providence for an intact fence and bushes with flexible foliage.

November dawned drearily… then the sun shone and our four feet high osteospermum is newly smothered in its third batch of bright yellow flowers. A few hoverflies are still picking over it.

Then the wind again blew, it rained and the temperature dropped ten degrees only to bounce back at first overcast then sunny.

The storm had bought on my sun-envy and I started arranging my annual trip… I still think of it as annual despite the fact that circumstances have conspired to keep us in blighty for over two years.

The drear continued and it rained, and it rained and, in between times, it rained some more. Then it waned. A November day dawned like the perfect January day… crisp and cloudless. Cool but bright. Through my office window it could have been high summer… gulls soared and drifted, doves purposely crossed the clear blue sky in every direction. Seven parakeets looped in a line towards the park ignoring our strung out apples. (Who isn’t strung out in these stressful times) The sparrow hawk pair drifted low over the garden at my eye level. On the feeders it was like spring as tits and finches, starlings and sparrows noisily queued, squabbled or fed.

A robin rasped and posed for his Christmas card photo session.

In the pyrocanthus bush a wren moved like a woodmouse while dunnocks vacuumed the floor under the feeders. A ‘brown cap’ found the minute insects that inhabit the flowerpot microverse. I took the day and stored it for when the wind lashed rain next obscures the view.

My son visited and braved the rain to take the grandchildren to our seaside ‘amusements’. We stole an early morning hour or two together to check the storm-tossed sea. It was neither stormy nor tossed but flat calm. Distant gannets were gliding in sixes and sevens a mile or two out passed the enormous array of wind turbines and we mused on what avian harm they might do. He laid on the beach to photograph Rock Pipits and we trailed inland to see if the winter thrushes were yet stripping berries, but the hedged fields were bare of birds.

November – no birds? Hardly. But they take more finding as increasingly November is the switchover month that October used to be.

The agri-desert is still our environment’s worst news… farmland birds continue to decline and we can only save them by caring more about them and less about profit.

But there is good news for November.

A newly published report shows that the vast majority of seabirds and migrants have little to fear from turbines as they tend to fly between two and five metres above the sea. Tall turbines can be a problem for gulls. They fly lower than many migrants but higher than virtually all other seabirds.

High flyers always escape adversity unscathed, low flyers know how to get by even in the worst times and places. It’s the middle classes that seem unable to cope in hard times.

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GOB 45 – November Thomas Hood famously wrote: No sun – no moon! No morn – no noon – No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day. No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, No comfortable feel … Continue reading → GOB 45 – November Thomas Hood famously wrote: No sun – no moon! No morn – no noon – No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day. No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, No comfortable feel … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 5:10
GOB 44 – Squaring the Circle http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-44-squaring-the-circle/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:36:52 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1432 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-44-squaring-the-circle/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-44-squaring-the-circle/feed/ 0 GOB 44 – Squaring the Circle Country File Investigates… …my fat backside! I used to watch country file every week because, in the old days, sandwiched between sheepdog trials and hedge-laying there was a snippet or two about conservation or … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-44-squaring-the-circle/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 44 – Squaring the Circle

Country File Investigates… …my fat backside!

I used to watch country file every week because, in the old days, sandwiched between sheepdog trials and hedge-laying there was a snippet or two about conservation or birdlife. Things changed a while back when it seemed to have turned into a programme about middle class city folk doing extreme sports in the wild corners of the British landscape.

Thankfully it moved back from the bungee jumpers’ brink and now straddles the fence between being the Archers without a storyline and ‘…hey ho, lets look at pretty flowers and butterflies.’

I still tune in to Radio 4 for my daily injection of government propaganda…

“’ello Ruth Archer, what you be a-doing of them me deerio?”

“Well, lovable old rogue and cap-touching peasant, I’m just ranting about how badgers are ruining my livelihood by spreading TB and undermining the slurry pit!”

Country File gets its injection of ‘farming today’ via the most articulate farmer since the late lamented Ted Moult. Through him we learn all about rare breeds and GM crops from someone who loves the land… although I see no great move on his part to pare back on the chemicals unless it is to make farming cheaper and profits greater. He does eloquently make the case for many farmers, especially about tenants being at the mercy of supermarkets, international pricing and the Common Agricultural Policy.

To us great unwashed viewers it did appear that John Craven had been merely shuffled into a corner of his own to ‘investigate’ the larger questions of the day in oder to soften the blow of his lesser role. However, to my mind that slot is as toothless as a mediaeval crone with scurvy. We tend to be told about something having four digits and a thumb on the one hand and having five fingers on the other… all very balanced and bland. More worrying to me is that in its balance it is, shall we say, rather more ‘Daily Mail’ than ‘Independent’!

I have been moved on occasion to wonder if the programme holds shares in a multi-national agro-chemical business or is a card carrying member of the Countryside Alliance. You certainly do not get the impression that those associated are Hunt Saboteurs or even weekly subscribers to an organic food box.

But even in the context of a string of episodes beginning to look like ‘Mr Bland wears beige when he walks down the middle of the road’ the last one I watched hit a new low.

(This is where those of you waiting to discover the pertinence of the title of this piece are rewarded for your patience.)

Having discovered through the ‘investigation of the facts’ that domestic cats were responsible for the demise of as many as 25% of some species of birds, the presenter concluded that cats were no threat to our native birds!

What was even worse was an RSPB spokesperson backing this up by saying that we don’t have to worry about cats because the real problem is all about land use!

Anyone who watched the way that some village cats were shown on a recent documentary to wander miles into surrounding countryside every night might now be assured that this is no problem. All those apologists who dismiss Mister Fluffies’ antics as ‘just part of nature’ when he deposits the headless corpse of a house sparrow on their doorstep will now feel completely vindicated.

Would we be as myopic if we were told that poachers only killed 25% of baby pandas every year? Would conservationists sigh with relief if told that only a quarter of bee colonies succumb to the practice of moving hives from farm to farm?

Any cause of mortality adds to the overall problem.

If its really no biggie then we should not show concern or even tut let alone change how we keep our pets. If its not a problem because it only effects 25% of a species then surely these greater concerns must account for the loss of a greater percentage. Lets say its only another 25% – this still means that half the birds are dying because of us… if you add this to all the truly ‘natural’ causes of death it can mean only one thing – a disastrous decline!

Guess what folks, our birds are in disastrous decline! Just because the flood waters are about to engulf our house is no reason to stop worrying about our neighbours’ house being on fire!

Do you remember being a kid and asking friends how would they rather die – by drowning or burning to death. Even as kids we knew that either way we’d be a goner!

And, just in case anyone out there thinks it is just this lone grumpy old sod banging on about cats again wake up and smell the house burning as a four year study by Canada’s scientists has concluded that the human related bird mortality in Canada each year amounts to 269 million bird deaths.

Moreover their report concludes…

Cats appear to kill as many birds as all other sources combined… …Feral and pet cats are believed to kill more than 100 million birds per year in Canada. Bird species that nest or feed on or near the ground are especially vulnerable to cat predation. As these findings confirm that huge numbers of Canadian birds are killed by cats annually, further research and conservation efforts are needed.

So don’t just take my word for it!

Hear the Podcast

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GOB 44 – Squaring the Circle Country File Investigates… …my fat backside! I used to watch country file every week because, in the old days, sandwiched between sheepdog trials and hedge-laying there was a snippet or two about conservation or … Continue ... GOB 44 – Squaring the Circle Country File Investigates… …my fat backside! I used to watch country file every week because, in the old days, sandwiched between sheepdog trials and hedge-laying there was a snippet or two about conservation or … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 5:58
GOB 43 – Weasels Take Over the Wild Wood http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-43-weasels-take-over-the-wild-wood/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:36:25 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1430 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-43-weasels-take-over-the-wild-wood/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-43-weasels-take-over-the-wild-wood/feed/ 0 GOB 43 – Weasels Take Over the Wild Wood The minister squirmed away from the BBC interrogator. The question, which he failed to answer three times, was ‘…how big a reduction in Bovine TB is going to show that the … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-43-weasels-take-over-the-wild-wood/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 43 – Weasels Take Over the Wild Wood

The minister squirmed away from the BBC interrogator. The question, which he failed to answer three times, was ‘…how big a reduction in Bovine TB is going to show that the badger cull has been a success?’

Instead of answering this, he said how culling ring-tailed possums in New Zealand was successful in reducing TB there, as had culling water buffalo in northern Australia – failing to point out was that both of these are invasive species… not native to their respective countries like the badger is in the UK. He also never mentioned that bovine TB had ‘jumped’ to fallow deer in New Zealand. What will be the next target if TB jumps to another species here?

Earlier in the interview he mentioned that a full 16% reduction in Bovine TB had been recorded when infected wild animals had been culled. In other words the reduction is marginal.

He then tried to pluck at listeners’ heart strings by reminding us that infected cattle have to be slaughtered just as they had been in their tens of thousands during the last outbreak foot & mouth disease. He related how many farmers had suffered.

I’m not sure exactly when my blood went above 100ºC, but my primary reaction was consternation. Clearly right thinking people should weep over cows while dismissing badger lives as inconsequential. The delicate sensitivities of farmers must be respected, but the anger, frustration and sorrow of wildlife lovers everywhere is just not relevant.

The intervening variable is, of course, money. Government pays compensation, farmers lose money, trade suffers as our beef cannot be exported.

The same government has claimed that the risk of catching the illness from eating infected meat is ‘extremely low’ – just as well as it is the practice of DEFRA to sell on the meat from TB infected cattle, that are slaughtered by Government directive, to catering firms, processors or supermarkets, without providing any warning labels. Presumably to re-coup the ‘up to £1,700’ per animal compensation paid to farmers.

Moreover, when asked about what monetary value was put on the badgers he ducked the question and instead revealed that he was one of the few people who had kept badgers as pets as a child. Clearly he is still firmly stuck in Victorian morality where the ONLY value assigned to anything in the wild world is its real or potential use to humans.

What about the pets of those of us who are not estate owning millionaire tory politicians? Well, cats can pass on bovine tuberculosis to their owners, according to vets. They may catch the disease during their exploration of badger setts, but they can also pick up bovine TB directly from cattle or infected milk.

Cats are given special privileges by most of their owners so there are many millions that, uniquely among pets, are allowed to roam at will.

I doubt that ANY politician would dare suggest control, let alone culls of domestic pets, even if they were proven vectors. Shame really as that would stop the cats slaughtering millions of songbirds, small mammals and our tiny population of reptiles.

Tree-huggers, new-age travellers and vegetarian feminist nut cases object to the slaughter of wild animals. Sensible farmers, financiers and other capitalists see the need… or at least that is what a press largely owned by the friends of the privileged rich and powerful, would have us believe.

I may not wear purple tie-dyed smocks or bedeck myself with blond dreadlocks, beads and crystals, but I’d rather hug a tree than a tory minister. Some of the most sensible, and sensitive people I know are vegetarian feminists and we can all agree on one thing at least. The badger cull is fundamentally wrong.

There is plenty of evidence to show that if, for example, you keep the land in good heart by traditional or organic farming, and keep livestock in a traditional way you are likely to have healthy wild animals on your land. If those animals are slaughtered the vacuum created will be filled by wild critters from over the hill. If, over the hill farm animals are tight-penned, neglected and factory farmed the wild critter incomers may well be infected!

But the cull is not just wrong-headed in this practical way; it is also a triumph of narrow economics. Looking after the countryside for wild animals and plants, even in strictly financial terms adds up. If we see it merely as a repository of food or fuel we are rushing headlong over the cliffs like the over-populated lemmings we seem to want to emulate. Sure, our largely urban population wants good, inexpensive food, but they also want many millions of leisure opportunities afforded by the countryside. They want to walk, fish, birdwatch and otherwise enjoy nature. If you undertake a cost-benefit analysis it will quickly become clear that this financial worth is far greater than the current cost of slaughtered cattle.

What is more, our attitude to bacteria is plain wrong. Our forebears used to ‘eat a peck of dirt’ and it kept them healthy. If we stop exposing ourselves to the microscopic agents all around us we just create a generation of kids with allergies

There is, it seems, a chill wind blowing through the willows of Albion. Mole can be trapped and skinned to make gamekeeper’s trousers. Ratty barely hangs on in the face of invading mink and even Mr Toad has to be helped across our over busy roads. Mr Otter may be on the up, but for how long will his fish-eating habit be tolerated by game fishermen and salmon farmers? As for old Mr Badger it seems he is as poor as a church mouse, and has no value… or at least no monetary value in the narrow eyes of government or the weasel words of its ministers.

Hear the Podcast

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GOB 43 – Weasels Take Over the Wild Wood The minister squirmed away from the BBC interrogator. The question, which he failed to answer three times, was ‘…how big a reduction in Bovine TB is going to show that the … Continue reading → GOB 43 – Weasels Take Over the Wild Wood The minister squirmed away from the BBC interrogator. The question, which he failed to answer three times, was ‘…how big a reduction in Bovine TB is going to show that the … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 7:03
GOB 42 – Serial Killers http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-42-serial-killers/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:35:44 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1406 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-42-serial-killers/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-42-serial-killers/feed/ 0 GOB 42 – Serial Killers At the Bird Fair a couple of years ago I had a bizarre conversation about hunting with a very well known American writer on the natural world. He tried to explain to me the ‘spiritual … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-42-serial-killers/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 42 – Serial Killers

At the Bird Fair a couple of years ago I had a bizarre conversation about hunting with a very well known American writer on the natural world. He tried to explain to me the ‘spiritual nature’ of the moment of the kill. I didn’t get it then and I don’t get it now.

This idea seems common among hunters and is likened to indigenous hunter-gatherers virtually deifying the food animals they depend upon and paying homage in prayer on each game hunt. Some hunters ‘justify’ their pastime by espousing this credo without understanding the difference between living off the land out of necessity and killing things for the sport of it.

This is what I cannot come to terms with. This is why I am opposed to all forms of the ‘sport’ of hunting.

I could justify my opposition purely on conservation grounds… killing wild animals can seriously deplete their numbers. But this argument doesn’t always pass muster. Game preserves often ensure a supply of target species through good conservation. Ensuring a plentiful supply of game allows other wild things to flourish incidentally. Of course, it doesn’t hold true when ‘competitor’ species are ‘culled’. Grouse moors may have more pipits than those left to nature, but they sure as hell don’t have more Hen Harriers. Hunting preserves are full of songbirds as well as deer, but you won’t find many wolf packs

The UK shooting fraternity often argues that land managed for pheasants has benefits for many other bird species… and that argument holds a lot of water. Land is managed for wildlife that might otherwise be intensively farmed which detrimentally affects farmland species. Of course this is ultimately sophistry… it would actually be far better to organically farm and deliberately conserve and protect wildlife. Greed is the intervening variable as you can certainly make more money with a pheasant shoot than you can with an organic farm or even a traditionally farmed holding that encourages wildlife. Grouse moors are not going to create much revenue without rich people shooting the grouse.

That this pays homage to our Victorian ancestors is not readily understood. They believed that animals, along with the rest of nature were put on earth by god purely for our exploitation – a homocentric view that most of us today do not share. More and more of us believe that every living thing has as much right to exist as every other. We might wage war on bacteria because they are waging war on us, but we seek to preserve spiders and venomous snakes even although they frighten the pants off most of us.

I’m rehearsing all these arguments for a reason. Hunting cannot be argued against purely on economic grounds when that lobby points out, perfectly reasonably, that in many cases it does more good than harm.

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

I need to make it clear that I am not opposed to all killing. If you are trying to preserve a species driven to the very edge of extirpation by human intervention through, say, intensive farming, you may well have to ‘control’ some predators. Many waders need grazing marshes to nest on and because most marshes have been drained and ‘improved’ you need to encourage artificially high numbers on the remaining patches of habitat. Some species such as hedgehogs can be relocated to places where they cannot decimate ground nesters by eating their eggs, but foxes, magpies and carrion crows, for example, also must be reduced in numbers and this means killing them.

Nor am I against killing domestic animals for food. I choose not to eat them, but that is about politics not animal welfare, I don’t eat meat because fewer of the world’s people would starve if land were farmed for vegetables rather than cattle.

I am opposed to killing for fun because of what it does to the human spirit.

Watch a documentary, or a fictional programme about serial killers and one thing becomes quite clear. People who kill lots of other people do it as it exercises the ultimate power. We are told that when one sees the fear burning in their victim’s eyes, and then watches the light go out, they delight in their control over their prey’s life and death. This, we are told, is often the motivation behind the predator torturing their victims… they are showing them that they have total power over them, they can let them live or make them die. Such serial killers feel like gods.

Most hunters deny that they enjoy killing and that the fun of hunting is in the chase. However, if that is the case why don’t they hunt with a paintball gun or shoot with a camera instead.

Why do they campaign to restore hunting with dogs as fox control when shooting foxes more effectively keeps down their numbers? Would there be this continuing pressure, or the blatant flouting of the law, if a drag hunt gave the foxhunters the same pleasure?

Wildfowlers and other hunters insist that they only kill for the pot… so what? If eating what you kill is sufficient justification then Hannibal Lector should not be condemned for merely keeping his larder stocked!

We can readily see the inhumanity in bear baiting and dog fighting. People who get pleasure from digging out a badger sett to watch their dogs tear the badgers apart disgust most of us. Most of us would be thrilled to go on Safari and see big game and the majestic predators of the African savannahs. But there are those who will pay £2,000 to shoot a giraffe or £15,000 to kill a lion, and many of those same people would happily see local poachers shot to stop them killing the same beasts!

The unpalatable truth is that many people enjoy killing things. They and we should face up to it. The ‘sport’ of hunting is killing for pleasure. It diminishes the human spirit and desensitises the hunter to killing and it is wrong!

Hear the Podcast

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GOB 42 – Serial Killers At the Bird Fair a couple of years ago I had a bizarre conversation about hunting with a very well known American writer on the natural world. He tried to explain to me the ‘spiritual … Continue reading → GOB 42 – Serial Killers At the Bird Fair a couple of years ago I had a bizarre conversation about hunting with a very well known American writer on the natural world. He tried to explain to me the ‘spiritual … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 6:37
GOB 41 – All Things Come… http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-41-all-things-come/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:35:21 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1434 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-41-all-things-come/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-41-all-things-come/feed/ 0 GOB 41 – All Things Come… I have been known to cite my arthritic condition as the reason behind my birding method – patiently waiting for birds to just turn up. I am not one for yomping miles across the … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-41-all-things-come/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 41 – All Things Come…

I have been known to cite my arthritic condition as the reason behind my birding method – patiently waiting for birds to just turn up. I am not one for yomping miles across the wilderness in the hope that my footfalls flush skulkers into view. Even were I able to yomp; to stride out unshackled by ageing bones and weakened flesh, such a tactic is unlikely to be in my canon. Even if my corpulence was negated by toned muscle and strength of will, I would still not be a contender in the latter stages of a marathon. There would be no sad staggering through the finishing tape, let alone a Mobot celebration. No the prosaic truth is that I am afflicted with an ill that is so profound and debilitating, so dyed-in-the-wool and devastating as to deserve the same sympathy and understanding as my ill-health.

From an early age I have suffered profound and chronic indolence.

This terrible affliction has been my constant companion for nearly six decades. I blame my grannie. She managed to bridge three centuries during her 105 years. Had she wished it I am sure she would still be around. She told the nursing home staff that she was ‘checking out’ because she was fed up with being surrounded by old people! Her dictum sowed the seeds of my lassitude, It was: ‘Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down!’

It may be that her long life and lack of disease (I don’t think she even had a cold during all those years), was borne in her genes. Some might posit that they combined with her life-long labour as a market gardener. Heavy physical work all day, every day, kept her so fit. But this is mere science! I dismiss it in the face of my belief in her expressed wisdom. Like a Scientologist confronted with the fiction devised by their founder, I am not moved, even although I am pretty sure she never took her own advice. My abiding images are of her manhandling her ‘rotovator’ here plot, preparing Sunday lunch or, aged 94 tottering about my dad’s garden feeding his chickens because he was slacking off.

I have added a further codicil to this family dictum… never run when you can walk, never walk when you can ride.

Today I was in my suddenly sunny garden watching the bees visit the flowers and wondering if I can switch to ‘bugging’ as it may require less energy than birding. Sadly, my sixty-four year old eyesight, coupled with my seemingly eighty-four year-old brain has difficulty telling a hornet from a hoverfly and a cuckoo bee from a cuckoo! Birding it will have to remain.

On days when I have angered the gods of Mount Olympus’ poor cousin – Mount Arthritis, indolence plays no part in my immobility. Its thunderbolts can confine me to bed… or shuffling upstairs on my backside unable to trust my hips not to throw me to the floor. I once had such divine intervention while out birding and had to crawl to the car!

On my best days, with the sun on my back, wind assisted, and stopping from time to time to ‘un-lock’ my joints, I can get the two hundred yards to a ‘viewing ramp. But only if ‘dobbin’, as she calls herself when called upon to tote my scope, assists. There I can sit on a handy bench and watch the swifts and swallows do battle with hobbies. On bad days my hobby is embattled by the ‘Arthritians’ who ensure I can barely walk to work. As my office is next to my bedroom, and ‘dobbin’ supports me all the way, my restriction becomes clear.

This combination of fate and inclination put an end to my twitching career.

Many years back I sped the 150 or so miles from where I was, to where the first mainland Red-flanked Blue-tail was found. The walk of a kilometre or more to see it nearly did for me. I was wheezing and trembling as well as twitching. The journey back to my car, assisted by my young, fit son had me so pale, shaky and agonised as to invoke fear and sympathy even in him.

The very next ‘mega’ to present itself was duly ignored. Unless I could be certain that the trek was brief, on level ground and dotted with rest areas, I just didn’t go.

I resolved to be a county twitcher only. If a bird turns up within the county boundary and I know, or can find out, what the access is like I might go for it… hips permitting.

Otherwise I visit favourite, accessible sites like Dungeness, or Oare. Overseas birding tends to be better as so often vehicular access is favoured. Tropical paradises offer the possibility of literally hundreds of birds from a Lodge veranda or a drive and stop, drive and stop along a forest track or through the savannah.

All of which explains why my county list has so long stagnated. I have been becalmed in the 290’s for several years… adding one or less birds a year… my World List has grown more quickly just from the ‘armchair ticks’ of taxonomic re-shuffling.

But, as they say… all things come to he who waits…

The day that my oldest mate left my place and headed off to East Anglia in search of rarities, the birdlines overheated with news of a mega a stone’s throw from my house.

A car journey of about a mile got me to a parking spot at the very gates of a cemetery. A walk of 14.5 meters got me amidst two hundred pairs of eyes surrounding the UKs first twitchable Dusky Thrush in fifty-four years!

My three hundredth Kent tick, on a plate! What’s more, it was a UK and World lifer added ideally indolently.

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GOB 41 – All Things Come… I have been known to cite my arthritic condition as the reason behind my birding method – patiently waiting for birds to just turn up. I am not one for yomping miles across the … Continue reading → GOB 41 – All Things Come… I have been known to cite my arthritic condition as the reason behind my birding method – patiently waiting for birds to just turn up. I am not one for yomping miles across the … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 6:32
GOB 40 – The No Show Man http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-40-the-no-show-man/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:34:52 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1410 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-40-the-no-show-man/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-40-the-no-show-man/feed/ 0 GOB 40 – The No Show Man A week or two back I looked out to see seven Ring-necked Parakeets on my washing line. They may not belong in the UK, but they certainly belong on my washing line. We … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-40-the-no-show-man/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 40 – The No Show Man

A week or two back I looked out to see seven Ring-necked Parakeets on my washing line. They may not belong in the UK, but they certainly belong on my washing line. We hang out apples for them; clothes have to hang out on radiators.

One male was biting lumps out of an apple. He was also biting lumps out of any other parakeet that tried to eat his apples. This alpha male had his soft side. Alf was feeding chunks of apple to Annie, the next parakeet in line.

Generally parrots are fastidious eaters; they nibble at what they bite off and shed the peel as deftly as a surgeon’s scalpel shaves an Adam’s apple in a gender re-assignment operation. Beneath the apples the tiny peel pieces pile up on the paving.

Doves are only one step below parrots on the phylogenetic scale. They too can find a living in a vast variety of habitats. Doves, however, lack charisma. Parrots look clever and alert. Doves look dopy and dozy. The doves sort through the peel pile hoping that a decent bit of apple flesh may have dropped from the parrots’ table.

Alf took his eye off the ball and Bill tried to oust him from the apples. All hell broke loose as Alf pecked at Bill, Bill flew back into Charlie and Betty and the whole troop took off in all directions.

Dozy Doves are so successful because they freak out at anything that might be a predator. When the parrots scattered the spooked doves panicked.

They too flew every which way, but one way was the window of the garden shed. Dicky, the doziest dove, left a perfect outline on the glass in dove dust. He sat a while, dazed in the dianthus, blinking before shaking his head, ruffling his feathers and flying off.

I’ve always considered myself more parrot than pigeon. I feel at home in an Indian woodland and I don’t eat meat. Now I’m not so sure.

We stayed in a hotel by the airport to catch the early flight. I rose early and purred in the warm water of the shower. There was a seemingly predatory incident when the shower suddenly went cold then boiled a split second later. I leapt away and crashed into the tiles leaving a perfect outline in Bo suds. My head sought out and found the only available danger – the sharp corner of the toiletry basket. I slumped some seconds. I slipped down the rabbit hole then out into the light barely retaining consciousness. I exited the cubicle.

The warm water running down my face wasn’t! It was a red liquid better kept inside my inner tubes. I awkwardly dried myself while clamping a towel to my throbbing head. Despite my improvised pressure bandage the gore gushed on. I felt a momentary pang of regret for the laundry, as the pristine white was painted pink.

I pulled on my pants and rang reception asking for a sticking plaster.

A response team arrived at my door armed with bright blue first aid. I took a handful. An ambulance was offered and declined. A concussion discussion followed.

This year has been the worst in my life including bereavement too painful to share. It has left me emotionally fragile. Maybe the physical trauma was worse than I thought, maybe it was the fragility, but I could not stop shaking, like a frightened bird in the hand.

I spent some hours with a blue cross on my forehead… either a target for poking fun at, or a heavily discounted item in the department store sale. Maggie opined that the gash needed stitching. I’ve seen her sew up a skirt hem as even as a pot-holed road. I declined the offer.

Now I look like Harry Potter’s Half Brother with a gash in my forehead marking me out as the survivor of a freak shower accident. I’ve looked at the statistics for accidents in the home. Shower hospitalisations are almost as common as bizarre trousers incidents, which are surprisingly close to the top of the list.

We missed the flight; we lost the fare money and the cost of the hotels in Scotland. More important I’ve probably lost friends. I’ve certainly lost face; figuratively and literally.

I went from a showman to the no-show man because I am a dozy dove not a clever boy.

When I got home two swifts screamed over my house and flew north dragging the season with them. One swallow may not make a summer, but one swift will do it.

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GOB 40 – The No Show Man A week or two back I looked out to see seven Ring-necked Parakeets on my washing line. They may not belong in the UK, but they certainly belong on my washing line. We … Continue reading → GOB 40 – The No Show Man A week or two back I looked out to see seven Ring-necked Parakeets on my washing line. They may not belong in the UK, but they certainly belong on my washing line. We … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 5:52
GOB 39 – What’s that big red bird again? http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-39-whats-that-big-red-bird-again/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:34:43 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1413 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-39-whats-that-big-red-bird-again/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-39-whats-that-big-red-bird-again/feed/ 0 GOB 39 – What’s that big red bird again? Having a large international birding website, its hardly surprising that I get asked for ID help from around the globe. While the right response probably ought to be: ‘how the hell … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-39-whats-that-big-red-bird-again/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 39 – What’s that big red bird again?

Having a large international birding website, its hardly surprising that I get asked for ID help from around the globe. While the right response probably ought to be: ‘how the hell would I know’, what I usually ask is: ‘where are you?’

The thing is, that if you have a page for every country and state, and people mostly use ‘their’ page, they somehow assume that you live in the same area as they do.

I don’t always need to establish the location, for example, when someone emails: ‘…there’s a big pink and blue bird in my garden, I’ve never seen one before. What is it?’ I say ‘…is it bigger than a blackbird with a streaky head?’ The thing is I’ve already figured out that they will affirm as, believe it or not, this is the classic description of a Jay if you don’t bird. Yeah, it is sort of pink I guess but the tiny blue wing flash looms very large in a non-birder’s eyes. Its one of those questions that mark out an English birder from the rest of the herd.

However, more often the question will be… ‘There is a big green bird in my yard… what is it?’

This is where I do need clarification, asking: ‘Where are you?’ I may have to add a rejoinder depending on their response. I’ll say: ‘Yes, but Victoria where?’

I already know that there is such a town in Malta, another in the Seychelles and one in Newfoundland…. At this point I learn there is one in Texas. This means I can jump to the conclusion that they have a Green Jay at their feeders – the lucky birders!

Lest I become blasé I remind myself of one such exchange about a bird in a municipal park in the UK, which after much quizzing of the enquirer I still had to conclude that it was a Blue Magpie; it should have been gracing a tree in Sri Lanka not a bush in a Midlands playground.

Apart from such escapees and I have also accumulated a file full of obscure photos. They are usually rather blurred parting shots of a bird’s backside, with the rest of the critter hidden behind a branch. I can usually combine experience, a pretty comprehensive field guide collection and my acumen as a devotee of the Times cryptic crossword to get a handle on the avian conundrum. Sometimes my confidence is later boosted by feedback. It turns out that Jane Doe of Middletown, Montana asked her cousin, whose workmate chairs the local Audubon club and he dropped by and confirmed my ID.

You can usually tell a birder from a gentile… er um grockle… errrr gadjee? What is the term for a non-birder – seeing the all the terms I’ve come across for people who are not part of the exclusive group seem to start with a ‘G’ maybe we should call them ‘girders’?

The way a question is phrased is the great divide.

I don’t mean that you get asked to help tell one species from another by the length of the primaries or the colour of fringes on the coverts. However, no birder would simply ask what a big brown bird is. Nor would they ask about one that is about the size of a crow but with a bright red chest as I was recently asked.  On a bit of prodding I found out that the bird was rather smaller than first said and that it had a nice grey backside that the enquirer could see well as it plucked the berries from a hawthorn. Anyway, Fieldfares always seem to set out to fool girders. A birder is more likely to hazard a guess at the species and offer some help with elimination… They will say: ‘I know it’s not a Sparrowhawk as they regularly sit on our fence plucking chaffinches, so I wondered how I can be sure it’s a Goshawk?’

Of course we birders can get size wrong, or even describe colour in an odd way, but we are tuned-in to salient features… we cannot help but look for eye stripes and wing bars, flight modes and how a bird walks across the lawn.

I was watching ‘Pointless’ on TV the other day and wasn’t shocked to see a Cuckoo identified as a Song Thrush, but I was taken aback by someone not recognising a Puffin! After all, they are everyday icons that are part of our cultural landscape regardless of our avian leanings. It’s not about familiarity necessarily. With the birds that share our gardens, most people would recognise a Blackbird and a Blue Tit, which are everyday visitors, but many of the uninitiated would probably struggle with a great tit or greenfinch when they should be equally familiar.

Some birds are ghosts in the cultural machine… Robins grace our Christmas cards, Swallows do a summer make, and Grey Herons and Mute Swans have forced themselves into our collective consciousness by virtue of their size and even distribution. However, ‘Girders’ will probably also recognise ‘bluebirds’ and ‘roadrunners’ thanks to American animators. What is more, most non-birders often lump whole families into one general species such as ‘seagulls’, even the term is a cultural marker drawing a line in the sand between birders and girders.

Back at the computer face, when regaled with requests, it becomes clear that we birders seem to incidentally identify much of what we see by what we call, risking giggles from American schoolboys, JIZZ.

The overall shape, size and general presentation of a bird in everyday pursuits allows us, once we put our birding eyes on, to automatically eliminate 99.99% of species without any conscious effort. We narrow the field further with a second glance, still JIZZ fuelled, as the bird bounces or loops away, soars on unbending wings, or rises skyward then descends in song. Long before we start to look for eye-stripes and wing bars, let alone primary projections, or the fringes of the outer coverts, we recognise it as a thrush or corvid, hirundine or warbler.

Only then do we plumb the bottom of our brains, or flip the pages of a field-guide, to narrow down which particular member of the finch family, or tit troop, we are watching. It may not be natural, but it certainly does become second nature, long before we even buy a baseball cap in a reserve centre, or smother our scopes with stickers.

Many years ago Hawkeye and I were drifting along a canal into the open waters of Caroni Swamp on Trinidad as dusk fell. We drifted into the mangroves as Snowy Egrets and Tri-coloured Herons started to bedeck the bushes, before they were joined in the roost by truly outstanding and iconic birds, hundreds of Scarlet Ibis.

As we marvelled at the Christmas decorations draping every tree a non-birder in the back of the boat whined, and not for the first time that evening… ‘now… what’s that big red bird again?’

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GOB 39 – What’s that big red bird again? Having a large international birding website, its hardly surprising that I get asked for ID help from around the globe. While the right response probably ought to be: ‘how the hell … Continue reading → GOB 39 – What’s that big red bird again? Having a large international birding website, its hardly surprising that I get asked for ID help from around the globe. While the right response probably ought to be: ‘how the hell … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 7:36
GOB 38 – Play Less Misty for Me http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-38-play-less-misty-for-me/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:33:35 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1438 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-38-play-less-misty-for-me/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-38-play-less-misty-for-me/feed/ 0 GOB 38 – Play Less Misty for Me I well remember my first ever Great Egret in high summer many years ago. I know it was high summer as we walked along the shore of a large lake with sun-ripened … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-38-play-less-misty-for-me/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 38 – Play Less Misty for Me

I well remember my first ever Great Egret in high summer many years ago. I know it was high summer as we walked along the shore of a large lake with sun-ripened wheat in the surrounding fields; and I know it was long ago as every fifty meters all the way the reeling of grasshopper warblers serenaded us. The high heat triggered a thunderstorm and we were drenched for our efforts. I do not recall every being so wet before or since. Back in the car the windows steamed up as I replaced a soggy shirt with a scratchy and rather musty jacket.

I have faced directly into a force eight gale blowing from the northeast in midwinter, while watching the waves crashing against cliffs throwing spray thirty feet into the air (and a goodly amount into my freezing face). But that was rewarded by a skua going one way and auks streaming by the other. Such a scene can only be truly appreciated by a birder and such a sentence only appreciated if you are into palindromes and palimpsests.

I have steamed in a Central American jungle in pursuit of antbirds, only pausing to wring the sweat from my shirt and I have baked under an African sun waiting for the fitter birders to return from their scaling of a Kalahari sandhill in search of a Dune Lark

Many is the time I have felt the wind penetrate my bones despite four layers of thermal wear as I scoped gravel pits for Smew and I have felt my very fundament freeze to the seat of a hide while waiting for a winter Bittern to sneak out of hiding from a reedbed.

I have even waded knee-deep along a flooded path to get to a waterlogged viewing ramp, while the penetrating drizzle sent icy fingers down my spine.

But what I have most certainly NOT done is watch birds in the fog!

2012 was my second worst year list since I began birding. Weather, incapacity and indolence all played a part in my dismal performance. So I awaited the dawn of 2013 with determination to make this a better year. In my best ever year I managed 99 species on day one! In my acceptable listing years I know I have to get 100 species in the first month or my increasing capacity for pessimism will make me falter. I know too, that waiting for winter specialties to turn up at the end of the year is often a fruitless exercise. If I haven’t got winter swans and geese, Snow Buntings and Smew under my belt before February arrives they will stubbornly arrive late the following winter and I will dip out entirely for another year.

Thus it was that Hawkeye and I were out locally on the first of Jan ticking up sixty-five species within a five-mile radius. On the third of the month we cranked this up to eighty-nine species by a visit to Dungeness. Moreover, ‘Dunge’ sported no less than seven Great White Egrets that day and, at one time, when the venerated one spotted a Bittern land I managed to get four heron species into the scope at once!

The fourth was spent a mile from the house successfully searching the beach rocks for Purple Sandpiper with some bonuses in the shape of divers and ducks. So we were happily sporting a nice ninety-five when we set off yesterday for Sheppey in the sure and certain knowledge that we would add at least the five needed to get the ‘ton’ up!

Of course mice, men and me should know better than to lay such plans and rely on such sureties.

We set off in the gloom as dawn broke and revealed mist; fog so thick you could knit a chunky jumper with it. We bravely got to the edge of town and barely dared to swing around the roundabout on the dual carriageway, as it was impossible to see across both lanes! We were back home after only an hour as we had stupidly slipped down to the shore in the hope that something would be visible there.

So the mystical Isle Sheppey awaits me still, holding tight to its Rough-legged Buzzard, Avocets and the other necessary birds like the possible four owl species. My next shot is going to be the ninth – so my birding fingers are firmly crossed for gales, snow, sun or storm, anything but the mists of Avalon!

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GOB 38 – Play Less Misty for Me I well remember my first ever Great Egret in high summer many years ago. I know it was high summer as we walked along the shore of a large lake with sun-ripened … Continue reading → GOB 38 – Play Less Misty for Me I well remember my first ever Great Egret in high summer many years ago. I know it was high summer as we walked along the shore of a large lake with sun-ripened … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 5:21
GOB 37 – Waxwing Hysterical http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-37-waxwing-hysterical/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:33:16 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1436 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-37-waxwing-hysterical/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-37-waxwing-hysterical/feed/ 0 GOB 37 – Waxwing Hysterical You may have not noticed but it is already turning into a ‘waxwing winter’ and it promises to be one of epic proportions. In my corner of the southeast there are reports of flocks ranging … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-37-waxwing-hysterical/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 37 – Waxwing Hysterical

You may have not noticed but it is already turning into a ‘waxwing winter’ and it promises to be one of epic proportions.

In my corner of the southeast there are reports of flocks ranging from half a dozen to two hundred! Obviously, all I need do is look out of my window and… …and nothing! Not only are they not stripping my Pyracantha – that was polished off by blackbirds months ago – they are not even tempted by the crab apple that I planted just for them a decade ago and, from which, drop rotting crab apples year after untouched year.

Are they flying to my neighbours bushes? Hardly, my neighbours have paved and patio’d, dug up and decked, tarmacked and concreted like demented cowboy builders, leaving only the occasional gap for a light-blighting leylandi or a self-sown sycamore.

In their wisdom my local authority has made the park ‘child and dog friendly’. In effect this means it is close to a wildlife dessert. There are just a few well-groomed trees interspersed with grass. There are no bushes or undergrowth in which pedos might lurk, or drunkards might relieve themselves in the wee small hours. It does provide perches for the ubiquitous collared doves and our local parakeets, but precious little else.

If I drive out of town to my ‘hedge of dreams’ I find blackthorn and hawthorn, sloe and eglantine, which, a month ago, were positively dripping massive red berry puddles. But that was when the marauding fieldfares and redwings found their bounty and took their fill. I watched them one day as several hundred fieldfares pushed on through, probably preparing to go even further south for the winter and try their luck across the channel. Continental blackbirds, redwings, song and mistle thrushes all got stuck in and have stripped the bushes bare leaving mere crumbs at the table for our over-wintering blackcaps and chiffchaffs.

Never one to let such a local lack get me down I listened to reports, read my local birding bloggers and trawled the ornithological society’s website for waxwing words. It seems that they were still to be had so off I set every day for a week but getting not even a sniff of these wandering winter wonders

I did not give up, however, ‘she who must shop’, did require my taxi service.

It seems that her current boot collection is either insufficiently waterproof or stylish, and neither comfortable nor otherwise tolerable and we must buy more. So it was that, over my freshly darned socks, I pulled on the shoes that I inherited from my granddad several decades ago. I donned my army surplus jacket (now back in fashion for the third time) and syphoned off a cup of the neighbour’s diesel. Then I coaxed the car into shopping mode. Like me it reluctantly trundled toward a part of town I hope to mostly avoid.

Under a sign that warns, ‘here be dragons’ life is rife with muggers posing as shopkeepers. There are buildings there which, once entered, do not allow you to leave so long as one brass farthing still clings to a fold of your purse or hides behind a moth in your wallet. The door alarms scream and klaxons clamour madly if you try to pass out through their portals with a credit card still showing less than 10% over-spend on your credit limit.

If sufficient good behaviour has accrued over several months, I am allowed to sit and wait in the car, while the better part of us goes on sorties into the shopping battlefields.

This, of course, leaves me in a typically male quandary. Stay put and pawn everything I own, or join the fray all the while attempting to subvert her buying intentions. I try to achieve this with unflattering comments about ‘the fit’ dresses (whatever that means) and by relating horror stories about the carcinogenic qualities of newly purchased clothes. In the end good sense lost out to my shopping phobia and I delivered myself into the arms of my Kindle™ while she ran into Debenhams™ all the while scattering tenners while being beguiled by fashion fever.

Mere hours later I hear the boot open and feel the car settle six inches closer to the tarmac under the weight of her purchases.

(OK, OK, it was actually half an hour later and there was but one slim shopping bag. Now stop reading over my shoulder!)

Exhausted from the fray my beloved then announced that we would not be going in search of waxwings because all this shopping had produced an appetite such that she could consume a small beast of burden and I was thus instructed to head for the local Subway™.

We pulled into the sandwich shop carpark behind a local garage just off the bi-pass and the love of my life toddled off inside to get some cheesy Nachos. I declined such indulgence, pleading an inability to afford savoury snacks of my own due to being newly impoverished.

Then this morning of purgatory, spent shedding pounds of the wrong sort, was made sooooo much worse.

An event unfolded that is likely to result in more shopping trips than someone of my nervous disposition can cope with.

I looked up and there in a bare tree, sometimes dropping down to gorge on fruiting bushes were eleven splendidly attired waxwings sparkling in the frosty sunshine glinting off the Texaco sign!

Bloody typical!

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*™ I’m rather hoping that all this blatant product placement bears fruit!

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GOB 37 – Waxwing Hysterical You may have not noticed but it is already turning into a ‘waxwing winter’ and it promises to be one of epic proportions. In my corner of the southeast there are reports of flocks ranging … Continue reading → GOB 37 – Waxwing Hysterical You may have not noticed but it is already turning into a ‘waxwing winter’ and it promises to be one of epic proportions. In my corner of the southeast there are reports of flocks ranging … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 6:16
GOB 34 – Bird Fair Blues http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-34-bird-fair-blues/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:32:15 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1440 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-34-bird-fair-blues/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-34-bird-fair-blues/feed/ 0 GOB 34 – Bird Fair Blues Three days of fame is just about as much as I would ever want to cope with… it may be affirming, but it is also exhausting, confusing, deafening and dangerous for the eyeballs… Let … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-34-bird-fair-blues/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 34 – Bird Fair Blues

Three days of fame is just about as much as I would ever want to cope with… it may be affirming, but it is also exhausting, confusing, deafening and dangerous for the eyeballs…

Let me explain.

I’ve just spent three full-on days at the British Bird Fair – the greatest birding show on earth, where 25,000 birders rampage through a dozen massive marquees in search of optics, bird tours, art work and well-known personalities.

The Oddies, Dilgers, Lindos and Packhams of this birding world are subject to sycophantic assaults and sheer adoration by virtue of their TV appearances. Common birders genuflect or laugh hysterically, if the objects of their desire so much as acknowledge their existence. Us D listers, minor birding celebs, get plenty of affirmation from web fans and grumpy article aficionados, but it generally falls short of stalking or being pelted with warm underwear.

However, I do meet hundreds of people and chat to them, listening to their needs, desires and even, on occasion, praises. While doing so the Public Address system will be red hot with use, as events are advertised and raffle prizewinners are declared. It nearly reaches breaking under the strains of Johnny Kingdom announcing his forthcoming talk. Sandwich sellers will vend their wares loudly and with celestial bells ringing while a host of birders create an unangelic hubbub well above their fighting weight!

I am, in any event, 90% deaf in one ear… by day three I am only able to nod and smile, as I desperately try to read lips, name badges, facial expressions and notes that Maggie hands me in order to get a clue as to what is going on. At the best of times you can confuse me just by asking what I want for dinner, but deafen me beyond my normal disability, and I can barely spell my own name or remember what I scoffed for breakfast.

The confusion is further exacerbated by my in-built inability to recognise anyone I don’t actually live with. As I said at the BBF, one thousand, eight hundred and twenty seven times, I never forget a face, nor a name, but I am rarely able to put the two together. This can, of course, be embarrassing for me and insulting to the person I’m trying to hold a conversation with. Is there anything more galling than a name badge, which is either illegible or turned volte-face? Worse still one, which also covers up the company name on the polo shirt! I managed to turn a BBC Wildlife Cameraman into someone I once arranged a trip for, and the Director of an ornithological society into a ‘Birding For All’ member. I then called someone Anthony throughout a 15-minute conversation, only to find out later that Anthony was his surname!

Despite this, exhibiting at the fair is affirming fun, one of the most enjoyable things you can do that isn’t fattening and is neither illegal nor immoral. However, it is a great deal of hard work, and I find it very physically draining.

I don’t suppose I have ever mentioned my arthritis in any of my articles?  Being so stoic and self-effacing I have probably kept this from the reading public. I bravely soldier on, surprisingly un-rewarded with medals, not even seen on the birthdays honours list, it’s a shame as GOB OBE has such a ring to it.

Where was I?

Oh yes, the arthritis.

I’ve suffered for more than forty years from this disease. However, it was only five years ago that I found out that it has a symptom other than pain, skeletal shrinkage and curvature… apparently it also causes deep fatigue. So it turns out I’m only half as idle as I thought I was!

By the time our stall is all set up on the Thursday I am wiped-out. I can barely manage an early evening pint before crashing out. So, on Friday morning, am I ready to meet all the show-going birders? Most decidedly not! I am exhausted.

There you have it, just call me exhausted, deafened and confused, formerly of Tunbridge Wells.

Ahhhh…, you are probably wondering about the ocular danger I mentioned at the outset?

Well, this is a very sad tale of misunderstood motivation coupled with the overactive and evil mind of ‘she who must be obeyed’.

Sometime on the Saturday the confusion, deafness and exhaustion was showing in my demeanour – I know, you are going to find it hard to believe that I am not always brimming over with bonhomie. My face was ashen and my spirits low, I could barely whisper a plea for a fresh coffee and a blueberry muffin, as I held court in my ‘office’ – that’s a corner of the stand with two canvas seats and a large electric fan.

It was, and I am prepared to say this in court if necessary, purely a co-incidence, that I made the supreme effort to perk up, at the exact moment when I was visited by two young ladies from Sweden. My head was bowed so low with fatigue that I had to be told later how attractive and blond they both were. I became animated for no other reason than that I knew I had to make the effort for my adoring public.

I think that, while this would not have passed unnoticed, it would not have been sufficient for Hawkeye to begin to sharpen a stick, let alone wave it dangerously close to my orbits. That only came about when they asked for a photograph with me. It is my fault that, just make sure they were in the frame, they had to put their arms around my neck, and press their cheeks against my grizzled jowl?

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GOB 34 – Bird Fair Blues Three days of fame is just about as much as I would ever want to cope with… it may be affirming, but it is also exhausting, confusing, deafening and dangerous for the eyeballs… Let … Continue reading → GOB 34 – Bird Fair Blues Three days of fame is just about as much as I would ever want to cope with… it may be affirming, but it is also exhausting, confusing, deafening and dangerous for the eyeballs… Let … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 7:01
GOB 35 – Thinking Inside the Box http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-35-thinking-inside-the-box/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:32:08 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1421 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-35-thinking-inside-the-box/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-35-thinking-inside-the-box/feed/ 0 GOB 35 – Thinking Inside the Box I grew up in the Garden of England in the 1950s. Autumn days were spent riding our bikes to out of the way orchards where we thought the farmer wouldn’t catch us scrumping. … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-35-thinking-inside-the-box/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 35 – Thinking Inside the Box

I grew up in the Garden of England in the 1950s.

Autumn days were spent riding our bikes to out of the way orchards where we thought the farmer wouldn’t catch us scrumping. Summer Cherries were best if you could avoid being terrified by ‘cherry cartridges’ going off and deafening you. By August the apples were edible but left you with cheeks pulled in and tummy ache… by mid-September apples and pears dripped with juice when you bit into them, and the only danger was being stung by late and lazy wasps, who were scrumping too.

I moved away from home as a late teenager and, after university worked in Scotland and Lancashire. My family emigrated and my in-laws moved to Norfolk, so I had no reason to go back to my childhood haunts.

When I first came back ‘home’ in the mid-nineteen nineties I was, of course, shocked to see how small my old schoolyard was. That’s normal I suppose. I was shocked too, to find that the village I spent most of my childhood in, had gone ‘upmarket’. The High Street had been newly cobbled and that was not the end of its gentrification. The old newspaper shop around which we hunted as five year olds for old bus tickets (why on earth we collected the stiff cardboard tickets I have no idea), was now called ‘Guns ‘n Saddles’. The colonnade general store, where mum bought broken biscuits for cheapness, had become ‘The Bridal Shower’. Most saddening of all was that ‘Dolly’s Café’ was now ‘Baguettes & Brioche’! Sadly Dolly was no more… she may have succumbed to her liberal smoking (we never saw Dolly without a fag hanging from the corner of her mouth threatening to shed the long grey ash onto the scones), or she may have fallen fowl of her own interpretation of ‘Health & Safety’, which consisted of daily dusting of any unsold cakes and a minor price reduction, making them more attractive to us young lay-a-bouts.

These changes are an age old truism – as you grow up the world around you seems to shrink.

But the one thing you can surely rely upon is that the saplings seen in youth grow into towering trees?

Not a bit of it, the biggest shock of all was finding that all the apple trees had shrunk whilst I was away! They were no longer 20-foot high feeding grounds for Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers all set about with lush grass for the sheep to graze, then dug over in the Autumn by pigs getting drunk on fermenting fruit. Nothing now dared grow above the reach of the apple-picker.

When I was at school you would be set problems such as…

A six-foot tall farmer has an orchard where all the trees are 20 feet high. His ladders extend to 20 feet… at what angle should he lean his ladder for stability and still reach the tops of the trees?

The answer to this poser was decidedly not ‘make the trees smaller’.

How about this one…

The farmer’s wife has six children, every day she bakes a 1lb loaf… she eats twice as much as the children and her husband eats half as much again. How much does each child eat?

Encouraged to ‘think outside the box’ the solution is obvious. The farmer should grow GM wheat designed to resist all disease, and able to survive chemical assault. He should then spray his fields with pesticides and herbicides, so that his yields are higher. At the end of each year he should scour the land with acid to kill everything and plant the same crop year after year. This will mean he can have four more children and their daily bread will be enough to feed them all twice as much as before, so that they can become obese! If, at any stage, the wheat price rises to a level that actually pays the farmer to grow it, cheaper wheat will be imported, thus ensuring its ‘carbon footprint’ is larger than the world can sustain.

Now, as I sniff the spiced early Autumn air, I can see that, at Thanet Earth, the largest area of greenhouses in the country, it is the season of mellow fruitfulness. The vines hang with tomatoes grown without the nuisance of soil; they are big and red and uniformly round – as appetizing to the eye as can be.

Us old farts can, of course, remember trotting off to the local nursery to buy a ‘bag of blues’ (those non-conformist tomatoes that were over large, dwarfed or misshapen with amusing appendages) – and boy did they taste good. It is no co-incident that the most popular tomato grown is called ‘money-maker’ – and it is, to my mind, as tasty as over-boiled rice!

‘Thinking outside the box’ and ‘pushing the envelope’ into ‘blue-sky thinking’, has led us down a literal dead end!

GM crops are, of course, completely safe. The government says so, and all the research sponsored by GM companies confirm it. It has been proven beyond doubt that rape seeds cannot disperse more than a field or two from their source. Noone has told the bees, who may cross-pollinate as much as 12 kilometers away! Not to worry ‘though… we are doing a great job of killing off the honeybees!

The death of bees, from the mite-carried virus, seems to be linked to stress that lowers their natural resistance. How do you stress out bees? Are they easy to tease? No, instead of hives permanently being placed at intervals in food-producing areas, we now move the hives around to order, taking their pollinating proclivities from field to field, over several months, and across many miles, each time disorienting the bees and reducing the size of the swarm.

Its time to stop moving the boxes and think inside them again.

You do not solve out-of-control population growth by increasing yields, any more than you solve traffic problems by building more roads. Anyway, several studies show that GM crop yields are, on average a few percent lower than existing varieties!

You do not lower food prices by bankrupting farmers. Keeping finance in the first world, manufacturing in the second and food production in the third world is just colonialism by the backdoor.

Why did people use crop rotation for centuries? Because it worked! It is a low tech, low cost way of ensuring that pests and disease do not take hold.

When Britain was struggling to stem the tide of Nazis from engulfing us we ‘dug for victory’ – using far less of the land than we do now to grow crops, yet with sustainable production that sustained a more boring, but better, diet.

Back in the box we may have tried to tame nature around us, but we did not try to destroy it as if it were an enemy, and we left the wild corners to themselves.

Back in the day we understood simple arithmetic:

You reap what you sow – one for the rook, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow.

Great oaks from little acorns grow.

Where the bee sucks there suck I.

You cannot thrive in trade if you expect to sell something for less than it costs.

You cannot force a quart into a pint pot.

10 billion people into one earth doesn’t go, and they cost the earth, and I really do mean that literally!

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GOB 35 – Thinking Inside the Box I grew up in the Garden of England in the 1950s. Autumn days were spent riding our bikes to out of the way orchards where we thought the farmer wouldn’t catch us scrumping. … Continue reading → GOB 35 – Thinking Inside the Box I grew up in the Garden of England in the 1950s. Autumn days were spent riding our bikes to out of the way orchards where we thought the farmer wouldn’t catch us scrumping. … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 8:17
GOB 36 – Capitalist Running Dogs http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-36-capitalist-running-dogs/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:32:02 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1417 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-36-capitalist-running-dogs/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-36-capitalist-running-dogs/feed/ 0 GOB 36 – Capitalist Running Dogs What do dog walkers and local authority councillors have in common, apart that is, from an unerring ability to get right up the nostrils of yours truly. In one word – ignorance. Let me … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-36-capitalist-running-dogs/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 36 – Capitalist Running Dogs

What do dog walkers and local authority councillors have in common, apart that is, from an unerring ability to get right up the nostrils of yours truly.

In one word – ignorance.

Let me explain.

I do not believe that most dog walkers are selfish and thuggish and care not one whit for the welfare of other creatures. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that, with the exception of a minority of idiots with viscous maltreated dogsm or those fools that pamper literal or figurative poodles, the vast majority of dog owners are, almost tautologically, animal lovers.

Sure, pets can be substitutes for children or significant others, but most people that have a dog, love it for its own sake. They take it on long walks to keep it fit as well as to work off their own surplus of pre-packed meals and sugary snacks. I would go further, I would bet that most dog owners regularly feed their garden birds. Dammit, I have no doubt that a great many dog lovers fret over their feeders with freezing fingers when plummeting temperatures threaten the lives of Robin Redbreast. They scatter their crumbs to the band of Blue Tits that brave the elements trying scrape a living from long dead coconut shells and empty red-net bags whistling in winter winds.

Sixty six percent of households feed their garden birds. Twenty-one percent of households keep one or more pet dogs. It would be beyond the bounds of reason to suppose that there is no overlap.

So, when dog owners allow, indeed in many cases encourage their pet to disturb birds it surely must be through ignorance?

Pet owners generally suffer from what the TV programme QI calls ‘general ignorance’.

Those with cats refuse to believe that their Mr Tibbles eats birds and swear blind that ‘timmy’ would run the other way if he saw a mouse, despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Only in the most enlightened parts of the US and Australia do cat owners realise that such pets should be kept indoors at all times. The average dog owner is quite genuine when he opines that his pet is ‘only being friendly’ when he leaps at you with muddy claws. She is sincere when she says that you need not fear the scowling, growling beast as it ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly’.

Clearly this ignorance extends to walks along the beach and dog owners genuinely do not realise that allowing, indeed often encouraging, their dog to chase waders in winter or terns in spring can be a death warrant. Our beaches are no longer safe for any bird to nest on, only in those least walked by a man and his dog has any hope of allowing little terns to keep a toe-hold on these islands as a breeding place.

Two days ago I sat in my car on the sea front with waves lashing the shore totally mesmerised by a couple of hundred sanderlings chasing the waves in and out in search of storm-tossed tasties.

I counted a dozen rock pipits picking through the stranded seaweed in search of desiccated brine shrimp and sand hoppers clinging to the heat from nature’s compost.

I was searching through the ring-plovers and turnstones in the hope of finding a purple sandpiper when the sanderlings took flight and every other bird on the beach was put up. The culprit was a big black, ‘wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly’, ‘only-being-friendly’ Labrador as it tore through the waders scattering them to the northeast wind. The dog’s owner was spurring him on, waving him toward the next drift of feeding birds. Ten minutes later along came a little old lady who, no doubt, spends her winter evenings threading peanuts on a string to keep the great tits happy. She patted her pug and ruffled the scruff of her spaniel telling them what good boys they were as they ploughed through the pipits and splashed in the surf scattering turnstones.

I was incandescent but swallowed the steam and got out of my cosy hide to explain to the walkers that what they were doing was worse for birds than poisoning their peanuts. To be fair the response was surprise not aggression.

It seems that dog walkers can be encouraged to be more responsible, so I urge you all to tell your dog-owning friends that they should be keeping their curs away from curlews.

The local authority bans dogs from beaches in summer as dog mess make for very unsavoury sand castles. I expect these worthy aldermen would baulk from banning dogs from winter beaches, even if I could banish their ignorance.

After all their ignorance is legion!

My second outburst of outrage has been brought about by a truly inspired policy toward household re-cycling that my local authority is adopting.

I am such a sad and lonely guy that one of my favourite outings is to go to the recycling centre with the stuff that the bin men eschew. I look forward to lugging my big cardboard boxes and small household items out of the back of my car and trying to stop garden waste spilling out of the containers. (The mice that share my birdfeed have, in their generosity, given a number of new exits to these garden tidies. So, I’ve put a fold-up garden bin inside another and put another inside that, so that I can twiddle them around in such a way as to ensure that the new mouse windows do not line up.)

I don’t mind my otherwise pristine vehicle becoming besmirched with rotting leaves, what I am trying to do is not introduce a new spider species to my car. The car already hosts a species that must be new to science as it exclusively resides in wing mirrors. I bet you have them too… have they really only evolved since the invention of electronic wing mirrors?

My garden shed has become home to the only critter that I know of that eats pea-bugs – the ‘false’ black widow spider. Despite their false claim to widowhood they do, apparently, pack a punch and there is only one thing in life that ‘er indoors’ fears more than spiders, and that is a spider with fangs that can inject venom into the human body.

So, we pack the car of a sunny Sunday and join the rest of the saddos who don’t get out much, queuing up to offload our unfashionable bedding, dead socks and empty jam jars.

There is a large sign at the site, proclaiming the readiness of the staff to help if needed. Large and clearly written the signs may be, but experience tells me that those same helpers do not readily read them. Their scowls discourage putting any such invitation to the test.

Parked just outside the main gate, on most of my visits, is a van just too large to pass under the crash bar. From this van there usually emerges a red-faced man who hauls his unwanted fridge to the appropriate bin.

Now to the ‘general ignorance’ that inflicts the local authority. They have recently banned such incursion and post a paid scowler at the gate to dissuade non-compliance. The councillors have further decreed that no van of any size will, henceforth, be allowed to enter the hallowed grounds of the re-cycling centre.

So the bloke who, for a tenner (which is half the local authority fee) would take away your old cooker must now pay twice that in fees to take it to a commercial recycling dump. Such wisdom from our elected members bedazzles me. Just how much does it cost, I wonder, to clear up the fly-tipped fowling the literally litters the countryside forcing farmers to fence off their fields from public access and put padlocked gates across the farm roads?

I bet it is a lot more than the commercial recycling centre extracts from responsible house clearers and benign builders.

This latest decree raises the bar of crassness to a new high…

Back in the days of my youth the bin men would take away anything under a ton for a fiver. Back in the days of my youth I was for a while a bin man myself and would happily drag off a sack of grass cuttings or help carry away a sick spin-drier.

In fact the only thing I would not do was empty the bins of any house with a large unchained dog… but that’s another story!

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GOB 36 – Capitalist Running Dogs What do dog walkers and local authority councillors have in common, apart that is, from an unerring ability to get right up the nostrils of yours truly. In one word – ignorance. Let me … Continue reading → GOB 36 – Capitalist Running Dogs What do dog walkers and local authority councillors have in common, apart that is, from an unerring ability to get right up the nostrils of yours truly. In one word – ignorance. Let me … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 9:39
GOB 32 – Just when you thought it was safe… http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-32-just-when-you-thought-it-was-safe/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:31:37 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1444 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-32-just-when-you-thought-it-was-safe/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-32-just-when-you-thought-it-was-safe/feed/ 0 GOB 32 – Just when you thought it was safe… Just when you think things cannot get worse life turns around and bites you on the butt… I ranted last month about rich landowners stealing our wildlife out of their … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-32-just-when-you-thought-it-was-safe/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 32 – Just when you thought it was safe…

Just when you think things cannot get worse life turns around and bites you on the butt… I ranted last month about rich landowners stealing our wildlife out of their selfish desire to kill wild things for sport. The RSPB and others reported that the Hen Harrier is on the brink of complete extirpation from England and yet still they are persecuted, as are Red Kites and Golden Eagles in Scotland. Anything at the top of the food chain seems to be in the sights of these unspeakable people. Hot on the heels of my rant and the dire warnings of conservation groups comes news that DEFRA is going to issue licences allowing pheasant shoots to trap buzzards and destroy their nests.

This is not just immoral and selfish it is, of course, completely bonkers. Buzzards have always held on in good numbers in the north and west and in the last few decades they have managed to regain much of their former range in the south and east. Even Kent and East Anglia now has early colonisers nesting and slowly expanding wherever there are woodlands to nest and rabbits to live on. So, if you eliminate them by whatever means on an estate, all this will do is draw in birds from the surrounding countryside, just in the way that foxes recolonize the country from the towns when populations are wiped out by the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.

Government is not renown for getting things right. Indeed it has a long history of wasting our taxes on projects that are a complete waste of time and squandering our precious resources whether it be on Blue Streak in the 1960s or senseless wars on foreign turf more recently. Why, one might ask, should the current lot be any different.

Well they say they want to be the ‘greenest’ ever regime. They say that the welfare state is safe in their hands. They say that they favour the ordinary working man over City fat cats. It used to be said that the Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer. Well, in my view, pheasant shooting parties are city bankers at play. How can it be a source of pride to shoot a bird out of the sky that doesn’t like flying and has been driven towards the guns? If you want to prance about the country in a jacket with leather patches become a geography teacher.

It must be that these buffoons are part of a slow migration that occurs every weekend when all those Chelsea Tractors pine for a country lane to roar down, a pheasant to chase or a peasant to pitch into a ditch.

I have to assume that the Cabinet of Millionaires are, once again, favouring the needs of their rich pals rather than 99% of the population. Most people will be stunned to learn that, apparently, it is a priority to spend £375,000 to catch buzzards to see if this makes any difference to artificially raised non-native poults!

Should we be surprised when the minister responsible inherited a 20,000 acre walled estate, can’t tell a minnow from a kipper, thinks ragwort is an invasive foreign plant and happily created a quarry in the face of considerable opposition from local conservationists… the perfect fellow to be appointed to look after the environment.

There’s no point in me tearing out any more of my greying locks… the Guardian and others can lampoon, us ordinary folk can rant and rave, but this will just fall upon the deaf ears of those who honestly believe that they are destined to rule by virtue of the fact that their ancestors stole half of the nation from the people. Obviously taxation is just a means to avoid spending your inherited wealth on stupid and selfish schemes.

On a lighter note my better half has withdrawn rations from our babies.

Our yard is somewhat smaller than the ministers. It is probably a great deal smaller than his butler’s pantry. Nevertheless, it managed to attract in no less than 50 young starlings and their over taxed parents. It was OK when the marauding hordes just cost us a fortune in fat-balls. Maggie tolerated their early morning cacophony; she even forgave the odd bit of ‘bird lime’ discharged on her newly hung washing. What she could not allow was the destruction of half of our newly planted patio plants. These bully boys sat on anything and everything while they waited for mum or dad to come stuff them with high-energy offerings. After a week of putting up with them, she bade them farewell and withdrew the food for a couple of days forcing them to climb the fence and devour a neighbour’s bird food and squash his petunias and peonies instead of ours.

Tomorrow we will hang up the nyjer and sunflower seeds, put out some peanuts and mealworms and hope that the finches, tits and other passerines will forgive us and return now that they can get a look in.

I cannot see how anyone can derive pleasure from slaughtering game birds, but they clearly do – perhaps they enjoy eating them while trying to avoid cracking a crown on a bit of buckshot. On the other hand, whether I am abroad watching a Steller’s Eider or at home watching a Starling the pleasure I derive from my simple and harmless pastime is endless.

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GOB 32 – Just when you thought it was safe… Just when you think things cannot get worse life turns around and bites you on the butt… I ranted last month about rich landowners stealing our wildlife out of their … Continue reading → GOB 32 – Just when you thought it was safe… Just when you think things cannot get worse life turns around and bites you on the butt… I ranted last month about rich landowners stealing our wildlife out of their … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 5:32
GOB 33 – Time for a Cool Change http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-33-time-for-a-cool-change/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:31:08 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1442 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-33-time-for-a-cool-change/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-33-time-for-a-cool-change/feed/ 0 GOB 33 – Time for a Cool Change* Is it about age? No, it can’t be as I’ve met twitchers in their sixties and seventies. Perhaps then, it is about how long you’ve been birding? No, it can’t be that, … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-33-time-for-a-cool-change/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 33 – Time for a Cool Change*

Is it about age?

No, it can’t be as I’ve met twitchers in their sixties and seventies.

Perhaps then, it is about how long you’ve been birding?

No, it can’t be that, as I’ve met rabid twitchers who’ve been at it a lifetime and newbies who wouldn’t look over the hedge at the end of their patch if a Passenger Pigeon had turned up in the next field.

It must be me then… I must be changing.

Fear not dear reader, birding is in my blood and bones and I’ll still thrill to a passing Swift or the call of a midnight owl as I shuffle off this mortal coil. Nevertheless, I am undergoing a profound change.

Yesterday was as dead a birding day as we get… hot, humid and in a summer when heat and rain have turned hedgerows into jungle. In the classic birding parlance there was ‘not a lot about’. That is to say there were no rarities to rattle the pagers, or at least not in my corner of blighty.

A week ago I had walked around a bit of one of my local reserves and, while it was an enjoyable stroll (or as enjoyable as the arthritic hips allow) no Red-footed Falcons or American Coots threatened to enhance the year list. I’ve birded so little this summer that several Garden Warblers were a high point as they did make it to the 2012 list for the first time.

A day or two later I struggled to the viewing ramp at the other end and sat undisturbed on a warm and windy day. No Common Sandpipers or Gargany, which I still ‘need’ for the year.

The thing is that I cared less for these omissions than at any time in all my birding years. During the stroll around the wet woods we had been serenaded by Blackcaps, heard a Great-spotted Woodpecker drum and watched massive spawning carp rolling in the shallows. Sitting on a bench on the viewing ramp I could look heavenwards and watch a Hobby lazily on the hunt and a passing buzzard drift by. Despite the strong breeze I caught sight of a Bearded Tit poorly flying for a few yards across the reedbed and was nearly deafened by a sudden burst of Cetti’s Warbler song. An hour or more passed on that bench with nothing more exciting than a distant Common Tern hovering over a pool and a Swift passing so low it practically parted my hair… and I loved every sedate and serene second of it.

Yesterday I watched a Ring-necked Parakeet clinging to one of my feeders and munching his way through the sunflower seeds. I saw a Blackbird on my shed roof feathers fluffed and wings out letting the sun see to his ticks and panting, beak open to dissipate the heat. Later I pottered among my pots and a young Dunnock hopped up into our lilac bush three feet from my head and I chatted quietly to it. Sitting in the sun with Maggie, catching rays to ensure our daily 15 minutes of vitamin D, a Bluetit family ignored us completely and fed on our feeders inches from us, while less brave Goldfinches twittered at us from the telephone wire into our house, basically telling us to get lost so that they could eat us out of house and home.

The cool change has crept over me and I see that such every day birding; such ordinary ornithology, gives me more pleasure than a barrow load of avian accidentals.

I haven’t managed any overseas birding for well over a year and would love to expand my world list, but I no longer care if UK rarities pass me by. Even the world list has become less of a goal for me and while I want to see new exotic species the manner of the birding will have to change. I cannot contemplate chasing my tail to get every endemic. I want to just enjoy the novelty and entire environment not one bird at a time, but en masse and at leisure.

On one of my first overseas jaunts more than thirty years ago, getting the most out of a round-the-world ticket I pitched up in Fiji right after a hurricane had taken the top off every palm tree on one side of the island. Most birds had been blown off or were hiding and I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of birds I saw in three days!

I had pre-booked an outing to a coral atoll and saw flying fish gliding along our bow wave then beachcombed for coral on sand too hot to stand bare foot on. We had a ‘cook out’ on the beach then took the leftovers in a glass-bottomed boat and fed the fish. I snapped away like a mad tourist trying to capture the exciting novelty on film when I had an epiphany so profound it affected all life thereafter. I put down the camera and stopped making a record of the experience in favour of actually enjoying the experience. In an instant I had realized that, instead of enjoying the moment I was wasting it, being a spectator not a participant.

Well folks, as I gazed from my office window, and when I lolled on the viewing ramp I experienced an epiphany as profound, if rather more drawn out. I don’t care if the grass is greener on the other side of the hill… what’s the point of worrying about that if I can’t even appreciate the colours of everyday life?

Thomas Hobbes said that life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’. Well, sad to say for half of the world that’s true. But I think for the rest of us Joni Mitchell had it right when she sang: ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone’. I don’t give a flying fig that sitting with Joni watching the sunset is a cliché, I am going to appreciate the birds I do see!

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*’Cool Change’ was a minor hit for the Little River Band; Australia’s answer to the Eagles.

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GOB 33 – Time for a Cool Change* Is it about age? No, it can’t be as I’ve met twitchers in their sixties and seventies. Perhaps then, it is about how long you’ve been birding? No, it can’t be that, … Continue reading → GOB 33 – Time for a Cool Change* Is it about age? No, it can’t be as I’ve met twitchers in their sixties and seventies. Perhaps then, it is about how long you’ve been birding? No, it can’t be that, … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 6:29
GOB 31 – The Mammoths in the Room http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-31-the-mammoths-in-the-room/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:30:05 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1446 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-31-the-mammoths-in-the-room/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-31-the-mammoths-in-the-room/feed/ 0 GOB 31 – The Mammoths in the Room We Brits pride ourselves on being at the forefront of conservation with organisations like the RSPB not only preserving habitats and challenging government policy at home, but helping out overseas as well. … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-31-the-mammoths-in-the-room/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 31 – The Mammoths in the Room

We Brits pride ourselves on being at the forefront of conservation with organisations like the RSPB not only preserving habitats and challenging government policy at home, but helping out overseas as well.

We applaud the international stance of the British Trust for Ornithology as it monitors the arrival of cuckoos having tracked them from Cameroon across the deserts of North Africa into southern Europe and finally back to our shores.

I even looked down my own nose recently when I heard about the attempts in the USA to ban lead from fishing weights and gunshot to protect water birds from the lead poisoning caused by its accidental ingestion – we did that here twenty or thirty years ago I inwardly smirked.

Then as I was reading a press release from the American Bird Conservancy I realized that we are not just miles behind on the issue I was reading about, but on half a dozen others as well. On some we haven’t even got started and seem frightened to bring some issues out into the open for fear of upsetting many of the staunchest of conservation supporters.

Its not so much a case of the elephant in the room as a bloody great herd of colossal hairy pachyderms threatening to rend the room asunder!

The article was about an action being brought against a building owner in Canada for doing nothing to prevent migrating songbirds from crashing into the gleaming glass that reflects the sky so perfectly that birds do not even realise that the building is there! An estimated 100 million birds die this way in the US and Canada yet there are some simple deterrents that will mitigate the problem and even specialised glass or glass treatments that can eliminate the problem by slightly altering its reflective properties. So, over the pond the problem has been recognised, solutions determined and now test cases prepared to ensure compliance simply be collecting the corpses of the unfortunate migrants and citing the victims that are protected species to force action from property owners. Builders and owners know that it’s cheaper to comply than to have to pay damages and then pay out to comply anyway.

So where is this campaign in the UK? We may not have the number of tall buildings in London or Birmingham as does Toronto or New York but we certainly have our share of shiny skyscrapers. I have heard of just one effort in London where David Lindo and friends have had permission to monitor in Canary Wharf.

What about wind farms, are we doing our bit there? Certainly not compared to the US. Over there the true extent of the impact on large raptors is well documented and cannot be denied. If one installation in California is known to have despatched fifty Golden Eagles, where is the protest over here? It comes from a few who are, largely, dismissed as cranks. We are so complacently going ‘green’ that we choose to ignore the fact that hundreds, if not thousands of wind turbines will take a toll. The RSPB and others fight a ‘selective’ campaign to try and prevent wind farms from being erected in our most sensitive areas. The truth is that, in this small island, chock full of Nimbies, its is only the distant wild places where people do not picnic that wind farms can go without getting lots of protest. Where the eagles currently do best are the very places most likely to get covered in turbines because so few people have to look at them. Of course we can always stick them in the sea, how can that harm anything? It can be proven to have little or no impact because there are not lots of seabird carcasses at the foot of each tower… doh! How on earth do you monitor this when the sea will carry the corpses away?

The jumbo of all ignored elephants is, of course, the problem of outdoor cats. A few weirdos like me raise this whenever we can as cats do huge amounts of harm and most organisations dare not say a thing as the majority of their members are cat owners and many chose to turn a blind eye to what their moggie drags onto their living room carpet. Even I dare not suggest wholesale culling of cats, but we do not even have a decent campaign to KEEP CATS INDOORS!

In the US there are calls for every city to trap and ‘euthanise’ feral cats and a rigourous campaign to persuade people to keep their felines at home.  In some areas of Australia allowing your cat to roam, even in your own garden, is illegal… you have to erect a cat run if you want them to get fresh air. There is nothing more likely to upset the average Brit than suggesting a ban on allowing their pet the right to roam. People have the right to exclude other people from their property, but do not have the right to trap their neighbour’s cat if it craps on their lawn and systematically decimates the birds at their feeders! In certain circumstances I have the right to use reasonable force to eject a human intruder, but no rights at all to chuck a clod at a cat.

I’m not even going to mention our timorous first steps to try and get darker skies for the sake of amateur astronomers. The conservation nightmare of light pollution is not even on the agenda in a country where we all seem to want to have a security light on our gable ends that can be seen from distant galaxies!

So there we have it, in Cameron’s Big Society we wallow in our collective complacency and choose to ignore millions of avian casualties safe in the knowledge that Britain is Best; we invented conservation and that we are world leaders in ‘doing the right thing’.

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GOB 31 – The Mammoths in the Room We Brits pride ourselves on being at the forefront of conservation with organisations like the RSPB not only preserving habitats and challenging government policy at home, but helping out overseas as well. GOB 31 – The Mammoths in the Room We Brits pride ourselves on being at the forefront of conservation with organisations like the RSPB not only preserving habitats and challenging government policy at home, but helping out overseas as well. … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 6:17
GOB 30 – Give me my raptor today… http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-30-give-me-my-raptor-today/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:29:37 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1448 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-30-give-me-my-raptor-today/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-30-give-me-my-raptor-today/feed/ 0 GOB 30 – Give me my raptor today… (Apologies to Van Morrison for the misquote above) I am well beyond grumpy – my irritation has leapt the barrier of vexed and left incandescent far behind… I can find no superlative … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-30-give-me-my-raptor-today/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 30 – Give me my raptor today…

(Apologies to Van Morrison for the misquote above)

I am well beyond grumpy – my irritation has leapt the barrier of vexed and left incandescent far behind… I can find no superlative to convey just how angry I am.

Two different sources have fired my ire, both conveying the very nadir of the most selfish criminality.

Yesterday Radio 4, which, almost unnoticed, whispers to me all day as I scratch and scrape away on my keyboard, suddenly grabbed hold of my consciousness and twisted it like a knife in the kidney. A pigeon fancier, so crass that he saw any threat to his prize birds as a permit to steal from us all, shot a peregrine. The irony is not lost on me that this idiot criminal killed a captive bred bird used to control feral pigeons that was being exercised in the wild. It had the temerity to land in a tree in his garden where it might have then predated one of his domesticated pigeons. He now knows the financial value of such a bird as he has been ordered to pay for one to be trained, but has no clue to the real value of all wild birds.

Clearly, like others who think material wealth actually matters, he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. What makes me Wilde is that this appears to be increasingly ingrained in our society. One only has to watch an episode of ‘The Antiques Roadshow’, and see that an ugly, but rare, piece of twentieth century tat such as a moth-eaten teddy bear, is ‘valued’ more greatly than, say an exquisite, but commonplace, ancient Egyptian burial sculpture, because it has the right label. Stick a little cloth crocodile on a polo shirt and it suddenly becomes more ‘valuable’ than an identical item produced in the same sweatshop!

Our collective obsession with the material and its ownership undermines real value at every turn. Rainforests are intrinsically valuable, not just worth something to man because they might be hiding the cure to all our ills or might make nice furniture. Plants from plankton to pine trees give us a breathable atmosphere, and birds and butterflies are flying artworks more inspiring than any man made object because they have life. They are valuable to us all; a value not diminished by being restricted by ownership.

This brings me to the second source of so much righteous rage… I just finished reading Dave Dick’s book cataloguing his trials and tribulations as Scotland’s first RSPB wildlife crime fighter. A review will shortly appear on Fatbirder with an author interview on Talking Naturally so I will not big up the book here, its enough to say that it too fuelled the fire in my oversized belly.

The threats to wildlife in general, and raptors in particular seem to have survived all efforts at eradication not out of ignorance; not because they cost to much to curtail; not for the want of trying, but because of the total selfishness of a criminal few that hide behind their privilege and wealth and steal from us all. The majority are champions of the rights of possession. They can skulk in the shadow of a ridiculous feudal fiefdom embodied in our judicial system that has always allowed the upper classes to do what they like on their own land in the unshakeable belief that whatever lives wild on their estate is their property!

If you were to take a wild salmon from the water that runs between banks that they ‘own’ the full force of the law will be brought to bear, with the distinct possibility that you could end up in prison. However, the gamekeeper employed to stop you ‘stealing’ the landlords wild fish seems to be able to steal from us all the beauty of an Osprey that lifts a trout from a loch. You must not ‘poach’ the grouse from his moors, but the owner who encourages his keeper to poison the eagles or stamps on Hen Harrier eggs is more than likely to get away with robbing us all of their natural wonders.

I’ve lost count of the number of times there have been TV debates, or newspaper articles posing the question is the class system dead and buried, and many people seem to think it is. This is the sort of mass delusion, or sycophantic nonsense, that led to an Emperor walking naked down the streets, while his subjects praised his fine attire. If we truly were a classless society then bankers who gamble away billions, are paid millions and get away with fiddling hundreds of thousands in tax avoidance schemes, would not walk free. Meanwhile the benefit claimant who earns a tenner on the side, can face imprisonment, and laws are changed to take away the welfare state from the many that took centuries of political struggle to erect.

Yes, there are many Scottish estates whose owners have publicly condemned poisoning but there are also many others where, it has been estimated a third of Scotland Hen Harrier territories are deliberately voided of birds and over 50 Golden Eagles are killed every year!*

It’s the same the whole world over, ain’t it all a bloody shame? It’s the rich that gets the pleasure and the poor what gets the blame!  It seems that 20 million people who feed the birds in their gardens and tolerate their neighbour’s marauding cat have it all wrong; we live in a nation where, if your garden is big enough you can get away with anything

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I’ve just read this piece to Mrs Grumpy who, true to form, shares my anger. However, she has offered up an idea to those who draft our wildlife protection legislation. She says that part of the punishment that such people should face would hit at the very thing they seek to champion. If a pigeon fancier kills a predator they should be banned from keeping pigeons for life. If a gamekeeper is convicted of poisoning, pole trapping or otherwise destroying raptors they should be banned for life from that profession. Shooting estate owners, on whose land they or their employees commit such crimes should be banned from ever running blood sports on their property.

* See below for a list of estate owners publicly condemning wildlife crime and a list of shooting estates where wildlife crime has been reported.

http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2011/02/22/scotland’s-shooting-estates-make-‘unprecedented-statement’-on-wildlife-crime/

http://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/category/named-estates/

To suppress a whole population takes a huge amount of organised effort, and that’s what’s happening. It is the grouse industry that is responsible. They simply won’t tolerate birds of prey on grouse moors.” Mark Rafferty 2011

http://tohatchacrow.blogspot.com/2011/01/scottish-shooting-estates-in-slaughter.html

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GOB 30 – Give me my raptor today… (Apologies to Van Morrison for the misquote above) I am well beyond grumpy – my irritation has leapt the barrier of vexed and left incandescent far behind… I can find no superlative … Continue reading → GOB 30 – Give me my raptor today… (Apologies to Van Morrison for the misquote above) I am well beyond grumpy – my irritation has leapt the barrier of vexed and left incandescent far behind… I can find no superlative … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 7:00
GOB 29 – Birding By Numbers… http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-29-birding-by-numbers/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 21:29:18 +0000 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/?p=1450 http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-29-birding-by-numbers/#respond http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-29-birding-by-numbers/feed/ 0 GOB 29 – Birding By Numbers… What is listing all about? A recent ‘listing’ debate on my county internet mailing group was prompted by my revelation that a flyover Lapwing had taken my garden list to 50. Of course, this … <a href="http://grumpyoldbirder.com/gob-29-birding-by-numbers/">Continue reading <span class="meta-nav">→</span></a> GOB 29 – Birding By Numbers…

What is listing all about?

A recent ‘listing’ debate on my county internet mailing group was prompted by my revelation that a flyover Lapwing had taken my garden list to 50. Of course, this is pretty poor for watching a coastal county garden for a dozen years until you realize that mine is a patch of patio pots plus a pond in a tiny scrap of urban concrete. My ‘garden’ would, in my youth, have been called a yard – an enclosed outside area too small and shabby to be graced with the title of garden. However, ‘yard’ for our transatlantic cousins, simply means your garden be it a quarter acre or ten hectares.

When I moved into my bungalow most of this small outside space was crazy paving. Just one very narrow border and a pond with a rockery grew anything. Half of the space was taken up by our garage roof, which is sunk into the space slightly downhill from the house. We fenced this in, tiled it and started to cover it with large pots of shrubs and flowers. Over the last decade we have enlarged the pond and pulled up as much of the paving as we can so that it is a pretty space the size of a large sitting room and jam-packed with plants.

We also have a birdbath, trays, a dozen hanging feeders and fat-balls; so, despite its size it is an important feeding station (thanks to Jacobi Jayne) in the winter.

It has taken nearly twelve years to build up the number and variety of bird species from the Feral Pigeons and House Sparrows that we inherited. Sadly, there is half the number of House Sparrows now, never more than six together. But we have had 25 goldfinches vying for the feeders all at once, as many as 20 Collar Doves, and good numbers of Blackbirds, Starlings, Robins and other common garden birds too. Probably around thirty species have visited including those that have been red-letter days for me when such as Redwing, Brambling and Siskin have turned up.

A few species would be the envy of many people with ‘proper’ gardens – like when Maggie spotted four White Storks circling high above the town one hot day when she was sunbathing. Last week, after a lot of snow, Ring-necked Parakeets were at our peanuts and not for the first time.

On another Autumn day we had no less than 5 Firecrests all at once – pretty good seeing that, in 12 years we have had just one Goldcrest! A few years back a tristis race Chiffchaff stayed in my yard for three months making a living from my patio pots and even once sitting two feet from my nose on the office window ledge.

But in all those years I’ve never had a woodpecker, nuthatch or redpoll and only once have we played host to some Long-tailed Tits. Last spring we added another level to the house by converting the loft – from my new office window I can now look down a valley, albeit urban, that is used by migrants so flocks of Fieldfares poured through last autumn – I am hoping from great things now that I have a view.

Of course, watching your garden is something any birder takes for granted and I would be very surprised by any birder who could not remember whether any particular species had turned up in their back yard regardless of whether they keep a list.

And this is how the debate went – wasn’t it good enough to just enjoy what you see, surely listing is just a nerdy activity for the sad anoraks of the birding fraternity?

It is brilliant for me, just for once, to straddle this particular fence.

I really do not feel that strongly about listing as an issue. I keep a garden list, a county list, a UK list and a World List. Whenever I visit another country I create a new list. This practice was defended by some of the mailing group as an aide memoire. This may be true for a minority, but if you are as obsessed with birds as me, then you too will remember every new bird you have seen and where you saw it. Even on those days when the senior moments crowd out memories of anniversaries, what day of the week it I, or even your own name I could still tell you what II saw on a day out in Malaysia two decades ago!

A few people in the group defended listing as a useful tool for measuring the changes in avifauna abundance over time, or some other high blown scientific reason – which I don’t really buy either. Yes there is a point to wader or wildfowl counts or the constant monitoring of particular sites, but that really is a different activity.

Listing was definitely under attack – saddos who can’t see the wood for the trees.

Anal-retentive activity or what?

I leave it to you to decide but, for myself, I don’t really care.

Listing seems to me to be almost hard-wired into the human (or at least male) psyche. I see no harm in it, even when the lists are plain daft like ‘bog birds’ (those seen from your own or any lavatory), or TV lists – birds seen on telly that are incidental to the programme. Mind you, I admit that it was fun one year to compete with a US friend. He saw what he could spot at the Open Golf in Sandwich, and I tried to see what I could spot at the Masters in Augusta (he won by a mile although there were far more birds in Georgia, he managed to ID every song he heard, my tin-ear dipped on them all).

My lists are for my enjoyment, especially on a dark November night when I am going through my world list trying to re-arrange it in line with current taxonomy. I have to say that I do not like competitive listing – for a few years three friends and I regularly compared year lists and I found being in competition, win or lose, actually diminished the joy.

After this discourse you have probably guessed where I was today – out trying to build my year list. I got off to a good start this year getting 100 ticked off before the end of January compared to my total of 150 for the whole of 2011! (I really, really must get out more).

Then the weather and consequent arthritic upsurge intervened. Today was my first non-shopping outing in over a week, but all I managed was to add Skylark for the year – a nice flock of twenty, grubbing through cow churned mud at a spot where I usually see corn buntings.

Why year list? Well, for me it’s a nice focus and hones up ID skills and revitalizes the inherent beauty of even the most mundane birds.

Maggie enjoys the ‘hunting’ aspect of it too. She says it turns the everyday into the ‘stonking’. On December 31st she says, its just another Chaffinch, but see one on January 1st and you can punch the air in triumph.

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GOB 29 – Birding By Numbers… What is listing all about? A recent ‘listing’ debate on my county internet mailing group was prompted by my revelation that a flyover Lapwing had taken my garden list to 50. Of course, this … Continue reading → GOB 29 – Birding By Numbers… What is listing all about? A recent ‘listing’ debate on my county internet mailing group was prompted by my revelation that a flyover Lapwing had taken my garden list to 50. Of course, this … Continue reading → Bo Beolens clean 7:24