Posts Tagged ‘bird’

The song thrush

June 20, 2016

I always rather liked thrushes. We do see them from time to time but just recently, presumably with a growing family to feed, a pair have been coming much closer to the house – close enough for a reasonable photo.


As is often the case with birds, they alternate having a good and careful look around with time spent hunting for suitable food.


What a fab bird. Beautiful!

Eric Ravilious – June

June 4, 2016

I am really enjoying the June image on my Eric Ravilious calendar. It is another illustration from the 1938 edition of Gilbert White’s ‘Natural History of Selborne’ Apparently Ravilious thought the book was fantastic and was utterly chuffed when he was asked to provide illustrations for it. And here is this month’s image.


The birds are unmistakably hoopoes. I featured the bird on this blog back in October 2014 and you can click here to read that.

But very few people actually click links so I’ll just say a few words about what the hoopoe means to me. My brother and I used to look at the image in dad’s bird book. We were both captivated by this exotic bird and as we grew up we pledged that if ever we saw one we’d tell the other person.

My time came in the early 1980s when, quite amazingly one fluttered over my garden and handily did a turn and came back when I had grabbed my wife so she could see it.

But was this a moment of elation? Well yes and no! Of course I was delighted to see this long looked for bird, but my brother had died in 1980 and I felt truly cheated that I was unable to tell him.

Close on 36 years have passed by now and time heals the wound. I look at the Ravilious image and think of my brother at the same time and I smile.

Thanks, Eric and thanks, too, to the calendar publishers.

Having a grouse

January 15, 2015

It was at the end of last November that we spent a week in the Yorkshire Dales. We stayed in Wensleydale but on several occasions we went over the tops and down into Swaledale. Those tops were grouse country.

I suppose they are really there to provide pleasure for the shooting fraternity and a little bit of meat for some. But for me they were just birds of beauty.

I have to confess that these birds hadn’t really crossed my radar before. When we first saw them I had to look up what they were.


This early in the week shot was not particularly good. We didn’t know these birds were to become things seen regularly.


This was a common roadside sight – a grouse – these are female – on a fence post or road side wall.


Now we’ll get to some better shots.

These grouse would pretty happily ignore cars but if you got out and walked you heard them – and a fascinating sound they made – but you didn’t see them.

So we sat in the car to get the close up shots.


This one with the big red eyebrows is the male.



Another fence post female.


Sorry folks. We also found that grouse were on sale in a Leyburn supermarket.


The Hoopoe

October 6, 2014

Back in childhood days my brother and I use to enjoy looking through my dad’s bird book. The book was ‘British Birds in their Haunts by Rev. C A Jones. It was originally compiled in 1909 but Dad had a 1938 reprint. It had some coloured plates (by William Foster) and one of the birds featured in colour was the hoopoe.


It has to be said that, with the exception of the kingfisher, which I see from time to time, these were birds one doesn’t really expect to see in the UK. The book says that the hoopoe has been known to breed in this country. The phrase used is ‘a few instances’ which implies almost never.

The grand appearance of the hoopoe obviously appealed to brother and I. We were always on the lookout for this amazing bird and had a promise to tell each other if we saw one.


And do you know what? One day in the early 1980s I did see one. It flew over my garden. I dashed to get my wife and the bird, bless it, turned around and came back. It had already been clear to me, but now my wife, already pooh-poohing the idea, had to agree. We had had a visit, or rather a fly past, by a hoopoe.

It was, though, a truly bitter-sweet moment. I so wanted to tell my brother, but he had not long died, oh so young. I still feel angry, over thirty years on, because I can’t tell him.

I did try to tell the people in the museum in our nearby town. I phoned them.

‘I’ve just seen a hoopoe!’ I said.

There was a momentary silence and then a click as the phone at the other end was put down. Clearly the person on the other end had no idea what I was talking about.

I’ll now introduce another of my silly verse books. This one is Nicholas Bentley’s Book of Birds, published in 1965. One of his birds is the hoopoe!


Now that’s absurd, but we are reminded that the clipped poodle was a fashion accessary back then! Come to think of it, that was absurd as well.


July 22, 2014

Normally I prefer to have reasonably OK photos on this blog. Today’s photos are less than perfect, but they represent something I am so pleased to have seen.

When we visited Botallack recently I had no idea that choughs might be on the agenda. I knew they were on the opposite coast, around The Lizard and that these Cornish choughs were the only ones in England.

Now hang on a mo. I’ve jumped off the deep end without explaining my main characters. Choughs are birds. They are members of the crow family and like quite a lot of that family they are largely black. They have bright red beaks and legs and they like the wild coastlands of the west. I was careful to say the Cornwall choughs are the only ones in England for I believe there are colonies in Wales and other areas of the UK.

Anyway, on arrival at Botallack we were greeted by a notice which entreated us not to disturb the choughs.

Almost immediately afterwards we came across a group of people with scopes and binoculars. Clearly they were birders.

‘Are there choughs about today?’ I asked them.

‘Yes!’ came the reply. ‘There are the two adults with six youngsters. We saw them fly by just a few minutes ago’.

So of course, apart from looking at mine engines we kept our eyes peeled for these delightful birds.

And sure enough, before we reached the engine houses, one flew over. My photo is utterly poor but here it is.


Yes, it’s blurred but you can see the distinctive fingers at the ends of the wings and just make out the red bill.

Now for many, that wouldn’t be anything to get excited about, but it certainly pleased me.

We continued a walk in the area, and then got our picnic to enjoy in glorious surroundings and fantastic weather.

I got my scope out – not that it would have been any good for seeing the fast flying and aerobatic choughs, but I enjoyed watching the gannets which tend to follow much more predictable courses.

Our bit of luck came as we were packing away. All eight choughs appeared over the headland.


This could be something like a quarter of the England population. It’s a magical sight for me.



Great Crested Grebes

July 25, 2013

I am a happy bird nerd. I’m certainly not a twitcher but I like our avian friends and enjoy seeing common species and rarities. Great crested grebes aren’t rarities but they tend to be a bit shy and retiring. Actually, they were once extremely rare in the UK with only about forty pairs in the country.

You see them out on a lake and they stay well away from any edge where you might get a decent view and if one does chance to come in a bit closer it suddenly dives and when it re-emerges it is back in the distance.

The secret, it seems, to getting reasonably close up to grebes is to be on a small boat. That is what my wife and I did at Pierrefonds about 80 kilometres north east of Paris. I could say we joined the tourist throng and hired a pedalo boat, but actually, we were the first hirers of the day so there was no throng. By the time our stint was up there were four or five of these vessels out on the lily leaf covered lake. But we had spotted our grebes.

Let’s start with an adult.


They are handsome birds. I always like them and was pleased to get tolerably close.

But it was the youngsters that stole my heart. Two of then played and hunted in amongst the lily pads.


What cute creatures with those striped necks.


Isn’t that just fantastic. It was amazing to be able to get up so close.

Now for another young bird at the same location, but this time snapped from the edge.


It’s another pretty little fellow, but this one is a coot.


And there’s one with an adult.

Pierrefonds is a lovely place – well worth a visit and the grapefruit flavoured icecream from the café near the lake is just heavenly!

Our visit was on 10th July 2013.

The arrival of the Egret

July 19, 2013

This nerd likes birds – but certainly isn’t a twitcher. This post is about a UK incomer species.

The little egret has become a very common water bird in the south of England.  That’s an amazing statement for a bird which first appeared in any significant way in 1989 and first settled and bred in this country in 1996.

The little egret is a pretty bird in the heron family. It has big cousins and they, too, have put appearances in on this side of the English Channel. But it is the little egret that has invaded the south and, seemingly, conquered it. I wouldn’t expect not to see egrets on significant waterways.

Let’s see a picture or two.


This – not a brilliant photo – was taken from my own home in my own village in Wiltshire. This was in February 2010 and the waterway the bird is surveying is a very small stream.

In 2012 we were awaiting a train at Looe in Cornwall


Across the estuary we could see a dozen or so egrets. I think we have eleven of them in that photo.

This year, in Kingsbridge in Devon there seemed to be an egret that had got used to close proximity with people. As the tide dropped at the head of the estuary we could watch it wiggling its feet in the underwater mud which, I assume, helped bring tasty morsels into view.


The expanding range of this bird is a sure sign that, despite some lousy weather at times, global warming is a reality.


The Looe Line

May 28, 2013

Looe is a small fishing harbour and town on the south coast of East Cornwall. It’s a pretty place with the Looe River running through it. Like many a Cornish seaside place, parking can be a problem, but Looe has an advantage. It has a branch railway still running. And a fascinating line it is too.

It starts at Liskeard which is also on the main railway from London to Penzance.


There’s a lovely GWR signal box and the signal man when we were there was very chatty. There is even a super lower quadrant signal.

Now oddly, for Looe is south of Liskeard, the line starts at a terminus platform and the way out is northeast.



There’s the single carriage train arriving from Looe.

We boarded the train for it was going back to Looe. This is a remarkable bit of railway. Within a couple of miles we have gone hugely downhill, passing under the main line which strides across us on a lofty viaduct. To do this we have changed direction on a tight curve. We left Liskeard heading northeast but we are travelling southwest when we go under the viaduct.  We continue to work down and around. By the time we stop at the little station at Coombe we are heading almost due north. We have travelled over two miles but are only about half a mile from Liskeard station.

Near Coombe we have joined a much older railway – one originally built to carry mineral traffic from the Cornish hills to the harbour at Looe. That happened at Coombe Junction.


But we, at Coombe station, are heading away from Looe which is down the right hand railway, whilst the line to Liskeard veers off to the left. Our driver must go to the cab at the other end of the train for the rest of the journey.

And there, in the distance, is unlikely Coombe Station. It is nowhere in particular, really.


We now really begin our journey to Looe, travelling down the East Looe River – a pretty journey.

Looe is a great place for egrets – the incomer birds that seem to have now colonised our country.


For our return, later in the day we took a riverside seat in the train. Trains, these days, are air conditioned. You can’t open windows so photography is harder. But here’s a typical view of the river.


And so, back to Liskeard, with the same performance at Coombe, but in reverse, of course.


It must be lucky that this odd little line survived. It is good to see that there are some steam specials on the line as well as the simple little diesel railcar. It’s a lovely trip whatever the train – a journey of less than 9 miles in total. We made the journey on September 27th 2012.


December 6, 2012

I’ve been looking up ‘nerd’ on the internet. It seems I may not really be one at all, but I’m quite prepared to be a ‘happy nerd’. It seems nerds should be interested in games like Dungeons and Dragons and utterly besotted with gizmos. I have no interest in trading cards, fantasy games, role play games or all that much in Sci Fi. These are said to be nerdy topics. In fact it seems that my broad width of interests renders me a non-nerd. I’m not obsessed with any one topic. I’m obsessed with dozens of them.

I was going to say that nerds aren’t interested in birds but I see a sub species exists – the bird nerd – a person keen to show their ability to identify all birds, seen or unseen. This shouldn’t be confused with a nerd bird which is, apparently, an aircraft flying between two Hi-tech locations.

I do have enough knowledge to identify most birds that come into my garden. Amongst my favourites are the green woodpeckers. It’s a rare day when I don’t see one for most days they come down onto the lawn and seek out ants with their long, strong bills. If they come close enough and the lighting is good I’ll try a photo. This one was on December 3rd 2012.


What a beauty. We can watch these birds through the season and they have now recovered from the hard, body wrecking task of raising the 2012 family. They look magnificent. Why, I wonder does a bird have such a striking mix of colours. It’s just gorgeous.


Now why would I want to be interested in role playing games when I can look out of the window and see that?