Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Wonderful evenings at Wakehurst Place

The sun is setting. It is orange-gold and so low, piercing the cloud. In the lower meadows, cut and now lush green, two full-grown foxes chase each other making darts and feints at each other in the dusk and from n a tree somewhere down the headgeline I hear the hiss-like rasp of an owl calling for food.

I sit on a warm wooden round seat with the words inscribed on it “No time to see...” except for once I have got time, and I am very lucky to see a white shape floating a little awkwardly over the long grass and the owl lands on a fence post, calling. It’s back to me it is the same colour of the August grass, and now it turns its face to me it is a white glow.  Then it bobs up across the grass and flies up into the dark safety of an oak to call again for food.

A tawny wails briefly, hoarsely almost from the wood. Out in front a kestrel slides across the skyline and into the trees and  mistle thrushes erupt, chattering angrily. Then again all is still, the air is cool, and soft, on every horizon I see the shape of a redwood. This meadow is flowered, seeding, quiet. And I muse on how to best describe the sound of the young owl: it is the bristles of a stiff yard brush on a rain-washed road; it is laboured wheezing; it is each puffing up of a balloon, the hunger growing; it is the slow monotony of the sharpening of a hunger for many mice; it is the spray of a paint can drawing a line from here to tomorrows’ night; it is the tree, breathing, heavy with summer; it is the sound of the rolling sea in the shore-side rocks: so many attempts and yet each feels like is falls so far short of the actual sound. Deep in the wood now I hear the foxes bark; it is dark and not yet 9 o’clock. The adult owl is hunting the field, ghostly: I watch it until I cannot see it’s pale shape any longer. The fox barks, the fox barks, and once more as I leave the silhouetted trees and the resin-rich night-black air. 

Monday, 5 March 2018

'The Peace of the Wild Things'

"I come into the peace of wild things.." is my favourite line from this fantastic poem by Wendell Berry, and you can hear his gorgeous reading of it hereThe Peace of Wild Things. The space and emotion in his voice takes me back to the wild places and 'wild things' in Canada, and nearly 18 months on, I still dream of the magic of that month on the edge of forest and Great Lake up on the Bruce Peninsula, stepping over snakes and hearing the strange morning cries of cranes in the half-dark dawning. And of those evening journeys, paddling out into the basin after the long day was done and resting there awhile, watching and listening, watching two moons and the pushed ripple of a beaver along the shore swimming out to gnaw holes in the deep blue dusk.

Wingfield Basin, Bruce Peninsula, 2016

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Love up trees....

If you need time out and a little heart-warming positivity then sit back and listen to this lovely, funny story by A. L. Kennedy about a man stuck up a tree and a woman who will climb.....

Love Love Love like the Beatles by A. L. Kennedy

Urban peregrines of Bournemouth in the air (any minute now!!)

Urban peregrines nest in all kinds of places and Bournemouth's ace birds nest in a fabulous clock tower. And the time is fledging time! On the 16th May this year's brood of one female and two male chicks were ringed  as part of the long-term monitoring of this species. This involves fitting under special licence a small metal unique-to-that-bird BTO ring, and a three letter colour-coded Darvic ring. We did this while they were still very fluffy and just a bit of their adult feather growth coming though. Nearly 3 weeks on and boy have they grown as you can see here on the live video feed run by Wildlife Windows. One of the male youngsters has already taken to the air and the other two will not be long I am sure. See here quick for the latest live footage of the nest.

Old trees: a fine veteran sweet chestnut

Old trees have a strange fascination for me and this sweet chestnut is not exception! I spotted this beauty, a fine veteran tree, at the fabulous Penshurst Place & Gardens. I asked David Alderman of The Tree Register, an organisation full of facts and figures who have unique record of Notable and Ancient Trees in Britain and Ireland. David told me "the common limes there date back to 1798 and so a Sweet chestnut of this size could be from any time 1550-1750." We measured a rough girth at 1.5m of around 9.5m. It has living bits and dying bits, and all kinds of nobbles and bobbles and even a duck nest in a cavity in the end of a big dead limb. The team on the estate are clearly taking good care of the tree although it did seem very compacted around the base. So while the exact age of this champion specimen is unknown, we can be sure it has a few hundred years under it's belt!  

Nightjars and their bovine neighbours

Up on a Dorset heath there is a small herd of fine white and a few auld Shetland cattle. These guys are not only braw looking beasts but they are also doing some special that gets them a big thumbs up from the ground-nesting birds. Heathland will get swamped with trees and dense gorse without large herbivores to keep the vegetation at bay. The cattle browse in a way that massively benefits the  heathland wildlife.


We were up there to assist with the monitoring of some of the birds, in particular the nightjars. Nightjars are very special birds with a very cool call. Their 'song' is very distinctive and you can hear it when the males start to sing as the evening fades into dusk for nightjars are birds of the night! By night they fly around hunting moths and other flying insects and by day they sit very tight, so incredibly well camouflaged you would walk right past it without knowing. Only here for part of the year, these birds fly all the way to Africa and well south of the Sahara - see a map here, and some of these Dorset monitored birds have made this journey at least 10 times! 

The evening was full of calling males, a few midges and the occasional wheep wheep call of the male in flight. We were extremely privileged to see one of these fantastic birds up close, a one year old female from last year.  Apart from th cryptic plumage, what struck me was the size of those eyes, and we could clearly see the big moth-funnelling bristles at her gape. After reading the ring number and checking on her condition she was quickly released and we caught a glimpse of her as she vanished back into the night.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Evenings are magical!

Evenings are magical. I loiter by the whispering river to watch the swifts hurtle through the zig-zag air and soon I am covered by hundreds of ghost-white flies and the evening is thick with them. And out of no-where, a barn owl, tinged pink in the last of the glow from a superb sunset hunts his way over the flower-thick fields. As I head home I glimpse him once more, this time mouse heavy, a mouse black shape dangling limp from his talons, as he draws a line between a death among the sweet flowers and the lives it will grow, a line that leads to the clamour of hungry owlets.