Seed Cracker

Pausing on the path, sluggish as an emergent wasp from its winter dormancy, I took stock of the day so far. Reeling Grasshopper Warbler at Cley, Nightingale serenading us at Salthouse Heath, Woodlark and Golden Pheasant, violently contrasting songsters, at Mayday Farm as part of a grand total of about 40 species, mostly heard in darkness or the dim light before sunrise; some dazzled in the headlights of the car. 5.30am on 17th May 1991, Lynford Aboretum, time for our annual 24 hours birding marathon and we were doing alright. But I was cold and keen to warm my sluggish body from the numb of pre-dawn chill. Why on earth was I here? Damp feet, freezing hands, no sleep; images of being curled up in a nice warm bed pervaded my dangerously dozing consciousness. Taking a deep breath of fresh May air fragrant with the scent of pine, I once more scanned the ranks of firs, larches and assorted exoticshrubs and noticed a trio of dumpy looking birds fly into a nearby tree. I raised my binoculars…

It's All About Timing

It’s been a breezy few days. After the spring like conditions we enjoyed early on, tempting robins to begin building a nest on the ivy covered wall just outside our kitchen, we were brought abruptly down to earth in midweek when winter returned to blow us, together with countless fence panels, briskly towards the weekend.
Wednesday saw me and a fellow nature lover traipsing across the sandy paths of Dunwich Heath hoping to find Dartford warblers to photograph. This area is managed by the National trust and in summer is ablaze with bright purple carpets of heather stretching as far as the eye can see; today the acres of heather were barren and bare, their crown of brown, empty flower spikes rattling in the unrelenting currents of air blasting across the gently undulating landscape of east Suffolk.Stands of gorse, bedecked with coconut scented blooms, provided small oases of colour, but otherwise all was bleak. The birds were obviously in no mood to cooperate, hunkering down in the low …

As Viewed Through a Car Window

A rare, but gratefully received, day of sunshine and relative mildness tugged me into the bright green expanses of East Norfolk. The break in my lethargy did not extend so far as to actually indulge in exercise - no walking involved today – but instead I thought I would slowly drive along the many narrow lanes spider-webbing the northern slopes of the Yare Valley to see what I could find.
First stop the marshland near Acle where I hoped, vainly as it turned out, to catch sight of a short-eared owl. Whilst no such yellow-eyed, sharp-taloned hunter gave itself up, I was quite impressed with the large numbers of swans bedecking the fields either side of the A47. Most were mute swans feasting on the tops of some root crop, but in the distance I spotted a pair of Bewick’s swans and beyond them it looked like several of the herd had rather straight necks; too far away for any meaningful identification.

Ranks of rooks and jackdaws, splattered like notes on a musical stave, probed the soft ea…

Hickling Harriers

It is cold here. Bitterly cold. A raw easterly wind whipping in from the North Sea a mile or two away; the boundary between the flat lands of eastern Norfolk and the miles of cruel grey water marked by a line of raised dunes seen as a smudge of dull green on the horizon. The scene before us a patchwork of reed bed, course grazing marshes and fen, interspersed with twisted and stunted hawthorn. The closest you can get to a barren wilderness in this part of the world for there are but scant traces of human activity: a forlorn and long abandoned wind pump, its skeletal sail arm pointing defiantly skywards; a single distant house rendered almost invisible by its light coloured walls blending seamlessly into the gathering murk. Nothing else, just the wild open landscape unique to this Broadland haven.

Us five friends have trudged to this spot, nothing more than a raised bank bordering a drainage dyke, to witness one of nature’s most thrilling and humbling spectacles; the winter roosting of…


Let's sit here you and me and let the breeze of a summer afternoon wash over us, bringing with it the heady scent of jasmine, the rustling of leaf burdened trees that toss and sway hither and thither, the soporific cooing of pigeons and the droning of winged insects. Billowing puffs of white clouds are pushed across an azure sky and the resident dogs flop resignedly onto the cool tiled terrace waiting for the heat of the afternoon to abate. It's hard to keep your eyes open. This could be England on an idyllic July day, the landscape is familiar enough, but we are instead in the pampas lands of Argentina; the treeless plains, where the song of blackbirds, chaffinches and thrushes gives way to kiskadees, ovenbirds and the piercing screeching of parakeets.

Perhaps we should go for a stroll; shake off the effects of a heavy lunch and too much wine. We can keep cool. We'll walk in the sun-dappled shade of the eucalyptus and sweet scented pine where the rufous horneros, the nati…

Freezing Glaciers and Flaming Flamingos

El Calafate, a pleasant enough medium sized town in Argentine Patagonia, is named after a berberis. This plant is profound hereabouts and the berries are used for making liquor, for putting in pies or simply for eating (don't try this at home folks). Another pinprick in the romanticism of my imagination. I expected the name of this lakeside town in the deep South of Argentina to mean 'The Gateway to Heaven' or something. Instead it is named after a small shrub. We find ourselves here for a couple of days having been driven for 6 hours or so from our last base in Chilean Patagonia. The drive was uneventful, along long straight roads, except for a frustrating wait at the border stuck behind a coach load of Chinese tourists. Here we queued for the best part of an hour whilst some bored national guardsman decided whether or not to stamp our passport. Petty officialdom drives you mad at times. It wouldn't have been so bad had he not stopped what he was doing every couple of…

Big Feet

We've moved from a windswept Falklands to a windswept Patagonia. A hiccup or two on the way with cancelled flights, missed pick ups and frantic telephone calls and emails. But all came good eventually. The first short leg of this stage of the trip (shortened even more by the aforementioned cock ups) finds us on the edge of Torres Del Paines National Park in Chile ensconced in a delightful complex called Patagonia Camp.  One or two of the waiters live up to the name, but everyone is very friendly, efficient and welcoming. Patagonia apparently means Big Feet, and there was me thinking romantically that it meant 'Land of the Towering Peaks' or some such. It was, so we are told, given such a mundane, nay stupid, name by early European settlers because the natives were considerably taller than the average 16th Century Portuguese/Spaniard; malnourished midgets all. Ferdinand Magellan is credited with being the first European to set eyes on the Patagones Indians chiefly by seeing…