Thursday, 4 December 2014

Smew, swans and a good read

Lade - 0830hrs - cold, grey, n 2 - The temperature didn`t rise much above 4C today making for a `proper` winters day complete with frozen fingers and a runny nose. We trudged out across the shingle to Mockmill where two Stonechats, Mipits and a Snipe were the only birds of note. However, on south lake the first redhead Smew of the winter was on the water, presumably the one that`s been knocking around the bird reserve for a week or more. Whilst on the storm beaches I was fascinated by the antics of a flock of Starlings probing the turf for invertebrate larvae, so intently that they took absolutely no notice of us.

                                Starlings, Lade

Driving across the Marsh from New Romney to Lydd this afternoon checking the farmland was a depressing experience with hardly a passerine seen. Four Buzzards were noted, perched and surveying the landscape eyeing up a meal (although goodness knows what) and one in particular had taken advantage of the ruins of Hope All Saints at the back of Romney. The rape fields near Lydd held the usual Mute Swan flocks with Bewick`s in their midst now numbering 21.

                               Hope All Saints, Romney Marsh (Buzzard, top left)

A good read

Being an old school kind-of-a bloke I love a good book and always have a couple on the go (one of which is usually a natural history book) particularly now what with the long, dark evenings when you`re trapped indoors. This year I`ve ploughed through a few tomes and the three reviewed below are my favourites, and would make good presents, being as its that time of year and all. So, if you`re a bit bookish, I thoroughly recommend all three of `em.

The Secret Life of Birds, by Colin Tudge (Penguin, 2008) - I came late to the table with this one as its been around a while now, but what a cornucopia of facts and figures. Now, if that all sounds a bit dry and dusty, believe me it isn`t as Tudge writes with clarity and humour, essential commodities in such an encyclopedic work. Most aspects of avian biology are succinctly covered and I particularly liked Chapter 4, an `Annotated Cast List` of the all the worlds` bird families from Ratites to Birds of Paradise. A work of pure genius that made me realise how little I really know about birds in general.

The Blackhouse, by Peter May (Quercus, 2011) - A good, old fashioned crime novel, the first of a trilogy set on the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles. The story revolves around and climaxes on the remote and uninhabited islet of Sula Sgeir, the location of the annual guga hunt which has been carried out for centuries by the men of Lewis; the guga being a Gannet nestling. The author manages to weave a cracking story of human frailties and endeavour, while at the same time telling the factual history and traditions of the hunt. A real page turner; and the remaining two in the trilogy are pretty good too.

A Message From Martha, by Mark Avery (Bloomsbury 2014) - I was really looking forward to this one and read it in two hits, sitting up late into the night. Published 100 years after the death of the last captive Passenger Pigeon (Martha) in an American zoo, Avery elaborates on the background, biology and eventual extinction of what was probably the most numerous bird on Earth. The slaughter and habitat destruction along the way, by what he rightly terms the `European invaders`, was a truly sorry chapter in the pantheon of animal extinctions by human kind, and was totally preventable. He finishes by comparing alarming similarities to the dramatic decline of the Turtle Dove, a summer migrant that is fast disappearing here of course. The only niggle with this book was Avery`s repetitive prose and his propensity to pad the tale out with speculation and irrelevant personal details on his road trip across America. Still, that said, it is a worthy read for the subject matter alone.


  1. Hi Paul,
    My sister in law now lives on Lewis and she's getting more and more into birds and wildlife. I think she'll love 'The Blackhouse', so I'll try and get a couple of copies ordered. Very nice post (as always) Paul!

    Best Regards,


  2. Thanks Nick, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen complete the trilogy and are also brilliant stories, and for anyone living on the island a must read I would`ve thought. I went birding on Lewis a couple of times back in the 70`s, a wild old place indeed in more ways than one...