Thursday, 31 March 2016

Fifty Shades of Hedge...

I wouldn’t call it intuition, it was just experience.

I know the Patch and what it does to and for me. I can recognise the signs in me and it. Maybe a subtle shift in the weather, a change of wind direction perhaps or the sun coming out from behind thick rain laden clouds, there are many triggers. Those first fuzzy, transcendent feelings bubble up from my sub-conscious, at that point I know I need to get outdoors.

When I saw the distant gaps in the clouds I knew it was a good time to head out. The weather had been hit and miss all morning, heavy squally showers zipping over the Patch interspersed by some bright sunny spells, followed by some grey rubbish for most of the afternoon. But those gaps in the cloud, currently far out over Liverpool Bay, would be on us in no time.

It is the very beginning of March and there are the first suggestions that spring might be around the corner. Temperatures are still agreeably low – I like the cold. Hovering just above freezing meaning a thick coat and a woolly hat are required if you are venturing out.

From the cupboard under the stairs I reach for the parka, my biggest coat, with the deepest pockets. Pockets I can gleefully fill with my birdwatching paraphernalia. In goes the notebook, my favourite pen and tally counter. I glance at it as I drop it into my right chest pocket. It shows 56. This will be 560 as I count in tens and more than likely is a record of the number of Knot I counted last time out on Patch.


Next is the mobile phone. I’ve switched it to silent rather than off all together. Sometimes I like to go “off grid” completely but I must admit that I like to know what is going on elsewhere on the Patch.

Finally a dubious looking Bakewell tart is selected for Patch munchies and is placed in the last remaining empty pocket.

And I’m off.

I’m heading along the hedgerows of the Wirral Way towards the Dungeon footpath and the farmland that surrounds it. I have a couple of hours to myself, just me on the Patch.

Time. Right now time is an oxymoron. It will feel fast and slow at the same time. These two hours will slip by in what feels like the blink of an eye. During them though it will appear that time is passing slowly – like nothing is happening. Nothing here is in a rush, life has been paused by the winter. To stop and stare you might think that nothing is happening. But if you immerse yourself in this strange wonderful nothingness then time slips by quickly and you eventually see that there is a lot going on. I never get bored by this perceived lack of action, I like the quiet, this apparent nothingness, because after a while you see that it is not nothing, you are seeing all the small run-of-the-mill normal things that happen, the inner workings of the Patch.

The colours of the hedgerows and fields are restrained by winter. Leaves flared into bight colour, faded and then were shed leaving the brown/grey of the bare branches. Where the hedge consists of mainly blackthorn it appears almost purple – a hint at the colour of the fruit they will bear next autumn. Some have off-white blossom buds preparing to burst.

The straw stubble left from the harvest has faded to beige in a field left fallow. A couple of Wood Pigeons nonchalantly cross this field I call Humboldt, a Moorhen stalks the muddy margin of the pond in its centre. (I used to call it the Shelter Field until I read a book about the great explorer Alexander von Humboldt – the field names are explained in a blog post from a while back, search the archive if you want to know more).

There will be nothing rare here today, I don’t expect to find the unusual or the exotic. No NFY’s (New For Year) will be scribbled next to species names in the notebook but it isn’t about that. Today will be a collection of moments. None of them spectacular, most brief and many seemingly dull. But add them together and they equal much more than the sum of their parts.

I push through the branches of the hawthorn hedge, the unbroken buds a deep maroon colour. I look across the Exhibition Field to the pasture beyond.


At the top of Manhattan a fox is trotting along the field margin, below the thicket of leggy gorse. Without the binoculars I can see it is carrying something but can’t tell what. Pressing the optics to my eyes and rolling my gloved index finger along the focus wheel I determine what it is. A dead rabbit, limp ears flapping with the motion of the fox’s gait. The Fox disappears from view into a well-worn path amongst the undergrowth.

Cold hands are thrust deep into lined pockets and in the left pocket my frigid fingers find a small piece of paper. I drag it out, a few crumbs from a previous cake come out too. It’s a receipt from a toy shop. I think for a moment – yes my niece’s 7th birthday present and with it the uncollected return train ticket from the journey to town to buy it.

Over the village, geese are flying, breaking my daydream about shopping. They come whiffling into the Exhibition Field in front of me. From another pocket I fish out the tally counter. I click the dial around to zero and start to count them in tens. When I’m done the counter says 12 so 120 plus an odd six. 126 is a good number of Pink-feet for the Patch.


A Carrion Crow mooching in the middle of the field finds, rather appropriately, some carrion. Another rabbit. A dose of myxomatosis has galloped through the local population making the dead and dying rabbits easy pickings for the scavengers on the Patch. It pecks and nibbles at the carcass while a Magpie sits on a dead branch by the pond, waiting its turn. The Pinks wander lazily along the field, nibbling at the autumn sown crops. The odd one sits down.

I spot some Long-tailed Tits approaching in a large family group. They make frequent soft buzzing calls between them. The colour of their plumage, soft pinks and delicate lilacs compliment the purple hue of the hedgerow, making the better camouflaged than you’d think.

I watch them, standing motionless in the hedge until they pass. Still in a counting mood I total them up too. 12 of them. There is a thirteenth bird accompanying them, a Goldcrest.


They are picking at the lichen that coats the crinkly branches of the hawthorn, looking for any scrap of food on this cold winter’s-end night. Once they’ve passed and their buzzing fades into the distance I dwell on the pastel colours of the lichen – soft grey-green tones, almost powdery. Some are a yellow colour like that of dried egg yolk. How old is that lichen? I know they are really long lived, how long has that lichen been on that branch? Is it older than me?


Behind me a squall is bearing down the Patch, driven across the estuary by a gusty wind. Hood goes up; hands are thrust even deeper into pockets once I’ve pulled my scarf to my nose. I’m going to sit this one out.

It passes quickly. Then it happens. The sun appears, low and quickly lowering towards the Welsh hills, its light won’t last long. Drops of water caught on the fur trim of my hood start to sparkle.

The tree trunks turn from grey to gold. The fox reappears from its den in the gorse thicket, its ginger coat almost iridescent in the evening glow.


This is all to do with physics. As the sun drops its light has to pass through more of the earth’s atmosphere to reach the Patch. As it does this the light from the blue end of the light spectrum is preferentially filtered out leaving more red and yellow light causing the warm glow of the sunset. Untangling and understanding the science behind this sunset scene, talk of filtration, angles, spectra etc doesn’t unravel the magic and the mystery of what I’m seeing – if anything it looks further illuminated to me. I can detach myself from the physics and just appreciate the beauty for a while.

There is a colour palette for winter, softer than summer. More than fifty shades, shades of hedgerow purple, fallow field beige, winter sown crop brown, blackthorn blossom white and dusty lichen grey. All of them subtly beautiful but all too easily overlooked.


A Curlew undulates across the furrows of the Yarnsie, picking worms with graceful efficiency.


The moments are fleeting but sharply beautiful. Now we are losing the light. I’d better head home, my boots have finally let in, their gore-tex defences breached. Just standing still watching the Patch tick along not even the big coat can’t keep me warm indefinitely. A little activity will warm me up. I swing a leaden leg over my bike and pedal for home, binoculars swinging pendulum like around my neck. Another squall approaches, the anticipation of an ice cold soaking is tempered by the thought of a hot shower on my arrival home.

As I head north along the path I encounter the 12 Long-tailed Tits again, still working the hedge for food, still buzzing to each other. They’ve swapped the Goldcrest for a Blue Tit and picked up a female Chaffinch since they passed me in the hedge earlier.

I pedal on, the hedges of the Wirral Way running to a vanishing point that is getting steadily foreshortened by fading light. Further along, close to home, I hear a Tawny Owl hoot from the hedge, the deep bottle-green winter flowering ivy covered part of the hedge.

I turn the corner into our road, it is nearly dark now – the street lamps casting an orange glow over everything. Another colourful adventure on the Patch is coming to a close. The light is on in our living room, a welcome sight.
I lock my bike in the shed and go indoors.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Fifty Shades of Purple...

The Purple Sandpipers and I are waiting.

The incoming tide has us stranded in benign isolation on Hilbre Island. I say benign isolation because in a few short hours the way back to shore will be uncovered again, so while cut off from civilisation we are not so far removed for it to be a problem if I run out of snacks. Hilbre is agreeably remote, but not Greenland glacier remote.

The Purps are waiting for the tide to recede so they can resume feeding amongst the seaweed covered, barnacle encrusted rocks that fringe the island.

I am waiting for the tide to rise to its full height, high enough for them to be pushed in range of my telephoto lens.

We are all perched precariously on the sandstone cliffs on the north end of the island. Reinforced in places they are still quite sheer and although not all that high, they are high enough to quicken the pulse as I peer over the edge at the murky swirl of water sloshing around Shell Bay some 30 feet below.


I'm also waiting for the light. I have an idea of what I want to record today. I want to see the purple iridescence on the feathers of the sandpipers. At first glance these birds look a dour grey but in the right light they shine with subtle indigo brilliance.

The clouds are thick and as grey as the birds in places, but they are broken allowing the sun through for brief periods. I just need the tide to continue its steady rise and pretty soon the birds will be close enough.


The tide obliges and the birds skip from the lower part of the cliffs to just in front of me.
Now I just have to wait for the light.

The Purps hunker down, each finding a sheltered spot to see out the tide. The eroded ripples, fissures and cracks provide a myriad of sandpiper sized nooks and crannies where they can rest in safety while the tide covers their feeding areas. They settle in for the wait.


I settle in to my nook, or is it a cranny? Is there a difference between them? Thoughts like these often occur to me when I am in quiet mode, close to my subject, away from people and noise. Whatever I am sat in, I adjust my position to get as comfortable as possible and manipulate the settings on the camera to get a decent exposure. Now I just need to wait for the light.

Some have a quick preen before adopting the classic head-under-the-wing roosting pose and have a sleep. It is then that the sun emerges from the clouds and the grey shines violet, just what I am after.


It is not a massive change but it is enough to make you realise why these birds are called Purple Sandpipers. It is not too showy either, not at all over the top - less is more. I love these birds.

I reel off dozens of pictures then take a break and just observe as the Purps wait for the tide to go out. As I watch I think about other conundrums similar to my earlier nook/cranny debate and it occurs to me "What do Purps think about while they wait for the tide to drop?" They must think. They must. Perhaps not abstract or massive profound existential thoughts (like the difference between a nook and a cranny!) but they must think about what matters to them. Food, shelter, sex.

The sun warms me a little, sitting for a long time crumpled into a nook/cranny has made me cold and I'm getting pins and needles in my left foot.

I have enough images of the Purps so I just sit and wait for the tide to drop. If I leave now I will scare them from their perches and that really wouldn't be on. We all sit on the cliff, thinking. Waiting.

As soon as the tide has dropped enough the birds are off to the water's edge, picking at barnacles, flipping seaweed fronds. I am free to move.

As I climb the cliffs I notice one has remained roosting on a small ledge. The sun shines, it glows indigo and I can't resist a last photograph before I start the long walk home.


Hilbre Island - benign isolation and subtle brilliance in shades of purple.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Welcome to the North...

Everything from the North is just…. cooler.

Low grey clouds cover all of the visible sky and a stiff westerly breeze chops the surface of the Marine Lake. It is hard to follow the small group of Red-breasted Mergansers feeding in the rolling waves. The water is as grey as the sky.

A larger, darker bird resurfaces from a dive. By the time I get the binoculars up and across to its position it has dived again. At least I now know, roughly, the area where it is hunting.

A few yards from where it slid under the waves it pops up with barely a splash. A better look this time, yes, that’s it.

Great Northern Diver.

Just the name lights a spark in me. “Great Northern”. A visitor from the north, from mysterious lands of snow and ice. This is a cool, cool bird from a cool, cool place.


However, not everyone is so enamoured with all things northern.

A school friend moved to the south in the early 1990’s and began a relationship with a girl there. When he said he was heading home to the north west for a weekend he asked if she wanted to come.

“Will it be safe?” she worriedly asked without a hint of irony or sarcasm. It made me wonder how some in the south actually regard us northerners. She honestly seemed to think we were all feral, lawless scavengers existing on benefits, housed in dimly lit ramshackle workhouses feeding at a trough of potatoes boiled in lard garnished with dead cats then sprinkled with coal dust and forgotten ambition. For dessert, we’d steal each others shoes and eat them before finishing off a good night with some fisticuffs and petty crime.


During her trip to the hinterlands in the north, where she wasn’t mugged, didn’t see any burned out cars and didn’t get scurvy, she exclaimed in surprised and mildly patronising tones that it “was actually quite nice!”. Their relationship didn’t last too much longer. He moved back home and she returned south to live on soufflĂ© decorated with the crystallised tears of the poor, shoot badgers and count her money - because that’s what southern softies do isn’t it?

Of course they don’t. I have no such prejudices or issues with the south and those from it. I just prefer the north. Music, food, football, fashion, landscape… In my humble opinion all these things increase in coolness the further up the M6 you travel. Attitude improves with latitude.

The same, I believe, can be said for wildlife. I love northern wildlife and I mean here in the UK and further afield. The experience I’ve had of the arctic confirmed this for me. 

My compass points north.

Huge landscapes filled with Steller’s and King Eiders, Red Knot, White-tailed Eagles, Orcas, Long-tailed Ducks, Skuas White-billed and Great Northern Divers. These places and species inspire me like no others do.

The Great Northern fishing before me is spending the winter on the Patch. One of these birds would be a good find, usually distant on the Irish Sea off Hilbre; so having one for so long on the marine lake barely a three minute walk from my house is a welcome winter bonus. All the turbulent warm, wet rubbish we’ve had to endure this winter it has made it the worst for Black-tailed Godwits and Knot on the Patch for two decades, so its been good to have something else to point the camera at.


Since mid December the diver has been patrolling the waters of the lake, occasionally drifting on to the sea at high tide but always returning to the confines of the lake as the tide ebbs.

It has been well watched and photographed - it seems to be unperturbed by all the attention it has received. 


It has even got used to the sailing boats and windsurfers that frequent the lake. Right now it is drifting around, confident, commanding, unruffled… cool.


Watching it I can’t help but be impressed. It is sleek but strong - a genuine northern powerhouse. It’s bill really does deserve the description “dagger-like”. The forehead too is impressive, square and imposing, a Great Northern Diver looks like it wouldn’t take any nonsense from anyone.


The sun comes out but it doesn’t feel any warmer. The wind swings slightly towards the north.

A Peregrine swoops low over the water chasing a small flock of Dunlin it has spooked from their high tide roost on the narrow limestone wall that separates the lake from estuary. This puts up all the gulls that are loafing on the boat launching pontoons. Even the Mergansers are momentarily scared to energetic flight.

The Great Northern briefly looks up, casts its sharp, bright burgundy eye in the falcon’s direction then resumes fishing. Unflappable, calm. Cool.

[The only thing that has managed to unsettle the diver was, sadly, caused by lazy human behaviour. One morning it had to be plucked from the waters of the lake with part of a crabbing net wrapped around its bill. In the murky waters of the lake the faded fluorescent pink net must have looked a little like breakfast.

As it was untangled from the marine litter the diver stayed placid allowing it to be released back to the lake in a matter of minutes. It didn’t fly off panicked, it gracefully swam back out on to the water and resumed fishing. Like I keep saying, cool.]

Storms have come and gone, so have the year listers after ticking an “easy” GND. The ‘togs are all off looking to photograph a rare warbler hanging around a local sewage farm. The diver has remained, unmoved, seemingly at home on the lake attached to the little village of West Kirby.

I watch it steadily patrol the lake, sometimes seeming like it is watching the people who are walking around the footpath that forms part of the perimeter of the lake. I wonder what it makes of us?


It drifts in, close to the wall, totally at ease, looking cool in understated scalloped charcoal grey winter plumage - no need to show off. Less is more. I love this bird. I have a lot of pictures to prove it.

It turns, swims and dives away from me, heading to the northern end of the lake, getting smaller and smaller in the viewfinder. I pack up my camera and walk home.


Welcome to the North.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

If on a winter's night a Redshank....

If, on a winter's night, a Redshank lands at your feet you might think, as the sun sets lower in the sky and the distance it's light has to travel through the earth's atmosphere increases thus allowing the blue light to be filtered from it leaving a reddish-yellow glow on everything, that a Redshank starts to look even more awesome than usual.


If on a winter's night a Redshank lands at your feet you might think it's legs look velociraptor-ish.


If on a winter's night a Redshank lands at your feet you might get to watch its shadow lengthen as the sun sets and think of all the Redshanks you ever watched and the order that you watched them.


If on a winter's night a Redshank lands at your feet you might get to watch it feed in a rockpool and realise that everything's going to be OK.


If on a winter's night a Redshank lands at your feet you might just want to stop everything forever and watch it carefully preen.


If on a winter's night a Redshank lands at your feet you might see it stretch wings that have carried it far away and back again and want to follow it.


If on a winter's night a Redshank lands at your feet watching it run around the sandstone reefs might be the best thing you've ever seen.


If on a winter's night a Redshank...

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Everything is Changed Forever...

Tucked away in a dark corner amongst the wooden joists holding up the roof of Drizzle Cottage a female Swallow sits on her brood of recently hatched chicks.

She looks around nervously as I creep through the damp and dusty space beneath her. Her head darts to and fro keeping a close eye on my movements. She has nothing to fear from me, I’m not here to interfere with her nest I’m just passing through on an errand. She leaves the nest and flies around the small room, making worried sounding shrill chirps, before alighting on a large rusty nail protruding from a joist similar to the one she has attached her muddy cup of a nest to. Next to her hangs a set of ancient chimney brushes, thick with dust, stiff bristles yellowing with age. Attached to the wall directly below the nest an old wooden cupboard decays with the passing of time, it’s door hangs loose, held up by one rusting hinge, the other having rotted off some years ago.

My task completed I turn to leave her and her family in peace. As I depart she is still sat on her rusty nail, it must be a regular perch for her and her partner as there is a sizeable pile of droppings accumulating on the stone floor beneath.

The chicks are still very young. Tiny, helpless. Unopened eyes bulge behind thin fleshy eyelids. A few whispy, downy feathers protrude from their large bald heads. They look odd, only their mother could love them. Many perils and wonders await them once they fledge into the world outside this tumbledown cottage.


I wish them luck as I close and lock the rickety front door behind me. Through a tiny gap in this old weathered entrance I glimpse the female return to brood the chicks. She still looks around, nervously. It is impossible to tell if this is her first attempt at parenthood or if she is an old hand but for any parent raising young is a hard and scary thing to do.

I am finding this out for myself.

We have a daughter.

There has been little activity on this blog for some time. 2015 has been a momentous year. I have been absorbed in the care of our first child. In the middle of April, early one Friday morning, Summer arrived. Not the season - as I write this, looking back on a cool and wet year it seems like summer never did fully appear. No, it is our baby girl that we have called Summer. It seemed the obvious choice, summer is such an explosion of life, joy and excitement - a happy season - and this is all we want for our little girl.

It will be tough though. It is easy to be over-awed and worried. I see so much that is wrong in the world, so many threats to our baby’s future.
Climate change and the impact that it will have on her world plus the fact that as a species we, like no other, have the ability to plan and take action to mitigate its effects but do nothing. A little action in the short term that will see no immediate benefit for us will make a world of difference for our children. This seems vital to me but beyond contemplation for huge money grabbing corporations and the corrupt governments who serve them.

Our own government seems to have been alarmingly successful in persuading a voting public that all public spending is wasteful, unnecessary and ruins our economy while enforcing their own spiteful brand of austerity to “fix” it.
It was public monies that were used to bail out a broken banking system, one plagued by greed and recklessness and as this private debt was made public those responsible walked away unscathed leaving us and my daughter’s generation to balance the books.

One evening while discussing this great swindle and how this government, aided by a biased gutter press, got away with blaming the whole mess on poor people, a friend of mine questioned the wisdom of bringing children into this crazy, often backwards world.

But…

There is so much beauty and wonder out there. Many, many fabulous things that the human race has achieved. I have been so lucky and I'm thankful for the many opportunities I’ve had to see it and be amazed by it…

The sun hitting the sheer face of Half Dome as dawn breaks over Yosemite National Park.


Handling Black-tailed Godwit chicks in the lush meadows of an Icelandic summer.


Staring at paintings by old masters in decadent European art galleries. Sharing the shores of my local Patch with thousands of dazzling migratory shorebirds.

Holding a handful of fantabulous hawkmoths caught from my favourite hedge (yes I do have a favourite hedge and I’m not afraid to say so).


With all this to experience, protect and enjoy, it seemed a natural thing to start a family to share it with.

I returned to the Swallow nest some time later, once they had fledged. As a new parent I felt concern for those chicks. After a summer of watching them and my own offspring grow I found myself wondering where they were now and hoping that they were doing fine. The empty nest un-nerved me a little.


Until now it has all been about me. What I wanted to see, where I wanted to go, in my own time, on my own terms. Travel, hobbies, absorbing culture and creativity were my only concerns.

Now it will be about Summer. What she can see, what she can do and where she can go. She is free to be what she chooses; I will not force an obsession with moths or shorebirds upon her. But she will know of them and all of the things that make planet Earth the diverse wondrous place it is. The shift in emphasis for my life is huge and palpable.

I think back to that morning in the delivery room. Bewildered by happiness, I see my wife and daughter resting after the exertions of labour and birth, the most breath-taking thing I have ever witnessed. Lois leans over and plants a delicate kiss on Summer’s forehead with the tender love of a new mother. As I stand there watching, about to tell our family that Summer is here, tears burn my cheeks and I realise that everything has just changed… forever.


Happy New Year.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Miles from tomorrow...

I was leaving it late, I knew it would be close. Even the most experienced Hilbre veterans can get a “hurry up” from the tide. The final few steps sloshed me on to my Inspiration Island through about 8 inches of the briney, a little spike of adrenaline tightened my stomach as I looked back. Water flowing from my shoes, I watched the last of the rocks between Hilbre and Middle Eye become engulfed by the flooding tide. Made it. Just.

Shoes and socks set to dry I padded around the island barefoot, like a castaway, feeling a just little foolish and more than a little cold about the feet.


{A long, long time ago someone left a very long microphone boom lying around on a project I was involved with. I offered to keep is safe for them until they returned to collect it. They never did and it has been gathering dust in a cupboard ever since. Stumbling across it a few days prior to the trip to Hilbre I thought about how it could be put to use.}

On the island I screwed my compact camera to the boom and extended it to its full length. I set the self-timer and held it out in front of me. A few seconds later I examined the results of my improvised selfie stick. Underwhelming. I’ve never been a fan of the selfie stick and even the novelty of a massive one in a cool location wasn’t doing anything to dull my scepticism. Far more interesting was turning the tables and photographing the camera itself.


Over the freshly mown paddock hovered a Kestrel. Motionless in the air, held stationary against the clear blue sky by the cool easterly breeze. A breeze just strong enough to keep it aloft without need to flap its wings. It looked like a sticker stuck there by a child in a nature scrapbook sky. Time frozen.


A small flotilla of Brent Geese swam gently down the Hilbre Swash, an adult leading the way followed by two juveniles, then another two adults, a juvenile and so on and so on until I had counted thirty six grown-ups and eleven youngsters. They paddled along the channel until they met a current coming in with the tide. It hinders their progress momentarily, stopping them, like you’ve hit the pause button on a film. Time halted.


Looking at those long distance tundra dwelling migrants and examining the plumages of adult and juvenile thoughts turned towards the arctic. The vastness of the tundra, its treeless wonder. Space. Quiet.

I sat on some rocks and looked out to sea.


Coffee from the flask warmed my throat and guts but failed to spread its heat to my naked toes. A sandwich filled my grumbling belly. After a while just sitting and staring everything seemed to shudder to a stop. The sandwich sat like a pebble in my stomach, I was rooted to the spot.
An Oystercatcher flew past; it seemed to do this in slow motion, like it was flying through syrup.

A Dunlin flew in and alighted daintily on the rocks away to my left. It looked once in my direction then turned its gaze to the sea and stood motionless. The wind dropped and the sea went glassy calm. Stillness. Time frozen.


I stared at that Dunlin for some time.

A movement caught my eye a few dozen metres off to the right. A Ringed Plover jostled another for prime roosting position. With it on the ledge were another two plovers and a further five Dunlin. I stared at them for a while.

Thinking...


…do those birds come here each winter is it their first time here what do they think of when waiting for the tide to drop the sandstone is a slightly different colour on this corner of the island the plovers blend right in is that one crouching down behind a ridge in the rock oh a seal, when it bobs its head above the surface of the tranquil water does it notice the ripples radiate away slowly will I ever see a bowhead whale how many dunlin have stopped on hilbre I mean ever since dunlins became dunlins the sandstone is in layers how many layers is a layer put down in a year or a longer period or shorter it must be laid erratically after floods or  other events how many generations of ringed plovers have used hilbre as a stopover where will they go from here where exactly in western africa six ospreys on a tree in the mangroves of the river gambia why do the plovers squabble for space when there is so much on the rocks like people I suppose they like fighting why do they have orange legs and dunlins have black legs are my socks dry yet dunlins must have been sat on hilbre when henry VIII was on the throne are any descendants of those dunlin here on the island today that turnstone still has a little summer plumage I remember seeing a barwit in near full summer plumage at hoylake last winter the bumpy road to borselv had breeding barwits and that common crane in the pool by the road chris said you could see the cranes working on the new stand at anfield from the lookout my feet are freezing 1250th second at f8 slightly underexposed nudge ISO 640 maybe yes that’ll do so many miles travelled by these birds how many individually and collectively all this goes on while people go about their lives unseen birds traumas and triumphs how many wingbeats to greenland will I ever see a Bowhead Whale will I ever get to greenland knot and sanderling on nests a wide angle lens with the tundra as part of the picture when will the first purple sandpipers arrive on hilbre for the winter tide definitely dropping wind slightly shifting west so many journeys routes like spaghetti dropped on a map criss crossing lines obliterating the details how much does a dunlin weigh ringed plover weigh oycs alarm peregrine hunt no red waterproof bastard there go the dunlin and ringos no one dunnie has stayed…


The Oystercatchers on Middle Eye were sparked into noisy flight as a person walked towards their roost, flushing almost everything on both islands. The tide had dropped enough for people to walk over to Hilbre and I was no longer alone.

My daydream broken I put on my damp socks and went home.

Friday, 16 October 2015

The Wonder of the Day

Second compartment, right on the top of the topmost egg box. There is was. The wonder of the day.

Until that moment it had only existed on the pages of my guide books but now there is was, sat motionless on the faded cardboard in front of me.

The Merveille du Jour. MDJ.

Jaw dropped. I went a little giddy with the surprise and excitement. I composed myself and thought "Should I be getting this excited over a moth?"

I have been properly moth trapping for four years and I have a long and impressive list of species that I have caught and an archive of photographs that I am really pleased with. But there are gaps in the list and archive and none larger than the space left by the absence of the Merveille du Jour.

As soon as I saw it in the book I knew I wanted to see one. Its colours and markings are just fantastic. Now I had one.

It is lichen brought to life.
Translated from the French MDJ means Wonder of the Day.
It was.


It even looked impressive on the back of the camera.


As stunning as the marks, colours and patterns are...


... they are equally functional.

Camouflage.


Its legs were awesome too.


A glance at the watch showed an hour and a half had disappeared under the oak being used as a makeshift studio. The lichen covered branches a perfect home for my favourite moth.


Wonder of the Day.


Merveille du Jour.