Marley was dead, to begin with.

‘Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.’ So opens Dickens, ‘ A Christmas Carol’. Perhaps if the Short-eared Owl I had seen last month had been given a name, Marley would have been a good choice. But if that was his name, Marley was not dead, to begin with. I wrote the following two paragraphs.

I know I am looking at a Short-eared Owl. Its broad wings carry its light body across the field before it drops on an unsuspecting vole. The sun is low in the sky and when it lands it disappears into the grass the colour of a fairy tale’s secret.

I know I am looking at a Short-eared Owl. It conforms to my image of one, built up of a composite of all the ones I have seen before. This image is constructed in the mind. Any description of a species tries to provide the essence of that species. This one is clearly more yellow than the last one I saw, yet remains a SEO. To misquote Edward O Wilson who worked on ants, ‘when you have seen one Short-eared owl, you have not seen them all’.

This was written last month. However, instead of being able to confirm there were three SEOs this winter on the patch; all I can say is there are two reported from Burdon Moor this week. The third, looks like this, or it did when it was found last week hidden inside a shooting screen.

photo by @ramblingwalker1

Decomposition has made it unable to confirm it has been shot. We can though, agree foul play has been carried out; neither romantic or prosaic. It’s just dead, as a Monty Python parrot, without the humour.

Being sent pictures like this is always a shock. The needless destruction of birdlife, whether it’s undertaken by Jonny Foreigner, on Mediterranean migrants; or by Grouse farmers in England and Scotland is not acceptable. When it happens, not just in the County but on your patch it is a tragedy with emotional attachment. It can take no skill to shoot a large slow flying bird that does regular circuits hunting for voles.

There will of course, quite rightly, be an out pouring of expletives when the photo is released onto the Durham Bird Club Twitter account tomorrow. Having seen Red Kite, Kestrel and Buzzard numbers increase in the last five years on patch I hate to think of this as a dangerous precedent. However, don’t use up too much energy on this bird. Get out on your patch and make sure your tenant farmers know you’re there. Stay safe and use the Birders Against 3Rs (recognise, record, report). Share what you find.

Advertisements

Taking Spinoza Birding.

The weather was grey, cold and still. Good gull watching weather, so I am told. Wandering, with only a general direction in mind we found a statue standing by one of the numerous canals in Amsterdam. Cast in bronze he was surrounded in a cloak peppered with parakeets and sparrows –immigrants and residents that make up this multicultural city.

Baruch Spinoza, philosopher (1632 to 1677). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Spinoza’s ideas were too radical for the Amsterdam’s Sephardic community, which not only banned him from the city, but also their religion. According to Spinoza, ‘God has no plan or free will. God is in nature, the bible was made by people’.

This chance encounter last year made a lasting impression. Or perhaps it was the guide I chose that made the lasting impression; John Berger’s Bento’s Sketchbook. Fascinated by the rumour that Spinoza had a sketch book Berger pieces together small life events with exerts from Spinoza’s ‘Ethics’. In so doing he uses the process of drawing to underline that looking carefully at objects and people allows a person to question the world around them.

Birding is not just about lists and Berger’s approach translates well into the birding I enjoy the most.  The chance encounter with something special like the Short-eared Owl on my patch the other evening.

I know I am looking at a Short-eared Owl.  Its broad wings carry its light body across the field before it drops on an unsuspecting vole.  The sun is low in the sky and when it lands it disappears into the grass the colour of a fairy tale’s secret.

I know I am looking at a Short-eared Owl.  It conforms to my image of one, built up of a composite of all the ones I have seen before.  This image is constructed in the mind.  Any description of a species tries to provide the essence of that species. This one is clearly more yellow than the last one I saw, yet remains a SEO.   To misquote Edward O Wilson who worked on ants, ‘when you have seen one Short-eared owl, you have not seen them all’.  

About 350 years ago Spinoza proposed, “The human mind is the idea of the human body”. Two centuries before Darwinian evolution, Spinoza proposed that the starting-point for our thinking about the nature of humankind should be physiology and the process of life-regulation. No need for the eternal soul and the mortal body. Only now are we able to test some of his ideas.

Spinoza’s quest was to develop an ethical system that was both mindful of the force of biology and true to what we would now call the “enlightenment” principles of liberty and justice. He has a lot to teach us about ethics in the age of genetic engineering.

 

 

 

The Sacred Combe

I did not expect to start a blog about a review of a book I may never read.  Simon ‘How to be a Bad Birdwatcher‘ Barnes has written a new book –The Sacred Combe.  It is essentially a book about his patch -Luangwa Valley Zambia, and being able to walk around it.  Ceri ‘Extinct Boids‘ Levy in reviewing the book pulled out some extracts that made me think.

By being on foot we become part of the ecology of the place.

The realest, deepest and most important truth of this book is that a sacred combe is wherever you want to look for it.

The sacred combe is no idle fancy of mine. You come across it all the time, even if all you can find is a mourning for its loss. It really is something common to us all: that dream of a special place that extorts from us a kind of reverence.

The blurb that comes with the book suggests that everyone has a sacred combe, but Ceri thinks that an awful lot of people don’t have one, have never found it or never knew where to look. The pace of modern life often makes us forget to stop, breathe, look and listen.

Until I read this review it was this haste and disregard I was going to write about.  This is my third patch visit since my sabbatical.  On my second I came across three men -at least late twenties tearing through the patch on motorbikes.  On the waste heaps it may not matter, but them and others have ripped into the bluebell bulbs in the oak wood leaving a trail of destruction.

At the other end of the patch on the same day were a group of Paparazzi; miserable that the Short-eared Owls had not shown.  Not enjoying the ariel nearby display of three Kites, a pair and an interloper, the cameras had become dower and miserable.  The lenses dangled, aimless in the wind that was picking up.

These two examples confirmed to me Ceri’s fears about modern life.  I was going to use this post to rip into one or both groups.  A guy in a tractor stopped me from being so facile.

He asked what the ‘cameras’ were doing and we chatted.  He was really proud to talk of the 32,000 trees he had planted, the wildlife he had on his land and the fact he does not allow shooting over it.  More disappointingly we talked of poachers -rabbits, hare and deer and of a shot Buzzard.

I might see this patch as my ‘Combe’, but I was really pleased to know that at least 100 acres of it have a safe pair of hands.  These safe pair of hands may, at least for a while, prevent me mourning for its loss.

The-Sacred-Combe-high-res-646x1024