Isle of Wight is ‘Go’!

dramaticflight

Now that we have the Red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) back in Cornwall and, therefore England – something that’s been dear to my heart all my life, certainly since I started working with them in the 1970s. They took up a good five years of my life in the eighties, as anyone who knows me knows.  The results of all that work can be seen in my thesis here https://chough.org/research-papers

So it was great to be involved in someone else’s project for once and view it from a more dispassionate angle.  This is part of what I wrote to Steve Jones – indefatigable and a huge source of knowledge about the island’s wildlife – after I visited last week and was shown  lots of key sites.  His energy and imagination will I’m sure achieve results.  

Dear Steve,
Thank you very much for taking the time to show Sam and myself round many potential Chough sites on the island on Tuesday. It was an exciting, if very hot, visit which we both thoroughly enjoyed.

The experience far exceeded my expectations. I was not prepared for such a varied and extensive range of different highly suitable habitats.

Despite the fact that it was high tourist season, with increased numbers due to ‘staycation’, large areas we visited were devoid of human (and dog) presence. In contrast, the invertebrate populations were more dense than anything I’ve seen on the mainland recently, so prey resources are well catered for – the richness of bird life, resident and visiting the island on migration, supports this view – nesting sites similarly.

There is ample short-grazed / naturally exposed sward available with plenty of mosaics and earth exposures of different kinds with good areas of varied wild cliffscape and inaccessible coves and beaches; the quality of geology and botany is extensive and rich. In short, I was deeply struck by the extent and variability of suitable Chough habitat; it was difficult to think of anything which was lacking! 

Considering the island is (surprisingly!) large, all compass points and aspects are available viz a viz shelter, breeding, feeding, and exposure (including east for early morning solar irradiation).  There is generally sympathetic stewardship with the National Trust being principal, and also wealthy independent landowners keen on chough re-establishment. The entire island contains within its ca.150 sq mi (380 km2) and coastline of approximately 70 miles (113km) a surfeit of extensive fine habitats.

We talked quite a lot about suitable sites for the location of captive-breeding/soft release sites, and you showed me a few possible places. 

I can only send my the very best in your endeavours and just wish the birds were available now for you to progress quickly. To sum up briefly, I have no doubt the island, as it is, can support a viable Chough population. 

Thank you once again for the expert guidance you gave us and your kind hospitality.

[NB. The Chough is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem, in other words, if it can support this top species it can support everything else ‘beneath’ it (in food chain terms).]

The Robin I wrote about last time is still with us but now in perfect adult plumage; I still find it hard to believe that a totally wild animal can, after all we throw at wildlife, be so trusting.

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Revenge of the Introverts

The Merlin and a Raven-Buzzard dogfight
(plus a sneaky look at a drab little bird with a remarkable sex life)

April, 2020:  Unless you are affected medically, or trapped in an impossible (or just very difficult) domestic situation, this is a unique time. Especially for naturalists and for all those who savour the spectacular sound of silence which now covers the countryside in a sublime shroud, although it is slowly being removed. For sound recordists of natural phenomena, it is an unparalleled opportunity: so little traffic and aircraft noise, and I’ve even noticed a quieter strimmer serenade – one of the more irritating sounds of summer – or maybe they just haven’t quite found their voice yet.

Unable to travel to nature reserves, beauty spots or just one’s favourite haunt, be it a gravel pit, reservoir, park or wood, we can stay at home with a chance to get to know better what used to be called Common or garden birds.  And we notice they are not so ‘common’, in fact they are rather rare and fascinating; and we realise how little we actually do know them. The humble Dunnock (Hedge sparrow, or even ‘Hedge accentor’ if you will) for example possesses a sex life to be marvelled at, and you may notice their polyandrous trios bumbling about hedgerow bottoms; Mrs Dunnock is very free with her favours. I haven’t myself counted but Dr Tim Birkhead has, and he advises that male Dunnocks can copulate 100 times a day.

Dunnock-minDunnock Prunella modularis

The intriguing sex life of Dunnocks apart, I was sitting in my North Devon garden in April with Mij (a non-polyandrous wife), enjoying the astonishing quietness all around and waiting impatiently for our first Swallow (my daughter, Josie, saw hers ages ago, but she always beats me to everything), a bird come fleeting up the valley over the woodland. “A Swallow,” I cried; Mij immediately, “No, it’s a bird of prey” (she always contradicts me and is frustratingly usually right), but I, quick as a flash, came back, “A Merlin then.”  And we watched in awe as this little falcon flew quietly over us, not hunting just waving. Only the third I’ve ever seen.

My son, Sam, phoned that night from his home in rural Hampshire. I told him about the Merlin, and he said he’d never seen one but thought he’d spotted a Hobby once. “Where could I see a Merlin?” he asked, I replied, “Well, you’ve just got to be lucky, like we were. I wouldn’t like to say ‘Hey, Sam, we’ll go up to Exmoor and I’ll show you a Merlin, it’s not like that.'”

So, what have I learned?  You can stay at home, save your petrol (and the environment), and have just as much chance of seeing something interesting and beautiful as if you trek off somewhere special in full birding gear. It might be a sexy female Dunnock or even a spectacular Will-o’-the-Wisp Merlin.

It could even be as exciting as the sequel to our Merlin adventure. For immediately after he had winnowed off, the stage was taken by a contest between a nesting Raven and loafing Buzzard. We watched these two sparring for twenty minutes before a second Buzzard arrived. I don’t think they were really interested in the Raven chicks (probably quite a size by early April) but gave the impression of just enjoying winding-up the parents. In effect we were greeted to a dogfight worthy of Manfred von Richthofen: the Raven swooping down from… out of the sun? I wouldn’t like to say… but it was pretty spectacular.  As the Buzzard turned over to meet it, the Raven would come within inches of its tormentor plummeting to the nadir of its descent, and from there, with the momentum gained, rapidly climb high for the next assault. The Buzzard appeared merely to flick the Raven aside and continue riding the thermals in carefree arabesques.

It is not always so charming. In a book I wrote under another name many years ago*, I included a photograph of a Raven with its top mandible ripped off by a Buzzard (it was then being cared for in a Wildlife Hospital, and survived by swallowing day-old chicks whole).

I so hope that whoever has a window on the world – preferably one which opens – can get a glimpse such as this. My daughter, Emma, who lives in a high flat in Ealing can see Sparrowhawks from her window, and I wouldn’t doubt Peregrines, and her partner, Raoul, a sound recordist, has sent me a recording of their dawn chorus. On it I can hear Nuthatches, tits, Blackbirds, sparrows, Wood pigeons, and ‘seagulls’ of course.

There is no need for isolation, birds and bees obey no human social distancing. I am sending Emma a window bird feeder and some seed. She claims they are too high up to attract small birds, but I challenge that. We will see who is right; if things run according to rule when it comes to women and me, I know the answer. Rosie Wood, a badger colleague, sent me an epithet which said, ‘If a man speaks in the forest, and there is no woman to hear him, is he still wrong?’ And I know the answer to that one too.

* As Richard Mark Martin, First Aid and Care of Wildlife, David & Charles, 1984.

On not learning from history: The fate of the badger.

Sometimes events in your life collide…

In this case ecology and painting of the human figure

First…

On the history of the fate of the badger.

A new article just published in

The 

Home

 

Badger

https://theecologist.org/2019/mar/25/fate-badger

Please read, it is really important. Many thanks.

After that something completely different: a painting in a new exhibition… (see previous entry)

 

 



 

The snow owl

Night after night I sit and look out
Hoping to see a barn owl about
As white as a surrendering flag;
This gliding wraith-like spirited rag
Would ghost the dark field in looping strides
To scan the rank grass with razor eyes.

A facial disc, ears set obliquely,
Picks up murmurs sent non consciously
By vole and mouse – but, yes, lost to me.
Signals that were never meant to be
From deep inside the raked-over grass:
To all those as deadly as Arras.

This floating thing of deathly beauty
With fine synchronous duality
Is the most sublime killing machine
I am sure that I have ever seen;
And I’ve worked with tigers and lions,
But this owl alone brides its talons.

Yet, see, its peril is also white,
As soft a shroud as wings in the night.
Snowfall that covers the killing ground
Blankets out unwitting sight and sound
And shields for one and for all the voles,
Who may now venture without their holes.

Yet what brings life in train brings death, and
Will fate Her players as chance demands.
For beneath the snow, still in the fray,
The brown fox now ventures into play.
And snow, which enables voles to crawl
Out of sight, masks the deadly footfall.

Nature weighs, measures and will balance
All the players in Her endless dance.
No design and no manufacture,
Refined, eternally year on year,
Until parts all slot in their places
Until…
Until man kicked her traces.

His ‘god-given’ urge to dominate
Set himself above Nature’s mandate
Does with sublime precision tamper
And monkey with the blind watchmaker
Those parts that never can be put back
Become young future’s brains to rack.

So the barn owl, in microcosm,
Sets the stage therein Nature’s prism.
One immaculate crafted species
Details Her overwhelming thesis.
And would, with infinite patience, show
The magic of the owl and the snow.

Devon, January 2019

Two hedgehogs

Sonnet:

We saw two hedgehogs.



We saw two hedgehogs feeding side by side
And it wouldn’t be our fault if they died.

They had been grunting through the summer night.
Safe from traffic – we thought they’d be all right –
In an island garden bordered by woods.
Each evening we offered them special food
In a plastic box wasted and surplus.
They went straight there the first night with no fuss.
Though far too nervous to come out in light:
This their entrench’d anthropogenic plight.
Now mangling their nightly excursions are
(New dreads but) most of all the motor car.

And remember bonfires roast them alive,
As one did a guy on November Five.

North Devon, 12 October 2018

Bucks Mills Pebbles exhibition; new Poetry section on website; Literature about children; and public speaking.

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I listened to advice (surprise, as it may be to some, I do sometimes) and Phil my excellent framer gave one of the pebble studies a bigger ‘more generous’ mount; I’d been told my original ones were “too mean”. The two different versions are currently on show at the Burton at Bideford Gallery. Pop along if you are in North Devon; admission is free and there is lots of really good art (I never say that lightly).

Both are available at a measly £145 despite difference in framing, but it’s the art work that’s important, isn’t it?  I feel pleased with this series and also that I’ve broken new ground.  The remainder of the series will go in Recent Work soon – I’ll send a note when that is done (a few test ones are actually up there now, have a look).

Xhibition slide (2)An exhibition of my flower paintings is at RHS Rosemoor from 1st September to 7th October. This is the second collaboration with brilliant ceramicist Eilean Eland. And of course the Rosemoor gardens are always a delight.

Additionally, I’ve been occupied since May with a personal and rather difficult commission.  In fact a painting for a friend which I was most anxious to get ‘right’.  It was difficult in the sense that it is small (A5), a nude figure and I needed to please both my friend and of course myself.  It turned out to be one of the hardest paintings I’ve ever done but I won’t be able to show it  because it is private.

It’s not just this that has been weighing heavily on my mind it is my writing and conservation work too. I’ve published a few recent poems here https://richardmeyer.co.uk/index.php/writing/poems.  I’m finding great release in poetry these days: enabling me to convey observations and reflections in a succinct form which is I hope both exciting and original.

Also finishing my third novel revelling in the fertile imagination of children.  Although stigmatised as ‘children’s books’ they are actually novels about children.  So-called  ‘children’s books’ are the only books categorised by perceived readership not by content: a source of irritation and mystification.  I ask you, are ‘Lord of the Flies’, ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, ‘His Dark Materials’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘David Copperfield’, ‘A High Wind in Jamaica’, to name just a few, ‘children’s books’?   I would say not; they are literature which feature children – not the same thing at all.  Maybe you could add your own titles here, and we could explore this subject again more fully.

Finally, on Saturday 18th I was in Exeter taking part in a very noisy public meeting and march through Exeter city centre.  You won’t be surprised to know it was about the appalling Badger cull here in the UK.  I’ve never before stood on a soapbox (in fact a public bench in a sort of ‘Speakers’ Corner) and addressed a crowd through a PA system.  I had 15 mins to summarise nearly 50 years of history) and think I did OK – but certainly no better; not sure that soapbox oratory is my thing.

I hope you may leave the odd comment, if only to show that you’ve read this far!

 

 

£500 DONATED TO THE HIGH COURT JUDICIAL REVIEW TO SAVE BADGERS

Forgive this wildlife intrusion into what is primarily an art site but, as those who know me will appreciate, I’ve had a lifelong passion for the non-human environment, and the cause of the much abused Badger is dear to my heart.

Zoology and writing were what I laughingly call my career for many years, and over thirty ago I wrote a book called The Fate of the Badger, published by Batsford (sadly no more). In 2016 we realised that so little had changed in this dreadful saga through all that time we decided to republish Fate in facsimile form with added new material.

 02                           02 fotb_cover

Obtainable from http://www.fire-raven.co.uk at £9.50 +p&p

I have much pleasure in reprinting the following:

Fire-raven Writing, publishers of the new edition of Richard’s book, announces ‘We are pleased to donate £500 from proceeds of @DrRichardMeyer’s book, The Fate of The Badger, in support of Tom Langton’s badger cull challenges in the High Court.’

For more information on this tremendously important and possibly ground-breaking High Court action directed by Tom please see https://www.badger.org.uk/eurobadger. If you can find a surplus pound or two lurking in your purse or pocket we can think of no better place to send it; Tom and the whole badger world will be very grateful.

***

A personal note from Richard… ‘The fate of the badger has blighted my adult life, occupied much of my time and probably encroached on my good nature, however I do not seek to make any money or benefit in any material way from its plight.’

For an interview I did with Emma Powell https://emmapowell.co.uk/ please see  https://youtu.be/ueSD4HTd3yQ.

Thanks so much for caring enough to read this far!