Sunday, 30 November 2008

Moody Morning on Healey Nab

I love these moody November mornings when the ground has swathes of brittle frost and bright thaw. A morning full of potential - and first up was a kestrel, perched in a sunlit oak, scanning the melting grass.
200+ fieldfares were roaming around in ever-changing flocks frequently scattering to the empty tree tops. And there were loose flocks of redwings, smaller and more difficult to spot as they burrowed into hawthorns. Several skeins of geese flew across the morning (and some of those skeins looked like they were gulls?).

Healey Lodges were likewise part frozen, part open. This photo is the upper lodge as seen when walking down from Nab Wood. Click on the image to see 50+ black-headed gulls standing on the ice. Mallard, coot and two tufted ducks swam on the melt and a kingfisher whirred over this lodge to the one below.
The track between the lodges is lined with birch and hawthorn so I saw a close-up of some redwings, a goldcrest, a flock of long-tailed tits and the kingfisher came rushing through to claim his customary perch.

Jack Snipe

After a local tip-off about common and Jack snipe, I spent an hour walking around the semi-frozen wasteland that used to be a Royal Ordnance factory. It was full of tiny pock-marked-pockets which may or may not have held snipe overnight. And suddenly, to my delight, I saw my first jack snipe - very stripy and rising up only a boot's length away.
It made me wonder whether these birds have wintered here for years, safely hidden within the restricted area. A factory with more than one kind of secret....
Also claiming the wasteland were 2 reed buntings, a stonechat, pied wagtail and a small flock of meadow pipits. Not bad for a site now surrounded by the ringing of hammers and growl of construction vehicles. I wonder where the wild life will go as the developers move in?

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


A window smash-
and a woodpigeon lies on the garden flags,
a female sparrowhawk flaps and lands,
yellow talons curling into a still-warm breast,
beak immediately tugging clumps of grey/white down.

Soft feathers roll in the quiet breeze,
spreading over the path, catching in plants.
Amber eyes alert.

Flesh is hooked up in strips,
bright red organs plucked through clavicles,
sinews stretched like elastic till they snap.
With much pulling and twisting
and clamping of claws,
a wing is finally wrenched off
and cast aside, so the hawk can resume
flaying and swallowing flushed meat.

When the carcass offers nothing more,
she spreads her wings,
desert the mangled bones and feathers -
she has survived another day.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Almost flying (Croston Moss and Finney)

I hadn't expected the wind to close up the blue so quickly so now I'm in a hedged farm track protecting my face from shards of hail. But it's worth it - the assault has forced fifty or more fieldfare from meadow to a tall hawthorn hedge so I can see them clearly. And in the same field over two hundred starlings fly low, re-group. I can cope with hail - brush it off and keep dry.

But when I cross the train track to the open fields of Croston Finney icy rain begins.There's a small patch of blue which I hope will blow over as quickly as this cloud-mass... And suddenly thousands, yes thousands, of starlings undulate across the fields; a ginormous roller coaster shifting black to grey. This is worth every drop of freezing thigh!

And as the shower eases a loose flock of meadow pipits land right where I can see them. bright legs running over muddy tractor tracks and abandoned onions. Their feathers tinted yellow in this light. And suddenly - a kingfisher flies across the path, turns to follow the channel, its turquoise and orange showing bright against dark earth.

Next - a stonechat on a straw Umbellifer. And I as I turn a corner - larks I think - pale legs and some vertical take-offs and descents. A female kestrel hovers, dives - empty. Rises, moves on, hovers again....

I cross the railway and am back on the Moss where starlings fill fields and telegraph wires. And as I walk down the track at one with ground, distance, wind, they come flocking down the track behind me, pour in from the fields, flying round and over me, I feel the undulating excitement holding them together and for a few enchanting seconds it also holds me. What a gift to be awash in feeling their connections connecting with me. A rare and precious moment indeed!

Turning into the track that leads back to my car, the winds blows in the next band of rain as fifty of more fieldfare empty from an ash to land in a field where another flock flies in - one hundred or more picking worms amongst the grass. Mornings like these are beyond the reach of words.

Fieldfare image by kind permission of Mike King : Use the link to visit to his bird watching diary.

starling image copied from:

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Conversations with Writers: Interview (Part 2 of 2) Carol Thistlethwaite, author of ‘from the field book’

Follow the link below to the second part of my interview:
Conversations with Writers: Interview (Part 2 of 2) Carol Thistlethwaite, author of ‘from the field book’

Conversations with Writers: Interview (Part 1 of 2): Carol Thistlethwaite, author of ‘from the field book’

This has been on the Internet for a while but just in case you haven't seen it follow the link below:
Conversations with Writers: Interview (Part 1 of 2): Carol Thistlethwaite, author of ‘from the field book’

Trailing Poems for the Days

The poem a day prompt was 'detail' so I thought but not for long...
Distinguishing rooks from crows is easy - unless they happen to be flying. And since my BTO tetrad is inhabited by corvids, corvids and corvids, I need to get my eyes & head round these flapping flocks.

It's easy to distinguish when they're landed:
the domed head, shabby look, bald-beaked rook,
the crow altogether a tighter, neater bird.
But what when they're in flight?

The flocks are rooks; the solitary, crows-
but that's not always so.
Sometimes you can still make out the peaked head of the rook,
or you can focus on their tails:
roundness indicates a rook,
straight edged is a crow.
Their calls, too, echo their sharpness:
relaxed caws from rooks,
harsh grating from crows.
Toady's photos used by kind permission of Mike Atkinson. Check out the link from this page.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Poem a Day

So absorbed in placing my feet
on tussocks, that I didn't notice the donkeys
until one brayed -
ten or more in the higher fi
and straight ahead the farmer,
a sprite eighty-something,
coming to meet me at the gate.
Pleased that I live in Euxton,
better still that I know his cousin Alice
and her increasing family.
He proudly leads me to a two-day foal,
soft, dense grey, erect ears, hay breath,
laying on dry straw.

He makes no mention of the Lostock
and how it had overflowed,
had been spreading, spreading,
spreading to the barn,
but I can see the traces of a rainbow
around the foal's face, the promise
that had held the flood at bay.

Image copied from

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Wigan Flashes

The advantages of joining a local wildlife group are numerous; not least is having local experts to call on and also field trips to join. Yesterday I went to a reserve that was new to me - Wigan Flashes. Although we didn't see the bittern that has been seen there earlier in the week, we did see lots of water fowl and I learnt to distinguish a gadwall from all the other brownish female ducks.Above L is a female gadwall, R is a male. Although not always visible, the white patch on the plumage helps gives distinguish a gadwall from other female ducks.

Photo of Wigan Flashes copied from Reserves/wigan_flashes.htm

Photo of Gadwall used by kind permission of Dave Appleton www.gobirding.e
u See link

Wildlife and Myth

It's no good recommending a poem a day to everyone without doing it myself. I've not exactly managed a poem a day - so this morning is catch-up time. Day 7's prompt was 'myth'. I've never really combined wildlife and myth, never really thought about it although I now recognise an interesting potential which I may well return to at a future date.
Below is my first (and rather obvious) draft for today:

... and as the earth prepares
to watch her journey back to Hades,
it lines her route with gifts:
plump seeds, golden leaves,
agile paws and farewell fanning wings,
and as she passes by,
trees sigh, and finally let loose
their effort of upholding the beauty
that such a presence demands.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A Poem A Day for November with Poetic Asides

If you want some motivation / stimulation to write this month why not try Robert Lee Brewer's blog? He's setting a prompt each day with a view to having a chapbook's worth of poems at the end of the month.

from the field book

from the field book
An inspiring gift for anyone who enjoys watching nature.