summer

The Hobby And The Peewit: Dedicated To Derrick Bailey

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I shouldn’t really have been surprised to see them this morning; yet I was. It was my wife, Cheryl, who first saw them and pointed skyward with a query. “They look like Kestrels, but they’re not?” I watched the three birds for a while as they coursed the azure sky on the first morning of July. A date of significance to both of us as it would have been my father-in-law’s 69th birthday. I say ‘would have been’ because sadly he passed away (unexpectedly yet peacefully) a week ago. The sighting of these birds was synchronicity at its best. The first time I had ever seen a Hobby was standing alongside him at the RSPB Strumpshaw Fen reserve about 15 years ago. Both countrymen, both shooting men, we would occasionally turn up at the reserve for a walk around with the ladies. We would duly pay our entrance fee and refuse to join the RSPB due to its inherent hypocrisy, its increasing animal rights agenda and its disdain of shooters as conservationists. On that particular morning we stood watching what looked like a couple of huge Swifts swooping low across the water-meadows alongside the River Yare. Then occasionally they would fly high and start dropping and tumbling like Peregrines, clearly plucking something (invisible to us) from the air. I wasn’t sure what I was watching but Derrick told me they were Hobbies. Falco Subbuteo. I bowed to Derricks experience, though there was to be an amusing incident that winter, to which I will return.

Henceforth, I knew a Hobby in flight straight away and it was obvious this morning, watching them closely from beneath, why my wife had first thought them to be Kestrels. The Hobby has a dun and black-striped under carriage but though it will soar, it doesn’t hover. When soaring, it spreads its primary feathers and looks like a Kestrel. However, when hunting, the wings tuck tight in a scythe-like form as it streaks through the air like a Swift. The giveaway markings are on the head. The deep black moustache and pale cheeks. I mentioned that I shouldn’t have been surprised. That day with Derrick was close to his birthday and Strumpshaw Fen was alive with dragonflies. So was Taverham Mill reserve this morning. Hobbies love hawking dragonflies and are one of the few birds who can catch, strip and eat their prey while in flight. Hence the tumbling motion. The three birds we saw today were invariably parents and a fledgling.

That amusing incident? Derrick and I were watching a flock of birds on the winter splashes. I used to watch these birds in their hundreds in my youth, in Hertfordshire. I commented to Derrick that it was great to see numbers of Lapwings again. He looked at me strangely and said “They’re not Lapwings. They’re Peewits!” I was tempted to explain that they were one and the same but refrained. Derrick was brought up as the son of a gamekeeper in the depths of North Norfolk. If that’s what they were to be called, who was I to argue?

This morning, watching the Hobbies, I had time to reflect on how much my father-in-law lived for the countryside, his sport, his guns and his rods. As a BASC and CPSA coach, he taught  many people how to shoot. More importantly … how to shoot safely. That was Derrick, through and through. Dedicated. A true sporting gentleman. May he rest in peace.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2017

Witch-Hunts & Wildlife Wars

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If you are in the public eye (and in a very minor way, I am, as a country-sports writer) you need to watch what you say. If you’re happy to say it, then you need the balls to defend it too. I joined a petition tonight aimed at the BBC asking them to moderate the biased behaviour of someone who I had latterly regarded as a soul-brother. Chris Packham. We have the same dirty, hands on approach to studying wildlife. Turning over animal scat and pulling it apart to see what the prey was, picking up bird pellets to dissect them and understand what they’re eating . I pride myself on my fieldcraft skills and an ability to interpret the evidence on ‘scenes of crime’ left by predators. I use that phrase with caution, for the natural death of any creature these days seems to invite accusation that it was a ‘crime’. I study bird-song, particularly as a ‘language’, trying to understand the difference between a mating call, an alarm call or a mere celebration of voice. Yet I do that not just because I am a wildlife lover but also because I’m a hunter. Birds relay signals to the hunter about the state of the landscape far more than beasts. Not that I’m going to give away any secrets here … read my books!

Animals, birds and insects kill each other. Mother Nature actually encourages this awful slaughter. If She didn’t everything would starve to death. Birds eat bugs and worms! Foxes and badgers eat rabbits, ye Gods! Even household cats, fed twice a day by their owners, slaughter songbirds! I’m not sure where you took your Biology ‘O’ level (I breezed mine despite playing truant bird-nesting , pond dipping and scrumping apples) but the first lesson we were taught to ready our young minds before the first rat-dissection class was that the big fish eat the little fish. Incidentally, that class? Guess who the teacher asked to provide the rats? I was way ahead of the game. Death is a ‘given’ in Mother Natures master-plan. How and when is just as random as Her huge, unpredictable pogroms. Tsunamis, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, plagues, famines. Packham and his cohorts (Avery, Oddie, May etc) decry the right of man (the superior mammal) to kill other animals. How shallow, how obscene, how dysfunctional is that … as a human being? These people are living in a fantasy world where the lower order of Mammalia and the lowest bird are more important than the higher order. Mother Nature takes care of these things. Trust her.

Incidentally, I was part of a Social Media exchange tonight which questioned my perception of ‘man’ being part of the higher order. Someone joined the exchange who told us that domestic cats killed songbirds because ‘they needed to hunt to survive’. My ribs are still aching.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Sept 2015

 

The Buzz

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It was a delight today to jump the old lurcher into the tailgate of an SUV, pack a gun in the motor and head out to the shade of a summer wood for some squirreling. The old dog had been deprived of his weekend sorties due to his owner (yours truly) having a very senior moment recently resulting in the write-off of the X-Trail. With the insurance claim wrangled and settled, we now have a new Panzer in which to trawl the farm tracks and challenge the grey invader and its rodent or corvid allies.

With the temperature already touching 18c at 8am (a shameless lie-in after a busy week in the day job), I pulled up alongside a small four acre covert. This is one of the satellite woods on the estate and a breeder / feeder point for the grey squirrel population. Nature abhors a vacuum and these outlying encampments supply replacement insurgements to the main coverts if left unchecked. I parked in the shade and let Dylan from the tailgate. His enthusiasm as he left the air-conditioned motor waned immediately and I swear he turned and thought about jumping back in! Too late. I slammed the tailgate and looked at him. “If I’m going to sweat this, so are you, old boy!” I muttered. I armed the rifle and we set off into the wood.

On such a warm morning, I would expect greys to be active. Particularly now when the first sign of the green nut fruits appear (cob nuts, beech and acorn). Strangely, grey squirrels can tolerate the mild toxins these developing fruits contain but the red squirrel can’t. Another reason the red disappeared from here a generation ago. I set down in cover in a corner of the wood, laying the old lurcher (already panting) in the relief of shade. For the first time in a fortnight I had time to sit back and reflect on ‘the accident’. On the way here this morning I had heard on the radio that there had been a serious four vehicle incident on the A47 Norwich Bypass. Two weeks earlier I had learned how your life can pass in front of you in the blink of an eye, so wondered what had happened and had everyone survived? I had … and the other driver … without a scratch, simply due to the robust safety features built in to modern vehicles, both of which were ‘write-offs’. While I had been calm and collected in the aftermath of the incident, in which the police and recovery teams had been superb, over the last two weeks I’ve had time to reflect on what would have happened if I hadn’t accelerated, putting the driver door beyond the impact zone?

Sitting there today in the shade, with my faithful dog beside me, I melted into the ambience of  the wood. I didn’t care about squirrels or crows. I stared up at the shafts of sunlight illuminating the lush, verdant woodland rides and saw the myriad bugs and insects whirling in the canopy. Then I marvelled at the subtle noise in the wood, which I often take for granted. The constant hum and drone, the soundtrack of a hundred thousand lives. A passing jay screamed our presence and the dog lifted an eyelid in acknowledgement. Then went back to sleep. I wasn’t in a mood to shoot a damn thing. I just sat and watched and listened. I was just happy to be alive. And I’ll be back there tomorrow too. Because I like the ‘buzz’.

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, August 2015

Alive & Kicking: Bungles and Bees

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My last post on here turned out to be a prophecy fulfilled, unfortunately. No-one is to blame for this. Many of us in the pro-hunting camp rely on a number of hardcore political lobbyists aligned to our various Associations and Alliances to do the campaigning for a fair deal for hunters, shooters, anglers et al. I take no real joy in having predicted that the timing was wrong for a debate on amendments to the Hunting Act. If I was to blame anyone for the faux-pas, it would be the Tory administration for not lining up their ducks in the right order (if you’ll excuse the phrase). What really got my goat, however, was that it allowed an annoying and insipid bunch of animal rights campaigners calling themselves ‘Team Fox’ to claim some sort of moral victory. The postponement of the debate had nothing to do with animal rights concerns and everything to do with a political ‘pissing contest’. It exposed the SNP as future meddlers in English law despite promises not to do so and therefore highlighted the need for EVEL (English Votes for English Law). Which is where the ducks were lined up wrongly, of course.

All of this, on top of the recent decision by SMP’s to enforce airgun licensing in Scotland, just shows how unreasonably emotional the subject of hunting and guns can be amongst my ‘Misinformed‘. One pundit calculated this week that it will take the 14 remaining Firearms Officers in Scotland about 45 years to process the 500,000 license claims from existing airgun owners. The law is an ass? You bet your ass! Airgun crime is at an all-time low in Scotland (indeed, the UK). Airgun ‘criminals’ are hardly likely to apply for a license, are they? What a waste of political, legal and police time. Time that would be better devoted to combating radicalism and protecting UK residents from ‘real and present’ danger from terrorism.

But enough on politics. This is Wildscribblers blog! My off-road sorties into the Norfolk hinterland in pursuit of vermin are on hold for a week or two, which will please Mr May and friends. Not that the rabbits and magpies will be entirely safe. A fairly serious RTA yesterday, from which both I and the other driver walked away unscathed, means the X-Trail is a write-off. A testament to the strength of modern vehicles. My little courtesy car isn’t exactly built for farm tracks so I will be using Shanks Pony to access land for a while.

Has anyone noticed how prolific the wildflowers are this summer, and hence the ‘pollinators’. All around me in Norfolk, the County Council cut-backs have meant minimal cutting back of verges except where it threatens motorists visibility. As a result, highway verges are a splash of colour. Poppy, ragged robin, dandelion, foxglove, mullein, hemlock, rosebay willowherb, mallow, vetch. The list is endless and a huge source of pollen for hoverflies, honey bees and solitary bees. Brilliant to see. Of course, where there are insects, there are birds. The yellowhammers, warblers and robins have an abundance of food now. I took a picture the other day (that I will share some time soon) of a yellowhammer with a beak full of flies. I wondered where the nest of chicks were? And whether the magpies and crows were watching? So, I have a question for the reader? If the little yellowhammer is a hunter of flies, what momentary pain does the fly feel? Probably the same as the momentary pain the yellowhammers chick feels when the carrion crow snatches it? Perhaps the same momentary pain that the crow feels when I shoot it? Predation, pain, death … these are all a common theme in Mother Natures grand scheme. You can’t discriminate and exempt any creature from this inevitability. If you do, you are playing at being at ‘Mother Nature’ or ‘God’ or whatever you, personally, call the higher plane. I call it Tao … but to each, their own.

Have a good weekend, guys and girls. I will. Because I’m still alive. And for about three seconds yesterday morning, I didn’t expect to be.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2015

 

 

Summer Breeze

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The scent of jasmine carried by the breeze on a hot June night overwhelms the fading aroma of garlic bread and barbecued meat. The midges dance in anger outside an invisible curtain of citronella smoke released from a circle of burning tea-lights. Pipistrelle bats prey on insects hovering around the solar lamps in the hanging baskets. An illuminated display of orange, yellow and crimson dangling like chariots of fire in my own personal Jerusalem. An old lurcher lies on his bed on the decking, watching the bats through a half-raised eyelid. His old master is watching too, while scribbling notes for yet another project. A wonderful evening and the world here is good.

Can’t say the same across the world can we? Many dead after a radical attack in Tunisia. Other so called ‘terrorist’ attacks in other countries. You’re not safe abroad or at home it seems. As always, in the name of religion or creed. Madness. Why do folk dedicate their life or their death to a series of myths and fables (written  or fabricated) in ancient scribblings? And why do they insist on impressing their ‘belief’ on others? What a waste of intelligence and life.

More importantly, why are we tolerating this insult to humanity? This ‘I don’t like your beliefs so I want to kill you’ mentality? The second world war was fought and won by liberal thinking nations to oppose such outrage. Yet those same nations are now inviting within their borders thousands of immigrants who bring with them a hatred of our values, our creeds, our liberalism and our tolerance. Why are we allowing this? Why is our governance constantly apologising for and legislating against our rights as natural, indigenous citizens to voice our objections to the arrogant, subversive demands of people who asked to be homed here and were allowed here? They should be reminded that they here at our behest and on our terms … not theirs!

Everyone expected World War Three to be a nuclear conflagration. It hasn’t worked out that way, has it? It is happening, now. Right in front of us. The human race eating itself alive on a menu of hatred, religious intolerance, greed, politics and charity.

Me? I’m sitting here smelling the jasmine, watching the bats and thinking that I’m glad I’m approaching the twilight years. I feel sorry for my son and the generations beyond them.

A few millennia from now, an intelligent life form will land on Earth and say that an intelligent life form once lived on this planet … but it destroyed itself while arguing about the reason it came to exist. How sad is that?

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2015.

A Summer Sundown

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So peaceful. Close to 10pm here on the garden deck and still very warm. The sun has set … a subtle display of reds and pinks … but the twilight has now settled into a cornflower blue vista dotted with light cloud. The pipistrelle bats are swooping across the tops of the cherry trees and feeding on the bugs that rise to find a higher roost as the ground cools and dampens. The May bugs broke ground today, a month late, yet in perfect time for the bat kits and fledgling swallows and swifts. The aerial acrobatics from afternoon to dusk have been a joy to watch. Bird and bat. Butterfly and bug. I’ll venture indoors soon and abandon my vigil at the bench. Not because the wife insists. Not because the bats have stopped hawking. Simply because my whisky tumbler is empty. Time to top up and resume the vigil. I haven’t heard the tawny owls yet, so it can’t be bedtime, can it?

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2015

A Summer Storm Over A Norfolk Wood

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The dark and bulbous cloud bank rolled toward the wood like a series of breaking waves. The gunmetal texture in high contrast to the fields of ripe, yellow rape. Above the brimstone crop, swallows and swifts flew sorties amongst the storm flies and aphids trapped in the pressure front of the moist tsunami. The deep, guttural roll of distant thunder drummed behind the cumuli. Rooks and jackdaws appeared, flying low over the blossom of the hawthorn hedges. Flocks of plundering pigeons fled the rape and drove toward the wood for cover. A fox trotted briskly into the covert to seek shelter. Black over white. Grey from yellow. Red into green. The mistle thrush, high in a beech heralding the incoming fury, now ceased its song. The blackbird and robin, choristers to the rain dance, fell silent too. A searing flash of light zig-zagged across the near-black canvas of the turbulent sky. Within seconds the awesome thrash of Odin’s drum erupted, the earth vibrating to his music. Then silence. For just seconds. Then the almost electrical crackle of the approaching curtain of torrential rain. I pull up my hood and huddle beneath the beech canopy as the storm closes around me. The relentless sweep of the cascade flattens swathes of rape and jettisons soil and stone in a series of ricochets. The sky is invisible now behind this blur of falling water but the flashes of light prevail and the muted sound of thunder barely outranks the racket of the rain. For fifteen minutes the deluge batters the wood and then, as suddenly as it started, it is over. I stay to enjoy the aftermath of the storm and watch the wood and field awaken. Behind the gentle percussion of the dripping leaf canopy, the little robin is the first to sing the ‘all-clear’. A melody full of rejoicing and relief. Other birdsong opens up and they have reason to sing. All around me the air starts to vibrate gently as the hum and buzz begins. The sunbeams falling through the wet canopy are shrouded in the prism of rainbow colours and start to fill with a whirling ballet of insect life, woken by the rain. The wren and the blackcap will feast well this evening. Above me in the canopy, a hidden canon of pigeon murmur begins. Out along the woods margin, the rabbit kits appear, lapping at the dripping rye grass. The stench of sodden mustard-rape is overtaken by the scent of wild garlic. The sky is clearing now and the evening will be calm and fruitful. I look South and can still see the distant flash of lightning as the grey swirl hovers above the City. No-one there will enjoy what I just witnessed, huddled in their offices, shops and homes. Me? I love to sit below the fury of a summer storm.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2015