13 January 2020

Getting the car out of the garage shortly before dawn, I hear a bird-call I don’t recognise coming from our neighbour’s garden. It sounds like some sort of thrush: clear and mellow.

It’s not a song as such; just a couple of notes in rapid succession, a pause, then a couple more notes. Sometimes the pairs of notes go low-high (oo-ii!); sometimes they go high-low (chii-oo!). The call is surprisingly clear. Definitely not a blackbird. An unimaginative song thrush perhaps?

I need to get better at this. I’ve learnt to recognise more bird-calls in recent years, but what do you do when you hear one you don’t recognise? Seeing the bird would help, but it’s still too dim to make anything out. The call seems to be coming from the ridge of the neighbour’s roof. Perhaps that’s a clue: a bird that likes to perch high when calling.

How am I going to remember this so I can look it up later? Or should that be listen it up? Then I remember the voice memo app on my phone and record a good 20 seconds of calls.

I hurry back into the house to compare the call to the sounds of various thrushes on my Birds app…

Definitely a bit song-thrushy, but not varied enough. Not a mistle thrush either. Nor a redwing or fieldfare… Surely not a ring ouzel! Now wouldn’t that be something? You do occasionally get them round here, I’ve heard, although I’ve never seen one! Actually, it does sound quite a bit like a ring ouzel, if I’m ridiculously generous and optimistic! I should go out and listen some more, now I know what I’m listening for.

The bird is still calling, clear and loud, as regular as clockwork. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it sounds a bit like a faulty burglar alarm.

…A bit like the faulty burglar alarm my neighbour was complaining about the other week, in fact.



8 January 2020

· Wirral ·

An afternoon working on my Darwin book in the car, parked at the edge of the Dee Marshes at Gayton. I did pretty well (800 words), despite the distraction of pink-footed geese constantly on the move. There were also hundreds of woodpigeons. I’ve never seen so many together before. A kestrel spent a couple of hours perched atop a red water-channel marker-post. Little egrets flew by every so often, spooking geese and redshank. The way egrets tuck in their necks in flight can make their heads look rounder and surprisingly owl-like. Perhaps the spooked birds thought the same.

Dee Marshes, Gayton
Dee Marshes, Gayton

3 January 2020

Another lunchtime walk around the lanes. As I was heading down Rowlands Lane, a huge bumblebee shot out of the drystone wall to my left, and made a bumblebee-line for the wall on the opposite side of the track. But no, not a bumblebee; a wren—a surprisingly easy mistake to make, and not for the first time in my case.

True to its scientific name, Troglodites troglodites, the wren disappeared into a crevice in the wall. I stopped to have a look, and found myself nose-to-beak with the diminutive creature. A split-second later it was gone. I couldn’t say I blamed it.

Definitely a top-ten bird.



1st January 2020

Jen and I saw in the new year in front of a roaring fire with Jools Holland and Laphroaig whisky.

We took a walk around the lanes just before lunch. The weather was mild and still: almost spring-like.

Yesterday, I finished reading Kathleen Jamie’s latest collection, Surfacing. I’d saved it for the holiday season. She is my favourite writer. The book was slightly different from its two predecessors in that there were some very long pieces, with more space given to archaeology. Predictably, I loved it.

One of my Christmas presents from Jen was the official write-up of the archaeological dig I took part in way back in 1985: Kebister: the four-thousand-year-old story of one Shetland township by Olwyn Owen and Christopher Lowe (or Olly and Chris, as we knew them). I was surprised to see my own name in the acknowledgements, among those who had worked to ‘impossibly tight timescales (1985–6), often in bad and sometimes appalling weather (1985)’. You’ve not known cold until you’ve knelt in mud all day in a Shetland blizzard with only a trowel for protection.

Happy days!


30 December 2019

A 75-mile drive to the Wirral for a lunch-date with Stense. The weather was so glorious, we decided to leave lunch and Christmas presents till later, and took a walk along the edge of Burton Marshes to Burton Point, then on down the cycleway as far as the Welsh border.

Pink footed geese, several stonechats, a curlew, and the usual suspects.

At the Point, I spotted a strange bird perched on one of the fence-posts high above us. It was about the size of a thrush, but was shaped more like a robin. Then it turned towards us and I realised it was a robin. With it silhouetted against the sky, with nothing but the fence-post to gauge it by, I had completely misjudged its size.

(Well, at least I recognised its shape.)


28 December 2019

Looking after Rosie the cocker spaniel for a couple of days, I took her for a walk up the hill, down Raw Lane, then back home through the wood.

The wood was a risk, as I correctly guessed the path would be very muddy. But, for once, Rosie exhibited some common sense and side-stepped all the mud. Until, that is, she came to the foot-wide stream we needed to step across, which she somehow contrived to fall into head-first, then lay there, looking at me pathetically, waiting to be lifted out.



24 December 2019

My 32nd consecutive Christmas Eve ascent of Moel Famau in North Wales. I’m sure I’ll break the chain eventually.

This year, I was once again accompanied by Carolyn and her extended family. It took three cars to get us all there. The weather was dry, windy, and unexpectedly clear. Lots of blue sky. Lots of fellow walkers, too. There must have been around a hundred people at the summit, where we partook of mince pies, biscuits, brownies, and cups of tea, before heading down via the longer route through the forest.

No ravens this year, but we did get a very good view of a buzzard perched in a pine tree.

Shortly after joining the M56 on my way home, I spotted a red kite twisting low above the verge: my first red kite on the Wirral.

📷 More photos ».