Reg Snook's "park jottings" have been a special feature of the friends' noticeboard since early in 2010. He publishes a new one each fortnight, providing a naturalist's insights into the lives of the birds and animals of our park.

Jottings – 10 September 2019 – The other side of the coin… Reg Snook

Hen harriers have always posed a problem in England ie every breeding season it becomes RSPB versus the grouse shooters who represent big money and who can pay £150 for each brace of grouse that they shoot.  Shooting begins on the glorious 12th (August).  The problem is that in order for shooting to take place, there has to be grouse and gamekeepers are responsible for their provision which requires areas of heather to be burnt off so that the young grouse can feed on new heather.  Now, there is another problem in that hen harrier chicks are sometimes fed on young grouse.  Therefore on the moorlands of England there is a conflict of interests and adult hen harriers have disappeared, some are found shot and eggs and young also disappear, despite this bird’s full protection by law.

There was as a recent report of a hen harrier nest failure due not to shooters but to RSPB/Natural England.  A nest of three young harriers in the Peak District of Derby were to be fitted with rings and tracking devices with an ITV camera crew engaged to film the ringing and fitting of the device.  Later two young harriers were found dead and the third had disappeared.  It is alleged that too much interference by licensed ringers and TV crew caused the adults to desert their young.  Grouse shooters blamed the RSPB and vice versa.  I have often wondered when transmitters are fitted to say cuckoos if this process can result in the death of these birds.  I know that we need to gain more knowledge to assist with their protection but I just wonder…  A recent interesting radio programme gave a different picture of a grouse moor in Wensleydale.  Yes, part of the moor is burnt, yes, clients pay to shoot grouse but on the moor other birds are protected and thirty-three pairs of curlew nested there this year.  Other nesting birds included redshank, lapwing, golden plover, common snipe, wheatear, ring ouzel, merlin, kestrel, buzzard, peregrine and of course hen harrier. So there is another side to the coin.  However, in order to protect these nesting and declining species, control of vermin takes place.  Traps are set for stoat, weasels and rats, foxes are controlled as are crows and gulls.  I know how I feel about this. 

I have recently recalled some amusing visits I made as a DEFRA wildlife inspector.  Here is another.  Essex RSPB got in touch with DEFRA saying that it had come to their notice that a dock worker at Harwich was housing birds of prey in his garden and asked if he was registered to do so.  No, he was not.  I was sent to Harwich to sort this out.  I rang the doorbell to be greeted by loud snarls and barks.  A woman’s voice yelled to the dogs to be quiet and, through frosted glass, I explained the reason for my visit.  Her husband was at work at the nearby docks and a phone call got him to come and meet me.  He was a very well-built man and he agreed to show me the birds in his care which included hobby, kestrel and American kestrel, all of whom were in a terrible condition.  He had no paperwork and was not registered with DEFRA.  It was then I saw out of the corner of my eye a rather small chicken shed and sitting on a perch amongst all the wire-netting was an eagle, but not just any old eagle.  I had only seen this species of eagle once before when I was trudging through a rainforest in darkest Africa wearing Army boots with a 7.62 SLR slung over my shoulder.  This bird was a Cassins hawk eagle looking thoroughly miserable and probably thinking “what the hell am I doing here?”  I excused myself, phoned the Essex RSPCA, the police and DEFRA who all descended on this man at the same time.  Everything was confiscated and the eagle went to a Zoo (the country of origin would not accept it back).  I did not visit this large Essex dockworker ever again!

Jottings – 28 August 2019 – Once so common…Reg Snook

I consider myself to be a half-decent ornithologist.  I could have said decent but I doubt if many would agree with that.  However, there was a time, like many a modern twitcher, when I travelled far and wide to see some exotic species, particularly a rare bird of prey or an unusual touraco!  Now I am far more content to note the ordinary “stuff”. Don’t get me wrong, the sight of a large eagle or vulture circling in a thermal still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

A few days ago, farmer Ralph was gathering in the last of his grain.  His wheat harvest had been delayed because of recent torrential rain which had flattened his last field at Grundisburgh.  It was a weary looking group that wound its way down Stoney Road with a somewhat overloaded trailer causing quite a spillage of the golden seed.  What a bonanza for the local sparrows!  Cycling up the hill, I counted well over 200 house sparrows as they noisily searched the road surface.  Is there a better sight than a large flock of house sparrows, so common in my childhood and now, in places, a rarity? This is my time for birdwatching – they hardly moved as a I slowly passed them.  No doubt a few of these spudgers will become RTA’s through the inability of some vehicle owners to respect the speed limit, but it has been a good year for these little brown birds.

On the edge of Keith’s garden near his 300-year old farmhouse is a clump of thistles, no longer showing purple flowers but now coloured white as the breeze disperses the seed heads across his lawn.  Today a couple of dozen goldfinches were excitedly feeding on these seed heads.  Are not goldfinches the most beautiful of birds?  This flock was mostly made up of youngsters none of which were showing the red, black and white on their heads but all of these finches had black and yellow wing feathers.  Once again I was able to cycle slowly past them almost unnoticed so intent were they on extracting the thistle seed.  Later, when I cycled back, they were still on the thistles but then were disturbed by Keith’s ‘stupid’ dog.  They took off as one – a shower of black and yellow. 

The sighting of ravens in Suffolk has become more frequent with this large crow even being seen over Ipswich.  Again, when I was a DEFRA Wildlife Inspector, I visited a keeper of captive bred ravens in Lincolnshire.  It was a strange visit, very strange.  This keeper had not been inspected for over three years and he had had two ravens registered at that time.  He was a very friendly man and showed me his nine ravens!  Nine?  His original pair were in a very large aviary and over the course of the three years had raised seven youngsters.  It was impossible to gather them up and put cable ties on their legs.  However, during a gale the following autumn, the aviary collapsed and all nine ravens escaped.  Could some have come this way perhaps?  But that was not the reason why my visit was seemed so strange.  Whilst with this keeper there was an almighty crash coming from a nearby shed.  I politely asked what caused this noise and really did not expect the answer I received of “that’s the hippopotamus”.  The keeper explained that he had acquired this huge animal from the “Zoo down the road – who did not want it any more”.  He said that the trouble with caring for this beast was that it needed to be scrubbed down every day with a wet broom and had made a terrible mess of his pond.  I subsequently sent in my report but have no idea of what eventually happened to either the hippo or its keeper.  “There’s nowt so queer as folk”.

Jottings – 13 August 2019 – The fury of a caged bird…Reg Snook

Recently, on three consecutive evenings, there was on the television a programme encouraging us to do a bit of plane spotting.  I have always found it difficult to recognise the various passenger planes that fly over my home which is directly under the flightpath to London Stansted and Luton.  I see ‘stuff’ flying in and out at all times of the day.  The TV programme tried to help me spot up to three dozen species of metal birds.  The presenters were awful and seemed to know little more than I did about the subject.  I am sure that if these planes were coated with feathers, I would have no problem with identifying them.  However, whilst gazing up into the clear blue sky, I did see species other than the metal ones.  Common buzzards are fairly regularly seen overhead and occasionally I see a red kite or a peregrine but I did not expect to see a goshawk gliding in a thermal.  A great spot.  Now was that made by Boeing, Douglas or us Europeans?

I have always been wary of goshawks.  When I was an Inspector for DEFRA’s Bird of Prey unit, I had to check the rings on all Schedule 1 birds kept in captivity.  Goshawks always presented problems.  Birds of prey bred in captivity have a close ring on their leg with a special number which, more or less, proves that the bird in question was not taken from the wild.  I well remember visiting a keeper who specialised in breeding goshawks.  This particular bird that I was inspecting was a female, a large, evil-looking brute of a bird.  It was the keeper’s responsibility to collect the hawk and show me the ring on its leg so that I| could check its number.  My heart sank when the keeper said that it was in a large aviary and had not been handled for over a year.  Nevertheless, he agreed to catch this monster of a bird.  He disappeared into his kitchen and emerged wearing boots, a thick full-length coat, massive gloves, goggles and a crash helmet!  He also carried a dustbin lid. Of dear!  He entered the cage, the bird went mad and screamed abuse at him followed by an almighty scuffle and then calmly he invited me into the aviary.  The keeper had his delinquent bird pinned against the back wall by the dustbin lid. “It’s okay”, he said, “the ‘gos’ won’t move, it’s got my thumb.”  Indeed, one of the bird’s large talons was sticking out from his thick glove.  I wiped the blood from the ring (and thumb) and checked its number.  I was then requested to prise (with pliers) the large black talon from his thumb.  The keeper must have been in excruciating pain but he remained calm.  Not so the goshawk, its glaring eyes putting the fear of God into me.  I was advised to leave the aviary and the keeper released his bird.  The bird was frantic, flying up and down the aviary at great speed with his keeper defending himself skilfully with a metal shield.  With the bird at the far end of the aviary, he nipped out (how can you ‘nip out’ dressed like that?)  I dressed his throbbing thumb, shared a cup of tea with him, thanked him for the entertainment and left.

In the last jottings, I mentioned painted lady butterflies and of my hope that some would appear in this area.  I am delighted that several critics of my scribblings have reported seeing this very beautiful butterfly.  Two people have in fact had a painted lady, the butterfly variety of course, enter into their home.  Luckily, ace butterfly expert, Richard Stewart, for whom I am always indebted has recorded painted ladies in our park on several occasions recently with ten on the 30th – magnificent!  There was a mass arrival of these super insects at Felixstowe, so yes it is one of those exceptional years.

Jottings – 30 July 2019 – Winged Wonders… Reg Snook

We have only a few days left in which to enjoy swifts and to see acrobatic dark shapes that wheel above us and then scream, literally, between the chimney pots.  No wonder this bird was, many years ago, viewed with mystic admiration.  By August 7 the swifts of Stoney Road will be gone; the air surrounding the chimney pots will be silent save for the chattering of sparrows.  The ghostly, scything shapes will not reappear in our skies until May of next year.  I, for one, will miss them but it has been a good year for the Stoney Road colony.  Only a few days ago I tried to count them as they came screaming across the road; round and round they went, the screaming getting louder and louder.  Suddenly, they would change course and come over me at a different angle, a few stragglers (probably newly fledged youngsters) getting caught out and having to play catch-up.  I tried to count them as there were far more than last year – forty, fifty?  Impossible, chimney pots and telephone wires got in the way.  Luckily, a friend who had noticed me wagging my digit in the air and cursing because the swifts were too quick for me, simply took a few photographs when the birds were in open space, so we were able to count them.  Ignoring the Apache helicopter in the background and something else quite inexplicable at the time which looked like a flying chicken (and later turned out to be a birthday balloon), we counted 63 swifts.  I found that number remarkable. 

I remember many years ago reading what was known then as the ‘swift bible’, a book by Dr David Lack entitled Swifts in an Oxford Tower.  As far as I am aware, it was probably one of the first comprehensive studies of apus apus and from that moment on the swift has been one of my favourite birds.  I still find them mysterious and truly wondrous.  Local bird groups are doing their utmost to protect swifts, another declining species, by encouraging people to attach nest boxes under the eaves of their house.  We must not lose these birds and signs are encouraging this year, especially if the Stoney Road lot is anything of a marker (it certainly looked like a flying chicken on the photograph too.)

Richard Stewart passed me a note to say that on 23 July he and his wife Marie clocked up 14 different species of butterfly in our Park.  I will list them:  large, small and green-veined white, peacock, red admiral, small and Essex skipper, speckled wood, small copper, brown Argus, purple hairstreak, meadow brown, ringlet and gate-keeper.  This was their highest total recording in one day in our Park.  I am indebted to Richard and Marie for this information and it is always good news to know that records are being accumulated of the wildlife in Christchurch Park.  I saw a TV programme last week about painted-lady butterflies.  It is being suggested that this year will be a bumper one for this beautiful migratory species.  I have already mentioned that I came across a painted lady or two at Butley recently.  Come on Richard, find one or a dozen in our Park.  Some years ago whilst slowly cycling between Culpho and Tuddenham, I found myself in a cloud of about 300 painted ladies.  Many had been flattened by traffic.  Actually ‘blizzard’ describes them better than ‘cloud’, a blizzard of orange black and white.

I have noticed several local roundabouts have been sown with a wild flower mix.  What a change from formal settings and deep tyre ruts.  A friend who lives close by decided that his lawn should become a wild meadow.  He has never seen so many butterflies on his patch and now I am also getting meadow browns, ringlets and gatekeepers in my garden.

Jottings – 16 July 2019 – A special bird… Reg Snook

The oaks that line the road between Culpho and Tuddenham are large, their branches forming archways across the tarmac.  High up in their branches every four hundred yards or so is where carrion crows nest.  The bulky structures are easy to see before these massive trees are cloaked in green.  Whilst females incubate clutches of three or four eggs, the males search the roads for anything that becomes an RTA.  Along this stretch I find all sorts of ‘dead stuff’ including hares, rabbits, grey squirrels, rats, a stoat or two and, especially in the winter, pheasants.  When the young crows leave the nest, many of them also become causalities as, for some reason, crows seek insects by the roadside.  To my joy, one deserted and somewhat worn crow’s nest now becomes a home for one of my favourite birds of prey, the hobby falcon (falco subuteo).  This small falcon is a late nester and, I believe, actively seeks out a pair of nesting crows awaiting the time when the young crows fledge.

This year, despite frequent visits to this stretch of road, I failed to locate a hobby falcon unsurprisingly as this bird is difficult to find when eggs are first laid.  One day in June, whilst cycling along in the shade of the oaks, I heard a male hobby calling.  The call is similar to that of a kestrel though sadly kestrels are not nearly as common as they once were.  The male hobby came low over a field of ripening wheat and disappeared into the top-most branches of an oak.  I knew that the crows had fledged from a nest in that tree so my favourite falcons were again breeding along this stretch of road.  Hobby falcons also feed, according the most bird books, mainly on dragonflies.  There are two small lakes in this area and I have certainly seen hobby falcons hunting for dragonflies over the water.  Actually, I have seen a hobby out-sprint me – though sprint is the wrong word for my type of cycling – and catch a hawker dragonfly along the road.  However, from my experience our local falcons have a knack of dashing sparrowhawk-like along the hedgerows – catching passerines.  Incidentally, the nearby swift colony seems to be still intact but our swallows have disappeared (probably not due to small birds of prey).

As the young hobby falcons develop so the nest site becomes more obvious.  There will be much calling by both the young and the parent birds – something for me to look forward to.  Hobby falcons have increased in the last few years which is wonderful news.  It is no surprise to find forty or fifty birds hunting for food over large stretches of water and reed-beds during migration.  Yes, hobby falcons are a migratory species and I am saddened when they depart for their winter quarters in Africa.  However, that time has not yet arrived so there is plenty of opportunity for the young to spend in the nest.

Recently, in the centre of Ipswich where there are lots of feral pigeons, I saw a lesser black-backed gull stride amongst them and then, without warning, kill a pigeon, dismantle it and eat it.  Onlookers were shocked and many photographed this incident.  There were murmurings of sympathy for the ‘poor little pigeon’.  This, however, is what large gulls do.  They don’t just rely on the food that Ipswich inhabitants discard.  I wonder if these sympathisers feel the same about what large gulls do to young puffins, guillemots and other young sea birds that so often feature on TV.  I found it strange that lesser black-backed gulls do not seem to feature amongst the gulls at Aldeburgh.  Whilst eating fish and chips on the shingle the other day, I was surrounded by about thirty herring gulls and three black-headed gulls.  Perhaps the black winged variety prefer buildings in and around Ipswich on which to rear their young or perhaps the food in Ipswich is more palatable.  Perhaps a diet of chips is boring.  Having said all that, is there a smarter looking bird than the lesser black-backed gull even though the ‘killer’ bird in Ipswich did not look so clever with blood adorning his yellow beak and head.

Jottings – 2 July 2019 – A versatile ‘Brock’ – Reg Snook

A couple of years ago, those of us who saw ‘Springwatch’ from RSPB Minsmere observed a badger swim, yes swim, across the scrape and gobble up large numbers of avocet eggs.  Now I have been presented with another extraordinary example of a badger’s achievement.  I am fortunate to regularly receive the Waldringfield Wildlife Group’s “What’s about”, a quarterly publication of reported wildlife activity in the Waldringfield area skilfully produced by Peter Maddison.  Many locals send him their observations some with photographs. In the Spring edition it was reported that a badger had been seen swimming across the River Deven (at high tide) from the Sutton side to Waldringfield.  This took place when lots of people were on both the water and the shore.  Clive Quantrill took a photo of this animal, from his boat, coming ashore amongst the moored boats.  The Deben is a tidal river, wide at this point, and extremely fast flowing.  Congratulations to Mr Quantrill and to ‘Brock’.

I suppose we all love butterflies especially the pretty ones – you know Red Admirals, Peacocks etc.  One of the most beautiful of our butterflies, in my opinion, is the Painted Lady.  This jewel is a migrant insect, a great traveller from Africa.  Some years, we have a massive influx.  I am not an expert on butterflies (or much else) but I do love Painted Lady butterflies.  Two weeks ago, I saw a few on the edge of Tangham Forest near Butley and  there were more at Titchwell on the North Norfolk coast.  We can become very blasé about nature.  Having seen some unusual or rare bird, butterfly or animal, we become accustomed to it and just accept that it is just there.  But I think a beautiful butterfly is worth a second glance (or a dozen glances).  I hope that the few Painted Ladies that I saw are only the beginning of a deluge of orange, white and black.  A lady in Grundisburgh showed me photos that she took of a four spot chaser dragonfly emerging on a reed-stem on her garden pond.  She said that the dragonfly was motionless on this reed for two days before flying away.  Isn’t it wonderful that now and again just a little bit of nature thrills someone so much.  Mind you, another resident in this village reckons that he has fairies at the bottom of his garden but so far has taken no photos to prove his theory.

My French ornithologist friend, Pierre, who monitors ospreys nesting in his patch of the Loire valley, keeps me up to date with their breeding success, or otherwise.  I am always amazed at the large size of fish an osprey can carry.  One nest with young is regularly visited by the parent birds with fish (I assume from the River Loire).  However, towards the bottom of this huge timber nest, a pair of pied wagtails are raising young.  Normally, this species of wagtail would nest in buildings not too high off the ground, certainly not way up in a Scots Pine tree.

Late June is a really splendid time in Christchurch Park.  After the recent rains the grassy areas have as yet no brown patches nor has it been used by heavy fairground equipment.  All is very green including the ring-necked parakeets.  It is difficult to see all of the Wilderness Pond because of the undergrowth but it seems that the latest clutch of coots have gone the same way as the mallards and mandarin ducklings.  Once again, the large gulls are thought to be responsible.  These scavenging monsters are gradually spreading their wings with nests now being discovered far from the town centre.  We have no nuthatches but we do have treecreepers.  I have received reports that several treecreeper nests have been raided by great spotted woodpeckers.  It seems that the black and white menace, ie the large gulls, can equally apply to our woodpeckers.

Jottings – 18 June 2019 – Likes and dislikes … Reg Snook

There is an old saying that over a period of time history repeats itself.  In the 1950’s, along with many local birdwatchers, I rushed to a garden in Ipswich because an extremely rare bird had turned up.  We were staggered by the beauty of this migrant bird but little did we realise that this species would become part of our gardens’ natural history.  That bird?  A collared dove!  So common are these birds nowadays that we rarely give them a second glance.  History, in fact, does repeat itself.  Every day now I have another migrant bird (well, three actually) visiting my garden.  I am awakened by their raucous calls and whistles – ring-necked parakeets, now the norm in many parts of our capital city but, as yet, uncommon in the Ipswich area.  How long before they become part of our landscape as have collared doves?  Jeremy Clarkson writes a column in the Sunday Times every week.  Yes, Clarkson who used to do idiotic things with cars on television but is now a ‘farmer’!  He writes about how we turn up our noses about invasive species and, in particular, ring-necked parakeets.  Pretty harmless he thinks regarding them as “parrots who flutter in a blizzard of colour around his London flat”.  I suggest that Jeremy may have a lot to learn about invasive species and, who knows, farming as well.  I wonder, however, if he will still see the beauty in a thousand or so pearl-grey ‘woodies’ descending upon his oilseed rape?  However, his ‘jottings’ do amuse me greatly.

On a warm day in June is there a greater pleasure than a bike ride on a country road with little traffic and lots of wildlife?  On the way to my studio, I hear yellowhammers in song every two to three hundred yards, lesser white-throats diving deeper into the hedgerows, the Culpho song thrush blasting out its song, young buzzards calling out for more food, excited green woodpeckers yelping at my slow progress and the second clutch of starlings clinging to the overhead wires along Stoney Road.  Oh, and I must include the house sparrows along that same road also with their chattering second brood.  The verges so far remain uncut so my legs brush against blood-red poppies, mauve mallow, delicate blue scabious, yarrow, hog-weed and this year’s speciality dog-roses (and I must not forget stinging nettles).  Although most fields are green with waving barley or wheat, it seems that skylarks are still able to nest in the ‘tramlines’ left by heavy farm machinery.  I wonder how many of you have stopped to listen to a skylark singing high above?

The blue and great tits have long left my garden with their young, so too a pair of robins.  Not so the crows, magpies, jackdaws and of course ring-necked parakeets.  A young fox, from a family nurtured by people round the corner, successfully caught a magpie on my lawn but I don’t really want either species.  As I grow vegetables, I should have known better than to leave my cabbage plants unprotected as wood pigeons are now doing what they do in the fields at Grundisburgh to young oil-seed rape.  However, on a warm day, I counted 27 species of birds seen in or over my garden and that does not include Air Force One on its way to Stansted!

A new species for Suffolk was recorded at Minsmere last week.  This bird was a Cretzschmar’s bunting.  Now, I have seen these buntings in Turkey and even there I had difficulty in distinguishing this species from its cousin, the Ortolan bunting.  The females are even more difficult to tell apart – Cretzchsmar’s has a white eye ring, Ortolan a pale yellow one.  Gone are the days when we used to sketch our findings but the lucky person who saw this bird at Minsmere had photographed it and, despite it being a female, identification was made possible. 

Jottings – 21 May 2019 – We were so horrid to sparrows! – Reg Snook

In a corner of my shed I found a sparrow trap.  This barbaric and lethal contraption is a reminder of two things; firstly, along with gin-traps and pole traps, this is a reminder of how we used to rid ourselves of any form of wildlife which was considered to be a pest; secondly, the point of this device is the fact that a few years ago house sparrows were so numerous that traps were created to specially rid ourselves of ‘spudgers’  Not that sparrows did much harm, they were just so common.  Okay, so sparrows gather together in cornfields prior to harvest but what they consume compared to wood pigeons is negligible.  The sparrow trap is a horrible device.  It’s shaped like a Nissan hut about 30 inches long and made of wire-netting.  A couple of sparrow sized ever-decreasing tunnels into this device allow a small bird to enter but not escape.  The trap would be placed on the ground with a handful of grain thrown in and around it.  Sparrows were trapped by the thousands in this manner but now, of course, things have changed and they are a treasure only found in a few strongholds.  Locally, numbers are improving but they will never, I imagine, regain their previous status.  Of course, it was not only a death trap for sparrows – finches and dunnocks also found themselves imprisoned.

I notice this year that starlings seem to be more common.  Like the house sparrow starling numbers plummeted a few years ago.  Already sturnum vulgaris have fledged their first brood and are now recycling.  Not everyone likes the starling.  This bird is argumentative and aggressive at bird feeders and food put out for other small birds quickly disappears.  They are also armed with very sharp bills.  I have said before that when starling numbers were at their peak in the 1970s I had dumped on my doorstep a couple of bags containing approximately 700 dead starlings, the result of someone trying to disperse a flock of roosting birds with a shotgun.  Incidentally, many birders’ favourite ornithological sight is a murmuration of starlings.  It is certainly mine. 

An update from Philip Murphy assures me that the pair of coot on the Wilderness Pond have raised five young.  I say raised because the young are not as large as their parents yet and I hope they will not succumb to the menace of the large gulls.  Why is this, what is so different between a duckling and a baby coot?  It is the parents.  Mallard ducks offer little protection to their brood and when duckling scatter they are easily picked up but adult coots have sharp, pointed bills and ferociously defend their offspring.  A ball of black with a clearly defined white pointed bill seems to be an adequate defence against the scavenging gulls.  Not so the little grebes.  It appears, according to Philip, that our grebes were unsuccessful with their young.  Apparently, they had at least one but that and the adults have disappeared.  Where to? We don’t know.  Perhaps they have decided that our Park is not a safe place to rear their family.  We shall see.

RSPB Minsmere is a super Reserve.  The volunteer staff are courteous and willing offering an up to date print out to visitors listing what has been seen in the last few hours and latest sightings chalked up in Reception.  The visitors too are friendly and willing to share information on what they have seen.  However, all is not perfect.  A sheet of paper I received stated that a pair of Dartford warblers with chicks can be seen in the dunes and stonechats also have young.  It also said “please, watch from a distance to minimise disturbance”.  It is a shame that some keen, excited (or should it be said selfish and  inconsiderate) birders are causing huge disturbance by getting too close to these small breeding birds in order to get photographs of them.

Jottings – 7 May 2019 – A painter of horses – Alfred Munnings

 I fully appreciate that horses are not considered to be ‘wildlife’.  There are exceptions of course – ponies in the New Forest or Dartmoor for example – but even these are not truly wild.  I mention horses because there is currently an exhibition at the Munning’s Museum in Dedham of paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings consisting mainly of horses entitled “Behind the Lines”.  These paintings were carried out in 1918 when Munnings was a war artist attached to the Canadian Calvary Brigade in France.  These wonderful works of art have not been seen in Great Britain for 100 years.  We are indeed very lucky to be able to see these paintings so close to where we live.  Sir Alfred was born at Mendham on the Suffolk/Norfolk border and attended Framlingham College before studying art in Norwich.  You may know of the consternation caused by his outburst on the subject of modern art when he was president of the Royal Academy but in my opinion I think he should best be remembered for his magnificent paintings which are even more remarkable given that he had lost the sight in one eye.

Behind the lines” is a series of paintings and sketches which were considerably appreciated by the soldiers who were pleased to have Munnings record their war effort.  Munnings is unsurpassed as a painter of horses and most of these works depict the men either caring for their horses or moving across the French landscape into battle.  The most poignant painting, I feel, is of a cavalry charge led by Lieutenant Flowerdew.  Interestingly, Flowerdew, despite being in the Canadian Army, came from Norfolk and was also educated at Framlingham College.  In this charge he was mortally wounded and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.  I love Munnings’ work and I thought that I was fully acquainted with his paintings but I was amazed by this collection in Dedham.  For those of you interested in art or horses, Munnings was a master of equine painting and the exhibition is on until November with an extremely reasonably priced entrance fee.

You may be aware of the furore, which arose the other day, caused by a pressure group ‘Wild Justice’ fronted by TV presenter, Chris Packham, and ex RSPB man, Mark Avery.  This group persuaded the Government, backed quango Natural England, to immediately revoke the general licence to shoot wood pigeons, crows and several other ‘pests’.  Most farmers and many conservationists called this action ‘bird-brained’.  I think you all know my views on this subject so all I will do is draw your attention to two observations I have noted during the past week.  Oilseed rape has turned much of the countryside bright yellow, pleasing for some but not for others, particularly if close to a field of green wheat or barley.  This colour scheme is I think a sad reminder that Norwich City FC will be in the Premiership league next season whilst Ipswich Town will be languishing in a lower division.  However, despite what Messrs Avery and Packham may think, artificial bird scarers have little effect on the 2,000 or so wood pigeons that I see devouring the young oilseed rape plants growing near my studio.  A grey cloud of pigeons are not deterred by an occasional bang.  Also this week, I have watched a crow bringing young dead birds to my bird bath, ripping them apart and then flying off to his mate for her to feed their growing youngsters.  Will the watching magpies soon follow suit, I ask?   

Reg Snook Jottings – 9 April 2019 – The Glorious Shelduck – Reg Snook

Although the Mandarin (aix galericulata) is as gaudy as a box of paints, in my opinion it does not compare to the shelduck (tadorna tadorna).  The shelduck is a large duck the size of a small goose, country friends of mine referring to it as ‘bar goose’.  Its plumage is basically white.  It has a bottle green head and neck, black wing feathers and chestnut and green speculum, an orange band on its breast and under-tail coverts, pink feet and red bill.  A splendid bird.  It has been recorded in our Park, small flocks having been seen on the northern grassy areas, but really it is a resident bird of our local tidal rivers.  As a youngster, on the shores of the River Orwell at Nacton, I would see this duck at all times of the year.  I loved the shelduck as it was always there though birders seem to choose to ignore it.  Later, when I was supposed to be studying for my ‘O’ level examinations, I would take my books with me to Nacton shores (Shakespeare, W H Hudson, Tennyson and Hardy) but leave them unopened.  The nesting shelduck were far more interesting.

During early spring the shelduck would be in pairs, each pair resident in the area where the eggs were to be laid.  The male shelduck is slightly larger than the female (which lacks the knob on its bill) and aggressively defends its territory from other ducks.  When the tide recedes, the shelduck feed on the mud searching for molluscs, small fish and worms.  Many of the trees, which are close to shoreline, have had the soil washed away from their roots.  “My” shelduck used to nest amongst these twisted roots but some pairs choose a site, usually a rabbit burrow or even a hole in a tree far from the river’s edge.  The female will lay a dozen or so large, white eggs in a nest of grass and roots lined with down plucked from her breast.  Naturalist and bird mimic, the late Percy Edwards who famously haled from Ipswich, once saw a pair of shelduck at Nacton with 27 ducklings, probably two females having laid in the same nest. As incubation continues, so the nest site becomes more obvious as the down gets scattered far and wide.

It gives me pleasure to see the newly hatched ducklings bobbing up and down on a high tide but, when danger threatens, these youngsters have the ability to dive below the surface.  It is then that the parents become very aggressive towards the intruder.  Why some shelduck nest so far inland is a mystery to me because, when the young hatch, they have to get to water.  I have seen long lines of ducklings gradually making their way down to the river, with Dad at the front and Mum bringing up the rear.  With the large gulls becoming more common, this journey to relative safety must be a nightmare.

One of the strangest and traditional facts about shelduck is that they do not go through their moult (a period of about 4 weeks when they are flightless) on our rivers.  The vast majority of adult birds gather together on the tidal estuaries of Heligoland Bight off the north German coast.  The shelduck ducklings of course have to remain on our local rivers whilst this is taking place.  They gather together into crèches with just a few ‘foster-parents’ to protect them.  During my boyhood, I saw all of this happening year after year.  No wonder the shelduck is my favourite duck.  By the way, I still passed my ‘O’ level English.

Locally, shelduck are found almost anywhere on the Orwell.  They are now paired up and egg-laying will soon begin.  It is worth giving these super ducks a second glance.

Jottings – 26 March 2019 – ‘Save our Minsmere’ – Reg Snook

Because of social media, today’s bird lovers know when to dash off to almost anywhere to record a rare or unusual species.  A normal day at Minsmere sometimes turns into a scene of chaos as the carpark rapidly fills with cars unloading the ‘anoraks’ with ‘bins’ and ‘scopes’  slung around their shoulders dashing off to crowd into a hide or assemble around a windswept clump of bushes.  Some birds attract a great deal of attention, others seem not to attract a second glance.  One of the latter species to twitchers is the coot, a bird as unremarkable as its close cousin, the moorhen.  It is a black-coloured bird with a white beak and plate.  It has ridiculous feet and is quite ungainly on land. Just recently, a coot turned up on the Wilderness Pond in our Park.  So what, you say.  Then, a few days later another coot arrived and, I am reliably informed by Philip Murphy, one of the coots was found sitting on a nest.  This somewhat unremarkable species of bird is now something special.  It is, I believe, a new breeding species for our Park.  Will the young coots, if the eggs hatch, survive?  Not if the lesser black backed gulls have anything to do with it.

In the latest SOG (SBG now) magazine is an article written by its President, John Grant.  It is really more of a plea than an article entitled “Time to show our love for Minsmere”.  It is almost a tear-jerking letter to the Government asking for protection of our beloved Minsmere Reserve.  John pleads for a cast-iron guarantee for the safety of this beautiful, ‘bio-diverse’ hotspot with its 5,000 odd species.  So far, we have received no such reassurance of protection if/when Sizewell C is built.  What also sticks in the throat to many of the visitors to our coast is that this £18 billion plus nuclear power station is being built by the French company EDF Energy together with the Chinese Nuclear Power Group CGN.  Also, for the last couple of years, Scottish Power has been carving up the Suffolk countryside for a pipeline to bring in the energy produced by the North Sea wind farms.  I feel so sorry and angry for the residents of beautiful villages, like Eastbridge, who are threatened by a campus of over 3,000 being deposited on their doorstep.

Speaking about Minsmere, I found myself sitting in the Bittern Hide the other day with just one other bird watcher.  He said he came from Surrey and had recently taken up birdwatching again having enjoyed it as a child.  He loved seeing the marsh harriers performing above the reed-beds and was also keen to see a bittern.  However, he had no idea what the large white dome was on the horizon!

Philip Murphy’s spring bird walk held in our Park on 23 March was a huge success with over 24 keen birders being enthralled by Philip’s enthusiasm and knowledge.  I have mentioned the nesting coots already in this article but also confirmed on this walk was the fact that a pair of little grebes (dabchicks) were also nest building.  Yet another first for our Park.  Now that coot and little grebe have joined other nesting waterfowl (Canada goose, mallard, mandarin and moorhen), the lesser black backed gulls will certainly not go short of food.  Philip’s party had only just vacated the Wilderness Pond area when 500 or so runners taking part in the weekly Park Run charged past.  I wonder what the pond life thought of all this activity?  Incidentally, other birds seen on this walk included buzzard, chiffchaff, sparrowhawk, two species of woodpecker, and a flock of 50 or so redwings.

Jottings – 12 March 2019 – Dog walkers, dog runners – Reg Snook

Many people travel to the Landguard Fort area of Felixstowe, maybe to enjoy the view and watch the container ships at close quarters.  What is it about Felixstowe Docks?  Why is there always a full car park with people sitting in their vehicles, staring at a few large ships loaded with metal boxes?  Usually there is little activity apart from sliding cranes that go backwards and forwards with a container slung below (you can’t actually see the other activities of the busy dock area).  Now, if some of those people were to stroll around the North Sea side of Languard, they would discover an area of waste-ground, some would say a headland of natural shingle with scrubby plants, a part of which, at this time of year, is about to be roped off to protect nesting birds.  The most important nesting bird here is the ringed plover, a beautiful little wader that has always been a favourite of mine.  Unfortunately, the roping off of this area, with accompanying notices stating the reason why, sees many dog walkers still choosing to ignore this advice during the breeding season.  This is not the only place that this happens as I have noticed dogs running amok causing disturbance to ringed plovers at other ‘protected’ sites,   Sadly, I only saw one pair of ringed plovers at Landguard at the weekend and it joins the list of species in decline.  Perhaps the roping off of this area might soon no longer be needed.  Incidentally, there  are permanent noticeboards asking dog-owners to keep their dogs on a short lead in this area together with the reason for this request!

For the last four Saturdays, I have watched the Park Run in Christchurch Park.  More and more runners have joined in this weekly event to negotiate the ups and downs of our Park.  They run, jog or walk 5k.   Some are experienced runners but others jog or walk to keep fit or get back into good shape.  The social atmosphere is marvellous.  It is quite a sight seeing runners stride up the hill near the RDVC, they are colourful, of all ages and abilities           overseen by many excellent volunteer marshals.  At the head of these five hundred odd runners, I saw a man attached to a dog.  This trim spaniel happily ‘towed’ his master around the course attached to him by a long lead.  Wonderful!

Last week I attended the AGM of the Suffolk Ornithologists’ Group.  It was well-attended but this was the last time, after about 40 odd years, that the SOG will meet under that title.  It was unanimously agreed to change the name to the Suffolk Bird Group (SBG) as for some time it was felt that the word ‘ornithologist’ was too old-fashioned/high-brow and it should be replaced by ‘bird’ in the hope that this might encourage more people, especially youngsters, to become members.  At this event, I renewed acquaintance with Peter Merchant, a man of my own age.  We attended the same schools, Priory Heath Primary and Northgate GS.  Peter spends his ‘retirement’ caring for injured birds of prey and building hides for various reserves as well as nest-boxes for peregrines to encourage them to breed.  He has just succeeded, after many years of trying, to get permission to place a nest box on the high building at BT Martlesham.  Almost immediately a pair of these superb birds of prey have been seen in residence.

I noticed a headline in the local newspaper (EADT) on 2 March which read: “MP criticised by wildlife sanctuary after getting behind grey squirrel law”. The author of this article seemed to be on the side of Carol Harris, founder of Jaybeth’s Animal Sanctuary near Haverhill. Ms Harris cares for grey squirrels and muntjac and had offered her view that it is totally wrong that they are not allowed to be released back into the wild as she thinks they are entertaining and very sweet. I have to agree with the MP, Theresa Coffey, who thinks that the law is right, grey squirrels are a threat to song birds and the environment and should not be here – as with muntjac. Luckily, the law is on our side.Jottings 26 February 2019 – Crabs (again) and Curlews – Reg Snook

Surprisingly, my piece last time about the dumping of crabs on the foreshore near Orwell Bridge, brought much comment.  Not about the crabs themselves, or the waste of such a delicious delicacy, but about my theory that not many people these days are capable of ‘dressing’ a crab.  Yes, indeed, I stand corrected, there are people out there who take pride in picking out every piece of both brown and white meat.  I recently watched Celebrity Chef, James Martin, prepare quite a large crab taken from the waters that swirl around the Shetland Isles.  He cracked open the large claws, but discarded the smaller ones, scooped away the crab’s body but threw away its ‘box’. “Beautiful crab”, he declared.  Idiot, I thought.  Carrying on with this theme (vaguely), a heading in the EADT of 18 Feb read: “Sewer drain full of Yorkshire puddings”.  I stared at the date once again.  No, it was not April 1st.  Anglian Water found this drain in Ipswich inexplicably stuffed with this waste food and are appealing for people not to discard Yorkshire puddings in this manner.  Environment Spokesman, Jason Alexander, regularly finds heaps of naan bread dumped on the banks of the Orwell.  First crabs, then Yorkshires.  What next, trifles or cheeseboard selection?

On a sunny afternoon last week, when the Deben was at its most full, I noticed about two dozen curlew in a field yet to be ploughed.  I realise that waders have to go somewhere at high tide but it was nevertheless a pleasant surprise to see these elegant birds in a field about a mile from the river and very close to the roadside.  Bird watching from within a car is usually quite good.  The ‘prey’ do not seem to mind us humans if we are encased in metal.  Curlews are on the decrease which is a pity as they are lovely creatures whose bubbling calls are a feature of our local rivers.  Of course, the call that one associates with this bird is the haunting sound from which it gets its name.  I remember many moons ago finding a curlew’s nest with eggs just hatching on a football pitch in Cumbria (formerly Westmorland).  The male was desperately trying to avert the attention of a family of crows.  Two boys from the nearby village appeared on the scene and successfully reduced the crows by three using their catapults.  You see, curlews are valued by the locals in that part of the country.

Last week, when there were clear blue skies, well, apart from vapour trails, and the sun was forcing temperatures up to nearly double figures, I strolled along the promenade at Felixstowe.  The North Sea was like a millpond and the air smelled of ozone, or was it the seaweed?  There were many of us walking, one or two cyclists and, yes, plenty of dogs,  However, along this stretch of the coast I bumped into an old friend, Tod, with whom I went to school at Priory Heath Primary.  Naturally we reminisced, mainly about the freedom we enjoyed during and after the Second World War.  Our homes had just been built on the eastern edge of Ipswich and were surrounded by four heaths – Priory, Nacton, Bixley and Warren heaths.  My friend told me that the thing that he most missed was the sound of skylarks which he used to hear from his bedroom early in the morning.  We could always hear these wonderful songsters and together we found many skylarks’ nests.  Sadly, the heaths have long been built over and the skylarks gone.

We all need something to lift our spirits at the beginning of the year.  Sunshine helps and last week with the warmth encouraging the crocuses to open I saw my first butterfly of the year – a bright yellow brimstone,  I realise that those who are interested will occasionally notice one of these at this time of year but it is always a pleasure and to me very exciting.

Jottings 29 January 2019 – Green parrot, red cheese… Reg Snook

I have written much about the badger cull which has now been extended to about a dozen counties.  My anguish at the thought of thousands upon thousands of badgers being killed is tempered by the fact that this slaughter might just eliminate bTB in cattle.  We must endeavour to rid this country of this horrible disease and to achieve this end by culling the adorable badger might, just might, be the answer.  I still do not understand why vaccination is not considered to be a solution.  We no longer chase foxes with hounds (well, not legitimately) but we still shoot pheasants.  The Times’ headline of January 17 2019 was “abomination of pheasants dumped into pit by digger”.  This article reveals the dark side to Britain’s multi-million pound bird shooting business.  About 50 million birds are bred each year to be shot and customers pay for this ‘sport’.  Often, as in the case on my patch, the birds are released from pens a few days before the shoot and can be seen wandering around the roads in a bewildered state before they are blasted by ‘sportsmen’.  Two billion pounds, it is said, goes into the rural economy because of this.  Jerome Starkey of The Times complains that the majority of birds shot do not enter the food chain but are dumped.  Is it morally right just to breed birds to be shot?  Mind you, is it morally right for me to suggest that we ought to cull grey squirrels in Christchurch Park or for the RSPB to cull red deer on their Minsmere Reserve?  At least the venison from this wonderful Reserve enters the food chain.  Perhaps squirrel should likewise be offered as an alternative Sunday roast.

Two years ago I was on Hampstead Heath staring up into the leafless winter branches at the ring-necked parakeets sitting in every tree.  On January 18 this year there was a ring-necked parakeet sitting on the apple tree in my garden.  Four have been seen in Christchurch Park.  Yes, these green parrots have spread and they will continue to spread even further.  Just like grey squirrels they really have no place here.  An acquaintance of mine said that my views are totally wrong suggesting that as they are here we should accept and appreciate them but, unlike collared doves who migrated here from eastern Europe, the former species were introduced by man.  Actually, collared doves do little harm unlike these other unwanted guests.  Oh well, I suppose I have to respect other people’s points of view.

The full moon on 20 January travelled across the sky like a very large ball of Red Leicester cheese.  Actually it was termed as ‘blood-red moon’ but really it was a lump of red cheese.  However, with the full moon came extremely high tides and on that day the River Deben was very full.  It was a beautiful sunny, winter’s morning and the water was very calm as I strolled past the late Reverend John Waller’s reserve at Waldringfield.  Most of the vegetation in the river was covered by water allowing the observer to get super views of waders and ducks.  Widgeon and teal are beautiful birds but it was the River Deben itself that was the most glorious of all – I reckon John was smiling up there.

I spilled quite a large quantity of peanuts on my lawn and watched a wood pigeon eat 58 of them.  The following morning there was the remains of a pigeon on my lawn.  For the third time this week a sparrowhawk, I thought, had made a mess of my grass.  I also thought that the attacker must have been a large female hawk but then I noticed that one remaining wing had been ripped from the carcase and another was cut as though with a pair of scissors.  I had probably received yet another visit from a fox.  Yesterday, a redwing was another ‘spar’ victim.

Jottings 15 January 2019 – an owl roost 50 years ago… Reg Snook

I read a very interesting article in the December edition of BBC Wildlife about long-eared owls.  This beautiful species of owl, distinguished by it long ear tufts and orange eyes, is a truly nocturnal hunter and spends the daylight hours roosting in hedgerows and pine trees.  In this country, long-eared owls are comparatively rare with probably only about 3,500 breeding pairs but in Serbia this owl is extremely common with massive roosts of hundreds of birds.  Long-eared owls feed on small rodents and, as rodenticides are not commonly used in Serbia, so food is not a problem.  The article also suggests that this species of owl is partial to blue tits as well.  In 1968, I discovered a long-eared owl roost in the gorse bushes at Martlesham Heath long before the former airfield was developed into a housing estate.  Eight birds roosted during the daytime in the tangled, aged branches of gorse, quite close to the former Barrack Square.  This was of course a winter roost, but one spring I also found long-eared owls nesting in an old crow’s nest in a pine tree.  You can imagine my surprise when I discovered a pair of orange eyes glaring at me from a pile of heaped twigs.

I have noticed that during the past year hobbies were rarely seen on my patch.  In previous years young were raised and there were at least three pairs of this beautiful falcon nesting in the area between Ipswich and Woodbridge.  Not so last year.  However, common buzzards are on the increase.  Could there be a connection here?  It has been suggested that with the increase in buzzards, red kites and goshawks, those smaller birds of prey (hobby and kestrel in particular) have decreased. I know goshawks will take almost anything, but the theory is that maybe in areas in which the other two larger birds of prey inhabit, hobbies and kestrels prefer to avoid due to the competition for available food.  I have no proof of this but I found no hobby nests in 2018.

I have just received my copy of Suffolk Birds 2017.  This superb record of the birds, both common and rare, found during 2017 is published by the Suffolk Naturalists Society and compiled by the Suffolk Ornithologists Group.  The editor is Nick Mason but the man who ran his beady eye over this systematic list is my friend, Philip Murphy.  Therefore this publication could not fail to be good.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that this book is the best of its kind in the country.  As well as excellent reporting of individual species, a check-list of birds seen and the ringing of birds for the year, it is highlighted by what I can only describe as superb drawings and artwork.  A copy can be obtained from the Ipswich Museum at the moderate cost of £10. 

Incidentally, it is proposed that the Suffolk Ornithologists Group should change its name to The Suffolk Bird Group so as to encourage the interest of younger people since the word ‘ornithologist’ is not in common use nowadays.  I am in favour of this change but we will see!  Also the SOG is conducting a Rook Survey during this year to determine the status of this corvid in Suffolk and compare it to the first survey completed 40 years ago.  As with the previous survey, the county will be divided into squares and rooks’ nests, easy to see before the leaves appear on the trees, will be counted.  It will be interesting to see how this iconic crow is faring and if modern farming methods/land use have had any effect on it.

Jottings 1 January 2019 – Mabel’s legacy?

I had a delightful conversation with Lucy Shepherd who is Education Officer for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.  Lucy is often to be seen parked up in Christchurch Park explaining to young children the wonders of nature.  She is also an expert on invertebrates specialising in bumble bees.  Well, everyone loves bumble bees, don’t they?  During the course of our chat Lucy said that she sometimes managed to study nature during the night.  Casually she dropped the information that she and her colleagues had watched the progress of three young tawny owls in our Park.  The owlets were often seen near the ice-cream parlour which is only a few metres from Mabel’s tree!  This set my mind racing.  Is Mabel still alive?  Has she changed her roosting and, indeed, nesting site?  Most probably, Mabel is no more but there is a good chance that the parents of these young tawnies could be the descendants of our most famous tawny owl.  At least the male of these youngsters could have been Mabel’s mate.  At any rate, it is fantastic news that tawny owls once again produced young in that area of Christchurch Park.  (Mabel’s youngsters May 2012 – photo by Paul Sherman).

Farmer Keith brought a smile to my face when, over a cup of tea the other day, he mentioned his annual problem with a green woodpecker which regularly destroys the barge-board on his ancient farmhouse.,  He now has a problem with the newly arrived fieldfares.  It has been a wonderful season for berries with our hedgerows covered in masses of red hawthorn berries.  Holly bushes were also covered in red berries and the two trees in Keith’s orchard looked spectacular in the autumn.  Fieldfares love holly berries so Keith covered his trees in delicate netting – you see he normally decorates Burgh Church with boughs of holly, or he did.  These beautiful winter thrushes found a way to the holly bushes under the netting.  There are no red berries now on Keith’s holly trees.  It is strange that the fieldfares preferred the holly berries to the mounds of apples still laying on the ground.

Hare coursing, this revolting ‘sporting’ activity, still takes place in our countryside.  On 9 December in the middle of the afternoon police arrested a 33 year old man for illegal hare-coursing at Burgate in North Suffolk.  This wildlife vandal came all the way from Surrey.  His vehicle was seized and he was taken into custody by the police on suspicion of hare coursing, driving with excess drugs, possession of an offensive weapon and driving a vehicle with no valid insurance.  This man will probably only receive a small fine for this.

I read Matthew Paris’s piece in the Times of 12 December with great interest and with a great deal of concern.  Matthew was in Catalonia recently and noticed with horror that much of the mountainsides of the Pyrénées had been devastated by the caterpillars of the Asian box-tree moth.  According to Matthew large areas had been reduced to a leafless wilderness.  Yet another alien species heading our way?

The weather of late has been mild but cloudy with drizzly rain.  So it was when I ventured along the river bank at Melton yesterday.  Yes, it was dull and murky with the tide only just turning to fill up the river over the vast mudflats.  The Deben, whatever the weather is a beautiful river and one of my favourites.  Black tailed godwits, oyster catchers and redshank were busy feeding on the mud.  All seemed peaceful until a hen harrier (a ringtail) came swooping in from the far side of the river.  There was panic amongst the waders and masses of birds became airborne.  What I did not realise was that avocets were feeding on the far shore and about 70 of them rose like white ghosts in the Stygian gloom.  Marvellous!

Reg Snook

Jottings 11 December 2018 – Please, Santa, help us…Reg Snook

This will be my last ‘jottings’ before Christmas and I wish everyone a Happy Christmas.  May you have a very jolly time and be able to get out into the countryside, or even your local Park.  Surprise, surprise, mine is Christchurch Park.  If you are able, then surely you will see the wonders of nature.  This, I hope, will offer you some peace. 

I have a Christmas wish list, which I suggest Santa will completely ignore.  Number one – please sort out the badger versus cattle problem.  In other words who gives who bTB.  This is dragging on far to long; surely the answer is to vaccinate all the cattle, and perhaps badgers as well, against this!  Number two – give our songbirds hope.  They need more protection for their habitat.  We simply cannot carry on destroying more and more wild areas.  Yes, we are building new reserves, but mainly for waterfowl and waders. Youngsters of today just have no idea of just how common our common birds once were.  In 1952, between February and April, I found nearly 400 hedgerow birds’ nests.  Do you think that I am exaggerating, not so.  Which brings me to corvids.  For far too long, crows, carrion crow, magpie, jay and jackdaw, have been allowed to breed freely at the expense of our songbirds.  Something needs to be done to protect our ever decreasing numbers of our favourite birds.  Number three – please may we have a really concerted effort to rid our country of mink, I mean really, really try to eradicate this alien species and then how about blitzing grey squirrels?  When will we wake up to the fact that our countryside and parks do not need these evasive and destructive tree rats.

And I go on with number four – try to encourage more of us to eat venison.  It is alarming just how many deer are roaming out there, not only in our countryside but in our parks as well.  Let’s face it, deer are beautiful and lovable animals but there are far too many, especially the munjac, which destroy the habitat of other creatures.  It is extraordinary that we even have muntjac in Christchurch Park.  Number five – let’s try and educate people about cats.  Why do cat owners sometimes let their cats out at night?  I simply cannot work that one out.  If you love your cat that much, then why let your little treasure out when it is dark?  It is simply bewildering.  I have friends who have cats, cats kill birds especially at dawn.  One friend told me that their cat has killed only four birds this year.  There are millions of cats in this country!  Number six – hen harriers.  For heaven’s sake, sort out the illegal persecution of this beautiful bird of prey.  We all know what is happening.  Hen harriers kill young grouse; grouse moor management teams kill hen harriers.  There must be something that can be done about this.

And I continue…  Number seven – I mention the egg collector who just last week was sentenced to a few days in prison after being found guilty of stealing hundreds of clutches of rare birds’ eggs, including those of nightjar, nightingale and stone curlew.  This man succeeded in doing irreparable damage to much of Norfolk’s rarer birds and yet he received just a short ‘holiday’ in prison.  Finally, number eight – Santa do something about fly-tipping.  Today friend Don found ‘stuff’ dumped in the lane that leads to his house in Rushmere – bike parts and three settees.  Now if fly-tipping is deposited by the roadside it is the Council’s responsibility to remove it.  However, this rubbish was two metres into his lane and therefore his responsibility to dispose of it.

Jottings 27 November 2018 – the rape of our countryside – Reg Snook

I have written before about the ‘scar’ that stretches from the North Sea across the roads and farmland of East Suffolk.  This 60 metre wide area of trampled landscape is where a pipeline has been laid from Bawdsey through to Bramford.  This fine agricultural land will be returned to farmers after a period of 5 years.  However, an area of farmland at Friston was where Scottish Power Renewables wanted to erect buildings of up to 21 metres high plus a lorry park to accommodate the necessary logistics to service this pipeline and to connect East Anglian 1 and 2 North Offshore wind-farms to the National Grid.  A vociferous protest by local residents persuaded Scottish Power to seek an alternative site.  Now, you could not make this up.  Scottish Power have chosen an alternative site on the outskirts of Leiston.  This lies on a designated protected area – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (ANOB) – a thirty acre site the size of 27 football pitches.  Really, who do Scottish Power think they are and why does our Government do nothing to stop this persecution of our lovely Suffolk countryside?

Chris Packham is throwing his weight behind the subsequent protest.  The joint Nature Conservation Committee, who actually advise the Government, say that this area is very rare heathland, a home for adders, nightingales, tawny and barn owls, nightjars and stone curlews.  We cannot allow this to happen.  Perhaps Scottish Power, having ploughed up much of Suffolk’s landscape, have the power to dump their ‘stuff’ anywhere.  This ANOB area is called Broom Covert, situated near to Sizewell but also near to RSPB Minsmere.  This is not a place to destroy.  Some people will think that I have gone over the top in my criticism of Scottish Power but I cannot see the point of having an ANOB Protection Plan if it can be so easily violated.

It was a magnificent apple crop this year.  Keith had a bumper crop of old English fruit in his Grundisburgh orchard.  Unfortunately, most of his apples were riddled with maggots.  Therefore the orchard floor is once again covered with rotting fruit much to the delight of the incoming redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds.  Usually, these migrant thrushes will remain in this area until all of the apples have gone.  Fieldfares are noisy birds and as they descend to the orchard so their chattering calls increase.  How lovely it is that our few resident song thrushes are now singing again after the summer recess and, of course, the green woodpeckers always want to join in.

The badger cull still goes on with more counties taking part in the slaughter of this beautiful animal.  It seems that the National Trust is about to cull wild boar in the west of the country.  No matter what the perceived necessity for these culls, there will always be some who are appalled by this action.  I can understand their feelings with badgers and pigs but I still ask why don’t we put in place a mass cull of grey squirrels or am I just being a ‘stirrer’?  Last week in the national press it was reported that a rat was killed in this country (I don’t know where) and that this rodent was 21 inches long from head to tail tip – a monster.  The largest one we trapped at Grundisburgh was only 18 inches long.  Shame!

Many congratulations I think are due to Nigel and his team at RDVC who produced a magnificent display for the Annual Remembrance Service on 11 November.  The motif of a large poppy close to the Cenotaph was made up of red chrysanthemums – a master stroke.  It was very moving and our Park looked so smart and well-dressed.  By the way, I have just read a book entitled “Where Poppies Blow” by John Lewis Stempel.  It tells of the serving naturalists of the First World War who recorded the bird life in no-man’s land.  Sadly, many of these naturalists perished.

Jottings – 13 Nov 2018 – Night-time thoughts from a hospital bed…

I would like to share with you this evocative photograph by Paul Sherman of the Cenotaph in Christchurch Park illuminated in commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of the end of the First World War and in readiness for the Remembrance Day service.  Thank you to all who helped to prepare our lovely Park for this event.

I am writing this from my ‘hospital bed’ recuperating after an operation on my back which will hopefully enable me to once again walk around Christchurch Park, explore the wonders of RSPB Minsmere and carry on cycling through the Suffolk countryside.  But I must be patient.  It is difficult to bird watch from inside the hospital but on the way in I saw a beautiful male blackbird, heard a robin singing and, during the night, were they redwings calling, as a flock of birds migrated over Ipswich?  The very basics of birdwatching but how wonderful it is to hear a robin singing by the hospital lights and knowing that soon I may be ‘running along’ the Suffolk shoreline seeking a ‘blizzard’ of snow buntings. 

I thought too about the many ‘old birders’, true birders, who have recorded in all weathers simply by using stealth and patience.  Sadly, old age has now taken many of them but I used to see their sorrow at not being able to venture forth as they once did to gaze at the sea in winter or peep lovingly at a linnet’s nest positioned snugly in a gorse bush.  Now I truly know how they felt as for weeks I have thumbed through the pages of past recordings instead of actually being able to get out into the great outdoors.  I eagerly anticipate being out in a hide one day soon at RSPB Minsmere or standing in some God-forsaken sodden marsh getting drenched, searching for a feathered friend who may not be there at all.

Almost a year ago I painted a portrait of SOG stalwart, Steve Piotrowski, and of SOG Chairman John Grant.  How I miss John’s environmental words in the EADT weekend pages.  The day before I had my operation, a trio of top birders called to see me.  Besides Steve, there was Eddie Marsh and John Richardson.  We laughed together, and Steve loved his portrait.  I had painted Steve with a barn owl on one gloved hand.  Steve commented that just to show how ‘hard’ he was when handling barn owls he never wore a glove.  Yeah, right!  When I was a DoE Inspector, I once extremely foolishly held a female goshawk with no hand protection.  I still bear the scars.  Now, I no longer consider myself to be a top birder, if at all I ever was!  I do not twitch.  I once did but nowadays I just love being out there enjoying not just the birds but the countryside as well.  However, to listen to three top experts, even though they twitch, was a delight.  I cannot imagine just how many birds they have recorded between them and they made me laugh when they told me about one of their desperate escapades to try and twitch a rarity.  It was even funnier since their mission was a failure.  I believe the expression is to ‘dip’.  Wonderful!    Reg Snook

Jottings – 16 Oct 2018 – A sting, a bite and sitting by the Deben

It has been a very good year for wasps although a headline in our local paper puts it another way suggesting that it has been the worst year for wasps in 30 years.  Of course, this view is from a pest control company and apparently this firm has a 5 week waiting list for insecticides.  It is not just wasps that are more plentiful this year but so are hornets.  Most years, said a spokesman for this pest control firm, we destroy one to ten hornet nests – this year we have dealt with over 60 nests.  Now, I have written about hornets before.  I like them, they build their nests in the walls of my studio and during the summer there is a continual buzzing in the air.  These beautiful insects often come to inspect my artwork.  I have never been stung and I now know fully the life history of hornets.  Would it not be nice if people learned to like hornets rather than seek to destroy them?  Should we really be proud that hundreds of wasps’ nests and 60 or so hornets’ nests (and that is just locally) have been destroyed?  I would be extremely annoyed if a man came to my studio to wipe out the hornets that live alongside me.

I was reminded that it is now autumn when entering my greenhouse I found myself enmeshed in a large spider’s web.  This was the web of a garden cross spider – an orb – made by what I can only describe as a monster of a spider.  The body of a female of this species is almost 20 mm long.  It is usually orange in colour with a rough white cross on its back and it was quite disturbing to walk into a web and find a fat spider walking over one’s face.  A couple of years ago one of my grandchildren who, like so many of us, is petrified of spiders was shown a garden cross spider by yours truly.  I picked up this fat object to prove to my granddaughter that spiders are harmless.  It bit me!  I yelled. She is still petrified of spiders and I don’t blame her.  So much for claiming to be a know-all.

We are blessed to have such wonderful rivers in this part of the country.  I was brought up by the banks of the River Orwell but, more recently, I have been appreciating the Deben and the Alde.  Our rivers at this time of the year are peaceful areas of either large stretches of water or mud and, as the autumn gradually moves towards winter, there is much coming and going of estuary birds.  Curlew used to be very common when I was young but now, although not rare, they are certainly seen less often.  I love to hear the bubbling call of the this bird and this week a couple of them were calling on the river near Woodbridge.  It was a lovely sunny evening and these evocative calls were a welcome change from the noise of squabbling gulls.  The walk from Woodbridge to Kyson Point is easy with a tarmac path running along the water’s edge.  It is wheelchair accessible and this path divides a tidal river from what are very traditional water meadows with grazing cattle.  Seating has been arranged along the route so if your legs tire or you get out of breath a bit, then bird watching from the comfort of a seat with a beautiful view is a pleasant option.  At this time of the year winter waders are arriving as the Deben mud is home to all sorts of worms and molluscs.  Besides curlew, the comfortable birdwatcher can view easily black-tailed godwits at very close range as they probe the mud with their extremely long, straight beaks; redshank are jerkily doing the same.  Lapwings too are beginning to gather in numbers and you cannot mistake the black and white oyster-catchers.  Birdwatching here is as easy as looking out from the hides at Minsmere but without very knowledgeable birders breathing down your neck.

Reg Snook Jottings – 2 October 2018 – Sadness in our countryside and in our Park

Some weeks ago I wrote about bovine TB and how badgers are being slaughtered because it is believed that they pass on this horrible disease to cattle.  I also mentioned about the increasing number of counties in which the badgers are to be culled.  This is not a pleasant subject to consider and it has divided animal lovers all over the country.   Nobody wants to see the cull of a beautiful animal but on the other hand nobody, I am sure, wants to see magnificent cattle having to be slaughtered.  The arguments for and against this action will probably rumble on especially as new evidence about bTB is being found.  I feel it is such an important subject that I have no hesitation in coming back to it again. 

Jonathan Leake, Environmental Editor of the Sunday Times, wrote an alarming report on the latest findings about bTB in which he remarked, rather surprisingly, that the disease appears to have spread from cattle to wild animals such as rats, foxes, deer and badgers.  Badgers are currently being culled because, we are led to believe, that they infect cattle and not the other way round. There was a very fine photo in the Sunday Times of a lioness at Paignton Zoo which was put down because it had bTB through eating diseased cow meat.  Vets fighting this disease say that hundreds of pet cats have also been diagnosed with bTB through eating infected mice, rats and moles.  DEFRA say it is quite helpless in fighting this disease.  Mr Leek is of the opinion that bovine TB is spread mainly by farmers moving cattle with possibly yet undiscovered infection between farms.  The cattle, says Mr Leake, then give the disease to wild animals meaning the bTB is now embedded in our countryside.  As far back as 2013, DEFRA’s chief scientist, Ian Boyd, suggested that bTB would spill over to wild animals, pets, new livestock species and potentially to humans.  DEFRA also said that bovine TB is the greatest animal health threat to the UK and that their target for eradicating this disease is 2038!  It seems that culling thousands of badgers may not be the answer to this problem.

An article by Sarah Chambers, the Food and Farming Editor of the EADT, revealed a “real game-changer” in the battle against bTB.  Dr Berwyn Clarke, Chief Executive of PB Biotech based at Thurston near Bury St Edmunds believes that the real issue lies not with the badger but in cattle where bTB lies undiscovered until it is too late.  This Suffolk firm has developed a new bovine test which they hope will eradicate this disease completely.  There are many hurdles to overcome but we can only hope and pray.

It seems that the police are cracking down on drug dealing across Suffolk especially in Ipswich where dealers, travelling here from London, ply their trade known as ‘county lines’.   Needles and other drug related items are often found in the Wildlife Reserve area.  This serious problem in a beautiful landscape such as Christchurch Park presents a much darker side.  Those who once considered a stroll along the paths by the Wilderness Pond now choose not to do so.  Last week the police chased a man out of Park thought to be dealing with Class A drugs.  He was not caught but a description of him was given.  I quote:  “Male, black, aged 21, black matching Adidas tracksuit, black trainers, black rucksack and black cap”.  A good description indeed but if he was not caught, funny how his precise age was quoted.  Over 150 persons have been arrested across the county in the first 6 months of this year in connection with the supply of Class A drugs.  I think it is important that the public should be aware of what is going on in our Park but doesn’t it make you sad?

Reg Snook Jottings – 18 Sept 2018 – White butterflies, brown hares…Reg Snook

During our hot, very hot, dry summer many of us saw hoards of white butterflies floating around our gardens.  I even saw white butterflies coming off the North Sea at various seaside towns and villages.  Some of us are gardeners, vegetable gardeners and white butterflies, known locally as cabbage whites, are a problem for us especially those of us who grow brassica.   Farmer Keith grows sprouting broccoli, sprouts and various greens.  I am growing cabbages.  Last year Keith’s cabbages were shredded by the caterpillars of the large white butterflies.  There are no caterpillars on our greens this year, despite the abundance of both large and small white butterflies.  I have no idea why this is so but I am grateful, as is Keith.

I smiled last week when an article appeared in a national newspaper about birds and bird feeders.  Exeter University has carried out research into which birds are the most aggressive at birdtables.  They found that house sparrows were the bullies, followed by greenfinch, nuthatch, robin and down to number ten which was coal tit.  I thought what absolute nonsense.  What about starlings I cry?  As I ride along Stoney Road 200 or so starlings sit on the overhead wires waiting for the resident bird lovers to put out bird seed, fatballs, and coconuts.  Within minutes the food has been devoured by squabbling starlings, birds of course which are much larger than house sparrows and armed with a dagger for a beak.  I am told that magpies have also got in on the act having been seen hanging upside down on the fatballs.  House sparrows do not stand a chance.

I have in the past suggested some of nature’s wonders that should be added to your bucket list.  Not to be missed are the seal pups on the Norfolk coast, the deer rut at Helmingham Hall or Minsmere, or a murmuration of starlings wherever it is taking place.  Not to be added to your list is hare coursing.  I have written many times about this barbaric  ‘sport’.  In the EADT of 13 September 2018, hare coursing made the front page.  The heading went: ‘hare coursing reported every day in Suffolk’.  Illegal it may be but hare coursing has increased from 141 reported cases in 2016/17 to 400 in 2017/18.  Tim Passmore, Crime Commissioner for Suffolk, says that ‘Suffolk is particularly vulnerable to this type of crime due to its big open spaces and it population of brown hares.  Almost all of those responsible have criminal records.  They can be violent, threatening, will trespass and damage property and often travel in stolen cars.  Much money changes hands and that is why they do it.’  The Country, Land and Business Association has called for tailored sentencing guidelines to include vehicle seizure and compensation for damage caused by hare coursing.  Well, something ought to be done.  Hares are beautiful creatures and are on the decrease.  This is just another example of the desecration of our countryside.  It is much more than just wanton vandalism.

I noticed a tiny piece tucked away at the bottom of the page in last Friday’s Daily Telegraph.  A tiny piece, yes, but announcing a monumental decision by the Government.  The badger cull, which has resulted in the deaths of well over 35,000 badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset, is to be extended.  Culling is now to take place in 32 areas across 10 counties – Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Glocs, Herefordshire, Cheshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Staffordshire and surprisingly Cumbria.  This follows data published which indicates that the rate of TB in cattle has halved in the first cull areas since the programme began.  The farming minister, George Eustace, said: “Today’s figures, showing a reduction in TB, are evidence that our strategy in dealing with this slow-moving insidious disease is delivering results.  Many people are anti this cull but you just have to look at the faces of farmers who are told that their cattle have to be put down because of TB.

Jottings – 26 June 2018 – A good year for wild flowers – Reg Snook

Our roadside verges are currently under-managed possibly due to lack of Council funds.  Now, I am not complaining about this as I am all for leaving the verges unkempt.  Why?  Because during the months of June the edges of our country roads are a delight.  Possibly many motorists whizzing through Tuddenham, Culpho and Grundisburgh see very little and yet they are missing so much since the hedgerows and verges are a mass of colour.  June is indeed a glorious month even if it is not “busting out all over”.  What a great year for poppies, especially where the earth has been churned up by the great scarring of our Suffolk landscape by Ae1 who are laying pipes to carry the energy created by the wind farms off our coast.  As I ride (slowly) I see red and white campions, mauve mallow  everywhere, purple thistles, delicate scabious, tall foxgloves, yellow hawk-weed, beautiful pink dog-roses, white bindweed, various hogweeds including the dreaded hemlock, clumps of honeysuckle and cascading elder flowers, old man’s beard and the large seed-heads of goats beard.

I have just read an astonishing article about New Zealand’s plan ‘to kill every rat’ in that country (stoats and possums as well) because these predators are seen to be the cause of the gradual extinction of the kiwi, the emblem of New Zealand.  This plan has been branded as being unrealistic by critics but I am of the opinion that it is forward-thinking by New Zealand’s conservationists.  Kiwi numbers have plummeted to about 68,000 and this icon will be extinct within 50 years if nothing is done.  Now, if New Zealand can do this, then why cannot a similar culling scheme begin in this country with the grey squirrels?  I have mentioned many times before about the menace of grey squirrels.  They do so much harm to our songbird population and, maybe, if there were to be an organised cull of this non-native mammal, perhaps we might see the re-colonisation of our countryside by our native red squirrel.  My hopes do not run high.

My last jottings brought some response, both agreement and criticism, which I appreciated.  One suggested that I could be seen as a grumpy old man.  To this I say  maybe but with old age there usually comes experience and, with luck, some wisdom.  I have known our Park for over 60 years and have recorded its wildlife for much of that time.  I have seen Park Managers come and go, watched the demise of Park Keepers and also the Park’s gardeners.   I have also seen the lessening presence of the local policeman, together with an increasing rise in anti-social behaviour and, last but not least, a general lack of respect for our Park and its glorious facilities.  I am no angel (or not yet anyway) since when I was a boy I wasn’t always well-behaved.  I used fish in the ponds of Holywells Park with a bent pin and a piece of cotton, being regularly chased away by a ‘parkie’.  Even worse, I even ‘peed’ in the ponds and scrumped apples from the Park’s orchard.  You see, though I was brought up on a Council estate, I never set fire to anything and my mother insisted I brought home my sandwich wrappings (though they were paper ones as plastic cling-film did not exist and anyway we could not have afforded it).  I was occasionally at the receiving end of a cane at school and eventually conscripted into the Grenadier Guards which somewhat sorted me out.  My sole boyhood interests were art and natural history, interests that have remained throughout my life. 

There are several pairs of yellowhammers nesting in the hedgerows on my journey to my studio.  Today I found a male yellowhammer dead in the road; such a lovely bird, what a shame!

Jottings – 12 June 2018 – ‘Why are things getting worse?’ – Reg Snook

Following the article in the EADT (6.6.18.) and the rash of emails that followed after yet more young trees were hacked to the ground in our Park, I feel that I should like to add my comments.  Every two weeks for the past ten years I have produced Nature Notes on the wildlife of Christchurch Park and its environs.  On going through my file I noted that several years ago I was writing about litter on the grass left by picnickers, then I noticed I was increasingly writing about dog ‘litter’.  I also used to decry cyclists, particularly arrogant ones who seemed to roam at will all over the Park.  This was was followed by the increasing appearance of so-called ‘desire lines’ ie paths created by walkers and joggers who could not be bothered to keep to the footpaths.  Then I noticed how the daffodils along the cycle path to the north of the Park were regularly trampled to the ground.  One winter the Round Pond froze over and all sorts of objects were thrown onto the ice including on one occasion a park seat.  And so it seemed to go on.  Discarded needles, yes needles, were to be found in the woodland area following drug activity. 

And then there is the tale of the Education Hut which was razed to the ground, although perhaps if it had not been positioned in such a vulnerable place with its equally vulnerable construction then maybe, just maybe, it would still be with us today.  Will it ever be replaced?  Graffiti also seemed to increase, sadly on one occasion, would you believe, on the Cenotaph.  Obviously the perpetrators have never known what it is to serve one’s country (only people of my age remember military conscription, what’s that?)  I have over the years produced illustrated signs for the Wilderness Pond and the Wildlife Reserve.  Of the two erected in the wildlife reserve, one was within days destroyed by a blow-torch.  Carrying a blow-torch into our Park – really?

Sadly I feel that this mindless vandalism is inevitable.  It will keep making headlines because it is the way of the world these days or at least it is in this country and indeed in Ipswich.  Where is the respect for what some of us are trying to do to make Christchurch Park a place to be enjoyed by as many people as possible?  I cannot understand why someone should be so intent on destroying what others might consider beautiful. And although we hate graffiti, why is it so typical wherever it occurs, so banal and ugly (in my opinion)?  And tell me why people cast their waste aside to be cleared up by others?  I feel   it will be difficult to penetrate the minds of vandals of nature.  They are here to stay until this behaviour becomes unacceptable to everyone and we put a stop to it. 

My heart goes out to David Miller.  Having seen my own work destroyed by vandals I know how he feels.  Often I have thought that my answer to this threat is to walk away but knowing David Miller, like me, he will fight on hoping that educating the public will eventually win the day.  I wish I did not feel so pessimistic because I fear that the wreckers of what we love are here to stay.  Just look at the number of supermarket trolleys and bicycles that are retrieved from the River Gipping by James Baker and the Greenways Team.  The perpetrators do this because they can and are allowed to.

Spot the apple tree – not easy.  My final gripe is about the current state of the Orchard.  Why do we have such a  feature when nobody seems to care for it (for whatever reason).  What is the point of us trying?

Jottings – 29 May 2018 – Some we win, some you lose…

One morning early last week I looked out of my bedroom window and saw that there had been a massacre in my garden.  The lawn was covered in large black feathers.  Not that fox again, the one that digs up my potato patch and jumps over a six foot fence when he sees me.  Still in my pyjamas I wrenched open the back door and found – not the remains of a crow or a jackdaw but lots of spent tulip petals (black ones)!  Now in this situation one has to see the funny side of such events.  Yes, I know I am stupid!  Now I expect to make mistakes because I am only me.  However, I don’t really expect to see glaring mistakes in national publications.  This week I was reading through the BBC Wildlife Magazine, a very lavish and glossy thing, when I found a picture of an orchid which was described as an ‘early spider orchid’ except that it wasn’t.  It was quite obviously a bee orchid.  I find mistakes like that quite annoying and this is not the first time that I have noticed mistakes in this magazine.  Mind you, I suppose the editorial staff can easily tell the difference between a dead crow and a bunch of wind-blown tulip petals.

I cannot remember the last time a cuckoo was heard in our Park.  It is common knowledge that cuckoos have decreased over the last 25 years but, glory be, Marie Stewart told me she had heard one calling in the wooded part of Christchurch Park at 10.15 am on 15 May.  Both Marie and her husband Richard heard this bird that was still calling two hours later.  Richard suggests this cuckoo was passing through since it has not been heard since.

I wonder how many of you noticed a very important piece of bird news in the East Anglian Daily Times last week?  A pair of ravens fledged young in East Suffolk this year (ravens nest very early).  The nest was kept secret but the article did reveal that the nest was on top of a pylon!  This is the first recorded breeding of ravens in Suffolk since 1880.  I firmly believe that there are more ravens floating over our county than has been reported.  The raven is a large crow about 6 inches larger than a rook or carrion crow.  See a raven with a crow or rook and the difference is obvious because of the sizes but a raven on its own with no other corvid present for comparison can be difficult to identify.  An expert knows that a raven can be recognised by its large size and its wedge-shaped tail. 

The advantage of cycling through the countryside is that I can both see and hear much more than those who rush around in cars.  I hear buzzards calling as well as cuckoos, blackbirds, song thrushes and mistle thrushes and, in this gorgeous month of May, I find the nests of common whitethroats, lesser whitethroats and blackcaps in the scrubby roadside verges.  I see goldfinches nesting high up in the hawthorn bushes, little owls glaring at me from the oak boughs and hear green woodpeckers ‘laughing’ as they search for ants.  There seems to be more skylarks this year – three pairs were nesting in a large field at Culpho.  This field had been barren for many months with grass and weeds taking over.  In the middle of May, however, when the skylarks eggs had hatched, the ‘potato merchants’ moved in.  This field had never grown potatoes before so the skylarks had to go.  ‘Spuds’ are more important than larks.

The large shed that I laughingly call my studio is made of wood.  It is old and many of the knots have become actual holes.  This year blue and great tits nested in the wall cavity.  However, I spend a great deal of time rushing outside as I hear “bang, bang, bang”.  Great spotted woodpeckers are gradually enlarging these holes despite some being reinforced with metal.  These woodpeckers are partial to young birds.

Jottings – 29 May 2018 – Some we win, some you lose…

One morning early last week I looked out of my bedroom window and saw that there had been a massacre in my garden.  The lawn was covered in large black feathers.  Not that fox again, the one that digs up my potato patch and jumps over a six foot fence when he sees me.  Still in my pyjamas I wrenched open the back door and found – not the remains of a crow or a jackdaw but lots of spent tulip petals (black ones)!  Now in this situation one has to see the funny side of such events.  Yes, I know I am stupid!  Now I expect to make mistakes because I am only me.  However, I don’t really expect to see glaring mistakes in national publications.  This week I was reading through the BBC Wildlife Magazine, a very lavish and glossy thing, when I found a picture of an orchid which was described as an ‘early spider orchid’ except that it wasn’t.  It was quite obviously a bee orchid.  I find mistakes like that quite annoying and this is not the first time that I have noticed mistakes in this magazine.  Mind you, I suppose the editorial staff can easily tell the difference between a dead crow and a bunch of wind-blown tulip petals.

I cannot remember the last time a cuckoo was heard in our Park.  It is common knowledge that cuckoos have decreased over the last 25 years but, glory be, Marie Stewart told me she had heard one calling in the wooded part of Christchurch Park at 10.15 am on 15 May.  Both Marie and her husband Richard heard this bird that was still calling two hours later.  Richard suggests this cuckoo was passing through since it has not been heard since.

I wonder how many of you noticed a very important piece of bird news in the East Anglian Daily Times last week?  A pair of ravens fledged young in East Suffolk this year (ravens nest very early).  The nest was kept secret but the article did reveal that the nest was on top of a pylon!  This is the first recorded breeding of ravens in Suffolk since 1880.  I firmly believe that there are more ravens floating over our county than has been reported.  The raven is a large crow about 6 inches larger than a rook or carrion crow.  See a raven with a crow or rook and the difference is obvious because of the sizes but a raven on its own with no other corvid present for comparison can be difficult to identify.  An expert knows that a raven can be recognised by its large size and its wedge-shaped tail. 

The advantage of cycling through the countryside is that I can both see and hear much more than those who rush around in cars.  I hear buzzards calling as well as cuckoos, blackbirds, song thrushes and mistle thrushes and, in this gorgeous month of May, I find the nests of common whitethroats, lesser whitethroats and blackcaps in the scrubby roadside verges.  I see goldfinches nesting high up in the hawthorn bushes, little owls glaring at me from the oak boughs and hear green woodpeckers ‘laughing’ as they search for ants.  There seems to be more skylarks this year – three pairs were nesting in a large field at Culpho.  This field had been barren for many months with grass and weeds taking over.  In the middle of May, however, when the skylarks eggs had hatched, the ‘potato merchants’ moved in.  This field had never grown potatoes before so the skylarks had to go.  ‘Spuds’ are more important than larks.

The large shed that I laughingly call my studio is made of wood.  It is old and many of the knots have become actual holes.  This year blue and great tits nested in the wall cavity.  However, I spend a great deal of time rushing outside as I hear “bang, bang, bang”.  Great spotted woodpeckers are gradually enlarging these holes despite some being reinforced with metal.  These woodpeckers are partial to young birds.

Jottings – 15th May 2018 – This Green and Pleasant Land…Reg Snook

Have you noticed how the countryside has become green and white save for the numerous fields of bright yellow oil seed rape?   Now the primroses, cowslips, daffodils and bluebells have almost gone.  Most trees and bushes are now green and isn’t the hawthorn wonderful?  We call the hawthorn blossom ‘may’ and it is obvious why; the lanes and roads are green and white, the verges lined with cow parsley.  However, as I wend my way I come across a delicious clump of red campions, one of my favourite flowers.

The FoCP Dawn Chorus walk on the 5 May was a success – 25 people set their alarm clocks and by all accounts everyone enjoyed a glorious morning walk through our Park seeing or hearing 23 species of birds. Of course the walk could not fail as it was led by our own Philip Murphy.  The fact that 25 people turned up at this early hour shows just what high regard he is held in.  Many other ornithologists in Suffolk are often photographed or have articles in local newspapers and magazines but can they compare with our Philip. I doubt it.    Have you heard him imitate a stock dove?  Our butterfly expert, Richard Stewart, also on the walk, pointed out a green veined white ‘mud-puddling’ alongside the Wet Meadow.  There are now another 25 people who know more about butterflies than I.

Yesterday on my bike I was overtaken by a brimstone butterfly.  I was on two wheels – it had four wings.  I know that brimstones are fast flyers but that was ridiculous.  It was very pretty though.  The swifts have returned to Stoney Road, Grundisburgh so far not as many as last year but they usually do not arrive back at the same time.  The Suffolk Ornithologist Group is doing a great job with “Save our Swifts” appeal.  For more information, please log on to www.sogonline.org.uk.  Swifts are in decline as are…….

My friend, Don, who lives in the countryside just outside Ipswich, has a large pond.  In winter over 100 mallard and 40 mandarins gather there to be fed by Don.  So tame have become the mandarins that they stand on his boots when he is distributing wheat.  Don likes nettles!  Some of our most exotic butterflies use the nettles in which to lay their eggs.  Several mallard also lay eggs in the cover of nettle leaves.  Now and again a fox will steal an egg, take it away and return for another.  Not so Don’s badgers.  Not only do they strip his ripe sweetcorn plants but their table manners regarding the mallard nests are disgusting.  Don tells me that they flatten all the nettles, smash the eggs and eat them leaving in their wake total devastation.

Once more there has been much correspondence in both local and national newspapers about dog walkers and their owners in parks with the few letting the majority down.  This discussion will run on as more and more people seem to be owning dogs.  It must be grand to walk through our Park especially at this time of the year when it is at its best meeting fellow dog walkers.  At this time of year dawn breaks at about 4.15 am and some dogs arrive in the Park long before the official opening time of 7.00 am.  I wish all dog owners respected this beautiful landscape and cleared up after their dogs but it is not so.  The same goes for the countryside footpaths.  Where the owner does clear up after his dog he may well leave the plastic bag and its contents hanging on a bush.  By the way, farmer Keith has a dog.  It brings him great pleasure and forces him to go ‘walkies’.  Generally, the dog is well-behaved.  However, he is a strange animal.  He can hear my bike when I am 300 yards away and then he barks.  Is that a welcome?  He walks ‘sideways on’ which makes him look a bit ridiculous, the dog that is, not Keith!

Jottings – 1 May 2018 – Bluebell and buttercup or chat-room and blog

At the FoCP AGM held recently a man associated with the Christchurch Park ‘Park Run’ made a complimentary comment.  Apparently some participants come from all over the world to take part in British Park Runs, Australia, America and South Africa being among the countries mentioned.  These runners come to Britain to take part in runs beginning with each letter of the alphabet and as Ipswich is one of only two towns beginning with ‘I’, the other being Inverness, then our town and Christchurch Park in particular is a more obvious run in which to take part.  Many of the runners have commented on the beauty of our Park.  Marvellous news.  For those of you who have not seen a Park run, then you are missing a very colourful spectacle with hundreds of athletes of all ability in various uniforms running and walking sometimes through our delightful park.  And what is so good is that the organisers clear up after the event.

When spring arrived a few days ago, although it has since disappeared, I counted 26 species of birds in or over our garden.  That is 7 more species than seen on a recent organised Park walk.  We are losing many bird species from our Park for a number of reasons with the Park becoming unfriendly to our song birds.  How fortunate therefore that many of our small birds seek refuge in our nearby gardens where there is less disturbance, more food and varied and safe habitat for nesting.  Amongst 5 species of butterfly also seen on that day was a brimstone.  What a delightful creature and what colour.  Incidentally, the following day I added 4 more species to that bird list, including a cormorant flying overhead after, I suppose, having had breakfast in the Wilderness Pond.  There was a time when it would have been impossible to include a cormorant as a garden bird but there was also a time when I could have included a cuckoo.

I have discovered this week that we are not only losing our songbirds but we are also losing words which are synonymous with the countryside.  I am reading an excellent book entitled ‘Landmarks’  by Robert MacFarland which was a number one in the Sunday Times best-seller listing.  MacFarland is fascinated by connections between literature and landscape and his book explores the linguistic and literary terrain from all over Britain including Suffolk.  One astonishing paragraph commented on the Oxford Junior Dictionary because a sharp-eyed reader had noted that there had been a culling of words connected to nature.  Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of words that it felt that were no longer relevant to modern day childhood.  The deletions included:  acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow.  The words introduced in the new edition include:  attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet point, celebrity, chat room, cut and paste, MP3 player and voice mail.  When the Head of the Children’s Dictionaries at Oxford University Press was asked why nature words had been deleted, she explained that the dictionary needed to reflect the consensus experience of modern day childhood because nowadays the environment has changed.  How sad therefore that the majority of children apparently no longer note the changes of season or indeed have any idea of the rural environment. “Mummy where does meat come from?  From a Supermarket of course!”

Reg Snook Jottings – 17 April 2018 – Daughter of Mabel or am I ‘cuckoo’?

At 8 am on 4 April in full sunlight I was surprised to hear a female tawny owl calling loudly from a gum tree near Manor Road.  Why was she in full voice?  I have no idea.  She was being mobbed by a jay but that in itself is not unusual as jays are noisy crows and will not give up an opportunity to harass an owl.  Was this tawny owl Mabel? After all this road is only about quarter of a mile from Mabel’s tree in Christchurch Park (as the owl flies).  This is highly unlikely, however, but it could well be a descendent of our favourite bird.  Last year I was shown a young tawny owl in The Spinney and I often hear tawnies, mainly males, calling at the dead of night.  Despite the fact that we may have lost Mabel, it is good to know that ‘clan Tawny’ is still to be found in this area.

Did you see the article in the local paper, or the piece on TV, about a road to the south of Ipswich being closed because the road had subsided owing to the fact that badgers had set up home under the tarmac.  Have you any idea of the number of badgers culled because of the ongoing saga of badger, cattle and TB?  In Suffolk, we close a road to protect “Brock”, whilst in the West Country I believe the number of badgers shot or gassed is in the region of 33,000.  It seems incongruous that on the one hand we go out of our way to protect a badger sett whilst badgers that happen to live elsewhere are slaughtered.  I notice that along the local country roads I travel, there are large gaping holes by the roadside (and not the potholes).  Badgers have dug down with their powerful claws to reach young rabbits which are in burrows by the roadside.  Badgers do not only live on worms and peanuts, they are omnivorous and enjoy young rabbits and hedgehogs as well.

My French ornithologist friend is making me feel very envious – he is already enjoying the call of the cuckoo in the forest where he lives.  I well remember last year hearing and seeing cuckoos in his garden!  I am monitoring the tagged cuckoos and I am disappointed to see that only two of them seem to have reached Europe.  For whatever reason the others appear to still be in Africa.  Have they lost their transmitters or are they dead?  They could have become trapped, shot or food for a bird of prey.  We may never know.  I myself cannot wait to hear that two-syllable call.  I regularly used to expect to hear that first call on about 17 April but in those days cuckoos were so much more common.

‘Countryfile’ is a very popular BBC programme on Sunday evenings and I often find some of the subjects raised very interesting (despite the presenters speaking with seemingly exaggerated Northern accents.)  I feel that sometimes their opinions on country pursuits seem very biased and this week several newspapers have commented on last Sunday’s edition.  It appears that many viewers are concerned about the programme’s apparent bias towards ‘townies’ and favouring the anti-farming attitude which featured ‘veganism’ and animal welfare activists.  Dr Toni Shepherd of Animal Equality told presenter Tom Heap “Our vision is a world in which all animals are respected and protected.  Ultimately, the best way to spare animals from suffering is simply not to eat them.”  One clip from the film showed examples of cruelty to animals on a supposedly British farm except that the signs on the farm were in a foreign language – I prefer my steak well-done.  A Welsh dairy farmer was accused of being a murderer.  Mr Heap was slammed by farmers after suggesting that up to 100,000 dairy bull calves were shot on UK farms every year.  Apparently, there is no evidence of this.  Also farmers are being blamed for the decline of hedgehogs.  No mention of course of badgers.

Jottings – 3 April 2018 – Signs of Spring and fly-tippers – Reg Snook

Many people enjoy fish and chips at Aldeburgh. Some choose to eat their meal in their car on the quay at Slaughden – a little bit of salt, a drop of vinegar and views of the North Sea or the River Alde as it wends its way towards Snape. There will usually be gulls queueing up just outside your car hoping for a few leftover chips to be thrown their way or maybe a piece of prime, well-cooked haddock. Not last week, however. Yes, there was fish and chips but no gulls waiting for tit-bits. Instead the gulls, mainly herring gulls and many more than usual, were busy on the shore-line. The sea was ‘boiling’, the waves were huge and the tide was very high. As each wave drove up over the shingle beach, the gulls feasted on small crabs and fish which were being thrown up onto the tide-line. Thousands of shellfish must have died in the recent stormy weather and now the gulls were having a banquet. Once full of crabs, fish and other sea creatures, the gulls flew just offshore away from the crashing waves to digest their ample meal. Obviously, herring gulls quite rightly prefer natural food as opposed to fish and chips. I will remind the lesser black-backed gulls of Ipswich of my findings. Crabs or processed food? I am sure the gulls of Ipswich would go for ‘big-mac’s’ every time.

Cycling to Grundisburgh, I look for signs of spring. The 6 pairs of crows that greet me each morning are busy nest building. The loud song-thrush at Culpho thrashes out his song in the churchyard and from the Cranworth Estate there floats the mellow notes of a mistle thrush. Large flocks of fieldfares are foraging in the fields prior to migrating. The primroses are spectacular this year and many of the ditches hold clumps of this lovely spring flower. Near a particularly large clump of primroses someone has added another feature to the emergence of spring by dumping 4 large plastic bags of ‘god knows what’. On the other side of the road another load of rubbish has been deposited in a gateway. Today the farm manager and another worker were heaving these bags of rubbish onto a trailer. It is usually this farm manager or the Chairman of the local council who make it their responsibility not only to rid the countryside of fly-tipping but are also willing to pay for this ‘pleasure’. Two very different types of person – one who, under the cover of darkness, destroys the countryside’s beauty, the other who dips into his pocket to clear up this garbage. Four days later more bags of rubbish were deposited in the same place just in time for Easter!

The ‘beast from the east’ brought much devastation to our shoreline and its wildlife but it also brought a snowy owl. This magnificent bird was found at RSPB Titchwell Norfolk three weeks ago. Of course, hundreds of “twitchers” and many ‘Harry Potter’ fans arrived to view this owl. It is indeed an ill wind etc.

Travel along almost any country road before the leaves appear and every so often you will see a magpie’s nest and then a crow’s nest followed by another magpie’s nest and then maybe two more crow’s nests. It is the same in Christchurch Park and its surrounds. A crow produces 3 or 4 youngsters, a magpie up to 6. No longer do we have gamekeepers controlling corvids. These two species of crow along with jays need controlling for the sake of our songbirds. I feel that this plea will fall on the deaf ears of the major bird protection societies. Something inevitably will eventually have to happen. Am I the misguided person

Jottings – 20 March 2018 – In the wake of the ‘Beast from the East’

Following my rant in the last jottings about grey squirrels, I have seen two more television programmes on the subject of getting rid of this species.  It seems that in the North of England we are being assisted by another furry “friend”.  Pine martins are spreading southwards and it seems that they also dislike grey squirrels.  Hooray!  Apparently red squirrels there are thriving because of the pine martins’ cull of the greys.  The University of Aberdeen recorded this activity in a report entitled The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend.  Aptly put.

In the autumn when winter thrushes arrived here from Scandinavia they began stripping the cotoneaster bushes of their red berries.  These birds were mainly redwings but, surprisingly, the berries which dropped to the ground were left untouched.  Redwings only ate berries taken from the bushes.  During the recent heavy snowfall fieldfares, also winter visitors and obviously very hungry, were seen busily scraping away the snow under the bushes and eating the fallen red berries.  A handy reserve supply for starving birds.

A farmer friend of mine is now in the middle of the lambing season. Unfortunately, one of his ewes died giving birth.  Instead of burying or burning the carcass, my friend pegged it out on the ground specifically for buzzards.  This dead sheep provided several welcome meals for our increasing numbers of buzzards – at one point he had six buzzards feeding off the carcase.  Our beloved lesser black-backed gulls are arriving back from their winter quarters to breed on the rooftops of Ipswich.  I know that they are back because yesterday I heard several of them calling loudly above Christchurch Park.  High above the trees, six gulls were mobbing a single buzzard.  Gradually the large bird of prey gained height and then, with wings folded, accelerated into a long dive away from our Park leaving the noisy gulls in its wake.

SOG President John Grant wrote a very passionate and upsetting piece in the EADT last week about a walk that he and Steve Piotrowski took along the coast between RSPB Minsmere and Sizewell after the ‘beast from the east’ had battered the shore.  Sadly, John and Steve found huge wildlife destruction along the tide line.  It was well documented on TV that thousands upon thousands of shellfish had been destroyed.  Crabs, lobsters and starfish were piled high on the shore due, so the experts said, to the sudden drop in sea temperature which coincided with extra high tides.  As well as shellfish, John and Steve found a large variety of dead birds including woodcock, common snipe and jack snipe.  As the ‘beast from the east’ advanced towards Britain, these birds tried to reach safety but thousands did not escape and were engulfed by the sea.   Mr Piotrowski thinks that what he and John found was just a tip of the iceberg and that many thousands of birds of a large variety succumbed to that exceptional weather phenomenon.  John Grant wrote eloquently about this and the sadness in his heart was plain to feel.  Every so often a natural catastrophe occurs about which we can do nothing but even so it is a tragic event that for nature lovers is unwanted and an unbelievable experience of the very worst kind.

Jottings – 6 March 2018 – An easterly wind, squirrels and cuckoos…

Last week it was extremely cold at the RSPB Minsmere, the sun shone but with a bitterly cold east wind blowing in off the North Sea which would subsequently bring us a week of snow.   The few ducks and geese on the Scrape looked cold, the few onlookers in the East Hide were cold, very cold.  Waders and duck were at a premium.  Where were they?  It seemed to me that RSPB Minsmere was shivering or was it just me?  Despite this, the reserve looked beautiful.  Marsh Harriers were displaying.  It is great to sit in the comfort of the Island Mere Hide and watch these fantastic harriers perform over this huge reed-bed.  At the back of my mind was the fact that if Marsh Harriers are going through their courtship display then spring cannot be far away.  As usual in a hide all is quiet but for the continuous click of cameras.  No doubt wonderful photographs were captured of these majestic birds of prey.

There has recently been a couple of programmes on television about red squirrels, particularly the red squirrel of Cumbria which is making a welcome comeback after the invasive grey squirrels having been eradicated.  Now, if we want red squirrels in other parts of the country, including Suffolk, and I assume that we do, why is there not a concentrated effort by conservation bodies to cull the grey squirrel population?  Not just cull them but get rid of them completely.  Grey squirrels should not be here.  We know that red squirrels have declined in most parts of the country and we know for sure that one reason for this is the pox which is carried by their American cousins.  We have a large population of grey squirrels in our Park.  We have no red squirrels.  Yes, I know that many people, including children, like to see grey squirrels but I suggest that if red squirrels were to be in the Park instead of greys then they would be equally charming and probably more so.  Therefore I propose a nation-wide cull of grey squirrels.  I just wonder what organisation might support this and see just who would be against a grey squirrel cull and the reasons why.  Then perhaps could follow a muntjac cull and a more concentrated effort in getting rid of mink.  In my dreams… I also ask why we seem to accept introduced species which are harmful to our native ones?  I should also point out to caring people who look after injured animals that it is an offence to release back into the wild non-native species such as grey squirrels.  Another introduced species, rapidly becoming a menace, is the ring-necked parakeet.  I think we are all too complacent about this matter and that someone needs to ‘get a grip’.

Many of you will know that some cuckoos from Norfolk and Suffolk in recent years were fitted with transmitters specifically to trace their migration routes.  These tracking devices have brought evidence of where these cuckoos are overwintering.  What is wonderful is that us ordinary folk, by using the internet, can find out exactly where these cuckoos are and by which routes they are using to return to England.  All of these cuckoos have been named  – Boris, Larry, Mr Conkers, Peckham, PJ, Sampson, Selbourne and Victor.  Most have begun their migration back to the place where they were born.  You can keep up with their travels on www.bto.org>cuckootracking.  We now know where these cuckoos spend the winter and we also know that they are on their way back, some to Suffolk.  Sadly over the last twenty years cuckoos have declined by over 50%.  Spring without cuckoos?  Unthinkable!

Jottings – 20 February 2018 – A little bird way off course…

I suppose every bird watcher/twitcher eagerly awaits the appearance of a rare bird.  Common birds, to many birdie people, (well, not just common birds but sometimes those of us who enjoy sparrows, bullfinches and cuckoos) are, in the eyes of some, rather boring.  Have I got that the wrong way round?  However, I know many a good birdwatcher seeking knowledge of common species is delighted when a rarity turns up.  My friend, photographer Paul Sherman, recently whilst photographing wildlife near Ipswich took this lovely picture of an unusual visitor to our shores.  This bird is a Siberian chiff-chaff.  What’s it doing here?  I really do not know but it is a lovely picture of a lovely bird.

I have this week also seen a delightful photo taken by a passer-by who, whilst trying to photograph cormorants in our Park, accidentally photographed a pair of goosanders.  Accidentally?  Well, it was a lovely photo even if this man did not know what the ducks were.  We have therefore an accidental bird, the Siberian chiff-chaff, and an accidental photo of a couple of unusual ducks on our Pond.  Isn’t life exciting?   By the way, have you seen the murmuration of starlings at RSPB Minsmere yet?  It is a must.

I get a lot of junk through my letterbox most of which goes straight into the waste-bin, especially political stuff.  However, this week a leaflet dropped on to the mat and, although it is from a political party whose colours are yellow and black, one small piece caught my eye.  I was aware that the two trees that stood on the Cornhill had been chopped down but unaware that they had been removed to provide more space for the contractors carrying out the renovation of the area.  I have seen an artist’s impression of what the Cornhill will look like but was it really necessary to remove two fairly mature trees?  Despite the opinion of all concerned about the necessity for this, the loss of these trees saddens me.

Contrary to what many people must think, I actually like dogs more so than cats.  Cats kill millions of birds and other wildlife every year.  I suppose because I write so much about dog poo I am anti-dog or should that be ‘inconsiderate’ to some dog owners?  I mention dogs because on many parts of the British coast dogs have been dying after being taken for walks on the beaches.  The deaths in many cases are said to be caused by these unfortunate animals eating palm oil.  What you may ask is palm oil and what is it doing on our beaches?  In response to a ‘freedom of information’ request the Maritime and Coastguard Agency revealed that ships regularly release quantities of this material into our seas when washing out their tanks but by so doing this action contaminates the sea.  All carried out in the name of saving money.  However, it is poisonous to many creatures including dogs.  It would seem that some dogs that have succumbed along the East Anglian coast may have been killed by eating starfish which are toxic.

By the way, have any of you been watching the TV programme on animals that have had a camera strapped to them?  This, we are told, is so that we can see what exactly is happening from the animal’s perspective when a kill takes place.  I don’t know what others feel about this practice but is this really necessary and in the animal’s best interest?  Am I alone in thinking that a cheetah with a camera strapped to the top of its head looked very reminiscent of Van Gogh just after he had cut his ear off?  I think there is a good likeness.

Reg Snook Jottings – 6 February 2018 – A lippery subject…

Manor Road is only a few metres from Christchurch Park and yet recently I counted over 30 deposits of dog poo in this small road.  Is this just one dog whose owner fails to reach the Park in time or is there more than one anti-social dog-owner in this area?  In Manchester, as instigated by Joan Bakewell, piles of offending dog poo are sprayed with fluorescent paint for two reasons.  The first is to emphasise just what deposits are left by dogs with irresponsible owners and the second to make the poo obvious to pedestrians who are liable to slip and slide in this horrible mess.  I may yet take it upon myself to spray with day-glow paint the unwelcome stuff left in Manor Road.  It is interesting to read that some Councils in London have limited the number of dogs per person to three for owners using their Parks or Commons.  The reason for this is simple.  There are growing numbers of professional dog-walkers and it is not unusual for a single person to be in charge of more than half a dozen free-running dogs going for ‘walkies’ (or should that be ‘pooies’?).  How can one person see what a pack of dogs is up to especially as many dog-walkers treat these events as social occasions and seem to be quite oblivious as to what their dogs are doing. What colour paint shall I use?

I have often advised as to what I think you should have on your bucket list with regard to wildlife.  I have another for you and probably the most exciting yet. A common bird is a starling.  We all know starlings – not the sort of bird any self-respecting birder would twitch.  Really?  The 1st February dawned bright and sunny with no clouds just the day for visiting RSPB Minsmere to see starlings, not one bird but about 40,000 of them!  A murmuration of starlings is not just unusual, it is just unbelievable.  By the time I arrived at Minsmere prior to dusk it was dull, grey, cold and raining.  Surely the starlings would not show up in this weather.  On the north wall of the reserve many people had gathered most with umbrellas.  It got darker, more windy and the rain increased.  Then they arrived,  a huge cloud of dots with more arriving by the minute.  This huge murmuration put on a fantastically breathtaking display.  The rounded shapes formed by these birds expanded and then contracted, the birds billowed high into the sky and then all swooped down almost to the ground.  The watching birders stood in silence so silent that, as the starlings banked closer, one could hear the vibration of the birds’ wings as they changed course.  This went on for some time (minutes actually) and then suddenly the whole murmuration dropped down into the reed bed.  Phew!  We were all soaked, but filled with amazement.  I wanted to applaud this performance but nobody did.  It is certainly a ‘must’ to see.

There is currently some controversy in our Park concerning the removal of the former dog-poo only bins.  The bin near the Westerfield Road entrance was replaced by a larger general purpose bin and, before a notice explaining the change was placed in the Park, dog-pooh bags were placed on the ground where the bin used to be.  The new notice clarifies that both human and animal rubbish may both be deposited in the new bin.  This is because, I understand, its contents will be incinerated at Great Blakenham.  An article in the EADT told of the stress that had been caused to many dog-walkers by the removal of the former dog poo bins.  One dog-walker was quoted as saying that without the dog poo bins they had had to carry their rubbish all round the Park until eventually finding a bin at the Park entrance.  How about taking the dog poo back home with you, I thought?

Jottings – 23 January 2018 – The wonder of nature and idiots

How many of us like January?  So far, this month has been very drab with grey skies, plenty of drizzle, dark mornings and with spring seemingly so far away.  Still, I prefer a drab January to a drab November.  At least we are moving in the right direction.  Spring is on its way, isn’t it?  At this time of the year I always search for signs of spring.  What is there?  Well, every morning I am serenaded by a mistle thrush.  Great spotted woodpeckers are drumming and occasionally a green woodpecker “laughs” at me.  Every day now I see snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils are poking through the ground and the redwings have eaten all the berries in my hedge.  Not many signs of spring I agree but one has to be optimistic – perhaps I feel this way because I am doing some research on cuckoos.  What would we do if there were no cuckoos – I would feel lost.

Early each morning as I make my way slowly to Grundisburgh, I hear the drone of an aeroplane.  If the skies are clear I see this plane.  It is a C130 Hercules.  Marshalls of Cambridge care for these workhorses but I have a feeling that the planes that I see are heading for the American airbase at Mildenhall.  This morning, as I reached my journey’s end, the usual droning filled the air.  Most mornings I don’t even bother to glance upwards but this morning I did.  This long-bodied 4-engined aircraft came slowly out of the clouds heading west but, below this plane, noiseless but with fixed wings and considerably smaller and lower than the C130, was a buzzard.  Not a common buzzard but a rough-legged buzzard.  This beautiful bird of prey is a winter visitor to East Anglia, quite rare but I expect to see a few each winter.  Some years ago, the RSPCA brought to me a rough-legged buzzard which was starving.  I force-fed this bird and after a few days successfully released it on Sutton Heath. A friend, a real country lad, was amazed when I pointed out the buzzard to him.  He had not realised that a buzzard made a droning noise.  Ah, well.

Last Friday, pheasants were released into a nearby field ready to be shot on the Saturday!  As I cycled home on Saturday morning, 8 pairs of guns were strategically placed on this arable field whilst in the distance beaters were moving forward.  Luckily I had left before the foreboding slaughter took place.  Usually the following day I see no pheasants as they tend to get killed. I rounded the farm buildings on the way to my studio on the Monday and there, under my bird table waiting for grain, were half a dozen cock pheasants.  Clever birds!  Now every day they wait for me to feed them.  What-ho!

In the past I have suggested that those interested in nature should visit the Norfolk coast in January to see the grey seal pups.  This area is cared for by the Friends of Horsey Seals who do a marvellous job fencing off the area, providing walkways for visitors as well as parking.  How disappointing therefore to learn that 4 baby seals have died, most probably due to disturbance by sightseers.  Now I have been so far quite polite about this but I am astonished at the ignorance and selfishness of some seal visitors.  It is suggested that female seals deserted their pups because idiots tried to take ‘selfies’ with the young seals.  One man even placed his child on a seal so that he could photograph this bizarre composition seemingly unaware of the danger the child was in since even seal pups have sharp teeth.  Another idiot sent a drone over the seal colony which of course caused panic to the animals.  Obviously, the majority of visitors to Horsey are more respectful but, once again, a few ignorant people can spoil it for everyone and in particular for the seals.

Jottings – 9 January 2018 – “Where poppies blow…” Reg Snook

I have just read a wonderful book that I received as a Christmas present – yes, it was in my stocking.  Very chuffed with Santa!  The book is entitled “Where Poppies Blow” written by John Lewis-Stempel.  A section of this book beautifully describes the unique relationship between soldiers, most of them up to their necks in muck and bullets, and the birds and animals that ‘put up’ with war.  I was astonished to read what hundreds of military men wrote about in particular the birds of the trenches and no-man’s land.  I used to view with scepticism poems that spoke of skylarks trilling away amongst the mortar shells and machine guns.  So many soldiers of varying rank wrote of the bird life and of how much nightingales, golden orioles, and larks meant to them.  Many sent their recordings back to England for publication in newspapers and ornithological magazines.  Many of these bird-watching soldiers are famous names – Buxton, Ticehurst, Collingwood-Ingram, JM Harrison, R Talbot Kelly and many more.  One name that cropped up really rung a bell with me.  Charles Raven was a ‘pure pagan’ until he converted to divinity in 1906 later becoming Canon of Liverpool.  During the Great War he studied birds, particularly at Vimy where he loved the golden orioles.  Raven wrote three books, the first of which was “In Praise of Birds”.  It was published in 1925 and I was given a copy of this book in 1957 which I have to this day.  What a coincidence that I should be made aware of this again in 2017, only 60 years later.

My comments in the last jottings about the state of the butterfly garden brought swift response.  I was made aware that a generous donation has been given to upgrade this area with insect-friendly plants.  This will be done in the spring which is good news since at the moment the butterfly garden looks sad.  Yes, I realise that it is winter, that gardeners are scarce but work is in progress.  Hopefully the garden in summer will be ‘buzzing’.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the current state of the Orchard which has a more cared-for look about it.  Mind you, again it is winter and the grass is not exactly energised but obviously some work has been carried out.  I do hope that IBC and the FoCP work together on its future upkeep.  I just wonder though – is it a traditional orchard with mown grass or an orchard with wild flowers to encourage bugs?  With care it could be a thing of beauty.  I am, however, slightly confused by an article in the last FoCP newsletter regarding its surrounding hedges.  I read that they will be cleared of the current brambles and ivy to encourage hedgerow nesting birds.  Might I ask what birds?  The number of songbirds has declined rapidly over the last 50 years.  Our Park is controlled by jays, magpies, crows and grey squirrels plus cats, dogs, sparrowhawks, unwanted human activity, large gulls, muntjac, foxes and rats.  Getting rid of these two plants, in my opinion, will have little effect on hedgerow nesting birds.  One of my disappointments over the years has been the lack of nests to be found in hedgerows.  Ivy and bramble will at least give cover to maybe dunnock, robin and wren.

A walk around the Reserve at Minsmere on New Year’s Eve was difficult as much of this area was flooded including some of the footpaths.  However, the higher water level encouraged masses of duck that is until six Konic horses decided to stroll across the Scrape.  Not only did this upset the birds on the Scrape but also the birders in the East Hide.  Even so, on such a blustery grey day, 8 Marsh Harriers were seen over the Island Mere.  The day before, however, 24 had been reported.  I well remember the days when one would have been pleased to have seen just one Marsh Harrier!