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Everything is about edge

Hardley, where it is often confusing to define where the garden ends and the marsh begins. Tumble-down houses and rickety shacks, away from any bus route and Team Sky sorts wrapped in lycra, this is a village that by choice is cut off. The secret is out, and pre-storm Ciara as many as 10 large lenses littered the river bank firing at will. Their target- Winter ghosts. First, the classic Scooby-Doo type, as a Barn Owl responds to an ill-advised squeak in the grass and heads towards the onlookers. Another quickly joins the hunt, their formation a picture of double-edged stealth. But these year-round residents are not the key objective today, that honour is given to the Short-eared Owl. 3/4 of these can be seen from the staithe at the minute, floating like giant moths over the tussocks and edges. 
In a recent article in The New Yorker, Jake Fiennes states "Everything is about edge". Hedges, ditches, scrub, forgotten tracts of land that link nothing and no-one. Fiennes, now man…
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Rockland and Hellington- looking again

I just need a kick up the arse sometimes, and what with November in the broads coming across a little turgid (water rather than Duck), it was the report of a local Long-eared Owl that got said backside out amongst the fields and the furrows once more. I relish the WeBs counts, but the lack of any notable Wildfowl has found me heading away from the river, seeking out the edgelands of the local parish.

The Owl itself had been seen at roost in a thick hedge of Hawthorn, but the scrub and briar held nothing as I pushed on to the Hellington and Rockland community reserve. I recall passing through here in the summer, hot and tired, too thirsty and out of water to give the place the time it deserved. Now, I looked on anew. OS map in hand, I traced with my finger the broken lines that encircled the small reserve before splitting up and heading back home to Claxton, or onward to Rockland village. For me, there is nothing quite like the slide of mud and crunch of rotting reed under my feet when…

Stories to tell

With the days shortening and signs of Autumn feasting on Summer's entrails, we made good use of the last week of the holidays with visits to old and new. The latter, Orford Ness, a place quite unlike any other. Where else can you see Peregrines bombing over a landscape pock-marked with forgotten piles of rust, preening Avocets and former weapon testing facilities? Had the Peregrines have been present here during the Cold War, I wonder would the scientists have considered their ability to seemingly defy physics in the sky, much as they wished their payloads to do. Much mystery and intrigue surrounds what went on here in the era of the Iron Curtain, it being said that the men in one building had no idea what was being developed in the next cabin 100 metres away. Such was the need for hush in trying times. Great minds, silent heroes have left their mark here. 

St. Benet's Abbey has embraced folk horror, the wicker monks now maintaining an eerie vigil around the ruins. The image …


The marshes of Suffolk and Norfolk are steeped in heritage and history, where folk come and go, leaving behind stories and markers on the landscape. The smock mill at Herringfleet is one such example, its name derived from its likeness to smocks worn by farmers in days gone by. Today the mills are not in use but instead provide a way-marker for visitors and walkers. As was so on a breezy Wednesday, the mill being the target for a there-and-back walk that took in the small natural scrapes that had opened up on the marshes thanks to sympathetic land management. 
A pair of Greenshank, piping and barrel-rolling, alighted one scrape and fed on a secluded muddy bank out of our gaze. At least 2 scaly-looking juvenile Wood Sandpiper were less bothered by our presence on the bank and represent a drop in the ocean regarding the recent invasion of this species on migration. Not to be cast into the margins, Green Sandpiper were omnipresent throughout the amble and without these visitors, some ma…

Foulden Common- Skippers and a Hairstreak

Been meaning to get to Foulden Common for what feels like years, and it probably is that in terms of timescale! I recall being poorly last Spring, and my days put aside for a Butterfly hunt there were postponed. Before long, the mid-summer doldrums had set in and all thought of Norfolk's scarce Skipper species were put on hold until 2019. 
And so despite the overcast conditions and lack of some Bird Therapy, I headed out this morning. Arriving from the direction of Mundford, travelling through Foulden village and approaching an S bend, I noticed a small bowl-shaped pull in. Doubling back I parked up, walked through two gates and began searching the common land. The first 45 minutes had me cursing the lack of sun and planning my next free morning before returning to work. A pair of Common Blue and Small Copper gave some hope, and a hoarse Cuckoo and 2+ Garden Warbler were clearly harbingers of warmer fronts moving in. 
As the sun threatened to bust through the clouds, I picked up …

Picking up the pieces is easy

Bumping into neighbour Mark Cocker in the Findhorn Valley proved not only how small our world is, but also how valuable the home patch is to us both. We compared notes around our Highland experiences, but attention quickly turned to where we had both come from. "Have you seen the Short-eared Owls?" We both had, and it was this pleasantly nagging thought that kept infiltrating my mind throughout the highland stay. Put simply, inside my head, it went like this: it is great up here, but when I get home I must get down the marsh.

Despite Spring being a leap ahead back home compared to the north, reminders of the season past were hunting  Claxton Marsh as we had discussed. The Short-eared Owls had not been present all Winter, and sightings of two birds in April were oddly my first of the year. A background orchestra of Grasshopper and Sedge Warbler was a contradiction, but here were the early birds and a couple simply not in a rush. 
I have been taking part in the Common Bird Cen…


Wilderness is relative, and a visitor to our shores from the near continent may sneer at the lack of carnivores in our ancient forests, and join us in universal deflation when confronted with the over-intensification of our countryside in favour of farming. Having said this, one cannot sit by the shores of Loch Morlich looking up at the snow-capped peaks of the Cairngorm Massif and not feel utterly in awe and that little bit smaller in the world. Only the brightly coloured water-proofs betray the reality that civilization is close by, but just a few mindful moments and the call of a Diver are enough here.

Being a regular visitor to the Scottish Highlands, the likes of Morlich, Garten, Findhorn and Rothiemurchus all feel familiar and generally are the places where my Highland experiences begun. I will always go back to them. But what struck me on this trip, albeit a family holiday, was the wealth of habitat as yet unexplored. The Badenoch Way and Insh Marshes, off the beaten track in G…