Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Bird Cottage

Some time ago I was approached by Pushkin Press to review a new book called Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer. I was intrigued because it is about the life of Len (Gwendolen) Howard, the author of “Living with Birds” and “Birds as Individuals”, which were best sellers in the 1950s. I read one of these in the 70s and lent it to Margaret, my mother-in-law, who used to feed the garden birds and was fascinated by their behaviours. She thoroughly enjoyed it.
Great Tit, Parus major
  Eva gets inside the head of Len Howard and writes as Len after reading her books, unpublished manuscripts and hearing the memories of people who knew her. Bird Cottage is well researched and written and should be enjoyed by anyone who is interested in the behaviour of garden birds. Len was a talented ethologist, untutored and therefore untainted by the prejudices of the biological science of the time. She observed the different personalities of birds and maintained detailed records.
Robin, Erithacus rubecula
  We live by the Sussex coast, and pass through Ditchling, Len’s village, regularly. We used to visit Ditchling Museum and I recall seeing a pottery exhibition there. We also purchased a painting by Charles Knight, a Ditchling resident, from the art gallery there, which closed some time ago. Ditchling Common has become a regular haunt for me during the Black Hairstreak season. This rare butterfly was recently discovered there and enthusiasts now visit from all over the country to see it.
  I don’t devote much time to reading these days and this is the first book I have completed in ages and I have no hesitation in recommending it. Len Howard was a professional violinist and a legacy enabled her to retire to Ditchling and follow a passion for birds which was nurtured in her childhood.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Bearded Tits at Farlington Marshes

Yesterday morning I visited Farlington Marshes to see the Bearded Tits. The flock started feeding on the far side of the reed bed, too far for my lens. Later we were rewarded when a flock of about 20 birds moved to the reed bed 10 metres from the fence. The next 23 minutes was a Bearded Tit fest. A huge flock of Brent Geese landed on the lake and then took off. A Wren, a Reed Bunting and a Little Egret also appeared.

Bearded Tit, Panurus biarmicus female

Bearded Tit female

Bearded Tit female

Bearded Tit, Panurus biarmicus male

Bearded Tits on far side of the reed bed

Brent Geese, Branta bernicla

Brent Geese

reed beds

Little Egret, Egretta garzetta

Little Egret with eel

many Teal
Reed Bunting, Emberiza schoeniclus

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

A Great Bustard and a Saxon church

This morning I visited the Newhaven / Seaford area to see the Great Bustard that has been reported in a kale field the past few days. I had some indications of where to go from the Sussex Ornithological Society’s sightings page and found a parking place where I thought the right track led up the hill. I found the kale field but couldn’t see anyone else around and had walked the length of the field and back before I saw other birders arrive. I met someone who had seen it the past 2 days so knew what he was looking for. Then he spotted it at the bottom of the hill. In spite of its large size as the heaviest flying bird (males 8-16Kg, females 3.5-5kg), it was small in the distance and looked like a female (height 75-85cm).  A knowledgeable birder advised its ring number had been seen and that it was imported as an egg from Spain for the Great Bustard Group breeding program on Salisbury Plain and was 6 months old. I was able to see a close up of it through the same person’s scope. It spent some time preening itself in one spot.
  As I had parked on Bishopstone Road and had a good view of the church from the hill I decided to visit it. St. Andrew’s Church is a wonderful Saxon church whose origin is thought to be between the early 8th century to late 10th century. The informative booklet advises that Bishopstone is probably derived from old English ‘Biscop’ + ‘tun’ (Bishop’s estate), owned by the Bishops of Chichester. There is a Saxon sundial over the door with +EADRIC carved on it. The Bell Tower is Norman 12th C. built in Saxon style with 4 receding stages. The Nave is Saxon, the  north aisle and chancel added in the 12th C. The  font is 12th C. square bowl type. A fabulous church, open Wednesday and Saturday mornings so I was lucky to see the inside.
Great Bustard, Otis tarda, female
kale field

Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus

Reed Bunting, Emberiza schoeniclus

view of St. Andrew's Church
St. Andrew's Church

Norman Tower

Saxon sundial +EADRIC

Tower window

entrance to chancel



12th C. coffin slab


Saxon grave marker

1675 Tower window

12th C. font

1897 pulpit - St. Michael slaying the poor old dragon

Nave roof restored 1885

12th C. North Aisle