Are You Sitting Comfortably …
I enjoy watching birds – ‘the colour and sound and light, the changing days, the birds of the wood and of the field; its woven embroidery so beautiful, because without design’ – Richard Jefferies.
Richard Jefferies has been a constant companion, and inspiration, throughout my life; there is always one of his books on the bedside table. His writings are as fresh today as they were in the 1800’s.
However it was Charles Tunnicliffe and Eric Ennion both masters of composition who put the ‘Art’ into ‘Nature’ for me – both, of differing styles, were able to capture the essence of the birds in their natural environment and place them artfully, on a page, in such a way as to fill the space in a pleasing yet natural way.
Just as Tunnicliffe and Ennion captured the essence of the living bird in their paintings, to hear the records of Ludwig Koch is to obtain a true picture of the birds’ voices.
‘When I first heard his records I was immediately struck by the way in which they called up the natural environment of the singers. As the Nightingales voice escaped from its ebonite prison under the touch of the needle and the scientific magic of the sound-box, I felt myself transported to dusk in an April copsewood. The clear notes of the Cuckoo with their blend of clear spring feeling and irritating monotony, the Chaffinch’s simple and cheerful strain, were equally evocative; and with the laugh of the Green Woodpecker (a triumph to have recorded this!), the yellowing July fields and darkening green of July woods were in the room.’
So wrote Julian Huxley in his introduction to ‘Songs of Wild Birds’ by E M Nicholson and Ludwig Koch and published as a text with illustrations in the form of sound, by H.F.& G Witherby Ltd in 1936.
There were many others of course who inspired me and continue to do so.
It all began when ……
growing up in the 1950’s and ’60s in the country I enjoyed reading my parents and grandparents books on Nature, especially of birds. I remember being allowed into the lounge – a special place – to sit in the rocking chair getting lost for hours in the books of animals, birds, trees and flowers, by the likes of Denys Watkins Pitchford (‘BB’), John Clare, W H Hudson, and Richard Jeffries; Henry Williamson, R M Lockley and E M Nicholson. And the illustrations of Seaby, Thorburn, Roland Green, Vernon Ward, S R Badmin, Rowland Hilder, Tunnicliffe and Peter Scott.
A few years ago, inspired by these books, and memories of childhood walks and picnics in the country, I started to collect old paintings, prints and books, of landscape and wildlife; especially of birds. It has become my passion! Occasionally I have some for sale.
I have renewed my aquaintance with the paintings of Ennion, Lodge and Harrison, D M Henry and Winifred Austen; and discovered new delights in the work of Leo Paul Robert, Alan Ingham, Gordon Benningfield, Basil Ede and Raymond Watson. Not forgetting that of Robert Gillmor, grandson of Allen Seaby, and Terance James Bond – ‘Britain’s best-loved bird artist’.
Jeffrey Boswall started me on one path – studying birds and bird behaviour in depth, by lending me his copy of ‘The Courtship Habits of the Great Crested Grebe’ by Julian Huxley – 1914. I must have been 13 or 14 and wanted to be a wildlife cameraman.
I spent the next year spending all my free time, in all weathers, with binoculars and telescope watching and recording a pair of these birds at Orchardleigh – a small privately owned estate in Somerset, with a lake just big enough for a pair.
Bernard King on the other hand, along with the ever present Roger Tory Peterson, taught me how to identify birds in the field, and how important it was to record not only a description of plumage but also their behaviour, making notes and drawings for writing up later, no matter how seemingly trivial.
I became a member of his Duck Counting Team, run by the Wildfowl Trust then I think, and spent many hours in his company counting ducks and spotting many other birds besides for a good number of years. We also managed a few trips further abroad to look for waders at Steart Point and Sea watching off Portland Bill.
As part of my credentials in becoming a proper birdwatcher I was a member of the Chew Valley Ringing Group, then run by Roy Thearle and Robin Prytherch. I spent the Summer of ’66 happily camped out at the edge of the lake near the ringing hut totally immersed every day, and many nights, in the craft and skill of bird ringing.
However I suppose I was always a bit of a loner happy in my own company – it enabled me to be at one with nature, especially birds, totally absorbed in the moment; it’s art and beauty – what would be called mindfulness today or as Rosamond Richardson has called it Ornitheology.
So how better to introduce my blog, with a nod to those who started me out as a ‘proper’ birdwatcher, than by a quote from her recent book ‘Waiting for the Albino Dunnock’.
‘The great silence of waterscapes. That evening a single tree on the shore of Hickling Broad was reflected between low-lying strands of land. Reeds made squiggly lines in the water, masts and rigging of sleeping boats impaled an orange sky splashed with magenta and lavender and blue. The orb of the sun turned to gold. A family of Great Crested Grebe floated in silhouette on water ablaze in a final fling of tomato-red and violet. Sunset in the water, fading into darkness as the flames of day melted into the blue dark’. Rosamond Richardson 2017.
So let’s pop round to my local (patch).
Days Gone By ……
The whole area around home is dominated by the nearby Iron Age hill-fort – Dinas Dinorwic. The hill-fort sits on one of the summits of a long ridge running NE-SW. On the NW the ground falls away steeply to a small tributary of the River Seiont and on the SE the ground falls away less steeply to the marshy valley in which the River Cegin rises.
Many birds have all but disappeared as breeding species over the last twenty years: including Whinchat, Yellowhammer, Whitethroat, Cuckoo and Skylark. Barn Owl too.
Birds Here Today ……
However Raven and Buzzard still nest in the trees along the wooded ramparts of the old hill-fort and Song Thrush have increased in numbers. Mistle Thrush and Nuthatch breed in the Churchyard. Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Dunnock nest in the lane; Great Spotted Woodpecker and Coal Tit in the nearby wood. I have even seen a Short Eared Owl hunting over the marsh one winter evening. And a Red Kite, mobbed by the local Raven and Buzzard, down from the hill-fort.
So welcome to my blog. A celebration of birds – in art, poetry and prose, birdsong and anecdote. I hope you enjoy it, and in it find something fresh and new and that watching birds for you, too, becomes in the words of Viscount Grey ‘a pleasant path for recreation’.
Follow me as I ramble through the year writing about birds. Share your own encounters – leave a comment, tell me about your patch – be part of the story …
I’ve drawn extensively on the resources of the Richard Jefferies Society in particular the Blog of Dr Rebecca Welshman and Simon Coleman who have already done much of the transcription of Jefferies writings enabling me to reference quite long passages without having to copy type from the original text of his books and essays.
Tell me about your Patch
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