November Skies


Great to welcome Hunt Emerson’s latest book, Hot Jazz, onto the bookshelves – a very entertaining jazz-themed adventure comic book.

Hunt is a well-renowned and award-winning cartoonist http://largecow.com and I was happy to contribute a little doodle to his latest book.

And here it is – a jazzy little dawn chorus – and with Christmas looming I’m sure Hunt’s book will be the perfect present to pop into a stocking somewhere – preferably one hanging from the mantelpiece.


Big Time Nature Notes Warning:

The first of the month was the hottest day in November since records were put on a turntable.

To be on the north Norfolk coast in T-shirts and sunglasses was an unexpected bonus, and even heat haze had to be contended with when scanning the countryside for our feathered friends.

Many of our subjects didn’t need seeking out as Norfolk lends itself to a spectacular array of confiding and easily visible birds (stop yawning now, you at the back).

En route to our usual haunt at Le Strange Arms Hotel in Old Hunstanton, Pete and I popped into Eldernell on the Nene Washes. A short westerly walk along the bank turned up a distant Marsh Harrier and a Green Woodpecker.

We finished up at Titchwell, a reserve we have visited often recently, and it remains one of our favourite locations.

Our forays around Titchwell unearthed an obliging Jack Snipe, which was bobbing away (its what they do) on the shore of the fresh water lagoon, while waders, ducks, geese and swans fussed around in the backwater.


Golden Plover

At dusk, two Barn Owls were seen batting away over the fields close to the Autumn Trail, and squadrons of Marsh Harriers flew into roost; mini-murmurations of starlings scrawled over the reed beds.

Here are some photos of the sunset but you had to be there…

Sunset copy



The next day, after a pre-breakfast sea watch squinting at the bobbing speck of a Slavonian Grebe, we took off for Cley Marshes. Along the shingle beach, the saline lagoons, distant grazing marshes and reed beds were continually checked out for anything migratory.

But the highlight was an otter weaving its way up through a channel before hauling up onto the bank.

We eventually finished up at Burnham Overy Staithe, where the river spreads out into multiple tidal creeks before reaching the sea. The walk along the sea bank meant a continuous elevated position was held over the adjoining fields and saltmarshes. From this vantage point, decent views of Grey Partridges, Curlews, Buzzards, Pink-footed, Egyptian and White-fronted Geese could be enjoyed. A Hare also put in a fleeting appearance.

Late mists crept in as the light faded, leaking over the fields and tumbling down in the ditches and hollows. Always a good scenario for a bit of purple prose.


The tongue-twisting little hamlet of Burnham Overy Staithe was the nautical playground of Nelson, who learned to row and sail a dinghy here at the age of ten.

It also provided a home for Richard Woodget, the master of the famous Cutty Sark.

In another maritime aside, it is believed that Delia Smith based her famous ‘Let’s beavinyou!’ Seafood Soufflé on shellfish gleaned from the shores when crabbing here as a little girl with Stephen Fry.

Another day, another sea watch before breakfast – and another Slavonian Grebe.

It was thick fog in the morning as we headed to Holme Beach, dipping through the mists covering a golf course to reach the sea. A Brambling materialized on some gorse but the real show-stoppers were Short-eared Owls. To see three of these owls in one morning was as treatier a treat as you’ll ever get. They never seemed particularly bothered by us and just went about their business, flying high and surveying their territories for vole-shaped morsels.

Then it was onto Thornham, a small coastal village where a Kingfisher momentarily lit up the mudflats and tired creeks.

Naturally, Titchwell was once again assigned to top off an excellent day, and we duly congregated to enjoy the usual majestic melee over lagoons and reed beds with some Bewicks’s and Whooper Swans joining the duck soup.

From the reliable Autumn Trail, a female Hen Harrier zoomed in to join the roost, circling a few times before hitting the hay. The Barn Owl was on duty once again, and a whole bunch of Starlings hitchcocked their silhouettes to a dead tree.


Sundown stole the show again as thick layers of mist and fog crawled across the reserve, puddling and twisting around reeds and bare trees to fashion an eerie and ghostly dusk.


Having stayed over an extra day, Pete and I called into Sculthorpe Moor on the way back to Brum.

Sculthorpe is a quietly impressive woodland and fen habitat located in the Wensum Valley. Unfortunately, it was very quiet during our brief visit, and we failed to churn up anything more exciting than a Marsh Tit on a bag of nuts. With excellent education and visitor facilities, more boardwalks are planned to provide even greater access – there is already an elevated hide, which gives great views across the fen and reed beds.



The Classical Spectacular concert at the Symphony Hall was conducted by the ever-entertaining Anthony Inglis, with the City of Birmingham Choir and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra pulling out all the stops.   Soprano Sky Ingram warbled away like there was no tomorrow, and the tenor, Mario Sofroniou, absolutely nailed Nessun Dorma.

It was a shame there was no Bolero – always a good one to torvill away to – but its not bad to experience a different programme, and the Borodin number was a decent substitute.

As usual, the 1812 Overture with cannons and fireworks neatly closed the show – then it was off to the pub!


This Month’s Flat Disc Society (AKA: the Film Club) came up trumps with Kenny as its main feature – a very funny Australian film about a Melbourne plumber who works for a portaloo rental company.

This screening was deliberately chosen to celebrate the United Nation’s Toilet Day. No lie, here’s the link: http://www.unwater.org/worldtoiletday/home/en/

penguinlooThere was a short warm-up feature, Look at Life: Men of the Snowy, a concise ‘slice of life’ featurette from the 1960s.


With a rubbishy wet final weekend (they’ve even started naming storms now) I visited the Ikon Gallery for a bit of contemporary relief.

Scroll Down And Keep Scrolling by British artist Fiona Banner was the exhibition on show.

There was a life-sized glass scaffold tower in one of the spaces with its fragility apparently undermining any sense of usefulness. Some black beanbags representing the full stops of a few selected typefaces were scattered around the galleries for people to sit upon and nod sagely (and stroke their chins). Fiona Banner seemed to be channeling the Vietnam War in other areas of the exhibition – a pile of Jane’s Aircraft Recognition Guide books towered almost to the ceiling, and a film screened a military air show with a Chinook helicopter looping around.

I sat on a beanbag and nodded sagely.


Mellow October’s Fruitfulness


Not a humongous amount of stuff going on this month – just a little walk and a little bird-watching so I may need to fill out this post with a bit of Keats. It’s all in keeping with the season.

At the beginning of the month, there was an interesting circular walk around Cromford, courtesy of 02 – the College’s intrepid walking group.

A large part of the Cromford village was built by ‘Cotton King’ Richard Arkwright, one of the founders of the Industrial revolution and considered by many as the father of the factory. This was to house the mill workers for the nearby Cromford Mill where provision was also made for shops, pubs, a school and chapel.

We followed the walk suggested by ifootpath.com and, in another boundless display of sheer torpidity, I include it here to save me from writing it up:

The walk starts on the canal wharf. Within the wharf area there was a warehouse, a weighing machine, sawpit, counting houses, stables and a smithy. Many of the old canal buildings can still be seen. The walk takes in a lovely stretch of the canal, which was completed in 1794. The walk also takes in a canal aqueduct over the River Derwent and the Leawood Pumphouse, a steam-powered beam. At High Peak Junction you join the High Peak Trail, which follows the former Cromford and High Peak Railway.

On this walk you will go through two gates, over one stile and negotiate a few wooden steps. The paths are of good quality but the incline can be muddy after wet weather. The incline is pretty steep but is the only uphill section of the walk.

The Fishpond at Matlock Bath was the perfect venue for lunch after a grueling four-miler.

There now follows a little photo gallery:









Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire, up near Skegness, was not quite the final destination of a surprisingly balmy October.

Yes, its bird-watching time, and the day was jump-started before we even reached Gibraltar Point with a Crane putting in a quite unexpected appearance as it flew past the coach.

After that, although there were several other top species flitting around the reserve, I seemed to miss out on all of them apart from a tiny speck of a Black Redstart pootling around the building site next to the reserve entrance.

I loitered around the cycle path for a while, hoping to catch a glimpse of a reported Rustic Bunting but there was nothing doing.

As ever, in this neck of the woods, the skies are huge, and an impressive flock of Pink-Footed Geese wheeled in from above, landing on one of the meres and chuntering away amidst the usual array of plovers, shanks and godwits.

The reserve is effectively split into two ridges of sand dunes, separated by a good splodge of saltmarsh with sand, shingle and muddy beaches so even if there is nothing spectacular going on, its always well worth the walk around.

Towards the end of each year, Norfolk is checked out for a long weekend of walking, birding and drinking. This year’s jaunt straddles November so I’ll post this account next month.

In the meantime, here’s that bit of Keat’s I promised you – plus a little poignant poem at the end, which may even be considered its equal in terms of evoking this season of mists and mellow fru…oops! Got carried away – here’s the Keats’ ode. Enjoy.

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinéd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barréd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

To Autumn was composed after a walk near Winchester one autumnal evening, and marks the end of Keats’ poetic career as he needed to get real and earn some dosh. Not long after publishing this poem, Keats died.

And now for something completely different…

Autumn Ode

Everything is fuzzy and red,

The tree’s still alive

But the leaves are dead.

JC 2015