Thursday, 20 August 2009

Great White Woodie?

Okay, call me barking mad - and of course, many of you do - but this one has been drifting in and out of my consciousness for some time.
The eureka moment came yesterday afternoon as I ambushed pigeons from the luxurious comfort of a convenient stack of oat straw bales.
The sky was cobalt blue, the sun warm and a pigeon appeared almost magically overhead as it approached on the warm breeze from behind me.
In the split second before I shot it (why are my best shots always ones I don't have time to think about?) the light bulb went on in the old noggin.

Let me backtrack. A few years ago I was fortunate enough - if that's how you view it - to cage dive with Great White sharks in South Africa.

A friend and I travelled to the legendary shark-spotting capital of Gaansbai and headed out towards Seal Island; the spot where wildlife documentary makers camp out to watch these prehistoric creatures explode from the foam to capture unfortunate pinnipeds who inhabit the island.

Much of the memory of climbing into the cage and ducking underwater is hazy and dreamlike. Fear and adrenalin, the cold water below and searing sun above all merged into an unforgettable half hour of life experience.

But what triggered like a flash bulb in my mind as I shot that racing woodie yesterday was the similarity of the Great White cutting through the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, and a pigeon doing the same in a crystal summer sky.

I have noticed it subconsciously over and over and the similarity is uncanny. It seems to happen most often when the birds are flipping in towards the decoys looking for a place to land with their wings set at a downward 45 degrees, just like the pectoral fins of an incoming shark.

There - I've got it out of my psyche. Think about it next time you're shooting pigeons in a sea blue sky.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Mountain out of a molehill

Well it's been an busy week in The Amateur Naturalist household, and no mistake.

It started with much excitment from my five year old daughter as the pupae she had been looking after had turned miraculously into a moth!

It was the first time she had seen the entire magical process from caterpillar to finished article and for once she was lost for words. It truly is one of nature's wonders, and I realised that as an adult I had forgotten about the beauty and awe it inspires. I'll be paying more attention in the future.

Next up was Gary the snail. The unfortunate mollusc had been held in captivity for a couple of days at the insistence of my youngest daughter, aged just two. So after his enforced confinement in a plastic tub cut with airholes, we finally released him into the long grass at the back of the house. He looked pleased with his escape, but daughter number two wasn't sure about our parole policy.

The very next day launched the great fish mystery. Upon coming downstairs yawning and scratching I stared befuddled for a moment at a puddle on the kitchen floor. And then I noticed there was a small silver flapping going on in its midst.

We are fish sitting, and for some unexplained reason, the tank's inmates have taken it upon themselves to leap for freedom. Three times that day I rescued the great escapers until a lid was the only solution.

And just yesterday we awoke to another situation; this time mammalian and not piscine. The lawn had two new additions, and they weren't of my making.

A mole had invaded the sanctity of an Englishman's lawn. It could not be tolerated.

I knew that if left, the precious parcel of green I so lovingly tendered would soon be decimated by the underground marauder in his ever-growing series of tunnels from which he claims his nighly bounty of earthworms.

So I consulted old Les from up the road. A proper country gent is Les, of the old school. He was a farm labourer and gardener all his working life. He now tends the most magnificent vegetable garden it has been my privilege to see. In exchange for a couple of pigeons now and then, we sometimes find a sample of his produce waiting by the back door; perhaps a bag of thick ropey runner beans, or a couple of onions the size of small footballs.

As I thought he would, Les knew the solution. A couple of rusty old mole traps were fetched from his shed - strange looking contraptions too. Les then dug out the newest tunnel, set the traps and covered them all over with a thick sheaf of grass.

"Keeps it dark, see," was all he would say.

Then he reburied the traps in the soil and went on his way. The girls checked the traps 15 times that afternoon, with no tell-tale sign of the two arms being spread, indicating the trap has been sprung.

But when we got up early the next day, one of them had been. A quick dig and the poor miscreant was unearthed, crushed by the powerful arms of the trap.

A shame to kill such a lovely creature for going about his business, but I won't have greenfly destroying my honeysuckle and the same goes for moles and lawns. A good chance to show the girls one of these amazing creatures up close though and explain their strange, twilight world.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Rain Stops Play

I've been enjoying myself (and getting wet, inside and out) at the England v Australia Test Match at Edgbaston this week.

The game was marred by the lashings of summer rain that have been pelting these shores for a couple of weeks now, after a long dry spell previously which had crisped everything up.

We seem to swing from one extreme to the other, with not a lot of 'normal' weather inbetween. It may well be my imagination, but every few weeks seems to bring reports of hottest, driest, wettest, windiest, coldest this that or the other since records began. Must be hard for the birds and beasts to know whether they are coming or going.

They were still swifts over the skies and along the canals of Birmingham this week, but there weren't a lot of insects for them to scoop up, thanks to the wet stuff.

Butterflies were aplenty though when the clouds intermittently relented, making the most of the thousands of intrepid buddlhea which have colonated the miles and miles of deserted industrial sites and towpaths of this historical city.
Plenty of wasps in your beer too, but you'll find reports on Aussies, cricket and wasps in a much earlier post on this blog.
Back to the real world now, and some reporting work to do for the shooting, fishing and hunting newspaper, The Countryman's Weekly (more on the publication here at