Nature Notes, by Malcolm Cox, June 2, 2017

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An acquaintance that we have not seen for a while referring to last month’s notes is concerned that my jottings are getting a bit mystical.

That “fool on a hill” introduction was perhaps a bit obscure. If it makes readers think beyond their normal boundaries I am OK with my comments.

A brief mention of recent weather. Records show that the period of winter – spring for 2017 have been the driest for two decades.

Like all gardeners I have cursed this especially when the drought was accompanied by cold easterly winds.

Sometimes the west/east split within our “Sceptered Isle” is very pronounced.

It was a bit of surprise then to learn that a rare visitor from the Americas turned up on a remote Scottish island, North Ronaldsay on 29 th April.

It obviously blew in before easterlies set in. This female red winged blackbird was much appreciated by the nation’s “twitchers.” The male red winged is a glorious sight. Fortunately I have seen plenty on their own territory and I believe that sometimes their numbers build up to become an agricultural pest. Clearly a confused creature well beyond its “normal boundaries.”

A bit less surprising was the red-breasted flycatcher that appeared at Holme on May 5. This vagrant from eastern Europe occasionally lands in the UK, those easterlies again.

Back to my opening remarks. There are creatures whose reputation is almost mystical. During a recent visit to Norwich we checked out the city’s peregrines.

Most readers will be aware of the remarkable success of peregrines in so many of our cities. At the time of writing I am not sure if Lynn’s dockland peregrines are still with us, await local enthusiasts to confirm, but Norwich’s falcons are breeding again. So much of the literature on this bird describes it as mystical and indeed mythical. It is accepted as the fastest creature on the planet and puts all our puny man- made efforts into perspective.

For centuries; peregrines have bewitched us humans.

The Norwich falcons produced a brood of four eggs. The latest news it that only one chick has survived. From near extinction in Britain as the 1950’s began they are now secure having swapped remote cliff tops for city towers where there is a plentiful supply of prey items such as pigeons and they are safe from egg collectors.

By coincidence the memoirs of JA Baker are about to be biographised. It is about four decades since I devoured every word of the hard backed version of Baker’s “The Peregrine.” For readers who are not entirely familiar with the story I provide the following summary.

On July 1, 1940 when Baker was 15, the secretary of state for air in Britain issued the “Destruction of Peregrine Falcons Order.”

Adult and juvenile birds were to be shot, eyasses (young birds) killed in the nests, eggs smashed and eyries disrupted. The order was made under wartime emergency defence regulations: peregrines were deemed too great a threat to the carrier pigeons that RAF bomber crews routinely took with them on flights. If a plane ditched at sea and a location could be radioed through, the pigeons would be released with a leg tag to report their position.

With the end of hostilities however peregrines had little chance to recover before the widespread use of organochlorine pesticides (DDT) threatened extinction.

Much of this story is well known so I do not need to recall it here. Instead it is worth dwelling on the nature of the author, JA Baker.

Like many single minded, some might say eccentric, Baker has always been rather remote and his background was little written about until fairly recently.

Later this year Little Toller books will publish Baker’s biography, My House of Sky, by Hetty Saunders. I might get the chance to write again on the subject in due course. Until then I urge anyone interested who has not read Baker’s seminal study to track down a copy of The Peregrine. I am concluding with a mention of yet another of our reader’s photographs. Melissa Ibbitson’s “playful seal at Titchwell” was a gem.