Two new books: Spring and Raptors

I went shopping yesterday ….. and bought a couple of nature books. I was on a mission to buy the first one – ‘Spring’ which a compilation of nature writing by well known and new writers. I had read that it was coming out and was given the following endorsement / instruction from my former colleague and friend Matthew Oates,Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 18.41.27

‘Spring’ is described as ananthology for the changing seasons, it is published by Elliot and Thompson in partnership with the Wildlife Trusts. It contains contributions from 67 writers celebrating spring ranging from Shakespeare, Gilbert White, DH Lawrence, George Orwell, Thomas Hardy through to more recent people such as Melissa Harrison, Stephen Moss, Jo Cartmell and Lucy McRobert.

Spring Melissa Harrison

It also contains a piece from a new writer Elliot Dowding who I only know because he follows my own blog and frequently ‘likes’ pieces I write (thank you Elliot – people ‘liking’ my work encourages me onwards). Elliot’s contribution describes the emergence of spring as he travelled back from volunteering for the RSPB at Haweswater in the Lake District, on a train, to his native Sussex. The further south he went the more signs of spring he saw. Beautifully observed and described – I wish I could have written like that when I was 22! He is worth checking out – he runs his own blog ‘Wildlife and Words‘ which contains many well written,  considered and interesting pieces – see here. At this point I have only read Elliot’s contribution in the book.

For me ‘Spring’ is a book to dip in and out of – I will try and read one or two pieces a day and hopefully by my first cuckoo I will have completed the book. Excitingly volumes on Summer, Autumn and Winter are also planned – excellent. I guess I really ought to get a copy of Melissa Harrison’s book ‘At Hawthorn Time‘ too.

The second book I acquired today was bought on a whim, I saw it one the shelf at my local Waterstones in Exeter (the joy of browsing in a bookshop is much better than browsing on the internet I feel). It is called Raptor and to be honest I hadn’t heard of it before. I have had a lifelong passion for raptors (birds of prey) and when I was clearing my mother’s house after she died in 2014 I found a notebook I had produced when I must have been 11 or 12 where I had drawn and written about all of the UK’s raptors. I am fortunate I have seen all our species of birds of prey in the wild and that is that storyline running through Raptors. James Macdonald Lockhart gives a chapter to each of our native raptors and tells a tale of each in a specific place.

Raptors Lockhart

I only bought the book yesterday, so have only read a little bit so far. I have read part of the first chapter on hen harriers and the whole chapter on buzzards.

The book weaves together the story of Lockhart’s great grandfather, the famous Scottish naturalist Seton Gordon, the 19th century ornithologist William Macgillivray and his own travels in search of birds of prey.

The buzzard chapter is located on Dartmoor and described Lockhart’s quest for them in the Teign Valley – starting in Chagford  tracing the river back up to its source high on Dartmoor, wild camping (where I too have camped) and then descending downstream to the National Trust’s and the Woodland Trust’s land around Castle Drogo.

It is compelling writing and I am really looking forward to the rest of the book – a mix of history, ornithology, nature writing and personal experience.

Both books are highly recommended and to use Matthew Oates’ words – “Essential reading”.

Spring comes to Hembury Woods

I was at Hembury Woods on the River Dart yesterday morning. Took a few photos …….

Hembury 1The first wild daffodils are coming into flower – should be perfect in a week’s time

Hembury 2

 Standing inside the Iron Age Hill Fort looking back at the Norman motte and bailey (Castle long gone!)

Hembury 3 Still inside the Hill Fort looking down to the River Dart

Hembury 5European Gorse is in full flower

Hembury 6Part of the ring ditch around the Hill Fort

Hembury 7Hazel catkins

March is the month for rooks

Spring starts on two different days! The meteorological date is the 1st March and the astronomical date this year is the 20th March – so you can take your pick. See here for a full explanation. Either way it is now March and to me that means rooks!

Rooks nest early – they have probably already finished making their nests and are about to lay their eggs. Listen to Bill Oddie talk about rooks here.


Tweet of the Day with Carry Akroyd

A book written by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss has just been published to celebrate the cult Radio 4 programme ‘Tweet of the Day’. To get a feel for the radio programme listen here to Bill Oddie talking about the ring ouzel.

The book ‘ Tweet of the Day’ is well written and contains lots of interesting anecdotes but for me it is made by the illustrations by Carry Akroyd – she has done 248 ‘pied vignettes’ and 36 colour pages. Here are a couple of ‘Dartmoor’ examples from the book.

Tweet of the day The cover of the book

Tweet of the day MarchThe peregrine pages – a pied vignette and a colour page

Tweet of the day WheatearThe wheatear


Tweet of the day Red grouseThe red grouse

In my opinion it is worth buying ‘Tweet of the Day’ simply for the illustrations!

Wicken Fen

I have been a big fan of Carry for years and when I left Wicken Fen for Dartmoor my colleagues asked Carry to paint a Wicken Fen landscape for me
– it is one of my most treasured possessions.

Nature's powersIf you like Carry’s work I can also recommend her book ‘Natures powers and spells’ – full of her paintings

Sunset and sunrise at Scorhill

Out training with National Trust Wild Tribe – our own 10 Tors team has been amazing – the Dartmoor weather has been unprecedented! The visual highlight for me was definitely seeing the sunset and then rise at Scorhill.

Here is the sun setting over the clapper bridge over the River Teign

Here is the sun rising over Scorhill Tor.

The expedition started at Princetown and Wild Tribe headed off to Great Mis Tor, Beardown Tor, Sittaford Tor and then wild camped on Scorhill Down. 24km in total – I check pointed them along the way and ended up walking 20km myself! Day 2 the team went to Shilstone Tor, Hound Tor (the other Hound Tor), Oke Tor, High Willhays, into ‘death valley’ and up to Kitty Tor before finishing at Sourton Tor – another 20km. There was a lot of climbing and descending on day two and it was really hot. My ‘people’ highlight of the trip was seeing the team come in at Sourton – very tired but all smiling and filled with a real sense of acheivement. They now all know in their minds that they can now do the real 10 Tors in May. Here are a few other shots from the expedition.

Pony and foal at Little Mis Tor

Beardown Tor in the sunshine

Wild Tribe approaching Sittaford Tor