Monday, May 18, 2009

Pipe Dream

Swift nestboxes made of wood have the advantage that they are not expensive, something between 14-25 pounds. The disadvantage is that they don't last, subject as they are to the vagaries of our climate.
A durable box made of "woodcrete" is available if you are prepared to stump up about £57 or more (the Schwegler box).
So, we think we have come up with an ideal compromise: a durable box that costs no more than a wooden box. Click here for full details.
You start with offcuts of the pipe used for water mains. You cut these into 400mm lengths, cut an access hole in the side for the birds, put a plywood platform in the bottom of the pipe, plug the ends, paint appropriately, and there you are: a cheap but indestructible nest box for Swifts.
At least, we hope so. We have made twenty and are getting them erected in suitable locations to see how they fare, and how well the birds take to them.
If it works, we shall be heroes. If it doesn't, well, all we've lost is a few offcuts of pipe, a lot of elbow grease and our reputations. No big deal.

Acknowledgment: photo by Dick Newell

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ecology of Kestrels

To help a postgraduate student, Claudia, with her research, my colleague Peter and I took her to find occupied Kestrel boxes on Monday and Tuesday. Glorious weather, lots of things to see, good company, and thirteen occupied boxes to boot. On the way to one site, Peter stopped the vehicle to allow a female Lapwing escort her chick across the road. Claudia, bless her, managed to get this pic.
There's something about new birth that renews your faith in the universe.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sedge Warbler

This afternoon I parked up on North Fen, away from traffic and noise and problems, poured a coffee from my thermos and settled back to listen to a Sedge Warbler singing. A male, freshly arrived I imagine, and singing his heart out. They aren't much to look at, streaky brown things with a jaunty eyestripe, but when they are singing, often from an exposed perch, the bill opens wide and you can see right down their throat. He's a mimic is the male Sedge Warbler, and it's fun to pick out snatches of song from other species. I listened to him for about twenty minutes. It's not Grand Opera, but it's a sure way of lowering your blood pressure and taking your mind off your worries for a while.
The coffee, by the way, was awful, but it always is when I make it

Friday, May 08, 2009

Doctor, don't ask!

You have certain symptoms: hot flushes, dizziness, panic attacks, uncontrolled trembling, nausea.
So you go to the doctor, and he recommends a course of antidepressant medication.
You are grateful.
You pop the first pill, and then, idly curious, you read the accompanying leaflet, which contains a list of possible side effects. They include...
hot flushes, dizziness, panic attacks, uncontrolled trembling, nausea.
Am I missing something here?

The mills of God...

In 1996, I with others started a campaign to save Swift colonies in the United Kingdom. At the time it was not on the lists of birds of conservation concern, even though colonies were disappearing alarmingly as buildings were renovated. We canvassed the premier British birding organisation, the RSPB, using the argument that it was better to solve a problem rather than wait until it became a crisis. Today, some 13 years later, when the decline has reached crisis proportions. we (representatives of four amateur Swift organisations) had a meeting at the RSPB, where it was announced that Swift is now on the "amber" list of birds of conservation concern.
It's not only the mills of God that grind exceeding slow, but it looks like we've got good corn at last.

Treat in store

At five minutes and six seconds after 4 AM on the 8th of July this year, the time and date will be
04:05:06 07.08.09.
Isn't it nice to have something to look forward to?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Worst Slide Story

Here's a cartoon that is, to quote Angit who sent it to me, "brilliant and horribly accurate". Enjoy it.
If clicking on the word "cartoon" doesn't work, paste this url into your browser window:

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Envy? Nah.

I am considering trying out some new emotions. Envy, I thought, that's one I never really got to grips with. I remember having a fleeting green moment when Prince Charles divorced Diana - my god, the sense of relief! - but apart from that, and a vague feeling that Dave Brubeck had more fingers on each hand than I do - the emotion of envy has passed me by. Jealousy I have always been good at, although, perversely, I have sometimes enjoyed the sensation that someone got the girl that I didn't. But envy, I have had to work hard to pump that into the Old Scrotal psyche.

Until today.
I put up a couple of Swift nestboxes for a nice lady in Huntingdon. She is very short, and seriously plump, and her husband, though taller, is equally abbondante. And what struck me was that this couple, who are old enough to have children and grandchildren, are unaffectedly happy with each other. You know, that kind of serenity that is almost palpable. Bless them, bless all couples who achieve this karma, despite the tribulations of life.
The only consolation I could give my self, perverse bugger that I am, was that in order to talk to me, she had to stand close to me and look up into my nostrils.
I will work on this envy thing, but I doubt if I will get far with it. It requires more energy than I am capable of right now, despite Metatone.


Today, I went to see my GP ("family doctor", for my transatlantic friends). His first reaction was a good one: "My goodness, we don't see you very often!" Well, I come from longlived stock, noted for its determination not to die till it has screwed the Inland Revenue and the Pension Company for the last penny. So, ok, whatever is wearing out is doing so slowly.
Now, to cut a long story short, he decided that the Old Scrote needs a course of antidepressants.
Damn, this is what happens when I neglect the release that my Friday "Grumpy Old Man" slot gives me. So, if you will forgive me, I am going to do a Friday slot today (Tuesday), with no disrespect to Sertraline Hydrochloride.
I get furious with those safety devices that prevent you from opening bottles of medecine, bleach, etc, without breaking a fingernail and pushing your blood pressure up the Richter Scale.
I am outraged that the government is considering fitting control devices to all cars so that we will automatically be forced to respect speed limits regardless of the exigencies of the road conditions.
I am appalled that ordinary people round the world are suffering as a result of the greed and the incompetence of the world's wunch of bankers.
I am disgusted that Gordon Brown has no clue which way his arse is facing.

Well, that's enough. I should let the Sertraline Hydrochloride kick in, make me serene, etc. Anyway, who can be depressed when John Higgins won the Snooker Championship? That guy is brilliant, has ice in his veins, a lovely family, and is as rich and successful as he deserves to be.
Bet he doesn't need the happy pills.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Bullfinch in colour!

Well, colour problem solved. Once I have sound too, I will yell in your direction. Promise.