Tuesday, October 18

On giving Head a bad name

May I enquire as to whether you have any contact of late with the gentlemen collectors of the Head? I understand that beautiful part of our coastline has been attracting many continental oddities of late. Taffy Evans has been wittering of Sooty Falcon and Lesser Short-toed Lark. He is saying they have been observed by upstanding members, yet many others have no knowledge of these sightings.

This seems to be causing a little disquiet, with no-one actually stepping forward to say publicly that they had espied these birds. Indeed, the gentlemen of the Head are so busy writing rebukes that they are failing to comb the countryside well enough, and are allowing the womenfolk to venture out in the field unescorted. Only today two mistresses of the village have claimed a rare sighting of a Glossy Ibis near the duckpond, having been put onto the bird by a third kindly spinster who stopped her carriage to call out to them. All most unbecoming. These maids' heads should be full of embroidery and cottilions, not images of swarthy vagrants. I trust this will all end soon and they will not be allowed out unescorted again.

Wednesday, October 12

Let us sing..

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, Pan Listers tick them all.

Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings,
He pulls them all to pieces, to count the lice within.

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, Pan Listers tick them all.

The purple-headed mountain, The river running by,
are full of scarce endemics, to move a list up high;

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, Pan Listers tick them all.

The cold wind in the winter, the pleasant summer sun,
Won’t keep him from his garden, in case he misses some;

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, Pan Listers tick them all.

The tall trees in the greenwood, the meadows for our play,
are full of such detritus, to collate every day;

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, Pan Listers tick them all.

He gave us eyes to see them, and lips that we might tell
How great our list for Blighty, top ten material.

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, Pan Listers tick them all.

Sunday, September 25

More on the subject of CocK

My dear Weasel,

My friends from the northern marshes have alerted me to the more delights from their Camera Obscura Club of Kent ('CocK'). They seem to be involved in establishing an intriguing new sport.

They have come to my attention again due to complaints from Slaughterham and Killet, the gamekeepers on the nearby Duke of Belcham's Estate, who had to remove a carriage worth's of CocKs from the grounds, who were intent on photographing vermin (Marsh Vermin, Hen Vermin, Montagu's Vermin and something charmngly spelt in their records as 'Palid' Vermin.)

What I have discovered removes all science from our studies, and replaces it with a sport. It appears that you must post as many lithographic plates as one can fit upon your worldwideweblog page of creatures great and small (mainly from the Dour Valley I note, but I do not believe this to be compulsory). You must then avoid any written discursive niceties referring to the species illustrated thereon, but instead in as many words as possible berate the venerable organ that is your county ornithological society. Abusing individual gentlemen of their society scores highly, and any attack upon a national body represented in that county is also received with thunderous (self)-applause.

Another rule some adhere to is to deny the right to reply to all on individual members' worldwideweblogs, which seems contrary to the original purpose of such organs, as defined in Samuel Johnson's excellent 'A Googlesaurus of the English Language'. I fear to be recognised as a CocK you must have to be obstinately and intolerantly devoted to your own opinion, and at all times show intolerance bordering on animosity towards those that hold a differing view.

To this end I can see no difference between a CocK and a BigoT (Bird Illustrations and Graphics by Observers on Thannit).

Perhaps one day their Society will regain the high ground, but there have been some highly damaging incidents in the past decades that make the actions of our own Mr. Bristow seem like St. Francis, and cannot be repeated here (certainly at least not before partaking of a sherry). I think their Society's Council need to take a good hard look at their own organ and then get to grips with their CocK before they make themselves blind to the wonders of nature.

A dilemma

My dearest Weasel,

You may recall you introduced me some time back to Messrs Middendorff and Stupendorff,who had collected those most wonderful insects in Siberia? If so, you might also recall the former admitted he had also done a great deal of work in classifying many avian creatures. I mention this because today I have heard of one of these most wonderful birds is sojurning upon Wood Wier waterworks, the private site owned by the Listershire Sanitary Water Purification and Bottled Cure-all Company.

I understand it has been most difficult to see, remaining at some distance at all times, but I now have a quandry.

Jeremiah Worm, collator of the Avian Sightings Service for the East and South, has, it is alleged, managed to somehow get within 40 yards' distance to confirm the identity of the bird when the world has had to stay a furlong away. Apparently someone had supposedly 'stumbled upon' a newly cut hole in the chestnut paling, and entered therein. Whether this be Worm or not, he has now sent telegraphic messages, to those willing to subscribe one shilling for such privileges, pronouncing upon the identity and urging others to travel to view for themselves- but from public areas only, which at such a distance makes it looks possible the bird could indeed pass through the eye of a needle.

If true, what a lack of morals! I feel I must denounce these double standards from the pulpit, but then Worm will surely no longer contact me directly with any interesting avian tidbits. So, a dilemma! Now Weasel, if I were to do God's work, could I count upon your good self to continue to pass on any interesting ornithological observations from within the parish that Worm might still sell on to you? Purely for the sake of complete historical accuracy you understand- I promise to not go and collect any as specimens.

I will of course also pray for Worm. (Spoken renditions of the prayer may be purchased for one farthing per minute. Other prayer services are available.)

Sunday, September 11

Tryngites subruficollis and the Camera Obscura Club of Kent

My Dearest Weasel,

Upon my soul, what a day yesterday wass, one of high hopes and dashed dreams. The young watcher from the harbour, Walpole 'Wally' Bond, burst into the garden to alert me to a most exciting find from yesterday. Thanking Wally I immediately put down my sermon notes and headed for the harbour road to try to glimpse this splendid American waif. I did not have to try hard to find the exact position, as there was already a gathering on the seawall, which I discovered later to be of the Camera Obscura Club of Kent.

Now some CocK had wandered from the seawall right down to the fenceline, which under normal circumstances would have me bellowing for the constabulary, but what was unfurling before my eyes was enough to render me catatonic; a wandering CocK member was stalking towards the fence, but with his eyes fixated upon the viewing lens of his equipment. And his equipment was so large it arrived at the fence some time before he, leading to a most unharmonious and loud metallic noise eminating and all the birds departing skywards! No prayer could bring the small flock back in the time I was there. These small migrants had only been some twenty feet away, but for some unfathomable reason it seems every CocK is fixated on size, and this one member wanted to be bigger than all the others.

I was left to admire the fieldsketch young Jeff Harrison put together instead, and indeed paid him a farthing for it. I have now studied the salient features, and I am certain if I find this particular vagrant in the coming week I shall bag him for the Booth collection, rather than let him suffer the indignity of further CocK fiddling.

Friday, September 9

Dumpton does it again

My Dearest Weasel,

Having had something of a quiet summer, my gravedigger, Dumpton, has now caused a kerfuffle at the municipal cemetery by digging holes in the work of Tom Stepsinsom, the young contemporary of the banker Daniel Meinertzhagen the sixth, who is often to be found in the shrubbery in the company of his benefactor's young son Richard.

There they have espied many wondrous birds. Tom, I think, is even better at describing these rares than young Richard, whom already has quite some reputation. In fact I understand Tom built this opinion for such finds when working previously as a servant at 'Mrs Miggins' Tea and Sandwich Shoppe for elderly and befuddled ornithologists'. There Tom was always to be found in the garden of Mistress Mary Bax, and would often return to the shoppe to boast of what he had glimpsed in her bush, much to the incredulity of the tea-drinkers therein. But I digress.

Tom has of late glimpsed a head-striped acrocephalus within the grounds of the cemetary, yet doubting Dumpton cannot accept this without proof incontrovertible. And has even had the temerity to say so in the village newsletter. This has led to a great wailing.

Now we are both acquainted with young Mr Nicholl, who has 'fallen in' with Aquatica at Losechelsea, yet could not 'bring to bag' with his camera obscura.  A perfect record, nonethless, and accepted. However, the eminent Mr Ford-Transit-Lindsay had his nest with five young of '09 disqualified as his photographic images of the adults were disallowed as being 'failures'. It is one rule for one, one for another. I have to agree with Walpole-Bond's published query "Sight-records of this species by other observers have been accepted, so why not his?'

Mrs Miggins has it seems been to see Tom, on the premise offering him a slice of her crusty pie. He is so put out by the incident he did not recognise her, apparently mistaking Mrs Miggins for the cemetery's first black grouse (!!)

He is obviously troubled. Dumpton should leave well alone and let young Tom's words speak for themselves. The truth will out.

Will you be calling at the vicarage after Sunday's service? Perhaps we could have crumpets and then go bag some warblers ourselves? With camera obscura or shotgun, I am happy with either!

Saturday, July 16

To Weasel, on the UK 400 list

My dearest Weasel,

Thank you for bringing to my attention this most strange list as compiled by the Reverend Godfrey Leigh-Evans. To find out I am ranked 298th on his self-annointed '400 Most Holy Men of the Empire' came as quite a shock.

I can see that he has somehow ranked us all on our good works, but I fear I cannot agree with his totals. He has stated I saved a young lady of the Parish who had drifted from the path, but the time he claims I was seen leaving her lodgings is far too late for a respected man of the cloth to be about the parish. And he has missed off my Miracle of the Marsh, when I turned a young Redshank into an example of the New World Yellowshank. He has also not mentioned my many exciting additions to the bird room at the Booth Museum, which I am sure will aid young ornithologists for decades to come.

I think Leigh-Evans has gone a step too far. Certainly missives on PriestForum, the round robin publication, show many others wish their entries amended. He must fall foul of the DPA (Defamation of Priests Act).

And if I were competing on this list, which of course I am not, why does he include the departed? Cuthbert, at number two? What chance does even the most pious of us have of catching him? (And Leigh-Evans at number one- oh the sanctimony!)

Monday, May 30

A missive to Mr B. Cocksure, A.R.S.O.L.S.

I am in receipt of your missive of the 26th last, concerning the planned eulogy for our late bird watching colleague, Chippendale, and I must state I find your request therein most un-Christian indeed.
I have heard tales concerning the committee on which you serve, The Albion Rare Sightings Official Logistical Survey, as being one prone to tarnish and sully the reputations of those that do not hold your authority on the matter as a final, but Chippendale was certainly not one. I am aware he provided you with all necessary paperwork.
For you to now write and declare I should not mention his American Baldpate on Potters Fleet from 40 years hence during the service, as you have now reviewed and rejected the record, is extremely distasteful. It is almost as if you have already secretly reviewed tomes held upon individuals that simply await their passing 'ere publication, at which time you seek to bury the record with the observer. I cannot understand how a committee that claims to be scientific in its work can allow a claim to stand whilst the observer breathes, but then decide it to be untrue when the poor man is cold. As someone invited to enjoy views of his Giant Yellowshank on Potters Lagoon during its lengthy sojourn I suspect this bird too will fall from grace once I depart?
Your motto of ‘What’s seen by us, gains admittal, what’s unseen by us, gains dismissal’ is most distasteful, and I shall certainly mention not only this wondrous sighting under question, but also his Gull-billed Tern at Cackitt Creek and his Dusky Thrush from the deck of the Coast Guard Vessel No. 12 moored offshore from there.

Be aware I have also written to your chairman, Mr. Blatter, to let him know my feelings on this matter. Chippendale's records will be mentioned in the service, I can assure you, immediately after we all join in that favourite birdwatchers' hymn, 'All strings bright and beautiful'. His Anas, mounted by Bristow, will also be proudly displayed.

Sunday, May 29

To Weasel, on digging holes

My dearest Weasel,

I am much vexed by the behaviour in my recent absence of my gravedigger, Dumpton. I understand he had taken it upon himself, as his dug his daily fresh hole, to rant against our neighbouring small peaceful community from the Voouseran denomination, telling them they should not dare to note down the number of the beasts they have seen. I had to issue instruction that he desist forthwith, as he had clearly forgotten that God expects us to know the where and when of all beasts, in case we once again need to gather up two of everything should he melt the icecaps again. If the Lord had to rely on Digger Dumpton collecting two of everything, then I fear we would only have the few creatures listed on the Gardeners' gazetteer to populate our Ark, together with the lone Booted Eagle he still counts, not unlike the Ancient Viking Mariner of the poem.

He remains a much troubled soul. Seemingly every other utterance has to now contain the words 'fek pan-listers', 'arsh pan-listers' and 'gurl pan-listers'. The Voouserans, for their part, have found the strength to turn the other cheek, and simply gesticulate the sign of the cross toward him with their middle finger as they pass him by.

What might yet prove to be the nadir came just two days ago when Dumpton's wailings scared off the only known territorial male of that rare sub-species of Tawny Pipit, Anthus campestris graveii, which had up to that point had been watched over by Colonel Barton-Barrington and dear nurse Rosamund John whilst it had sang from atop Dumpton's fresh compost just over the graveyard wall. I think we should pray for him (the pipit, not Dumpton).

On returning from my voyage of discovery

It pleases me much to return to the parish, after three long months away travelling to un-Christian lands and sighting many species of heathen birds. I will have many stories to tell of my time upon the Royal Naval Research Ship H.M.S. Beadle, but for now I must concentrate on settling back to counselling my parishioners.

Sunday, February 20

Satan's Bird

During this last week I have once again carried out some expirimentation in catching and banding the Good Lord's feathered friends in the churchyard. However, one visitor was most unwelcome, and I was pleased that Mr Tinker, formerly of the Much Ticking Zoological Menagerie, was on hand to help me exorcise this demon.

Tinker, who had earlier called to discuss the new-fangled 'evolution' with me, had been strolling among the headstones when he hollered to alert me to a Sparrowhawk in my banding net. He informing me he had watched it stealthily crawl along the yew hedge disemboweling five and twenty house sparrows en route, before bumbling into my mesh. Now Tinker has studied these villains long and hard, and knew that they need to feast on at least thirty sparrows a day, and that if I were to release this beast back into the wild there would be no songbirds in the whole of the Parish before the month was out. So I gladly to sacrifice my new banding net to rid Much Ticking of this menace. Again, Tinker in his positon as the most knowledgable authority in Christendom was able to advise me that the local hunt has much experience in these matters and could provide a most painless end for this monster by having it ripped into quarters (along with the net), by their pack. I was just able to capture this one portrait on the camera obscura before blood covered the lens.

Thank the Lord for Tinker!

Sunday, February 6

A Sermon in support of the Parish Council of Much Ticking, on the ownership of Parish Lands

My dear parishioners,

I am very much disturbed by a most animated debate these last weeks. That which is on the matter of our village's governing council moving to make our parish lands available for purchase to private individuals. After much vexed personal musing I have to come out and say this is not a matter for us, the people of the village, to decide as it is not 'our' land. It was that of our forebears, many generations ago, (or at least some of them)but the various Enclosures Acts in England took land away from the peasant in perpetuity to administer for the good of nation; if our governing bodies have land, it is not there for safekeeping, it is theirs to do with as they see fit.

If we should wish to enjoy land, then we must pay for it. Too many people use the countryside freely and are not prepared to pay regularly more than a ha'penny towards upkeep of that land, yet will pay happily more than a guinea to own this year's camera obscura.

We are most fortunate to both live in England's 'Green and Pleasant Land' and at the same time enjoy the monetary stability our national and local government has brought us. If, for a little while, our Masters have to ask us to pay more for the things we covet, and our monies thus taken then keep a poor-house open, where is the sin? After all, does not our Good Lord even charge you for the plot of soil next to the church we lay you down in?

In a show of support for our Parish Council you should note that from today the graveyard can only be accessed by payment of one farthing to the representative of the owner, namely me. I shall of course use these monies wisely on the upkeep of the vicarage. If the dead have to pay to use the ground, then it is only right the living should do so as well.

In his writing 'Visions of the Night' did not the Revd. Gordon Sumner ask "They say the meek shall inherit the earth, how long will you keep it?" Not long, I am afraid.

Let us now sing 'Jerusalem'.

Saturday, February 5

A missive to Miss Emily Williamson of The Plumage League

My dear Miss Williamson,
A report on a watch the birds of the vicarage garden this last January 30th.
As requested I am pleased to provide a list of observations taken on my lawn this Sunday last, during the one hour following my sermon. The species I encountered were as follows:
Osprey; at least two or three birds.
Great Crested Grebe; one, or part, thereof.
Roseate Spoonbill; one.
These three species featured in the hats of the four young daughters of Major Godfrey Evans of the Queen’s Brigade. I was most taken by the Spoonbill, which I know to be a rare species and should only be encountered in the west end of the capital. I should disclose I was made aware previously of an example being noted as on display in the window of Bristow’s taxidermy and millinery shop in our local high street, which may explain its appearance in these parts- I am certainly in doubt of the identification, these were not blood-stained Egret plumes.
I trust these records may be of use to you. I know these may not be as of as much import to you, but of live examples I can offer just a sighting my pair of resident Hoopoe, a species I know you are aware is common to all vicarages in these parts.
Your humble servant,

Friday, February 4

On the subject of Yellow Buntings

My dear Weasel, I must say how taken I am to hold in my hand the Yellow Bunting. This is a bird so common here on farmland in rural Listershire to be something very much taken for granted by the local residents; indeed, when gathered with the other stout-billed finches of the field they often take on plague proportions around our rick-yards and I, and many others, think of them as being no more than a seed-stealing pest. However, to see one so very close, yet still alive and breathing (rather than the more usual cold dead having been collected by a local shepherd to send Bristow for mounting) truly allows you an amazing opportunity to admire God's intricate handiwork. I will have to try my best to describe this pleasure to my parishoners this coming Sunday, to help them appreciate this rustic commoner more than they do- I am sure if this creature of God were in trouble then people would find it more beautiful than they do. Finally, dear Weasel, I hope you are pleased by this image I captured with the camera obscura you acquired for me. I myself find the image quite pleasant, though I can improve; I will have to learn to ask Clara to scrub away all evidence of her charlady duties off of her delicate fingers before she poses a subject for me again; unfortunately the scars, bites and cuts gained preparing my lunch of Jackdaw and Turnip pie are there for all to see. (My other choice would be to invest in a new maid; this camera hobby may yet prove to be a costly pastime, I think!)

Tuesday, January 11

Letter to Dr. P. Weasel, January 9th. On first attempts at bird ringing.

My dear Weasel,
I trust things are well with you? I thought you might like to receive an account of my recent attempt to ring some of the birds of the vicarage garden. I entrusted my scullery maid, Clara, with the responsibility of retrieving birds from the mesh, recognising this task to need a woman’s touch. Clara has proved most useful, and will certainly become a competent remover once I have trained her fully.
I have used the first of the rings the local smithy has made for me, based upon instructions given by young Witherby. The majority used on this first session were of one ninth of an inch diameter, made of the thinnest lead. Upon each I had scribed 'Bandwell Listershire', and upon each a number. One of the very first birds that Clara bought to me was this British Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula nesa. Taffy Evans, the village idiot, poked his head over the hedge and proclaimed it to be an example from the far east, on account of a tiny trumpeting sound he had heard, but I rebuked him firmly, and sent him on his way. (It was far too delicate a matter to have explained to him the noise had eminated from Clara! The girls of the village are so full of rustic charm.)
Otherwise, less than a handful of tit-mice, and nothing else, so I will be trying your suggestion of putting out grain and seed on the floor below the mesh, and will report back to you soon.

Yours, etc,
Bandwell Fumblefinch (Reverend)

A Birdwatcher's Etiquette- part the one

I have decided to embark upon the formation of a set of instructions laying out correct behaviour for local birdwatchers, following an incident upon the Northern marshes this very month. An acquaintance and correspondent, known locally as Pop, has been rounded on in an electronic broadsheet for not having the manners to respond to a loud ‘halloo’ from a visiting bird sightings collector. This guest to the marshes was so taken aback by a lack of communication from Pop that he wrote to the ‘Northern Marshes Thunderer’ e-gazette “I parked up my carriage and walked down to the Aleph Pond meeting (no wrong word, they would have had to talk back) the two most miserable birders I have ever noted - hello and Happy New Year to you!”
If the slovenly gazetteer had done but half his work he would have discovered Pop and his colleague were in a private compound belonging to the local quarrier, who had given them written permissive rights plus instructions not to enter into communications with strangers trespassing therein. Only a few days’ prior some ruffians had cut their way into the compound, and other visiting tick collectors had been seen entering the site there, instead of using the public right of way running along the length of the boundary.
I have informed Pop that any good Christian birdwatcher faced with such a problem again should follow one basic rule:

When one finds a tick collector trespassing upon private grounds, one has the right to release the hounds.

Tuesday, January 4

From Fumblefinch's diary: January 1st- a bird 'race' perambulation!

Although I normally avoid recording my diarised jottings after imbibing sherry I must break my rule tonight, after a wonderful day’s chase in the field. This most entertaining premise, a pursuit of as many species as possible within the confine of one day, from dark to dawn to dusk to dark, was most novel to me, and thus I accepted Doctor Weasel’s invitation with eager anticipation. To show I was more than readily prepared for such an exercise, I immediately retired to the lobby to fetch my grandfather’s Baker rifle, last fired in anger in the Kaffir Wars. But when I showed him my weapon, Weasel was not amused, and then spent some not inconsiderable time explaining we really need not bag our quarries to be able to add them to our tally. I was most bemused.
Weasel continued to explain that I only needed my grandfather’s campaign glasses to magnify the target and confirm the identification of species to illustrations to my own satisfaction to join to the day’s list. I was now most perplexed.
Having met several gentleman-players who had made some incredulous claims in the past I had come to the conclusion they were driven by desires not becoming the honest, upright Englishman, and were, in many cases, less worthy than the worst rogues in Listershire’s gaols, and had decided never to be driven by mere lists.
But Weasel convinced me otherwise, and he and I proceeded to mark the commencement of 2011 by espying no less than 198 species of fowl within no more than four miles of the vicarage. Our most important observations consisted of no less than a thousand Black Larks roosting on the burnt-out town pier, a displaying pair of Pine Grosbeaks in the town hall gardens, and a moribund Bartram’s Sandpiper lain on the icebox behind Mr Bristow’s taxidermy.
We believe this to be the most possible species able to ever be recollected in a day in the field, although we have received electric mail to the effect that an effort of 206 was tallied by Messer’s Lawless and Lawless on the northern marshes, a most ridiculous number. These chavvie brothers cannot possibly be anything other than players, as true gentlemen would not enter into bribing all manner of bird-hunting ne’er-do-wells to try to list as many species for an area for their forthcoming avifauna by the way of a cash prize as they have recently done; how this shows the true colours of these base tallymen. Also, I understand they have also taken to claiming there is more than one true species of seagull in the county. Why, I truly believe these so-called-gentlemen should now have to have all their more inspired claims verified by production of the specimen for each, or else they will surely sully the scientific record of Listershire for all time!

Saturday, January 1

A letter received on Waxen Chatterers

December 31st
My dearest Reverend,
I know this is outside of your county, but I wonder if you have yet received correspondence upon  of the invasion of the north marshes by the Waxen Chatterer? This very day, opposite the Naval Dockyard by Mr McDonald’s hot potato shop some 180 birds were busy feeding on exotic berry bushes and discarded apple pies. They were so intent on feeding many nearly came to grief flying low over the rutted track as a cart sped by.
I understand from Mr. Bristow Chatterers have an amazing ability to turn up in your own parish, and yet at the same time rarely be found anywhere else in your county? I urge you to look, and certainly trust you will be lucky enough to see one of these exotics most soon, or better yet, purchase one from Bristow.
Your humble correspondent,
Mr Murray Applefield,
Apothecary, Herts, Norfolk and Kent.

A reply to the Dean of Losechelsea on matters of Geese

December 31st
My dear sir,

Many thanks for this information. I hurried to the Level, but I fear the rapid spread of news of this Red-breasted Goose had lead to a great many local ne'er-do-wells loitering around the edges of the marsh, quite spoiling the potential for an afternoon's gunning.

I am amazed by the effects several pairs of eyes have on such a day. I am reminded of a story concerning the brief-lived Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia, when in 1860 several officials and tribal elders gathered to have an open-air lunch, and whilst gathered espied two new species for their country- I believe this is known to this very day as the 'Patagonia Picnic table effect'. Certainly there have been claims of a very many most interesting birds today; Tame Swan, Speckled-belly Goose, Barnacle Goose and Seaford-Parson Goose were all seen (of the latter there were claims of no less than three subspecies!). This is indeed a most unusual winter for the county's nature.

Your humble servant,