Friday, November 30

A reply to John Joseph Briggs

To John Joseph Briggs,
Elms Farm,
King's Newton,

How very pleased I was to receive your recent letter courtesy of your young errand boy Kingsdowner Coates! He came a'twittering last night, drawing attention to your musings on the worldwideinterweb. I shall ruffle his forelock and give him a penny for the pleasure when I see him next.

May I first say what an honour it is to exchange opinions with you. Your reputation goes before you 'faithful chronicler of the seasons', and I know you have written in the past to young Chas Darwin, who hold such high regard for you. (Chas is away at present, obtaining a fresh supply of tortoise meat for the local pie shoppe.)

I have never had the pleasure of visiting King's Newton, but once stayed at Pemberley, as a guest of Fitzwilliam Darcy, said to own 'half of Derbyshire' when another visitor, a young lady Elizabeth Bennet, responded to said anecdote with 'The miserable half?' Well, I for one certainly thought this most rude and a comment more becoming of a Buxton brothel, as there was nothing miserable about your countryside(!) You have some wonderful sights around you, especially within the District of Peaks.

Might I ask further asides? Close by to the area you visited here in the Allotment of England is Mrs Miggins' Tea and Sandwiche Shoppe for Elderly and Befuddled Ornithologists- some decades hence when I visited as a day-tripper, one of the interned there was a Michael McMichael Briggs- would he be a relation? He was an observer of many rare opportunities, being busy most of his days out of doors perfecting the croquet lawns of the local gentry and wrestling moles with his bare hands. I believe he was known to all as Groundskeeper Briggsy?

A most lovely man with so many stories of interest to the ornithologist.

I would though also enquire if you are familiar with another follower of your Derby county who was employed as chief bottle-washer at Migginses' some years later for several seasons, an Ellis Webbe? Young Ellis was a birdcatcher and ringer of great ability, and would often dangle himself on a rope over the cliffs at St. Maggies. Sometimes he might even tie the end, or have someone hold it, but mostly he had faith in Lord. I think he joined an Ecological Order after taking a Vow of Osbscenity and headed off to the heathen south-west.

But I digress(!) To matters ornithological; the Northern Willie. I must admit I was not aware of your modern travails and observations from Saint Margaret-at-Cliffe. I know the village and a little history thereof; mentioned in the recent Domesday Book as Sancta Magharita, named after the patron Saint of despondent Nutcracker dippers, and beloved by type of Lord Byron, Lord Cecil, little Noel Coward and young Pietor Ustinov). I have swapped a note with another lover of things thespian and aspiring diarist Maurice Anthony who dwells there at present. In his writings he always refers to having to espy Willies through a telescope, so I saw nothing to change my earlier opine.

I trust you have also supplied these observations to the likes of Balston, Shepherd and Podge? It could also be that the chair of the rare Judge Wrightly-Wrongly may need to consider veracity, but I am sure for a man of your reputation that would be a mere simple formality. I shall of course alter my own Compleat work to reflect this information.

I am not sure who is the landowner, but their gamekeeper will be indebted to hear of the Sparrowhawk and Merlin nests.

One final suggestion. Your mention of the differing egg patterns. This may be worthy of further investigation if you have not considered that rare swarthy European species which has yet to grace Albion- The Willie Cuckoo Clamator cukold oldfella. Such goings on are often suspected as regular in the area by the clientele of Mrs M's, so proof absolute would be a feather in your cap!

Thank you again for drawing my attention to this. In the heady swirl of a'Twittering, WorldWideInterweb and Personal Pages (of which I am thinking of investing; having wrestled with my conscience I now feel employing a raggedy orphan as my own Page to run betwixt nature reserves to gather sightings as being gainful employ for the needy) these more thoughtful and detailed observations made by the likes of yourself will be lost to future generations if we are not more careful with publicising them.

If you have reason to journey through Listershire, please feel free to drop by as I shall be happy to make your acquaintance in person. We have nothing to match your caverns of the District of the Peaks, but I will gladly show you the old Priest Hole in Much Ticking.

Your faithful servant and new friend,

Monday, November 26

From the Church Notices: Diggit and Diggit (Thannit)

Parishioners please note tomorrow (Tuesday) Mr and Mrs Dumpton Diggit of Thannit are renewing their vows here at the church at 10.30. Many will remember Mr Diggit as our former Plot Production Manager, Spade Technician and Headstone Upkeep Administrator, as well as being our keenest local naturalist and most fervent protector of birds' nests..

In addition to the renewal vows, Mr Diggit will be reasserting his vows of silence towards The Listershire Ornithological Society, The Northern Marshes Ornithological Society and South Saxon Ornithological Society.

Mr Diggit and guests will then retire to the Sporting Gamesman Inn, Peggity Bay to celebrate; friends from the village are invited to join him in the Snug any time between 11:30 and the 10th of January.

Lyster Stringsall,

Saturday, November 24

The Germans have claimed the Zugunruhe

To Herr Heinrich Klaus Fritz von Gatke,
German Bight Bird Observatory,
British Overseas Territory of German Bight

Very many thanks for your swift missive prompted by my enquiry regarding the increasing numbers of Pendulous Tit-mice appearing in southern England in the late autumn and early winter months. Although I had hoped these records might give muscled body to the airy thought they could become an addition to our avifauna here, now that you have expanded your theories on migration I think I will support with your considered opinions.

I am afraid I have been unable to translate 'zugunruhe' easily, as it appears literally as 'migratory restlessness'. If I have understood you correctly, this is a subjective measure of the sum of all the wonderful influences you and young Berthold are suggesting drives a bird onwards in season? I think I have translated correctly that a young passerine has a 'juvenile' period when it changes from juvenile to juvenile/adult (or full adult) plumage. During this time it appears that it wanders, seemingly without aim, whereas it is in fact this gives opportunity to find breeding possibilities if it makes it returns to our shore in the spring. Adolescent 'hormones' as you call them, have made it wander. One day Listershire, the next South Saxon, the next the Northern Marshes.

Then comes the build of zugunruhe, or migratory restlessness. The true urge to travel a great distance, the urge to follow an inherited migratory track like parents before. It rises like sap, slowly, then a rush, then slowing to bring it to close to parental wintering grounds, if God's will has been done. In the spring, to reverse the journey, the same slow start, mad rush and petering out near 'home' brings a surviving young back close to potential breeding sites.

So, when Pendulous Tit-mice turn up here in late autumn/early winter and loiter in our reed litter they are at the decline or even the halt of their zugunruhe. Unless we clip their wings they will not stay to breed. The sap will rise again.

So those who keep commenting they must surely breed soon on this evidence alone are wrong. All those dreaming of other fanciful migrant passerines such as Bluethroat must also hold their collective breaths as well. The English Channel keeps out both invasive Frenchmen and surly youthful migrants, whose zugunruhe is not strong enough to take on the water, and whose zugunruhe when becoming strong enough to drive them towards darkest Africa, will not lead them in our direction. And if we see them in spring, these are vikings, merely refuelling before driving further? The swarthy Bluethroats of Calais will have 'switched off' as they reach the area and cocked a snoot at La Manche(!)

This is marvellous detective work Klaus(!) Truly, you are revealing God's mechanisms.

I note you then infer as a rule the wanderings of many larger non-passerines are somewhat different to small migrant passerines, and that their size they might take on water crossings? Your suggestion is there is much more chance major British rarities such as Little Egret, Purple Heron, Great White Egret, Night Heron, Cattle Egret and Little Bittern could one day breed here in Albion? Because our watery marshes are within reach of their young? This is most fanciful(!) How I would love it to be so, it would be a great boost for our millinery trade, but perhaps not in this old cleric's lifetime..

Providing this mooted 'Heligoland-Zanzibar' treaty does not pass, and your island remains British through and through, I should very much like to visit one day and instruct you and your colleagues how British ornithologists carry out studies. (I have a dream that an Empire of observatories working in harmony throughout Europe should be achievable, if we fall under one leader.) I know one of my choristers, Gagnell, would like to accompany me; he is trying to record 500 species in Great Britain-ish, and some of your records are mouth-watering.

In the meantime please pass my regards to your friend the Kaiser, and let him know there will be a warm welcome with cakes and tea, should he ever wish to roll into the village of Much Ticking in Listershire.

Your new friend,

Wednesday, November 21

Apocalypse Kernow

I am deeply indebted to my old colleague the Reverend Osborne Whitworth-Woolworth, for contacting me regarding problems he is trying to help resolve which are similar to those described for my two neighbouring factions, but for Osborne they lie within just one county; the land beyond the edge of civilisation, namely Cornwall Twitching Association and the aptly named Kernow Edhan Sawder Cowethianz.

In this forsaken county life has always been hard, and the smuggling of bird-sightings rife- the accepted way of life. Now for many years the Kernow committee had been controlled by one family. They are recorded in Graham Winston's thinly disguised accounts in the 'Darkpoll' novels; they are 'the greedy Warleggan clan', who had made their fortunes and reputations from controlling more than ninety percent of the camera obscura images available to Cornish and Kernow watchers.

Over the decades some of the clan had tried to soften this image, and good old Cornish names such as Stanlake Warleggan, Blunden Warleggan, Tonry Warleggan and Madge Warleggan abound in the tales of struggles to bring peace to the land.

However, as Winston describes, the arrival of a tall, dark, handsome stranger some years aback was about to rend all asunder. This newcomer, the 'Darkpoll' of the novels, actually answers to the name of one Freestone Poldark. Poldark, though outwardly a fine upstanding citizen, has often found himself on the wrong side of the law as he has kept up a fight for the unwashed to have access to news and private grounds, continually going up against the Warleggan clan's control of rares.

So it then came to pass that Climpson Warleggan, Mitchell Warleggan and Cleggy 'peg-leg' Warleggan travelled to the London home of the Marquis of Warleggan, where they had arranged to meet and recruit new blood for their troubled society, two men who were willing to leave civilisation and seek new fortunes in the south-west; Grantham Warleggan (no relation) and Parker Warleggan (no relation also).

Grantham soon settled into his role as Lord of the Manor and brought an air of peace, but Parker and Poldark then at the same time both fell for the rare charms of Demelza Davidstow-Airfield, and soon all sorts of bird-smuggling was rife once more from every cove of the coastline. Poldark has managed to keep the underclasses on his side by publishing his own interweb scroll-pages to rival those sheets of the Warleggans, as well as a detailed annual report on the richer sightings of the county.

Various scuffles have continued to this day, with exchanges often seen in public arenas such as The Almighty Forum of Birds. Can any good come from this? My friend Osborne still hopes so. Poldark, with his cavalier ways and love of the rares can keep the twittering underbelly happy, whilst the Warleggans will continue as the upholders of robin records and dunnock dates. Both are of course are vital services. Osborne hopes they will learn to tolerate each other more. Otherwise the next novel in the Darkpoll series may be describing bodies at bottoms of cliffs before page one is out.

Freestone Poldark shields Demelza from the gaze of Parker Warleggan; from the cover of Graham Winston's fourth novel, 'The Four Trumpeter Swans suppressed'

Monday, November 19

And on the eighth day..

A passage from Sunday's sermon..

Todays readings are both from the book of Genesis, upon the matters of the fifth and eighth days of creation:

1:20- 22: And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky. So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.' And there was evening and there was morning- the fifth day.

2:2(a)- 2(d): And on the eighth day Leigh of Celfunte Lesser did say 'Lord, you know about how you said you wanted to increase the birds on the earth? Well, I have a plan most excellent for birds of the Kingdom of the Unites- I shall increase the number of species through my own rulings upon appearance, provenance, and whether or not I have espied said form in the field.' And the Lord said 'Leigh, thou knowest neither the ways of the Lord, the ways of creation, nor the ways of the rules scientific. This really isn't on you know.' And Leigh cried 'Lord, show me the proper respect, I know what I do.'

And with these verses, dear parishoners, it is confirmed that God will listen to our desires, but we should be careful in what we seek. For God heard Leigh, and granted him respect, which is why from that day forward even the Lord in his omnipotence could never once defeat Leigh of Celfunte Lesser in any year listing competition. (Apart from one year, when he did for a short while anyway, before Leigh disqualified him for claiming to have been somewhere at a time Leigh proved he had most clearly not.) Leigh was cursed, forever driven, for each and every year thereafter.

My parisoners, you should be careful what you wish for. As the revered scholar Ellwood of Peart recently said; "Sometimes the Angels punish us, by answering our prayers."

KU400 club species #401: Mid-channel Long-tailed Tit-mouse

Friday, November 16


What follows is a plea from the pulpit to my two neighbouring war-like counties, South Saxon and The Northern Marshes.

Many hereabouts have noted that the Northern Marshes Listers' league table,as compiled by Sir Geoffroi de Topatable, has recently had a new proclamation added. In truth I acknowledge that it is good of this county to allow the knavish sport of Listing to appear on what they promote to be an Ornithological interweb volume of scrollpages, but such border skirmishing contained therein really should be avoided.

It is the comparison to South Saxon's underwhelming species total and their attempts to reach 400. Does Sir Geoffroi think the Saxons really covet their neighbour's assizes upon ornithological occurrence, with the Northern Marshes standing proudly on what he feels an unassailable 416 (and does that include the Calananandra Larke which I note Sir Gee has already included in individual lister's totals before acceptability has been proven)?.

True, South Saxon are indeed on 397.5 and are having a good humoured 'guess the 400th' competition, but should this not be taken as a worthy effort by South Saxon to be all inclusive to their watchers? After all, they do not list their listers separate anywhere (that is left to St. Barnard of Roevidean in private commune). They are simply promoting their lands to all interested in God's winged creations, and the use of the word 'spite' by Sir Geoffroi seems apt as he proclaims there..

What does it matter that a county adds four species in a year, or in a month? What does he imply? I think we should celebrate the strengths of any Society- and clearly the band of birding brothers in South Saxon is now strong enough to be able to plough their field and shatter records. In this respect the Northern Marshes is more like my own Listershire, what with the continued wailings and bemoanings of a lack of numbers of bold Knights to scour the coasts at immigrant time.

Now, if memory serves me correct, does not South Saxon have a growing membership of some 1,600 followers? I saw the recent tweetergram that the Northern Marshes have kept their annual tithes at 1898 rates, but have they not similarly kept their membership levels at that year's figure also? The Marshes are stagnant.

Does South Saxon not overfill their Annual General Church Conference?  Does South Saxon not get Annual County and Parish Records out in good time? Does South Saxon not have to keep appealing for musings for their quarterly scrolls? I could go on..

And perhaps I will. If counties do feel the need for listing prodigious achievements of their supporters, then perhaps also combine scores for the totals of list contributors, of WeBB counters, of TUKOGBANITO undertakers of tracks of Birds, and see how things score then (!)

(As an aside I must also say such a page as the Northern marshes has posted is not the correct place for condemning the sinnes of the flesh for a pair of their supporters. Alledging that two of the observers of the Blackepolle had been 'cruising nearby' at the time was unnecessary; that really should have been left for the Confessional.)

Finally, their scrollpage concludes with an appeal for the other listers known to be active within their boundary to be cajoled into revealing their numbers. (A position of Listfinder General is opening methinks.) For certain, such addition would bring the real number one to the top of Sir Geoffroi's table, but all Societies should endeavour to make people want to partake. Otherwise they will be no better than some outlandish sects who spout eternal damnation to those who do not follow their ways.

If some think the score is important well, yes, I can acknowledge that importance to some. But title has always been all to Sir Geoffroi's descendants. The motto for this county of Men of the Marshes and Marshy Men is indeed 'Invicta'. Undefeated. Pray do remember this came from 1067 and the Norman-Ticehurst invasion. William of Norman-Ticehust and his men had been pushed to their limits in South Saxon in October 1066 and after part recovering simply wanted to hurry through the Northern Marshes to claim London and the crown. The ignorant Marshies, armed with nought but sticks and some old cutlery, were in their way. Rather than waste effort on such pitiful defenders the Norman-Ticehusts offered a deal that they would let the Marshies claim to have been undefeated if they simply let them pass. How the Marshies liked that! Had they not sold out the rest of England, done their duty and set upon the would-be Conqueror and his band in such a weakened condition, these invaders would have never made London. But no, they wanted the proud title Invicta, regardless that they should have stood by their neighbours even if it meant certain victi. They have kept the title, with their own somewhat embellished description of events, to this very day.

So, do enjoy your undefeated condition if you must, but do not crow and wake neighbours I beseech thee. And South Saxon pray forgive them, for they know not what they list.

Friday, November 9

Knocking Kent

Oh how wonderful it is to find solid ground beneath my feet after these past weeks!

Having turned down an offer from Brother Mensie to travel to Fenno-Scandia and count Tit-mice, I instead found myself taking up the temporary post of Minister to the Sea Area Thames in the hope of experiencing visible migration over the southern North Sea.

I have long been an admirer of Arthur Sea-Eagle Clarke's '1901- a bird odyssey (Studies in bird migration)', where Clarke travailed to many far flung isles desolate isles (St.Kilda, Hirta, Rockall, Thanet) to pioneer the study of bird movements. He had had the pleasure of a period upon the 'Kentish Knock' lightship, and found passage aplenty, with movements west from the Rhine, south-west from Viking lands, south from Angle lands and even the south-easterly departure of plucky Brits to swarthier climes. But throughout his notes certain species were missing in the southern North Sea, which I hoped to prove did indeed pass water.

I was in luck! The replacement lightship, 'Knocking Kent', has been recently been positioned and had spare berths for the autumn. In return for conducting any burials at sea that might be required, and for providing a broadcasted 'Semaphore for the Day' via the trawler 'Ross Revenge', I gained a half-dozen weeks of uninterrupted offshore avian observation.

It was also fortuitous that this year has seen, for comparison, large coastal numbers of the first of my targets; the Jay. But, just like Clarke before me I could only find close relations the Rook, the Crow and the Jackdaw sometimes riding the waves, the Jay eluded me. I am not giving up hope on proving the foreignness of this species yet. I might try joining the crew of the Nautilus next autumn to see if they pass under cover of the waves to break cover on reaching land, unwanted illegal immigrants that they might be.

Back to the now, and my next target, the Woodpigeon. Again, just like Clarke, there was a complete lack of sightings. Yet our coastline can teem with them! Thomas Mark of the Inquisition reported tens of thousands passing a West country witch and oologist burning he was attending at Taunton just a few short days ago. But, with 2.7 million territories in our green and pleasant land, is it not God's will that each autumn several thousand should indeed loiter around our coastline, chasing each other in the hope of good food sources when our countryside is becoming unfriendly and industrial, following the introduction of that modern invention, the shire horse?

Other claims are made by coastal observers, and many eagerly strain upon Brother Mensie's tits. But they will not come. Yes, Clarke did record one party of Great Tit-mouse, confirming this to be another species able to cross from mainland Europa, but his was again a record notable for scarcity- it was not his observation, but that of a crew member from years previous; I had none. I begin to support the once-fanciful notion these are species scared of water.

To be frank, most sightings reflected Clarke's lists. (Which worked out well with Red-throated Diver noted as 'not unfrequent' and thus made my favourite tasty snack.)

Whilst I hope to eventually publish a manuscript on my observations I must now desist from adding more to this short note, as my crate of Pine Grosbeak skins, collected aboard 'Knocking Kent', is just beginning to arouse my senses; I really should get them to Bristow for refrigeration as soon as possible.