At this time of year, large numbers of European starlings form vast flocks just before sunset. Together, they provide one of nature’s most impressive displays. Moving in perfect union, they twist and turn to create synchronized patterns across the sky above their roosting sites.
Very often, these displays, called a murmuration, are performed in front of the vast orange backdrop that one only gets with a late autumn evening.
At a distance, the starling is quite an uninteresting looking bird, quite similar to a blackbird but slightly duller, perhaps.
One needs to get close to appreciate the ivory white spots and the iridescent sheen to their wings. …
For days a noise coming from either the dry stone walling or the flower bed beneath it had been bugging me. It was the sort of short beep one associates with a mobile phone when it signals you that the battery is about to go flat.
I don’t carry a mobile, and if you are thinking, this makes me somewhat antisocial, you should know that my wife agrees with you.
I knew with some degree of certainty that it could not have been my wife’s phone. Hers was undergoing treatment after its third plunge into the toilet bowl in less than a fortnight. …
When we were small, and my parents wanted to escape from my sister and me for an evening, they would invite an elderly couple to come to our house to babysit while they were away.
The journey back in time is too long to remember names, but I clearly remember that the-old-man had lost the four fingers of his left hand, which must have been in an industrial accident.
I never fell for his story that he had cut them off while shaving, but my kid sister was always a little more gullible than I was, and so I am not so sure about her to take on this. …
I have recently abandoned writing on Medium on any subject other than nature and the environment. For me, it is something of an experiment.
The results have been quite shocking.
Where I once held top writer status in several different categories, my readership has since dropped dramatically.
I enjoy reading about nature and the environment. Though our pawning of the planet can be downright depressing at times, I have long believed that it is the most crucial issue humankind facing at the moment.
I know that there are other writers out there with similar views, but it seems we are a tiny minority; outliers in a world that would far rather read listicles about — Ten Ways to Get Rich on Medium — or — Sixty Sex Positions You Hadn’t Heard Of. …
In September of this year, a couple of walkers in the Alsace region of France stumbled on a small aluminum container holding a message on a tiny piece of tracing paper.
The message had been carried by a pigeon and was from a Prussian Infantry officer to his regiment in, what historians think, 1910.
From my point of view, the timing couldn’t have been better because it offers me a gentle lead into a story that I have wanted to tell about Peregrine falcons in London. (I’m getting there — I’m getting there.)
Pigeons were used extensively to transport messages during both World Wars. …
I have just finished George Monbiot’s excellent book on the subject of rewilding, called Feral.
In the book, Monbiot takes an in-depth look at just how much of a change to our environment would be if we reintroduced some of the larger mammals ranging from beavers to bears.
For more than ten years now, I have been experimenting with a little rewilding project of my own.
To the rear of my house, I have a pocket handkerchief-sized walled garden of just over thirty square yards.
As is often the case in ancient French villages, the garden is an oddly shaped patch of ground walled in by irregular houses and an old barn. …
Many years ago, when I first moved to France, I bought and started to renovate a two-hundred-year-old house that had been abandoned for decades.
The crooked stone walls and giant oak beams soon began to test both my skills and my fragile relationship with my bank manager. When offered a day a week of gardening work at a nearby manor house, I jumped at the possibility of reversing the outward flow of cash from my bank account.
Within a week, the elderly couple that owned the estate had persuaded me to up my duties from one day a week to two by bribing me with a substantial pay rise. …
Autumn is the period during which France’s stags compete for hinds(females) and challenge one another to battles with their deep bugling roars.
A few years ago, I treated my wife to a visit to a small village in the hills just over an hour from where I live. I had been attracted by a tour offering an evening of owl spotting followed by a meal of spaghetti bolognaise. It was just the sort of thing I love doing and so I was sure that, by default, my long suffering wife would be equally enthusiastic.
Unfortunately, due to some minor miscalculation on my part, we arrived exactly one week after the scheduled tour took place. This took the shine off my treat somewhat, and though I proposed buying her an Italian meal by way of compensation her lack of enthusiasm was obvious. Apparently, spaghetti without owls just did not hold quite the same…
Some years ago, I was living in the delightful city of Bordeaux. Late one night when walking home from the cinema, I spotted a hedgehog walking right down the middle of a pedestrian crossing on a busy road. Now I don’t want to knock French driving here, but I’m reasonably certain that had a car been passing, the hedgehog I was looking at would have been flattened.
Picking him up as gently as I could, not easy with such a prickly creature, I carried him to a nearby park humming the theme music to Born Free as I did so. I wanted him to fully understand that this was a rescue attempt and not a kidnapping. …
I live in the heart of French hunting country and now the sound of gunfire can be heard regularly. Most of the hunters in this part of the world are fairly undiscerning and will take wild boar, deer or pheasant given the opportunity.
Hunting is a sport that has seen a serious decline in recent years and the wild boar and deer populations have grown so rapidly that specialist cull teams need to be brought in to try to manage their numbers.
When walking in the normally deserted countryside one may well run across men dressed in an interesting combination of camouflage and bright day glow orange security clothing. One supposedly allows you to sneak up on unsuspecting quarry whilst the other stops you getting shot by your fellow hunters — a fairly regular occurrence each season. There are over a million hunters in France making it a pastime that is deeply ingrained in French culture, even though numbers have dropped by half over the last thirty years. …