Cave of Forgotten Dreams

I’ve just finished watching this Werner Herzog documentary (for another masterpiece watch Grizzly Man)

Set against a majestic French montane backdrop, the film follows continuing exploration of  Chauvet cave, an mesmerisingly beautiful cave in itself but which also contains the earliest known cave paintings some 33000 years old predating the second oldest by about 15000 years.

If you go out birding looking to get in touch with nature and seek personal spiritual enlightenment rather than simply accumulating a list this film really is a must see. Also I can now say I have actually watched a 3D movie! A comparison with Picasso seems appropriate in that these etchings are surely one of the greatest works of art ever produced. Sinewy shapes of Bison, Horse and Lion adorn the walls, masterfully in unison with the contours of the walls themselves. Herzog subtly interweaves his own probing commentary with the main players involved in the discovery of the cave. As you glimpse the shapes through the flickering torches of the archeologists on one level it seems clear that these paintings are indicative of a deep spiritual connection with the animals but on another they are so shrouded in the mystery of time that their secrets should be celebrated.

Herzog throws up so many questions about what is is to be human and whether this marked the advent of one of the very first creative movements that it is impossible not to think of ‘the cave’ also on metaphorical terms. Whether this is in a Platonic sense or a comment on our own personal darkness (and light) viewing from this angle adds further depth to the drama.

The final scene involves classic Herzogian ambiguity but we are left with a choice regarding identification – which primeval beast do we most see ourselves as, or are willing to transcend ourselves into?

Best films I saw this year

I’ll reveal myself as a bit of a film buff and certainly saw some brilliant ones this year, two of which rank highly as best ones I’ve ever seen. You may notice that only one of these films actually came out this year – well thats because I live in a totally backwards part of the world and films are seen either during very infrequent visits to the cinema or thorugh the excellent lovefilm and film4od websites.

5. Limitless

After seeing Moon I was very excited about Source Code, but maybe I overhyped it, didn’t quite live up to expectations, so my blockbuster of the year goes to this ingenious and fast-paced little gem. After a few ‘interesting’ years living on the coast I could relate to the lead character who is able to completely open up his mind so that perception is complete. The stockmarket whizz kid theme also harks back to my favourite film of all time Pi. Bradley Cooper is a revelation and De Niro is back on form. And the bit where he finds himself on a bridge in torn clothes having no relocation of what he got up to in the last 48 hours… We’ve all been there surely!

4 Point Blank/Tell Noone

Lumped together because of their similarities – two French films about a chap who’s wife gets abducted, who is then in line to be framed and who as to associate with the bad guys to win her back. The two films can be seen as very similar but what shines through in both is that at the moment the French are making good honest crime thrillers like no other. If you want your slice of Bourne type action this year look no further, but please don’t wait for the inevitable hollywood remakes

3. Monsters

Made for next to nothing, Monsters is not your typical alien/monster movie by any means, in fact it has been argued that it could have been possible to make the movie without any monsters in it at all. It is much more a road trip/will they won’t they character study but the moment the monsters appear should appeal to anyone interested in animal interaction or who appreciates that animal behaviour is almost always interrupted by human intervention.

2. Animal Kingdom

Given the utterly misleading moniker of ‘the Australian Goodfella’s’ this is one dark movie but with brilliant central performances and a disturbing social backdrop. The opening scene of a son having to call medics about his overdosing mother but being unable to pull himself away from Deal or No Deal sets the tone immediately. The underlying theme of members of a pride constantly being in the process of usurping each other in order to reach the top of the pack is subtly played out.

1. A Prophet

The best movie set in the clink bar none and that includes you Mr Shawshank. After about 20 minutes the premise of the movie, kill or be killed is laid out loud and clear. In some ways the film can simply be seen as a rites of passage in a similar way to the Godfather trilogy. For me though what set it apart was the extraordinary supernatural element that gently underplays the moments of brutality. Spiritual and amoral and utterly essential.


The wise, the wiser

Nipped down to Cley on Monday as it would be only the third time I would have seen the Western Sandpiper. To begin with was in the kind of mood where I didn’t want to ID anything, just went out with bins and walking along the bank, Gulls were gulls, waders, waders – it was kind of mellow but as I got into Dawkes the day took on a larger significance.

The Dawkes Hide was full and brimming with birders all armed to with the latest camera equipment. As I squeezed into a little corner I was delighted to be joined by Bryan Bland who I hadn’t seen for some time. For anyone who doesn’t know Bryan, in a nutshell he looks a little bit like God or perhaps how you would imagine Pythons Brian to look when he was older. I’ve found that with these slightly reverred figures of Norfolk birding the best ploy is to keep your mouth shut and they will start talking to you. And so it was, Bryan had recently returned from India and this was only the second time he had seen the Western. I was able to fill him in on the whole epic tale – the ID initially of Semi-P followed by the reID, the twists and turns that the online discussion had taken, the significance that this was a first for Norfolk. Brian in turn told me the full story about Felixstowe, Rainham and the whole past history that has now become associated with this bird. And talking to him, the experience of the birding scene he’s had over the last 50 – 60 years and the birds he’s seen, when you think about it its overwhelming. And all this hunkered down against a barrage of clicking cameras denoting a new age of digital birding that neither of us could quite get our heads around.

Brian had to shuffle off for pee but he was almost immediately replaced by Mark Golley who emerged from Avocet Hide (or whatever the hide on the left of the three is called). Mark is only about a third of a generation ahead of me and the conversation was much more focussed around the continual search for finding good birds and the way that decyphering birds movements is becoming increasingly difficult. We both agreed that modern birding should as much about embracing randomness than attempting to discern obvious migration patterns, but yet both of us still resist the relentless march of the digital age. Then, on a crystal clear, mild December day it was utterly bizarre to be watching streams of Geese coming over (including a flock of 13 Beans)  since the reason they are here is an utter mystery. Also reassuring to hear that the area South of the A149 seems to represent a dividing line for a lot of arriving migrants, but since this represents the periphery of both our birding patches, the infrequent finds you can make in these areas provide far greater satisfaction that pulling something out of the bag in the heart of the melee.

Western Sandpiper – getting some perspective.

So it seems as if the ID of this bird will run and run, the majority seem happy that it is a Western but there are still a certain amount of people who are still very dubious about the true nature of the bird.

Over the course of the last couple of weeks I’ve come to some interesting conclusions and its maybe this process rather than the bird itself that has been the most fascinating. I have to say that perceiving this bird with my own eyes my impression is of a very straightforward Western and I know others who also cannot see any difficulty with the ID. How can this then tally with those are a barely able to see a pro-Western characteristic!? I believe the answer lies not in the bird itself but our perception of it. This is not a question of expertise but confirmation that we all see things in slightly different ways. For instance there has been great debate over whether the scapular patterning is concave or convex, but what do these terms mean, someone with a large perspex sheet can create concave and convex shapes in rapid succession one merging into the other  so where do the boundaries of concave and convex meet and when does one become the other?

Perhaps how we perceive can be attributed down to really some of the simplest, most basic things. IDing birds is very much like playing spot the difference and perhaps a real skill for spot of the difference as a kid makes you are a more astute observer than someone with a massive scientific background!

This then leads to the point that if myself and many of the original finders are able to see the Western characteristics but others are still not completely sure can we conclude that each individual can never truly come from an objective viewpoint and it is always sensible never to truly trust the ego that lies in all of us that keeps on saying ‘I know what is right’.

And in turn is it such a bad thing that a unanimous conclusion has not been reached about this bird? As someone who has foregone the pressurized and competitive side of birding, i.e. not chosing to list, I love it when things remain unresolved and shrouded in mystery. Nature is such that there will always be elements of it that can’t be fit into boxes and categorised entirely. Not only that but if these little blighters keep on turning up and presenting us with such glorious ID challenges that enhance our understanding of ourselves and help us to respect the views of others than that can only be a good thing.


.Left the hotel and almost forgot my bins this afternoon, had an inkling this was some sort of sign! So news of a Lesser Yellowlegs in the general area had me scratching my head about where the ‘rocky pool’ and ‘Blakeney Channel’ could be. Decided that the Morston area would be the best bet and as I walked along the mussel beds, it was suddenly immediately obvious what ‘rocky pool’ was being elluded to. No Yellowlegs but absolutely delighted to see that the Spotted Redshank has yet again returned and was as usual giving stunning views. Another decent wader was added when I had a Whimbrel flying along the inside side of the main harbour. The tide was in so shanks were going to be few and far between, but this would mean it would be a good chance to scan for any kind of seabird in the harbour. Got a decent return too with a Great Crested Grebe and a single Guillemot, the later actually a patch tick, since auks flying offshore are generally too distant to ascribe to species.

Another look at the Spotted Redshank on the way back, roosting, with legs tall and close together and looking very stilt-like. What then followed was one of those incredibly lucky encounters that will last forever in the memory. As I slowly pedalled back along the coastal path, I caught sight of an Owl working its way along the bank towards me. I could see that there were two other birders on the bank who had presumably flushed it, hoping it was the now long absent Barn Owl, got it in the bins and could see that there was too much brown on it – great a Short-eared. At the same time slight panic because it was heading straight towards me. Ok, think fast Pom! I dropped my bike and ditched myself belly down on the other side of the bank, occasionally catching glimpses of it as it rose above the bank. I knew if this worked out there would be no need for bins. I slowly inched forward and then it happened, it hadn’t seen me at all and flew virtually within touching distance just the other side of the bank, hovering for a while when it drew level with me, every wonderful streak on its head visible. Over twenty years of birding and this is the best moment with a SEO I have ever had!

I then met up with the other birders and this was nice too, slowly walking back to the village talking about birdy stuff, the images I had just seen still alive in my head.


Ahem, ladies and gentleman can I have your attention, please. Ok, so I guess the discussion on the Western Sand has upped the interest on this blog a little so it may be time to gently introduce some ideas that over the last few years have transformed my thinking and the way I view life.

In a conventional sense I love reality and am constantly reassured by its concreteness. However, it is possible to introduce another perspective on reality which totally compliments the material world.

Perhaps the way we think is reflected in the way we view things with our sensory abilities. For instance, you are peacefully watching a Harbour scene, late afternoon, the sun is setting creating a wonderful sunset. The Harbour is teeming with birds but nothing rare, in yourself you feel relaxed, calm and at ease. But if you start viewing things from a deeper perspective perhaps what you are seeing is a reflection of your own peaceful state of mind manifesting into physical reality. The peacefulness of your thoughts mirror then give life to the peacefulness of the scene. Flip this over. Picture commuters on a tram, the world in which the tube passengers inhabit is jostling, a competitive fight for space, but again is this claustrophobia of a packed tram partly to do with the manifestation of their own thoughts? Flip it over again, you are viewing the Harbour which is teeming with birds, you are in essense privy to their cityscape, each day being a race for survival, where space and resources are in short supply. For me personally this kind of approach is incredibly helpful for my birding because it gives me a deeper perspective when the birdlife is quiet, when there isn’t much about.

So in some way could you say we actually create or own realities, like an artist working from a blank canvas – a process which is layered on top of the physical world that we perceive. It’s a big one and i’m taking forever to get my head round it, but i’ll dip back into these ideas at various times in the blog.

Peep Show

7am, Sunny, with rising light gradually bring out more of birds plumage features.

This is mainly notes gained from a conversation I had with RGM.

Semi P candidate that had been Ided two days ago intially picked up coming out of roost on Pats Pool then affording better views on Simmonds

Upperparts – generally pale grey and clearly in moult with remaining juvenile feathers apparent in patches, photos suggest there were more rufous tones on the lower scaps but photos suggest these are restricted to higher scaps!

Scapulars – so fieldguides (two of which we had in the hide and proved almost immediately useless!) talk about concave and convex scaps to separate Semi P from Western but what does this mean? If the centre of the scapular represent the shape of an anchor then the ‘hooks’ of the anchor are either indented (on Semi P) or curved (on Western). I’d go deeper and say Western is not completely concave with a slight undulation while Semi P is concave to the extent of uneveness  and irregularity within the sets of scapulars. Steve Gantletts photos seem to show a convex undulation. Bird was too distant to note these features in the field.

Body shape – Richard pointed out that it was very ‘egg shaped’ and didn’t have the compactness of Semi P. Rule of thumb in the States is that Western resembles a small Dunlin while Semi P a small compact Little Stint. Definitely got more of a Dunlin impression.

Supercilium. Seemed more Semi P like with a distinct notch or kink behind the eye.

Crown. Did not appear dark capped and although darker in the field than in photos crown seemed quite faded out.

Ear coverts – not overly prominent, possibly faded out in the same way the crown was.

Appeared quite long legged, with substantial ‘leg’ above the knee, did not give it a hunched squatting impression.

And finally the bill – Reference to online photos suggests that the length exceeds in the longest billed Semi P, typical Semi Ps usually having shorter bills than Little Stints. Richard noted a slight blob near the tip, I couldn’t see this. The overall impression given by the head and bill gave it quite a ‘horsey’ look similar to online photos of Western, Semi Ps look cuter.

The other bird – A lot of features suggested Semi ! No primary projection, very blunt ended, but apparently no palmations noted, but these are very difficult to pick out in the field.