From July 2015 - December 2016 I shared wildlife experiences with 23000 of my fellow West Suffolk kinsmen and women in the Bury Mercury. Whilst I don’t have a complete record of each Wildlife Wonders column, I do have a partial record. This is thanks in no small part to Lilian Fairley who kept copy and thereafter good friend Malcolm Fairley who collated them into a birthday gift. Thanks to their thoughtfulness - I know I delivered at least 50 columns with a crude subject breakdown as follows:
I say crude because some columns could be landscape level, whole sensory experiences, including perhaps a flock of birds or focusing on the sunset for example. Always at the core was an enthralling and usually delighting wildlife experience within a stone’s throw from my Bury St. Edmund’s home.
With the considerable effort required to get in shape and truly prepared for Dove Step 3, I stopped Wildlife Wonders without marking the occasion. So, firstly a big thanks to my editor Russell Cook, and my personal editor - Mum! Thanks too, to all the photographers and artists who furnished my words with exquisite illustrations, including, and by no means exhaustively; Stephen Rutt, Jon Evans, Mike Arreff, Mark Gash, Barry Woodhouse and the great Richard Thewlis.
Here is the very first Wildlife Wonders column from 22nd July, 2015…
Whilst I give myself the moniker of naturalist, I am always learning, I am currently most competent with birds, butterflies, moths and some of the more prominent insects. I would be overwhelmed if pressed to identify hedgerow vegetation or wild flowers. That is not to say I don’t very much enjoy them and the pollinators dutifully attending them. My daily appreciation of nature has developed organically - one year a dragonfly could cause a summer long obsession, the next a glimpsed Peregrine could initiate a vigil of this impressive raptor.
I have also morphed from a habitual nature reserve attendee to an observer of the wider countryside. Much of my nature worship is now undertaken to fit around the 9 – 5, be it on dog walks, whilst cycling, or when running close to home; this makes the surprises all the sweeter! After all, expectation is high when you visit a nature reserve. I would expect one of nature’s spectacles when visiting Lackford Lakes for example, if not a Kingfisher then a Starling murmuration or a vibrant dawn chorus.
Expectation is not so high on a morning’s dog walk, so when a small butterfly cascaded down to a head-height leaf yesterday, I was thrilled to make out the under wing, defining it is as a Purple Hairstreak. This delicate pint-sized butterfly is not uncommon, but it is just typically out of reach, and loyal to the treetops of its favoured oak trees. To have one come down to my level, seemingly presenting itself for my pleasure, is the undoubted highlight of my week. It rested with closed wings, hiding the vivid purple associated with its flight, but showing off the namesake white hairstreaks and orange- fringed eyelets. The delicate orange coloration is also reflected in the very tips of its antennae. With a flutter it ascended - back to the tree tops and honeydew bounty that it feeds upon.
… and the penultimate Wildlife Wonder from 07th December, 2016:
Despite having had great days’ bird watching, in both the east and west of the county, this week one of the most memorable encounters was again within the urban confines of Bury St Edmunds. Whilst dutifully heading into town for a spot of Christmas shopping, I was alerted to the presence of an avian predator by the local pigeons scattering skyward over St John’s Street - a good early warning of a raptor in the area. It could have been a Sparrowhawk, but this time it was a much more effective killer; Peregrine Falcon. Not just one of them, but two!
I occasionally see single birds over the town, and indeed over my home, but it was great to see the pair on this occasion - both cruising over in archetypal swift-like pose, wings held stiff on a determined glide. At the same time as I was watching my local birds, a friend was watching his own in Derbyshire and also achieving much better photographs, which I share here. I have seen Peregrine widely - indeed all over the world - but there is a special affection for these local birds. They offer a steady reminder of nature's enduring capacity to adapt; whilst indiscriminate pesticides, gamekeepers and egg collectors crashed the Peregrine population of yesteryear, they now thrive on our most urban of structures.