Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 4 May 2020

Watch the birdie!

When I was a young boy I was quite keen on ornithology, partly because we lived opposite open rough grassland that attracted an interesting selection of birds. Something of that interest has always remained with me, and in particular, I suppose being a historian, I was aware of schemes to re-establish birds which have been driven to extinction in this country. I always felt sorry about the extinct of the Great Auk, and further afield, the Dodo - though here in Oxford I am, of course, close to the best bits surviving of the latter.

When I was young it was the return of the Osprey to Scotland which caught my attention. Then there were the moves to reintroduce the Great Bustard to Wiltshire whence it had disappeared in, I think, the eighteenth century.

Here in the Thames valley there has in the last generation been the very successful return of the Red Kite, once common scavengers in medieval and sixteenth century London. I gather they are dab hands ( should I say claws?) at getting into black plastic rubbish sacks looking for food; do not leave such sacks out overnight is the advice. Seeing then hovering around on the wing or in the fields around the Chilterns makes them look like birds of ill-omen who know something we don’t....

In recent years there have been repeated hopes that storks would successfully breed again in the country. There is a report about the latest situation from The Guardian at First wild stork chicks to hatch in UK in centuries poised to emerge. That suggests this may have happened during the Civil War, but the most famous example was in 1416 when a pair nested on St Giles’ in Edinburgh.

Last month the BBC website had a report about the increasingly successful re-establishment of Cranes in various parts of the country. They had disappeared four centuries ago from wetlands. That report can be seen at Cranes make comeback in Britain's wetlands.

Today I saw a report in The Independent about the beginnings of attempts to reintroduce the White-tailed Eagle to the Isle of Wight. Until 1780 that was their last refuge in England, and the last one in the country was shot in the Shetlands in 1918. Reintroduced to Scotland in the 1970s some have now been moved to the Isle of Wight. The report can be read at UK’s largest bird of prey returns to England for first time in 240 years.

GPS tracking has enabled observation of the extensive travels this spring by the birds, and their forays afield. I particularly like the male and female who took off for a few days to the North Yorkshire Moors and included in that a four hour trip to the coast between Whitby and Saltburn - avian romance and a fish supper?

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