Good News from Su and Richard Wheeler, at Logaston Press.

They are reprinting my first book, Iolo’s Revenge again (5th impression!) because, they say it just sells and sells! I’m sure this, in part, is due to their efforts and reputation as publishers, for which I am very grateful and also to Wendy Wigley for her delightful illustrations that lift it to another level!

 Iolo’s Revenge ISBN 978-1-910839-24-9 £10 Available from Fircone Books, The Holme, Church Rd, Eardisley,  HR3 6NJ, United Kingdom.   Tel:+44(0)1544 327182

British history

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

The best adventures are unplanned. Yesterday on our way past, we called in to RAF Coningsby for Bill to do a bit of goofing at the end of the runway. It is where the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is stationed — where they keep planes that survived the Battle of Britain in 1940, that still fly and do the memorial fly pasts on special occasions such as the coronation — though the weather prevented that. We were offered a tour but our guide Julian Maslin apologised because the planes were out — it was the day of the display pilots annual re-accreditation — if we stood outside the Hangar he would tell us about them as they flew past!

At that point, what he had to say was drowned out for a moment as the memorial flight hove into sight from behind the trees.

Well, that was interesting — but what’s this?

Creeping up on the 80 year old Avro Lancaster bomber — it’s one of the display typhoons whose pilot is also due to be re-tested.

Flying along behind at almost stall speed.

He kept his distance as they flew up and down in front of us, and the examiners.

Then along on top! Once the Lancaster had peeled off and landed the Typhoon showed its power and manoeuvrability.

Afterburners firing,

the Typhoon with a banshee wail climbs almost vertically

and loops the loop!

Before streaking past us one last time.

Here’s is her sister, on the ground from 29 Squadron. And a chance to see the Lancaster as she taxies home — a very big bird.

She disgorges her regular RAF crew, who come and greet us, standing on the tarmac. They seem excited by their exercise and relieved to be good for another year.

Time to have a proper look at the Supermarine Spitfire, in desert camouflage.

This one is painted for the invasion in 1944, the stripes to prevent it being shot down by friendly fire.

The Hawker Hurricane that was flying is painted black as for night flying as they did over London in the Battle of Britain in 1940.

‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’

W Churchill

Red Squirrels

Red squirrels (Sciurus vulgare) are hard to find — they are almost extinct in England. They survive on Anglesey, North Wales and in parts of the Highlands and islands of Scotland, where isolation has saved them from the scourge of squirrel pox, carried by the successful grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) that raids our bird feeders but it’s not as simple as that.

Last week we visited some in Abergaty, Stirlingshire, Scotland. They are agile, lively creatures.

Happily their populations in Scotland are stabilising, despite one problem — poor memory — I sympathise.

When they have too many nuts, like this one, they hide or bury them and, more often than not, they can find them when times are hard. The grey squirrel has better spatial memory and finds far more of his hidden caches of nuts. The squirrels we saw were busy burying theirs.

Another problem for them is predators, we saw a goshawk over their wood and several buzzards. That is why these have developed to be so alert, they do no have eyes on the back of their heads but you can see from this one that the position of the eyes right at the side of the head (like a sheep) must give 300′ plus vision.

One great positive for the red squirrel is that in recent years, with increased protection and understanding, there has been a resurgence of the pine marten. These ferocious predators evidently have a taste for grey squirrels or perhaps they are just easier to catch than the red, being less nimble in the tree tops, and lighter.

Thanks to Dani Kropivnik, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons for his picture of a pine marten. We were not fortunate enough to see a pine marten — perhaps next time.

So these busy little creatures are doing alright!

Birds, Ecology

Black Grouse — a last look?

When we first moved to Wales, someone told me that there were still black grouse on the Gorn Hill, East of Llanidloes — I have never seen one there. We have been to the Cairngorm mountains in Scotland to find them.

The females are grey, often called greyhens and keep themselves tucked away, camouflaged and out of sight in the rough.

The blackcocks have no such inhibitions during the mating season when they are seen in their traditional display grounds lekking — that’s the best time to spot them, posturing and showing off their spectacular plumage, strutting their stuff, tails flared, while calling with a bubbling pigeon-like coo. They meet on traditional grounds, clearings on tops of rises — here we were lucky enough to see about 8 males but there may have been more on the other side of the hill. We could view them with long lenses from a public road — a lot of the previous leks are so threatened that visitors are actively discouraged. This is about as far West as they live but the species is distributed in a wide swathe across Eurasia as far as China. In Russia leks can attract 200 males.

Here they are confronting each other in pairs, like a knock-out competition where the winner gets to mate with the females who have been watching from the scrub, assessing their strength and fitness to breed — not that they take any part in rearing or protecting their offspring! Once mated the females fly off and hideaway to hatch and rear their young alone. I wonder if some females select for intelligence and mate with the cunning young blackcock who sneaks around the margin of the lek and woos the greyhens while the macho males are busy trying to impress each other?

See Wimoglen video published on YouTube

From what we had been led to expect we felt very lucky to see black grouse this year — let’s hope it won’t be the last time.