Friday, 25 August 2017

200 birds in a year

This year at Bird Watching Magazine, we've been running a campaign called #my200birdyear – the idea being that you get out and try to see 200 species in the year. You can set your own rules, so some people are restricting themselves to the UK, others to small parts of the UK, and others, like myself, to wherever they happen to go birdwatching (in my defence, the only foreign trip I've done was a few days in Austria in February).

Rather than turning people into full-blown twitchers, racing off down the motorway in search of rarities at the drop of a hat, we hope that it will get people to notice some of the species that otherwise slip beneath the radar. Things like Stock Doves, hidden among flocks of the ubiquitous Woodpigeon. Or any number of warblers, unobtrusive among bushes and shrubs. Or even the likes of Mediterranean Gulls, tagging along with the familiar Black-headeds.

My own tally so far is 170, and includes a few nice little bonuses like Bee-eater (at East Leake) and Pectoral Sandpiper, as well as the likes of Short-toed Treecreeper from that Austria trip. But what's also interesting is what I haven't seen – I'm still missing Spotted Flycatcher and Green Sandpiper, for example, species I'd normally expect to have stumbled across by now. In the case of the former, that might be down to the fact that numbers are continuing to decline, but there's also an element of luck involved.

If they do turn up (in the next few weeks), 200 should be well within sight, with the chance to add goodies such as Brambling, Waxwing and a few geese once the winter weather arrives. But of course, there'll be something else, too, something I can't foresee. And it's that that makes birdwatching so endlessly fascinating. Birds go wherever the fancy and the weather takes them, and being there to see them is down to a mixture of luck, hard work and playing hunches.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Mark Goodwin on Swallows

There's a terrific post here from Leicestershire poet Mark Goodwin, about his children hand-rearing a Swallow. It's interesting from an ornithological point of view, but it's also full of lovely writing. That phrase "a bringing in of the far" is great.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A Sky Full Of Birds reviewed by NFU Countryside

The paperback edition of A Sky Full Of Birds was reviewed in the latest issue of NFU Countryside magazine – you can see it above. And of course, you can buy it by following this link.

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Knives of Villalejo, by Matthew Stewart

This rather splendid volume arrived in the post the other day. I've been following Matthew Stewart's poetry for several years now, ever since he was highly placed in the Plough Prize, so its great to see this finally published by Eyewear. I've already read it when it was at the manuscript stage, and it combines great economy of style with a hefty emotional punch – I'm looking forward to re-reading it this week.

You can buy it here.

Friday, 14 July 2017

And Other Poems

Over at And Other Poems, there are now two index pages listing every poem published on the site since 2012 (and of course, you can click through to the poems themselves, too). I'm not even going to try to list the many excellent poets who have appeared there, because to pick any out would be unfair, but have a look yourself and enjoy.

Thanks to Laura McKee, who flagged this up on Facebook, and whose own excellent poems you can see here. Short poems too often get overlooked – it takes an awful lot of skill and nerve to know just how much is enough.

You can read two of my poems from The Elephant TestsThe Mind's Skyline and The Dark Ages – which were published there.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Four-spotted Chaser

This was at Carlton Marshes, Suffolk, when I was there the other week. Determined to brush up on my dragonfly and damselfly watching this year.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Silver-washed Fritillary

These were at Bedford Purlieus NR when we were there for a photoshoot the other day, among maybe 10 or 11 other species.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Bee-eaters on the Costa del Trent

It was impossible to resist the urge to go and see the Bee-eaters that have turned up at a quarry at East Leake, between Loughborough and Nottingham, earlier this week. There were five showing while I was there, although the suggestion is that there are at least two more and that the females are on nests within the quarry.

Long range, heat haze, and my lack of photography skills mean the photo leaves a lot to be desired, but you can get an idea of what gloriously colourful birds these are, far more at home around the Mediterranean than here. The number of records in the UK has been increasing, though, including occasional breeding attempts (and hopefully this is another) – global warming, presumably, is the cause.

While I was there they were feeding very actively, although their prey seemed to be almost exclusively dragonflies and damselflies. They were surprisingly vocal, too – their lilting 'pruuut' call was much in evidence.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

A Sky Full Of Birds reviewed by the Daily Mail

This review of the paperback edition of A Sky Full Of Birds appeared in the Daily Mail last Friday. I'm really delighted that it's continuing to get a good reception.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017


...are Four-spotted Chasers called that? They've got eight spots.

Little Owls and RS Thomas

Little Owls are always a delight to see, not only because of their air of comical irritation (this one was glaring at me for intruding upon his evening's beetle-hunting), but because they always call to mind this RS Thomas poem. I've always assumed that the "small owl" he mentions is a Little Owl, anyway – no reason why it shouldn't be in North Wales.

They are, of course, an introduced species, having been released in the UK during the 19th century (they were also sometimes kept as pest controllers for the home). They've escaped the opprobrium that surrounds most introduced species (think Grey Squirrel), because they seem to fill a niche that wasn't really occupied by any British bird. And there's also a theory that they were native to these islands, before the last Ice Age.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Bradgate Park Wildlife Weekend

Just another quick reminder that I'll be at this event tomorrow (June 17th). I'll be selling copies of A Sky Full Of Birds, but I'd also love to talk to anyone about birds generally or Bird Watching Magazine, so come and say hello.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

A Sky Full Of Birds reviewed at Nudge

This review of A Sky Full Of Birds has appeared at Nudge – thanks very much to Paul Cheney for his kind appreciation of the book.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Reading in Oxford tomorrow night (Tuesday, June 13th)

Just a reminder that tomorrow, Tuesday, June 13th, I'll be at Waterstones in Oxford talking about A Sky Full Of Birds and reading from the book. There are full details, including of how to book tickets, here.

If you can't make it, but would like to buy a copy of A Sky Full Of Birds (I have both hardback and paperback copies available), contact me through the email link on this site, or just leave a comment below.

A Sky Full Of Birds at Bradgate Park Wildlife Weekend

I'm going to be at this event a week on Saturday (June 17th), back on my old patch close to Leicester. As you can see there are all sorts of activities going on, and Bradgate Park is just a great place to be on a summer Saturday (or at any time, for that matter). I'll be selling copies of A Sky Full Of Birds, but I'd also love to talk to anyone about birds generally or Bird Watching Magazine, so come and say hello.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

A Sky Full Of Birds at Waterstones, Oxford

Next Tuesday, June 13th, I'll be at Waterstones in Oxford talking about A Sky Full Of Birds and reading from the book. There are full details, including of how to book tickets, here.

I'll also be talking about the Oxford Swift City Project, which aims to help these summer visitors fight back against recent declines. I'm lucky in that Swifts are fairly plentiful where I live (although they've been absent this week, presumably avoiding the bad weather), so it will be a pleasure to share the evening with them.

If you can't make it, but would like to buy a copy of A Sky Full Of Birds (I have both hardback and paperback copies available), contact me through the email link on this site, or just leave a comment below.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Just arrived...

This arrived from Rider Books yesterday, ahead of publication on June 1st – the paperback edition of my book A Sky Full Of Birds.

You can find out more about it and how to buy it here, but I will also have copies available for anyone who wants a signed copy, also from June 1st.

I've also got a few readings and other events connected to it coming up – more about them in the next week.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Sign the Charter for Trees, Woods and People

On November 6th, 2017, the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest, the Charter for Trees, Woods and People will be launched. It will recognise, celebrate and protect the right of the people of the UK to the benefits brought by trees and woods.

Signatures for the Charter have been and will be collected at a variety of events until November, but you can also collect signatures yourself, or sign a petition online here.

If you do want to collect signatures, print off the images below and get people to sign at any events you're holding.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Books in the bag

In idle moments (and there haven't been too many of them lately), I got to wondering which 10 books I'd take to a hypothetical desert island. I've started compiling mental lists of the candidates, but there are rather a lot of them, so it may take some time.

But who needs a desert island anyway? I also got to wondering anyone out there has a book or book that they carry with them at all times. These days, with Kindles and the like, and smartphones, it's a pretty easy thing to do, too.

I rarely read much on my phone or tablet, but there are times (waiting at airports, or on long journeys) when it's useful to have something to hand. And the two books that are on there, waiting to be dipped into? The Diary Of A Nobody, and Njal's Saga. Because sometimes you feel like reading about the inconsequential goings-on of a Victorian office clerk, and others you get a hankering to read about medieval Icelanders hacking bits off each other.

So, which books do you always have with you? I'm intrigued...

Monday, 3 April 2017


Calling all birders, birdwatchers and birdlovers!

Fair Acre Press is running an Arts Council England-funded project called DIVERSIFLY – it's all about people's everyday encounters with the birds that we can easily see and hear in Britain's towns and cities.

It will be creating podcasts involving some of Britain's best known poets, along with the 'Urban Birder', David Lindo.

It will also produce a full colour poetry and art book – involving well-known poets and artists, chosen to reflect the diversity of Britain's human urban populations; plus the book will also include less known, even never-before-published poets and artists from all over Britain, and from all backgrounds and walks of life.

But first, you, Britain's resident bird experts and enthusiasts, are being asked for your help to inspire the poets and artists, with YOUR descriptions of and photographs of your own everyday encounters with British urban birds.

Fair Acre's editor, Nadia Kingsley, will include these in blogs which will remain on the Fair Acre Press website during and after the project is completed.

For more details, or to send writing or photos, click here.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Coming soon...

The paperback edition of A Sky Full Of Birds will be out on June 1st, priced £8.99, and as you can see above it has a smart new sky-blue cover. It is, of course, also still available as an ebook, and as a hardback, at all good bookstores.

I've already got a couple of reading dates lined up around the launch, but I'm always available for more – contact me through the comments on this post, or on the email link at right, if you're interested.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Corby and Migration

Along with artist Amanda Drage and co-ordinator Ros Stoddart, I'm involved in Corby and Migration, which forms part of the wider Deep Roots, Tall Trees project.

You can read a lot more about it here, and there'll be regular updates over the next few months, but at the moment I'm collating as much material as possible about the status of migrant birds in Corby and the surrounding area, as well as trying to get out and about to find and photograph some of them. There might even be some poems to follow...

Stat attack

I've been very tardy at posting on Polyolbion of late – snowed under with work, and one or two other things that have been occupying my time.

Looking at the visitor stats, I see that they're fairly steady, but that every couple of weeks or so there's a sudden peak of around 6 or 7 times the usual amount of daily visitors. I've absolutely no idea what's causing that.

But anyway, I'm going to get back to some regular posting. Watch this space.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Bluethroat at Willow Tree Fen LWT

For a month now, this beauty, a first-winter male Bluethroat, has been delighting birdwatchers and photographers at Willow Tree Fen, a Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust reserve between Bourne and Spalding. Initial reports of it were greeted with some incredulity, because a Bluethroat in February is a rare occurrence indeed, but it's such a confiding individual that many excellent photos of it were soon available to confirm the identity.

It's a species that breeds mainly in northern and eastern Europe, although there are now populations along the Channel coast in Holland, Belgium and France, and although some always turn up in these islands during migration periods, a February arrival is unusual. Anyway, this particular bird appears on the main path between the car-park and the visitor centre every half-hour or so, emerging from the reeds to feed for a few minutes, and he lets observers get to within a few feet.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

New poetry from Marilyn Ricci and Maxine Linnell

Marilyn Ricci and Maxine Linnell, two Leicester-based poets, have new collections coming out from Soundswrite Press, and they'll be launching them in Leicester on April 1st.

Marilyn's debut chapbook was the excellent Rebuilding A Number 39, from HappenStance, back in 2008 (was it really that long ago?), and she's also been very widely published in magazines, while Maxine is known for her fiction as well as poetry. Sounds like a good afternoon's poetry, and there'll be drinks and nibbles too.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A Sky Full Of Birds at Stourbridge Library

Tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 1st), at 6.30pm, I'll be reading from A Sky Full Of Birds at Stourbridge Library.

As always I'll have copies of the book available for a reduced price of £10 – if by any chance they sell out on the night you can order a copy from me for the same price, and I'll send it out as soon as I get new stock in.

Admission is £3, which includes a drink, and full details are here.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Hooded Grebe courtship display

Birds of Britain, you really need to up your game in the courtship stakes. If you think the Great Crested Grebe's admittedly elegant 'weed dance' (showing now at a reservoir near you) is something to savour, then get a load of this display by its relative the Hooded Grebe, in Argentina. Absolutely breathtaking!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Stairs & Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back

Nine Arches Press has launched a crowdfunding campaign for a forthcoming anthology, Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back.

Edited and led by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman, the groundbreaking project has been underway for two years. As well as an anthology (in print and eBook form), the project will involve a wealth of films, British Sign Language poetry and podcasts of poems online too. It is, as far as Nine Arches know, the first major D/deaf and Disabled poetry anthology of its kind in the UK.

The anthology will include work from a great line-up of poets, plus a range of essays. as well as poetry  - you can read more about what's inside the book here.

So far, the project has been part-funded by Arts Council England, supported in kind by Nine Arches Press as publisher, and by Writing West Midlands and Birmingham City University.

To get the book into print, Nine Arches is asking for a little extra help from friends and supporters – could you pledge £15 in return for a copy of this important and exciting new anthology? 

There are also lots of other excellent rewards for your generosity, including eBooks, discount vouchers, free Nine Arches goodies, Poetry Book Club membership, signed and personalised copies and much more – visit the Crowdfunding page here for full details.

Every pledge will help us make this book a reality, and every supporter will be named and thanked in the book itself.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Reading tonight - Our Woods

Tonight, I'm reading from A Sky Full Of Birds at the Coronation Park Pavilion, Cottingham Road, Corby NN17 1SZ, as part of the Our Woods project. The event starts at 7pm, and admission costs £5.50 (£3.50 concessions). You get tea, coffee and homemade cake, too.

I'll be selling copies of the book on the night, for £10, but it's also available here, if you want to buy direct, or from all good bookshops. Or, if you'd prefer, you can buy a signed copy from me – email me using the link on the right.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Richard Jefferies Society & White Horse Bookshop Literary Prize

I was delighted to get an email yesterday to say that A Sky Full Of Birds has been shortlisted for the Richard Jefferies Society and White Horse Bookshop Literary Prize, awarded for outstanding nature writing.

The winner is announced on June 3rd, and other names on the shortlist include Stephen Moss, Kevin Parr, Amy Liptrot, Katharine Towers, John Lewis-Stempel, Mike Dilger and Tristan Gooley. I'm thrilled to even be mentioned in such company.

Here's an interview I did a couple of years ago, when I wrote some Jefferies'-inspired poems for inclusion in a new edition of his After London.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Jacob Polley wins the TS Eliot Prize

This year's TS Eliot Prize has been won by Cumbrian poet Jacob Polley, for his collection Jackself (Picador). He beat a strong shortlist, including Alice Oswald, Denise Riley, Vahni Capildeo, Ian Duhig and Bernard O'Donoghue.

It's not a book I've read yet. When Polley's first collection came out, to much fanfare, I was a member of the Poetry Book Society and was sent it as one of their quarterly choices, and I'd have to say I was pretty underwhelmed. Not that it was at all bad, just that it didn't seem nearly as exciting as some of the critical notices were promising it would be.

Because of that, I haven't got round to reading any of his subsequent collections. My loss, I suspect, if the poems I've seen from this latest book are anything to go by. Chair of judges Ruth Padel compared it to Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns, and that particular masterpiece did spring to mind for me, too. Which can only be a good thing, I should add. I look forward to reading it.

You can read a couple of poems from the book here, and also hear him read them.

There's a really excellent account of the prize readings here, by poet Peter Daniels.

'New' RS Thomas collection

I'm not sure how I'd missed this, but a batch of previously undiscovered RS Thomas poems have been published by Bloodaxe as Too Brave To Dream – encounters with modern art.

I'm always a bit wary of such things, like when record companies package together a load of ropey demos and studio outtakes by your favourite band, then sell them as part of an extortionately priced box set, but reading that review, this book actually looks well worth seeking out.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Deep Roots Tall Trees

A week on Thursday (January 26th), I'll be reading from A Sky Full Of Birds at the Coronation Park Pavilion, Cottingham Road, Corby NN17 1SZ, as part of the Our Woods project. The event starts at 7pm, and admission costs £5.50 (£3.50 concessions). You get tea, coffee and homemade cake as part of that, which can't be bad.

I'll be selling copies of the book on the night, for £10, but it's also available here, if you want to buy direct, or from all good bookshops. Or, if you'd prefer, you can buy a signed copy from me – email me using the link on the right.

Friday, 13 January 2017

St Knut's Day and the Mari Lwyd

Today is celebrated as St Knut's Day in Sweden and Finland – you can find out more about it here.

When I was reading about it earlier today, it struck me that the bits of the celebrations involving the Finnish character Nuuttipukki are very similar to the Mari Lwyd folk custom found in South Wales. When I worked in Cardiff in the second half of the 90s, this was still performed in Llangynwyd, and maybe a few more villages in the Maesteg area, but I don't know whether that's still the case.

Does that suggest that both have their roots in a pre-Christian ritual, perhaps connected to the middle of winter? I'm not sure, really, but at first glance that seems the most likely explanation.

Daniel Sluman at the Morning Star

The Morning Star is notable for having a regular column that publishes new poetry – Well Versed, edited by Jody Porter.

Yesterday's, wonder/ful, by Daniel Sluman, is, well, wonderful.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

New at Sphinx

Sphinx, HappenStance Press's website that reviews pamphlets and chapbooks, as well as gathering together information about poetry pamphlet publishing, has some new reviews, including this one of Sally Evans' The Bees of Dunblane & The Song of the Walnut Tree.

There's a really substantial archive of older reviews, too – enjoy browsing through them (and of course, if it inspires you to buy a pamphlet or two, so much the better).

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Interpreter's House Poetry Competition

You've got until the end of this month to enter Open House 2017, The Interpreter's House's Poetry Competition. It's judged by Bloodaxe poet Niall Campbell, and entry is £4 for a single poem or £10 for three.

I know some people hate the very idea of poetry competitions, but all proceeds of this one go to fund future issues of TIH, one of the very best poetry magazines out there.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Blackbox Manifold 17

The winter issue (No.17) of Blackbox Manifold is out now, with work by Linda Anderson, Tom Betteridge, Adam Burbage, Stephen Burt, James Byrne, Sophie Collins, Joey Connolly, Adam Flint, Jane Goldman, Thomas Kelly, Chris Kerr, Eric Langley, Dorothy Lehane, Tan Lin, Jaki McCarrick, Gail McConnell, Joseph Minden, Ian Patterson, Robert Sheppard, Ronnie Sirmans, Oliver Southall, Matthew Sweeney, Charles Tarlton, Ken Taylor, Jonty Tiplady and Samuel Tongue.

John Tamplin interviews Keston Sutherland, Peter Larkin reviews Peter Riley, Adam Piette reviews Eliot, Denise Riley and Charlotte Newman, and there are essays on JH Prynne.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Dean Young

On Facebook the other day, Rob Mackenzie posted a link to this poem, which I like a lot. I bought Dean Young's New and Selected Poems on my iPad a couple of years back, and dip in and out of it a lot – I recommend it very highly.

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Blue Aeroplanes take off again

Just came across this article by Stewart Lee in which he mentions that the Blue Aeroplanes have a new album coming out. I'm not sure about his description of them as being like "Philip Larkin fronting Television" – Gerard Langley's lyrics were much closer to the beat poets, I'd have thought – but otherwise he's spot-on.

They were great, a real beacon of invention and individuality in the late 80s. I've got very fond memories of seeing them supporting REM on their 1989 Green tour, and they even managed a minor hit with a remix of And Stones, when Madchester was at its height.

Favourite song of theirs? Maybe Colour Me, which was a bit later, I think (maybe 1992), but those early albums are all worth seeking out.