Proof of life

Wanted alive

In New Zealand, birders are searching for the maybe (or maybe not) extinct orange-wattled South Island kakapo.


Buller Kokako.jpg

South & North Island Kokakos

By J. G. Keulemans, in W.L. Buller’s A History of the Birds of New Zealand, 2nd edition, published 1888 Image courtesy of

More about the elusive South Island kokako at

I don’t know if you’re alive or dead

I don’t know if you’re alive or dead –
Can you be found on earth so?
Or only in twilit thoughts instead,
Be mourned, in that peaceful glow?

All for you: the prayer by day,
The hot sleeplessness at night,
The white flock of poetry,
And the blue fire of my eyes…

from I don’t know if you’re alive or dead, by Anna Akhmatova


Winging it through the world

World Shorebirds Day 2016

The global count of shorebirds will be from 2 to 2 September. More information at

In 2014, participants were invited to sketch the birds they saw; see some of the results at

image2 stiltsBlack-winged stilts in Japan by Narisa Togo


Shore Birds

While I think of them they are growing rare
after the distances they have followed
all the way to the end for the first time
tracing a memory they did not have
until they set out to remember it
at an hour when all at once it was late
and newly silent and the white had turned
white around them then they rose in their choir
on a single note each of them alone
between the pull of the moon and the hummed
undertone of the earth below them
the glass curtains kept falling around them
as they flew in search of their place before
they were anywhere and storms winnowed them
they flew among the places with towers
and passed the tower lights where some vanished
with their long legs for wading in shadow
others were caught and stayed in the countries
of the nets and in the lands of lime twigs
some fastened and after the countries of
guns at first light fewer of them than I
remember would be here to recognize
the light of late summer when they found it
playing with darkness along the wet sand

by WS Merwin

Writing Life

Listen to WS Merwin speak about words in the world:

Leap Year Love Birds

29 February 2016

Love nest:

On an Edwardian postcard

Love Birds

‘In Leap Year, longing for a cosy nest/I ask you, will you be my very best’

Image at

Love net:

By tradition, in 19th century Britain and Ireland, women could propose marriage to men on leap year’s day…

PostcardLeapYearBeCarefulClara1908Image at

Leap Year Poem:

Thirty days hath September,

April, June and November.

All the rest have thirty-one,

Excepting February alone,

And that has twenty-eight days clear

And twenty-nine in each leap year.

by Mother Goose


Image at


January Birds

Rooks-and-jackdaws-gather-007Rook flight at night

The January Birds

The birds in Nunhead Cemetery begin
Before I’ve flicked a switch, turned on the gas.
There must be some advantage to the light

I tell myself, viewing my slackened chin
Mirrored in the rain-dark window glass,
While from the graveyard’s trees, the birds begin.

An image from a dream survives the night,
Some dreck my head refuses to encompass.
There must be some advantage to the light.

You are you I mouth to my shadow skin,
Though you are me, assuming weight and mass —
While from the graveyard’s trees, the birds begin:

Thrush, blackbird, finch — then rooks take fright
At a skip-truck and protest, cawing en masse.
There must be some advantage to the light,

Or birds would need the gift of second sight
To sing Another year will come to pass!
The birds in Nunhead Cemetery begin,
There must be some advantage to the light.

Poem by Maurice Riordan

Image by Martin Argles for The Guardian.

More at

Image at

Born in flight

 25 December 2015

 Born overnight

‘And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.’ Luke 2.7

wasserman inn syrians

Cartoon by Dan Wasserman for the Boston Globe at

Born in flight


Liqaa, baby Limar and husband Basel in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan



Born at height

Ciconia_ciconia_juv_smallHuman-made nests welcome migratory White storks in Poland

Image at

Fighting for rights

from Refugee Blues by W H Auden

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew;
Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.

The consul banged the table and said:
‘If you’ve got no passport, you’re officially dead’;
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go today, my dear, but where shall we go today?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said:
‘If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread’;
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me…




Words for birds

Bird blessings:

The Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi is on Sunday 4 October

st-francis-preaching-to-the-birds-1299.jpg!BlogSt Francis Preaching to the Birds (San Francesco predica agli uccelli), by Giotto, 1299

st-francis-preaching-to-the-birds.jpg!BlogSurrealist version/vision by MC Escher, 1922.

Images at

Saint Francis and the Birds

When Francis preached love to the birds
They listened, fluttered, throttled up
Into the blue like a flock of words

Released for fun from his holy lips.
Then wheeled back, whirred about his head,
Pirouetted on brothers’ capes.

Danced on the wing, for sheer joy played
And sang, like images took flight.
Which was the best poem Francis made,

His argument true, his tone light.

by Seamus Heaney

All creatures great and small:

The inimitable Dawn French as the Vicar of Dibley, blessing more than birds

dawn french

‘Animals’, Episode 1:6, 1994. Image at


Redshanks: return and recollection

Follow the leader:

Sketches from Sungei Buloh on World Shorebird Day, 6 September 2014


redshanks arrive pui san tham

Artwork by Tham Pui San – artist, educator, conservationist and contributor to the Flyway Print Exchange.

More images of Tham Pui San’s World Shorebird Day sketches at

See also

Then we waded at low tide to Hilbre Island;
and we marvelled at scores of thousands of waders:
Sanderling, Knot, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew and Dunlin;
and the giant gull of the north, the hyperborean Glaucous,
glided snow-mantled above the remains of the old lifeboat station;
and there suddenly stooped from a cloud the colour of Blanenau Ffestiniog slate
a Peregrine into a blizzard of wheeling Calidris Alba
and the falcon hit and we heard the thud and a handful of silven feathers
whorled in the wind and the great dark raptor rose with the dead meat locked in its talons;
and I said to my friend: ‘We will mind this as long as we live.’ (He is dead now.)
From Laertidean, by Peter Reading (1946-2011)