I went to the pictures last night – to see Mary Queen of Scots. Good film! I recommend it. She had her head lopped off down the road from here at Fotheringhay. The anniversary comes up on 8 February.

It’s impossible for me to watch a film without noticing the bird noises. There were some Curlew (they are beloved of film-makers – I remember the Curlew song near the end of Pride and Prejudice (the one with Keira Knightley in it)), a thrush of which I would have liked to hear more, some Swallows, Great Tit and a raptor calling at one point, I think. I was paying attention to the film – really I was. I see that some of the footage was from the Cairngorms National Park and some more from Glencoe – it’s difficult to recreate the Caledonian Forest back in its sixteenth century state or extent, just as it’s a bit difficult to arrange a fly past of millions of Passenger Pigeons in western films set in the nineteenth century USA east of the Mississippi, but there you go. At least the heather moorland in the film hadn’t been burned into abstract patterns by those intent on the not very traditional hobby of shooting Red Grouse for fun.

Many have noticed the fact that Hen Harriers cropped up on University Challenge on Monday when Paxman asked ‘What is the two-word common name of Circus cyaneus. According to the RSPB it is the most intensively persecuted British bird of prey and is particularly under threat on Northern grouse moors?‘ and the team failed to get the right answer (they opted for Sparrowhawk). More people watch University Challenge than will ever read my book Inglorious or attend a talk on the subject and although many will have forgotten the question and the answer immediately, for others it will have lodged in their brains for a while, maybe for ever.

And books can make a difference. One of my barristers was telling his nieces about our brood-meddling case and they said that they knew what a Hen Harrier was, and what happpened to them, because they had read Gill Lewis’s book Sky Dancer. Result! Let’s hope they grow up to see them in greater numbers than exist now.

And did you know that Hen Harriers are a card in a Top Trumps game? You don’t know what Top Trumps is? And it is quite a high scoring card too. I’ll wait for a suitable opportunity to show it to you.

The word is spreading. Imagine you are a grouse moor manager or owner and your niece is reading about Hen Harrier killing on grouse moors or winning a game with a Hen Harrier card. Imagine you were watching University Challenge and heard the same words. These things will be happening and you can’t put this genie back in the bottle.

But go see Mary Queen of Scots to see some heather moors that aren’t burned to a crisp – although those hills look a bit overgrazed in parts to me. But it was an engaging film.


12 Replies to “Various”

  1. It may well be that the small things which you cover here that are the straws that breaks the camel’s back. It will likely not be a petition to gets rid of driven grouse shooting, or the RSPB questioning “Is the Scottish criminal justice system fit for purpose?” (an interest of mine). It’s just that you can’t hope to fool all the people all the time, and that is true in all fields of life.
    The people who are trying to fool all the people all the time are now tripping up publicly all the time despite their obvious power, and I’m sure that something, probably some small thing, will let the flood gates of public opinion open to the realisation of how they are being hoodwinked.

  2. University Challenge -Thanks to you Mark it was one of the only questions that I answered correctly.

    1. But did you get the ‘gamebird’ ending in the same 3 letters as Monkey (and i forget the other), around Christmas (another clue)?
      Took me all next day until suddenly it came…. Turkey.
      A gamebird in the States but really that questions was tricky (in the Nixon sense).
      I was going to post that in the guestblog about the word ‘game’ but thought it was a bit off topic. It still is, but maybe two half off-topics makes one quarter on topic?

  3. We went to see that film as well on Monday, at Kettering. I often point out the bird calls to my wife ( much to her annoyance). I thought the raptor was a peregrine. Yes, great film also.

    1. Chris – yes I thought Peregrine too (but am not sure). And we were in the Kettering Odeon yesterday! i was hoping for a Barn Owl on the way home but no luck.

  4. My favourite bird song in a film: in the 1967 version of Far from the Madding Crowd, after the scene with Fanny Robin’s coffin, Bathsheba (Julie Christie) heads out into the night distraught. Cut to her waking up next morning beneath an oak tree with a redstart singing nearby. Subtle but very appropriate.

    1. Geoff – great book and a great film. I had missed that. Thank you. I’ll listen especially next time.

  5. A bit tangential but I was always captivated by the red kites calling during the opening sequence of “The Name of the Rose”, a quite enjoyable medieval whodunnit with Sean Connery in the lead role. Bald Eagle calls during any North American outdoor landscape film footage has become something of a cliché…..

  6. I like the Varied Thrush in the title sequence of Twin Peaks 1&2. If I remember correctly it doesn’t make a sound just like the owls – but they are not what they seem

  7. I’m glad I’m not the only one who homes in the background stuff in films – drives my family mad when I do this 😉 but I enjoy taking in the scenes, the wildlife (if any) and the decor. Mary Queen of Scots is on waiting list to be seen – Stan & Ollie in pole position for end of the week viewing. And several friends are now far better informed about Hen Harriers these days because I often talk about them. (and DGS!)

  8. In ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’, there are some quite nice scenes with appropriate (at least in my amateur estimation) bird calls. One particular scene which stuck in my mind saw the lead character walk down through a wooded gorge to a narrow inlet. The bird calls changed as the habitat changed, which I thought was exceptional attention to detail.

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