Some very pleasant pheasants


I WILL be honest and say this item is just an excuse to show you some gorgeous birds.

After I wrote about common pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) a couple of weeks ago, TCW contributor Derek Reynolds said he had seen a Reeves’s pheasant (Syrmaticus reevesii) near his home last year.

These birds come from China and get their English name from the British naturalist John Reeves, who introduced them to Europe in 1831. The tail can be a good 6ft long or even more and the 2008 edition of Guinness World Records says it is the longest of any bird species. They survive well in Britain but any you see here are almost certainly escaped from a collection, though a number live wild around Woburn Park in Bedfordshire and one was spotted in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, last year. The breed is in serious decline in its homeland.

This is not the only exotic pheasant you might just be fortunate enough to see. The golden pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus) is another native of China, and was introduced in the late 19th century. Until a few years ago there were populations in Norfolk and Suffolk but for unknown reasons they have almost vanished. They can still be found in Tresco, Scilly (where the bird below was photographed), and Brownsea Island, Dorset.

The third Chinese pheasant in Britain is Lady Amherst’s pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae). It is named after Sarah Amherst, Countess of Plymouth, who lived in India. She sent the first specimens of the bird to her estates, near the Duke of Bedford’s Woburn Abbey, in 1828. Although the introduced British populations are believed to have been extinct since 2015, there have been occasional sightings since. One was seen in Taunton in May 2020, and another in a garden in Scotland in 2021. You never know your luck.


MAGNOLIAS are in flower now (providing they miss the frost) and TCW commenter ‘Irish Neanderthal’ sent me this great picture taken from the top of a bus, thus getting a better view down into the flowers. I believe this may be a variety called ‘Susan’.


Bovine of the Week

LAST week I wrote about the largest breed of cattle in Britain, the South Devon. This week, in response to a comment from ‘johnthebridge’, I present the smallest, the Dexter.

I tried without success to find a picture or chart to illustrate the difference in size. The best I can do is to give statistics: a South Devon bull is typically 6ft at the withers (the ridge between the shoulders) and up to 3,300lb, or close to a ton and a half, while a Dexter bull is about 4ft 4ins and 1,000lb.

The Dexter originated in County Kerry in south west Ireland and until the mid-19th century it was considered a type within the Kerry breed. Both are descended from the predominantly black cattle of the Celts.

Dexters were first exported to England in 1882 and from there spread all over the world, proving themselves to be adaptable to a wide variety of conditions. At the same time, however, they were dying out in Ireland. Around 2000 they were exported back to Ireland and numbers have grown considerably since then.

Dexters are plain coloured: most are black but there are red and dun colourways. Both sexes may or may not have horns. They are a dual purpose breed, producing beef of excellent quality and flavour with good marbling, and large quantities of milk with high butterfat (BF) and protein levels. You can find out more at the Dexter Cattle Society website. 

This video features a lovely Irish farmer, and it was the only one I could find that shows all three colours.

And here is a video showing that they can be very gentle.

Finally, a short video of calves with a great backing track.

The song is Outskirts of Heaven by Craig Campbell, released in 2016, and you can hear it in full here.


Wheels of the Week

THIS week I am handing over to TCW contributor DAVE HIPPERSON for the first of a short series.

A YEAR ago I reluctantly turned in my reliable 20-year-old diesel Astra van so I could comply with Ulez rules and still be able to travel around north London and elsewhere. I got lucky, or so I thought, with my choice of a six-year-old Hyundai i20 in good condition and only £8,000.

What I hadn’t realised was how close I would come to meltdown and frustration when running the gauntlet of the modern fad for automation. To my mind these so-called aids are actually dangerous for the driver who can not only drive but enjoys it, understands what is involved and does it well.

Before I continue I feel some sort of CV, enabling me to speak with authority on this subject, is necessary. All my adult life I have been driving, that’s since 1964 when I was 18. I calculate that I have covered in the region of a million miles on trips both in this country and much of Europe. This is in dozens of vehicles from much-loved Mini 7 variants in the early 60s through specialist cars, sports cars  and commercial vehicles to today’s faceless, characterless metal blobs. Vehicles engorged by padding and strengthening designed, at the expense of efficiency and fuel consumption, to take into account the lowest common denominator among drivers – the worst ones.

During some of this period I was lucky enough to be involved in motoring journalism with a company called Speed & Sport, who some readers may remember published the excellent Cars and Car Conversions magazine in the 70s. (Here are some copies on eBay.) This organisation was run by Ken Gregory, then manager of the great Stirling Moss. I was books editor, and came into contact with numerous talented and famous drivers. Possibly the biggest, apart from Moss himself, was Emerson Fittipaldi. During his two-year tenure as the first Brazilian Formula One World Champion, he often came into our office and delighted in taking us out individually in the firm’s trusty van (a Vauxhall Bedford, forerunner of  the Viva and Astra series) to explain to us some specialist driving techniques. These included double de-clutching and using your heel and toe when changing down and braking to smooth the operation and avoid  skidding or unnecessary strain on the engine and gearbox. Quite a master class for all of us. Some techniques which enabled me on numerous occasions to get a vehicle home when I had no clutch at all let alone synchromesh in the gearbox.

Many vehicles came and went through our office on test. A few I was not allowed to touch because they were so valuable. Those only the directors got to drive, for example a Lamborghini Espada like this.

I do remember being allowed to sit in it. I recall the aroma of real tan leather upholstery, and what looked like hand stitching.

Returning to the modern motor car, I had no idea how far things had degenerated. We are all uncomfortably aware of the nanny state forever encroaching on our freedoms and decision-making abilities by tempting us into letting them do our thinking for us while at the same time having the power to take everything away if and when it suits them. Much of the reason why it has encroached as far as it has is the population’s lack of attention. So it seems that the modern motor vehicle is a perfect illustration of this policy direction, often being replete with the following:

Self steering, self braking, speed limiting, rain awareness, cruise control (only mildly dangerous actually) clutch switches, on-off stop-start engines when stopping at lights and auto hand brakes that apply themselves if you stall, which is usually the very time you don’t want any further interference. Not to mention the bleepers, squeakers and hooters that sound if you are reckless enough to drive an inch having not first secured your seat belt or unsecured the hand brake, and possible further sirens to warn you and all and sundry that you are reversing. (If drivers are in need of that reminder, should they be at the wheel of a car in the first place?) And don’t get me started on ‘keyless entry’, an infallible digital Wi-Fi idea, I don’t think. To compensate for this invention it is best you store your car keys in a lead-lined box.

My fear is that the window between buying a motor vehicle old enough to be free from these daft and dangerous ideas yet new enough to escape the punitive Ulez fines is getting increasingly narrow.

So, you may ask, what’s wrong with that Hyundai? I will tell you next week.

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