Thursday, 28 July 2016

Great White 28th July 2016



Since the 20th July a Great White Egret has been gracing the rather unglamorously named Pit 60, so called by local birdwatchers although its official name is Standlake Common Nature Reserve, a lake managed by the Lower Windrush Valley Project (LWVR) near the Oxfordshire village of Standlake. This lake has an enviable reputation for attracting some rarer birds for Oxfordshire, the most notable being a Black winged Stilt in 2012 and a flock of four Ring necked Ducks in 2015.

Part of the lake viewed from the Hide
To get to the lake one has to undertake quite a long but not unpleasant walk of around a mile along footpaths to where there are two hides, The Langley Lane Hide and a smaller hide, both overlooking the lake. In this day and age such structures, isolated and out of constant use and the public eye are sadly prone to be abused or even burnt down so access is by key only. This has the benefit that the hides can contain literature, reference books, a bird log and other information without fear of them being stolen or trashed and combined with a general air of cleanliness and upkeep, the hides are a pleasure to sit in especially if some of your birding friends are there to keep you company also.

Inside Langley Lane Hide
Having to visit Witney today gave me the excuse, if excuse was needed to make the short drive from there to Standlake where I left the car parked off the road and made my way through the footpaths to the distant Langley Lane Hide, which is the most favourable hide from which to observe the Great White Egret.

The footpaths are narrow and you lose all sense of location as they wind through high, dense banks of brambles and hawthorn. On the other side of the high hedges on both sides of the path there are trailer homes but you would never know it as the hedges are so high and thick that they totally obscure the homes. At this time of year the hedges are full of pale mauve blackberry blossom, festooned over the hawthorns and the blackberry bushes are extending their long thorny green runners out over the path to snag the unwary passer by. As I progressed many Red Admirals, dark and energetic flew to intercept me as I inadvertently disturbed them from their nectaring on the bramble flowers. They are invariably pristine, smart in their velvety black and red patterning, come to fruition from eggs laid on nettles by migrant parents that had arrived earlier in the Spring

The odd Comma, Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown added some variety to the pageant of admirals and various whistles, tacks and flutey notes from deep in the hedges evidenced that birds were deep within the green tangle.

I turned onto an even narrower footpath, made into a tunnel of green by the overhead intertwining branches of the small trees that grew on either side of the narrow path. 


A young Marsh Tit hung upside down from a branch, chiselling at a crack in the bark and was loathe to leave even when I was almost upon it, and another brown shape, clinging mouse like to a slender tree trunk revealed itself to be a young Tree Creeper, still spotty grey on brown in its juvenile feathering.

Reaching the end of the footpath I turned right through two metal gates and  some two hundred metres down a wider track that was for the use of farm vehicles was the boardwalk to the hide. 


The boardwalk up to the Langley Lane Hide
Normally there is no vehicular access allowed here apart for farm vehicles but today there was a cluster of four cars parked by the start of the boardwalk and people milling around. Birders? Surely not? On getting to the cars it turned out that the unexpected people were a volunteer work party from LWVR. Commendable as this was my heart sank, as I knew that if they were doing conservation work in and around the hide then the Great White Egret would certainly not be around.

On making enquiries I was re-assured that they had not disturbed the area around the hide and would leave it free so long as I remained in the hide, so with some relief I made my way up the boardwalk to the hide door, entered and slowly and very cautiously opened one of the viewing slats. There before me was the Great White Egret wading thigh deep in the water and very near to the hide. Fantastic!




Great White Egrets were formerly a major rarity in Britain but like their smaller cousin the Little Egret they are slowly colonising southern Britain and now breed on the Somerset Levels. Oxfordshire has done reasonably well from visits of this still scarce bird as usually, every year, one or two turn up at suitable random places in the county with large areas of water. No doubt the Great White Egret is taking advantage of our warming climate and maybe, just maybe, it will one day breed in Oxfordshire just as Little Egrets now occasionally do.


On viewing a Great White Egret I am always struck by the length of their neck, elongated to the extreme, thin and often with a slight kink, it reminds you of a pipe cleaner with an equally narrow head not much wider than the neck. Slightly larger than the Grey Heron they are all angles and attenuations, long neck, long bill, long legs but with this elongated appearance their movements for such a large bird are always imparted with some grace.





Although totally white the plumage is not the dull creamy white of a stork but an almost luminescent, brilliant white that any person would be delighted with on washing day. The white is complemented by a golden yellow bill and long black legs. This particular bird could be identified as a juvenile as the feathers were fresh, showing no signs of wear and the bill had a slight black tip to it. I wondered where it had come from, was it one of the young raised on the Somerset Levels this year and now dispersing to find its own territory or had it come from further such as mainland Europe? 


With cautious almost imperceptible movements it waded in the water, stopping to survey the surrounding water for the slightest movement below the surface, a characteristic profile of extended bill, head and neck held out at an angle, then making lightening fast stabs every so often to seize small fish, that looked very much like sticklebacks. One such unfortunate fish having erected its spines in automatic defence got stuck in its throat and the egret only managed to despatch it down that very long neck after much gaping and shaking of its bill but the outcome, despite the delay, was inevitable.


I managed to get some pictures but then the work party joined me in the hide to take their lunch. Inevitably the ensuing chatter and various inadvertent thumps and bangs unnerved the Great White Egret and it departed for a distant shore which it shared with a Little Egret.



I decided to wait until the work party departed and I could sit once more in silence but before they did we were joined by a lady and her two very young grandchildren. What can you do? I entered a period of philosophical resignation coming to the conclusion that here in these two small impressionable children was the future and they should be encouraged as much as possible. I grasped the nettle of understanding and chatted to the excited children, pointing out the various different birds and finding a Grey Heron for the little boy who had told me he very much wanted to see one. His elder sister told me she had seen a Hobby. I sounded suitably and genuinely impressed, which I was and they too then decided to have their lunch in the hide! The children told me about where they lived and I learnt that their parents had a pub called the White Hart at Fyfield which had been voted best Oxfordshire gastropub and restaurant last year. We looked at the various reference books on birds and the pictures therein and settled on the fact that the Goldfinch was their favourite.

The egret in the meantime had long since distanced itself to the far side of the lake away from the inevitable commotion.


The children's attention span did not last for long as the novelty of being in a hide and talking to a stranger wore off and I was left to myself once more, bidding a fond farewell to the family and forgoing the children's invitation to accompany them to the other hide, explaining I wished to wait to get more pictures of the Great White Egret.

I sat calmly in the ensuing quiet and contemplated the lake from the hide. Two Oystercatchers kleeped to themselves on a sandy bank. I can never get used to seeing them so far inland, having forever from my youth associated them as a bird of the seashore although they are now not uncommon in places such as this,  A Green Sandpiper called in alarm and flew fast and wildly away from the lake possibly disturbed by the work party and a Common Sandpiper bobbed uncertainly along the shoreline.

Not so alarmed was a juvenile Lapwing, just become independent by the look of things, its short crest and buff edged  burnished dark green plumage betraying its adolescence. It pottered endlessly up and down on a muddy strip just below the hide, stopping and bobbing its head in a forward motion as if surprised, even swimming at one stage across a narrow channel of water to a mini island just offshore. I watched as it stopped to bathe and then wading back onto land preened energetically, contorting into unusual shapes as it sorted out its damp plumage until satisfied with the result.





Juvenile Lapwing

Common Terns came to fish in front of the hide, hovering on pearl grey, elastic wings, pointing black tipped dagger red bills downwards in readiness for a plunge which invariably ended with a struggling silver sided fish in their bill.


The wind blew the branches of the overhanging willows against the hide roof, the scraping and scratching giving the hide a voice. I waited and the egret slowly worked its way back towards the hide by a combination of wading and periodic short flights. The area around the hide was obviously the best place to fish and we both knew it. I sat quietly  and the egret finally flew to the water in front of the hide signalling that my time here with the Great White Egret had run full circle.


Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Finger lickin' at Fermyn 18th July 2016


In my previous post I referred to Dennis Watkins-Pitchford or 'BB' which was the pseudonym under which he wrote his now highly collectable nature books. His sixty or so published books are gems from another era, illustrated by the author's distinctive scraperboard drawings  and written in the old style, no graphs, no charts with indecipherable numerics, just plain, simple, good nature writing, which is easy to read and vastly informative. BB was interested in and highly knowledgeable about many aspects of our natural world and was what would now be described as 'of the old school' being a hunting, shooting and fishing man as well as an all round naturalist.

I am not sure if I would have agreed on everything he espoused, fox hunting for example, or even got on had we met but we are of very different generations and upbringings and our respective differing outlooks and attitudes reflect the situation of the world as it was in BB's time and as it is now in mine. 

After he retired from teaching art at Rugby School 'BB' lived on a large estate in Northamptonshire where he indulged his passion for natural history to its fullest extent. Apart from the enjoyment his writing and books bring to me, what really fired my imagination and admiration was the tale he told of collecting the eggs of the Purple Emperor from a wood which was due to be destroyed to make way for a Motorway back in the 1970's, and his nurturing of those eggs until their fruition as adult insects to be released thus bringing the successful re-introduction of the Purple Emperor to the Oak forest that is Fermyn Woods, This site is now probably the best and most reliable place in the country to see Purple Emperors and is a living memorial to 'BB.' 

I planned to pay homage to this by going to Fermyn Woods, which is part of the huge Rockingham Forest that covers 200 square miles of Northamptonshire, and like Bernwood Forest on the border of my home county Oxfordshire was a favourite hunting place of William the Conqueror in times long past. Like Bernwood, Rockingham Forest is now fragmented into separate areas of woodland adrift in an arable landscape but there are still large areas of forest remaining to explore and enjoy.

With my planned visit on this day of fortuitous sunshine, I hoped to see many Purple Emperors and possibly to gain a faint feeling for 'BB' himself. His birthday was July 25th 1905 so I was just seven days short of the anniversary and tomorrow the 'BB Society' would be paying their annual visit to Fermyn Woods.

The day was set to be non stop sunshine, dawn to dusk, very hot and humid and would be ideal for butterflies. I had done my homework and had a detailed map of where to go to have the best chance of seeing the Purple Emperors. The particular area I needed to go to was called Fermyn Woods Country Park but this encompassed not just Fermyn Woods but also beyond were Lady Wood and Souther Wood which were the two most propitious areas to seek out Purple Emperors. Enticingly these latter two woods adjoined and were almost two miles away from the busy Visitor Centre, Shop and Cafe, and normally only frequented by butterfly enthusiasts at this time of year.

In brilliant sunshine I found myself, after a two hour journey, passing the entrance to the Visitor Centre and further down the busy main road turning right onto a quiet country lane and after a couple of miles, parking in a small layby where a wide bridleway cum track of hardcore led into Fermyn Woods. The bridleway was surrounded on both sides by large Oaks and Sallows, ideal habitat for the Emperor. Looking at my map it appeared that to get to Lady Wood and Souther Wood I just needed to follow the bridleway for a mile and a half, so without further ado I set off.

It was nine in the morning and already the air was warm but in the shade of the ancient trees the sun was filtered through the leaves and branches so the bridleway was currently cool and slightly damp which meant it was unlikely to be attractive to Emperors. I walked on as the bridleway turned at a right angle leading me out of Fermyn Woods, into the sunlight once again and across flower laden grass fields to the commencement of Lady Wood.

Looking back to Fermyn Woods in the distance
I met four other enthusiasts here and to my amazement I knew one of them from meeting him on Fair Isle some four years ago. Bert and his three colleagues were from Tees-side and had driven down especially to look for Emperors. We walked on further into Lady Wood but soon parted as they got to grips with a Silver washed Fritillary, a butterfly not seen in their part of the world but very familiar to me at Bernwood Forest.


Other Silver Washed Fritillaries, characteristically always appearing to be in a hurry hurtled along the edge of the bridleway as Ringlets, Small and Large Whites jinked along the hedgerows and up into the lower reaches of the trees. Another right turn of the bridleway took me between high hedges of hazel, sallows and blackthorn with Oaks towering above.  I looked down the bridleway and coming straight towards me was a Purple Emperor, powering along in determined flight and not looking likely to stop. It passed me at head height and at great speed, veering from side to side and was gone in a flicker of black and white. I got to a left hand bend and met another two Emperor enthusiasts and as I stood on the corner another Emperor swooped and glided, high above me along the side of a tall row of pines. This area looked promising as the bridleway was bathed in sunshine and already I had seen two Emperors in flight. The two enthusiasts were waiting in the hope of one coming down onto the bridleway as my four friends from Tees-side finally caught up with me. We all waited for a while but there was no sign of anything happening so I walked on to the far end of the bridleway where it made another turn to the right. I stood here, alone, on the corner, under some mighty Oaks and looked up into their vastness.

The bridleway with Lady Wood on the left.This was the prime
location for Purple Emperors coming down to the ground
A family of Willow Warblers were flitting about in the upper branches of the Oaks, as was a family of Blackcaps but they soon moved on, forever active in their quest for food. I waited under the Oaks, shaded by their towering presence whilst the bridleway to my right turned almost white in the strengthening sunshine. A couple of Purple Hairstreaks moved around a particularly large Oak but remained, as they mostly do, high in the tree settling on a leaf to sit in the sunshine and imbibe aphid nectar from the leaves.

A shadow of a large butterfly passed along the sunlit bridleway and then from behind me, the cause of the shadow became apparent as another Emperor glissaded up and around the Oaks. So distinctive, so evocative in flight. Strangely I have had more sightings of Emperors on the ground than in flight so it was a real pleasure to observe one regally patrolling the airspace above me. I followed it as it flew high and fast on an erratic course through the Oaks. It was gone down a shaded ride in a trice and I lapsed back into patient observation. Fifteen unremarkable minutes had passed and then another Emperor arrived, again announcing its presence as a shadow passing along the sunlit track and then appearing from behind me and swooping up ever higher against the dark green foliage of the trees, finally to be silhouetted against an azure sky.

A call from one of the Tees-side group alerted me to the fact that there was now an Emperor on the ground at the other end of the sunlit bridleway and I walked up to where that familiar and thrilling shape was sucking invisible nutrients from the seemingly inhospitable ground. We stood at a respectful distance. It flew closer to us and then came right to our feet, flickering and fluttering, wheeling rapidly around us at almost ground level, fussing and hesitating, making many false landings before finally settling and allowing us to admire and photograph it at our leisure. 


Another landed a few metres away and then there were no less than three flying around together before one settled on a conifer spray and the other two headed off down the bridleway. 





And so it went on for around forty five minutes with Purple Emperors coming and going, flying back and fore.


With the sun behind it the Emperor looks an almost mundane brown and white




With the Emperor facing the sun the glory of the full purple colouring manifests itself
One particular Emperor feeding from the track seemed very set and I suggested to one of the Tees-side boys that he try putting his finger under its proboscis as it could well sit on his finger. I have done it successfully a couple of times myself at Bernwood. He was sweating profusely so there was every chance the Emperor would find it an attractive proposition to suck up the salt on his finger. 'Are you sure about this?' he enquired. This was his first encounter with His Excellency. 'Yes go on it often works. Trust me,' 'Well if you say so but if it flies off we will not be popular with the others.'  He sounded dubious. I looked to the others and they were admiring another Emperor further up the bridleway so I could see little likelihood of incurring anyone's displeasure. He gingerly lowered his finger and gently put it right up to the Emperor's 'face' and calmly it walked onto his finger as if pre-ordained. He stood up and raised his finger in triumph with the Emperor now stationary on the top with its yellow proboscis fully extended, licking the salt from his sweaty finger. Colonel Sanders had nothing on this! The rest of the group clustered round and we all got the phones out to record the moment. What a magnificent creature.



Finally it parted company from the finger and returned onto the ground but as I looked up and across the bridleway to some thistles I noticed a tiny brown butterfly feeding on a thistle flower. It was too small to be a Ringlet. It was a White letter Hairstreak! A good find and one that incurred an extra sense of pleasure as it was me that found it. 

White letter Hairstreak



There now followed a difficult time and a real dilemna as getting a picture of the hairstreak involved standing right on the edge of the bridleway but with the unusual hazard of a Purple Emperor fluttering around our feet and also providing tempting photo opportunities as it looked for the best place to feed. I got my pictures of the hairstreak but as I was just about to stand back to allow one of my new found colleagues to have his turn at the hairstreak I heard a voice say  'Don't step back whatever you do, it's right behind you on the ground. I froze. 'Move your right foot slowly'. I did as I was told and saw that between my feet an Emperor was feeding, as much oblivious to any danger, as I was to its presence. 


And so it went on. Sighting after sighting. Almost continuous for a time. It was both amazing and enthralling to have so many Purple Emperors coming and going. I estimated by now I had seen a minimum of ten and it was only mid  morning. Satisfied with my pictures I walked off on my own. wanting to explore further into the woods.



It was a pleasant and relaxing time wandering on my own along the sunlit rides, the warm breeze flowed through the trees and created a soothing, rustling, susurrus of gentle sound. Something for the soul, replenishing and reassuring. I turned another corner and there on the ground was yet another Emperor feeding from a muddy depression, its wings firmly closed. As the sun got progressively stronger and the air much, much warmer I noticed that the Emperors tended to keep their wings firmly shut when on the ground and it was difficult to get any images of them with their wings open let alone showing the purple iridescence. It hardly mattered though as I had already seen many Emperors in all attitudes during the preceding two and a half hours.


I slowly retraced my steps from this morning making the long walk back to the car through the thankfully shady and cool bowering of the Oaks. A lot more people had arrived by now responding to the reputation of this mecca for Purple Emperors and frankly for me some of the magic of the early morning's freshness and the serene calm of the woods had dissolved with the increased presence of people and a party of  not un-naturally  excitable children.

I walked back towards the car and a slightly ragged Emperor, as if to say goodbye, landed on a sunlit part of the bridleway just before I got to the car. It was that kind of a morning and I said a quiet thank you to 'BB' who  reintroduced this butterfly to these woods all those years ago and whose spirit surely walks these woods to this very day.


Friday, 15 July 2016

Bernwood Salvation 14th July 2016


I rolled over in bed and looked through the bedroom window at the outside world to find the sun was already shining, and heard on the radio it was predicted to shine all day. This, under normal circumstances should be a cause for celebration as finally the grey clouds were being banished. It was six thirty in the morning but something was wrong. Despite  the sun illuminating the room I was downcast, troubled in my mind and upset. Oh yes, I remember now. Last night I had to digest the news that a shameless liar, cheat and dissembler, a man who was sent by his own party leader some years ago to the City of Liverpool to publicly apologise for insulting Liverpool and its entire population, had been rewarded with one of the premier Offices of State in the British Government, namely Foreign Secretary. His name? Boris Johnson. A man who the French Foreign Minister has publicly called a liar and of whom Amber Rudd, a fellow Cabinet Minister in the new Government said she would not trust even to drive her home.

So much for Theresa May's pledge to make us one nation and as for the Government she is forming? Tories only know one thing. It certainly has the word 'one' in it but is preceded by the word 'number'. As shown by the odious Michael Gove they will do anything to further their own personal interests at the expense of anyone, even so called friends, who get in their way. Theresa May conveniently seems to have forgotten that in the referendum 48% of people voted to remain in the EC and the UK is more divided now than it has been for a very long time and is likely to fragment even further if Scotland leaves the UK in the near future. One nation? I do not think so. The Nasty party? May's very own words. Definitely

To appoint Johnson, an over indulged flaxen haired oaf who has and will continue to regularly cause offence at home and abroad, to represent this country is an embarrassment and an insult to anyone with any intelligence or sense of propriety. For all May's fine words I do not trust or believe anything she or any of her right wing cabal might say. Mind you it would help if we had an Opposition to the Tories in Parliament but Corbyn, the bearded scruff of high ideals but with little chance of putting them into practice seems intent on emasculating Labour to the point of implosion. I despair. I really do.

So I was not in a happy state of mind and looking at the sunlight reflecting from the ceiling just as I reflected on the sorry state that Britain has descended into I wanted to fly up into the light, away from the amoral void of disingenuous politicians, the endless false promises and personal insult of having to listen to these vile self important people.  The solution, although it would only provide temporary relief, lay, for me, in getting out of the house as soon as possible, away from the radio and heading once more for the calming, gentle atmosphere of Bernwood Forest and hopefully some close encounters with Purple Emperors to take my mind off all the things currently troubling me.

Chris (left) and Wayne (centre) enjoying a close encounter with His Excellency
I arrived at just before nine and met Chris, a casual acquaintance who travels here from Hertfordshire and who I meet annually at Bernwood every year, quite by chance, when we both come to look for Emperors. Wayne, one of 'the locals' from Oxfordshire also joined us. I find looking for rare butterflies a much more gentle exercise than going to see rare birds, the people you meet are less in number and the testosterone charged air of competitiveness is singularly lacking. This was exactly what I needed on today of all days. A few other people also turned up. Some I knew, others were strangers but we were all united in our desire to see a Purple Emperor. 


Like all our butterflies, Purple Emperors possess a long and romantic history in this country. The tales of those seeking out Emperors are almost legendary, such as the elderly entomologist who specialised in finding Emperor's eggs in their food tree, the Sallow and one day fell from one such tree looking for eggs and subsequently died of his injuries. Or what of those who concoct a foul smelling paste to smear on branches to attract the Emperor or lurk by dog faeces knowing the Emperor's unsavoury habits and delight in feeding on the most unappetising of substances.

The first specimen of this butterfly ever recorded was called Mr Dale's Purple, as it was part of a collection owned by a Mr Dale in 1704. Subsequently the name changed to The Purple High Flyer or Emperor of the Woods before finally settling on Purple Emperor in 1766. Other names that have come and gone are Purple Shades, Iris, after its Latin name Apatura iris, just plain Emperor 
and His Imperial Majesty, this latter often shortened to the acronym H.I.M. and still fondly used by Emperor enthusiasts today to convey the reverence in which this butterfly is held. 

Dennis Watkins-Pitchford, well known as the author of a series of exemplary nature books and writing under the pseudonym 'BB', always called them Iris and quotes another name in his book, The Sultan of Morocco.  Incidentally 'BB' was responsible for re-introducing this butterfly's eggs to Fermyn Forest in Northamptonshire which is now probably the best site in Britain to go and see Purple Emperors on the wing. You can read about BB's experiences with Purple Emperors in the first two chapters of one of his books, Ramblings of a Sportsman-Naturalist, in which he evocatively takes you back to what seems a lost time of simple pleasures, as his acclaimed writing conveys the excitement and thrill of finding and studying Emperors.



We waited quietly in the small, sun warmed and dusty car park at Bernwood, surrounded by ancient Oaks as the strengthening sun began stimulating butterflies to become active. Fast flying Silver washed Fritillaries, striped and spotted black on orange, came to energetically feed on the bramble flowers, a White Admiral did a passing impression of a Purple Emperor, gliding low with flicking wings across the car park before settling on a sunlit hazel leaf and pale grey Purple Hairstreaks flickered from oak leaf to oak leaf high in the trees above us.




Male Silver washed Fritillaries
We waited on and then came that magical moment when His Excellency descended from his leafy throne in great swooping curves, sailing on outspread wings of brown, white and purple, guided by alternate flicking and gliding to circle low and imperiously around the dusty ground of the car park until, upon finding a suitable source of nutrients in the sun baked ground, he settled and allowed us to cluster round like acolytes. 

It is only from certain angles and when the wings are open that the purple blue glory of colouring on the upperwings becomes apparent and it is one of the highlights of watching a male Emperor when the overall brown of the butterfly is magically transformed from the mundane to the sensational by a flash of  royal purple on one or both wings.







As usual everyone took many images with a variety of cameras or just watched the Emperor going about its brief existence as a flying insect. It was quite restless, moving position regularly but never leaving the confines of the car park. It examined the footwear of a couple of us before moving onto and landing on Chris's shoulder and even entered the open hatchback of one of the cars, investigating and searching the bags, for who knows what. All in all it was present for a delightful forty minutes before flying off and upwards to disappear into the Oaks.





His Excellency examining the contents of a hatchback
Another appeared in the car park towards the end of the first individual's stay and made a similar tour of the car park but quickly departed and indeed a third arrived a while after that or maybe it was one of the previous two returning. It was impossible to tell. The multiple sightings meant that this was a good day for Purple Emperors in Bernwood.

Their charisma, beauty and capacity to thrill and inspire had completely taken my mind away from the nightmare that is currently being enacted in my human world. Here the natural world was without guile and rancour and I was at peace.  

The main ride through Bernwood Forest
I spent all day in Bernwood Forest and the nearby Waterperry Wood, where I found another Emperor gliding around the top of a huge Oak tree, and returned home spiritually refreshed but physically tired. I slumped into a chair and searching for the cricket commentary turned on the news by mistake to learn...........

Angela Leadsom, who is pro badger culling and  fox hunting, does not believe in climate change and wants to sell off our forests, had been appointed Environment Secretary!

And then the news came from France and a huge sadness overwhelmed me that this world which is so beautiful in so many natural ways is still being consumed by evil, hate and violence............