It was almost the last weekend of the summer – August 25th. The Swifts were long gone and family groups of Swallows were feeding low over long meadow. The next day they had left for the south.
Just as I walked down the old track from Brampton to Oxnead, I spotted the unmistakeable profile of a falcon just over Keeper’s Wood. Its flight was erratic. Just at treetop height, interspersed with rapid spiraling changes of direction. I had seen this before – a Hobby hunting for dragonflies. With ease and grace it flew west to east along the spine of the wood and back again before disappearing from site towards the Ash Plantation. The whole show lasting no more than a couple of minutes.
Later that day, whilst walking along the railway line and admiring the sunset, a dragonfly – a Southern Hawker, I think – was diligently hunting midges and other small flying insects. Its flight path formed a triangular pattern, broken only by rapid spiralling changes of direction as it homed in on its prey. The similarity with that of the falcon, the next step up the food chain, was remarkable.
At the end of a hot July day, we sit outside with glasses in hand. To sit and watch the night fall is a simple pleasure, but one of which we never tire.
A Barn Owl which skims the roof and garden trees, is intent on hunting – its call breaks the falling silence. Bats appear. Pipistrelles and, we assume, Long-Eared Bats. Each following a circuit of widening spirals. An ultrasound bat-detector helps us follow their course – their call speeding up as they home-in on an insect.
The moon, not yet full but waxing and large in the southern sky, sails in solitary splendour over the ash trees which edge the old rail line. Minute by minute stars start to appear. We check their names and constellations. Vega seems to be the first, balanced at the head of Lyra. Then all of sudden, many more follow. Just before ten o’clock a bright spot arcing past the Moon turns out to be the International Space Station on it’s first visible pass of the night.
Our attention turns to the satellites, a man-made intrusion in to the natural view, but wonderful for all of that. Their names create their own poetry – SEASAT, ERBS, Integral, Genesis II.
On a more earthly theme, toads shuffle around the flower pots.
Swifts, those short-term summer visitors, from their screaming party over the Brampton rooftops. Eight..ten birds, they move so fast and change acrobatic so quickly that it is hard to keep track. I make a mental note to create some nest boxes for next year’s visit – every roof-improvement, each addition of roof insulation in the cottages serving to remove another traditional nest site. For the village not to host these visitors would be sad indeed.
The combination of speed, grace and agility make any glimpse of this
small falcon an exhilarating one. Hobbys are summer visitors to the
parish. Every year, when I see one, I tend to get over-excited about it.
For obvious reasons small birds, their prey species, would not agree. This
wariness manifests itself in the almost perceptible electric tension in the air as the
Hobby appears – bird song stops and are replaced by their alarm calls as they
dive for cover. This morning’s target – a Meadow Pipit on the Common
– was lucky, quickly diving for cover and safety.
After what seemed like a very long wait, the Cuckoo has arrived in the valley. Announcing its arrival with a rapid succession of calls at 4.50am from a perch on a tree somewhere along the Bure.
For many years the Cuckoo has arrived in the last week in April. The delay this year due to the cold spring that we have had. Last year it was not heard until 25th May, so we could count this one at least as “earlier than last year”. The British Trust for Ornithology tracks transmitter tagged Cuckoos every year, these can be seen via the following weblink; https://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking
The churchyard is filling with Snowdrops. Aconites and a few Daffodils. All flowering under a bright, clear sky. The easterly breeze reminds me that we have probably not seen the last of Winter, but Spring cannot be far off.
On a stag-headed Oak at Brampton Hall a male Great Spotted Woodpecker drums against a hollow branch, each salvo declaring his territorial rights in preparation for the breeding season. Further south, perched high on a favourite Railway embankment Ash tree, a Song Thrush is singing for much of the day. Each short phrase repeated four or five times carries through the cold air. Although in the garden a Scandinavian Brambling forages amongst the Chaffinches to build up reserves for the northern Spring. At night Muntjac Deer wander, hardly noticed, around the village houses and gardens.
Brampton’s hedges and lanes are clear of litter in time for the Spring again. Thanks to all the volunteers for their efforts – some particularly notable ones including Richard Berry’s monster haul of Fosters Lager cans, as well as enough car bumpers and trim to rebuild a car. We were blessed with fine weather, which went some way towards making this, sadly necessary, task more bearable.
Equipment at the ready (thanks to Broadland DC for the loan)
A selection of the volunteer litter picker army.
The Brampton Litter Pick is set for the morning of Saturday 17th February 2018. If you can spare an hour and a half to help then please let Mark Little know (or send a message via this the Village Website). We will meet at the village hall at 11.00am. Broadland District Council have kindly lent us some litter pickers. Be prepared for rain just in case, but the sun usually shines on us, so here’s hoping!
Thankfully the sight of a Kingfisher is not a rare event along this stretch of the Bure. But, even by our normal standards this year has been a particularly rich one. The Mill pair successfully raised a large brood and, during our Summer morning walks, we followed their fishing and feeding flights as they worked to raise them. On one notable morning and somewhat unusually, I even stumbled across two of them perched on the ground on the edge of the mill pool.
But, as I write, in early December, the position is somewhat different. Numbers have thinned out. The young had dispersed in the Summer and the fewer permanent residents have re-secured their territories. Most of the trees have lost their leaves and the light has taken on that washed-out Winter quality. As a result the electric blues and greens of the Kingfisher stand out almost shockingly, or they did on Saturday as we watched a single bird work the ditch. This bird was either oblivious of us or was happy to go about his fishing whilst we watched. I realized that I was holding my breath as I watched – the bird’s head turned towards the surface of the water, gently moving left and right before it sprang downwards out of sight before returning to the same perch. Time and again. Gradually working its way along the drain, the colours glowing in the weak morning sunlight.
So far a dry and mild Autumn in the village has meant that most of the trees have retained their leaves. The Field Maple leaves started to turn yellow in mid October but most have yet to fall. The Poplars, which never do things by halves, have dropped all but a few isolated leaves and as a result Keeper’s Wood has taken on it’s Winter profile.
I hear the weak call of the Redwing, but as yet have not actually spotted any of the Winter visiting thrushes. A Common Sandpiper has joined the resident Egret at the Mill Pool. The Kingfisher can still be heard but the many young raised during this bountiful year have mostly dispersed. The occasional Cormornt passes through and I hope that it has a taste for Signal Crayfish rather than for our already depleted Bure fish stocks.
The Roe Deer have gathered into small family groups. Their coats taking on their tawny Autumn colour, rather than that glowing orange-red of Summer, as they prepare for the colder season. The Muntjac galumph about in pairs – seemingly without fear they focus on the gardens and the allotment.