• Broken silences

    At a certain point the balance tips. Early this morning, in spite of the dark and the persistent drizzly rain, a Song Thrush was singing in full voice. It is as if the bird’s determination to express itself would overcome any obstacle even the absence of light itself. To me this seems to show that that the territorial urge has become so strong that nothing will discourage it.

    Last night, as I was deep in a book, the dark and silence was broken by the unmistakeable whistling hum which comes from the wings of a Mute Swan in flight. Presumably disorientated by the lack of visibility, I can only hope that it found its way back to the river. Wildfowl do fly by night but in my experience this usually occurs on moonlit nights and not on nights of poor visibility such as last night. Perhaps this one was disturbed from it’s roost by a fox.

  • Caution Mermaid crossing

    After some dull February days it came as a relief this morning to feel that Spring is really happening. The intensity of bird song has increased – the Skylarks of the Town field were in full song and a bolshie Yellowhammer was re-establishing his ground on the railway line. The full throated calls of the Song Thrush, with it’s characteristic regular five repeats, rang out over the Common. There was even a sense that the sun may appear.

    Down at the Mermaid, river bank repairs are continuing. The sleeper wall which holds the river in place as it passes under the railway line has finally had to be replaced. There is some doubt as to how long the originals had been in place- the uprights had been pointed by hand and hammered in. I suppose it is possible that these could have been put in by the Victorians during the construction of the railway, but it would be interesting if anybody knows? It was with some relief that I learnt that the timbers which form the narrow crossing over this section are going back on.

  • late-night Owls

    Roz and Alex have jollied off to Norway for a Cathedral Choir tour. However, the fact that the coach was leaving Tombland at 3.00 in the morning was a bit daunting. All that struck me was that Brampton retains a far more pleasant atmosphere than the City centre has on a Friday night / Saturday morning. The wildlife in Brampton is a bit less wild as well.

    Numbers of Barn Owls are hunting within the parish. Their very presence is often more effective that a village sign in demonstrating that you are nearing home. Mr Crane’s new post and tape fencing has provided useful perches and on my way back from the city; at least two were adorned with owls as I drove home after the coach left. The Barn owls hissing screech is a regular night time sound. It seems to me that territories are being re-established. The Barn Owl population is certainly increasing and they seem so common now, a real contrast with the position ten years ago.

  • Dawn on a rainy saturday

    In the subdued pre-dawn light, the variety of bird song is gradually increasing. The robins, now well established, defend their bubbles of territory. In the rain a Song Thrush adds to the mix, perhaps for the first time this year, but then stops.

    The Blackbirds seem even less sure of themselves. Contact and alarm calls are the norm, as males seek to carve out an area of garden as their own. Any song, if it ever gets going, is fleeting and unsure. In the undergrowth the Dunnocks shout briefly and move on; their song does not really develop any further and reminds me of the sounds from a toddler’s game of hide and seek.

    One notable addition is the song of the Great Tit, only really two notes, but strident, clear and as much a sign of spring as a Song Thrush. It is of limited musical quality and is known to us as “the squeaky wheel-barrow bird”, which just about sums it up.

  • Waiting for Spring in February

    Strong warm westerly winds bring about changes. Although a few stragglers may remain, it seems that the majority of the winter thrushes (Redwings and Fieldfares) have move back towards their summer quarters. I assume that they are in transit to Scandinavia assisted by a strong tail wind.

    The resident thrushes which remain have yet to settle into their breeding territories. I listen out for the first sign – usually a Mistle Thrush adopts the height of dead Elm near Street Farm as the venue for the early spring song. So far it has not arrived, but it cannot be long. The Mistle Thrush has a strong fluting song for which seems to select the windiest days – perhaps is a week or twos time.

    The large flocks of finches appear to have broken up. So much of the anticipation of Spring is derived from what is no longer happening. As I always remember, at migration time it is much easier to spot the first arrival than it is to record the last time you saw one.

  • Benefits of a north-east wind

    So, a nor-easterly wind brings with it a return of the dry cold that had temporarily moved away. This wind seems to cause more grumblings than any other prevailing direction. But in Brampton there are hidden benefits. Not only a crystal clear night sky but the return of that very rare commodity, silence.

    Real silence is rarely encountered in Norfolk. There may be times in the depths of Thetford Forest . or as I found recently, in the late evening inside Norwich Cathedral, but in truth the all-pervading background hum of traffic or aircraft is always there. Or so it seems.

    In Brampton the background hum of traffic sneaks over the railway line and invades the village form the south and west. The sound of tyres on the Aylsham bypass itself appears to get louder every year. But give us a good settled north- east airstream from the coast and we seem to get close to silence or at least to a human scale.

    This morning the railway cutting was wreathed in silence. The shuffling of a rabbit broke the atmosphere, as did the flap of a Jay’s wings. Silence allows such concentration. The last shoot of the season brought a refreshing human scale to the sound-scape; calls and shouts and the barks of gundogs drifted on the breeze in much the same way as the noise of field workers must have done when the village was their world.

  • Robin count

    At daybreak this morning the weather was dull and a shower of cold rain made it feel damper than ever.

    Whilst taking the dogs for their morning stroll I counted, in a totally unscientific way, the number of singing Robins within the southern part of the village. This part of the village extends to roughly fifteen houses. I reached a total of seven singing Robin’s within the 75 yard stretch from home to the railway line. This may not on the face of it seem a remarkable number, but no other species sang in these unsuitable weather conditions.

    As I walked further on the railway line I only added two more to my tally in a half mile. I have no clearer evidence for the benefit of gardens in rural areas. More fences, hedges and boundaries means more Robins; it is unscientifically proven…

  • Waiting for Spring

    Around dawn this morning dawn, the planet Venus outshone the Moon in the southern sky over Brampton. The skies clouded over rapidly from the west ruining the spectacle.

    Rooks set out in a straggling flock from Oxnead, the attendant jackdaws seeming to burst with their usual excessive playfulness and noise. On the railway line Blackbirds loiter, not quite sure if spring is approaching. There is no song from them – only the Robins have the metal to start what they have finished and their challenging song continues.

    In the cutting a small resident flock of Bullfinches communicate with wistful low calls. They congregate around the thorns waiting for succulent buds to form.

  • Return of birdsong

    If it were possible to pinpoint the time and date that the birds start singing again, then I would say it was last Thursday morning (13th). On looking into the sodden garden before dawn I heard a Robin in full song and again when I parked my car in the centre of Norwich.

    I suspect that in reality, bird song does not suddenly start but that after a period of rehearsal or sub-song, it gradually drifts into the real thing. Robins are notoriously territorial and it should come as no surprise that these street fighters are the first to shout.

    There is a lifting of spirits which happens when hearing early Spring birdsong that very few other events can match. Music can create a similar feeling but I think it is the spontaneity of bird song which marks it out – bird song at this time of year creates such a contrast with the sheer dull dampness of January.

    A couple of Sundays ago a similar thought occurred to me as two large skeins of Pink Footed Geese treated us to a mid-morning fly past. I looked up from my desk and threw open the roof-light to hear their wild hound like calls.

  • January

    Clear skies and a starlit night are followed by four degrees of frost. The Bure has returned to a reasonable flow after being starved of supply during the cold snap.

    A morning stroll by the river merely serves to emphasise the flocking behaviour of birds at this time of year. Virtually everything we see is clustered in a flock; Woodpigeon, gulls, Starling, Jackdaws and Mallard. Small flights of Teal circle nervously and head off for quieter areas. The only exception being a solitary Great Crested Grebe which was fishing near Burgh Mill; a Grebe in it’s dowdy Winter garb – just passing through. I am happy to note the lack of Cormorants today – in my view an unwelcome guest in the area – their fishing puts such pressure on stocks.

    Neil talks of Otter sightings. The signs are there, fishy spraint and what I like to imagine are mud slides into the river, but once again the short day length cuts down the chances of a proper sighting. Clumps of Blackthorn near the river provide ideal cover.

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