It is late May and the Long Meadow is looking at its best. Fresh greens of the trees, bushes and grass contrast with the rich yellow of the Buttercups on the banks of the River Mermaid.
Buttercup strewn meadows
Brampton Spring, or is it Summer: in the garden
The Anglo-Saxons, who felt the changing year more keenly than we do, referred to 9th May as the beginning of Summer. (For a more expert view I recommend the blog A Clerk of Oxford http://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/summer-sun-brightest-anglo-saxon-summer.html ). So often I find myself agreeing with the Anglo-Saxon view. Rogationtide, that three day run up to Ascension Day, starts tomorrow and fits neatly into the turning of the seasonal calendar.
I am sitting in the garden as I write. From time to time a shower of Cherry blossom drifts down – not caused by “rough winds” but by a gentle breeze that stirs the top branches, before dying down again. A Blackbird sings from a nearby fir, a Blackcap from the copse, Swifts scream whilst twisting and turning overhead. The strong insistent song of a Wren bursts out just before it dives into its nest, tucked in the porch rafters. Rather worryingly for the garden, Woodpigeons have taken up residence within striking distance of the young Sweet Peas. But their mellifluous repetitive song just adds to the meditative atmosphere of the garden.
The Cuckoo has been silent in the valley for three days since announcing its arrival last Thursday. I have noticed this before – a settling in period, before the period of persistent song arrives in earnest. When they do get going Cuckoos travel up and down the river valley and I have been lucky enough to see their nuptial flight (or their territorial battle, depending upon your interpretation), more than once at this time of the year.
Brampton Spring: good news from 7th May
May 7th, the parish Hawthorns are flowering and, as we walk to the Village Hall Polling station, a Cuckoo calls from David’s marsh. The Cuckoo is somewhat later than last year – obviously waiting on a favourable wind and warmer weather.
As we left the Hall, other summer visitors, a group of Swifts, screamed as they wheeled over the village street. This was the first real sighting of these much awaited visitors, although I could have sworn that I heard one on Sunday 3rd May.
Brampton Spring: the first of the Swallows
One warm blast if southerly air – a so called Spanish Plume – and the summer visitors start to arrive. On Saturday morning (11th April) a single Swallow hawked and chattered its way around the Long Meadow, along the River Mermaid and the barn roofs of Brampton Hall. This evening (Tuesday) a Blackcap sang from deep within the Blackthorn bank thus adding a bit of variety in song to its Warbler relative, the Chiffchaff, which was an earlier arrival.
Brampton Spring: Owls on Maundy Thursday
On the evening of Maundy Thursday Oxnead was quiet. It was bright and slightly chilly Spring evening. A single Roedeer nibbled at growing reed tips on the Drying Ground. This area is part of the Common which was, at one time strung with lines for drying washing and now colonised by reeds, Flag Irises and willow. A little corner that had been ignored by the drainage contractors.
A few steps further and we watched a very white Barn Owl slowly survey the ditches as she quartered the ground. The river was reflective and slow flowing. Disturbed only by a territorial Mute Swan – perhaps defending a hidden nest nearby. A second hunting Barn Owl, this time a dusky fawn colouration, watched us as we passed from a fence-post perch.
There is a small footbridge over the little River Mermaid where is joins the Bure. It is a good place to stop and to appreciate the silence of the Bure and the grazing marshes. As we watched some duck winnowed in and a solitary Snipe called as it purposefully made its way somewhere or other. Then the pace changed. As if rowing through the air, a Short Eared Owl appeared. A faster and more effortless flight than that of Barn Owl. Its long wings alternately fixed in a short glide, then swimming through the air, as is flew in wide arcs over the marsh. Flying at around six feet off the ground and occasionally braking, twisting and pouncing in a shallow cork screw when something caught its eye. As it passed us we caught a glimpse of those intent yellowy-orange eyes set in a flat facial disc. It was aware of our presence but carried on hunting. Presumably refuelling en route to the moor or tundra breeding ground.
We returned home exhilarated by the sighting.
Brampton Spring: the Mistle Thrush
For me, the song of few birds symbolise the end of Winter and the impending arrival of Spring more than that of the Mistle Thrush. This morning the village was engulfed in that wild, wind blown song. The singer was perched high in the old Ash. The song seemed designed to float and carry on the breeze – a breeze which still carried the edge of Winter on it. As we approached the Thrush moved to one of the hill Oaks, his song did not pause but gathered in intensity as he settled on the utmost stag-headed branch. Around the base of the tree the Daffodil buds seemed to be on the verge of opening – drawn out by the Thrush’s call.
Brampton Spring: March dawn chorus
The dawn chorus is in its early incarnation. Not yet bolstered by the arrival of summer migrants, it consist mainly of Robins, Blackbirds and a Woodpigeon backing group. Occasionally the sporadic, short and loud bursts of a Wren joins in. It is not yet properly light. Minutes later some more Blackbirds start their song and the chorus take on the air of a singing contest. A fluting call from the Old Post Office garden; an answer from the copse; an interloper from the railway line – a circle of debate and challenge reaches a pitch and then dies away. The Robins open up again. Short songs and a deliberate pause to listen for challenges, a resumption and then silence. A repeated pattern until the business of the day has to begin.
Litter pick 2015
Believe it or not there are grot-spots in Brampton. One of them is roughly a hamburger’s distance from the nearest burger shop, on the Norwich ring road. Journey time to here is enough to chew through a burger and to guzzle your drink before you drive through the parish. At this point it is common practice to toss all the empty containers out of the window. This is how grot-spots grow. Or so it seems.
It is a great relief that so many villagers are willing to give up their time during a chilly early Spring morning in order to restore some semblance of order to the pIarish highways and byways. This year twenty people turned out to do just that. An hour or so’s work, walking all the routes, generated eleven bin bags of rubbish. Very little seemed to be accidental rubbish, the sort of stuff that “blew out of the window” of that which failed to make it from the bin to the bin lorry, it generally the wrappers of the last meal. Although, bizarrely, the discarded pair of rubber gloves which individually were found under bridges which were a quarter a mile apart were a bit worrying. As were the aluminium road signs which were dumped in the hedge by the Council contractors, of all people. And the lunch bottles and containers that were thrown over the bridge parapet by some driver based at Brampton Hall – obviously in the knowledge that some one else would clear them up. That’s alright then.
Anyway. Rant over. The parish is tidier than it was. For the time being at least. Thanks to everyone who gave up their time and let’s hope that next year we find less than the eleven bags of rubbish!