Bat detecting is addictive. A warmish evening spent at Oxnead Bridge reveals the usual Pipistrelles but it is the river bat that we went to find. These bats, more properly known at the Daubenton’s Bat, hunt low over the surface of the river, sometimes seeming to touch the surface or scoop it’s prey. A whirring flight at a constant height low over the river surface is characteristic – this evening the run was between the Bridge and the next corner upstream. It was active just after dusk and the best view was from the base of the bridge on the Brampton side. We walked home in the gathering dark and reluctantly left the sounds (and the ravenous midges) behind us.
Autumn & the water bats
At first it appeared to be an optical illusion; an overly large bird perched on a scrap of hedge near the Buxton cross roads. But at second glance it was clearly a Buzzard.
The river valley and it’s immediate surroundings are the preferred habitat to a wide range of birds of prey. Barn Owls, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks have been around in numbers for some years now, the Hobby is locally present as I have mentioned before. Now the site Buzzard has become a regular occurrence – but their large size is always a surprise.
Buzzards are seen in the wider vicinity and are known to breed in neighbouring parishes. They used to be unusual but are now commonly sighted – over the summer they soar as family groups over the road towards Aylsham. I regularly see them soaring above the Cromer Road as I head up to Roughton.
In nearby woods, the winter roosts of Rook and Jackdaw have started to build up. On
Sunday we watched the aerial display of 500 or so of both species as they wheeled, called and wheeled again above wood. Their display is a mixture of indecision and bravado; you could even say there was just plain enjoyment in their formation flying.
The Jackdaws are the most nimble – they are the sportiest fliers of the crow family (although the Chough, a cliff dwelling crow from the western cliffs runs them very close in this). Without a discernible signal between them, they rise and fall as one calling onstantly as they go. After ten minutes or more of a roller-coastering flight, a roosting site is chosen and the flock pours like liquid into the wood. The Rooks are slower in flight, but till the collective display is practiced until the declining light forces them to land.
The Roebuck burst out of the Blackthorn hedge. It seemed that his nerve had failed him as we passed by – perhaps the whippet’s scent had been the trigger. He made his way with some speed towards the main road and then turned east and crossed the field, carefully negotiating the potato ridges until he reached the stubble. At this point he looked indignantly back at us before cantering slowly towards the eastern hedge. After waiting for
a car or two to pass he pushed his way through a gap and disappeared from view into the beet field.
A few evenings ago as we walked the dogs, two deer were to be seen silhouetted against the evening afterglow on the field behind the Rectory. I suppose that this buck was one of them. He had planned to pass the day secure in the wide hedge bottom, that is until we blundered along and spoilt his plan.
Deer in September
The twins look perfectly matched. I have not yet established whether they are both female fauns and one of each. All that can be said is that they look similar enough to convince me that the Roe doe, which appears with them so often near Keeper’s Wood, was the mother of both and was not acting as nursemaid to a crèche.
The flush of grass in late august and into this month has kept them out in the open – particularly in the early morning and into dusk. They look healthy and are clearly growing rapidly. The whole group is stacking on condition for the coming winter whilst the grass has some nutritive value.
The bucks are keeping their distance, from the doe and from each other. But they are within sight of each other in a loose knit group. The wound which was so apparent on the left hind quarter of the older buck has healed leaving the ghost of a scar – or I at least imagine that the hair has grown back leaving a sign of his earlier battle.
Start of autumn
As we have slipped seamlessly into autumn the weather should improve. House Martins and Swallows gather in small flock by the river. It is early yet, but it is probably that small parties are heading south for the winter. There is anticipation of movement and migration in the air. As I walked out with the whippets this morning a group of Golden Plover flew over, their whistling call gently descending. Are these early winter arrivals or, more likely, movements between UK sites?
It is the time to keep an eye open for migrating birds of prey. Anything can turn up over the next two months. The Hobby will follow the Swallows. Buzzards will ride the thermals and Ospreys may call in to the Broads in late September.
The Roe group are fit and well – the doe and the two well grown fawns quietly graze on the fallow near the Belt Wood at first light on All Hallows day. The bulkier of the two fawns is clearly a male and this is shown in the way he moves – the youngster has presence.
Watching deer really extends your knowledge of descriptive terms. These is the case for any creature which is a quarry species such as deer, or are used in hunting as with falconry.
Their coats or pelage clearly show a dark chocolate strip along the top of their backs grading down to a rich tawny brown along their flanks. The underside of their lower jaw or the gorget is picked out with two white marks.. The white rumps which are very marked and seem to act as the group’s visual signal to each other are, rather depressingly, known as the target.
Scandinavians are back
Winter visitors continue to arrive. This, the first week of October has seen the arrival of the Redwings – that small thrush which spends it’s summers in Scandinavia and it’s winters in the UK.
At first they are extremely shy. Their insipid high pitched “sip” call and a retreating shadow is often all you see as you walk along the Bure Valley railway line. When they have gorged themselves on the rich berry harvest for a few days, they seem to relax and gain confidence and become less wary.
Another elusive Winter visitor is the Golden Plover. Brampton is a temporary home to large flock in October and again in the Spring.
I have always assumed that this is a Plover staging post whilst they on their way south and back again; always the same fields. The give away is the whistling tuneful call – they are known locally as the Whistling Plover. They fly at a reasonable height in small groups and call to one another as they go. They are still moving around when it is dark and this is often the first sign that one catches. My first of the Autumn was early on Sunday morning, a little after 6 a.m – a plaintive but tuneful note.
At this time of year the key to watching wildlife is to look up and scan the skies. The summer visitors have gone and it is arrival time for the winter migrants. I think it is Brampton’s proximity to the River Bure that puts it in the flight path for migrating birds.
It is Michaelmas and Wednesday morning bought the first skein of wild geese over the village – or at least the first one that I have spotted so far. Geese fly in the characteristic V-formation skein and this one was heading north for some reason, presumably in search of freshly harvested sugar beet fields. The skein itself was tightly formed by roughly 40 geese, although jostling for position at the back had led to the start of a “W”, albeit temporarily. It was the calls of the geese that grabbed the attention, a very musical yelping like a pack of hounds out for a morning run. You can hear why they are referred to as Gabriel’s Hounds in some parts of England.
The Brampton skein sounded like to me like Pink Footed Geese, which is a species which spends its winters in North Norfolk, but Grey Geese are easily confused and they may have been some of the Bean Geese which winter in the Yare Valley. I will concentrate more next time.