The Cuckoo is slightly early this year; announcing his presence with a circuit of the village at 5.15 this morning. In the clear, slightly chilly morning air his call was clear and close – the closer they are, the more the syllables separate. His aerial tour continued to the river, calling all the way.
Brampton Spring: the arrival of the Cuckoo
Brampton Spring: Easter Sunday – departures and arrivals
The morning of Easter Sunday is clear and bright. The fresh southerly breeze of yesterday afternoon has delivered change. This morning Spring migrants have arrived. Only last Thursday the Winter Thrushes, Fieldfare and Redwings, were gathering on the freshly ploughed Church Field. By Good Friday they had left for the tundra.
This morning a single Swallow swooped around Fern Cottage, vibrant chattering call announcing its arrival. The garden near Pear Tree Pyghtle echoes to the persistent call of a Chiffchaff. A flock of Golden Plover drift around on the strong breeze directly over the village; their melodic, almost mournful, whistling calls gently shower down. The flock numbers forty or so, perhaps more. They stopover for a few days in Spring and Autumn – centring on the same fields and occasionally setting off on circular flights around the parish calling as they go. To me this is the real sign that Spring is here.
Brampton Spring: still waiting for the Cuckoo
In most years the Cuckoos arrive in the Bure valley on or around St George’s Day. This year is an exception. Even though the radio-tracked BTO Cuckoos are starting to reach the UK, we have yet to hear the first call of a Brampton Cuckoo. Even David Humphrey, who lives as close to the river meadows as anyone and is usually the first to notice, has not heard one yet. The winds have been slightly chill and northerly-ish, so this has probably had something to do with it. We keep waiting and listening.
Other summer migrants are settling in. A Blackcap has settled in the copse next to the cottage and announces his presence with his complex warbling song. The Chiffchaffs have been here for seemingly ages. A few Swallows hawk over the river as we walked past this evening. More surprisingly, as I walked down the road this lunch time a series of alarm calls from various small birds made me look up to see a Hobby sail over Street Farm. Spotting these little Falcons never ceases to cause that tingle of excitement – possibly because of the collective alarms calls which great their appearance. But once again this felt a little out of sequence – I usually expect to see them after the House Martins have arrived, assuming that they follow them northwards for the summer. But assumptions are so often wrong.
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.
The movement of birds in flocks is becoming more marked as we reach late October. The daily commute of Rooks and Jackdaws seem to fill the shorter daylight hours. Arrowing groups of Starlings head somewhere with purpose. Finches raid the bird table in noisy clusters. Golden Plover continue to stop over mid-migration. As we walk to the allotment on Sunday morning, a flock of a hundred or so circle overhead calling with a light whistling call which drifts on the breeze. The ocassional clear starlit night will assist their onward progress southwards.
Visitors from the Arctic tundra call in to Brampton
This morning a plaintive whistling drifted down from a hundred-strong flock of Golden Plover. They circled over the Town Field and banked towards their favoured ground. Each Autumn and Spring they call In for a brief respite on their migration from the Arctic tundra to their African wintering quarters. Always the same place. Nearly always at the same time. Their contact calls can be heard on clear starlit nights as they reconvene in ever larger flocks. A little piece of the wild north drifts through the village with a promise of cooling air.
Until this morning the dawn chorus came courtesy of resident songbirds. Until today the chorus has been delivered by the Blackbirds, Robins and Wrens. All of whom have hung about all Winter and have been defending their individual territories in song since February. But this morning a Summer visitor arrived and added to the soundscape. Admittedly not a great song, its monotonous Chiff-Chaff call does not conjure up the rapturous enjoyment that results from hearing a Nightingale, but it is an early Spring song with a flavour of Summer mixed in. Each year their arrival seems to coincide with the emergence of the first fresh green Hawthorn leaves, the Wild Daffodils and Primroses. The Chiff Chaff is a greenish, relatively nondescript member of the Warbler family. Now we wait for the related Warblers, the Blackcaps and Garden Warblers, both of which are more melodious songsters but not so early to arrive.
Calls from the north
The Brampton fields take on the soundscape of the tundra. The plaintive flight calls of the Golden Plover are detectable, often in the immediate post dawn light and at dusk. Their flights in loose v-formation circle, merge and demerge. In the morning the notes make a strange counterpoint with the early traffic. Each year they stop off at the same very localised group of arable fields. What attracts them is difficult to determine, but they punctuate the year with their visits at Spring and Autumn.
I count eighty eight House Martins and Swallows on the telephone lines near the Common. The gathering continues until, at some hidden signal, they will depart and leave us and take the summer with them. When that moment actually arrives is hard to spot, but by Sunday evening they have dispersed. The village really is on the cusp of the seasons this week. The convergence of the river, its valley, rail lines and roads seeming to combine to create a meeting place for the moving migrants. That evening we stumble across two Fallow Deer, not the usual Roe or Muntjac, both of whom were moving with intent – their own small scale migration in search of new territory.
The next morning the unmistakeable call of the Golden Plover drifts down as the first flock arrives at their favourite stopping off point on the way south from their tundra breeding grounds. As always they centre themselves on the same arable fields which must have become ingrained as the traditional rest on their long journey south. We hope to hear them during their night time flights as the moon becomes full late in September.
Change in the sky
This weekend the skies are emptier. The Swifts which, for the last four months have blazed around the cottage roofs, have headed south. Or so I assume. In the past, after seeming to have left they have reappeared for a final joyful circuit. Not this year. Although I expect to see some more birds as they pass through from more northerly summers.
In their place flocks of Jackdaws and Rooks roll around the country gleaning what they can from the newly harvested fields. Jackdaws always seem to me to be positive and high-spirited in their approach to life. Their calls ricochet around the village as they set of in the morning and later, once again as they return to roost.