Every year I eagerly await the arrival of Swifts. Brampton is home to a declining number, presumably due to the loss of nest sites as buildings are being re-roofed and closed off. This morning two pairs screamed their way around the roof tops of the village. Reports of their arrival elsewhere in Norfolk was causing a degree of anxiety about a Brampton no-show. But they have got here. It is likely that the showery weather has pushed the insects down to lower levels, thus bringing the Swifts with them. As the poet Ted Hughes put it, the Swifts circle madly “Racing their discords, screaming as if speed-burned..” As if to announce their ownership of the air space around the eves.
At last a Cuckoo has arrived in the village. It is the morning of the 27th April, during a fine morning interrupted by early showers, it’s call drifts over the long meadow. The Bure is mirror-like. The Hawthorns are a fresh emergent green, the blackthorns in flower. Oak leaves are emerging and the grass is, at last, showing some good growth. The Cuckoo perches at the top of an a Hawthorn, with wings drooped down and head jutting it projects a call which changes subtly depending upon the distance of the listener. We first hear the whoop-woo from just a quarter of a mile
The Fieldfares and some other winter visitors have left. Winter migrants are clearly moving north as Spring advances upon them. Only yesterday, as we left the hospital at the end of evening visiting, the gentle flight call notes of swans drifted down. It was, for once a clear starlit night and we watched a formation of nine Bewick’s Swans as they passed serenely in line-astern overhead. Their whiteness somewhat colour-washed by the light pollution from the east of the city. Their calls contrasting with the monotonous hum of the city. They were heading intently north eastwards, responding to the call of the Russian tundra.
Chill February wind – Winter prepares to leave
Sunday morning and a chill westerly wind cast a thin veil of ice on the puddles. After yesterday’s glimpses of sunshine the weather had reverted back to a gloomy chill-ridden morning. On the stubble field, alongside the railway line, a large flock of Fieldfares – perhaps a hundred strong – fled at our approach. Flying low and for a short distance they kept a respectable distance from us. Their ‘chuck-chuck’ calls revealing their nervousness. I wondered whether the flock size was a pre-migration gathering, but their leaving is probably some time off yet.
The wind whipped along the river Mermaid. A few Woodpigeon, curved their aerial path against the breeze. A Buzzard set its wings and soared just above tree height; a relaxed but string-less kite. Its rich rufous plumagewas illuminated in the thin morning light. After a short while, with a barely perceptible adjustment it alighted in the old ash tree. A Magpie landed nearby a mobbed the Buzzard from a branch a few yards away. Further on, another flock, this time Redwings, fled at our passing. The Winter, we feel, is slipping away.
A small white heron is a regular winter visitor to Brampton’s grazing meadows. The Little Egret used to be relatively uncommon in Norfolk and it’s visits in the 1960’s caused excitement in the bird watching fraternity. Now it seems to have suffer the curse of the commonplace – it is no longer rare enough to create the same level of excitement. However, it is a welcome guest to the water meadows here. It’s white plumage standing out in the Wintery greys and greens of the Meadows along the Mermaid river. The Egret’s yellow feet contrast strongly with it’s mainly black legs. It can be seen resting in a tall Ash tree or stealthily fishing in the river margins. Occasionally a second Egret appears on the scene. This usually signals the coming of Spring and the time to move back to the coast, perhaps to the breeding colony at Holkham.
Overnight, hail hit the roof lights like shrapnel. Squalls scudded through the village, driven by a sharp northern wind. Before dawn, at one minute Jupiter glistened in a crystal clear sky, the next another hail-laden cloud rushed in.
Later in the morning, winter visitors in the form of Fieldfares, have arrived in the old Elm hedge. Woodpigeons are battered by the wind and surf ahead of the breeze. The coloured leaves of Ash and Field Maple have been scattered and Hawthorn lay in yellow pools around their mother plant. This is Autumn with a barely concealed shard of Winter.
A quiet morning in the village. Hardly a breath of wind and an overcast sky – calm and more settled weather as predicted by yesterday’s fiery sunset. As we walk back to the cottage, a flight of 25 Golden Plover sail overhead in formation, their gentle whistling call drifting down. These Plovers are regular visitors en route during their spring and autumn migrations. They always seem to choose the same fields on which inch to congregate, presumably for the safety derived from their relative height, size and aspect. Their numbers fluctuate as parties arrive and leave but their collective visit extends to weeks rather than days. On many occasions, as I lay in bed during a clear moonlit night, their whistling calls remind me of the tundra and their northern origins
May day Swifts
As May day draws to a close, a familiar sight returns to the skies over the village. The bow shape and screaming call signals the return of Swifts. Their visit is all too short, but this year they appear to have beaten the cuckoos to their summer grounds. At least I think these are Brampton Swifts – they are also possibly in passage to more northerly climes. But for the time being at least, they are signs of the imminence of summer and Brampton Swifts they must be.
First Swallows arrive
This morning, before the rains returned, two Swallows swooped and turned over the grazing meadows. I wondered whether they felt that they had arrived too
early as the weather turned to rain. The last swallows that I had seen were the late leaving laggards of last autumn, but the spring arrivals in north-west Spain. They flew around in the warmth of a Barcelona evening amongst the Parakeets and Spotless Starlings of the Parc de la Cuitadella; the wet northern spring must come as quite a shock.
Autumn sets in on the Common
This morning a walk along the Bure revealed how the damp autumnal season has settled in. A pair of Wigeon spring from the river at our approach. A duck more commonly seen on the large grazing marshes of the north Norfolk coast or the Yare valley, they had clearly found the Bure to be an attractive point to pause. Until we came along.
On the Common the cattle continue to graze for the last few days before they come off for the winter. They will soon be heading for the warmth of their winter housing. In the mean time they are doing a fine job of tidying up the last of the seasons grass.
The better the finish this season, the better the pasture will be in 2012. Along the margins there are numbers of Snipe – the small brown wader shoots off in a jinking flight with a rasping and repeating “scarp” call.
Loose flocks of Redwings skip from one thicket of berry-bearing thorns to the next. Their weedy ‘tseep’ call giving away their presence.