After at least ten weeks of permanent flight Swifts are inspecting possible nest sites in the roofs of Brampton cottages. As Fiona quietly weeded her garden below, I watched one such Swift execute a deeply curled spiralling approach which ended in a small up-tick as it folded its wings and grasped some little purchase against the tile on the eaves of Trinity Cottage. It must be something like trying to park a car in a garage after approaching at 100 miles per hour, after spending months on the motorway. It only feels like Summer as the groups of Swifts race around the houses, with their high pitched screaming which seems to be borne out of pure exhilaration.
On an Otter’s trail
There is a distinct pattern of bubbles that mark the trail of a submerged Otter. They burst at the waters surface and mark the route of an agile mammal moving at some speed. This evenings were typical; swimming at what must have been no more than say a foot’s depth, where the River Mermaid joins the Bure, the line of bubbles was a like row of silver coins – each a few inches apart in a curving trail under the footbridge. The Otter kept submerged until the safety of the overhanging willow where it invisibly surfaced before diving to the sanctuary of the deeper waters of the Bure. We waited to see if would return, perhaps racked with the supposed curiosity of mammals of this type, but it had obviously seen enough of us and had retired out if sight.
At last the Brampton Cuckoo has put in an appearance. On Tuesday night, on the Karnser, it called from a low perch, with that call that is more of a “whoop-you” than a Cuckoo. It is noticeable that the calls of birds which have evolved for transmitting over large distances so often seem distorted when heard from close by. This one flew with that weak falcon shaped silhouette eastwards along the marsh hedge, it’s grey plumage and paler undersides showing clearly in the light of the setting sun. Jenny tells me that she heard it call on Sunday evening, in which case it beat the BTO monitored Cuckoos back to the UK, but for my own record the 2nd May must the date in the book – the latest over the last few years.
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.
Waiting for the Cuckoo 2
Still yet, neither sight nor sound of a Cuckoo in the village; over the years they have arrived at any time between 20th April and the 1st May. Indeed in 2011 they were not in evidence until the latter date. According to the BTO the most northerly of the satellite-monitored Norfolk Cuckoos was recorded on Friday evening as being hunkered down somewhere just south of Paris and east of Orleans near the village of Chatillon-Coligny. No surprise that the NE winds have slowed its progress. The next signal transmission is expected on Monday morning, by which time it may be back in the Yare Valley in Norfolk. One thing we do know is that when it arrives it will be confronted by a very wet landscape, yesterday’s rain took us to a monthly total of 4 inches, over 200% of the monthly average for April. Other parts of Norfolk have had even more.
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.
Waiting for the Cuckoo
The Cuckoos are on their way here. In the next few days someone in the valley should hear their first call. They need a steady southerly wind to ease the trip and the current south-easterlies are probably not quite enough. Some idea of their journey can be gauged by following this link to the British Trust for Ornithology’s satellite tracking of Norfolk Cuckoos http: //www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking It will be interesting to see how they and the start of the local calls coincide.
The grass on the fallow land is becoming more palatable. The evidence was the presence of a young Roebuck on Mr Crane’s land. The railway line lay between the buck and home. As he caught sight of me, he took to his heels in a wide arc around the field, I stood and waited. Perhaps he would clear the railway fence in a fine arching leap? But no as he approached the fence he gingerly explored up and down until, on finding a slack section of fence he carefully negotiated his way through and slipped back towards Keeper’s Wood.
It was the alarm call of a Partridge that drew my attention. Although as a game species they are prone to raising such alarms, this one was clearly serious. It was flying arrow straight, wings whirring and at about 10 ft in altitude over the Town Field. Slightly above and behind the Partridge was the cause of the furore, a large female Sparrowhawk. The Sparrowhawk was intent on it’s prey and it initially failed to notice that it was itself being pursued by a Carrion Crow. But when it did it veered and climbed leaving the Partridge to fight for another day. Small dramas on a quiet spring morning.
Tension spreads by insistent alarm calls from songbirds. It was a morning of small drama along the railway line. The cause of the electric atmosphere was a male Sparrowhawk; the hunter weaves from along the Blackthorn in a hedge-hugging flight alternating between powerful rowing wing beats and fast glides. Every few yards he swings from one side of the hedge to the other. Never more than two feet above it, I felt I could see his cold yellow concentrated eye as he sped along. In fact the hunting pass is over in seconds and the finches had all successfully dived for cover. The panic continues like a corridor ahead of him, whilst in his wake wildlife visibly relaxes and returns to normality.