Choral music by composers spanning five centuries graced Brampton Church on Saturday night. The twenty strong Hickling-based choir, the Nonsuch Singers, under the Guidance of the urbane Dominic Vlasto, sang works by the sixteenth century composer Orlando Lassus, William Byrd, Vaughan-Williams and Billy Joel amongst many others. Choral pieces were interspersed with readings of short pieces by Bernard Levin, Evelyn Waugh and some authentically delivered Noel Coward musings. The Coward readings alone would have been highlight enough if it was not for the genuine pleasure in hearing a choir in the nave of Brampton church. The church was full and the evening ended with a splendid light buffet. The lack of a proper car park at the church did led to an inevitable excitement at the end of the evening, but all in all the evening was a highlight and a great success.
Nonsuch at Brampton
Bud burst is nearly upon us. Hawthorn and Elders in the hedges and Willows on the Common are all showing the emergent tips of fresh leaves. Ash trees on the railway line are also starting to stir, but they tend to take a long time – obviously not in a hurry in their annual race with the Oaks. The poet Larkin compared this emergent stage to “something almost being said” and you do get the feeling of Spring being on the verge of a new stage.
In the Churchyard, the Daffodils (or Lent Lilies) are absolutely at their peak, just in time to welcome everybody for this evenings Spring choral concert. Outside the Church workmen are digging up the road in a perhaps less welcome sign of the season.
From the ditches comes a chorus of courting frogs. The adults gather in the still waters in the gin clear water and the calls (not really croaks) can be heard if you wait quietly on a footbridge. The real business of mating takes place at night, but completion carries on sporadically all day.
The frogs have benefitted immensely from the closure of the Marsham crossroads. Their wanderings which involve many in the crossing of roads, including those at the lower end of the village, result in carnage on most years, but this year the traffic pressure is off. Should be a bumper year for tadpoles.
After a week of Spring weather the Cherries around the village have sprung into blossom.
Along the river, some summer migrants have arrived and started to announce themselves. A Chiff-Chaff Warbler was singing this morning – the clue for the sound of it’s song is in it’s name. This song tends to get grating in it’s monotony into April, but in mid March it sounds foreign, new and slightly exotic. The birds probably arrived over the last ten days or so; I heard one practising on 6th March, but this mornings songster was well into his stride.
Another bird which has a touch of the south about it was present on the marsh, a single white Little Egret was fishing in the margins of the Bure. This visit in Spring has become regular in the past few years; I can remember when the mere site of one caused excitement on the Norfolk Coast. There is possibly a nesting site on a nearby Broad. This small Heron is pure white and a relatively agile flier when compare to the native Harnser.
This morning’s soundscape was dominated by geese and Oystercatchers. The geese being a mix of Canada’s, Greylags and a lone Ruddy Shelduck (presumably an escape from a wildfowl collection). Their collective noise a mix of farmyard honks and squawks.
The Oystercatchers were involved in more serious courtship rituals. Two (males) call musically in their pursuit of a less than keen female – or at least that is how I saw it. Eventually the loser took-off, climbed and circled in pursuit of another potential companion, calling regularly as it drifted over Upper Brampton.
Daws at dawn
Just after dawn on Sunday, it was the calls of Jackdaws rather than the a song bird chorus which rang through the village. They favour the dead Elm at the top of the hill, which must stand out to them as a landmark once they have left the roosts at Oxnead. The Jackdaws accompany the slower and more direct flight of Rooks as they stream westwards. The exodus starting as soon as light levels permit, earlier and earlier each morning. As a species the Jackdaw seems to revel in flight, something to be enjoyed rather than just a method of getting there. Their gathering at the Elm being their equivalent of the bikers meeting at a favourite cafe.
This morning the Bure sits high in her banks. This is thanks to the Mill and lock operators who are helpfully holding up the flow in order to preserve the limited resource. According to Dr Briscoe’s weather recordings (http://www.buxton-norfolk.co.uk/weather.htm ) we have had only 7 inches worth out of an average of 12 inches of rainfall for the period from October to February inclusive. In other words we are 32% below average. Without some retention of flow or some pumped supply from groundwater reserves, the river would be a mere stream at best.
The other bad news for the Bure and in particular it’s fish stocks is the growing population of Cormorants. Last year numbers of visiting birds were particularly high. If they really do eat a pound of fish per day as we are told, I suspect that fish numbers in the Bure were damaged considerably.
Golden horde arrives
As I walk out along the old railway line, the waxing half moon hangs in the sky above Jupiter and Venus. The planets measure out a gentle tilting line arcing down to the south west. Above the evening hum of tyre noise from the Aylsham Road comes the unmistakeable whistle of a Golden Plover. These wading birds are much given to night flights, they probably migrate during the dark hours. Their arrival locally is a clear signal of the gathering momentum of Spring. For as many years as I can remember they have gathered on the same few arable fields to the south of us. They appear to use this as a staging post during their Autumn and Spring migrations. If I lay in bed awake on a moonlit night at migration time their whistles regularly drift through the open window
from somewhere in the night sky. Their journey north will eventually end on their nesting grounds on Arctic tundra, but for a short while they take the soft Norfolk air whilst refuelling and waiting for that moment when it is right to press on.
Walk along the river now and you can feel the changing season below the soles of your boots. In this dry period the footpaths have lost that puddled and sticky-mud quality of the late Winter. They have taken on the consistency of coir mat; so much so that you literally and temporally feel the spring in your step.
In St Peter’s churchyard the spring sunshine has drawn the Winter Aconites, Snowdrops and Crocuses into a flower. The Daffodils or ‘Lent Lilies’ are starting to flower. It is the peak time for the small rural church and its’ arrival emphasises the renewing power of nature. The Spring floral display is in marked contrast with the unadorned interior of the Lenten church.
On Tuesday morning, what seemed like an artificial cackle announced the arrival of a pair of foxes at the end of the garden. The fox conversation continued in a more traditional manner, yelps and barks in what seemed to be a playful chase along the edge of a nearby field. The noise cut into our sleep like an alarm. Thoughts such as, “were the hens shut up safely?”, raced through our heads. The foxes moved off after quarter of an hour or so, that is if one can judge the passing of time in flood of wakefulness at 4 in the morning