Six cygnets are being gently shepherded by their parents above the Mill Reach at Burgh. This may be a sign that the Otters are not in residence at the moment – it is possible that they have a liking for eggs, judging by last year’s low cygnet success rate. This morning the Swan family formed an ungainly parade as the followed the Mermaid downstream to the relative sanctuary of the flight pond.
The Bure was a near-perfect mirror as we crossed the Common. A cuckoo called from the Church Wood at Oxnead and, as we paused, the calls got closer. Then over the top of the slope of Limekiln Farm two Cuckoos appeared. Both unaware of our presence they settled on the top of the Island Willow. As they passed one uttered that curious contact call – something of a cross between a chuckle and a shake of dice – whilst the other continued the signature call. This was Cuckoo courtship.
All this activity reminded me of that Thomas Hardy line, “this is the weather the Cuckoo likes”, for it was. A finer blue sky had not appeared until today and to add to the poem’s picture the Chestnut near the Cradle Bridge was fully in flower.
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
On the trail
One advantage of dog walking at dusk come from the heightened senses of the dogs themselves. This evening as we strolled westwards along the railway line, the slight breeze blew into our faces. Ideal conditions for a close encounter with deer or other mammals – at least before they see you. This evening the dogs pressed forward into their collars, obviously receiving a juicy scent. We were very clearly following something interesting although never is sight, whatever it was kept ahead of us and maintained a steady pace. Then, at the Blackthorn clump the dogs followed the scent into the hedge. We carried on. Climbing up the steps and glancing over the plough, a russet brown shape made its way back along the margin. Then it turned back to the hedge and onto the railway line again. The last thing to disappear being the unmistakable shape of a fox’s brush-like tail.
Early morning on Monday. The wind still gusting, but on the breeze came the whistling calls of Golden Plover. Every year a reasonable number pause here, en route to their breeding grounds near or in the Arctic Circle. A flock of 70 or so weaves and circled over the fields as the commuter traffic started to buzz along the Aylsham Road. A contrast between the mundane and the wild.
Cacophony at dawn
Five o’clock in the morning – the dawn chorus at this time of the year arrives in a rush. At first a single Blackbird sings in a recognisable but subdued manner. Thirty seconds later Song Thrushes, Wrens, more Blackbirds and assorted others joined in a joyous cacophony. In truth the small delay was hardly noticeable. As if a switch is thrown and the need to shout at full volume is paramount. After a few minutes order returns, bird song settles and a lone Song thrush repeats its favoured phrases, each three to four times within a song of many verses.
Roe at Dusk
The Roe doe watched us. She stood, focused and alert, roughly 20 yards out from the safety if Keeper’s Wood. Before she merged with the wood we could just about make out her shape – she was heavily in calf. As the light faded her grey brown colour allowed her to dissolve into the background.
Easter Monday. On the Town Field the plough is trailed by a long pennant of gulls. After days of cold easterly winds, the topsoil has at last dried out just enough to allow Spring cultivations to begin. The Church Field was first; cultivations started on Maundy Thursday and it was soon populated by feasting Lapwings and Gulls. Around the church a pair of Mistle Thrushes threaded their way across the dark soil. In places the furrows lay shining in wet slabs, elsewhere the loam crumbles into a rich tilth. In spite of the Spring sunshine, the temperatures stay too low to consider planting. David’s ewes munch their way through the dried rains of last season’s late growth and we all wait for the first flush of grass. But the Song Thrush declaims his territory with vigour and there is at least a promise that better weather is on the way.
March Mermaid Kingfisher
This morning, as a gust from a cold easterly wind made us shudder into our coats, a high pitched exchange of notes rode the breeze upstream. The Mermaid was flowing over a riverbed which was seemingly devoid of life. But as we approached the calls became more frenetic and a pair of Kingfishers fled downstream before us. They continued their conversation, perched for a while on a suitable fence before whirring low and straight towards the Bure. Their colours almost shocking in comparison to the browns and greys of the meadows in March