As I write, I can look up to see a garden full of finches. The visiting flock of Bramblings, which varies in number from a dozen to a score of birds, has been a daily site, along with the regular Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches. The snow is dirty and on the verge of a thaw. The various feeders of Niger and sunflower seed, peanuts and a wheat based mix have become a hub for the hard-pressed bird population. Outside the garden two neighbouring farms have established almost twenty acres of winter bird food crops and these have harboured large flocks of Linnet and Yellowhammers; their flocks often of 40-80 strong, perhaps more. If ever I wanted to demonstrate the value of supplementary feeding, this is the place and the time.
Brampton wildlife: Finches in the snow
Brampton winter – gathering flocks
The frosts of mid to late January have changed the habits of the parish wildlife. The most marked change being the flocking of the birds. The Woodpigeons gather into gangs, but most noticeable of all are the large flocks of finches. The finch flocks – consisting mainly of Chaffinchs, Greenfinches, Bramblings, Goldfinches and Linnets – gravitate to the fields planted for this very purpose at the south end of the village. The farm’s conservation scheme, ‘Wild Bird Cover’, consists of a special mix of seed-bearing plants, and it is working. On a fine clear Saturday morning I counted 60 in one flock perched atop the hedgerow trees whilst another, half as big, wheeled round above. A good example of successful farm-based conservation.
Frosty clear nights echo with the calls of courting foxes. One evening this week a dog fox called as it ran done the village street making all the dogs jump from their slumber.
Thankfully the sight of a Kingfisher is not a rare event along this stretch of the Bure. But, even by our normal standards this year has been a particularly rich one. The Mill pair successfully raised a large brood and, during our Summer morning walks, we followed their fishing and feeding flights as they worked to raise them. On one notable morning and somewhat unusually, I even stumbled across two of them perched on the ground on the edge of the mill pool.
But, as I write, in early December, the position is somewhat different. Numbers have thinned out. The young had dispersed in the Summer and the fewer permanent residents have re-secured their territories. Most of the trees have lost their leaves and the light has taken on that washed-out Winter quality. As a result the electric blues and greens of the Kingfisher stand out almost shockingly, or they did on Saturday as we watched a single bird work the ditch. This bird was either oblivious of us or was happy to go about his fishing whilst we watched. I realized that I was holding my breath as I watched – the bird’s head turned towards the surface of the water, gently moving left and right before it sprang downwards out of sight before returning to the same perch. Time and again. Gradually working its way along the drain, the colours glowing in the weak morning sunlight.
Oxnead in Winter
Brampton Carol Singing 2016
Thankfully Christmas Eve was a fine clear night with the moon almost full. The Brampton Carol Singers sang their way through the village and raised £198 for East Anglian Children’s Hospice through their efforts and the kind generosity (not to mention their hospitality) of the villagers.
Wishing you all a very happy Christmas.
Mild weather, but for the birds, hedgerow food supplies start to run low
The weather may be mild, but the winter thrushes are rapidly working their way through the hedgerow reserves. Two weeks ago they targeted the Hawthorns – the red berries were stripped over a couple of days. Flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings worked systematically from bush to bush, their rasping and piping calls filling the air as we disturb them. This morning the self sown apple tree in the railway cutting was the target – the apples soften on the branch or fall easily making them the favoured fruit. The bullet hard and bitter Sloes remain untouched; except of course by their human harvesters who have started their gin concoctions.
A cold morning and a hungry hawk
The frost lasted well into the morning. As I walked the (well wrapped) whippets along the railway line, a female Sparrowhawk leapt from the hedge. She carried a victim gripped in her talons and made her way to the relative sanctuary of the Blackthorns. We followed slowly and a hundred yards further on, she once again took flight. In that characteristic ground hugging way of theirs, she powered along before turning sharply through a narrow hedge gap and was gone. The colder weather nearly always brings with it closer encounters with predators. Driven by hunger they discard their innate caution and grab every opportunity, no matter how close to us. Further on, a smaller tiercel (male) Sparrowhawk swiftly leaves its vantage point in Bill’s front garden Cherry Tree and heads for the marshes. It is not only the Blue Tits that bird tables attract.
A crystal clear Norfolk over the village gave us a chance to do a bit of comet spotting. Comet Lovejoy sails high in the southern evening sky. We returned to the best viewing platform- the old railway embankment. For the last few nights the Comet has been climbing alongside the constellations Orion and Taurus, but it was really only last night that it escaped the polluting skyglow from Norwich. A short search revealed it as a greenish glowing smudge to the west of that jewel-like cluster of stars, the Pleiades or Seven-Sisters. As we watched the frost nipped our fingers, but we felt some connection, no matter how distant, with cold space.
Noises in the night
The feeling of being watched was never so tangible as it was yesterday evening. The sky was partly overcast. The primeval sound of a deer bark echoed around us. A repeated call, a call of the Muntjac Deer was the only noise that assailed us. It circled around us in that way that convinces you that he was keeping one beady eye on our location. Still calling, he crossed Digby’s garden and made for the copse – or so the calls from the invisible buck seemed to tell us. We walked on, blind to the movements in the dark.
Sketch of a Saturday morning on Oxnead meadow
Gulls rise from their overnight roost on Oxnead’s banks. It is the first Saturday of 2015. What remains of the Paston’s palatial mansion – one grand wing, a small church, a cottage and a scattering of more recent architectural follies – are set amongst gardens and lawns that slope down to the river Bure. Beyond the boundaries of the Hall gardens, the meadows and woods present a more agrarian aspect, a farmed landscape rather than one if studied grandeur.
The river water has cleared and refined down after recent rain. Along the meadow banks the water has dropped a foot or two. A hidden Kingfisher calls from the feeder drain. As we walk the gulls billow and soar briefly before re-settling. At the mill sluice gates the water no longer bursts through with its earlier insistent force. The shelves and hollows of the river bed are once again visible in the mill pool around the storm debris of a weed-draped Alder branch.