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The Mill Pool Wagtail

May 27, 2015

Every year the Grey Wagtail raises a brood from a nest tucked away in the masonry of the Mill sluice. On a warm morning such as this, she takes full advantage of the prolific hatch of Mayfly. She paused for a short whilst perched midstream in the millpond before setting off again in her hunt for more and more insects to feed her hungry nestlings.  

So far, the weather during Whitsun has been ideal. Warm days with the ocassional shower have helped the hedgerows, meadows and banks to burgeon. It has led to that ideal combination, the rich and varied greens topped with the whites and creams of Hawthorn and Cow Parsley. Just before the lanes have, out of safety and necessity, to be mown back, we have enjoyed the rich diversity of it all. No frost of any note has court back the blossom, so in time we should enjoy a fruitful Autumn. 

 

The Anglo-Saxons, who felt the changing year more keenly than we do, referred to 9th May as the beginning of Summer. (For a more expert view I recommend the blog A Clerk of Oxford http://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/summer-sun-brightest-anglo-saxon-summer.html ). So often I find myself agreeing with the Anglo-Saxon view. Rogationtide, that three day run up to Ascension Day, starts tomorrow and fits neatly into the turning of the seasonal calendar.

I am sitting in the garden as I write. From time to time a shower of Cherry blossom drifts down – not caused by “rough winds” but by a gentle breeze that stirs the top branches, before dying down again. A Blackbird sings from a nearby fir, a Blackcap from the copse, Swifts scream whilst twisting and turning overhead. The strong insistent song of a Wren bursts out just before it dives into its nest, tucked in the porch rafters. Rather worryingly for the garden, Woodpigeons have taken up residence within striking distance of the young Sweet Peas. But their mellifluous repetitive song just adds to the meditative atmosphere of the garden.

The Cuckoo has been silent in the valley for three days since announcing its arrival last Thursday. I have noticed this before – a settling in period, before the period of persistent song arrives in earnest. When they do get going Cuckoos travel up and down the river valley and I have been lucky enough to see their nuptial flight (or their territorial battle, depending upon your interpretation), more than once at this time of the year.

In most years the Cuckoos arrive in the Bure valley on or around St George’s Day. This year is an exception. Even though the radio-tracked BTO Cuckoos are starting to reach the UK, we have yet to hear the first call of a Brampton Cuckoo. Even David Humphrey, who lives as close to the river meadows as anyone and is usually the first to notice, has not heard one yet. The winds have been slightly chill and northerly-ish, so this has probably had something to do with it. We keep waiting and listening.
Other summer migrants are settling in. A Blackcap has settled in the copse next to the cottage and announces his presence with his complex warbling song. The Chiffchaffs have been here for seemingly ages. A few Swallows hawk over the river as we walked past this evening. More surprisingly, as I walked down the road this lunch time a series of alarm calls from various small birds made me look up to see a Hobby sail over Street Farm. Spotting these little Falcons never ceases to cause that tingle of excitement – possibly because of the collective alarms calls which great their appearance. But once again this felt a little out of sequence – I usually expect to see them after the House Martins have arrived, assuming that they follow them northwards for the summer. But assumptions are so often wrong.

One warm blast if southerly air – a so called Spanish Plume – and the summer visitors start to arrive. On Saturday morning (11th April) a single Swallow hawked and chattered its way around the Long Meadow, along the River Mermaid and the barn roofs of Brampton Hall. This evening (Tuesday) a Blackcap sang from deep within the Blackthorn bank thus adding a bit of  variety in song to its Warbler relative, the Chiffchaff, which was an earlier arrival.

Owls on Maundy Thursday

April 4, 2015

On the evening of Maundy Thursday Oxnead was quiet. It was bright and slightly chilly Spring evening. A single Roedeer nibbled at growing reed tips on the Drying Ground. This area is part of the Common which was, at one time strung with lines for drying washing and now colonised by reeds, Flag Irises and willow. A little corner that had been ignored by the drainage contractors.

A few steps further and we watched a very white Barn Owl slowly survey the ditches as she quartered the ground. The river was reflective and slow flowing. Disturbed only by a territorial Mute Swan – perhaps defending a hidden nest nearby. A second hunting Barn Owl, this time a dusky fawn colouration, watched us as we passed from a fence-post perch. 

There is a small footbridge over the little River Mermaid where is joins the Bure. It is a good place to stop and to appreciate the silence of the Bure and the grazing marshes. As we watched some duck winnowed in and a solitary Snipe called as it purposefully made its way somewhere or other. Then the pace changed. As if rowing through the air, a Short Eared Owl appeared. A faster and more effortless flight than that of Barn Owl. Its long wings alternately fixed in a short  glide, then swimming through the air, as is flew in wide arcs over the marsh. Flying at around six feet off the ground and occasionally braking, twisting and pouncing in a shallow cork screw when something caught its eye. As it passed us we caught a glimpse of those intent yellowy-orange eyes set in a flat facial disc. It was aware of our presence but carried on hunting. Presumably refuelling en route to the moor or tundra breeding ground.

We returned home exhilarated by the 

For me, the song of few birds symbolise the end of Winter and the impending arrival of Spring more than that of the Mistle Thrush. This morning the village was engulfed in that wild, wind blown song. The singer was perched high in the old Ash. The song seemed designed to float and carry on the breeze – a breeze which still carried the edge of Winter on it. As we approached the Thrush moved to one of the hill Oaks, his song did not pause but gathered in intensity as he settled on the utmost stag-headed branch. Around the base of the tree the Daffodil buds seemed to be on the verge of opening – drawn out by the Thrush’s call.

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