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Chasing comets in Norfolk

January 23, 2015

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 man-made 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.

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.

17th January 2015

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 of 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.

The marsh in Winter

December 29, 2014

A rainbow briefly touches down on the Mill Marsh

A rainbow briefly touches down on the Mill Marsh

The marsh in midwinter

December 29, 2014

Midwinter on the marsh. This morning’s sharp frost, a low sun and the chill threat of showers sweeping in from the north, combine to colour and etch the landscape. A section of a rainbow briefly touches the Mill Marsh as a brief squall washes in. A Kestrel is mobbed by a Crow and I hear the high pitched call of an unseen Kingfisher. The river runs high in its banks and the pool below the sluice does not look at all inviting. The dogs and I are thankful for the frost which has made out progress much easier over the muddy well-used river path.

By the time we reach the Common, the sun has raised the air temperature as long as we keep out of the wind. Moles have pockmarked the drier sections of river bank, but the soke dykes are full and the drains are running. Just below the horizon sun picks out the colours of cottages.

Early December and the first real frost of the month. The grass on the Long Meadow white and brittle. A Kingfisher whirred away downstream in front of us along the Mermaid and, not finding a nearby wide ditch to it’s liking, it doubled back towards us calling loudly and flew up and over the railway embankment in search of quieter reaches. At this time of the year the rich orange breast of the bird glowed in contrast to the dazzling blue of its back.

All trees except the Oaks have lost their leaves. Around the Field Maples there are pools of yellow leaf-carpets. The Poplars have changed their note in the breeze, now the branches emit a low moan and no longer the sibilant whisper of the leafy early autumn. Strangely, some of the Oak leaves are still quite green and have yet to succumb to the ochre and orange of the discard.

The finches, mostly Linnets and goldfinches, have gathered in flocks along the ditch side Alders. Their contact calls drift on the breeze.

I like the smells and texture of November. Helen shared her view of the underrated month as walked under a clear starlit night. At last the temperature had dropped after a fortnight or so of rain and fog. Underfoot the going was soft, the mud a slippery plastic. There was no wind and the Field Maples has dropped their first batch of rich yellow leaves. The Red Oaks along the old railway line had succumbed at once and a rich bronze leaf carpet lay along the floor if the cutting. Every footprint yielded the sharp scent of denying leaves. It is the sort of scent that evokes memories of long past autumns; the pure pleasure of kicking through wind-raked piles of fallen leaves.

Further along the sharp stink of a Fox hung in the air, so acrid and fresh that we must have disturbed him on his rounds. The dogs pressed forward along the trail of some invisible creature. All three converge on a gateway in Back Lane in an ecstasy of a find. They strain at the leash as something noisily jumps from the lee of the hedge and flees to the centre of the field. The Fox, we think, until we look across from descending road through the next hedge gap. The unmistakeable shape of a Roebuck is just silhouetted against the sky line – he watches us from a safe distance and visibly relaxes as we walk down the lane and away.

Overhead, to the east, the star Aldebaran glows orange on the tip of one of the horns of Taurus.

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