Home

Brampton Winter – flocks

January 27, 2019

The frosts of mid to late January changed the habits of the parish wildlife.  The most marked change being the flocking of the birds. The Woodpigeons gather into gangs, but most notiecable 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, being ‘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 Erving this week a dog fox called as it ran done the village street making all the dogs jump from their slumber.

The hedgerow berries, such as Hawthorn,  have been bountiful this year. But The winter thrushes, the Redwings and Fieldfares, wait until the sharpest frosts of December have passed before they feed upon them. This morning, the 16th December, was the key date for this year’s feast. Numerous scattered flocks roll and flutter from bush to bush ahead of us as we walk along the old railway line. Their calls, a strange mixed chorus of the Fieldfares’ ‘chock-chook’ calls and their Redwings’ weaker ‘seeep’, surround us during their frenzy of feeding.

By the next week, the Hawthorns are stripped. All but the outermost berries  have been taken.

Boxing Day morning seemed quiet. The whole village appeared to having a lie-in. On days like these the rest of the parish’s residents – at least the wildlife ones – carry on with business as usual. As I walked past the allotments arrowheads of duck and purposeful pigeons travelled in opposite directions. Finches settled in the tops of the sycamore along the edge of the ‘wild bird food’ crops on the old shoreline. Then, I swear I felt the rush of air as a hawk overtook me on the village street. A male sparrowhawk appeared from over my shoulder, dropped to a few inches above the road surface and flew intent and fast along the lane. Intent, no doubt, upon ambushing a finch.

Over the last few days the evening has arrived with golden sunset. It feels like a time of change – the last Swallows skimmed the last stubble of the harvest a few days ago, before heading south. The autumn migrants have arrived from the north.

It was last Wednesday evening, whilst accompanied by a post-hopping Barn Owl, that we heard this year’s Golden Plover. Their plaintive whistling calls carry to us, above even the traffic noise along the Buxton Road. It was twilight, the sunset had been spectacular and darkness was falling fast. Every year flocks of Golden Plover rest for a few days on tawny arable fields above the old Roman Road. We could hear their calls but their restless flocks were invisible.

This morning’s clear skies, after a light frost, rendered the chance of seeing them altogether better. Looking south we soon spotted the flock of about fifty birds, their silhouette unmistakable – on knife-shaped wings they wheeled and turned, in synchrony their colours alternating dark and pale as they flew. Flying for fun, circling and settling before setting off again. All the time their whistles carrying down to us, earthbound.

Last of the summer

September 1, 2018

It was almost the last weekend of the summer – August 25th. The Swifts were long gone and family groups of Swallows were feeding low over long meadow. The next day they had left for the south.

Just as I walked down the old track from Brampton to Oxnead, I spotted the unmistakeable profile of a falcon just over Keeper’s Wood. Its flight was erratic. Just at treetop height, interspersed with rapid spiraling changes of direction. I had seen this before – a Hobby hunting for dragonflies. With ease and grace it flew west to east along the spine of the wood and back again before disappearing from site towards the Ash Plantation. The whole show lasting no more than a couple of minutes.

Later that day, whilst walking along the railway line and admiring the sunset, a dragonfly – a Southern Hawker, I think – was diligently hunting midges and other small flying insects. Its flight path formed a triangular pattern, broken only by rapid spiralling changes of direction as it homed in on its prey. The similarity with that of the falcon, the next step up the food chain, was remarkable.

Brampton: Evening falls

July 24, 2018

At the end of a hot July day,  we sit outside with glasses in hand. To sit and watch the night fall is a simple pleasure, but one of which we never tire. 

A Barn Owl which skims the roof and garden trees, is intent on hunting – its call breaks the falling silence. Bats appear. Pipistrelles and, we assume, Long-Eared Bats. Each following a circuit of widening spirals. An ultrasound bat-detector helps us follow their course – their call speeding up as they home-in on an insect.

The moon, not yet full but waxing and large in the southern sky, sails in solitary splendour over the ash trees which edge the old rail line. Minute by minute stars start to appear. We check their names and constellations. Vega seems to be the first, balanced at the head of Lyra. Then all of sudden, many more follow. Just before ten o’clock a bright spot arcing past the Moon turns out to be the International Space Station on it’s first visible pass of the night.  

Our attention turns to the satellites, a man-made intrusion in to the natural view, but wonderful for all of that. Their names create their own poetry – SEASAT, ERBS, Integral, Genesis II.

On a more earthly theme, toads shuffle around the flower pots.

The combination of speed, grace and agility make any glimpse of this
small falcon an exhilarating one. Hobbys are summer visitors to the
parish. Every year, when I see one, I tend to get over-excited about it.
For obvious reasons small birds, their prey species, would not agree. This
wariness manifests itself in the almost perceptible electric tension in the air as the
Hobby appears – bird song stops and are replaced by their alarm calls as they
dive for cover. This morning’s target – a Meadow Pipit on the Common
– was lucky, quickly diving for cover and safety.