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River finches

October 31, 2010

Flocks of finches are concentrated around the Alder trees along the Bure.

Goldfinches and Linnets are constantly on the move and the contact calls form a constant chiming backdrop to a river walk. They exist under an ever- present threat. The attention of the ragged-looking Sparrowhawk is constant. Sitting watchfully at the top a convenient Hawthorn bush, the predator is concentrating on it’s task so completely that it fails to register our approach. Startled, there is the noise of thorn-ripped feathers as the hawk escapes, flies low and fast to the sanctuary of nearby scrub. Meanwhile, the finches flit seemingly unconcerned from tree to tree.

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A morning of clarity – the air fresh and the tree lined horizon without a hint of haze to interrupt the colour. The northerly wind of the early morning had seemed to polish the atmosphere.  The Bure was relatively quiet, with very little activity along the river. Susan and Sarah appeared in the distance tending a horse a pasture.

The only bird noise being the circus clown-like honk of Egyptian Geese, a sound which does not fit into the soft mix of a river valley morning.

 A squelching approach to the footbridge over the Mermaid River drew the sudden appearance of a Sparrowhawk.  Bursting from a riverside thorn, she carried the deadweight of a recent victim. The unidentifiable lifeless grey bundle held tight and the strain of flight showing in her splayed wind feathers. Not too heavy to fly some distance, disappearing through the Oak trees to the Pightle.

Scandinavians are back

October 23, 2010

Winter visitors continue to arrive. This, the first week of October has seen the arrival of the Redwings – that small thrush which spends it’s summers in Scandinavia and it’s winters in the UK. 

At first they are extremely shy. Their insipid high pitched “sip” call and a retreating shadow is often all you see as you walk along the Bure Valley railway line. When they have gorged themselves on the rich berry harvest for a few days, they seem to relax and gain confidence and become less wary. 

Another elusive Winter visitor is the Golden Plover. Brampton is a temporary home to large flock in October and again in the Spring. 

I have always assumed that this is a Plover staging post whilst they on their way south and back again; always the same fields. The give away is the whistling tuneful call – they are known locally as the Whistling Plover. They fly at a reasonable height in small groups and call to one another as they go. They are still moving around when it is dark and this is often the first sign that one catches. My first of the Autumn was early on Sunday morning, a little after 6 a.m – a plaintive but tuneful note.

An accidental death

October 23, 2010

The clear signs of a dead deer on the Oxnead road created a frisson of concern. Firstly the collision with a deer is not just a little accident in the car – Deer such as Muntjac weigh in at 30 lbs. or so, a Roebuck perhaps twice that; certainly enough to do considerable damage to both vehicle and beast. Once I had put these thoughts out of my head, I started to wonder. Was it one of the Roe fauns whose progress I had been following or was it perhaps a wandering Muntjac?

The only way to find out with any degree of certainty would be to do a head count. So on Friday morning at first light the dogs and I walked up to the Belt. The air was sharp with the first of this autumn’s frosts. It was relatively dark, the full moon was providing what help it could but still the gloom prevailed. I spotted a lone doe from the Buxton Road Bridge. This in itself was unusual. This doe was flighty. It seemed to be resting a back leg and I could have sworn that the off-side hind leg had a dark stain at the joint. It made its way quietly along the hedge line towards the wood, grazing at brief pauses as it went. My imagination started to run – perhaps this was the survivor of a road accident sustained by the group.

Something made me to walk on a little further. After about fifty yards I spotted another deer, this time to the south of the railway line. The wind was against me so I kept moving closer. As I got closer, I was relieved to spot a couple more deer in a close group. This was, without doubt, the Roe doe and the two fawns. Their coats were already a rich dark brown – the orange coats of summer already replaced and ready for the winter. Seemingly unconcerned they continued grazing, with only the movement of their large ears betraying the fact that they knew I was there. I turned and left them to it.

Mid-October Deer

October 23, 2010

The deer have been keeping themselves to themselves, until this last week. The doe and the two fawns have been out of the Belt Wood in the early mornings on at least three occasions in the week. The two fauns are now well grown, probably about three-quarters of the size of the doe. Whether it is the same doe with the maternal instincts it is impossible to tell. The group which they have formed appears to be a strong one. They are watchful and seem to keep on the move to an extent. Grazing on the fallow land near the wood, they drift effortlessly through the hedge to Mr Crane’s meadows when there suspicions are aroused. It appears to me that one of the fawns is more heavily built than the other, perhaps a male, but they turn and I doubt my instincts.

Owls

October 23, 2010

As the nights draw in, the owls are in the ascendant. Throughout the summer, the Barns Owls have been the most regularly seen – their buoyant, effortless hunting flight and creamy colour marking them out. A number of pairs hunt over the river meadows. Their territories are large and often seem to overlap one another. Individuals become recognisable – there is a large mostly white (presumably) female which seems to have been about for several seasons and she contrasts with the male which is both smaller and boats a richer caramel and cream combination. Last night in the car, we approached a Barn Owl drinking from a puddle in the road – obviously unaware of our presence, it lifted off effortlessly and into the darkness over Mr Crane’s meadows.

 In the late September evenings the Tawny Owls start to call more to define their home territory. The separate calls of “kew-ick “ from the female in the dead Elm at the top of the hill being answered by the “hu..oooo” of the male. They rarely appear during the daylight hours – I only usually find them when I follow the occasional cacophony of Jays and Blackbirds when they ‘mob’ the sleeping owl into evasive action (and in many cases they are mobbing a cat not an owl).

Clear mornings following a night of rain are the best conditions for Brampton. That is, if you want to spot Barn Owls or other birds of prey in or around the village; this morning, the middle Saturday of October, being a good example. Rain pelted down on and off until around eight o’clock. Soon afterwards the skies cleared again and a gentle easterly breeze settled down under blue skies – the clouds were the benign cumulus that drifted by without the threat of further rain.

At this time birds which have been hunkered down suddenly feel the need to move. Woodpigeon fly purposefully in all different directions and certainly without a group plan. But the Barn Owls and other predators hunt with purpose.

At Brampton Church the normally playful Jackdaws were in serious mood. They, who mostly see to be intent on joy riding and acrobatics rather than any serious purpose, were escorting a Buzzard away from their territory with the same intent that the aircraft from Coltishall used to escort Russian spy planes. Common Buzzards are becoming increasingly regular sightings in this part of Norfolk – their territory gradually expanding for the midlands. This one did not seem to worried by the attention and circled away to the north. It is possible that it will adopt the river valley temporarily.