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On being not grey

March 27, 2011

The Stock Dove is not nondescript – although generally described as grey.  But as I spotted the Bridge pair as I drove into to Norwich, it struck me how subtle their colouration really is.  

On each side of the neck a splash of verdigris, that copper pipe green, which is at this time of the year almost jewel-like in its intensity. The bird’s chest has that blush of pink that is so characteristic of many pigeon species.  The wing and the back are a uniform grey which is nicely set off by the soot black wing-tips. In flight they stick together in a simple formation wherever they go. Their black wingtips show up a clear wing fringe edging.

The Bridge pair has been concentrating on colonising the girders which support the railway bridge on the Buxton Road. There seem very few ledges but this is their favoured spot.

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Surfing the spring

March 23, 2011

   

 

As a song it would win no prizes. The ‘song’ is a repetitive two note announcement that the trees are shortly to come into leaf. So remarkably dull is the song that the bird is named after it – what else is there to say? The Chiffchaff is a warbler, relatively nondescript with a seemingly green hue above and a paler buff coloured chest. It’s close relations such as the Blackcap and the Willow Warbler have slightly more elaborate songs which are welcome in any garden. The Chiffchaff on the other hand, sounds so disappointing and even slightly irritating.

But the sound is welcome nevertheless. It nearly always the first summer migrant to arrive and announce itself. Early on Tuesday morning it trumpeted its arrival in Brampton. After wiling away the winter somewhere along the Mediterranean coats, perhaps in North Africa, it arrives after surfing the spring northwards. It can be heard throughout the spring, but its call is most insistent before the leaves arrive – over the next fortnight or so it will be repeating itself all over the village.

Rivals

March 20, 2011

Rivalry is not just a human trait. It is particularly marked amongst in the ever competitive natural world. This morning I saw a fine example and not for the first time.

The Barn Owls on the Common seem to have established their territory and their nest site.  It is a normal morning when you spot one of the pair quietly residing on a fence post whilst the other is hunting in the languid way that they have. I can never be certain if it is always the same one of the pair that is doing the hard work, but I like to imagine that it is a shared work-ethic.

After completing a careful circuit of the Common, the whiter Owl of the pair had settled in the hedge bear Common Lane. After a few minutes, it’s quiet contemplation was ended.  A female Kestrel, having spotted the perching Owl, flew low with great intent and speed directly at it.  As it got nearer it appeared to steeple and tried to strike. I doubt that it made contact but it certainly succeeded in driving it’s rival away.

I had seen this happen before. On one occasion whilst sitting over breakfast, having borrowed Fiona’s house when the builders had taken over at home, we looked out at a flurry in the garden as a Barn Owl and a Kestrel parachuted down connected by their talons. That made us splutter into our cereals.

Tumbling plover

March 16, 2011

The elaborate tumbling aerial display of the Lapwing has sealed it. Spring is only really confirmed when the musical call of this beautiful Plover can be heard across the marshes.

 It’s alternative name of Peewit goes some way towards describing the call itself, but in reality this does not do it justice. The air needs to have a certain quality to encourage the bird to make the effort to start it’s courtship flight (That and the presence of a likely mate or two), a sunny Spring day like last Sunday being a particular favourite. One of the best places to view this – if you happen to time it right – is from the little footbridge which crosses the River Mermaid at its confluence with the Bure. From here a wide Norfolk sky and a broad river meander are the backdrop.

The display flight itself consists of steepling climbs and convoluted tumbles earthwards. The tumbles turn in on themselves in a pattern which is hard to disentangle with the naked eye alone. All the time accompanied by a regular ‘look at me call’. Really a sight not to miss.

Beware Lords and Ladies

March 6, 2011

Along Brampton’s verges at the moment, one plant appears to be developing faster than all of the others. This is the Cuckoo Pint or Lords and Ladies. It’s broadly arrow-shaped leaves line all the verges, but with greater concentrations on banks along the run up to the church.

Later on in the year the plant will develop a cowled inflorescence (it cannot be called a flower) with an erect central “spadix”.  It’s perceived similarity to a male organ so titillated those that observed it that it gave rise to a great number of other names of varying degrees of bawdiness; amongst these are Cows and Bulls, Wake Robin, Jack in the Pulpit, Devils and Angels, Adam and Eve, Bobbins and Naked Boys. Just take your pick. I expect that there are many more that are unpublishable.

The fun does not stop there. The berries which the plant develops in the autumn are bitter and cause great irritation if eaten.  They are reputedly one of the most common reasons for admission to A & E for accidental plant poisoning. One seventeenth century herbalist recommends grating some of the root over meat offered to an unwelcome dinner guest in order to send him packing. This does seem a bit severe and should not be encouraged at the dinner parties of Brampton.

A hint of bud burst

March 5, 2011

In spite of the raw cold which seems to have dominated the past week, the occasional warm spring sunshine has encouraged some activity from trees.

So far, some the Hawthorns along the railway line have tentatively started to open as has the Bird cherry outside Beech Cottage. But then, like someone who has dipped their toe into a cold swimming pool they have stopped. They seem to be pausing and are prepared to wait for the next warm day. This point of near bud-burst always reminds me of that Philip Larkin poem, the Trees; “The trees are coming into leaf, like something almost being said”.

Most of the trees are far more cautious. No hint of green, just that almost imperceptible thickening at the tips of the branches. I swear I can see this subtle transformation through my window as I look out at the Sycamores and Ashs on the railway line, but this may be just wishful thinking.

Pheasant claims

March 5, 2011

On Wednesday evening, in the dark, the gardens around the village hall resonated to the territorial calls of Pheasants.

The cock birds, which have survived the shooting season, were staking their territories with a wonderful cacophony which must be a slice of sound from their native Russian Caucasus. Each male has an ambitious plan to gather a harem of hens and the competition is fierce.  As the gamekeeper’s feeders are removed the focuses of territories change to the gardens – Pheasants are partial to the area under bird tables.