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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.