Thursday, October 29, 2009

This time last year there was deep snow on the mountains; today is still and grey but warm at c.50’F, 10 ‘C. The Ivy hedge is buzzing with bees and flies attracted to bunches of green-yellow stamens by distinctive, spunky scent. Dense woods on the valley sides are yellow, grey and browns, the occasional poplar, ash or maple butter yellow. On walking down the lane to the car, sudden ‘shuck, shuck, shuck’ calls overhead, not heard since early spring, brought attention to a loose flock of birds over the valley, silhouette under pale skies. Medium size and distinctive ‘three stroke, rest’ flight of all thrushes when under way: hundreds of Fieldfares spreading out over the autumn landscape, the loose flock still passing down the valley five minutes later. A good year for crimson Rowan, dark Hawthorn, and bright Holly berries as well as windfall fruit should keep them well fed over winter until they depart northwards again in spring. Wigeon, too are back in force, numbers in the hundreds in the estuary or just off the boulder shore, depending on the tide, drakes now in full winter plumage, exquisite ‘Red Indian’ patterns of natural shades: claret heads, straw yellow crowns, silver flanks shot with black, a distinctive fan over each flank, each feather silver, fine edged black. Out on the flat salting, agitated Redshank and Curlew took off at intervals, calling loudly, landing at vantage points, stretching tall to scan for danger. The Redshank careered across the flats with loud, ringing calls, white wing and rump panels clear in the grey landscape; Curlews lumbered in heavy flight with liquid calls, before almost hovering to select their landing spots, necks and legs extended, with harsh, ‘kree, kree, kree’ calls like Whimbrel with sore throats. Last week, a Merlin stood on a lone post out on the salting, just the spot that gamekeepers used to place their gin traps, knowing the attraction as a vantage point for raptors. The week before that, two Peregrines awoke the marsh with harsh cries as they stooped repeatedly at each other over the flats, turning up to lock talons momentarily, displaying or fighting for prime estuary winter feeding territory.

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