Monday, October 29, 2012

First Frosts & Fieldfares

Sudden slide into autumn: grey-rimed lawns; iced windscreens; sudden clatter of dropping leaves; rich, toffee-coloured beech leaves swirled in eddies and held by rocks in cold river waters; pattering leaves drifted into gutters, piles and heaps.

In greying early dawn, sudden ‘shook, shook, shook…’ overhead as first Fieldfares descend in swooping dives to settle erect and alert high in bare branches with smaller Redwings. Both call overhead on clear nights, maintaining flock formation on migration from far north. Small parties sweep down to high tree or hedge-top vantage points before raiding berry-laden thorn and holly or methodically prospecting open fields in characteristic upright stance, with hop, hop, stab for worms and grubs.

Tiny finches swoop high overhead in bouncing flight with wheezing ‘sweeee, sweeee’ calls: Siskins looking for Larch & Alder seeds. Sibilant squeaks, whistles and harsh churring from tiny Long Tailed Tits, smallest birds in Britain excepting eponymous tails, loose flocks diving between trees and bushes like little buzz-bombs.

The sea has not yet recovered from previously described storms, inshore waters khaki with suspended sediment and corresponding dearth of Bass.

Numbers of Scoter, Red-Throated Diver, Great Crested Grebe and Mergansers increase as autumn progresses with a scattering of Auks, some Gannets a long way out and a single pristine drake Eider. This year, surface-feeding Wigeon and even Mallard often float in packs just offshore, possibly from occasional shooting in the estuary.

Sighting a large, predominantly white bird far out on a glittering, dark blue sea, it was a surprise to find chestnut breast-band, bottle-green head and neck and waxen red bill of Shelduck in full breeding plumage. Most left the estuary many months ago, leaving only one adult with a single young, themselves disappearing around mid-summer: unusual to find this, the first returning bird, so far out at sea.

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