Thursday, 30 December 2010


A great morning watching seals at Horsey Gap on the North Norfolk coast. Astonishing haunting calls between the adults in the fog with the background noise of the sea and the calls of geese and other birds. Pups completely trusting as they roll about in the dunes, and on the beach, as their mothers fish out at sea to return later to feed. Wonderful to watch with my own children and friends and to be able to listen to the seals and to witness them interacting at such close quarters.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Green shoots (2)

The thaw allowed me to get out to chop kindling this morning, having depleted our supply over this ice-bound holiday season. Though winter's a long way from gone, the very distant echo of new life can be discerned in the incipient hazel catkins and the tentatively stemming bulbs, and gives the merest hint of rebirth in the deadest corner of the year.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Green shoots

A slight thaw, and visitors from Claxton. Duncan and the kids walked over, reporting a Green Woodpecker in the field topping our garden. I've only seen a Great Spotted up there (he's made some serious inroads in the telegraph poles), so this was news. I strolled part way back with them, before heading for home,  where I disturbed said yaffle on the ground which, now thawing, may yield him some no doubt much-needed insects.

That my fellow 'hedgefinder' alerted me to this gives me immense pleasure for some reason; somehow the sighting of this bird and the sharing of such things increases my delight.

Thursday, 23 December 2010


Birds of prey see to continue to thrive. On the Christmas Journey between Somerset and Norfolk we saw a number of different species from within the chaos of our car packed with presents and excited children. On the A303, between Street and Stone Henge , we saw 4 buzzards either circling above the trees or sitting on posts at the edge of fields. Somewhere on Salisbury Plain we saw two red kites, one shortly after the other, low over the hedges and clearly recognisable with their sleek shape and distinctive tail . The second kite was flying straight towards the road using its split tail to trim its flight carefully as it slowly approached the field edge. This second bird was quite close and I was surprised at how large it was. We didn't see any barn owls over the snow but we did saw one tawny owl, sadly battered and dead in the snow slush at the road side. Once past London and onto the M11 and A11 coming into Norfolk we saw three kestrels, two hovering and one on a wire by the road side. All of these birds presumably benefitting from the seasonal roadkill buffet during this time of particular cold weather with the buzzards in the west country being replaced by kestrels in the east.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Snow on snow

Snowing for four days now, all very unusual in the West Country and especially so before Christmas, about 8 inches or so. Daytime dominated by taking straw, water and food to animals, cutting logs, clearing paths, drying clothes and trips out sledging around the village. There are lots of little birds, that are suddenly easy to see against the snow, all eating the chicken and duck food and I'm now generously accounting for this when I'm feeding, although I'm sure that rats are benefitting also. Seen many starlings, pied wagtails, blackbirds and sparrows (*and other small brown birds I need to identify ?) Jackdaws are the other main visitors, boldly striding about the chicken run eating everything. It's snowed all morning today and we're off to the big hill at the back of the village to sledge after lunch, once the bigger children have flattened the runs a bit. On Saturday we walked a long way only to have the sledge sink into the soft snow and not really go anywhere as the deep snow goes over everyone's boots. The robin in the Bridgwater Sainsburies has the right idea as it seems to be living inside amongst the fruit in the food isle and no one seems to mind too much, quite right too.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Beautiful silent morning

Snow overnight as predicted but I didn't believe it until the children started jumping up and down. Set off on my bike to work at 8, carefully making may way down the back road past Whitley farm. Silent, still and sunny. Road treacherous so I stuck to the new snow in the middle where I had at least some traction. Low bright sun with pristine white carpet covered in rabbit tracks and fields dotted with rooks picking at the ground in gangs. College closed at lunchtime as snowing heavily all morning and as we had a snowball fight in the village great sweeping clouds of starlings made their way back from feeding. A number of starlings find their way into the chicken run and are uncatchable but find their way out eventually, many of the little birds are making full use of the chicken and duck food in the cold weather. They are not alone as the mice have gnawed their way into the food sacks in the shed and I covered half the floor with trailing chick crumbs from the holes as I moved the bags this afternoon hunting for our lost wooden sledge. More snow predicted tonight and it all feels very seasonal with the fire roaring.

Winter will leave us...

As you can see from this morning's photo, we are snowbound once more. The strong sunshine with background of sky and snow combines for excellent birding.

In the hedge this morning the first Fieldfare I've seen here, gobbling down the last haw berries - in common with other thrushes they are voracious snafflers, and they wolf down berry after berry with what seems like greed. I suppose with this weather they need to feed well whenever possible.

A charm of goldfinches overhead is always a delightful sight and the 20 or so this morning scattered colour over the sky, while two blue tits hung upside-down from a telephone line, pecking at it. Seeing this behaviour in the past I have assumed they are gaining minerals off it, or conceivably small insects.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Sun returns

I finally manage to access the blog and can begin contributions from the 'West Country'. Duncan

Walk out into the village this afternoon, with the children on bikes, to photograph the church for a drawing. Stopped to regroup in the winter sunshine by Ashcott farm and watched the dairy cattle steaming in their yard. The thousands of starlings, that mass in bands across Somerset at this time of year, were all sitting in their hundreds along the food trough rails ambivalent to the periodic bangs of the bird scarers. In the trees above the graveyard their chatter almost drowned out conversation until as one they were silent and threw themselves into the sky in pursuit of some other diversion. By 3.30 pm they are sweeping overhead in massed bands heading for the reedbeds down on the levels at Mere and Shapwick Heath, their swoosh of wings your first warning. Moon high in the autumn afternoon sky, ice still on the pond although water sitting on top again now. Saw a fox last night in the village standing stock still in the road to look at me before slipping into a hedge, will our ducks make it to Christmas as they insist on sleeping on the ice and not in their duck house?

Monday, 6 December 2010

The dust of snow

As we slide into winter, the last fortnight's snow has not transfigured the landscape so significantly that it is a new one; it is more a decoration of a known one. Some impressions:
  • Robins squabbling in mid-air
  • A mouse, trapped and set in ice in a watering can
  • The pulsing of a barn owl over the top field
  • Red sentinel crab apples, glistening in frosty morning sunshine