Monday, 27 October 2014

Autumn at Llewsor

To begin at the Common-
Two needle-voiced golden crests thread their way through the blue-black sloes,
back down the slope, and trickle tailed clothes pegs, pink and black,
chivvy them on with the circus-caeruleus, aegithalos, major.
Parus major leads his troupe from bow to bow, acrobats and tight-rope walking
mixed bag of white cheeks blinking, autumn creaking.
down the muddy slide where the trees dip their feet in the crinkle of the breeze-rippled bream filled
silvery lake, the moorhen crashes by surprise and splashes across to the safety of a reedy cove,
past the cackle of geese,
past the mallard's sheen.
Chiffchaff spins his presence through the thorns at the Point, stops when found, hides and seeks.
The Redwings have arrived, whispering the news then shyly moving on to carry the cold to another branch.
At the railway crossing, the fat guard, black-capped and ruddy-cheeked,
pink waistcoat peeps his whistle of warning from the haw-berried bush.
The grass cropped corner collects the wind. Black-bibbed-wag-tailed
jump after fly and run,
up and away, waltzing over watermeadow.
Thirty-five tufted duck scud into the air and sling around the pits, lapping the place ever quicker,
ever tighter,
catapulting those at the back off the end of the frenetic conga like children doing it on purpose.
The Grebe, unamused, bobs- sharp face squinting,
shaking the memory of its last fish with a graceful twist,
rolling onto its side, plump whiteness exposed against a growing grey beyond the trees,
corkscrew neck poking and paddle waving
then back to bobbing.
The wind whips across the glitter, blowing the afternoon Kingfisher-cold,
Blackbird chinking, dark approaching.
Leaves turn grey then black,
waiting for the dew to freeze under the starry night
then all is quiet.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

gulls and showers

On my way back from Cambridge yesterday I noticed a growing flock of gulls in the wheat field just north of Milton park'n ride. As expected they were mostly Lesser Black-backed with a strong contingent of beefy Great Black-backs, but there was a scattering of paler gulls among them which deserved some attention. After a few minutes scanning, trying to ignore the buffeting of passing cars as they sped past the layby, it became clear that most of the "Herring" Gull types were in fact Yellow-legged Gulls. One especially imposing individual looked like he had applied mascara to enhance his stark-staring demeanour.

Looking further among the larid pack a Caspian Gull drew my attention- dark-eyed and nape spotted, it looked a lot less dangerous than the big michahellis. It started to rain heavily so I made my way home. Nice weather for ducks, I thought, and I began to wonder what the Wigeon were doing up at Welney.

Monday, 13 October 2014

more distractions

My second week studying the wigeon flock, and from the outset there were unusual distractions. On monday, with alarm set for five am, i woke at quarter past two and ummed and arred until getting underway for a dawn visit to Minsmere. Arriving in the half-light, i hadn't been in the hide for more than a minute when a bird flashed across the reed fringed pond, landing at the back edge. In the distant gloom it could almost be mistaken for a Jack Snipe, and I strained my eyes trying to pick out every detail. after an hour watching Bitterns and Marsh harriers dash across the windswept reedbed the purpose of my visit became clearer to see in the soft light. A Little Crake, jerkily wading around the pool's margin stabbing at smallfry, then disappearing amongst rushy clumps that were made to look like the trunks of trees next to the tiny bird.
After leaving the hide I wandered down to the sea, past the scrape with its ducks and waders. Yes, there were Wigeon amongst them, but today was not about them, today was about the crake, and hopefully something interesting in the bushes behind the shingle bank, surely the first stop for any migrant freshly arrived.


 Having ignored the Wigeon at Minsmere, a trip to Welney a few days later would surely leave me no option but to look at them. The usual noisy afternoon grazing meant that the flock was in a constant state of movement, with ripples of action spreading across the observatory pool banks. Sleeping birds suddenly stood rigid, head up as a neighbour bustled past to reach another patch of good grass. Then, one bird stood out. larger than the wigeon, with a commanding presence- an austere elegance, even in it's shabby non- breeding plumage. A male Pintail seemingly exuding the confidence that comes with knowing that here was the prince, here was true style and grace. He stood and preened while the other ducks busied themselves with more mundane tasks, as if his vanity caused him to rise above such menial concerns as mere survival. He would look good before doing anything else.
Finally the Pintail flew off, but by this time the light was failing, a Barn Owl hunted on the bank and I left again without having done what i had set out to do.


 Sunday morning, early, misty, full of promise. Burnham Norton. As the mist cleared, the Steppe Grey Shrike sat in a hawthorn digesting its last mealworm, then flew down, collected another and hopped up to a bramble. In the soft backlight you could certainly see where it got its name "pallidus". No wigeon today.



Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Good to see old friends

I saw a couple of Lapwing outside Wilburton last Tuesday and numbers crept up over the week until there was a flock of maybe seventy of them on Friday.  Today there was a mixed flock of seventy Lapwing, fifty Golden Plover and half a field-full of Fieldfare. I parked in a farm track and stood by the side of the road for a few minutes taking them in.  The sun was low and picked up the tortoise-shell plumage of the Golden Plover beautifully.  Thirty or forty rooks came in across the plowed soil to settle in an adjacent field.   After a long and fairly joyless day at work, it's a reviving sight.   Headlights were starting to come on and the air smelt of cold earth. I got back in the car a happier man that I got out.

Sunday, 5 October 2014



   This past week I visited Welney with the intention of paying attention to the growing Wigeon flock now on the reserve. Every year I say to myself, I must paint some male Wigeon in their eclipse plumage, and every year the chance passes by as they moult into winter plumage while I am side-tracked by more fleeting attractions on the Norfolk coast. A brief bird in some bushes, it seems, is often judged to be worth more than a load of ducks on the land that will be here for ages yet- i've got plenty of time for them still.

So, with it being all quiet on the western palearctic front, and the only rare birds much too far away to visit, I spent three afternoons enjoying the blazing heat of October, sketchbook in hand and wigeon to watch.

Day one, and two lovely Dunlin are sleeping while around them hundreds of Wigeon and Teal feed, swim and loaf. they look so picturesque I can't resist drawing them- they look like they might not move until I'm done. Well, one stayed long enough at least.

Day two, and with important tractor work being carried out in front of the main hide, the ducks are skittish and refuse to settle. A Golden Plover, however, stands rigid in a semi-crouch, obviously aware of the tractor but unwilling to flee. I can't quite work out if it is sheer terror of the machine that keeps it rooted to the spot, or extreme bravery, putting faith in it's cryptic camouflage to allow it to remain unseen while observing the four-wheeled beast.
lets be honest- it was absolute fear, but it did allow me the opportunity of sketching a non-sleeping bird for a change, and I did not waste the most surreal ten minute life drawing session i've had in a while.

Day three, and the wigeon are content to graze and loaf- but there are six Cranes out on the wash. On day two there were two, and a Great Egret, and I managed not to get diverted by them, but today the cranes are fairly close and impossible to ignore.

Well, the Wigeon are going to be here all winter- i've got plenty of time for them still. Have I said that before? idiot.