Monday, 23 November 2015

first shiver of winter

Now comes the cold. We at last awake to a frost in the chill air, and set the nets in the winter darkness. Redwings gradually appear, floating down into the scrub in small groups of five or six. In fact all the thrushes are active in the first hours of the cold day; Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush all seem frantic in their search for food. But it is the Redwing that is most evident at the moment and we catch three, allowing us to see up close the terracotta underwing that is usually hidden from view. The bold facial pattern gives them the look of one used to bracing weather- creased by facing the north wind, with lowered brow and puckered cheeks. 

The sun shines over the black fen and in the distance a young Tiercel is hunting. The horizon fills with swirling and turning flocks of Lapwing ,Golden Plover, Rooks and Jackdaws, but it is the ball of Starlings that are most in danger. They contract and pulse as the Peregrine jack-knives, then straightens into a low sprint across the fields.
Out on Burwell Fen the waders and ducks stay close to the tussocks of sedge and rushes. Godwits and Ruff mingle in a group, and four Dunlin trudge past a gathering of male Shovelers. The open water is empty save for a pair of Whooper Swans with their cygnet. Two more swans drop in- Bewick's this time, but they don't stay long, and when they take off they are soon followed by the Whoopers. The sun is still bright, but is sinking fast when the Phantom appears over the bank in front of us.
Ermine vest and black velvet gloves.
Using the following wind the Hen Harrier glides across towards the reserve, the epitome of simple beauty and perfect hunter-over Harrison's Drove, where a flock of fieldfare have been blowing through the willows, and onto the roost. In the fading light at least two males and a Ringtail circle low, quartering the area before disappearing in the winter darkness.

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