The Countryside About Us - December 1997

posted 1 Dec 2017, 02:52 by Chris Hoare

Before long the great Christian festival and feast of Christmas will be celebrated. Symbolically, and actually, birds play a big part in this festivity. I daresay the robin cares very little how it is portrayed on a greetings card. Indeed some are shown more “impressionist” than real which offends my naturalist eye immensely! As for the birds that pay their part in actuality, well that is another story. Only recently I learnt that the bridle way leading off Kenton Road was formerly known as “Waddle Lane”. Flocks of geese and turkeys were traditionally driven along the lane to Earl Soham fair. Even now the “gobbling” can be heard coming from the shed not far from the same road. I daresay it will be rather quieter come Boxing Day!

Dickens began his famous novel “A Tale of Two Cities” with the line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. It seems entirely appropriate for me to borrow these words to summarise a couple of recent avian experiences. Birds lovers are always hoping to see something out of the ordinary. A few days ago I trundled my barrow into Dolly’s paddock to perform my daily task with a shovel. A solitary bird, smaller than a thrush, was hunting insects on the ground. Its jerky movements distinguished it as being “different”. Cautiously I approached it and noticed in particular a distinguishing feature – a white ‘rump’. It also had a “bobbing” head action. It seemed unbothered by my intrusion as it vigorously probed for insects. After a few minutes, and with my increasing boldness of approach it decided I was close enough and flew up into a nearby oak tree and away. However, I was now certain that this visitor was a wheatear, later confirmed by reference to an illustration in my RSPB book. Now another species could be added to my list of birds seen in our parish. Not long after this, I found on a step leading to our patio doors, what appeared, at first casual sight, to be a dead leaf from the grape vine. A second glance revealed rather more. Lying stunned, but not dead was a tree creeper, not entirely unknown hereabouts but nevertheless quite rare. This tiny mouse like bird has a curved beak like a curved needle, for probing into bark crevices for insects. It had collided with the reflective glass of the door and was stunned. Happily, after a few moments in my cupped hand, when I was able to marvel at its delicacy, it flew off into the protection of a nearby tree. I hoped it lived on to survive the winter as they are highly vulnerable to the prolonged cold winter days and nights. So what were the “worst of times”? That was finding, on the verge along Brandeston Road, a beautiful tawny owl, killed possibly by receiving a glancing blow from a passing vehicle. I noticed congealed blood from a wound to its head.

The drama of our countryside is all around us for those with the curiosity to observe it. I would be delighted to hear of your own observations. Oh, and by the way, October rainfall totalled 1.67” (25mm).

Roger Sykes