Tag Archives: greenfinch


April 17th, 2010. 7.30 am. I step out into early morning sunshine in a pristine sky but within minutes I am walking through cloud. A wash of grey fog has mantled the land, quite suddenly, reducing visibility to about 200 yards. Trees and buildings lose definition, headlights flick on. The fog layer is several hundred feet thick, veiling the sun, which is now but a diffuse luminescence above the south-eastern quarter. In places the grass is heavily frosted. The cold slab of earth has chilled air into water, conjured cloud out of emptiness, made visible that which was invisible.

I walk the B-road to Lamb’s Cross, then north up Cuckoo Lane, the medieval track, to Rampton Drift, then west to the guided busway and south towards home. It’s been a week since I was last out, but the spring has been slow to advance. True, the hedgerows are denser, and some trees have now begun to leaf over, acquiring, from a distance, a fresh yellow-green fuzz, like lichen. Blackthorn is in full creamy-white froth, though leafless, while hawthorn is leafing bright green without blossom. In the gardens, plum and cherry trees are spectacular. The field rape has begun to flower yellow, here and there, above leaves drooping heavy with frost.

It is a quiet walk, with no incidents or encounters. The barking dog at Lamb’s Cross farm is nowhere to be seen, and even the jingle-jangle radio in the barn is silent. There are small birds along the way, greenfinches being the most noteworthy, but also chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, blackbirds, etc., though they are few in number. I flush a single pair of mallard from the brook, where I would expect half a dozen. The water is empty. I see no lapwing, barn owl, kestrel or buzzard on the wing. The fog slowly disperses but it is not till after nine that it lifts completely. I walk back in sunshine, through a soundscape composed by rooks and skylarks, with occasional contributions from far-off woodpeckers and pigeons.

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15th March, 2010. 6 a.m. Striated sky, sun risen, but diffused by cloud. The road hisses with early morning commuter traffic. The rooks at Westwick House are busy building. There is a great hubbub, and much to-ing and fro-ing. Every bird, it seems, has a twig in its beak. I watch one carry a stick about a half-mile to its nest, even though the ground near at hand is littered with them. But what do we know? Birds are active in the bushes and hedgerows – among the less common (round here, at least, so far this year) I note songthrush, greenfinch, long-tailed tit (Clare calls them bumbarrels) and yellowhammer, along with many unidentifiable, brownish flitty ones (twite? corn bunting?). In the middle of an expanse of arable far away are two hares which lope away on spotting me. They are very wary of humans, and uncommon here it seems, this being only my second sighting this year. I follow Beck Brook / New Cut towards Rampton, and put up at least four different pairs of mallard from the stream. A last group consists of two males and a female. Invariably they give themselves away by quacking loudly on take-off, and invariably it is the female that leads them in their wide, circular arc of a flight. A heron lifts off from the steep inner bank of the waterway, followed closely by a ghostly pale barn owl in much the same place as I saw one 9 days ago. It must be the same bird, or its mate, and as it flies away from me, it is clear that its back is more sandy-orange than I had noticed before. It flies low along the edge of a field, silently, with big slow wingbeats, and eventually disappears into an ivy-clad tree. It is past seven, the sun is now out, and it is a bright, shiny day, so this is my second sighting here of a barn owl in broad daylight. It seems they are not purely nocturnal or crepuscular. A greater spotted woodpecker dashes from a thicket and hides behind a tree. In the last piece of pasture before the Rampton-Cottenham road are hundreds of winter migrant fieldfare scattered evenly over the field, all engaged in that curious start-stop fieldfare routine – three or four steps forward, then stock still in an upright stance for a few seconds, then forward again. A kestrel swoops down from a telephone pole and glides right across the field above the fieldfare, a couple of feet from the ground, scattering them one after another. They are not unduly alarmed and the kestrel makes no attempt at a kill. He is just having fun it seems. I turn back through the village, and up Cuckoo Lane, before branching off towards the guided busway and home. Two lapwings are cavorting and swooping and dashing and changing direction abruptly in a mesmerizing aerial display. Skylarks are in full voice over the airfield (collectively known as an exaltation, which is just brilliant),  their last brief season before the bulldozers and the builders move in.


Filed under writing / rambles / landscape / nature