Thursday, 12 April 2012

A day in six acts

Act One: a cottage by a river. A swallow calls over a duckling-dotted pond. Two lesser black-backs chase away a buzzard from the common. A common gull flies with them, shrieking all the while with glee.

Act Two: a garden in North Norfolk. Bizz and DTH weed their beautiful Alpine, Pyrenean and Mediterranean gravel-slopes. Pasque flowers, cowslips, saxifrages and gentians are visited by bees; among them a handsome red mason bee Osmia rufa. Fat tadpoles wiggle their tails blithely in the pond, oblivious to the blackbird who lurks in the hedge and soon will stalk the pond's edge and gobble them.

Act Three: a stony breck called the Hangs, on the ridge above Salthouse and Cley. Enter two naturalists: DTH and a marsh tit. The scene is scattered with the pointillist azure flowers of early forget-me-not. Glossy rooks high-step over the flint-strewn ground and shimmer in the splendid afternoon sun. A kestrel sits sentinel in a sycamore.

A loud tack-tack-tack is heard, harder than a fieldfare, less welly, more tap-shoe. In a hedge sit two male ring ouzels, wild, frost-winged and wonderful. On the breck slope above are wheatears, summoned as though from no-where. Pewter-and-black males and warm cinnamon females scud over the stony ground and flash their eponymous arses.

Act Four: NWT Cley Marshes, arguably the world's finest nature reserve (biased, who, me?). There's so much going on here that the whole thing could well have been directed by Baz Luhrmann (cue: Diamond's Are a Girl's Best Friend). Winter ducks and ducks who'll stay to breed, all in their shiniest nuptial plumage, doze at the water's edge: shoveler, wigeon, pintail, teal, pochard, tufted duck and gadwall. Eight mallard drakes pass in winged pursuit of a single duck; the look in her eye reveals she rues leaving her nest. An island of willows in a reed-bed hums with pollen-hungry white-tailed bumblebees and near at hand a Cetti's warbler plinks italianate. Swallows, DTH's first of the year, sparkle past and lapwings fizz and tumble. The sharp spring sunlight's somehow sharper still in the wings of Mediterranean gulls.

Act Five: a stand of pines in a secluded wood on the Holt-Cromer Ridge. Two coal tits shout their syncopated chime, but the high fine song of a firecrest may just be heard. This dazzling little bird appears to our two eager naturalists, flashing his tangerine crest and raising his strong black brows. His mantle is a wondrous weird chartreuse, repeated in nature only in a chestnut-sided warbler's cap. Our two naturalists' day is made by this spectacular speck of life.

Act Six: a cottage by a river, recently restored, with love and with traditional materials, in keeping with the cottage's age and character.

Caller at door: I'm here from ____ Home Improvements. Are you interested in any improvements to your house?

Marsh tit: No, thank you. I've just had a great deal done.

Caller at door: Aren't you thinking of having your windows replaced?

Marsh tit: No, thank you. I've just had them all replaced.

Caller at door (incredulous): What? In wood?

New today


ring ouzel
Turdus torquatus
northern wheatear
Oenanthe oenanthe
Regulus ignicapillus

2012 Totals
Mammals: 55
Birds: 444
Reptiles: 12
Amphibians: 5
Fish: 3

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