Lockdown 3 (Day 17) In Sunshine

My apartment faces south, but is overshadowed by the flats built over the atrium at the front and on its east side. This means no morning light reaches me directly and I have to pull the curtain across to assess the weather.

Today the sunlight was blasting down King Street. I just had to leap out of bed and get outside. There were no takers for a walk, so I stretched my legs as best I could with a pinched sciatic nerve headed towards the woods and Whitlingham Broad.

The small birds were in heaven. Blue sky, fresh air and sun. Their songs filled the air. There was lots of activity in the top branches and hedgerows, particularly the robins.

At the junction at the top of the street I noticed a cedar tree had two cables holding its two huge branches in slings. The tree leans menacingly over the junction as both branches are on the same side. It has a perfectly good crown, which seems healthy, so why maintain these two spars that pull it out of line?

Nature isn’t always even-handed I appreciate, but in this instance gravity and a good sou’westerly could do for this beauty and anything it fell on would be crushed. Better to take the strain off it, surely?

I moved on towards Trowse where frost was still obvious where flooding persisted. Mole hills were surrounded by water. Were they safe down there?

I then moved on up through the woodland, stretching my stride out against the pinched nerve on the incline. The trees cast dark streaks of shadows dramatically emphasising their leafless structures. There are few things more beautiful than deciduous trees backlit by winter sun.

The constant swoosh of the nearby dual carriageway creates tension in the air that detracts from the vibrancy of the birdsong, so I move away and down to the broad briskly.

A gull is wandering around the paddock by the café that still sells takeaway drinks. As I sip at my cardboard beaker of tea, I watch the gull peck at a fresh molehill. It then stands on the top the little earth pile, tilting its head to the right to look at the grass. It steps down, wanders around a bit more pecking here and there before realising that there is a commotion by the water’s edge and free food is being thrown around by a grandma.

The woman is attracting lots of birds, entertaining her grandchild who is watching while holding her mother’s hand a few feet away, when the swans begin to get assertive. The bag is quickly emptied and all three humans scoot off to leave swans, ducks, geese and circling gulls to fight it out. In all the fuss are sparrows bobbing about nipping in here and there, as sparrows are happily do when crumbs are flying about.

I circumnavigate the broad and head home. A good walk during the best of the day, before the pathways get too busy.

Get up, get out, get home. Mission accomplished.

~

CLP 22/01/2021

On 2020

Memorable year

One I would rather forget

Finally ends here

~

CLP 31/12/2020

May Bug (Cockchafer)

I wrote about these slow flying, heavy beetles a few days ago.

This evening, I was putting clean sheets on the bed when the deep buzzing of a May Bug caught my attention. I quickly cupped it into a jar, as shown, before taking it out to the back garden for release by the goat’s willow.

The photograph is the view from the tail. It shows the egg laying protuberance of a female.

On the head the two feathered antennae, like grotesque false eye-lashes, are visible.

With wings folded the Cockchafer is the size of a man’s thumb; with wings buzzing, it looks like a blurred flying ball. I will sleep more easily without this specimen crawling around my bed.

.

n.b. Also known as Doodle Bugs, or Rookworms.

Christopher Perry

17th May, 2020

Red Deer at Dusk

Of course, as luck would have it, the day I decide to rest from writing about the local wildlife and environment, when I am out on an evening cycle ride in rapidly-failing light, I spot a herd of red deer. They are happily rooting around in a harrowed field. They have dared to amble right up to the edge of the local market town. They stand in the last field before the parish sports field.

The antlers of the dominant male are obvious, even in the heavy shadows stretching from trees lining the far side of the field. There is also a smaller male in the group whose immature antlers are just visible. The rest of the herd contains at least three adult hinds.

As is their way, the deer gather in the centre of clearings and open spaces for safety. Such a position allows them to see, hear and smell what is approaching and gives them plenty of options for a safe exit. Aware of me stopping to watch from the roadside hedge, several of the deer look up and the large male moves nervously around the herd, before they set off in a higgledy line towards the darkening wood. One of the younger does was grazing by the top edge of the field before I arrived, but she silently and quickly re-joins the herd as soon as the other animals become twitchy.

The adult stag leads the unhurried retreat, although I sense that they are on a knife-edge, ready to run for cover at the slightest excuse. The dryness of the ground is noticeable from the dust that these nine big beasts kick up as they dissolve into the gloaming.

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Christopher Perry

16th May, 2020

Day 55

I realise that yesterday’s waves were nothing to write home about. When you can see the explosion of breakers showering sea spray higher than the shingle bank: when you can see spume carrying on the wind over the salt marsh; when you can hear the action of the sea smashing into the shingle from Bard Hill, then you have something to construct a letter around.

There are not just one or two places where the breaking waves throw up crowns of white water. The huge fans of spray are seen above the shingle bank at any point you choose to watch. The beach is being constantly pummelled. Encouraged by the following wind, the sea’s assault on the banks of stone defences shielding the low-lying flood plain is relentless.

At high tide, I am standing on the top shelf of the beach. This is quite close enough. I can taste the brine, feel molecules of spray landing on my face. My sunglasses begin to get clouded by the sea salt carried on the air.

The inter-tidal range this morning is 5.65 metres from highest to lowest tide. Here there are two high tides each day, so the sea will two big bites at the shingle today. Further along the coast to the east at Weybourne, incursions by the sea are common.

Where I am standing used to be the site of a popular seasonal café. The café was for many years a makeshift affair that then developed into a healthy business, even setting charges for car-parking. But the higgledy-piggledy building could not withstand the wintry rigours of the North Sea. It was badly knocked about on numerous occasions before eventually being submerged by shingle washed inland by a particularly vicious storm. Today, there is absolutely no evidence at this place of the old shack having ever existed.

To repair this shingle bank takes considerable time and effort. Huge yellow mechanical shovels, driven on caterpillar tracks, have to push the shingle back toward the waterline to restore this long heap that rises over the marshes. It is a thankless task. How much longer it is worth committing energy to this activity is a moot point. 

Around the old abandoned port of Cley, now an inland collection of well-maintained flint and red brick cottages, there are newer, more solid defences. The River Glaven is heavily embanked and can be closed off from the sea by a new flood gate, but there is an increasing risk of inundation from the rising sea-level. How long will it be before the sea is again brushing up against the old quay?

The sky is bright blue. The rising Sun is still low enough to dazzle. The wind takes the temperature down close to freezing. There is a gloomy, deep grey cloud bank filling the northern horizon. An ominous dark watery wall envelopes the off-shore wind turbines. What looks suspiciously like a small snow shower drifts quickly inland in a south-westerly direction towards Blakeney and the port of Wells-Next-The-Sea.

The strong wind provides a kestrel a perfect opportunity to show off its ability to hold still in flight whilst hunting. The bird holds its wing position perfectly in the face of the strong north-easterly wind and stalls without any visible effort scanning the grass below. When satisfied that there is nothing worth hanging around for in one spot, the kestrel tips itself so that the wind lifts under its right wing and it lets itself be carried to the next likely site, a few metres downwind, where it returns to its previous pose, holding still in mid-air.

The sunshine belies the temperature. It is little warmer than yesterday’s dismal evening. 

The combination of dry sunny days and strong cool winds off the sea ensure that Norfolk folk venturing outside become either raw, pink-faced or deeply dark tanned. Warm weather here starts when the temperature reaches fifteen degrees centigrade, but the skin tones of many local faces would complement any Greek island.

I spend a while watching the waves thinking about what into happen next. It seems that the first wave of the coronavirus has swept through the land. Deaths are still counted in hundreds each day. The Prime Minister’s pre-recorded, yet still incoherent address to the nation yesterday signals a shift in emphasis in government policy.

From being kindly accommodated here temporarily for want of anywhere suitable to live through this crisis, to where? I look out across the white horses to the fore-shortened horizon. For now, I am grateful to be here.

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Christopher Perry

11th May, 2020

Day 52

I turn off the road and follow a track through the woodland. Today the cool is most welcome as the sun is strong. It is a rare day of constant warmth and I have spent too long in the open.

The canopy of sycamore, oak and ash whilst thin, is nearly complete. Bluebells are not the only flowers here bringing a touch of the sky to ground. I see a mass of tiny blue flowers decorating thin stalks dabbed among fresh nettles. I make my way over to them crossing a carpet of dry twigs and dead brambles. I think that these are Wood forget-me-knots. They are in their natural habitat here, a remnant of ancient woodland.

The nettles are a delicate fresh green. I am stung on my shin as I turn back towards the road.

The pinging sensation lingers on my skin for much of the rest of the day. It reminds me vividly of last May, working in Somerset at the end of lambing, when we were moving the cows to fresh pasture and learning how to herd the ewes and their gambolling lambs along too. There were plenty of nettles there.

My son, on a break from the hospital sends four photographs from his family walk today. They have come across a large slow worm lying on a track in a patch of sunlight in their local wood. They all look well.

I take a circuitous route back home. As I follow the lanes round to the coast road I think back to the emerging colours of flowers I have seen these few weeks. Yellows predominant as Spring begins, soon followed by masses of white. Delicate violets and purple mix into that confection and now, once the blues have arrived, it is the pink and pale red flowers coming out on the verges and in the hedges to join the the white of the May Tree and yellow of gorse and dandelions.

Along the top of one hedge I see numerous lilac panicles. Today is the 75th anniversary of VE Day, (Victory in Europe, 1945). I choose not to gather any of the flowers, preferring to let them grow wild – and according to the old war song gathering lilac is not meant to be a solitary activity.

Out to catch a glimpse of the fiery sunset at the back of the house, I find myself having to dodge a large droning insect with a fierce looking spike. It settled on one of the lower branches of the goat’s willow.  I have been told that this odd-shaped creature, with its slow heavy wing and a drone louder and lower in pitch than a bumble bee, is a May Bug, or doodle bug. The protuberance identifies the female bug as it is a tube for laying eggs into the root layer of the ground, where its hatching grubs feed on the roots of grasses. 

The May Bug is not a popular insect with farmers trying to produce wheat and barley. Chemical controls have prevented infestations in recent years. I am delighted they have survived in this area, as will be the rooks, who enjoy feeding on the grubs of these odd-looking creatures. The May Bug grubs are apparently known as “rookworms” in some areas because of the attraction they hold to the crow family.

The sunset is diluted by a brief, heavy rain shower. Low, thick clouds prevent any sign of the moon, bright as it might be.

.

Christopher Perry

8th May, 2020