Day 31

The two rats that scuttle around the base of the bird feeder are becoming more adventurous. These brown rats have grown noticeably since they first appeared in the garden and one is exploring how to get at the bird-feed more directly.

The highest nut container for the birds is up a wooden post that is just over two metres in height. The post is rough hewn and stands slightly off kilter from the vertical. The intrepid rat has learned that it can climb the whole length using its claws and tail to get closer to the food source. It has not yet worked out how to make the last leap to the feeder. It has seen the blue tits and goldfinches flying to and fro to collect food. It knows that this is the source of the crumbs that are falling to the ground.

When disturbed, the rats scoot through the grass, sometimes leaping into the air, as they rush back to their hiding places. One goes straight back across the garden to the low bushes on the right; the other just runs for the nearest cover. The latter one then has to find a way back to the nest. It tries one route, turns back, tries another. Eventually the only safe way home is to dash straight across the open grass.

I am not particularly enamoured by the presence of these rodents in the garden, but am interested to see how they are behaving. The rats used to have free run of the garden below the feeders, they now face competition from pigeons and doves.

The collared doves are fascinating, but not much more pleasant to see than the rats. They too have to rely on the dropped shells and crumbs falling from the feeders, being too ungainly to balance and feed directly through the wire. However, when a rat gets too close, I saw one collared dove suddenly half-opened its wings to double the impression of its size and surprise the rat so that it moved away. This movement was used successfully several times. It surprised me that the rats did not chase the birds off, but it seems rats, have developed as scavengers and expect to be seen off by bigger beasts, at least when there are plenty of scraps for everyone.

A female collared dove, trying to get some fragments of nuts is stalked by a predatory male. He keeps close to the turf and runs toward her from behind, but she brushes him off and leaps forward out of reach. Once she leaps forward just as he leaps at her and so he lands where she had been and she ends up further up the garden and still the same distance from her stalker. It doesn’t look much like a dance of enticement, but he appears to be determined to wear her down with his attentions.

She is alarmed by a movement, or sound and suddenly she flies off in a flap. He follows her directly to the same branch. Was he aware of any possible danger, or just chasing, regardless? This passion could be the death of him, if he does not keep alert to predators.

During mid-evening you and I exchange a couple of brief texts across the continent. You explain that you need quiet and time with your thoughts.

My son checks in, also by text, before heading off to another night-shift. The minister for health has admitted that stocks of personal, protective equipment are in short supply for nurses and doctors working closely with Covid-19 patients. I feel sick and angry.

I listen to music, go to bed, sleep like a bastard.


Christopher Perry

17th April, 2020

Day 28

The temperature-drop overnight made the new day unwelcoming. The wild plum tree, now in full leaf, is dragged around by the northerly wind. The hazel bush has adapted better to the conditions. It flicks back and forth in the strong breeze, the lithe canes whipping upright once a gust has passed.

It is not until later in the day when the Sun burns off the last of the high clouds and some warmth arrives.

Bluebells have burst from their buds and add a balance to the yellows of dandelions and cowslips, furze and primroses. Grass grows more ragged, now over-hanging the scattering of daisies.

On a cooler day like this, the birds are more active at the feeders. Long-tailed tits, (the “bum barrels”), join the regulars taking seed and nuts. They swing in and dangle upside-down with their tail feathers providing the counter-weight necessary to remain focused on reaching the food.

One of the young brown rats that live under the shed has worked out how to climb the pole towards the feeders by using the upper twigs of an adjacent shrub. It stretches full length to cling to the little cage holding fat-balls, as its hind legs cling equally tightly to the top of the shrub, that is buckling under the unusual weight. The rat’s back is bent almost to a U in this precarious position. It does not stop gnawing and nibbling, despite the length of its body contorting when buffeted by the breeze.

Time passes quickly today. Shadows noticeably shorten, then lengthen. The shift of light around the garden affects the tones and depth of green spectrum. The garden is at its most beautiful when the sunset backlights the grass blades and the pale yellows of the cowslips turn to gold. 

Today keeping warm has been a priority. Elsewhere, friends are enjoying a spring that has already turned toward summer. Lighter and fewer clothes are worn abroad, but here, indoors, heavier layers are dug from drawers.


Christopher Perry

14th April 2020

Day 25

Here, where the land is soft and low, a hill can be any rise you choose. Walsey Hills, crested by Scots pines is a lump of clay not much more than the height of a double- decker London bus. Three Farthings Hill, up on the heath is not even two metres from base to crest. It is a Bronze Age burial mound, not even a natural formation.

Yet these hills on shallow land are precious places. They afford views of great distance, they provide significant sight advantage in comparison to the levels below, which are curtained by the reeds, walled in by earth banks and the raised shingle beach.

From Walsey Hills the extent of the swathe of salt marshes and reed beds can be appreciated. The eye can follow the line of the beach to the sand dunes of Blakeney Point and the pine woods of Holkham beach. To the east the lumpy, crumbling cliffs that lead past Sheringham toward Cromer attract attention for their bands of orange clay, rich as the fruit in parts, weakened by pithy sandy streaks in others.

From the hill over the marsh in mid-morning, a lone pee-wit works hard to drive a buzzard away from its nesting area. Buzzards are often mobbed and seem bored by the attention, they make no determined effort to engage with the distraction. Sometimes a buzzard might wobble in flight, but they tend to fly stoically to another piece of airspace to resume their predatory circling. The lapwings seem easily satisfied too, dropping down quickly to their nests, which cannot be left for long at this time of year.

The day has been as warm as any this year and a few large nest-building wasps are out. The wasp I study is around three centimetres in length and has a dramatic pattern on its back that features what looks like a large black cross, an exaggerated part of its usual banding.

A wooden crate, adapted to hold a rose bed that is home to a thirsty specimen, attracts one of the wasps. The grey, dry wood breaks off in the jaws of the insect. As the wasp chews into what will be later regurgitated as a papery paste to build its nest, I can just hear the wood being stripped from the side of the crate. It is a steady splintering of the fibres, something I recognise from doing woodwork too, but never heard in this context and at such low volume.

The crate is beginning to collect a fresh pattern of its own. Irregular strips and flecks of light wood are revealed where the wasps have munched up splinters from the grey surface.

The question of where the wasps are building their new papery home remains.
Christopher Perry
11th April, 2020

Day 24

A beautiful day. Still warm after six in the evening. The sea state is slight. Mist edges the horizon beyond the wind turbines.

I walk along a lane that becomes a raised grassy path across the middle of a huge furrowed field. The earth is banked high to protect hundreds of rows of seedling potatoes from sunlight. There are no shoots showing yet above the dry soil. The farmer has grubbed out the hedgerows here, so that where there were once two fields, there is now one. All for the efficient use of machinery.

The soporific effect of the warmer day has dulled the reactions of the hares. A good number sit and lie around in the open. One senses my presence and lopes off up the rise. Another sits at attention on the brow of the hill; a cut-out profile against the skyline with long ears up-right, back straight and no doubt, its nose twitching.

I take a little while to look for the skylark that is pouring out song. I have learned to look upwind of where the song seems to be originating. Eventually I can see it and I watch for well over a minute as it becomes a diminished speck and then works a wide, uneven circuit above the field to my right. The tempo of its song is matched by the rapidity of its wing beats. The only time a skylark seems at ease is when it drifts down on a breeze towards the earth, where it will land and then run in a low crouch to its nest hidden in grasses. At all other times this bird has a frenetic existence, desperately fighting off gravity with fast fluttering wings, while simultaneously churning out melodies that lack minims, breves or stops.

No word from the south coast. Another day is past.

Christopher Perry

10th April 2020

Day 20

My route this evening leads me along Market Lane above the church. The oilseed rape is coming into flower; another strong yellow to add to the palette. Apparently no one locally seems to know at which end of this lane any market was ever held. It leads past the abandoned village pond to a junction where Pinfold Lane, still a track, runs parallel to the coast, (a dry route for times of flooding perhaps?). Market Lane turns up to Gallow Hill and the heath.

Where the slope plateaus a series of barrows and pits can be found. These are from the later Bronze Age and there is quite a collection of them, including an easily identifiable burial mound, the Gallow Hill tumulus. There are ancient cemetery and cremation sites too from more than 3,000 years ago. Modern names label some of these earth piles; Three Halfpenny Hill and Three Farthing Hill.

I read on that the preparation of military defences during World War II caused considerable damage to the archaeology of the heathland, despite adding some new features of concrete and steel for later generations to ponder. All these man-made forms are prey to nature, being overtaken by gorse, bracken and heather.

Management of the heathland seems to be clumsy. It is clear that heavy machinery has been used to scrape clearings and try to encourage a mix of vegetation, but it does not seem to have been done with any particular care. It is disappointing to find such aggressive clearance work, heavy tyre tracks and piles of clumped broken branches spoiling the land.

My walk back to the village takes me past the snow showers of hawthorn flowers still throbbing with bumble bees. The roadside trees are song perches for chaffinches, blue tits and robins. A disturbed blackbird runs behind the abundance of alexander plants transmitting its broken, falling call: the sound I most associate with dusk. I watch two red deer on a bare patch of heath watching me.

Today it has been warmer outside than indoors. I spent the day moving between the desk and the kitchen before I closed down my work station. You have been to your local post office to send a parcel to England that is more expensive to despatch than the contents cost to purchase. There is no guaranteed delivery date.

The last grey clouds of a dissipating rain front move towards the sea as a smudged ribbon in the blue sky. This thin, lumpy band is decorated by the rising Moon. It will be full tomorrow. The Sun sets as white as the Moon as it rises; neither offering any heat.

My son reports by text “It’s really tough, but we go on.” Talking is beyond him at this hour.


Christopher Perry        6th April, 2020

Day 14

The wind has dropped and on the way to the shop, the air feels soft. The birds seem to be less agitated in the hedgerows and bushes on the way down to the village shop.

There are still only a few leaves on the thorn bushes and their spikes glint in the rising sun’s light by the main road. A wren hops about inside, quite happily; safe from large intruders.

Not all the reeds on the other side of the coast road have been cut down, so they remain home of small birds who discreetly tweet to each other until they fall silent when a walker’s shadow passes over.

On one of the scrapes of the bird reserve a commotion kicks up.  A marsh harrier’s arrival has taken the curlew, redshanks and ducks by surprise. Travelling into the breeze, between the shingle bank and the road, the harrier keeps low to the inflorescences of the remaining water reeds for cover. A lapwing cries out, all a flap, it creates a scene, tries to distract the ranging raptor, so that all the birds below are shaken up. A whirl of wings and cacophony of calls and the shallow pond is vacated. Regardless, the marsh harrier maintains its hunting, something will reveal itself in an unguarded moment; maybe not a small bird, but a rodent exposed in the goose-grazed grass.

In early afternoon, driving through the woods to get essential supplies we slow to let a small deer clear the road and this disturbs a hare. It leaps up and bounds in a rapid zig-zag through the blue-bell plants that are yet to flower here. The size and speed of the hare is remarkable and unmistakable.  The deer just stepped coolly through the untidy woodland floor, calm as you like.

In the early evening, sat with my back to the shed, facing the sun this feels as it might in summer more than a hundred summers ago. Just the neighbours quietly in their gardens, no sound of motor vehicles, no sight of planes. The largest thing in the sky is the huge red kite, who continues to familiarise herself with the seasonal changes in her recently discovered domain. Protected by statute as she maybe, we’ll see if the game-keeper at the local shoot will allow her to establish herself safely here.

No news from my son, which is good news. He works steadily on.

I am up until quite late, then listen to the latest chapter of the story you are recording for me. It is a long chapter in a long book, in a series of six volumes, (I think). I have to scroll back several times to ensure that I have followed it all. After all the magic I must sleep.


CLP  1st April 2020