Nature Notes, by Malcolm Cox, April 10, 2015

Nature Notes'Male Stonechat ANL-150704-134247001

Nature Notes'Male Stonechat ANL-150704-134247001

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I usually aim to send these notes to Lynn News in time for the first Friday of the month. The appalling weather as March ended and April began however has resulted in a bit of a delay.

The location I intended to visit had to wait for those gale force winds to abate. However, that is another vernal equinox survived. We now have three glorious months of lengthening daylight to look forward to. Rainfall in our particular neck of the woods was normal while temperatures for the month ending were likewise. That eclipse was memorable, now greetings to April.

Nature Notes'Shelduck ANL-150704-134310001

Nature Notes'Shelduck ANL-150704-134310001

Familiar friends are once more appearing. We strolled the village of St Clement on the last day of the month, so many celandines on show. We also admired a fine clump of sweet violets.

In our garden arum lilies are growing at a frantic pace while some narcissi are already less than pristine. Various brands of primula shine brightly. Most of these are over wintered mail order plants. Lovely though they are they are no match for our prized native cowslips, many of which were rescued some years ago from a local patch due for “development.” Why am I always wary of that word? I did also seek the permission of the landowner.

The real stars right now though are the various prunus trees. St Clement’s primary school has a majestic show of these. Other examples shine out as we drive from Terrington to Lynn.

From our home to the Peter Scott Way takes only 10 minutes. For those who are not familiar with this short walk it is well worth the effort. Running from the banks of the Nene lighthouse in Sutton Bridge the official path skirts a tiny portion of The Wash before ending at the passenger ferry in Lynn a distance of 13.5 miles. I cannot walk this route without seeing in my minds eye some of the images that Scott so perfectly captured on canvas. When it came to wildfowl and the land they inhabit Scott was one of the best. Presumably so much time spent watching and waiting with loaded gun gave him an intimate grasp of avian anatomy which he then transferred so easily via brush to canvas. Scott wrote “Wild Geese captured my imagination, and if the two words are printed with capital letters this is merely to indicate that they had become and remained a kind of obsession. I decided to give up all shooting.”

Nature Notes'Whimbrel ANL-150704-134321001

Nature Notes'Whimbrel ANL-150704-134321001

From the small car park at Ongar Hill (not a peak above sea level for miles around?) there is an easily accessible path through the cultivated land to the sea wall. From here to the tide line is that splendid topography that we call saltmarsh.

I have always found saltmarsh flora something of a difficult subject. Apart from samphire our local delicacy which grows deep within the saline mud other plants are edible. Whether or not though harvesting sea beet is worth the effort is another question.

On this visit we were afforded enough bright periods to encourage skylarks who are just getting into their stride. Guaranteed to lift the spirits with their Vaughan William’s “ascending.” One wonders just how they do this, steadily climbing while constantly singing. When do they decide enough for now before silently floating to ground? Meadow pipits seemed everywhere. Their song might not exactly rival the exuberance of skylark but a telescope view reveals just how delicate and pretty these are. “Pretty” is not an adjective I use freely when describing our birdlife. Sounds a bit unscientific or at least not serious enough but pipits are most certainly pretty. A pair of stonechats “tacked” away demanding we take notice. How splendid the cock bird is. Maybe smart is more suitable than pretty to these birds.

A curlew delivered its musical call. Henry Williamson (Tarka the Otter) wrote of this “rising golden bubbles.” We were also treated to a quintet of the curlew’s cousin the whimbrel. One would expect them to be heading due north at this time of the year. This group flew in a wide circuit delivering their “whickering” call. I recall reading of some old Norfolk folk calling whimbrel “seven-star whistlers.” Replies from readers who can shed light on this lovely name are welcome. We usually hear them as early post-breeding arrivals in late summer. I wondered where their chilly northern nest sites might be, rather them than me.

Most of our wintering geese have now returned to northern breeding grounds. A few distant grey lags honked but these are mostly resident. Shelducks as ever were a colourful distraction. These really are a lovely show of white, russet and black. Hope you enjoyed a good Easter, Spring has arrived.