Nature Notes: What to watch for in January

Common buzzard
Common buzzard
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I have written previously of the significance for me and Frau Cox of the winter solstice. Such natural astronomical events come before religious or human imposed events. And so we take comfort from the fact that we have already turned the corner of yet another winter and we now have a few minutes extra daylight each day to observe and listen to the “music of the spheres.”

The best of winter’s music surely comes from the geese that spend these short days with us. Paul Roney wrote from Titchwell in November about these birds whose aerial chorus strikes a primeval connection with modern humanity (well – some of us) that longing to share their wanderings. We enjoyed one of those spine-tingling moments on Yuletide’s eve as a few stragglers hurried to catch up with rest of the flock as daylight faded. Some folk, of course, choose to shoot geese for the table. Not something I would ever do, however as long as “pinkies” remaining plentiful I can accept this traditional sport.

Little egret

Little egret

We were at Admiralty Point recently, there is a small car park where delicate souls can take in The Wash wilderness in a measure of car comfort. I reminded myself that some folk find this vast open landscape bleak and without attraction. If the sun is shining, however, it is a treat. We chatted to a wildfowler about his day, his springer spaniel doing what they do, constantly nosing the vegetation, she had detected something.

We investigated to discover a fresh wader corpse, a turnstone. Quite how it came to be in that location so far from a rocky shoreline is a bit of mystery. Presumably it had fallen from the sky through disoriented exhaustion.

In summer plumage turnstones are a lovely mixture of black, white and russets. Alas, only on their breeding grounds of the far north do they look so sharp. The specimen at our feet was typically greyish, legs and feet were surprisingly pinkish.

When I came to write these notes my thoughts wandered to our regular columnist John Maiden. I look forward to catching up with the goings-on in “Sunny Hunny” via his column. Writing as “Turnstone”, John fights bravely on environmental themes. John also writes of his concern for the best of local architecture and town planning and in particular the work of Henry Le Strange. I was struck by his recent view of Smithdon High School as “brutalist.” I can just imagine a chorus of agreement from all readers. You may be wondering just where this diversion is leading, bear with me. There is plenty of fine architecture in Lynn and on foreign wanderings we have gazed in awe at the glory of cities like Prague, surely the gem of the whole of Europe easily beating, in my view, Haussmann’s Paris.

Winter turnstone

Winter turnstone

I am almost there dear reader, so persevere. The “brutalistism” of Smithdon, Lynn’s Georgian gems, Notre Dame, Hradcany Castle – none can compare favourably with the Grand Canyon, or even Hunstanton’s lovely cliff face or the wilderness of The Wash.

And so I have segued into the following quote from Arundati Roy, the Indian environmentalist: “An old growth forest, a mountain range or river valley is more important and certainly more loveable than any ‘country’ will ever be. I could weep for a river valley and I have. But for a ‘country?’ Oh, man I do not think so.”

If politicians were birdwatchers how much more peaceful would the world be?

Having got that out of my system I can get back to what is on offer locally right now. Despite the lack of winter thrushes, nearby yews and hollies have been stripped of their red fleshy treats. We do seem to have a lot of blackbirds and I have heard mistle thrushes, so presumably they have taken these arils and berries. A short drive between St Clement and Long Sutton recently produced three common buzzards and a little egret tucked away in a tiny reed-fringed pool adjacent to the A17. Until fairly recently buzzards were not so plentiful in the east and, of course, much has been written about the miraculous spread of egrets in the British Isles. Nevertheless, seeing them in winter still takes a second glance. At this time of the year, of course, they do not show their head plumes. I am reminded that it was concern over the slaughter of such birds to supply the needs of ladies fashion which led to the creation of the RSPB. We can take pride in knowing that this organisation is the largest of its kind worldwide.

As the year ended we continued to enjoy generally mild weather. Our garden still shows lots of vegetation which by now should have been hammered by frost. As yet we have experienced only a few nights of sub-zero temperatures. There will be many garden pests surviving so while our heating bills remain low perhaps just a couple of minus ten Celsius might be welcome – but only a couple. Stay warm and safe and I will be back one month from now.