Numbers of heron have also decreased locally in recent years.
Twice a week for the past few years I’ve been taking early morning walks along our disused railway tracks and riverside paths. By varying the routes it’s possible to enjoy different perspectives so that the experiences never become monotonous. Not that I think they would anyway.
With binoculars slung round my neck these hour-long meanders provide regular moments of enchantment. Even should the wildlife lie low the accompaniment of bird song is enough to lift the spirits.
What I have noticed over time is the increase in the number of dog walkers giving their hounds and themselves a stretch to start their days. The responsible owners get my nod of approval but quite a few seem to close their eyes when it comes to clearing up after their four-legged friends. That really gets to me but obviously not to them.
Whilst no particular pattern has emerged on the bird-watching front it’s been interesting to note the decline in certain sightings and the increase in others.
Barn owls, for instance. I used to see these wonderful creatures a lot, quartering the flood plains just down from the three brick arches bridge. I guess in the past year I’ve spotted them no more than two or three times which is a pity.
Herons have also decreased, though not to the same extent. Delightfully, little egrets have been on the up which may have something to do with the proximity of Pensthorpe just a mile off. There’s something exotic to me about these white-plumed waders stalking their way about so close to our river.
Kestrels may be our commonest bird of prey but this territory is largely not for them. I did once have a close encounter with a red kite which left me more than a little excited but that was definitely a one-off.
Muntjac deer are often to be seen but again, their presence has declined. Could that have anything to do with the dogs? Maybe.
What has been really amazing these past few months has been the absence of winter. Where did it go? For just a relatively few days there was frost on the ground and coating the trees and bushes but most of the time it was far too mild for anything like that. I did crunch through a layering of snow on one walk but that was exceptional.
Blossoms and blooms emerged in a rush in the post-Christmas period and most of us probably thought there was bound to be a sting in the tail come February. But it never really happened.
What did occur instead was days of heavy rain which turned the Wensum from a quiet meandering stream into a rip-roaring river. From the sidelines I loved this spectacle. Suddenly the paths were deep under water and for a time impassable down the Heath Lane end. The overflow was well contained by the fields and gradually the river levels dropped. But even at the end of February you needed to be wearing wellies to get through with water still providing a serious challenge.
As we move into March with spring already sprung in plenty of places, this strange season will surely go down as one of the most remarkable in living memory.
Being able to get out and about on foot and by bike every day as if it was one long autumn has for me made it an extraordinarily benign period, the like of which I don’t expect to experience again. We shall see.
I must flag up this Thursday’s (March 10) Fakenham Film Society choice which is the exceptional Brooklyn which garnered so many plaudits when it came out last November. Adapted from the book by Colm Toibin with screenplay by Nick Hornby, this is bound to be popular.
It starts at our cinema at 7.30pm, members £5, non-members £7.50.