The Thurlows

Village News & Information

Nature Notes 2012

 

 

29 December 2012


I’ve just received my copy of the final report from the Suffolk Hedgerow Survey. These are the results from a massive coordinated effort to survey all the hedgerows of the county in a kind of ‘green’ Domesday Book to guide conservation efforts in years to come. The statistics alone are quite impressive. The project started in 1998 and was finally completed in February 2012. 317 Suffolk parishes contributed and between them they surveyed some 40,000 hedgerows, in each case counting the number of different tree species occurring in measured lengths and analyzing the principal landscape features. Overall, it was discovered that over 20,000 hedges had eight or more species and more than 30,000 had five or more species in them, which probably means that over 80% of our Suffolk hedgerows are between three and twenty centuries old! 

Great and Little Thurlow each took an active part in this survey. The Great Thurlow team consisted of Conrad Hawkins, Rod Pass, John and Christina Lusty, and Justine Reed and they surveyed a total of 104 hedgerows, while the Little Thurlow team (which hunted in pairs) consisted of myself and Mary Hilton, Kevin and Sue Beal, John Tipper and Jessica Hale, Robert Sanderson and Margaret Levin, and Steve and Sue Burgen and we surveyed a total of 176 hedgerows. It was quite hard work for the dedicated field-workers (many were called but few stayed the course …), but we enjoyed many surprising discoveries of rarer and charismatic species like buckthorn, black poplar and wayfaring tree and the interest of walking through private land we would never get to explore normally (we did ask permission, of course!). 

The bare figures don’t really tell the story though. The countryside of Britain went through a devastating period in the 1960’s and 1970s when farmers were encouraged to grub out hedges and drain ditches to enlarge fields to make use of larger and more ‘efficient’ machinery; at the same time they were drenching the fields with pesticides to improve yields and increase ‘productivity’. The results of all this was a dramatic decline in the whole chain of our national wildlife – the flowers, the insects, the animals and the birds. There is at last some sort of realization of what damage we have done to our world and we are seeing some measures of restitution, though it may all be too little and too late. The hedgerows are crucial in all this. They act as shelters, corridors, larders and homes to a huge variety of creatures large and small. They also represent a show-case of our greatest national heritage, the British landscape. There are centuries of history in a hedge with eight or more species, going back in some cases to the original Domesday Book of 1086. We are lucky in Suffolk, which is one of the most rural counties in Britain (and the only one to have completed a comprehensive survey of this kind) and we are particularly lucky in the Thurlows, where the principal landowners have maintained relatively enlightened conservation policies. Let’s cherish this tradition and preserve it.

Jeremy Mynott
Lavender Cottage

Top

14 November 2012


This has been a good year for autumn colours, with our trees and hedgerows blazing in a hectic pattern of reds, browns and yellows. We think of the leaves turning red and brown, but what actually happens is that the chlorophyll which gives the leaves their spring and summer shades of green is re-absorbed back into the tree, thus revealing the other pigments that were masked by the chlorophyll. So you could say, a little paradoxically, that the real leaf colour is red rather than green. The quality of the annual autumn display depends very much on the weather and it tends to be at its best when we have bright, warm days and chilly nights, which is why the east coast of America regularly boasts such spectacular autumn effects. Except that they call it the ‘fall’, which is both accurate as a description and is in fact a good old Anglo-Saxon word we used to use here up to the sixteenth century. The Pilgrim fathers took it with them and I think I still prefer it as an expression to our Latin-derived ‘autumn’.

But as we all now know, when spring comes next year we may discover that the ‘fall’ has been permanent in some cases. Many of our native trees are suffering from imported diseases and most catastrophically, it seems, the ash. It was only September when an outbreak of the malignant ash dieback disease was first reported from the village of Ashwellthorpe in Norfolk (near Norwich) but already it seems to be rampant and is likely to affect the whole country in due course. The ash is one of our most ancient, lovely and widespread native trees – we have some 80 million of them at present. The name of that village tells a story. ‘Thorpe’ is a Danish word for ‘settlement’, so this ‘settlement in the ash trees’ was founded before the tenth century. The ash has been part of our culture for over a thousand years, in which period it has given its name to countless other places like Ashdon, Ashwell, Ashton and so on and has been the wood of choice for all manner of tools, handles and pieces of furniture. We have had to get used to a landscape without elms ever since the Dutch elm disease knocked those out; now chestnuts are suffering from blight and oaks from wilt and mildew and if we lose all or most of our precious ash trees it really will feel like an enemy attack. The enemy in this case is the globalization of plant diseases, spread by the import and export of literally millions of plants and trees, which bring with them tons of soil and the pathogens caught up in them.

One thing we shan’t lack, I suppose, is firewood, and here again the ash is the queen of the woodland: 

But ash logs, all smooth and grey,
Burn them green or old,
Buy up all that come your way,
They’re worth their weight in gold.

But that won’t be any compensation.

Jeremy Mynott
Lavender Cottage

Top

10 September 2012

Well, there was a taste of the summer we never had in the brief ‘Indian summer’ in early September, but we shall remember this year as having some of the most disturbed weather conditions most of us can remember. This may become a more familiar pattern in the future, however. The climate scientists still find it difficult to make definite predictions about the precise rate of climate change and about all its implications, but they do seem agreed about one thing – we must be more prepared in future for surprises and extreme events, whether floods, gales, droughts or alternating very hot and very cold spells. Something really is changing in the world, though many people are still finding it difficult to accept this.

But to keep it local and particular, just ask yourself. How many different species of butterfly did you see this year? I saw only a handful of red admirals, tortoiseshells and peacocks and not a single painted lady, speckled wood or comma. How often did you hear the cuckoo? Or the turtle dove? Did you notice how few swifts there were in the skies and what small numbers of house martins were nesting under our roofs? How would you feel about a spring where you never heard a skylark singing, or a summer where you never saw a swallow? These are not wild impossibilities. Just in my lifetime we have already lost from the village our breeding willow warblers, corn buntings, tree sparrows, turtle doves and nearly all our spotted flycatchers ; and this is the first year of my adult life when I didn’t once hear a nightingale sing an English wood.

If you go to Britain’s coasts the story is much the same. Where there were once teeming populations of seabirds there are now only scattered, remnant groups. The guillemots, puffins, razorbills, terns and kittiwakes that used to nest in huge, raucous colonies on the Welsh and Scottish coastlines can no longer find sufficient food to feed their young, since the little sand eels they used to depend on have migrated further north with the warming of the seas round Britain. So they have failed to breed.

It’s now almost exactly 50 years since Rachel Carson published her book, Silent Spring (the actual day of publication was 27 September 1962). That book was a dramatic warning call about the effect that pesticides and pollution were having on the natural environment and in particular on birds. The first reactions were, predictably, apathy and denial from the political authorities and violent, abusive hostility from the agro-chemical industries; but an idea had been planted and the book led to the banning of DDT and went on to become one of the most influential books of the twentieth century, credited with launching the worldwide environmental movement. The title was taken from some lines by John Keats:

‘The sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.’

We need another Rachel Carson to make us more aware of the new and far greater threats the whole world now faces and to keep the birds singing.

Jeremy Mynott
Lavender Cottage
10 September 2012

 Top

15 August 2012

Some of us are still suffering withdrawal symptoms from the Olympics after the end of this remarkable fortnight, which featured the world’s fastest runners, highest jumpers and strongest throwers and lifters, or as the Olympic motto has it citius, altius, fortius. And we’ve goggled at the most amazing physical specimens, who have surely performed feats at the very limit of human possibilities. But hang on, those are just human possibilities, and there are other species on the planet too, namely birds, who can go even faster, higher and further and do so most days of the year.

Consider the comparative statistics. The fastest human runner – both at these games and of all time – was Usain Bolt and over 200 metres he covered the ground in 19.32 seconds, that is about 23 mph. But he would have come nowhere in a race with an ostrich, which can do 45 mph in short bursts like that and can run steadily at 30 mph. The fastest human on water was the swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever, and he travelled at about 4.3 mph over 200 metres. A gentoo penguin, however, would leave him splashing in its wake since they can hit 28 mph, churning through the sea like a miniature speedboat. Even the best rowers, assisted by oars and a boat, only go at just over 10 mph, and our gold medalist in the canoe sprint, Ed Mckeever, who seemed to be made of solid muscle, could only power his way through the water with his whirling blades at just over 12 mph. And when you consider the feats of birds in flight – well, it’s no contest for citius. The fastest bird of all is the peregrine falcon, which has been timed in its stoop, hurtling down on its prey from a great height, at between 180 and 200 mph. In this deadly dive it compresses its body into a perfectly aerodynamic tear-drop shape and just accelerates vertically downwards and kills its unfortunate (and probably unsuspecting) victim mid-air just by the force of the collision. As for altius, the bar-headed goose migrates right over the Himalayas to its winter quarters in Southern India and has been reported flying over Everest itself at some 29,000 feet, where the air is so thin that human beings can only survive with oxygen equipment. Talk about altitude training!

In their migrations too birds outperform all other species on earth. The longest of the long-distance travelers is the arctic tern, which flies literally from pole to pole, spending our ‘summer’ in the arctic and our ‘winter’ in the Antarctic (where it is of course ‘summer’) and so sees more daylight than any other species but has to travel some 11,000 miles each way to do so, that is 22,000 miles a year or nearly a quarter of a million miles in a lifetime of ten years (which is the approximate distance to the moon). That is quite remarkable in itself, but even more extraordinary in terms of Marathonic endurance is the feat of a wader called a bar-tailed godwit, which flies from Alaska to New Zealand over the Pacific without a single stop, a journey of some 7.000 miles completed by flying continuously for five days and nights. That surely takes the gold!

Jeremy Mynott
Lavender Cottage
15 August 2012

 Top

15 July 2012

July is traditionally a quiet month for birds and birdwatchers often turn their attention to butterflies then, since this is the time when most of Britain’s 59 butterfly species are on the wing. But after the wettest April and June on record, and July shaping up the same way, it’s been an even more disastrous year for butterflies than it has for ice-cream sellers and beach chair attendants. It’s just been too cold, wet and grey. I’ve seen hardly any peacocks, red admirals or tortoiseshells in the garden this year and not one painted lady yet. Anyway, I had planned months ago to go with some expert friends to visit two famous butterfly sites in Hampshire and Wiltshire, and we set off in hope of at least a glimpse of our more charismatic species of butterfly. We first went to a secret wood where our quarry was the very rare purple emperor, which is hard to find on the best of days as it glides around the tops of the canopy of great oaks and is almost impossible in rainy weather. The clouds parted magically for a few minutes, the sun came out and we all stared upwards expectantly until we got purple emperor neck – but the prize never appeared. In those precious few minutes of sun, however, we did see some silver-washed fritillaries, which are as gorgeous as their names suggest – they are one of our largest butterflies, with beautifully scalloped wings of the brightest orange, boldly marked with black on the uppersides and a delicate silver ‘wash’ on the undersides. But then the rain came down hard again and we had to give up.

Next stop was an even more secret place, the government research establishment at Porton Down, where we had to get high level security clearance even to enter but were then escorted through one of the most extraordinary landscapes in Britain. The germ warfare research takes place in heavily guarded laboratories in the centre, but they are surrounded by some 3,000 acres of pristine downland, never touched by agricultural development or any kind of human interference and enclosed by high security fences. It was like a kind of lost world, probably much like the original Wessex of Thomas Hardy. It proved to be a wildlife paradise for flowers, insects, butterflies, animals and birds, all superintended by just one harassed but very fortunate conservation officer, who has it all to himself most of the time. The rain continued to sheet down, but even so we got a very strong sense of the abundance and diversity of life there, ironically protecting these laboratories of death. And we even glimpsed one more special butterfly, the marbled white, which used to be a classic species of ‘unimproved’ flowery grassland. Please spare us more ‘improvements’! My butterfly book says ‘it thrives in dry, hot summers’, so I guess we were extraordinarily lucky in the circumstances. Perhaps this is the year to study ducks …

Jeremy Mynott
Lavender Cottage

 Top

16 June 2012

The Outer Hebrides are right on the edge of the British Isles, as far as you can go north and west before you are in the mighty Atlantic itself, with nothing between you and America. The weather is correspondingly extreme too. This low-lying string of islands takes the full force of the huge seas and gales that build up colossal momentum across the three thousand miles of the Atlantic and crash on to our furthermost shores. The weather was pretty bad down here in mid-May, if you remember, so I was somewhat apprehensive about how it would be on North Uist, one of the most exposed of this island chain. I was right to be. On the first day there we experienced rain, sleet and hail, all driven horizontally across a seething sea by force nine winds. All we could do by way of bird watching was crouch behind some protective boulders, dressed as if for North Norfolk in January plus some, and scan the beaches. They were just beautiful, even in storm conditions, indeed perhaps especially so. They were (of course) deserted – no one lounging on striped beach towels up here – and the white sands stretched for miles in a kind of pristine purity that made one feel like an early explorer discovering a new world. And there were birds on them too, tossed around like spindrift when they flew, but most of the time scurrying along the tideline picking up tiny morsels or marine life cast up by the storms. Most of them were migrants, bound for even more challenging conditions in the arctic, where they breed on the tundra in the endless daylight of the arctic summer. There were dunlin, turnstones, sanderling, purple sandpipers and bar-tailed godwits, all resplendent in brilliant summer plumages that we rarely see down south. For us they are usually drab winter visitors, hunched together on a muddy shore, but here they had all the energy of spring in them and one sensed their urgency to be off and away just as soon as the battering winds allowed them.

Inland there was an even more spectacular visitor, one which had actually come from the high arctic, driven south by these same storms. We first saw it as a distant white blob in the field – maybe a plastic bag or an old post stump? But as we got closer the white blob moved around a bit, assumed a definite shape and twisted its head around to see who or what was coming. And then an angry lapwing dive-bombed it, no doubt to drive it away from its nest site, and the white blob took to the air on huge soft wings and became a beautiful snowy owl. Snowy owls do occasionally visit the Outer Hebrides or the Northern Isles, and indeed they have bred in Britain, on the island of Fetlar in the Shetlands in the late 1960s. But this was a real privilege – an arctic bird in an arctic setting, and suddenly it all seemed entirely natural.

Jeremy Mynott

 Top

13 May 2012

Well, April was a complete washout and May didn’t start any better. The whole country seemed to be mildly depressed by the lack of seasonal light and sun, as was activity in the natural world too. Things had come on fast in that hot spell in March and the first migrant birds like the chiffchaff and blackcap had arrived a few days early. Then it abruptly stopped and all the migrants were piling up somewhere the other side of the channel, until the adverse winds and rain finally ceased and like number nine buses you’ve been waiting an hour for they then came all together in a rush. I was in Shingle Street on the Suffolk coast when this dam burst and suddenly the place was full of birds: swallows, swifts and martins in the skies, flycatchers, turtle doves, cuckoos and warblers in the bushes. Especially warblers. On that day I heard eleven different warbler species in song – and that’s about the only time of year and the only sort of place where you could hear so many. Best of all was a wood warbler, a rare visitor to East Anglia nowadays, which was probably on its way to Wales or Scotland where a few do still breed. It has a thrilling song – or rather two different songs. One is a silvery, shivering trill, which sounds somewhat like a coin spinning on ice and gradually slowing down. The other is a throbbing, passionate piu piu piu, a bit like the deep-throated lament of the nightingale. There it was working rapidly through the fresh green leaves of a young oak, picking off minute insects (which have also been waiting for the better weather) and replenishing its fat reserves after the long flight from Africa and building itself up before the next leg of its journey north and west. The bird’s scientific name is Phylloscopus sibilatrix, which literally means ‘sibilant leaf watcher’, so it was playing out both parts of its name very accurately.

The warblers are a large family and are distributed pretty much worldwide. I think the name ‘warblers’ came from the activity of ‘warbling’ rather than the other way round. But there isn’t a perfect fit between the noun and the verb anyway. Plenty of birds warble sweetly without being warblers – the blackbird, nightingale and goldfinch for a start; and conversely some warblers would never make the charts: the whitethroat family have rather scratchy chattering songs, the Cetti’s has an explosive outburst like a car alarm, the reed warbler a repetitious harsh churring and the grasshopper warbler a thin insect-like buzzing noise, sometimes likened to a fishing line reeling out. Apart from this wood warbler I was lucky enough to come across near the coast, the real songsters in the warbler family are the willow warbler, blackcap and garden warbler, all of which can be found in or pretty near Thurlow. You can get CDs or tapes to help you recognise these and other songs if you don’t know them. The best are compiled by Geoff Sample and you can listen to them rain or shine.

Jeremy Mynott
Lavender Cottage

 Top

15 April 2012

It isn’t often I see a new bird in Thurlow nowadays but I did have one the other day. I was walking along the river bank between Great Thurlow and Wratting when a large brown bird took off from a fence post and glided over the meadow. I was close enough to see the intricate detail of the plumage on the wings, richly chequered with darker and lighter markings and with buffy patches shading almost to orange. The flight was distinctive too: it started quartering the fields in an almost choreographed sequence of manoeuvres – glide, circle, pause, tilt, glide again … and everyone now and then it would spy something in the grass and without warning drop like a stone on its prey. All the while it kept me in view, swivelling its head almost back to front as it twisted and turned in flight, and giving me a steady baleful stare from its fierce yellow eyes set in a rounded head. It was an owl, clearly, but an unusual one that hunts by day not by night. We have tawny and little owls regularly in the village, more often heard than seen, and quite often a ghostly barn owl wafts through just as the light is fading; but this new visitor was something different, a rare short-eared owl. ‘Short-eared’ is a bit of a misnomer in fact. It does have a couple of tufts of feathers on top of its head that look like ears but those are just for display and have nothing to do with hearing. Its real ears are invisible, embedded in the skull beneath the feathers and positioned asymmetrically either side of the head to help it locate tiny animal sounds below with pinpoint, and usually deadly, precision. Anyway, these feather tufts are quite a good identification feature because you can see them at some distance and the only other owl that at all resembles the short-eared is another very rare one, the long-eared, whose tufts are much more prominent. I’ve seen one or two of these long-eared owls here over the years too, but they are very hard to spot since they are more nocturnal and spend most of the day well camouflaged in the depths of dense foliage or pressed tight against the trunk of a tree.

Our month January is named after the Roman god Janus, who was said to face both ways, back to the old year and forwards to the new one. But in terms of the natural world April is the real double-facing month – the spring hinge between winter and summer. Just as this wandering short-eared owl was heading back north so our summer migrants were arriving here from the south. As I walked back to Thurlow along the river I heard chiffchaffs and blackcaps singing in the trees and then as I reached Great Thurlow church there high over the barn were the first swallows of spring, three of them, wheeling through the sky and twittering sweetly, the promise of another summer to come.

Jeremy Mynott
Lavender Cottage

 Top

17 March 2012

Nature note

There’s more than one way of being close to nature. Spring is the time when we all watch for the familiar succession of flowers from aconites through to daffodils and cowslips and for the arrival of our migrant birds from chiffchaff and swallow through to swift, all of these a reassurance that ‘the globe’s still working, the Creation’s still waking refreshed’, as the poet Ted Hughes put it. These external changes we observe and celebrate every year. But spring also brings out the gardeners in us, the wish to touch and feel the soil directly and perform our own little acts of creation.

I’ve had a vegetable allotment in Thurlow for 30 years now and this has been a personal journey of discovery. Worldly anxieties seem to evaporate as you cut down winter weeds, heave at the sticky clods in March, see them gradually crumble into rich friable soil again. You plan the layout of your tiny realm of farmland for the months to come and then buy all those seeds or seedlings with such evocative names as Ailsa Craig (onions), Boltardy (beetroot), Musselburgh (leeks), Batavian Broad-Leaved (endive) and Early Nantes (carrots). You wonder if this year you will experiment with something a bit more exotic like Good King Henry (not advised – it went out of fashion in his day and for good reasons), salsify (‘the vegetable oyster’ they say in the catalogue, hopefully) or some fancy aubergine or squash variety (forget it in this climate). And what excitement in handling the seeds themselves in all their different textures and shapes: the flat papery wafers of the parsnip, the chunky beetroot seeds like miniature fragments of a breakfast cereal, the shiny sensuous runner beans and the impossibly tiny seeds of rocket and lettuce – how can they ever contain within them such a wild profusion of growth? Many crops fail, of course, and you never really know why. But what pure delight in those first cuttings of asparagus and spinach, which taste so fresh if cooked just half an hour later, or from the floury, lingering flavour of the first new potatoes. And what a contrast with their tortured commercial cousins, scrubbed and stifled in their tight plastic sheaths in the supermarkets – sourced from who knows where or when.

Well it’s a simple pleasure, but also a great art. When I started off working my patch it was usually under the watchful blue eyes of dear old Charlie Fountain from whom I took it over and who had the greenest fingers you could ever imagine. He and his great friend Brian Rooks would sit there on upturned boxes smoking their pipes of a summer evening, taking an occasional nip from a ‘winter warmer’ if the breeze was fresh (it usually seemed to be); and every now and then they would offer me gentle words of advice and encouragement, probably shocked to their rural core by my clumsy ignorance. But I gradually got the hang of it, more by determination than by Charlie’s instinctive feel for the land developed over his eighty summers and winters, and it became a deep satisfaction. I’ve just passed my allotment on to others, glad to have had my turn with it.

Jeremy Mynott, Lavender Cottage

 Top

15 February 2012

We had a really old spell back in the middle of February and my outside thermometer went down to -15C one night, which is quite unusual for these parts. All that snow did have a lovely pristine beauty, though, and I had some fun identifying the tracks made by various animals and birds as they skittered over the crusty, frozen surface. It was easy to pick out the rabbit footmarks criss-crossing each other everywhere, and on the open fields the straighter, more deliberate courses taken by hare and fox. Nearer the copses there were clusters of the characteristic footprints of pheasant too, with the marks made by the trailing tail usually quite visible, and close by the river one could make out the curious fat-toed prints of moorhen (as if they were wearing snow shoes a size too large). I was wandering around with my head bent, inspecting the ground like this when I saw out of the corner of my eye at the edge of one woodland a small heap of dead leaves. As I got close to it I was just asking myself why it wasn’t covered by snow, like everything else in this winter wonderland, when the pile of leaves formed itself into the shape of a bird and took off in a rapid, twisting flight through the trees. Woodcock! I very rarely see those here so it was quite a thrill. They are probably not that uncommon in the woods in winter but they are so beautifully camouflaged to look like – well, a pile of dead leaves – that you can almost step on them without seeing them. They in turn rely on their invisibility cloaks and sit tight till the last moment so you probably walk right past many of them without ever realising it. The trick of the camouflage in their case is that the plumage is variegated with a broken pattern of rusty-brown, grey and black marbling that merges perfectly with the woodland floor in winter – as long as there is no snow! In fact when they are sitting tight the most visible feature is the big black watchful eye. These eyes are another miracle of design: they are set so far back in the head that woodcocks have an all round 360 degree field of view and that means they are rarely surprised from behind by predators like foxes. The eyes are also large so that they gather what light there is, as they need to since the woodcock is one of those ‘crepuscular’ species that is most active in the gloaming at dusk and dawn. They do breed in Breckland and if you go to the right place on a summer evening you can witness their remarkable territorial display called ‘roding’, when the male bird flies slowly round the edge of its territory – beating the bounds, as you might say – uttering a weird croaking noise like an aerial frog, followed by a high penetrating twisik call. A magic bird all round, in fact.

Jeremy Mynott
Lavender Cottage

 Top

15 January 2012

I made a visit to the Yare valley the other day on a wild goose chase. Every winter on the boggy fields either side of the River Yare between Norwich and Yarmouth thousands of wildfowl gather to graze the grasslands and rough pasture. They evidently feel secure there in these wide, open spaces where you can see for miles in every direction, and they make one of the great winter spectacles in East Anglia. It was a bright frosty day when I visited and the air was crystal clear. As I leant over a handy gate, I could see vast gatherings of ducks stretching away to the horizon – teal, wigeon and mallard mostly, but also a few pintail, gadwall and shoveler – and no fewer than eight different species of goose. Many of these were the familiar greylags and Canada geese we often see in Thurlow. I scarcely think of these as wild birds at all since most of them are ultimately descended from feral flocks that were once introduced into the ornamental lakes of the grander kinds of country houses as part of the landscaping. They were thought stylish and exotic additions in their day, but in some urban parks they are now becoming so common (and messy!) that they are on the verge of becoming pests. That’s an interesting example of how a bird can change from being admired to being despised, as they become commoner and so more obvious. It may be that the reverse will happen to house sparrows: these were once so common everywhere as to be considered vulgar but they have now declined dramatically in numbers nationally and may soon start to seem attractive again. Is that a sort of wildlife snobbery?

Anyway, three other species of geese in Norfolk were also probably of feral origin: a herd of barnacle geese, a pair of Egyptian geese and a single snow goose and no one was looking much at these either. But there were also huge numbers of white-fronted geese from Siberia and a very special flock of bean geese from the same area. These were as wild and shy as can be and you needed a telescope to watch them properly since they never came closer than about half a mile away. The bean geese come to these same fields from Russia every year and it is one of the few places in Britain where you can be reasonably sure of seeing them. And they harboured among them one even rarer goose – a lesser white-fronted goose, which is regarded as a real prize for birdwatchers as their breeding numbers in Russia continue to decline and they cross over here less and less often. This bird was also very difficult to pick out in the huge herd of the ordinary white-fronts, but eventually we spotted it and everyone duly exclaimed how beautiful it was. Beautiful, or just rare and desirable? Not at all the same thing, is it? Is any goose as beautiful as a jay or a magpie?

Jeremy Mynott
Lavender Cottage
15 January 2012

 Top

You are here: Home Publications Nature Notes Nature Notes 2012