Monday, 26 December 2011


Fingers of smoke and mist creeps between the trees on Wiggonholt Common, which smells of bonfires from where clearance works are taking place in Northpark Wood, just over the road to Greatham.
A trio of great spotted woodpeckers swarm over the rotting corpse of an alder, the slightest noise driving them onto the opposite side of the trunk. A bounding Labrador finally flushes them into the canopy and away. 

Crossbills, brick red against the grey mist, chatter nosily as they acrobatically feed from the cones in the evergreen clump. Here and there a robin announces his presence with his whistling song, a melodic warning to others that this was most definitely his territory. It's struggling to rain, and by the first hour of the afternoon it already felt like dusk was coming. 

Waltham Brooks  is drenched in grey, the rain pools on already soaking watermeadow. This is be no day to see the short eared owls that have recently arrived here, and that I watched just a few days ago. The wind and rain a hinderance to creatures that hunt by sound. This is a grey day, a day to be indoors with a log fire, and a glass of something Scottish.

I edge along the riverbank, dropping down to walk at about halfway up the steep slope, the better to disguise my silhouette. A peregrine watches me from a power line across on the other bank. I glass him, and his head tilts inquisitively as we watch each other; the watcher watched.

Falcons never fly when you're watching them.

I look down momentarily and he's gone, slipping effortlessly away into the steel grey sky, his departure belied by the cloud of starlings he sends up to the south.

grey heron rises with slow, languid, almost thoughtful flight and puts down again in the reeds on the far bank, only his head peering curiously back at me. His expression one of annoyance as if I had disturbed some long awaited table at Michelin starred restaurant.

I try to use the cover of some autumn-stripped branches to approach, but a crack of a branch and a splosh of a boot in a puddle and he's away again, another 300 yards south, and into deeper reeds. He croaks his sore-throated anger at me, and disappears from view.

I climb back up to the flood bank, where the old canal lock used to allow the barques onto the river, and pick up a kestrel, low behind the leafless shrubs that form the shore of the flooded part of the meadows, he rises, hovers, shifts east then west slightly, drops, hovers then plummets from the sky and I lose sight.

Beneath my feet, a pile of neatly plucked moorhen  feathers and a few bones glisten in the rain. A falcon has fed here recently.

I start to retrace my footsteps, tiring of the rain, and he's there again. I see the peregrine glide into the tree, and turn to watch me. He hops along sideways, then stiffens. I seek a tree to break up my shape and watch, and wait.

He rises, and heads straight for the flood waters, climbing slowly, sending up great clouds of waders and ducks, before circling higher into the slate-grey sky and disappearing. After I while I turn back to glass his tree and he's there; as if he'd run the ducks just for fun. I left him sat there, fluffed up against the rain


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