Friday, 13 January 2012

The Burgh

Wisps of cloud like strands of a wise sage's hair hang loosely across a powder blue sky, as the river Arun glitters below like a necklace of silver. The chill of the winter morning has been usurped by an afternoon snatched from spring. 

Peppering Farm stands in splendid isolation above Burpham, secreted in a hollow in centre of the South Downs. Time stands still here where the roads ends, wide field margins and thick hedgerows sing with life, and below Arundel castle is cradled in the nook of the river.

When I first came to the Downs some fifteen years ago an old sign, burnt at one corner by a pyromaniac delinquent boasted that if I was very lucky I might see a buzzard here. These short years later I am surprised if I don't see the eagle-like silhouette riding the thermals across remote fields. Today twitchers gather in a small car park huddle, scopes peering out across the coombe. Somewhere here a rough legged buzzard  is wintering. In most years as few as five of these magnificent raptors visit the United Kingdom, and birders from far and wide have scanned the coombe, trying to pick out which of the four or five buzzards that soar above is the one they need for their tick list.

He appears as I reach the triangle of copse that forms the Burgh proper. A covey of grey partridge are flushed from the hedge row, in turn startling a flock of fieldfares. Dunnock patrol the hedgerows, nervously twitching their wings as they feed. 

Across the coombe all eyes are on the rough legged buzzard, I turn north east towards Rackham Banks, and from the neighbouring field the unmistakable chatter of a sparrowhawk fills the air, and the copse erupts with alarm calls. 

A tractor pulls up and a genial farmer chats about the buzzards, a marked contrast to the iron lady who, not far from here at a local private estate pulled up in her expensive car to chastise me for walking on the wrong side of the footpath not long ago. 

Here on this farmer's land much has been done to improve the lot of the local wildlife, and a sign at the entrance proudly proclaims a list of species to be seen here. 

The ancient flint trackway, polished by thousands of years of hoof and foot, starts to glisten as the sun turns the sky the colour of hot coals. Arundel Castle turns purple and then mauve in the haze and on the horizon the sea burns as the sun slowly sinks below the surface.

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