Saturday, 24 September 2016

Thank You For The Days

There was a distinct tang of autumn as I approached Reception at Strumpshaw Fen, a taste of change. The air was cool on my face, a light mist shrouding the broad, the various quacks, trills and squawks of the wildfowl unnaturally loud, echoing across the still water. The season was undoubtedly transitioning. But there perched on the depth marker was a kingfisher, halcyon bird. Electric blue, rust orange, dagger bill; alert, watchful, beautiful. I managed to take a few photographs before in the blink of an eye it was gone, whirring arrow straight across the broad to a fresh fishing spot.

During the course of my morning duties at this most wonderful RSPB reserve, the kingfisher appeared twice more to take advantage of the quiet and calm of a slowly brightening day. Each time it brought coloured relief to a muted pastel world yet to be graced by an equinoctial sun. On one occasion it flew from stump to stump, coming ever closer to where I sat hardly daring to breathe lest I frighten it away. Through the telephoto lens of my camera the bird was magnified so that every nuance could be observed: the way it cocked it's head to peer skyward for a potential predator; the way it peered intently into the shallow water edge in search of any small fish haplessly swimming too close; the way it coughed and hiccupped to disgorge a bright white pellet of indigestible debris from previous catches. But most of all simply the way it sat iridescent and gleaming against the grey sheet of freshwater.

As the morning progressed the sun broke through bringing other delights to enhance the scene. A dabchick, toned down now in its winter garb, surreptitiously probing for aquatic invertebrates along the weed shrouded margins; dragonflies - darters, hawkers - flying in bonded pairs ready to foster a new generation; butterflies, comma, red admiral, a late brimstone, supping the abundant nectar now proffered  by myriad ivy flowers and late Michaelmas daisies. And welcome familiar faces of friends and acquaintances. I spent a few minutes with one such valued companion watching brightly rippled red admirals basking on a tree trunk. A moment of intimacy shared. We may not get a chance to do this again, at least not this year, although with this extended summer we are experiencing who can really tell?

My future, at least the next day of it, found me at the NWT reserve at Ranworth Broad. Another fine morning, bright sun, some high wispy cloud, exemplifying the true nature of this tranquil, peaceful place. No sooner had we opened to the public when an osprey flew low over the river channel, a fish clutched tightly in its talons. This long winged autumnal migrant has been around for a few weeks, favouring an area tucked away in the western end of the broad to consume its meals. During the course of the next 3 hours we saw this bird spiral over the visitor centre twice more as it gained height to better scan the waters below for its prey. On both occasions it reappeared after a few minutes with a fresh catch. Testimony to its prowess as a hunter. One day a pair will stay to breed and that will be grand, but for now this single bird is content to idle these pleasantly mild days in a corner of eastern Norfolk. It will stay a while longer until lengthening nights, cooler temperatures, wind and rain trigger the primeval urge to move on. Move south to pastures new, following its brethren to wintering grounds on another continent. The terns that enlivened the place with their vibrant screeching chases have already departed, their treasured, jealously defended nesting platforms now given over to loafing cormorants. The swallows too have left us, no longer twittering joyfully around the building. Their spirit remains and they will return in body next spring. 

Standing chatting to my colleague, arms resting on the fence rail, steaming tea close at hand, we soaked up the calm. We watched a sailing craft slowly glide along the river channel, saw buzzards, marsh harriers, a hobby and a sparrowhawk effortlessly cruise high overhead, watched a grebe watch us closely with its ruby red eye, simply enjoying the nature that has surrounded us each Friday morning since April. Then it was a raw, sometimes brutally cold vigil, the ravages of winter still clinging to the land. Now things can bask in the soporific balm of an end of season spell of warmth, golden light and ease.

I have been blessed this year enjoying a fine summer of laughter and fun with wonderful sights and sounds of nature to inspire and delight. But nothing can last forever. I am just thankful to have been able to experience these many new things that will always be close to my heart.  

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Strumpshaw Fen: A Portrait

Something a bit different to celebrate the wonderful summer we have had. Hope you like it

All on a Summer’s Day


A light rain falls as a misty veil, so let us stay and talk.
Pour a coffee, play some songs, when clear we'll start our walk.
The intimacy of this place, in comfortably familiar guise
Seems dampened in the sultry heat of a summer's late reprise.

Once dry we leave the car to stroll familiar paths;
Through lush green woodland my friend and I look and smile and laugh.
Wonders of nature all around, dragonflies that jink and jive.
On such a day, in such a time, it's good to be alive.
It's lizards next, young and old, that bask in morning's heat;
Beady eyes jerk all around, long claws on dainty feet.
Both young and old laze still: alert. Awaiting hapless prey;
To wander helpless into jaws that snap soundless where they lay.
From the hide amid the Fen we scan heavy laden reeds,
Searching for a beardy, a bird my friend has never seen.
We hear a 'ping'; a dark form dives into the surge
Of dense impenetrable stems from which it didn't reemerge.
We'll leave that for another time, there are other things to note;
Herons, ruff, a water deer with rich toffee-coloured coat.
A harrier with green wing tags, some graceful swans; one black,
'Cobber', it's affectionately called, it's just a mate it lacks.
Reflections, pure, clear, serene, the image merged as one;
A perfect mirrored portrait, in colour form and tone.
An icon of tranquillity, and I realise whilst we’re here
Nothing else really matters, we can relinquish all our cares.

“Butterflies are beautiful”, we watched a green veined white
As it floated over nettle tops where something stopped its flight.
A garden spider snared it and swiftly put an end
To this delicate pristine insect that had so inspired my friend.

A fragile life of short duration; nature in the raw.
A micro world of life and death, a drama watched in awe.
For the spider too must eat, its life bound on the line
Of a silken, woven structure of such intricate design.

There was other death discovered, grass snake pencil thin
Flies, all shapes and sizes ensnared in webs within.
This place though throbs with life in all its many guises
Let’s celebrate the vibrancy; nature’s real surprises.

The afternoon wears on, the beer light strangely dim.
Unabated heat seeps into every pore and limb.
The atmosphere is heavy; our mood is rich and light.
Why wander chained and blinded when all the world is bright?

All good things must end they say and so it was today;
Flirting butterflies, swaying flowers, moody cloudscapes on the way.
But we will be back to sup nectar from the heart of Strumpshaw Fen;
A place that weaves its magic in the hearts of two good friends.