Although the prevailing conditions have reduced our options when out with the dogs, walking the same lanes and fields does put one in touch with the natural rhythms of life in the neighbourhood and can cheer one up, whatever the weather. There is always something to raise the spirits as even in the depths of a wet and blustery winter’s day, there are still glimpses of the bird life that is clinging on through the fallow months to bring a smile to your face. Or maybe just a pair of idiot dogs will have you grinning.
On my walk the other day I could hear the plaintive mewing of a buzzard, as it flapped lazily overhead. Later in the walk I was pleased to see the more urgent flight of a kestrel, as it emerged from a hedge on its sharp chiselled wings heading off across the field. When I was growing up in this part of the world in the seventies, kestrels were the common bird of prey. We seemed to have a resident kestrel that hunted along the lane, hovering on the prevailing westerlies, static above the verge. Any motorway journey in those days would see kestrels at regular intervals along the embankments, but their numbers have declined over the intervening decades, unlike buzzards who are now the predominant Somerset raptors.
I remember it was a special journey to be driven five miles to see a buzzard that was nesting in some woods. It was worth the trip just to see such a large bird of prey. Now, we will often see up to half a dozen just
standing in the field opposite.
Survival for the smaller birds is often dependent of them clubbing together. So Ella was a little startled when she flushed a small flock of goldfinches. They twittered away from her, working along the hedgerow. Always good to see a few hedgerows – it is the decrease in these and other habitats that no doubt contributed to the reduction in the numbers of songbirds and our friend the Kestrel.
One bird that does not seem to have reduced greatly is the Starling. On my walk in the morning I saw several small flocks flying purposefully eastwards over me. And when I was walking in the late afternoon, I saw the same sight, in reverse, as they flew to their roosting spots over on the levels. Last year we took a trip over to Ham Wall reserve to see the murmuration. It was a beautiful winter’s evening, and although the starlings on this occasion decided to roost some way off, the constant, determined influx of small groups, or long straggling trails of them, was a sight to behold. Roger Deakin (in “Notes from Walnut Tree Farm”) said that if you wanted a bird builder, he would choose the starling as it was so busy and hungry for life.
I know what he means as I see them flying here and there, or cackling in the blue cedar before they descend on the chicken food. I can look at them and tell them “I know where you live”. It doesn’t make much sense to them, but it makes me happy.
I like the fact that we can walk the lanes and see starlings going over and know where they come from or where they are going. To have a feel for the present and the past of a place satisfies an innate sense of belonging that we all desire to some degree and this corner of Somerset does it for me: the people, the places and the wildlife.