Roman Coins and Green Sandpipers

The Sparrows are in the three foot hedge, the usual cox sparrow sings on, announcing his claim to the luxury penthouse on our house wall, somewhere up above him. He is accompanied by an array of others, sometimes two females, sometimes two males and two females. I have no idea what is going on here! Am I about to be a proud landlord and is my tenancy going to stretch to two occupied Sparrow homes? I watch and wait.

Yesterday was a good day. In the late afternoon I walked out and down the well trodden paths and across the fields. I made my way south to the edge of the Weald Moors. According to the Doomsday Book, the Weald Moors were at that time a great peat fen full of every type of water fowl. Oh to have walked this way in those days!!

I should explain that in Shropshire speak, a moor is a wetland, very confusing I know! Today these moors are drained and the dark peat soils are put to raising winter wheat, potatoes and elephant grass. This vast wetland was parcelled by name into moors, Sleap, Birch, Eyton, Rodway, Crudgington, Tibberton, Sidney, Wrockwardine and Kynnersley. Very few people locally seem to know their position or their history.  At one point near its centre you can still see the remains of an iron age marsh fort  called Wall Camp, a very unusual kind of fort with only a few other examples in the UK.

The afternoon sun had been poking around in some interesting clouds so I wondered what the sunset would be like, so before I set off, I grabbed a camera to take with me.  I crossed a field still showing the remnants of its last crop.  Each maize stalk now casting its own black shadow across the soil and together as the sun fell in the sky, they broadened lines across the field.

As I walked I kept watch downwards as well as listening for bird calls. I also kept one eye on the progress of sun and cloud, hoping for a dramatic sunset to photograph. It’s an old habit, looking down and carefully inspecting the ground in front of you, scanning left to right in the hope of finding something unusual or beautiful, something cast up by the run off of rain water after a down pour or the work of the plough share or even the casual scuff of a boot.

I don’t know how this habit started. Maybe it began with my childhood pleasure and fascination in finding glass on the beaches where we lived. Each piece perfectly smooth and every edge rounded off by the action of tide, sand and sea. Every piece to me seemed that great treasure.  But later, this fascination with careful scrutiny of the ground was developed further. When I was nine I walked the marshes on the Kent Coast, binoculars at the ready.  The walks at Reculver, across newly ploughed fields sometimes revealed roman coins. Now I was really hooked!

This habit has never left me and to this day, from every holiday, I return with small stones and shells and other objects collected from walks in the wild and beautiful places we have visited. They were small things of great beauty selected from the shores of Iona or from mountain streams or secret beaches. Some were presented as tokens of love to my wife and some as objects for discussion with children or grandchildren. Later, those objects that have not been siphoned away by small hands are placed in the ever growing collection. These collections are assembled in more than one printer’s box and attached to various walls of the cottage. They are testament to our journeys to some of Britain’s most beautiful and wildest places.

Larger stones make their way into the small rockery and alpine flower areas by our modest sunken patio. Here whilst relaxing after a long day in the garden we can sit, beer in hand, and look, at eye level, at the contrasting colour and patterns of these beauties. Anyway, I have become distracted and need to return to this winter tale.

 

The sun finally provided a sunset glory that the camera and photographer required. I stopped to capture it as best I could. Then standing in an open position I decided to scan the fields beyond and was lucky enough to pick up the ghostly shape of a Barn Owl quartering over a distant rough pasture. The bird was a long way off, but even so, unmistakeable.

In an effort to lessen the distance between us and to gain a slightly better view I walked field side along the edge of a small but deep stream heading straight towards the Owl. After no more than ten steps a startled bird rose noisily from the side of the stream and piped loudly, flashing white rump against dark greenish back as it flew. Within seconds it settled back stream side, fifty meters further on. I didn’t see the bird again, the drain ahead weaved its course and the bird had obviously selected a well concealed landing place. I returned to the track not wishing to cause any further disturbance and glad to have seen a Green Sandpiper. The Barn Owl by this time had long gone.

It was time to head back. On the way I walked the edge of a pool where three female Goosanders warily watched my progress. They steered the water, always maintaining the greatest distance from me, but leaving enough room for take off should the need arise.

At the Sparrow roost I was pleased to note that all birds were seemingly safely tucked up for the night but they were still busy telling tales about the day’s events before the sun finally went down.

The Sympathetic Sparrow?

So the days are getting longer and we have had some very cold nights this week. The weather has been great for walking and photography.

The Sparrows were back in the three foot hedge, in human time, at about 8.45pm. I think from my observations, it is true to say, that my sparrows tend to rise and return from the Old School Sparrow Clan roost earlier on bright sunny days. In this respect they might be similar to the humans who live in the house whose wall they use for the nest box home. This behaviour doesn’t seem to be effected by how cold it is!

The strange thing is that as I walk the country lanes, tracks and paths I often end up passing the roost early in the morning or late in the day on my way home and that got me thinking. Do sparrows sleep? Well yes they use unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS). I won’t pretend, I looked it up. That basically means sleeping with one eye open and only half of the brain shut down. This is a survival characteristic; leaving themselves in at least a partial state of alert should a predator be around. It’s the sort of question my granddaughter might ask and I like to be prepared!

My cock sparrow in the three foot hedge

During the week the sparrows got me thinking on another matter. You know finches get the dreaded white foot disease as I call it, papillomatosis. Apparently this is most common in finches and the species that is most affected is the Chaffinch. A symptom of this is a bird that struggles to keep balance. I spotted just such a bird on a large branch of our old holly tree. It wasn’t perched but its breast was flattened against the branch for support since its leg or legs were now unable to support it. Every few minutes it fluttered as if trying to shift its balance slightly. It repeated this behaviour and then out the hedge a House Sparrow arrived. It perched on the branch within a few inches of the struggling Chaffinch. Now the question is why? Was it offering moral support, was it being inquisitive, did it realise the Chaffinch was in difficulties. Of course, I can’t answer the question but what I can say is that our cock sparrows are pretty much self contained and if you watch sparrows they are not particularly gregarious with any bird except their own species in fact in some ways they are very picky about a lots of things. A few minutes later a hen sparrow joined then on the same branch! Then distracted by other happenings in the garden, I looked back and they are all gone! The incident reminded me of the use of Larsen traps by game keepers. They put one crow or magpie in the trap and this attracts other birds that are then caught! The say the trapped bird is making calls in another bird’s territory and that causes the interest. Having seen stumbled over some of these traps in the past I think this could be true, but the visiting birds could also be responding to the distress calls of the already caught bird!

This year something remarkable happened in our garden. A Robin crashed into the kitchen window when a Sparrowhawk charged through the garden. Birds panic and bang, a robin drops to floor, stunned after its rather violent smash into the glass. My wife witnessed this. She was in the kitchen at the time. She went immediately to investigate and found the adult Robin on the floor, still, but breathing, stunned. She picked it up and made a gently hollow in the dry soil in the raised border just outside the window. We have learnt from experience that some birds left and kept warm will recover? It was beautiful sunny day. The Robin lay on its back legs up in the air (not a pretty sight) and my wife retired to continue with her work in the kitchen but at the same time she kept a close watch on the robin to see if it would recover. The Robin, lying on its back, eventually came round. It recovered enough to turn over. Within a few minutes another robin appeared and presented food to it. The injured bird didn’t take the offered food but the new bird dropped the food nearby and flew off. This was repeated three times. Eventually the injured bird came round and flew off. Was this the bird’s partner. Did it realise that this injured bird was in difficulty? There are so many questions!

Anyway the three foot hedge is empty now and my sparrow is with the rest of the clan, at the roost just up the road. They are grabbing a bit of shuteye or USWS to be precise!

Sunset Heaven

It’s 8.24am and just getting light. The cock House Sparrow is back in the 3 foot hedge. In my head I am saying “your early this morning boy”. Quietly though, because after yesterday, people are already wondering why I am photographing apparently empty hedges! He isn’t bothered anyway and sits a respectable 2 foot down and chirrups repeatedly. I say respectable because no self respecting Sparrow is going to sit on the top of the hedge and offer our local Sparrowhawk a takeaway. A sparrow did that, on my neighbours hedge, a few weeks ago and it WAS taken away! Did I mention the three foot hedge. One of these days I must explain.

Now I am walking through country and around the village, I began to think? Should I go to see my daughter at Christmas and our newly arrived grandson. I was trying to think through it logically, pros and cons, but worrying, like millions of others. What are the risks and what potential changes will there be to Covid rules between now and then. What Boris decisions are on the way or not! Then I spot a bird dropping out of Holly tree and it flys down to the ground. Was that a Fieldfare or Mistle thrush?  Mistle thrush, excellent, I don’t see many of these! I crossed the field and entered a small copse with a pool in the middle and here I found the remains of a fish on the bank. Now I am thinking otter, mink? Big fish, a Carp I would guess.  A female Goosander comes from cover and heads off across the pool. The light is closing and the last remnants of cloud on the horizon is doing a very good job of the sunset. Out comes the camera as a wonderful orange glow spreads across the sky in the direction of the Wrekin. The moon had already climbed and shadows and reflections began to charm me. Out comes the camera. After taking far too many photographs I begin walking home.

Sunset across the Weald Moors

Back home the House Sparrow has sung until its hoarse and decided that enough is enough. Everyone should know by now that this is his spot, keep out, though I guess the Sparrowhawk won’t pay any attention to his boundaries! Two Blackcaps arrive on MY homemade fat balls. This makes me feel good. Male and female and they are feeding side by side (how romantic), Blackcap and brown cap! You start to wonder don’t you? Are these middle European migrants coming here for winter or are they are local birds that breed here and love us so much that they just can’t  leave (my fat balls)?

Well, we often say, ‘I am going for a walk to clear my head’. I don’t think a walk in the country does clear your head.  I think we reorganise our thoughts, clear some things out maybe but that is only half the story. We also refocus and reconnect with the natural world around us and take a rest from this crazy  man made world we live in. The sparrows are off to bed, they are not bothered!