I had a delightful conversation with Lucy Shepherd who is Education Officer for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Lucy is often to be seen parked up in Christchurch Park explaining to young children the wonders of nature. She is also an expert on invertebrates specialising in bumble bees. Well, everyone loves bumble bees, don’t they? During the course of our chat Lucy said that she sometimes managed to study nature during the night. Casually she dropped the information that she and her colleagues had watched the progress of three young tawny owls in our Park. The owlets were often seen near the ice-cream parlour which is only a few metres from Mabel’s tree! This set my mind racing. Is Mabel still alive? Has she changed her roosting and, indeed, nesting site? Most probably, Mabel is no more but there is a good chance that the parents of these young tawnies could be the descendants of our most famous tawny owl. At least the male of these youngsters could have been Mabel’s mate. At any rate, it is fantastic news that tawny owls once again produced young in that area of Christchurch Park. (Mabel’s youngsters May 2012 – photo by Paul Sherman).
Farmer Keith brought a smile to my face when, over a cup of tea the other day, he mentioned his annual problem with a green woodpecker which regularly destroys the barge-board on his ancient farmhouse., He now has a problem with the newly arrived fieldfares. It has been a wonderful season for berries with our hedgerows covered in masses of red hawthorn berries. Holly bushes were also covered in red berries and the two trees in Keith’s orchard looked spectacular in the autumn. Fieldfares love holly berries so Keith covered his trees in delicate netting – you see he normally decorates Burgh Church with boughs of holly, or he did. These beautiful winter thrushes found a way to the holly bushes under the netting. There are no red berries now on Keith’s holly trees. It is strange that the fieldfares preferred the holly berries to the mounds of apples still laying on the ground.
Hare coursing, this revolting ‘sporting’ activity, still takes place in our countryside. On 9 December in the middle of the afternoon police arrested a 33 year old man for illegal hare-coursing at Burgate in North Suffolk. This wildlife vandal came all the way from Surrey. His vehicle was seized and he was taken into custody by the police on suspicion of hare coursing, driving with excess drugs, possession of an offensive weapon and driving a vehicle with no valid insurance. This man will probably only receive a small fine for this.
I read Matthew Paris’s piece in the Times of 12 December with great interest and with a great deal of concern. Matthew was in Catalonia recently and noticed with horror that much of the mountainsides of the Pyrénées had been devastated by the caterpillars of the Asian box-tree moth. According to Matthew large areas had been reduced to a leafless wilderness. Yet another alien species heading our way?
The weather of late has been mild but cloudy with drizzly rain. So it was when I ventured along the river bank at Melton yesterday. Yes, it was dull and murky with the tide only just turning to fill up the river over the vast mudflats. The Deben, whatever the weather is a beautiful river and one of my favourites. Black tailed godwits, oyster catchers and redshank were busy feeding on the mud. All seemed peaceful until a hen harrier (a ringtail) came swooping in from the far side of the river. There was panic amongst the waders and masses of birds became airborne. What I did not realise was that avocets were feeding on the far shore and about 70 of them rose like white ghosts in the Stygian gloom. Marvellous!