I consider myself to be a half-decent ornithologist. I could have said decent but I doubt if many would agree with that. However, there was a time, like many a modern twitcher, when I travelled far and wide to see some exotic species, particularly a rare bird of prey or an unusual touraco! Now I am far more content to note the ordinary “stuff”. Don’t get me wrong, the sight of a large eagle or vulture circling in a thermal still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
A few days ago, farmer Ralph was gathering in the last of his grain. His wheat harvest had been delayed because of recent torrential rain which had flattened his last field at Grundisburgh. It was a weary looking group that wound its way down Stoney Road with a somewhat overloaded trailer causing quite a spillage of the golden seed. What a bonanza for the local sparrows! Cycling up the hill, I counted well over 200 house sparrows as they noisily searched the road surface. Is there a better sight than a large flock of house sparrows, so common in my childhood and now, in places, a rarity? This is my time for birdwatching – they hardly moved as a I slowly passed them. No doubt a few of these spudgers will become RTA’s through the inability of some vehicle owners to respect the speed limit, but it has been a good year for these little brown birds.
On the edge of Keith’s garden near his 300-year old farmhouse is a clump of thistles, no longer showing purple flowers but now coloured white as the breeze disperses the seed heads across his lawn. Today a couple of dozen goldfinches were excitedly feeding on these seed heads. Are not goldfinches the most beautiful of birds? This flock was mostly made up of youngsters none of which were showing the red, black and white on their heads but all of these finches had black and yellow wing feathers. Once again I was able to cycle slowly past them almost unnoticed so intent were they on extracting the thistle seed. Later, when I cycled back, they were still on the thistles but then were disturbed by Keith’s ‘stupid’ dog. They took off as one – a shower of black and yellow.
The sighting of ravens in Suffolk has become more frequent with this large crow even being seen over Ipswich. Again, when I was a DEFRA Wildlife Inspector, I visited a keeper of captive bred ravens in Lincolnshire. It was a strange visit, very strange. This keeper had not been inspected for over three years and he had had two ravens registered at that time. He was a very friendly man and showed me his nine ravens! Nine? His original pair were in a very large aviary and over the course of the three years had raised seven youngsters. It was impossible to gather them up and put cable ties on their legs. However, during a gale the following autumn, the aviary collapsed and all nine ravens escaped. Could some have come this way perhaps? But that was not the reason why my visit was seemed so strange. Whilst with this keeper there was an almighty crash coming from a nearby shed. I politely asked what caused this noise and really did not expect the answer I received of “that’s the hippopotamus”. The keeper explained that he had acquired this huge animal from the “Zoo down the road – who did not want it any more”. He said that the trouble with caring for this beast was that it needed to be scrubbed down every day with a wet broom and had made a terrible mess of his pond. I subsequently sent in my report but have no idea of what eventually happened to either the hippo or its keeper. “There’s nowt so queer as folk”.