Friday, 28 February 2014

Birds - and people who watch them

Before coming to Burnham I really didn't know much about birds. I still don't but I enjoy seeing them and there's no denying they're good for business. Right across North Norfolk there are pubs, shops, restaurants - even galleries - who simply wouldn't be viable without birds.

It's not unusual to hear "I expect it's quiet out of season" but also "I'm surprised there are so many people about." The fact is, there really is no 'season' and an awful lot of those being blown about on the paths and beaches are there because of the birds.  Theoretically we are at the end of our quietest month.  Yes, it has been quiet but everyday has brought visitors in quite surprising numbers, even when the weather has been at it's most off-putting.

Like most of us who live here, I really like this time of year. I could say it's my favourite - still spare and clean but with the promise that comes with more daylight - but in reality I like it almost all the time. But with more daylight comes the opportunity for me to yet again choose whether to walk before opening or after closing. This week it's been the latter and I have returned to my standard 3 mile stroll to the sea and back. Along the bank.

Even to me, there do seem to be a lot of birds about and they look pretty much what I would expect - geese, gulls, waders, hawks and owls. All busy and doing what they do at this time of year.  And then there are the people who watch them. There are a lot of them too and they also look as I would expect, bringing with them the most extraordinary amount of kit. Tripod, lenses, scopes (I believe this is the term) which would surely do justice to a full-blown wildlife production.

As is my way, I normally say hello to anyone I meet on the bank - all very 'Overy' - and most people respond in similar mode.  Just occasionally there are those who seem genuinely taken aback by this, presumably conditioned by years of commuting on train or tube. Like the pair who had set up the most elaborate tangle of interlocking tripods across the full width of the path. Staring intently into their equipment they were clearly pre-occupied with looking for whatever it was. No response, no acknowledgement. Which is fine; we all have days when we just want to be alone. But maybe not build a tank trap on the same day.

A little further on, in conversation with a slightly less encumbered chap, it transpired that what they were probably looking for were Short-eared Owls and Rough-legged Buzzards pairs of both species having been reported in the last few days. My conversational friend said he had had no joy and thought it was a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack, before continuing on his homeward way.

Heading back from the beach half an hour later, all these people had gone. Nobody but me, one yellow-eyed Owl hunting close to me along the bank and a pair of rough looking Buzzards hanging about over the marsh.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Normal for Norfolk

Some weeks ago I decided I would not write about the weather for the forseeable future... but, risking everything, I feel I should. Up here in the fastness of the North Norfolk coast, we haven't really had winter this year.

The days are getting longer, the birds are doing what birds do and much of the garden never really stopped. And this is the year where 'the country' has had its wettest winter for so many years. But not here.  We haven't been particularly wet - in fact I think we may have been below average in our little patch, and it hasn't been cold. Since the start of November I can only recall one very slight ground frost, and looking at the Burnham Thorpe weather station the lowest temperature recorded was a very moderate -1.8° in early January.

It has however been windy. But then it usually is. What is remarkable is the almost total absence of any wind from the north or east. This is not a bad thing, but in the context of the tidal surge in early December it means that what we now see along the coast is not just the product of the surge, but the subsequent absence of a major part of the normal restorative process.

It would be foolish to think that it will continue in this vein but re-assuringly things look remarkably alright just now. In my experience over the last 25 years in Norfolk, snow is more likely at Easter than Christmas but given what now must be warmer sea temperatures than usual coupled with a late Easter, we might just get away with it. However, if we do, it would not be a huge surprise if summer turned out to be a bit of a disappointment.