The call of the gun was strong on this gorgeous Spring morning. After a week of working from home (in self-isolation) I was desperate for fresh air, yet I realised that my wife must be feeling the same. I suggested one of our favourite walks, from Strumpshaw out to Buckenham Mill and back. Old Charlie the cocker needed a good stretch and within the hour we were at the RSPB car park at Strumpshaw Fen. A couple of birders looked at us oddly as we got ‘booted-up’ and put Charlie on the lead. No dogs are allowed on the reserve. We stepped out of the car park and hit the lane towards Buckenham Fen. Though that is also an RSPB reserve, the track running through the middle is public byway. A remote walk which would take us far from the madding, Covid-19 crowd.
The start of the walk is bordered by typical Norfolk alder-carrs. Flooded woods with ponds and dykes full of decaying leaf-mulch. This morning the stench was as ripe as a farmers cesspit. The beauty of this forbidding, impenetrable landscape is the seclusion it brings. As well as harbouring elusive species such as Chinese water deer and muntjac, the birdsong is spectacular.
We crossed the Norwich / Great Yarmouth railway line via the new level crossing. What used to be a manned crossing is now an automated affair. A photo opportunity missed, as the attendant’s hut has been removed. The staff that used to man the crossing always kept bird feeders nearby and threw seed on the floor too. A quiet approach would allow the photographer to snap chaffinch, greenfinch, linnet, goldfinch, and robin.
Further along the lane, before reaching the gamekeeper’s cottage, we stopped to look upwards. The plaintive mewing of a buzzard, soaring low against an azure sky. As I took a photo, I heard my wife say ‘Morning!’ to a couple of joggers as they passed, heading towards Buckenham Station. We continued and could see the pair (a tall, thin man and a small, thin woman) jogging, then walking, then jogging again. As someone who ran ten marathons and hundreds of road races in his younger years, I commented patronisingly “Bless ‘em. Just beginners!” We walked on, Charlie turning somersaults on his mandatory lead at the scent of every pheasant trail. You can take the dog out of the game (he is serial absconder, so condemned to the leash) but you can’t take the game out of the dog.
As we turned onto the track leading to the River Yare, I watched the rookery in the small copse that sits in one of the water meadows. This is an industrious time for the rook tribes, rebuilding last year’s nests. Ensuring that the new neighbours constructing next door don’t steal from their nest. The rookery is a noisy, quarrelsome corvid ghetto; yet approach it on foot and you will see a sudden defensive union of mobbing guardians. Moving along, we saw the joggers again, acting strangely. The pair were hopping in and out of a hedge bordering one of the deep dykes next to the track. As we neared them, I could see both had their mobile phones out and my first thought was “Where the hell did they keep those phones?”
As we neared, the lycra-clad male ectomorph approached, obviously quite agitated by something. “Do you know if the Strumpshaw office is open?” he asked. I answered that I had no idea. It was Saturday. What was the problem? “There’s a dead buzzard over there, across the dyke. Looks like it’s been shot! People keep shooting buzzards, don’t they!” As a shooting man, I bristled straight away. He led me to the scene and I looked across the reeds. A large black, grey, white muddle of feather and flesh lay on the turf. “That isn’t a buzzard”, I proffered. “Looks like a heron to me. Probably a fox kill”. The mini-ectomorph stepped in. “Why don’t you think it’s a buzzard?” she asked. I sighed. “Because buzzards aren’t black and grey, they’re tawny and brown. It’s a heron”.
The next statement made me angry. “But who would shoot a heron?” I caught the steely glare of ‘she who must be obeyed’ which told me, don’t argue. She knows how intolerant I can be of fools and false prophets. I lent my fieldcraft expertise to the matchstick man. “That is a heron, probably killed by a fox, sir. Good day”. They jogged, walked, jogged, walked back towards Strumpshaw with their poor mobile phone pics of their ‘shot buzzard’. Intent on reporting a raptor kill to an RSPB ranger. I had a point to prove, though. Not just to my better half but also to myself. I found the nearest cattle gate, clambered over and headed back up the other side of the dyke until I found the murder victim.
“The ‘forensic’ pics justify my expert opinion, M’lud. A half-eaten heron. Shooters don’t eat raw heron, M’lud. Oh and please observe what’s sitting on top of the corpse, M’lud? Yes, that’s fox shit. Reynard has no respect for the victim and likes to ‘mark’ the kill.”
The rest of the walk was enjoyable. The fen still harbours the last of the winter wildfowl and the whistle of wigeon, even in daylight, evokes a soundtrack to the wild and lonely. The cronk of incoming geese, the trill of the reed bunting, the whisper of wind-blown reeds and the creep of the little deer from meadow to cover. We came here today to avoid ‘people’ because of Covid-19 and it was a damn good choice. Except for the pair of ignorant ectomorphs.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, March 2020