Water Meadows Chronicles

The Water Meadow Chronicles part 5 (December 2019)

Iain Carruthers-Jones shares his experiences as BWMG volunteer, with the latest Chronicle:

The mid-December (14/12/19) Watermeadows Volunteers work party assignment was a good challenge. The weather forecast was fair and it was a bit nippy. The incentive to get started was clear. More activity means that you keep warm as well as see progress, and even transformation.

The task was outlined by the group leader, Julian. The ten volunteers were to work on the east bank of the Lark moving in a northerly, down river, direction towards the red dogwood. This stretch had a lot of overgrown dead plant material and several extremely elderly elder trees. There was, as well, a considerable number of extremely thorny rambling plants ready to cling to jackets and gouge nasty scratch marks. Undaunted and having donned stout clothing and good leather gardening gloves we set-to with our secateurs, loppers and saws. We made great progress. The smaller twigs were moved by wheelbarrow to the compost heap on the west bank and the larger pieces were stacked in piles in the hope that they will be good small mammal and insect refuges. We will cross our fingers and see.

As always, a really good team esprit developed. It’s always nice to chat as well as work. Today’s session was particularly lively because we discussed the results of the general election which was held two days ago. Opinions and comments were very forthcoming about Brexit (yes or no), the pantomime of the election promises made during the last few weeks as well as the personalities of both the leading and lesser characters. It would be fair to say that plaudits were in very short supply. It will be interesting to see how things play out over the next weeks and months. Will the election promises, such as the improvement in meeting the urgent needs of the NHS services and infrastructure, be fulfilled and who will become the new leader of Labour? Even that discussion and the heavy rain we endured didn’t seem to dampen our spirits.

Something that has become evident to me is that one notices things when you are working on a small area of ground. Things you wouldn’t necessarily notice when you are out walking. Or even when you are out walking the dog and dawdling along as the dog enjoys a “sniffathon”. The former tends to give you an eye level or a horizon level perspective and the latter, at least in my case, needs a micro, ground level perspective to ensure that the dog is not eating something it shouldn’t. My dog finds it difficult just yet to tell the difference between dog biscuits and dried poo. From discussion with other dog owners, it would seem that many dogs are similarly challenged!

However, working as a volunteer allows me to look closely in the arms’ reach to medium distance range. I saw lots of buds and shoots on shrubs and trees. It looked more like early spring than early winter. I saw quite a lot of daisies in flower and I saw plenty of new growth grass and nettles. There were cow parsley shoots as well. It made me smile as I was reminded of the vision of ethereal beauty we can look forward to in the spring, especially in the Great Churchyard. Since I moved to Bury St Edmunds only earlier this year I did not know what to expect and I was transfixed.

Birds-wise, a grey heron flew past us. I am so impressed with the elegance of these birds. Flight seems to be languid and effortless. I wonder if the raised water levels in both the Lark and the Linnet will help or hinder the herons search for food? Certainly the increased flow might hinder the moorhens. They haven’t been seen around in the last few days.

In contrast, there has been a daily mid morning flypast of long tailed tits. They seem to gambol along. Twittering away to each other they fly from tree to tree seeking out food. They queue up on my fence to get to the bird feeder; I’ve seen as many as six all on the feeder at the same time. Sometimes they allow great tits, coal tits and blue tits to fly with them as well. It’s like a flying circus; it certainly brings a smile to my face.

As well as tits of various types, we enjoy robins. They seem to thrive in this area. During the volunteer session there was a robin “keeping an eye” on us. It even adopted one of the new stumps as a vantage point. Sadly I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to get a picture!

Many people seem to think that the robin is a friendly bird. It is always close by and chirpy. However, I was talking with an expert in bird behaviour recently and he was saying that they can be very territorial and aggressive both with other robins and other birds in general. In support of that idea, I witnessed some “furious flying” a few minutes ago ( Sunday, 15th Dec 14.35) . A robin was perched on the bird feeder outside my kitchen window. A flock of long tailed tits and a couple of blue tits flew in. While the robin was chasing off about five or six of them, the rest settled in to feed. When the robin returned it chased off the ones that had been feeding. This left space for the others to come back and feed. This went on for several minutes. The robin was very agitated. If I could hear in the frequency range that tits laugh, I would have been deafened.

Robin (image from http://www.gardenbirdwatching.com)

Iain Carruthers-Jones