Along the Alde in winter are sometimes to be found Snipe, in the wetter meadows by the river. They see you before you see them, and fly off in a rising zig-zag with a loud rasping call, the extraordinary long bill sticking out in front. By mid-October I was hearing reports of good numbers of Snipe, spread around the county, even in people’s gardens. Sure enough when we got home one afternoon, there was one walking across the drive, not far from the pond. We watched it closely for a few minutes, and I was reminded how beautiful the plumage is. Among the brown streaks on its body are long pale stripes which blend in perfectly with clumps of dead grass or rushes. The legs are relatively short, which makes the bill look even longer.
I usually mention the winter visiting thrushes, the Fieldfares and Redwings, at this time of year. On schedule, just after the middle of October, they were here in the village, flying around and calling. Look out for them in the hedges, where the crop of Hawthorn berries is just at its best, as well as feeding in the fields. Winter migrants from Eastern Europe and Scandinavia don’t just set off for Britain on a fixed date. They depend on favourable weather and wind direction for a successful crossing of the North Sea. Have a good look at the map during a television weather forecast. In an area of depression, the winds will be circulating in an anti-clockwise direction. So, if a depression is over the southern part of the North Sea, the winds in the northern part will be travelling from north-east to south-west, i.e. from Scandinavia to Britain, and so on. You can work out the most favourable days (or more usually nights) for the birds’ migration journeys.
Incidentally, on the day I saw my first Fieldfares over this part of the village, there were also house martins circling over the field at the same time – my last for the autumn as it happened.
I am always surprised by how late in the year the autumn colours of trees and shrubs are at their best; I reckon the first week in November is as good as any. In this area we do not have many of the spectacular forest trees such as Beech, and the ones which are common are less colourful – the Ash turns a greenish yellow, and the Oak, usually the last to turn, is often a rather dull khaki colour. Our hedges however, which are particularly rich in species, are a different matter. Here the Field Maple turns a brilliant gold, and the Dogwood (common along the Framlingham road) a deep purple-bronze.
In the evenings just at the moment I am hearing the calls of Muntjac deer. These are a short, sharp bark, surprisingly loud and penetrating when the animal is close. Muntjac breed throughout the year, so the calls can be heard at any time.