I had a fabulous wander over the downs on this week’s walk at Peppering Farm. Meeting up with a birder standing alone by the edge of the fields, his telescope trained hard on to the bare brown sweep of the field as shown in my photograph, I learnt a mini drama was going on half a mile away.
I had stupidly forgotten to bring my binoculars and was having to rely on ‘stretching’ my vision a piece by holding my reading glasses an inch out from my eyes. In this way I had been able to magnify things just a bit and so had identified several small birds sitting on telephone wires above the track.
Goldfinches and yellowhammers were feeding on the rye, chicory and hemp seed specially planted for them by the FWAG conservation group.
Walking on to that curiously-named deserted farmstead called Canada, I had sat down to have lunch and was treated to a medley of raven calls from deep croaks to sounds like water piping.
The birds were, I suppose, full of autumn food, what with dead rabbits lying around, victims of the disease myxomatosis, and the remains of grain on the fields and seed from the wildbird strips.
Then I met up with the birder, wrapped up in great coat and muffler and winter cap pulled over his ears. That is the trouble with serious birding – you have to stand still for hours on top of bleak hills or cold marshes while the likes of me can wear shorts and summer wear as we stride out like people on mini marathons.
But there’s the rub. These other people, the serious telescope brigade, see things I do not. I would have missed the drama going on half a mile away. The fellow invited me to look down the barrel of his forty-four.
The wind shivered the view a little despite the mighty tripod beneath, but with care I was eventually able to see what those dots in the distance were out on the fallow. Three buzzards were fighting over a dead rabbit and having the while to fend off a ravenous red kite as well.
All made pecks at the carcass but most of their time was spent on keeping pole position. The kite would fly up rapidly on a gust, then dive skilfully under the flak to swoop away with a shred of skin and bone.
The buzzards hammered each other with claw and beak and rolled around like a prairie sage bush while a crow chose that moment to make a cunning piece of his plan pay a shred of profit. They all looked like African vultures at feast.
When you see buzzards and kites wheeling gracefully high overhead, having slipped the surly bonds of earth and making wild cries of happiness, you can hardly imagine them on the ground grovelling in the mud for scraps of rotten meat.
But that is the reward for the lone watcher with his telescope muffled against the fresh air and I was so glad he let me briefly into such a field of view.
He had also spent hours last week watching the pallid harrier – ‘the highlight of the year’, he told me.