I couldn’t blame the sun for looking like it wanted to turn in early. It’s been a long twelve months.
But whatever upheavals 2021 brought to people, the wildlife of the Broads continues its business. Water deer patrol marshes bustling with ducks and geese. This is a buck – you can just see his tusks. Water deer are not sociable, and although half a dozen were in view, they kept apart.
What does a lapwing sound like to a water deer? We transcribe their call as peewit, peewit, to the point where that is an alternative name for the species. Elegant, cleanly marked and with preposterous feathers on their heads, these sweet-voiced waders have become internationally threatened – here’s a close up from Sussex, several years ago.
But nowhere in the south have I seen flocks like Norfolk’s. In fact, there were more lapwings in view yesterday than I’ve seen in the last decade put together. The vast Broads sky filled with a lapwing murmuration, swirling smoke trails of feathered hope. Not easy to photograph, but good to think about.
Another rarity swooped over the reeds. Marsh harriers – the signature bird of the Broads – are unmistakable.
And buzzards flew a little higher.
Otters kept lower, and quieter, leaving their five-toed footprints in the mud.
And so onwards, into 2022. I’ve already seen my first wild mammal: on the pavement, just after lunchtime, threading between walkers and families. A small squat dog-like deer – a muntjac. With an all too real dog pounding after it, and I am grateful that the deer is unhurt after it bolted across the main road, skidded over, and finally lost its pursuer in a construction site. The dog was last seen running back into the open countryside valley; I walked around for a while, seeking its owner, but drew a blank.
People do many things that aren’t malicious but have consequences for our wild neighbours. I don’t know the circumstances of why this particular dog was loose, but it goes without saying that chasers should really stay on the lead.
But I didn’t want to start the year with a grumble. Let us have an ambition to tread lightly, and walk a little more slowly and listen to the land a little more. Its stories are wonderful things.