South Downs Dawn

The dawn is cold and the east wind adds an edge. A corn bunting sings from a fence post and then flies its fat body on short wings with legs dangling low over the tall meadow to drop into a well-hidden nest of woven grass. A yellowhammer adds another familiar rhythm from the top of an old elder. Pipits parachute and skylarks circle the open sky, both drowning the silence.

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Cock yellowhammer

The old downland shepherds must have been driven mad with the inescapable and wearying repetition of these ceaseless summer sounds; visiting poets and composers heard something quite different. Only a family of murderous ravens, carried quickly by the tail wind low across the down, bring brief excitement to the brightening day.

At Malling Down above Lewes, the sun is gaining height and the long-disused quarry is carpeted in pretty downland flowers. Bullfinches, goldfinches, linnets and greenfinches  are nesting in the patches of scrub and their calls fill the deep valley.

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Malling Down near Lewes, East Sussex

The fragrant orchids are shrivelling and the morning dew has gone; two horses stand still under the hot sun save for an idle swish of the tail. Above the quarry, the path to Glyndebourne over the down is across a bland field that disappears over the hill and there will be no shade for a mile; under the strengthening sun and with weakening resolve, it is easier to head down the slope back to the singing finches and clattering woodpigeons.

 

3 thoughts on “South Downs Dawn

  1. My old patch – 2 years in the mid 80s walking butterfly transects and looking after the Adonis Blue population on Malling Down. More scrub than I remember. Hope you’re both well.

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  2. Thanks WTM – we are well thanks. Now in a huge ex holiday caravan doing a self build. I have been in mid Wales chasing merlins this year – getting too old for walking the Molinia though and being diverted by hay meadows. Hope you coming south some time. Steve

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