Smart as you like

The forecast was wrong, the weather had changed; as dawn broke, it was not overcast skies that greeted us but streaks of white whisps across a clear and cold, expanse of deep blue. Ice covered puddles, their muddy edges solid with none of the usual squelchy give. The grass at the edge of the fields crunched underfoot like frozen green beans. As the sun broke the horizon, the streaks of cloud were tinged pink before quickly deepening to orangey red and yellow. It was a beautiful, frosty and cold morning that broke over the Norfolk farmland.

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Sunrise

Sitting where three fields met, I watch as this sunrise unfolds. To the left is a field of stubble where a flock of fieldfare, with their grey hoods, hop purposefully amongst the stalks searching for food. Later in the day, four beautiful brown hares stride across the same field. They look like they might start a boxing match as they all meet in the middle, before deciding it is not worth it and continue on their separate ways.

To the right is an expanse of recently planted wheat, a sea of green broken only by two small islands of trees. From there comes the ‘yabba yabba’ of a green woodpecker, while the towering song of a skylark radiates from somewhere in the blue expanse above.

The third field is behind me, beyond a spoil heap covered with grasses and other wild weeds. A dark hedgerow separates the green wheat field from the dun yellow stalks of the cover crop left behind in the third field. On the other side of that hedge from where I sit, in the field of cover, we have set a long line of mist nets. The hedgerow is heaving with birds, moving in waves through the bare branches. Our aim is to catch a few as they drop down to the seed spilled among the cut stalks.

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Stunning male yellowhammer

Although the morning is beautiful, the weather is not so good for catching, with the sun showing up the nets from the start. Despite this, the birds are there, the nets are there and it is inevitable that we catch some. Indeed, we caught a respectable 52! And what a 52, from the brilliant sun yellow and russet browns of yellowhammers, to the more streaky beige, dark browns and black heads of reed buntings, to the chocolatey browns and jet black spots set against pure white cheeks of tree sparrows. It is a delightful catch of some of our smartest looking farmland birds.

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Equally dapper tree sparrow

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