What's noticeable this morning is how after the earlier rain, everything has grown like topsy. Everything below tree height is already looking lush, and summery, through some of the trees are not yet completely in leaf. I'm here to see how different this stretch of brook looks in spring, rather than summer, but in fact I suspect it's going to look remarkably similar, because of this recent spurt of (under)growth.
What is different is the size of the ducklings on the pond. Last year it was all teenage ducklings, beginning to assume duck-like shapes, this year we've got a mix of older ones and recent balls of fluff. At first sight of me, the worldly-wise teenagers come dashing across the water, demanding to be fed.
Where the stream goes into Steanbridge House land, there is a bit of an obstruction and a bottleneck, creating a small, fast-flowing rill or race, heading in the direction of Steanbridge House. As I approach, two of the ball-of-fluff variety of ducklings are swept over it. Reaching the quieter water below, they immediately start paddling like crazy to get back to the pond, where their mum is calling frantically, but I wonder if they are going to make it, because they are very small and the race is very fast. They struggle in the rush of water, peeting desperately, and I consider trying to help, but can't reach them because of the undergrowth. Eventually they make it, but now they have to get up the downflow of the stream on the other side of the bridge that carries the footpath, which is even harder work for small paddlers. Sensibly, they head along the side of the stream where the current is less, and after a few anxious moments I catch a glimpse of them on the other side, heading back to mum (I hope). So much drama, so early in the morning.
Relieved, I cross the stile and follow the stream into Steanbridge House land. The grass in the field is knee-high, and on the banks of the stream the nettles are king, but there are also lots of buttercups, red campion, and Large White butterflies. I still feel this could be a place for watervoles, with its steeper banks and deeper, more managed stream. A buzzard is circling overhead, just where I saw one last year, so this is presumably a good buzzard hunting-ground. No kingfishers today, though. The stream looks cloudy, or perhaps it's only the angle of the sun that makes it hard to see into the water; something comes up to the surface with a big 'gloop', but I can't see what it is.
I see that the meadow on the other side of the house has already been cut, ready for the village Jubilee and Olympics event in 10 days' time. Further along the lake, I'm hailed by Nigel, one of the ground workers on the estate, who claims to have thought I must be a poacher because I'm wearing a poacher's jacket, though I reckon poachers don't usually sport cameras and sketchbooks and wander in during daylight hours, do they? Nigel says you'd be surprised, and they do get poachers regularly, though mainly teenage lads. I straighten him out about my reason for being here and he waxes informative. He remembers seeing watervoles on the lake when he was younger, though not recently, and kingfishers last year, but it's a bit early for them just now. He comments on how fast the grass has grown this year, with all the wet - some of our local farmers are making hay already, which is unknown before June. Apparently the meadow was cut yesterday, and afterwards Nigel saw the buzzards come swooping down, taking advantage of the short grass to catch field voles and other small mammals. Now, there are ducks in the field, relaxing in the cut grass. According to Nigel, there's a roe deer and her fawn who come down into the field, and he also tells me to look out for a massive rainbow trout which hangs out in the bit of stream below the outflow of the lake.
Down by the outflow of the lake a few yellow iris are in bloom. There's no sign of the monster trout, but there are a few bubbles rising by the edge, so maybe he's lurking under the concrete lip.
I leave the smart, esate-ish part and follow the stream down into the woodlands below, where the undergrowth closes in again and the air is full of dancing insects and an Orange Tip butterfly. What is it that Orange Tip butterflies actually do? This one is flitting around but never settling on any flowers, so either it's very picky or it's not looking for nectar. Aha - here's another OTB, so maybe... I wait to see if they're going to hook up, but no.
By the 'bridge to nowhere' (the iron hump bridge that crosses the stream only to run almost immediately into a fence) I pause to look and listen. I can hear a buzzard calling overhead, and as I step onto the bridge, a large bird takes off from the top of a nearby tree. Which gives me goose-bumps because exactly the same thing happened last time I was here, and very close to this spot. So is this the same buzzard pair, returning to a regular nest site? I can also hear a chiffchaff, and I now know what they look like, having finally managed to spot one the other day at Furners Farm, except that what they look like is not very much, to be honest. If ever there was an LBJ, the chiffchaff is it. Well, Little Buff Job, maybe. Are those bluetits alarming in the tree next door? I play the bluetit alarm call from my phone bird app, which causes the real ones to alarm even more vigorously. QED, I think, though maybe not very kind of me. I take myself off in case they have a nest they want to get to.
Down here, amongst clumps of hazels, the stream meanders seriously, real snake-bends, and is very much clearer, though I can't spot anything in it. Hovering over it, however, is one of those flies which looks like a small brown teddy bear with a very long proboscis, sword-like, and swept-back wings. It looks remarkably dangerous but is (I think) quite harmless. I give it a wide berth in case I'm wrong about that.
Towards the end of the Steanbridge land, the track emerges from the woodlands, which retreat up onto the steep bank on my right, and the nettles close in, making access to the stream difficult. By following an animal path (what would I do without them?) I come to the old leat, if that's what it is, the steep-banked channel that runs parallel with the stream and rejoins it close to the boundary. This time, the banks of the leat are deep in wild garlic. Beyond it is a chunk of wall and a trio of trees which, from my recent revisit to church field, I now recognise as being possibly part of the old silk mill. And that would make sense, if this was all part of the mill water structure.
For interest, I follow another animal path away from the wall and into the woodland on the bank, above the leat. It becomes quite a highway, and there are some different sorts of tres up here, including beech, a few evergreens and lots of holly, all of which are rare around the stream. There are some very beautiful and large beech trees, striking in their spring green, so I wonder if this is another scrap of ancient woodland. Three deer spring up from the bank at my approach, and skitter away, pausing to look back at me as if they can't quite believe their eyes.
|Lone oak tree|
|A narrow escape for ducklings|
Can't bear to see any further drama, so in cowardly fashion I take myself off home.