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St Margaret’s Church, Old Catton

St Margaret’s, Old Catton

For this morning’s early walk I headed into Old Catton to visit St Margaret’s Church.

A beautiful church in an equally beautiful setting.

There are some wonderful 18th Century headstones to explore, each with their own story to tell.

But they are for visits to come.

Sadly, like so many, this church is closed because of the pandemic. Not that it would have been open at 6.30 this morning anyway!

All that was to be done was to sit quietly and listen to the birds.

Sit with me now.

Early morning walk

My aim was to leave the house before 6am. I managed it with just seconds to spare and headed to Catton Park.

Early morning in Catton Park

The area known today as Catton Park was originally part of the Catton Estate on the outskirts of Norwich and dates from the 1770s.

Catton Hall, which now houses an uncurated collection of apartments, sits to the side of the park but has no connection to it today other than its history and a rose fence that currently has some aromatic blooms that will later transform into hundreds of plump rose hips.

The park is at its best early morning and again at twilight. The light at both these times is beautiful and you tend to see fewer people.

In the distance I could hear someone calling to their dog, but other than that I had the morning sunshine all to myself. Well, for a little while at least.

By twenty past six more dog walkers had started to arrive, each plotting different directions around the park. I spotted my first jogger who was doing what ever it is joggers do to what ever it is they have on their wrists just prior to running. Yellow shirt. Blue shorts.

Despite the growing numbers of humans, the birds were definitely the dominant species.

I watched a baker’s dozen of starlings gather on the grass before heading into a nearby tree to chatter about the jogger’s wardrobe, before returning to the grass, no doubt to chatter about me, and then back to the tree again.

The wood pigeons seemed to have no interest in the starling’s games or gossip. They just slowly plodded along like ageing beat policemen discussing the weather and food.

In a small glade to the side of the park I spotted a couple of foxglove plants standing very proud. The light wasn’t ideal for taking pictures, but while trying to get as good a shot as I could I was distracted by some rustling in the undergrowth.

A blackbird perhaps, a robin or a wren? Close to my feet I spotted a tiny mouse or vole. I couldn’t get a photograph or a proper look as it quickly beat a retreat when it realised that it had stumbled upon me. Its fur was dark and I don’t recall seeing ears of note, so I’m going to settle for a field vole rather than a field mouse.

Over in the picnic area a gathering of brilliant red poppies drew me. By now the sun light was already starting to be too bright for my phone camera to get a decent picture or for me to stare at too long, so I just stood a while and soaked up everything the park had to offer my other senses.

A large black dog strolled up to me to wish me a good day. I politely returned the greeting and headed home for breakfast.

International Dawn Chorus Day

Garden shed studio

My poor shed in 2013

Spoiler alert – I slept through it.

To be honest I had no plans on getting up that early this morning. My sleep pattern is all over the place at the moment.

I did my first International Dawn Chorus Day in 2013 from the bottom shed in the garden. It required me cutting a hole in the side of the shed in order for me to stick a couple of microphones on a shelf.

I had wires running up to the spare room where they fed into a mixer and then live onto the internet.

The following year I pretty much did the same thing except I don’t think I used the shed studio. Instead the microphones were pointing out of the bedroom window.

Things got very exciting in 2015 as I set up a whole outside broadcast unit on the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Ranworth Broad in Norfolk. It took a good few hours to set up, then a drive home. A very early alarm call and drive back to Ranworth.

After all the excitement in 2015, I was back in my own garden for 2016 International Dawn Chorus Day.

Broadcasting from Cley Marshes in 2017

Broadcasting from Cley Marshes in 2017

My final International Dawn Chorus Day was the most exciting I’ve done.

We were at Cley Marshes in North Norfolk as part of the Sounding Coastal Change project.

It meant setting everything up and then grabbing what sleep I could on the floor of one of the bird hides. It was incredible. You can read about it by clicking these words.

All, apart from the first one I did, were relayed by SoundCamp / REVEIL, which follows the dawn live around the world.

You can hear the various recordings below.

Will I do it again? Probably. Any suggestions for 2021?