Deserted Orchard

It’s very convenient. You can park by the Village Hall – best before Playgroup arrives – and scan the pagodas of seed hanging from the tall golden Hornbeams which line the ghyll behind it. There were two Hawfinches up there when we first arrived but they moved off quite quickly. Having seen them so easily we assumed they’d soon be back but that didn’t happen.

Just to the side, the Sussex Border Path leads you down into an extraordinary neglected old orchard whose broad trees are festooned with lichen and bunched with Mistletoe, therefore frequented by rattling Mistle Thrushes one of which was already in song – a month early – high in a Lime across the road.

The gaps are tufted with frosty rank grasses in the process of colonization by Bramble and Oak saplings. There’s a constant passing of Blackbirds, Mistle & Song Thrushes, Blue, Great & Coal Tits.

Mistletoe is a scarce plant in RXland but in this village it’s everywhere. I wonder if it was originally introduced as a crop for the Christmas market.

As the rising sun casts and amber light across the woodlands the rising noise from the road behind us combines with the rumbling of airbuses in the cold air, positioning themselves for a breakfast-time arrival at Gatwick, drowning out softer birdsounds such as the piping of Bullfinches, once so resented for their stripping of fruit buds from orchards like these that bounties were paid for their heads by Rat & Sparrow Clubs.

At Penhurst last week I talked to a lady who had come across the records of such a club based in Catsfield where, astonishingly, they once paid for the heads of Hawfinches too.

The village ghyll cuts a deep ravine which finally flows into a smaller stream lined with an outgrown Hornbeam hedge, its progeny distanced by a cordon sanitaire of shade.

We had one prolonged view of a single Hawfinch feeding busily in an Apple tree, though it was rather against the light until it flew over our heads. The only calls we heard were the soft flight-calls rather than the typical metallic clicks. There have been up to 6 birds in this orchard for a week now, with smaller numbers scattered around other orchards in the area.


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