We hosted a guided walk starting at the garden on Sunday evening a week ago, walking downstream from Flatford to 56 Gates, part way to Manningtree. After a weekend characterised by torrential showers, it was a beautiful sunny evening, with picturesque cloud formations worthy of one of Constable’s masterpieces. The wind had dropped, and the graceful old buildings of Flatford were reflected in the tranquil surface of the Stour. A blackbird fluted from the uppermost branches of a willow, his tail twitching with the force of his song. A grey wagtail flitted across the water below the Flatford millrace, and then paused for a moment beside where the wheel would once have been, dipping his tail elegantly. At this time of year, they almost seem miss-named – with their flash of pretty primrose yellow plumage.
As the peace and golden sunlight of the evening settled on the reeds and wayside plants, the birdsong swelled and filled the air with mellow sound, a song thrush tuning up, chaffinches and wrens singing happily, the sweet fluting of a robin, and occasionally the slow cadence of a reed warbler. Then suddenly the silent white wings of a barn owl caught our attention, dipping and hovering over a headland, heart-shaped face focused on a point in the grass below. It alighted on a fencepost nearby, still listening intently.
Later we were intrigued to see the owl locked in combat with a kestrel, both sets of talons locked into some small furry prize as they spiralled together through the air. It seems the owl lost courage first, as the kestrel carried the prize off to a fencepost on Cattawade Marshes and proceeded to devour it with gusto.