Country diary: calm waters and chasing birds

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Waltham Brooks, West Sussex: A bird of prey spears low across the dark water and up over the reeds. The starlings react instantly, exploding in deafening alarm calls

The water shines blue and gold in the evening light. Across the fields, a herd of dark fallow deer runs out of the trees and across the brooks. One by one, they slow to a stop and queue, waiting as the animal in front of them disappears into a ditch, reappears as it climbs out, and then runs to catch up with the others.

I count 79 deer, but see only one adult stag, its tall antlers glinting as it turns to watch the stragglers. A female marsh harrier, brown with a cream head, flaps over them, probably heading to roost. The sun will soon drop below the shadows of the South Downs, so I turn and head down the steep flood bank and back across the marsh.

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