Country diary: Treasured gifts keep falling from the skies

<span>‘The meteorite was found at the nearby quarry, embedded in chalk.’</span><span>Photograph: Kate Blincoe</span>
‘The meteorite was found at the nearby quarry, embedded in chalk.’Photograph: Kate Blincoe

I am holding a meteorite in my hand when something plummets to the ground just a couple of metres from my feet. I step back, trying to puzzle out what it is. At first, it’s just a brown, writhing shape, but then it fragments into three birds – house sparrows. One pings off into the sky, leaving a female pinned down by a male.

Courtship often begins with a bobbing display dance from the male, but it can turn into a rough and tumble chase like this, sometimes with several males pursuing one female. This might be followed by mating. Seconds later, they both fly up from the ground and vanish out of sight.

It’s an early start to the nesting season. Eggs are normally laid from late March to August, with each pair attempting at least two, sometimes up to four, broods in a season. Around me, the sparrow colony is bustling and noisy, brought to chattering life by the recent unseasonably mild weather.

The meteorite still fills my palm. It’s heavy and solid, with an unexpected density due to the metallic iron and mineral content. When you pass it to someone, they are surprised by how heavy it is and often do a little comedy “fake drop”. In the sunlight it glistens, telling me tales of unimaginable places. The blue-green of copper flecks its surface. I weigh it and find it is 2.3kg – for comparison, my sand-filled exercise ball is about the same size and weighs a kilogram less.

The meteorite was found at the nearby quarry, embedded in chalk. Above it, the line of entry could be seen – a thread of brown sediment cutting through the white. The quarry and the farm are on a seam of chalk that stretches out into the North Sea as Norfolk’s chalk reef. Although more terrestrial, the chalk itself is interesting too. It’s mainly formed out of the shells and calcareous remains of vast numbers of tiny marine organisms and is a reminder of an underwater past.

A piece taken off the meteorite for analysis by a geologist confirmed its identity. He explains that it has travelled far further than all the cars and planes on Earth combined. To hold a chunk of rock from space is a mind-bending moment. No wonder birds fall at my feet.

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