Friday, November 25, 2005

Giveth and taketh away

This morning was bitter. Yesterday, the wind swung round to the north and biting arctic winds swept Britain. In Scotland and the north of England, snow has arrived. Here it is still bright and frosty but now with a cold, cold wind. This morning I took the little camera again, a pair of binoculars ...and a hat.

The last week of ice and cold has brought us into full winter with a jolt. October was warm - my kids swum in the English channel in late October. Animals and plants were active much later than normal. In some parts of
Britain, blossom erupted on fruit trees in hopeful expectation that winter had never come and spring was due. Now the late warmth has finished and the long period of winter rest has truly begun.

The plants beside the railway donated much to me en route. Burrs - the hooked seed cases of the Burdock gripped my fleece tenaciously. Many other sticky grass seeds also clung to me as I passed. I did my duty and dispersed their genes a mile further along as a picked them off and flung them into the hedge. In return, early in the walk, a bramble managed to snag the dangling cord on my camera and slip it out of my pocket as gently and quietly as a pickpocket. I had to backtrack half a mile to find it hanging forlornly by the track.

Walking the track today, I made an effort to be fully observant. This meant treading lightly and using my ears and eyes to their fullest extent. My natural tendency is to focus on particular things when I walk - my own footsteps, the view, perhaps those birds at eye-level. So, it took a conscious effort to use my peripheral vision to see the smallest movements, and to use my ears to hear all the small sounds around me. Only when you really move your head, can you appreciate the vertically-layered world that the birds move in. I saw belligerent little wrens with insistent chirping alarm calls rarely straying more than a few feet from the ground. Angry, territorial blackbirds are difficult to miss but as I looked a little higher, a flash of peachy red plumage revealed an exotic male Bullfinch at the top of the elders. Higher still and I saw a flock of maybe 20 Redwings fly in and perch for a short time in the higher branches of an Ash tree. Up high in the clear blue sky, the occasional cruising gull, like a silent, streamlined jet.

A lot of the hedgerows around here are broken at intervals by dead Elm trees. These spring up from a living rootstock, but at a certain height or age, the Bark Beetle that carries Dutch Elm disease gets in, takes hold and the tree dies back again. Most of the mature Elms in this country were lost when Dutch Elm disease came first in the 60s and 70s. In many places, including this village, the landscape was changed forever. (For more info, click here.)

(Birds seen: Great Tit, Wren, Blackbird, Redwing, Black-headed gull (?), Bullfinch, Rook, Kestrel, Wood Pigeon).


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