Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy Christmas!

.....back in a week......or two!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bleak midwinter

December 14th, 2005

It's been almost 2 weeks since I posted my last entry - partly because of daily domestic hassle and partly because I think I cracked a rib while pulling up fence posts at a local nature reserve and it's still sore. So long a gap does me no good and today I set out, my head filled with mundane worries and stress. Once my boots were on and I set off though, it took me about 5 minutes to relax. My first sighting was the beautiful chestnut brown back of a kestrel as it rested on a telephone wire next to the road. I spent a few seconds looking at it through binoculars and feeling my heartbeat slowing.

As I started up the track, it became clear that the landscape had changed noticeably since my last walk. The browns were more prevalent on trees and bushes, the stark red rosehips were there, but there were very few sloes left. The colour and life was draining away. All the leaves on the bushes had gone now and the blackbird's nests were all clearly visible.

In mid November, when I started this diary, we were enjoying a late autumn and life was still buzzing. A month later, after some high winds and solid frosts, winter is deep and bleak. Now only the winter birds provide movement. The temperature has risen recently though (up to about 7 C), so the air is relatively warm and walking is comfortable.

Along the route, I noticed footprints other than mine, but no accompanying dog. Someone else has been along here in the last few days and they brought tools. Several of the larger brambles had been snipped back to clear the path, but only at the near section of the route. As I progressed further up, the footprints stopped and the brambles were untouched. Activity again as I headed back to the village along the bridleway - a tractor had been up and someone had been chainsawing fallen Elm saplings.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Further afield

November 29th, 2pm

Having looked at a map of the area, I planned a longer walk that included part of the railway and then moves away at right angles. A public footpath crosses the disused railway track and heads west towards the river - about a four mile circular walk. The day was painfully clear and bright and a pair of Buzzards were elegantly traversing the fields and meadows looking for food. Their occasional high-pitched 'pee-oo' call carried for miles. I stood and watched one bird soar right over me. He was heading east but his progress was interrupted by a series of little eddying turns, left and right, as he looked and tried to retain height. Although the bird was several hundred feet up, the air was so clear that I could make out individual primary feathers each time he turned.

About half a mile after its crosses the railway, the landscape here changes in character. The soil near home is heavy clay and supports a distinctive landscape. Nearer the river the soils are alluvial and well-drained because underlying the soil are deposits of sand and gravel, laid down after the last ice age. Only a few miles from here mammoth tusks have been unearthed by the gravel extraction companies.

For the past four or five years, the contractors have been working the gravel pit that is closest to us. They now appear to have finished and the large hole has been filled with water. A number of tiny islands have been created and they poke through the water at irregular intervals. Any pioneering vegetation is sparse and the only birds visible were a few disconsolate gulls. I look forward to coming out to this place regularly over the next few years to see how nature fully reclaims this new habitat.

At the point the path crosses the river is an old water mill that is now simply a (rather beautiful) private house. The mill stream still runs fast past the side of the existing building but the footpath follows the route of a looping meander in the river course, now dry. The course of the meander is clearly marked by large pollarded willows that still line an imaginary bank. Local records show that a mill has existed on this site since 1279 and this one only stopped working in the early 1800s. I'm very much hoping to find kingfishers along this gorgeous stretch of river next year....keep reading!