A group of dark figures perch unassumingly in the trees around estuaries and lakes. They may be dismissed by passing onlookers as ‘crows’, but these living dinosaurs are never ones to be taken for granted.
The silence was unexpected. There was no distraction from a distant road, the chatter of people, or strangely any sounds from the estuary nearby. It seemed empty, this place where the tide rose and fell, perhaps the bank I stood by had sheltered the passing of the birds’ calls, or had the noises of the natural world drifted away with the wind? It was a strange moment, but it made me stop, and contemplate the place where I stood. The grassy verge, the track muddied with footprints before mine, the scrub, the reeds, the knowing that the path led to the estuary and yet the silence went on. No gulls heralded their freedom overhead, no wigeon whistled, or redshank called. Then the moment finished with the ‘tic tic’ from a robin in the scrub, foot in the mud I walked on. Continue reading
Winter is a time when hundreds of thousands of wildfowl from other countries appear in the UK. The huge flocks of swans, geese and ducks, with some males showing brightly coloured plumage, means less assuming birds are easily overlooked. One such species is the gadwall. At first glance it might appear that other birds, such as the humble mallard, are considerably more attractive, but it is the detailed plumage of the gadwall that make this species full of undervalued beauty.
The male gadwall does not display bright colours like other wildfowl species, such as teal, but instead has a brown-grey head and an apparent grey body. Some would say it sounds a rather dull bird, but if you look closely at the male’s ‘grey’ plumage you can see an interwoven pattern of barred white and black, which looks somewhat like the intricate trail of a worm under the sand. The black eye and dark bill give its soft, patterned, brown face a delicate appearance, with the warming croaking sound it makes being utterly charming. It’s white belly, black rear and yellow legs are further endearing features. Continue reading
The wind moved across the Cambridgeshire land and touched the tips of my ears with its frosty existence. Yet it wasn’t bitter, the cold, it was just present. The flat fens forever extended into the distance, a place of history that holds the secrets of Romans who desired to drain the land yet never succeeded, to those more determined in the 17th century, who drained away a part of the place’s character. Yet defiant, the Great Fen stood, a remnant of which I ventured out upon. Continue reading
A walk by the sea in late summer
Standing on the cliff edge, the waves provided a continuous lull as the icy water touched the wealth of pebbles nestled amongst the sand. A constant rhythm, the waves continued, giving reassurance that nature will go on.
The cool, early morning meant I had the path to myself, with the exception of a few delighted dogs out on their first jaunt of the day; tail wagging with every step.
Ambling up the coastal path, the ground beneath my feet was so compacted – it had been traversed by many a walker and beach goer, yet the cheerful orange-red of the scarlet pimpernel flower held strong nearby, tentatively protruding onto the trail. The splattering of rain which had fallen the previous night made just the top surface slippery in places, so I spent time looking at my feet placing them one by one on the onward journey for a short time. Soon the wildlife distracted me, and I just had to risk a slip in the mud. Continue reading
The windswept winter days are frowned upon with an unappreciative notion of loathing and dislike by many. The sun is gone. The days are dark. The weather is cold. Yet when the morning comes and my eyes awake, I peer into the gloom of the house. Some would say it feels lonely and desolate without the exuberant spring chorus heralding the morning; the absence of the seasonal orchestra of birds leaving a lonely gap. But if you wait with the patience of a nocturnal creature who longs for darkness, through the confines of the house you can hear the robin take centre stage – let his thin wistful solo infiltrate the physical barriers of manmade structures and enter your mind. He or she, as both sexes of this bird will take their moment in the spotlight, stands statuesque on a twiggy throne or urban streetlight, a pretence of daylight that is protruded into the night time world, and gives all the voice this species possesses to the coming day. The winter morning concert is not as extraordinary as the spring prom but it gives you a chance to commit this gentle song to memory. Come spring you will hear this winter friend amongst the blue tit soprano, blackbird base and thrush duet, appreciating it all the more, remembering the joy it brings you in the quietest months. Continue reading
A New Year, an empty sightings list – endless possibilities of exciting wildlife encounters. As I stepped outside, the fresh air of New Year’s Day awakened my senses and took my breath away. It was one of those days where grey grumpy clouds lingered above, threatening to change the mood with their tearful raindrops. I walked along the path surrounded by trees and bushes, a blackbird scurried along the ground in front of me while a robin perched on a nearby branch – its pose reminiscent of those adorning many a Christmas card received this season. A flock of chaffinches were chatting in one of the trees where the path divides into different possibilities. They shouted their colour call ‘pink pink’ then bounded off in flight in their winter group. I stood by the various pathways, deserted momentarily by my finch friends, wondering which to take and how this decision would influence what species would adorn the afternoon. The clouds waited no longer as they let their water droplet stowaways fall. Through the beginning drips of rain I could see a tell-tale smudge perching on a branch. A view through the binoculars divulged the red-pink lipstick breast of a male bullfinch, which certainly gloried the grey day. The rain grew heavier, the magnificent male deserted me to find shelter and I found myself in the open with little cover for myself to stop the raindrops. I walked down the grassy path, catching sight of a rabbit disappearing under cover, its white pompom tail showing me where it hopped to find shelter. Thinking I would be spending the rest of the walk rather damp the falling drops soon stopped and the world brightened again. Continue reading
The sun graced the fine autumn day as I looked out upon the estuary. The tide was already rising fast and the water rippled steadily over the mudflats covering the wader bird buffet.
The golden plovers stood together on the muddied bank; plumage shimmering with their jewelled colouring in the autumn sunlight. The redshanks took no solace in the stillness of the plovers and continued to feed along the edge of the rising water – their red legs dashing about. The desire to avoid the increasing tide did not spread to this species as one continued to wade through the water to reach another mud island, appearing to almost swim at one point. The ringed plovers did not share their eagerness for the water but continued to busy themselves on the banks. The jet black summer front plumage of the grey plover is no more, replaced with their grey and white speckled winter appearance – still a beautiful sight. Continue reading
The leaves have changed now, losing their vigour as they alter in colour and contemplate detaching themselves from the tree – many having already fallen. This process is a vital survival strategy for these deciduous beings.
I gazed upon the rowan tree from my desk. The brilliant green foliage of summer had steadily vanished; a crop of beautiful red berries festooned the tree and I still dream of waxwings passing through the town and stripping the structure of these jewels before continuing on their way – what a sight that would be. The uppermost tree leaves turned a red russet colour more quickly than the rest, while a few still attempt to hold onto the summer feeling with their lime-tinged greenery. When the sun shines what is left of the green foliage fools you into believing it is a summer’s day, but recently the tides have turned and the darkening leaves fitted into the scene against the red sun, before Ophelia took many of them unwittingly into the sky, mixing them with the Sahara as they went. Continue reading
I recently found myself elevated into the clouds on a journey I was taking over the UK. As much as being on the ground is a great assessment of habitat, the ability to see the florets of broccoli shaped trees amongst the patchwork of farm fields really gives you an understanding of what is meant by the phrase ‘the classic English countryside’. Continue reading