The garden is livelier this morning. The sharp frosts of the past few days have melted, as heavy grey clouds act like a warming blanket. With the ground damp instead of frozen, and the trees beaded with moisture, food is easier to find and the birds are not fighting the biting cold, so they have more time to sing, display, and even to flirt.
The plump and greedy wood pigeons are in and out of the open rafters of the car port again; they have a ramshackle excuse for a nest, more a platform of twigs they have snapped off the silver birch tree, balanced up there in the end of a roll of chicken wire. They attempt to nest here at almost any time of the year, with varying levels of success. The male Blackbird is following the drab female wherever she goes, from fence to fence through the neighbourhood. Two Long Tailed Tits paused for a moment as they bounced through, to feed on the fat filled coconut half. Usually there is a flock of these birds, safety in numbers, but the relatively warmer weather has allowed them to disperse slightly, although they will still be inexplicably linked by some invisible elastic-like force so the whole troop will pull back together again when they go to roost.
This week Winter Watch returned to our TV screens, bring a jam-packed wildlife-filled hour of entertainment each evening. My own ‘winter watch’ has also been coming in hourly installments, as I try to squeeze a walk into my lunch break each day.
The start of the week saw yet more hard frosts, but as the weekend approaches temperatures have crept a degree or two higher, just enough to melt the ice before it reforms at nightfall.
Today I was surprised by the light and colour I found, despite the monochrome, morose, fogbound, midday gloom. I didn’t travel far, just pottered into the woodland that surrounds my workplace. The soft light, diffused through layers of cloud threw little by way of shadow or glare, allowing the natural hues and textures to take centre stage. The treetops rang like tiny bells with high calls of birds; blue tits and great tits dominated, with the almost inaudible goldcrest adding the highlights. A nuthatch trilled from somewhere in the large oak tree, this first I have heard this year.
Beneath my feet the carpet of fallen leaves was still knitted together by a thin net of frost needles, adding a soft crunch to the woodland soundtrack.
The trees are still dormant, but I spotted several tangles of honeysuckle sporting new bursts of leaf-growth. The ivy is still green of course, its triangular, pointed leaves directed my view up the trunks of the trees it climbed, its own thick and hairy stems creating crevices and fissures against the bark which are ideal for the wren and goldcrests to search for spiders. Once I was looking upwards I found the high branches contained a curious amount of movement; yet more birds were feeding above my head. I propped my back against a firm trunk and fixed my binoculars onto the silhouetted twigs of a birch. There were two different birds up there. The larger were plump looking and appeared to be feeding on the buds on the twig ends. A rosy breast and white rump identified these as bullfinches. The others were a little trickier to identify, as they were smaller and flitted around with a more agitated demeanour. I finally settled on a hesitant identification of redpoll, a bird that I don’t see very often locally.
As I headed back into work, the strong notes of a song thrush persuaded me to pause for one last look through my binoculars. It was perched on an oak branch overhanging over the road, its speckled throat vibrating with the effort of each utterance. I like the song thrushes repetitive song; it reminds me of a town crier calling us to listen to the news of the season.