2021 / 03
13:30 – 15:20
Heavy cloud, light drizzle and very cold 2°C
Places are Feasts for the Spirit
It is cold again, overcast and white. Feels like it really ought to be snowing. But the best it can do is an irritating an half-arsed light drizzle that just hangs in the silence.
Nothng moves, nothing flies – and very little is making much in the way of any sound at all.
I have come in via Green Lane, leaving my bike locked to a twisted stem under the canopy of a large Rhododendron. They have some uses… A Robin scratches around for some grub or other, and a Blackbird siren goes off as I step into the woodland at the top of the steep slope. Left or right?
Left today, through the Chilworth pines and into the unfamiliar West Wood. And immediatley there’s a Firecrest calling. Two birds, flittering about in the sparse holly. This area differs from the more mature Northern Belt by simply being younger. Perhaps no more than 25 years..? There is limited understorey and the holly is seldom more than 6 – 8ft, after standing in bushes still separable one from the other. I wasn’t really expecting Firecrests, but those that are here are active this afternoon and over the next 45 minutes or so I meet at least 6 birds, including one female doing her best to imitate a Wren. Odd scuttling behaviour on the top of a sawn off treestump, pecking for flies among the moss.
It is very different wandering here, just me and the occasional Firecrest-Wren, Blackbird, or Robin. There are a few Coal Tit pipings coming from high up, where the tallest trees appear to be holding up the weighted cloud. The kick-kick of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. The cathedral of trees is quietly magnificent and has more presence and atmosphere than might be expected from a timber crop.
What’s that, coming through from the left? Woah – the GOSHAWK is still here!! Presence, atmosphere, stealth and formidable size. No question of its identity – when you have seen a particular bird before, somehow you know its the same one. I experience similar with two or three of the more localised and territorial Firecrests. The Raven, and definitely one of the Nightjars is familiar and known to me. The bird came through like a stealth bomber, no flapping, just a fast powerful glide no more than 12-15ft above the ground. Buff brown barring below, appearing white around the vent and ‘rump’. Long, broad wings, slightly drooped below horizontal, noticebly darker greyer flight feathers. And a distinct eyestripe on its malevolent head.
My third encounter, with this bird, the second best – and in exactly the same location as the first. Once the bird disappears into the trees (or did it go out across the clearfell?) I realise that I am within just a few metres of the first spot, where it was hunched over a kill and glared at me. There was no eye contact this time, and I think perhaps I may have inadvertently disturbed it. But such grace and power. Seems to be at least the size of a Buzzard – maybe a female?
I hope one day to be out in the open and see the bird for a longer period of time, to watch it properly from a greater distance. It isn’t a ‘binocular-tick’ yet!! I am so lucky to have this moment though. Isolated and present. Wow – did that really just happen?
Perhaps this is one of the factors keeping bird numbers down recently? Certain there follows an almost eerie silence, until a Blackbird shooots off to declare the all clear. Most of the pigeons will have moved out to the farmland in winter, but there really are hardly any around. No Stock Doves out ofn the clearfell, and less than 10 Woodies around… but do these birds have enough memory and intelligence to avoid the Wood? Am I reading too much into it.
As I twist my way through, vainly hoping to see the bird perched up or (secretly longing?) to disturb it again, I come upon a pair of colossal Yew trees, standing as if marking a gateway. Ancient pillars of hardwood, each around 300 years old judging by the girths. These giants are a fundamental part of the spirit of Hut Wood, one of the unique tree species that give it such a sense of history and Entish magic
By the time my chosen paths carries me out to Where The Tracks Join the “light rain” has made up its mind to stay, and the temperature has dropped again. My breath condenses now as I head down the track, up the Crossing and back round. Please can you just snow??
Only an encounter with a charming pod of Long-tailed Tits causes me to stop and watch. And there’s another Firecrest here, where it should be. Hello.
Greenfinches calling in flight overhead, and a distant Raven. Goldcrests back up by the big old beech.
Mud. Mud, mud, mud. Rain, cold. Mud. Walking in the trees is SO much easier