13 February 2021

2021 / 012

14:00 – 15:30 (with Elsie and Nora)
Freezing cold -2C, bitter wind from ESE. Shifting grey/white cloud cover

Farmland footpath. Hut Wood on the left, walking west towards the bridleway (at hedge on horizon).

Second consecutive walk here with a primary purpose other than watching birds. This time, choosing to come without binoculars.
“It would be nice if you come without them Dad, for a change.
And anyway, you are bound to see something interesting if you leave them at home!”
Prophetic words from my youngest daughter…

The track remains rock hard, puddles and footprints have frozen into several interesting layers. Frost on frost. Some are solid. Stones, and ice-blocks skim and skate across them. They bones and spin across the pond surface, bouncing with deep resonant notes, I am confident there is nothing in there to disturb.
Much fun is had trying to smash it up. Stomping, skimming, stones and sticks. Shapes. Sheets almost an inch thick eventually snap and shatter

And in some places, depending on tree shelter, exposure to wind etc, the sheets are thin and delicate, suspended over the pits and holes that lie empty under that crystalline surface.

Some of the pieces are formed, as if manufactured. Ridges on the underside form handles and rims.
At the mouth of drains, where water issues, there are ragged icicles, patterns and suspended sculptures.

We have come out onto the farmland footpath via The Bowery and the Lower East Side. This is where the work has been done recently. Lots of birch removed between the spruce trees. Left in lines. New passages cut. Harvest imminent?

Recent clearance work on The Bowery

=Horses come over, curious. Wrapped in blankets, some with face coverings. Holes for ears. Snorting, breath condensing. Hello. Soft mouths, friendly patting and chatter.
The trough, providing them with drinking water is frozen, and stands in lake of ice where the rain water never drained. Around this, scuttling and restless (occasionally running across the ice and seeming to be just above its surface) a gathering (a “seed”?) of Meadow Pipits. Of course, without bins they are hard to see in the tussocks of grass 50m away. But they oblige by rising as one flock, settling scattered. We determine between us there to be at least 30 birds. The same collective as up on the Top Field last week, and now increased in number.
Past the paddock, at the gate where the surface track ends, the west stream crosses the footpath. Lined by a hedge, along which I dared to walk a few times last autumn. More surface water here, frozen, at the bottom of this field. And a bird moves as we past. This one is a Crow, but there are others, and there is a distinct call. In the dull light, with cold air and distant mist, the plaintive Lapwing’s “peeoo-wit” is hardly more than the squeak of a branch rubbing against its neighbour. Delicious melancholy. As we stand, watching the scene to our right, 14 birds rise from the grass, settle and rise again, swirling and calling. Moved and disorientated by the cold weather. This is the one I was “bound to see” without the optics. An impressive count. The field in which two pairs probably nested last year is only half a mile to the north, just about visible from this angle.
I love Lapwings, and seldom get a chance to see them. As a child, my notebooks recall the presence of swirling flocks in several thousands around Northamptonshire. Some of the great ornithologists describe them collectively as a “vanelline deceit”, which is a wonderfully archaic term but suits them well of course. Vanelline refers to their fan-like “floppy”wings in flight, so buoyant and aerobatic, and the “deceit” describes they way they – and other plovers – feign injury or even death to lure predators away form the nest. For me, the call is a particular favourite, and evokes those teenage recollections. Wonderful to hear it again here on my patch. Today, in different conditions, it’s not the loud, “song” produced by the displaying male. This is conversational, mutual reassurance. Contact calls. I will come back, with bins, and scan for them more carefully to see if some do stay on again.

Between the log and the water (left) 14 Lapwings gathered in the grass

There are thrushes too, ‘paragliding’ into the field from the edge of the Wood. At least 40 Redwings and a dozen Blackbirds. Two Mistle Thrushes together land next two two others up by the next trough. Two more come out as we pass – at least six of them.

Back into the back of the Wood at “the dippy bit”(??) and through the West pines, hopeful of meeting the Goshawk. No chance, of this or Crossbills when one is purposefully aware and looking! Coal Tits and Nuthatches calling.

Time to go home. Been more than three hours since we had a cup of tea…

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