20 February 2021

2021 / 013

07:30 – 11:30
Overcast with light drizzle. Seasonally mild, 11*C, SSW wind light F2-3

Days pass, and the Wood calls. Wild places, breathing spaces. Shifting seasons, and a change in the weather.
With the exception of a couple of days, it has rained steadily over the past week – changing between intense downpours to prolonged periods of drizzle. The wind has been, gone and come back with a vengeance, having drifted round to the south-west it has warmed up ten degrees too and reached a balmy 14* yesterday.
Forecast to reach that again today, though it remains damp and dreary.

I remain hopeful of finding some amphibians, or at least evidence of them, but it definitely requires a different set of field skills that I struggle with. There MUST be frogs here, surely? Many other LNRs and suitable sites are full of them! I have managed to see only one, two summers ago on a hot dry day, and frogspawn is very hard to find. On my way across the East Clearfell this morning I checked several long-standing ditches and pools, but there isn’t any. I think the streams themselves are flowing too quickly and are full of water. In fact, it is exceptionally wet everywhere and the mud is getting back up towards the “spectacular” levels it was at in 2017 and 2018. Quite an experience in here, and I know of nowhere ‘worse’ for clinging, slippery, squelchy thick mud! It is limited to the Track though, and I find it passable with wellies and caution. Very unattractive for that couple with the tiny, fluffy dog and white trainers though. I guess they will have to learn the hard way…

Even at this hour, before the sun has been able to overcome the cloud, it is almost warm. A significant change in conditions.
The dawn chorus is rehearsing as That Time approaches. I am surrounded by the song of Dunnocks, Robins, Wrens and Blue Tits. Great Tits, a Chaffinch and a Goldcrest. It is becoming harder to ascertain numbers. It is good to hear the Blackbird’s voice among them again. Young males in their first year sing earlier than older birds; a humble song, less of a ‘performance’ than the Song Thrush, and a clear sign that things are changing. I do feel it has been a long drag this winter. Not without its own quality of course, but too damp for too long and not really cold for long enough…

The damp dull air does not provide good light, but it benefits the shades of brown that dominate the view across here down towards the trees. Some of the grasses remain thick and sculptural, a striking contrast against the softening bushes behind them that now bear shoots and early leaf buds.
To my right, somewhere behind Elliotts (in the Aviva Pines perhaps?) a Green Woodpecker yaffles loud. It’s only when noting in my pocket book that I am reminded that this is the first re cord at the site this year, which takes the list onto 47. And where’s there is one good bird, you can bet there will be a second. As I approach the pond, I notice that the water is rippling. A pair of Mallard emerge from the near side, chatting quietly. I’m surprised they don’t rise up in a fluster, but instead they waddle calmly up the bank and continue softly quackling. Two yearticks in two minutes. A sign of things to come…?

Crossing the West stream is “interesting” now. Since the national lockdown, I have noticed (but not necessarily seen) considerably more people than usual visiting the Wood for their ‘daily walks’. At several of the muddiest sections of the Track, new ‘paths’ have been trampled into the trees to avoid the worst areas, and most of the streams have new crossing points stomped out bypassing the need to leap across or struggle with fast flowing deeper water and slippery banks.
People have found the pond too, and I trace their steps into Q1 at an awkward diagonal into the wayleave. There are Goldcrests here, Long-tailed Tits and a Raven I can’t see passes overhead calling. Two small channels cross the wayleave here, in which the water runs from right to left into another that I haven’t previously paid attention to which runs exactly along the demarcation between the passage and the trees, For half an hour, I am exploring, mapping, scribbling rough alignments and picking my way across this channel inot what I have re-named the “East Plantation”. This addresses some point or other I made before Christmas that my cartogrpahic representation of the Wood is restricted to points of interest and lines of travel. The equivalent in a town plan to buildings and roads. I felt the need then to pay more attention to ‘districts’ and ‘areas’, art which I guess this is a start. So the “East Plantation” is the area between The Broad, the Wayleave (Q1) and Larpers Lane (The Beeches), marked on the west side by The Crossing and by the East Stream on the other. The Court is more or less in the middle of the East Plantation, and it was in here that I saw the Silver-Washed Fritillary. I will need a separate name for the small area between the Wayleave and the bend in the Track where “North Drive” turns into the Broad. There is a Firecrest territory here. Or do I?: actually no, probably more straightforward to include this in the East Plantation despite it being isolated by the Wayleave:

Within the East Plantation, just a few metres after stepping across the channel, I come upon a route through the trees defined by old tyre tracks. Perhaps 30 years ago this was planted, and here one can evidence that period of forestry. The route of this leads west to the Broad, but it is not easy walking. Roots, stumps and all manner of dips and holes – now full of dark water. Perhaps too temporary for frogspawn, the pools seem to hold only fallen leaves, larch cones and some pine needles. Moss covered brash and discarded logs lie between the trees, and to either side of the passage is an apparently impenetrable mash up of holly, bracken hazel, honeysuckle and young beech or briches struggling for light.
There are very few birds either: mostly Blue Tits, Robins, Coal Tits and Wren; my Treecreeper still eludes me.

Inside the East Plantation

I turn right at The Crossing, coming face to face with a male Muntjac at the top end of Upper Velmore. He skitters off quickly, and makes me jump some time later with a loud bark as I stand quietly watching a flock of finches. This is at th epoint I used to call ‘Crossbill Corner’ since my first encounter here in 2017, but which has subsequently become a misnomer as I haven’t seen the birds here since and the current flock favour the trees at the west end. It is instead now familiar to me as ‘the Velmore Crossing’ : the point at which the Wayleave (Q3) dips away to the left down to “The Bottom”and Lower Velmore also dips down towards the farm buildings between the northern belt and the East Side.
There is a whole bunch of birds here just now, including at least a dozen Blue Tits. Fun to watch, they are busy feeding. One in particular “parachuting’ with wings held wide and feathers spread, spinning in crazy little circles. Has there been an emergence of small flies perhaps? I can here finches too, chirruping and jangling. The light is poor, but there they are, moving around in the top of the tall larch. Two Siskins fly in from the right and I step this way and that trying to get a view. The Lesser Redpolls are lower down and easiest to see, which makes a pleasant change. I can see at least two birds well, and there are others up to probably a half dozen. The same birds no doubt that I watched last week, 100m away and along the stream with Tony. I can hear Nuthatches, at least two, a Song Thrush and a Siskin singing. Unfamiliar in the Wood, but a common sound up in the West Highlands where I hope to go again in May. Excellent – and to complete an intense five minutes while I stand here, the Raven comes back from left to right, two Crossbills follow immediately, calling loud and distinctive, and a Firecrest calls persistently from the large holly to my right. It is 0845, and everything happens at once.

Q3 from the Velmore Crossing. Finches in the tall larch on the left
Once there were dragons…

Half an hour later, after a purposeful walk through Marshalls and out of the Wood, I am standing at the signpost where the footpath meets the bridleway. It is just beginning to rain. I can hear a Greenfinch singing, and there has been a lot of activity recently around the ‘warren’. Evidence of Rabbits, Badgers (lots of deep scraping), and plenty of new mole hills at the edge of the field. I am alerted by the sound of Geese. Yes, really!! Only the Canada Geese I saw come through the Wood this time last year made any noise, so these Greylags are quite something and its a properly incongruous sound. And there they are, a large skein coming over the Roughs and moving east. Large by local standards – 28 birds. Which beats my previously largest group by 25. Good to watch them for a while. Even in the gentle rain, there is a glint of sunlight on their distinctive silver forewings. They look smart, and it is always good to appreciate birds you don’t normally see in a particular setting, despite how familiar they otherwise are.
Sixth sense drives me along the bridleway, through the puddles and mud down to the pylons to scan the Skylark field. It is early, but I have a confident feeling.
And yes – after counting half a dozen redwings, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Pied Wagtail and a Pheasant in the field, the Song of Spring ascends and my yearlist rises to 50 species for the first time before the end of February. There are actually two Skylarks singing, one close enough to see at the same height as the electricity cables spanning the field. Always a sound of inspiration and hope, but there is little better than the first ones of the year.
Also two Jays and another Greenfinch. They seem to be doing better now, and I note one or two most visits now? Good news.

Time to sit and watch the sky
See whatever passes by
Clouds across the quiet hours
Birdsong, buzzard, gentle breeze
Spring forms light on waking trees
Shabby chic sky
Scratched and worn by winter hue
Thin cloud over last year's blue
It won't be long before the sun
Renovates it new

At 1030, I am back in the Wood and at the Top. It seems an age since I rested in my Sitting Spot on my favourite tree stump. A log I positioned upright here FOUR YEARS ago. Mossed now at its base, part of the landscape.
Fifteen minutes, just to watch the sky and the shimmering, struggling light. I am deceived by a Magpie flying straight towards me. Unfamiliar angle. A couple of Jays, equally weak in flight. And a group of Stock Doves, much more at home in the air. Balletic, fast and strong. Still plenty singing around me: Great Tit, Blue Tit, Robin, Wren. A Mistle Thrush.

And a helicopter.

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