Monday, 23 February 2015

Sunshine and Showers

What a difference a week makes! I am pleased to report that there has been a subtle but definite shift from winter to spring right across The Oak By The Rife patch. There is a noticeable warmth in the sunshine now, when it gets chance to break through the dark rain laden clouds that build on the horizon to come scudding in on the westerly winds. The green spikes of bluebell leaves are showing through the soil on the sunny bank near the gateway to the Holmbush Industrial Estate, and celandines and crocuses are in flower. 

I went for a walk into town today via South Pond. It was quiet on the pond this morning, after the heavy rain downpours of the last few days, all the ducks, geese and gulls were enjoying being able to snooze with their heads under their wings in the peace of the sunshine. 
Along Jubilee Path however there was no snoozing happening - instead plenty of small birds: chaffinch, robin, dunnocks, and blackbirds were foraging on the ground, whilst goldfinches and blue tits fed in the higher branches, and nuthatches could be heard calling. Wrens are numerous in the woodland and brambles along the path; despite being our second smallest bird their song is surprisingly loud and explosive!

I never fail to smile when confronted by a wren, their larger-than-life attitude belies their small stature and they have a tendency to remind me of clockwork toys with the way they vibrate and jitter to-and-fro. 
Older readers may remember the former British coin, the Farthing, which featured a wren on its reverse side between 1936 and the final minting in 1956. Another useful pub-quiz-fact is that our native wren’s scientific name is Trogladytis Trogladytis, a Latin word derived from the meaning ‘cave dweller’ in reference to this tiny bird’s liking for crevices and hidden corners.
You may be getting the feeling that I am rather fond of wrens, I try not to have favourites but who could resist their feisty character and hilarious rotund and often grumpy appearance? 

Another rain shower has just passed and the sun is heading towards the distant hills in a wide splash of magnesium yellow light.  Sunset is getting later and later every day, I look forward to the approaching long evenings, and the blackbird song at dusk.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Morning birds

Happy Valentines Day! I don't really tend to go for all that 'over-commercialised-mushy-stuff' but the birds don't seem to have any qualms about shouting their feelings from the rooftops or showing off to their prospective partners. 

Everywhere on the patch was loud with birdsong at first light this morning. we had heavy rain and strong winds last evening and long into the night, easing off at last in the early hours for a damp dawn. As always, the robin that holds a territory in our back garden was the first to start singing, before any hint of sunrise. The song thrush was the next to join in, with the wrens, and as I shut the front door I paused and smiled. The blackbirds had started singing. I had heard one blackbird some weeks ago but it must have been a test run as it had been quiet since. This morning however, rich fluted notes swelled in the air from a number of birds, more melodic than the other thrushes and deeper, stronger than the robin. 

This is the fourth time this week I have headed out onto the patch early in the morning. I don't know about you, but I'm certainly not a morning person, however the early part of the day is the ideal time to see most wildlife, and the peace and beauty of the morning really does make it worth getting out of bed. Knowing this, and having spent far too much time sat in front of the computer recently, I decided to make an effort to fit in an early morning walk most days; home in time for breakfast. 

Monday. The morning welcomed me with a cold, grey embrace. The canada geese on South Pond had woken up and were already engaged in the honking and displaying that has become their daily activity since the milder weather arrived over the weekend. 
A single redwing was feeding on the ground with a song thrush, between the still dormant trees at the community orchard along Jubilee Path. 

Tuesday. Another grey day. No redwing today along Jubilee Path, it wont be long before the winter migrants head back to their breeding grounds. 
Walking along the lower path of St Ann's Hill, I stopped to sniff. The slightly damp air held a scent that reminded me of acorns and earth and green shoots; it could only be the smell of the seeds and nuts beneath the insulating leaves swelling with the moisture and breaking their tough skins, sending out roots that always follow gravity downwards and shoots that always seek the light above. 
A ghostly apparition floats over the Cowdray flood meadows, black eyes in a pale face watch my progress along the causeway and turn away unblinking, gliding silently, barely causing the rushes to shiver. A barn owl, the first I have seen here for 8 years.

Thursday. The barn owl was there again, quartering the rushes, spooking snipe that darted and zigzaged and dropped again into cover. The owl swallows its dinner whole; a rodent of some sort, and takes flight again flapping languidly then in a moment, turns on a wing tip, on a change of mind, and heads determinedly out of sight and to roost. 
A grey wagtail bobs on the bridge wall.
A water rail appears between a clump of reeds, pausing for a moment as if blinking in the daylight, and dashes back into obscurity.  

Saturday. Blackbird song marked another step towards spring. The morning was lighter than the start of the week, and water levels higher, overnight rain congregating in the rivers, filled with mud pigments, to rush and race and roar. As I reached the flood meadows a thick blanket of fog was hooked on low hanging branches and stretched across the fields from tree-line to tree-line. The owl was hunting. Half a dozen snipe darted towards the sky, lead by extended beaks and powered by flickering wings. The blind empty windows of Cowdray Ruins were like bright eyes in the shadowed walls, only feral pigeons interrupting their gaze. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Imbolc, the first showing of spring

Have you noticed how the evenings are definitely getting a few minutes longer each day? A few days before Christmas, the Winter Solstice marked the shortest day, and the turning of the year when days begin to get longer. but the change is subtle, and it is only now that we can really begin to see the difference. 
Here in Sussex at least, February has dawned bright and fresh, with a blue sky patterned with fast moving white sunlit clouds. Venture outside and winter will snatch at your breath. An icy north wind races around, and as it passes and runs circles around you, you might hear a muttered threat of snow. 
But there is an intangible sense of hope, a feeling that this may be winter's swan song, it's last hurrah; there is a rumour of spring. 

The blue tits are calling outside my window, their feathers bold yellow and blue with all the cheer of spring flowers. 
Only a few days ago, on the stretch of grass beside the fallen log where Jubilee Path meets South Pond, I saw a host of crocuses poking up through the soil as if stretching and yawning after their long winter sleep. 
In my garden the pulmonaria or lungwort is also about to open its buds, in time to greet the first emerging queen bumblebees as soon as the weather turns mild. 

And then there are the snowdrops. Dainty green rises hung with bells of pure white. They seem delicate, yet push their way through the frozen ground and ring silently even as snowflakes dance and gather around them. 
Snowdrops have long been associated with this time of year and the renewal of spring. 

In the the pagan or celtic calendars 1st/2nd February is the celebration of Imbolc, and the goddess Brigid. 
Imbolc, in the Celtic seasonal calendar marked the beginning of the lambing season and signaled the beginning of Spring and the stirrings of new life. It is Feile Brighde, the 'quickening of the year'. The original word Imbolg means 'in the belly', and therein you have the underlying energy. All is pregnant and expectant - and only just visible if at all, like the gentle curve of a 'just-showing' pregnancy. It is the promise of renewal, of hidden potential, of earth awakening and life-force stirring. Here is hope. We welcome the growth of the returning light and witness Life's insatiable appetite for rebirth.It is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings. This can be done in numerous ways, from spring cleaning your home to clearing the mind and heart to allow inspiration to enter for the new cycle. ('Spring cleaning was originally a nature ritual' - Doreen Valiente). it's a good time for wish-making or making a dedication.Imbolc is traditionally the great festival and honouring of Brigid (Brighid, Bride, Brigit), so loved as a pagan Goddess that her worship was woven into the Christian church as St Bridget. " 
 This quote is taken from 
I found it was the description that best described my understanding of what this celebration meant, 
and still means to many, so this website may be a good starting point if you wish to find out more. 

(Of course this is an external link and I claim no responsibility for the content of the website and 
any views expressed are not necessarily the same as my own, but you knew that already right?)

For me, the resonance of this time of year, is one of the joys of following a local patch; getting to know and understand it's rhythms and cycles. 

The rooks certainly seem to recognise the signs of the turning year, and the trees seem to be almost unable to contain their eagerness to burst their buds. From the oak by the rife, the territorial drumming of woodpeckers provides the bass percussion to the melody of a song thrush that sings from the topmost branches. 

So let's all notice each day how the sun creeps further into the garden, which flowers are the bravest, trust that the singing birds know something which we cannot yet see, and humour the winter wind in it's exuberance and child-like tantrums. 
We have some waiting yet, but we can allow ourselves to imagine spring, and the joys that are now not so very far away. 

About Me

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Hello! Thank you for viewing my blogs and profile. I am passionate about the countryside and british wildlife and I hope that this comes through in my blog. I am a nature writer and have been pursuing photography since early teenage years, whilst building a career in conservation. Helping people to reconnect with the natural world is very important to me, whether through direct hands on interaction, education or literature. Please also visit my website, for more information, my current CV, and further examples of writing and photography. You can contact me or keep up to date with new blog posts via Twitter @SophiEcoWild and/or Feedback, comments and audience participation are always welcome! Sophie May Lewis