I walked round Ifield Millpond yesterday. It was a beautiful, cold, crisp, winter morning. The sky was clear and blue, and the sun hung low, so that blinding sunlight bounced off the frozen surface of the millpond, making photography difficult. The grass and undergrowth were rimed with frost, and ice scrunched underfoot. A heron who habitually sits at the waters’ edge, was perched on the branch of a tree. The water birds, usually seen swimming happily, were today skidding and skating precariously on the ice. Three Canada geese one behind the other slowly and carefully plodded towards a patch of open water near the bridge. The first two held their footing reasonable well, but the last one slipped drunkenly on every step – two steps forward and one slip-step backwards. Seagulls coming to land, ran a few slippery steps, wings flapping wildly to keep their balance before coming to a standstill. A solitary duck padded across the ice, webbed feet flapping, but the rest of the ducks seemed to be crowded into a narrow stretch of water between the bank and the boardwalk.
The funniest of all had to be the coots. They looked rather like misshapen, feathered rugby-balls, with ungainly legs and long flat toes that are usually hidden under the water. No doubt the toes with flabby flaps of skin that act rather like webbed feet are ideal for paddling through water, but they are not really designed for walking on ice! The faster the coots tried to go, the more they slipped and slithered. But however much difficulty the birds had staying upright on the ice, I didn’t see any actually fall over; and thankfully neither did I!
After seeing the Green woodpeckers a few days ago, my sister and I were treated to a fleeting glimpse of two Little owls. We were driving down a country lane near Bicker, Lincolnshire, on our way back home, when first one, then another swooped silently overhead, and off over the fields. They are just like other owls, but in miniature; typically about 22cm tall, with a wingspan of 56cm and weighing in at 180 grams. They are territorial, and usually nest in natural hollows in trees. Unlike most other owls, they can be seen during the day, and although we saw them in flight, you can sometimes spot them perched high up on posts and fences, ready to swoop down on any unsuspecting small creature or bug.
It all happened too fast to attempt a photo, but they looked something like this:
A family of Green Woodpeckers frequent my sister’s garden in Bicker Gauntlet near Boston in Lincolnshire. They are often seen feeding on the ground, digging their long beaks into ant-runs – ants of course being their favourite food. Like the other British woodpeckers, of which they are the largest, they are striking birds, with green plumage above, light green below, and yellow on the base of a stumpy tail. They have a bright red cap, and black slash across their eyes.
I was sitting in bed a few days ago with my morning cup of tea, and I heard a familiar tap-tap-tapping from outside. It was the woodpecker back again, but I was aware that through my closed window, what should have been a bright, sharp sound was dull and muted. I love listening to the sounds of nature, especially the birds, so although it was a cool morning with a slight frost, I opened my window wide in order to hear more clearly. I snuggled back under my duvet and while listening to the lovely rhythmic drumming, I got to thinking as I frequently do. And I thought how we often hear God in a muffled, indistinct sort of way, in-between all the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. We are aware He is there, but we can’t hear clearly what He is saying. It’s at times like these that we need to fling open our metaphorical windows, and let the fresh sounds of His voice stream into our stuffy rooms, and take real notice of what He is saying to us.
I had to look upwards again today when I heard a familiar tap-tap-tap high up in next-doors old oak tree. I’d noticed it first a couple of weeks ago, but until this morning the culprit had eluded me. I was just leaving the house with my dog Charlie for his daily walk, when I heard the tapping again, a hollow vibration echoing through the clear morning air. I stopped and gazed upwards into the oak tree, scanning up and down the trunk and branches, and listening out for the sound again. Finally I saw him – a greater-spotted woodpecker – perched high up on a branch. I watched for a brief moment, then there was a flash of red under-belly and he was off, swooping across the pale blue sky, and leaving me with the feeling that spring is just around the corner.
The woodpecker was too fast and too far away to get a photo this time, so here’s a photo from a couple of years ago instead.
I did a spot of gardening this week, and my robin was back (see my last post – A robin sang). He sat in the wire fence and watched me dig a large hole to accommodate a camellia that had out-grown its pot. He flitted down to the bucket where I put the excess soil, then he hopped onto my spade, and even when he darted back into the undergrowth I could still hear him singing. I realise that he wasn’t really watching me, but was actually keeping an eye out for any worms and grubs I might unearth; and I have to confess that I did search out a few extra worms for him from the lid of the compost bin.
When I saw him last time I didn’t have my camera handy, but this time I had come prepared. I know he isn’t really my robin, but it feels like he is. Autumn can be a difficult time for me as I go through some painful anniversaries, but every time I see my little robin, and every time I hear his lilting voice, he warms my heart and lifts my spirits.
A robin sang to me this morning. I had just finished sweeping the leaves, when I noticed something rustling in one of my patio pots. I crept closer, and there was a robin. Startled, he flitted away into the lower branch of a nearby sumac tree, whereupon he turned, and regarded me with a dark beady eye. I stood motionless. He was a smallish robin, probably one of this years brood, with a soft orange chest and sleek brown, neatly groomed feathers. He eyed me up and down, and after a moment darted back to the pot and scooped up a pale curly centipede that had evidently just been unearthed. With the centipede wriggling in his beak the robin darted back to his perch in the sumac tree, and swallowed his lunch. Then his sharp little beak opened and the feathers round his neck quivered, his throat swelled and he began to sing. It was a cheerful little song, lifting and falling in chirps and whistles, and it seemed as though he was singing directly to me. For a good five minutes he sat and sang, and every now and then I gave a little whistle back. I don’t know how long the robin would have continued his rich melodic song, but when my dog decided to amble around the garden, he flew off through the wire fence into the laurel bushes beyond. Such a simple experience, but it left me feeling uplifted, peaceful and somehow cleansed from the frenetic hurly-burly of life.