Wednesday, 10 January 2007

A wet walk

I have been marking time. Brooding over the weather, the wind and rain confining me to the house, I have been studying maps and planning which parts of the county to explore in the warmer, more welcoming, days of spring and summer. Deciding that this won’t do, that the weather will not restrain my wanderings, I dig out a thick woollen hat and my waterproof and head out. With so much water in the air and seemingly oozing from the sodden ground I am drawn towards the river. The waters are brown with silt washed from the fields; in places they push their way up towards the lip of the bank, as if straining to reclaim the vast puddles that cover the bankside path. The thin, elongated, fallen leaves of a willow carpet the ground. Sodden with the rain, their grey undersides resemble small, lifeless fish, disgorged by the angry waters.

Temporarily the path leads me away from the river, skirting a field and a small piece of alder carr, and here I encounter a muntjac. This one is a female, squat in shape and hunched against the elements it is uncertain at my approach, moving off slightly before turning to stare at me intently. Its thick coat must provide a good degree of protection from the rain. Finally, a decision is made and the small deer turns and is soon lost from view amongst the dripping vegetation. There is a real sense of decay in this wood; the fallen leaves and timber, last year’s growth that has died back, all brown and sodden. Only the leaves of the bramble stand out, green and vibrant and screaming of life.

By now the rain has eased somewhat, enough to bring out smaller birds intent on feeding before the light fades. Amid the many blackbirds is a song thrush, its warm tones welcome and lifting my spirits further. Then, as if seeing the song thrush was a good omen, I catch sight of a finch in flight. Heavy and rounded in shape, I follow its course, bringing my binoculars up to catch it land in one of the tall alders that flank the fen. It is a hawfinch, the first I have seen on my local patch and I feel unadulterated joy. I’ve seen these birds before, most winters in fact, at well-known local sites but this one is mine, on my patch and unexpected. Is this reward offered to me as an enticement – look at what you may see if you venture out – or is it pure chance that I stumbled across it? Either way, it is a wonderful bird to see at any time of year, no matter what the weather.

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