All that is needed to nature watch is to go quietly and pay attention to the surroundings
With two days left in February before it merges into March, I went down Rowden Mill Lane to see what was going on.
Lots of celandines, patches of primroses, a bit of cow parsley, a group of snowdrops and a tentative white deadnettle were flowering, whilst spikes of other things had pushed through, things like the leaves of lords and ladies. There were rosettes of thistle, silver with the morning dew even though it was nearly mid-day, and leaf buds swelling on the hedges. There were quite a few birds around: robins, a dunnock, wrens in full scolding mode as I passed, and as I neared the big field near the bottom of the lane, a harsh chattering came from a large flock that was just taking off to pastures new – fieldfares I think. A buzzard was very vocal near the river. I hadn’t heard him last year which had me a bit worried because they had been there every year since I had been going there in my walking days, so I was delighted to hear this one.
Tracks of animals going from one side of the lane to the other are easier to identify at this time of the year, claw marks of a badger or small hoof marks of deer clearly imprinted on them. Once, a few years ago, I found a badger latrine near a deep hole. Not only did it contain the obvious but a lot of old bedding in the form of dead bracken and other vegetation. I have never found one since.
A lot of bleached snail shells, large and small and different sizes, were lying in the mud of the verges, washed out of the grasses in the winter rains. It was a good indication of how many of them had been going about their daily activities in better days.
I am always interested in the hedges around here.
Every now and then there is a trunk that stands out from the rest, thicker and older. It is an indication of when the hedge was properly laid and some of them are really beautiful growing like sturdy, moss covered arms doing their best, even in old age, to prop up their younger companions.
This issue is all about nature watching.
I suppose I’ve done a lot of that in my time, and, like so many of us, I haven’t been conscious that was what I was doing.
Of course, it’s better if nature comes to you and happening to be in the right place at the right time helps enormously. I’m very grateful to the badger, leveret, grass snake (in the act of swallowing a frog until I startled it into letting it go), foxes, voles, field mice, slow worms and squirrels that have strayed into my garden, to say nothing of all the insects, birds, which once included a wryneck, an owl who came and sat near me one night as it was getting dark, and quite a few bats.
We are so lucky to live in such a rural and relatively unspoilt place.
When I lived in Devon, I couldn’t have been luckier to happen to pass an alder overhanging the River Torridge just when a mother kingfisher was feeding its little fledgling sitting on a branch below us. Often when I was just sitting on the bank or standing in the middle of the river fishing, there would be a sharp ’keek’ and a flash of brightest blue as one jetted past. Although I really wasn’t very good at fly fishing and hardly ever caught anything, I loved it because it gave me the chance of standing in the middle of the river without looking too daft. I often saw the v-shaped wake of an otter disappearing round a bend or heard the sharp ‘keek’ and a flash of vivid blue as a kingfisher jetted past. And what could have been luckier than the day when Brian and I were passing a salmon ladder as the salmon were leaping it to reach their higher spawning grounds? Or when we once saw female salmon making their redds? These are the nests which they create by furiously fanning their tails to create small depressions in the gravel in which to lay their eggs
Brian often used to go fishing in the early mornings and he had two interesting meetings with otters. One nearly knocked him off his feet as it tried to swim between his legs and on another occasion, having caught two beautiful wild brown trout and put them lovingly in cool, long grasses on the bank, he found, as he retrieved them a little later, an otter chomping its way through them. I would have dismissed it as a fisherman’s tale except that he brought the evidence home to show me!
Sometimes I suddenly came across something quite different.
One day during a very hard winter, the river was freezing over in places and I was stopped in my tracks when I heard a musical clanging sound. It was floating ‘icebergs’ that had been washed into a small bay in the river and were all clanging together. That same day a mass of them collected beneath the bridge further downstream, completely preventing the flow of the water. By morning temperatures had risen enough for them all to have floated away.
Perhaps the most amazing stroke of luck was that we moved to our Devon home near the edge of Dartmoor and found that the town had its own very precious piece of culm grassland with its wealth of flora and fauna which gave me my most precious insight into what went on there and should be going on in other places if only we hadn’t inadvertently messed things up so much.
All that is needed to nature watch is to go quietly and pay attention to the surroundings. We are so lucky to live in a rural place where nature is all around us. Long may it last.