'I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out 'til sundown, for going out, I found was really going in.' John Muir

I've seen the top of Everest (from a long way off), smelled the breath of a whale (from way too close) and lived on a boat in Greece (for a few years), but I continue to experience some of my most precious moments right outside my backdoor.

If comments are proving difficult to do, please email me; sleepysparrow@yahoo.co.uk

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Bird Breakfast Blizzard

Big wet flakes swirl all around me as I carefully carry the breakfast tray across the garden.  It’s hard to find a snow-free spot to scatter left-over mince pies, chopped apple, sultanas and seed.  'Blackie's beady eyes watch me from beneath the buddleia, the flash of his yellow beak provides the only colour today.  A whiff of summer from the apple is carried away in a blizzardy gust.  I sprinkle bird-breakfast and scurry back in doors.
Five more blackbirds arrive and I’m glad I chopped the apple up small. Siskins, goldfinches, chaffinches, dunnocks, sparrows, starlings, a song thrush, coal-tits, blue-tits, great-tits, all jostle for space.  Even birds that don’t normally hang onto seed feeders are having a go, a starling tries, a dunnock too, and then a robin flutters his wings wildly as he tries to grab on to the swinging seed.

Goldfinches!  You'd think to look at them that butter wouldn't melt, yet they are so narky and quarrelsome and the shrill, grating sound they make is not at all what you'd expect from such a glamorous looking bird. 

Another bird came to visit my garden last week. 
I Googled her and discovered she was a Reeve's pheasant. 
Her markings were so beautiful.  She clattered down from the fence and ran towards me.  I gave her seed from the large sack in my shed.  She stayed all afternoon, admiring herself in the glass of the patio doors, then left.  I heard shooting from the estate nearby and hoped she hadn't headed that way.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Top Secret Birds!

At the end of my road there’s a strange collection of old brick buildings, paths covered with a now peeling anti-spark coating,  an old railway siding and some deep underground tunnels.   It was once a top secret WW2 chemical weapons factory and the tunnels held thousands of mustard gas shells.  They also carried out research into the first atomic bomb here.  Calculations and scribblings can still be seen on the walls in some of the buildings.  But now it's a thriving nature reserve and home to North East Wales Wildlife and Rhydymwyn Valley History Society.

I was on site to help out with a winter bird survey.  It was freezing , the golden reeds were covered in frost, the trees stood out like pencil sketches against a pale, water-colour-wash sky and my breath billowed out in clouds through my red felt scarf.

Jackdaws repeated their harsh calls like the sound of ice cracking; we counted their black shapes in the spooky ash tree.      On hearing a bright tinkling sound we looked up and counted ‘1, 2, 3, 4………10 goldfinches.’  We watched them disappear, showing off their light, bouncy flight.  Blue-tit, coal-tit, robin, wren, dunnock, marsh tit at the feeders in front of the bird hide, fieldfares clattering overhead, we counted them all until it was time for lunch and much needed hot chocolate.

After lunch we walked the Woodland Trail.  It was slightly warmer up there, less frost.  The branches glittered with drops of moisture and our feet slithered on dark slimy leaves.  The air was heavy, still and silent except for a drip-dripping sound and the occasional crunch of twigs under foot.   Then we heard a noise like tiny football rattles and saw a troupe of long-tailed tits swinging through the branches.   Then, the ‘demented’ call of a nuthatch, the thin ‘tsee’ of a goldcrest high in a conifer and the ‘squeaky toy’ sound of a great-spotted woodpecker.   Someone whispered, ‘There’s a treecreeper,’ and we all looked up to see the tiny bird, doing exactly what it says on the tin.

‘Woodcock!’ We shouted, looking at each other for confirmation that we hadn’t been imagining it. 
  It was on the edge of the Woodland Trail hiding in the leaf litter, until we approached with our clip boards.  I had a quick glimpse of its stocky body and long dagger bill before it disappeared. 

Kate pointed out some King Alfred’s Cake fungus, hard, oval and shiny black, growing on the bark of a dead tree.  She told us how it can be used to light a fire.  I never knew that.  I also never knew that I could see woodcock just down the road from my house.  I always imagined I’d have to get in the car and drive to a deep, dark wood somewhere miles away. 
Oh and there was also a ‘possible snipe’ near the wetland, but that flew off so quickly that none of us could be 100% sure.  

The next winter bird survey is on Saturday 26th January. I’m going to do my best to be there.  Who knows, we might see a ‘definite snipe’ this time?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Simply A Happy New Year

I breathed into my Christmas-red scarf to prevent the cold air from making me cough and at last we stood on top of the ancient hill fort, alone except for Iron Age ghosts.      
     Merseyside twinkled below and at midnight, the land all around erupted with a thousand tiny explosions. Orion threw off his cloudy cloak and flashed his rhinestone belt at us and all the while the wind blew through our hair and we stood wrapped up in each other. 

We went back next day, for a longer walk and watched a peregrine, slicing through the wild wind like a grey Zorro.  A female kestrel perched on a telegraph pole, hunched and peering down into the scrub below for a furry meal.  We perched on limestone outcrops and ate mince pies, facing Moel Famau and the rest of the gently rounded Clwydian hills.  Shafts of silver sun shone down through slits in the grey cloud, like someone shining a torch through floorboards. 

My New Year resolution: to simplify.  I’m off to a good start.