At this time of year, in that odd limbo week between Christmas and New Year, I have fallen into a pleasant tradition of looking back over my blogs from the year past. I am often surprise by what I have forgotten from the past 12 months, and always enjoy seeing the photos of so many of my favourite things. Hardly a blog post is written without some mention of nature, from mention of the first spring migrants, to a poetic description of a colourful sunset. So here is a sample of 2016 through the eyes of a naturalist.
” Such was my joy at being out and about, my wonder at the changes working their magic wherever I looked, that I was reluctant to return home in a hurry. I stood for a while beside New Pond, crouching to watch how the light rippled and skittered on the breeze-ruffled water. A flicker caught my eye, against the glare of the sky, was it a butterfly, or a bird? It was neither. The bat, soft brown fur and thin, stretched, almost fragile looking wings, criss-crossed the lake, quartering the blue sky, an incongruous sight in the bright sunlight. It fluttered close, not far above my head, but then a gust caught it and try as it might, the tiny creature was no match for the March winds. My heart leapt as the poor animal was blown into the tangled mess of sharp twigs and branches, my mind already calculating depths and distances and the futility of any rescue attempt. But the bat knew none of my panic, and quickly regained its composure, grooming and checking for damage to vital wing membranes. Satisfied it was unblemished by its crash-landing, the bat proceeded to feel its way, crawling along the branches towards the open air. I lost sight of it for a few moments. Plop! The fearful vision that had flashed through my mind just moments before was realised; the unfortunate bat had fallen straight into the cold water of the lake. But then something amazing took place. Who knew that bats could swim? Instinct powered the tiny mammal to use its wings to propel itself through the water, and a few minutes later it had latched onto the mossy base of the trunk, crawled upwards and onwards, and taken flight once more, into thankfully calmer air.
For a few precious moments, on a beautiful spring afternoon, there was no-one else in the world apart from myself, and a small but determined bat, sharing the same airspace beside a tree at the edge of a lake.”
“It had been a long 12 hours; mercy missions, tense waiting and disturbed sleep patterns. I had watched the swifts sky-screaming around the evening rooftops to keep myself grounded.
At last, at about 10am, I was free to escape for a short while between duties and so made the short drive to Iping Common. This lowland heathland close to Midhurst is just outside the edge of my local patch but well worth bending the boundaries a little. From the car park I took the familiar old path through the trees. I knew the textures of the rough dried moss, the papery bark of the birch trunks, the focused needling of the gorse, without unfurling my fisted hands to touch them and yet they reached out into the path putting themselves in my way like concerned friends and I ran my fingers over each surface, reconnecting.
By the time I emerged from the trees my folded arms had dropped and my step lightened. I breathed in the heady scents of heathland; a smell not dissimilar to honey, but with a crackle and a woody warmth. The sky was undecided, flickering between sun, or showers heralded by stiffening breezes. I veered towards the righthand edge of the sandy track, my boots brushing last year’s seedheads from grey-purple heather. I almost stumbled on the first one. A clip of movement, a tear of blue that I almost missed as it flicked past my feet. I always forget until I see this first one of the year, just how tiny the silver studded blue butterfly is. Kneeling down to peer closer and take in the minute detail, I drank in the shimmer-blue edged in white, the striped antenna, the softly furred body, and the butterfly sat patiently as if knowing this moment was one I always savour. The butterfly decided it was time to re-adjust my perspective and fluttered away across the heather. I sat back on my heels and considered the view and its features. My phone rudely notified me of an incoming message and I allowed it to distract me for a moment. As I was drawn into the screen, the sun pushed a cloud out of the way and a company of butterflies, four or five males, took to the air to meet it and bounced over the heather to swirl around me in a spiralling dance, caressing lightly, almost touching down on me or close by before floating and spinning up again raising my eyes to the light and my heart with them. The sun shaded over with a soft outward breath and the butterflies left me, dematerialising back into their fay-world.”
“Did you hear that? The robin has started to sing. Listen, there he is again, sweet high notes cutting through the softer background swell of wood pigeons and the distant traffic. It is only when they return to the soundtrack of my walks that I notice the pain of their summer absence. It is easy not to notice the silence when distracted by summer madness, but those first few notes of twittered song on a cool morning, when the birds begin to regain their confidence after the frantic breeding season and the moult, are perhaps the most heart-lifting sound of all.
Hazel nut shells scrunch under-foot in the gateway; the grey squirrels have already been raiding this seasonal food source. The green acorns, held high in their cups, tucked between the dusty leaves will be next on the menu.
When the sunflowers finally fade, I will cut the largest heads and dry them, so that even when the beds and borders are cleared, mulched, and bound tight with frost in the months to come, I can hang the seed-filled discs along the fence for the birds.”
“Moorhens paddled in the shadows beneath the overhanging bushes. Small birds, mostly chaffinches, dropped to drink using a partly submerged willow as shelter and steps to bathe. A stained glass patterning of fallen leaves gathered around the stems and branches that broke the rivers slow flow. Goldfinches kept to the tree tops, feeding amongst the alder cones, their tickling songs like diminutive bells ringing as they flit. A female bullfinch issued its plaintive call.
We listened and watched for a kingfisher, hoping for a whistle or flash, but today it was not to be, they must have been fishing another section of their serpentine territory.
As we reach the bridge, having looped back on ourselves, the church bells informed us that it was 11am. Despite their nearness behind the trees, particles of damp in the air and the closed sky muffled and dulled their voice.”