The Sparrows are in the three foot hedge, the usual cox sparrow sings on, announcing his claim to the luxury penthouse on our house wall, somewhere up above him. He is accompanied by an array of others, sometimes two females, sometimes two males and two females. I have no idea what is going on here! Am I about to be a proud landlord and is my tenancy going to stretch to two occupied Sparrow homes? I watch and wait.
Yesterday was a good day. In the late afternoon I walked out and down the well trodden paths and across the fields. I made my way south to the edge of the Weald Moors. According to the Doomsday Book, the Weald Moors were at that time a great peat fen full of every type of water fowl. Oh to have walked this way in those days!!
I should explain that in Shropshire speak, a moor is a wetland, very confusing I know! Today these moors are drained and the dark peat soils are put to raising winter wheat, potatoes and elephant grass. This vast wetland was parcelled by name into moors, Sleap, Birch, Eyton, Rodway, Crudgington, Tibberton, Sidney, Wrockwardine and Kynnersley. Very few people locally seem to know their position or their history. At one point near its centre you can still see the remains of an iron age marsh fort called Wall Camp, a very unusual kind of fort with only a few other examples in the UK.
The afternoon sun had been poking around in some interesting clouds so I wondered what the sunset would be like, so before I set off, I grabbed a camera to take with me. I crossed a field still showing the remnants of its last crop. Each maize stalk now casting its own black shadow across the soil and together as the sun fell in the sky, they broadened lines across the field.
As I walked I kept watch downwards as well as listening for bird calls. I also kept one eye on the progress of sun and cloud, hoping for a dramatic sunset to photograph. It’s an old habit, looking down and carefully inspecting the ground in front of you, scanning left to right in the hope of finding something unusual or beautiful, something cast up by the run off of rain water after a down pour or the work of the plough share or even the casual scuff of a boot.
I don’t know how this habit started. Maybe it began with my childhood pleasure and fascination in finding glass on the beaches where we lived. Each piece perfectly smooth and every edge rounded off by the action of tide, sand and sea. Every piece to me seemed that great treasure. But later, this fascination with careful scrutiny of the ground was developed further. When I was nine I walked the marshes on the Kent Coast, binoculars at the ready. The walks at Reculver, across newly ploughed fields sometimes revealed roman coins. Now I was really hooked!
This habit has never left me and to this day, from every holiday, I return with small stones and shells and other objects collected from walks in the wild and beautiful places we have visited. They were small things of great beauty selected from the shores of Iona or from mountain streams or secret beaches. Some were presented as tokens of love to my wife and some as objects for discussion with children or grandchildren. Later, those objects that have not been siphoned away by small hands are placed in the ever growing collection. These collections are assembled in more than one printer’s box and attached to various walls of the cottage. They are testament to our journeys to some of Britain’s most beautiful and wildest places.
Larger stones make their way into the small rockery and alpine flower areas by our modest sunken patio. Here whilst relaxing after a long day in the garden we can sit, beer in hand, and look, at eye level, at the contrasting colour and patterns of these beauties. Anyway, I have become distracted and need to return to this winter tale.
The sun finally provided a sunset glory that the camera and photographer required. I stopped to capture it as best I could. Then standing in an open position I decided to scan the fields beyond and was lucky enough to pick up the ghostly shape of a Barn Owl quartering over a distant rough pasture. The bird was a long way off, but even so, unmistakeable.
In an effort to lessen the distance between us and to gain a slightly better view I walked field side along the edge of a small but deep stream heading straight towards the Owl. After no more than ten steps a startled bird rose noisily from the side of the stream and piped loudly, flashing white rump against dark greenish back as it flew. Within seconds it settled back stream side, fifty meters further on. I didn’t see the bird again, the drain ahead weaved its course and the bird had obviously selected a well concealed landing place. I returned to the track not wishing to cause any further disturbance and glad to have seen a Green Sandpiper. The Barn Owl by this time had long gone.
It was time to head back. On the way I walked the edge of a pool where three female Goosanders warily watched my progress. They steered the water, always maintaining the greatest distance from me, but leaving enough room for take off should the need arise.
At the Sparrow roost I was pleased to note that all birds were seemingly safely tucked up for the night but they were still busy telling tales about the day’s events before the sun finally went down.