A Beau Geste of robins
Robins are not just for Christmas. Pigeons don’t always fit in holes. Sometimes birds are worth more in the bush.
The year is still new, frost is lifting from the path on the south-facing side of the hedge and a robin, with half an eye on what may wriggle free of the thawing mud, is singing his heart out.
Hazards galore in squirrel’s hunt
The squirrel is on a mission. She – this one is smaller, quicker and brighter than others – is investigating the peanut feeder with all the concentration of a safe-cracker.
Dazzling light at the Devil’s Chair
Wild Moor is rippling under the hazy light towards the silhouette of the Devil’s Chair on the distant Stiperstones ridge. This is the warmest, most dazzling, day of the year so far and to make the most of it we’ve climbed into the sky, up the Long Mynd 487 metres (1,600ft) above sea level.
Momentous and ephemeral
The first violet, the first I’ve seen this year, opened on the day of eclipsinox – the solar eclipse on the spring equinox. Apart from the blinking excitement of looking-not-looking at the sun and seeing pinhole images of the eclipse crescent (smile or frown?) on cardboard, the real thrill was the light.
At the moment of eclipse a flock of seagulls took to the sky, spiralling and bugling as if distressed or agitated. The light was weird, not dark as such but not daylight, a kind of smoky violet
Seasonal splash of colour
They come from the sun, the lesser celandines – like particles blown in on solar winds they flower, sun-like. Open buttercups with heart-shaped leaves, the lesser celandines are some of the first flowers, and they like the soggy waysides. They can emerge as single teasers or erupt in sudden brassy flashes in that where-have-you-been time of year when a splash of colour is needed by insects and people alike.
Senses stirred by blackthorn’s snow
“Into the scented woods we’ll go,” wrote the poet and novelist Mary Webb, “And see the blackthorn swim in snow.” The woods are scented by things I can barely detect: violets, anemones, sorrel, bud burst, and I have to imagine their combined fragrance set against the edgy pong of wild garlic leaves and vagrant smells wafting through the woods on the breeze.
Green spirits awakening in May
The green alkanet is in flower along the hedge that catches the morning light and gives shelter from the rain. May brings green fire: a lyrical contagion. Thickset, coarse and bristly, green alkanet has the feel of an outsider, pitching up on boundary land, putting down its stubborn roots, which, once, were used to make red dye.
Song thrush bursts with soul
As if at the flick of a switch bird song fills the lane. So loud and powerful is it that I am disoriented, my senses blurred to everything else. Lambs running in gangs across the field, buzzards soaring through the sky, a breeze spitting rain: everything goes out of focus.
Rooks among the rocks
The gatekeeper rook landed on a fence post with the consummate ease of someone who can read the wind and shape themselves into it. At rest, it kept one eye on the shuttlebus emptying tourists like seeds spilling from a pod and the other on Stonehenge, which they had come to see.
Strangeness and beauty
The bee orchid opens its beautiful strangeness a few inches above ground. Surrounded by lady’s bedstraw, common whitlowgrass and wild thyme, the orchid appears as a lone curiosity, a magnet drawing attention from the wide world above into the small, intimate world of the meadow.
Ode to a Raven
The wild rose flowers over a chain-link fence at the edge of the quarry. In a Sleeping Beauty moment, this tangle of thorns has been transformed into the sweetest rose: sweet briar.
The flycatcher and the fly
The spotted flycatcher pauses to consider approaching figures for a second before looping through the air between fence posts. The bird pauses mid-flight to snip an insect also in flight. In that moment, bird and fly are immune to the forces of gravity and exist in a time and space around which everything else spins. Like TS Eliot’s “still point of the turning world” (Burnt Norton), the spotted flycatcher is a blur of brown light:
A commonwealth of beetles
As if materialised from thin air, the beetles crowd upon the purple petals. The thistles are full of them. Along the path where dogs are walked, away from the reach of mowers, the weeds grow rank. Lush with rain and bold from neglect, the hogweeds, thistles, nettles and docks become a commonwealth of marvels.
Blot out and backcross:
It’s hard to imagine a creature less like a butterfly than its own caterpillar. This is particularly true for the peacock butterfly – a blue-eyed beauty blinking through the dog days of summer until it’s time to sleep behind the bedroom curtains.
The curious and alluring autumn gentians are flowering. At the top of the bank where the rabbits have nibbled turf down to the quick and people have broadened the path along the fence, in the wood where the last fragments of wild meadow have been heavily grazed, little clumps of lilac coloured flowers are blooming. I have rarely seen autumn gentian in any of these places until now.
The bucolic noble savage
The thrush held its prize in its beak, a worm plucked from the hedge, like a dog with a stick in its mouth. To me its gaze was defiant, ferocious and proud, but then I wondered if I was just reading into it what I wanted to see.
Insects find lifeline
Pop, pip, pop ... seedheads of Himalayan balsam are bursting in tiny explosions. The flower heads are chandeliers of red-green, glassy, pendants, which open into lipped, lobed, bulbous flowers like orchids from cerise to shell pink.
Spirit of Pan in the briar
Blackberries: they dangle temptingly, insinuating themselves. Wild fruit is evocative. What was once a donkey paddock between two arms of woodland has, over the past 10 years or so, become a bramble patch.
The strange world of knopper galls
On one of the finest autumn days for years, sharply lit under a Wedgwood sky, the oak bears strange fruit. Little green and brown apples covered in horny, foliate protuberances grow where acorns should be. They formed last month when a tiny gall wasp, Andricus quercuscalicis, inoculated embryonic acorn buds with her eggs. The oak responded in an entirely specific way to this wasp by producing growths known as knopper galls, from a German name for a type of helmet.
Haws light way for the worm hunters
The stoplight red glass of the hawthorn berries shines with bright autumn days, morning rains and nights under the harvest moon. Now the haws are at their most dazzling though not yet edible, and the season is gold: gold-green, gold-yellow, gold-red, gold-brown.
Leap of faith for a timeless being
The clocks have gone back for the winter and the salmon are leaping forward. It’s a fine October day: high cloud in a blue sky, a brassy glow in the trees. A couple of days of rain in the Welsh hills is now pouring over the weir. I join a small group of people holding phones and cameras, gathered at the railings of the weir, watching the water with rapt attention.
Beguiling berries wait for the birds
Sloe berries don’t taste to me of their midnight colour or the bloom on their skins as blue as the sky might be high above this fog. To the touch they feel ripe enough, even though it’s warm and there’s no purging frosts yet. They roll smoothly in the mouth.
Leaves turning fiery
Sweet chestnut leaves reddened against the sky before the weather came: a moment of fire and glass before they flew. The long, saw-edged, leaves of the sweet or Spanish chestnut, naturalised in Britain since the iron age, had all the autumn colours in them.
Ivy club leaving do for the insects
Under high blue skies, where the path runs against the wood, there’s a hum like strip-light static. It comes from the wings of hoverflies and wasps feeding on ivy flowers. In hedges and trees the curious, yellow knucklebone jacks of the ivy flowers draw insects to a last-ditch nectar binge. This may be the insects’ leaving do. As the light is held in their wings like flakes of mica or shreds of cellophane, they may or may not know that the itinerant hoverflies, greenbottles, ragged small tortois
Sleepy hollow under a gothic mask
Inside, the woods are strangely still. Outside, a storm is roaring. Hollows in the woods can create unique spaces as trees deflect the wind above and create an atmosphere of secluded quiet below. I scramble through the hedge bank to drop down on to a mossy plateau that was once a railway siding.
Gale throws wildlife homes
The robin materialises from a point in the ground where the storm disappeared. Out of all the thrashing rain and screaming winds, the bird stands, in the conspicuous, red-breasted, defiance of the season’s greetings card pose and begins to sing.
Floating in the fog
Wenlock Edge, Shropshire The mist settles like a mood, yet these long nights and murky days are wonderful