The river and I are old friends. Normally, I don't see him through the winter. My connection with him has always been through the water voles who live on his edges and as they sleep through the cold months there was little call to walk his banks through winter. But last week I had an email from the estate's bird recorder sending me last year's records and it prodded me to see whether the river might be free for a visit.
Sure, said Neil, who cares for it, next week it's pretty much free beyond some carp fishermen on the main beat. So, at 4 o'clock yesterday I drove down, parked up, entered the code in the gate and wandered down to see what I could find. I wasn't expecting much, the birds would be going to bed, but the river has never let me down and sure enough I'd not been there a minute before I saw a Mistle Thrush, upright and important-looking. He was sharing the field with six or seven red wing. I watched, photographed and marvelled, before, quite suddenly and with no warning, all the birds in the field took off and fled into the trees. Quite why they had executed a mass exodus became apparent a few seconds later when a bird of prey cut through the sky above me. Sparrowhawk, I thought, then had a moments doubt. Peregrine? They nest not far from here. Either way, the birds knew it meant danger and had sensed it long before I became aware. The hawk flew off over the trees, disturbing the rooks and jackdaws who set up a right old racket.
I wandered on down the river, well wrapped against the chill. A big bird was swooping through the sky. A heron. He came in to land and stood at the far end of the field, watching me. Further on, four mallards and two moorhen and a pair of wrens, scolding. The light was beginning to fade by the time I turned for home and the raw east wind was tightening the skin on my face. I'd seen seventeen species of bird and a roe deer. Not bad for an hour's walk by the river.
Earlier this week I was getting ready to go out when movement by the lake's edge caught my eye. I knew it wasn't a regular bird, and as I turned to look properly, a male Kingfisher appeared among the tangle of branches. I watched him watching the water, before diving in and coming up with a fish, which he whacked against a branch for a good 10-15 minutes before flipping it, head first and swallowing it whole. Then he dived back into the water, as if for a wash, went back to his perch, had a preen and flew off back into the branches. I think the fish was a stickleback- they have to whack them for ages before the spines on the fish's back relax sufficiently for them to eat them. Needless to say, I was late for my appointment.
This morning, Pop and I have been out for an 8.7 mile run along the lanes. I strapped my knee and it coped really well. The only time it ached was running downhill, so that was good feedback. As I was running along, I remembered finding a dead badger on the side of the lane about this time last year. There is a sett not far from here, but I knew it hadn't come from there and it hadn't been killed on the road either: it had been killed elsewhere and dumped here. No sooner had the thought run through my head than I saw a dead badger. It had been left in the middle of the road where a car had hit it, but it hadn't been killed by the car. Badgers are creatures of habit and there are no badger paths either side of this road. I know, because I've looked for them. It had been killed somewhere else and dumped here just like the one last year. It was in almost the exact same spot. I felt a surge of upset and anger. I ran on, and barely a hundred metres ahead, there was another dead badger, also dumped in the middle of the road to make it appear it had been killed by a car. This time my upset turned to fury. Why do people think it's OK to treat badgers this way? The science around the badger cull and bovine TB is not conclusive, but long before that, badgers were singled out for hatred and baiting and killing. I don't get it? I ran on, feeling angry and sad and hoping I wouldn't see any more of these wonderful creatures, dumped dead on the road.
I wasn't tired at the end of the run, just cold and pleasingly hungry. Poppy was brilliant, she kept going all the way round and we had a small bit of pate at home to celebrate (Teddy had some too, of course, for guarding the house so well while we were out). Pop also had a bath, which she was less chuffed about, but when you're tiny wee all the water and mud on the road tends to attach itself to your underbelly and later gets dropped off all round the house. It gets to a point where a bath is the only option. I'd run out of dog shampoo so she had mine instead. She submitted to being rubbed dry with the towel afterwards for all of ten seconds before she managed to slip out of my grasp, eel-like. I heard her scoot along the landing and thunder down the stairs, taking the last five at a great flying leap as she always does. Ted, watching with a broad grin on his face, ducked his head as she jumped over him and disappeared into the kitchen. He wagged his tail when I came downstairs with armfuls of muddy towel. Poppy was underneath the table where she knew I couldn't easily get her. She was watching me warily, making certain I wasn't going to try anything. Ted's paw is much better, although he's still on indoor duty. He doesn't seem to mind- it's been cold and wet here this week and it's hailed too, so he's been content to lie on his bed beneath the radiator and snooze.
So that's us for now. L has a hair appointment this afternoon. Half term is like MOT week for children, isn't it? We've had an eye test, got a hair cut and are finishing the week off with a bank account opening. It's been nice not to have the normal college routine this week, although I seem to have managed to book work in every day. Oh well.
Hope you're all well?