Woods in winter
Woods in winter
On a drizzly day in mid-winter, it’s wonderfully reviving to take a walk in the woods. On just such a day last week I wandered through Strid Woods where the remnants of the Twelve Days of Christmas display – a full-size Friesian cow with eight expectant pails and stools, four swans in the river, two capsized and a-swimming upside down – could not distract from the natural beauty all around. I love winter trees – you can see their individual shapes and appreciate the tracery of branches against a grey-washed sky. And those trunks! When I was a child I determinedly painted tree-trunks a good solid brown. Why did nobody suggest I went outside and actually looked at the subtle mixes of grey, buff, even pink, and the streaks of lichen in a dozen shades of green.
The woodland floor was a patchwork of orange leaves and brilliant emerald mosses. The precipitous becks tumbling down to the river were in spate and had scoured clean their biscuit-coloured stones till they gleamed. I reflected on how well adapted the myriad of invertebrates living among these stones must be to their unstable environment. Glancing down towards the river, peaty-dark with white wavelets, I spotted the dumpy form of a dipper, its brown plumage and white breast perfectly designed to conceal its presence. It was bobbing off a stone into the torrent to forage for the invertebrates hidden in the shifting world of the riverbed.
Everywhere was quiet until, as I rounded a bend, all was changed. The air was alive with soft contact calls, small birds flitted in the tree-tops or zipped about from tree to tree. What’s more, the ground seemed to be moving, so many birds were foraging through the leaf-litter. I’d caught up with one of the large mixed flocks of small birds that find it safer and more efficient to keep together at this time of year, and they’d obviously struck a lucky patch. There were great, blue and coal tits and, among them, a couple of nuthatches, slate-blue backs and apricot breasts bright against the tree trunks they scaled so nimbly. Best of all, I picked out a brambling fossicking on the ground, my first this winter. Later, among another, smaller flock, was a treecreeper, the other agile climber, always starting at the bottom of each tree and spiraling upwards like a tiny mouse.