Thursday, 18 December 2014

A Snowy Day

January 21, 2013

Originally posted in BioList 2013:

The 'land at the back of the village hall'

Having twenty minutes or so spare before we needed to depart for the day’s activities, I decided to pop outside to take some photos of what experience had taught me would be a short-lived covering of snow.  Whilst most of the country had been snowed under for some time, our little bit of Cornwall had been basking glorious sunshine.  OK, so I might be exaggerating somewhat but sunshine had definitely been a feature!  Anyhow, I digress.  So, wellies donned and woolly hat pulled over my ears, with camera in hand, I trundled off for a quick crunch around the village - down the hill, around the corner, past the church and the pub, and through the wrought iron gates into the area of land behind the village hall. 

I’m never really sure what to call the ‘land behind the village hall’ – part is an open green space, part is given over to planted, spiral flower beds, a grass-covered mound aka the ‘sleeping dragon’, some rustic benches, a willow erection and a rather lovely carved wooden seal, the latter in memory of a local Mousehole resident, and some serves as an extension to the church graveyard.  The area is lined with a rather interesting collection of tress, including sallows, myrtles and sycamores.  These trees are proving to be a fabulous haven for a massive array of lichens, mosses and liverworts, many of which I am thus far sadly only to admire without being able to confidently give them a name.

With the exception of community events, such as the annual church summer fête, more often than not the ‘land behind the village hall’ is free of people, allowing one to wander at will, leaf-turning to one’s heart’s content, and generally pottering about without the ever-present awareness that at any given moment, one will turn around to find somebody watching one with that characteristic look – the look that says, ‘I’m not really sure of what you’re doing, I’m not really sure that it’s a very normal thing for one to be doing but I think I’ll stand here and watch anyway, and with any luck, I’ll be able to catch your eye, then I’ll be able to make some witty remark about whatever it is I think you might be doing, before moving on and leaving you to get on with whatever it is you’re actually doing’. 

Well, fortunately, this morning was no exception, and it was little ol’ me, my camera and the birds.  Taking care not to slip on the gravestones which form the paved path leading from the entrances to the newer graves area at the end, I carefully made my way along the path, stopping every now and again to photograph the snow-covered features and nearby buildings as I went.  In the trees furthest from me were chattering Rooks and Jackdaws, up above soared Herring Gulls, and hopping about only ever a few feet from me, was a glossy male Blackbird, no doubt on the look-out from tasty worms and other titbits.  Then, as I neared the end of the path, something caught my eye – a brilliant flash of red, as something flew swiftly from the ground up into the corvids’ tree.  That scarlet flash and the characteristic flight that followed could mean only one thing – a Great Spotted Woodpecker.  Given their relatively new-found fondness for garden birdfeeders, you might think that my excitement at seeing a Great Spotted Woodpecker is somewhat over-the-top; however, it was the first time I’d seen one in the village, and anyway, why shouldn’t I get excited about seeing a Great Spotted Woodpecker?!  Too soon it was time to wander back home in order to depart for the day…
·   ·   ·

With the snow now pretty much all gone and the sun shining away merrily, we decided to interrupt our journey home with a stopover at Helston Boating Lake.  Here we hoped to see the Whooper Swan which had popped in for a visit but rather disappointingly we were out of luck, as despite having been seen here earlier the same day, it was now nowhere to be found.  Still, the friendly Mute Swans managed to win us over with their affections – the comedy of their ever-probing beaks coupled with their searching, dark eyes that eyed us longingly, wordlessly saying, ‘Feed me, feed me’.  We were also treated to an unexpected performance by a pair of ‘dancing’ Shovelers – a first for me in Cornwall.

Dunnock, Helston Boating Lake

Boating lake fully-circled, apple trees duly inspected for woolly aphids and psyllids (still too early), just as we were about to get into the car, I happened to spot the unmistakeable sight of the town’s sewage treatment works.  Golly gosh, how exciting!  Now, I have to emphasise that sewage works wouldn’t be my usual first choice of places in which to hang out but I’d been hearing interesting things about Helston Sewage Works – something to do with Siberian Chiffchaffs?  Of course, there was fat chance of my being able to identify a Siberian Chiffchaff but I still couldn’t resist further investigation.  After nipping off for a quick recce, I soon returned to gather the troops, filling their ears with the promise of ‘Goldcrests, funny finches and lots of little brown jobs’.  Who knew there was so much fun to be had at a sewage works?  Mind you, the lingering aroma wasn’t particularly pleasant but the thirty or so Goldcrests, funny finches (some turned out to be of the Gold variety but we were unable to properly make out the others), Chiffchaffs galore (some possibly of the Siberian variety…), Long-tailed Tits and other feathered delights more than made up for it.

And after that, it was time to go home…  but not before waving a quick ‘hello’ to a Snipe and a Little Grebe at Marazion Marsh and a fleeting visit to Penzance’s Battery Rocks to smile at the antics of the rather lovely semi-resident Purple Sandpipers.  All in all, a proper job of a birdy day!

Purple Sandpiper, Penzance

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