Nature Notes

Under an Ashen Sky, a Bonfire.

Three consecutive evenings of badly planned fox-watching expeditions with the family were nevertheless IMG_1198evenings well spent. Late spring evenings are very, very seductive and hard to resist: even when I know there is not enough time and heavy rain is imminent.

On top of the hill, it was evident the coming hail storm was going to put paid to an hour sat above an earth on the down; but we’d made it this far. And, as it turned out, I was grateful of the distraction of the ominous grey panorama, stalking the valley below. For two years, a significant pile of needlessly felled hawthorn and whitebeam trees had remained on a gorzey corner of the field. Last year and this, it became the perfect nesting place for several birds. Last week, I’d watched blackbirds, a yellowhammer and two whitethroats enter the pile to feed chicks. Tonight, it was a smouldering pile of sky-coloured ash. What ignorance, what idiocy, or worse, indifference, had decided to make a bonfire out of this nursery and make a funeral pyre for those nestlings? It could not have been committed at a worse time of year.

With the sunset behind it, the threatening sky curdled like orange juice in milk, and, when it put that fire out, built up in roiling layers the colour of bruises. Where a cloudburst had occurred, we watched, awestruck, as the sky came down in giant brushstrokes, obliterating the view with ashy colours, and extinguishing those few lights that had already come on. We tried to judge wind direction and read the strange lumpiness of the uddered clouds above us – and decided we’d be fine.

The air thickened and swirled with anticipation. The blackbirds stopped their richly melodic evensong (tainted tonight, because of the bonfire, with a bitter melancholy) and began their anxious, settling down, ‘pink, pink, pink’. We should have listened.

Earlier that day, I had listened to the birds. I ‘d thought better of hanging the washing out, when I’d seen and heard the twittering spiral of house martins and swallows swooping low on rising flies. Minutes later, the heavens opened. But tonight, giddy with the hour and already too committed, we are reckless. IMG_1195

Out on the open down, there is nowhere to run. The hail sweeps towards us like a great winding sheet, faster than walking pace, pinging off our heads, hands and stinging our faces. But we are skittish as lambs, intoxicated by the mood of an evening that seems to match our frustration at the destruction of those bird’s nests. We run anyway, towards the beech hangar, squealing and laughing.

When we arrive home, dripping, flushed and exhilarated, the blackbirds sing in the last lemon light of the evening and the little owl pair call to each other within the oaks increasing canopy, with such a tender poignancy.

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4 thoughts on “Nature Notes

  1. Hi Nicola – hope this reaches you – can you let me know?

    I noticed your appeal in the NWN recently for information on Chieveley mere history. Have you had a response? If not I’m happy to post your request.

    Any further thoughts re date for Garden Centre…?

    I’m thinking of including parent news on the JOG facebook page. Would you like me to link to your blog? Thanks,

    Penny _PENNY POST _ http://www.pennypost.org.uk [18] fb/PennyPostWB @PennyPostWB 01488 648534

    • Hi Penny, thanks for your comment. I haven’t had a response re Chieveley ‘mere’ and particularly its seven-year cycle, so yes please, an appeal for information would be great. And yes please, too, for a link on JOG’s parent news/ Facebook page – thank you! I must admit, I’d struggled to find anyone from RSPB membership in our area who might come out to the garden centre and the ‘trail’ went cold, as it were. I shall pick it up again. Many thanks.

  2. A sad tale. Am left wondering whether people look at a large pile of brashings in the same light as a hedgerow or area of scrubby undergrowth, i.e they’d think birds wouldn’t nest in there. It also makes me wonder whether it was a deliberate act by an irresponsible/underage lad or lass, ignorant of the destruction it has clearly caused. All of that aside, I’ve since been up there and have heard Yellowhammers in the area so if they are quick (the clock is ticking) they and their migrant mates could yet still raise a brood.

  3. Thanks Tony; a sad tale indeed. What looks ‘temporary’ to a human can be the perfect spot for a bird, I guess. But glad to hear that you’ve heard yellowhammers there, there is hope!

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