The Subdued Life of Winter

It’s a month now since the shortest day and slowly, almost unseen, the nights are drawing out and the mornings, at a slower pace, are getting lighter. However, we are yet to reach what should be the coldest part of the year; the two weeks that span the change of month from January to February. It’s below freezing as I write this on a dull Sunday morning, with a light snow shower laying a few flakes on frozen surfaces.

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I was out at Bagmere yesterday morning; Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s small reserve between Sandbach and Congleton. As I have been for the last few years, I was again wandering around the site doing a survey of the birds I could see and hear. As I walked across the wet and frozen ground, there was a hush over the land, just the background rumble of distant roads and the occasional airliner passing overhead. It was as if nature was hiding, the dormant life just a whisper on the cutting breeze passing between then willows and rustling the rushes and brambles. The birds were there but few in number and subdued in movement and song.

As I walked around the reserve, first across the damp and muddy, marshy grassland and then into the old and new woodland, only a few different species were present. There were the usual wrens hiding down in dense clumps of grass and robins occasionally singing from a low branch. There was a small mixed flock of tits moving through; long-tails, blues and greats. There was an occasional overflight of crows, jackdaws and black-headed gulls. A great-spotted woodpecker alarmed from a high vantage point and at the far end of the woodland a pair of treecreepers made their soft calls as they jerkily moved amongst the trunks and branches. However, again, there were no willow tits on the reserve, a disappointment but not unexpected. The highlight, instead, was a water rail calling from one of the ditches, hidden in the long grass.

The subdued life on the reserve yesterday can be contrasted with how Bagmere will be in only a few short months. When I return to do the breeding bird surveys at the site, in March, April, May and June, the grassland and woodland will be alive with the vivid and raucous spring chorus. Those same birds, and those that will have arrived from their wintering grounds in Africa, will be in their prime and life will be at its fullest.

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