A visit to The Forest of Dean in Gloucester. A day of bright sun, hard frost and little wind. Late winter.
Early morning in an area of clearfell at Yew Tree Brake. Frost cracked ground, set solid and dusted white, the sky butterfly blue. Shiveringly, bitterly fingertip cold. Common Crossbills in two's and three's, chipping calls announcing their journeys across the clearing from pine cone alders to branch bare birches, there to nibble at buds. Bright red males, younger males with a paint splash plumage of yellow and orange, females as green as the swelling buds, all vibrant with breeding expectancy.The males singing exultantly from the tops of the trees.
The sun climbed higher and a sensation of warmth, nothing more, filtered through the clear, cold air. A Common Buzzard launched on a thermal and spiralled upwards like a cork rising to the surface. Further beyond and higher still a Goshawk, exuding powered flight, flap flap glided, circling ever higher, showing distinctive powder puff white undertail coverts, sailing in a heavenly blue domain, free and uninhibited. A Raven, shiny black against blue, skimmed the distant conifer ridge and was gone.
Plaintive calls from the sky heralded passing Siskins. Unseen. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers in exaggerated dipping curves crossed the clearing whilst below, with ponderous grace, Wild Boar, a family of five, crossed at a determined trot from ridge to plantation.
Crabtree Heath by a frost thawing wet track. Muddy. Amongst the winter browned grass and ochre sedge occasional silver birches look vulnerable, left isolated, attenuated beacons after the felling of the surrounding conifers. Shining white, grey mottled trunks in the sun. Atop one a bird mirrored its silver and grey perch, poised alert in the diamond shards of sunshine. A Great Grey Shrike. Mystical in the shimmering distance of heat haze.
Parkend Church. A trio of photographers, macho clothing, excitable, coveting crossbills coming to a puddle to drink. The ultimate shot to be achieved, competitive and insensitive to the spirit of the woods. Back of the camera images. Look at mine, look at mine! An art form now devalued to the mundane.
Turn away to look at the wooded slope down from the Church. A finch, bulky, huge head and bill merged as one. Like a butcher's thumb. Top heavy with a short tail. Hawfinch! Then more solid distinctive profiles in the huge trees, dark blotches in the twigs against a bluesky back curtain. They sit still and heavy for long periods then slip away. Unfailingly elusive and shy.
Cannop Ponds. Half term. Noise, dogs and garrulous children. Feeding the ducks. Mallards.
Then, incongruous Mandarin Ducks. Seven drakes. Oriental. Ornately bedecked with feathered extravagance, like small barges for royalty. Orange sails erect they issue from the reeds with four grey females and sail in convoy for the bank. Ignoring the roughhouse Mallards gobbling bread. Superior in their diminutive beauty, insouciant as toffs in a cheap all day cafe, on such a commonplace pond.