Friday 21 February 2014

A February evening at Otmoor RSPB 2014

Otmoor currently presents an apocalyptic vision viewed from the top of the hill at Beckley. Water as far as one can see. I am unused to this and feel a slight unease. The comfortable familiar image of the reserve has gone to be replaced by something strange and unnerving. Nature has pushed back the boundaries of comfort, changed the land and resurrected within me the primal fears our ancestors must have felt at the surrounding and then much more dangerous landscape.

I view the floods from the gate by the bridleway. My hands rest on the cold steel of the gate. The bleak waters  mirror the grey blue sky and look as cold as my hands are. Everywhere is the colour of the dead, brown of various hues, earth to earth bisected by the pale orange beds of the dead reeds. A slash of green grass adds a bright contrast to this almost monochrome vision.

A stray clump of Snowdrops fails to dispel the still over riding sense of winter. Overwhelmed by the empty landscape they cower in the bottom of the hedge tangle. Each flower's fragile parasol of petals hang half open like a bedside Tiffany Lamp. White, tinged with pale green undersides 

Lapwings stand in lines across the flood looking like the tops of submerged fenceposts jutting above the water. Hunched into the wind. Resting but ever alert. Others, possibly local are restless and already displaying to a mate on tiny areas of ground showing bare above the flood. They bow their breasts to the ground on flexed legs, tails pointing skywards, calling peevishly to their mate.

The empty, wind scoured sky suddenly fills with birds. Great whorls of Lapwings, flashing black and white, yin and yang, rise and wheel in brief alarm and form up in great flocks to slowly descend back to the land. Golden Plover also hurl into the sky, so many they are individually indistinct but the huge numbers make the flock look like dispersing smoke. The flock become a pale brown distant smudge in the sky. Seven Pintails arrow upwards from beyond the far hedgeline, fast, hurtling at breakneck speed  into the sky. Perfection in formation. Precise. Extended necks and attenuated tails accentuate the image of streamlined speed. They circle once and flee downwind. Gone

A Kestrel rides the chill air. Blown downwind it turns and stalls. Hanging there motionless. Held by the air. Its element. Something we can never know. The world seems to stop with it.  A catch of breath. Just a fraction of time as it hovers and then time moves on again as it slips away.

Fieldfares, feathered vikings, chacker overhead into skeletal treetops. The survivors of the hordes that invaded our land in the autumn. These are the strongest or luckiest. Proud and haughty they land in the very tops of the trees bills pointing to home in the north before flying off to roost.

The City of Oxford is but a short way over the hill but in the slowly encroaching dusk the world and ways of humankind are beyond, for just a brief hour, any physical distance. Something precious, intangible and elusive slips briefly into my consciousness but then is gone. 

So bitter. So sweet.

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