Coldish, overcast days to start the month. The first Saturday evening S and I went to Clonter Opera to hear the London Adventist Chorale – they come every year and it begins our run-up to Christmas. Starting out at 6.00pm we had to defrost the car – by the time we headed home at 10.30 it was raining...
An early (well, earlier than usual) start to the day the following Monday. S walked Dot the Dog down Dark Lane because we were going off for a walk and DtD was headed for her crèche. It was barely daylight and a barn owl flew out of a hedgerow tree and over the field opposite Yewtree Farm – we see them occasionally over the "dog-fields" too but I guess their hunting ground will be much diminished by the new building (Whirley end of the site still satisfyingly flooded).
Then came the frost. Dot the Dog was invigorated by the ice between her toes. Vigorous ball games played. The gulls stood forlornly on the ice on the field-flood; they occasionally took off and regrouped – one hapless bird landed at speed and skated a good few feet before coming to a halt. A couple of (even more frosty) mornings afterwards a mistle thrush ("storm-cock" and supposed harbinger of bad weather) sat in the laburnum tree in our front garden.
A day or two later the ice on the field-flood had thawed a little, leaving a pool perhaps fifteen feet across – it was thronged with tightly packed geese. DtD was much more interested by the "badger trail" – a series of shallow excavations where brock had evidently been getting worms or other small prey – or maybe it was the fox that did it.
The mistle thrush was right nonetheless – it snowed! DtD loved it. She frolicked round the fields and threw snow in the air with her nose (when it got into her nostrils she snorted loudly). The snow made the building site look like Toytown in winter (here I betray my age). I half expected Larry the Lamb to pop up pursued by Mr Mayor and Ernest the Policeman (younger readers could look up Toytown on Wikipedia...). The longtailed tits reappeared on the bird feeders and the garden assumed its normal winter face.
After a few bright and seriously cold days (car dashboard reading -5o one morning) the rains came. Freezing rain on frozen hard-packed snow and on bare tarmac made Andertons Lane a skating rink. It was almost a pleasure to find a pothole where my boots got a grip. One hapless driver almost demolished the Mount's wall by Mount Farm but slid gently past. Even on Dot the Dog's fields where there was trampled snow the going underfoot was distinctly dangerous so I cut the walk short, much to DtD's annoyance – but on her afternoon walk she slipped and fell on to her shoulder and S ended up on her knees. Neither seriously hurt apart from in the pride department.
A few rainy days led up to Christmas and then Christmas morning was bright and sunny. There was standing water on Dot the Dog's fields and a frantic line of mole hills ran up the slope as the little creatures must have tried to beat the rising water table. DtD decided to excavate one or two without success, but it looked as though the badger might have been better at it, with some deep digs into the trails (remember that "The Wind in the Willows" really is a work of fiction). Foxy-Loxy seemed also to have had some good hunting judging by the rabbit fur scattered about.
Boxing Day morning was similarly lovely and there had been a sharp frost with frozen ground in the shadows where the low sun hadn't yet reached. Another scent trail for Dot the Dog to follow energetically – towing me behind. She has a new squeaky duck toy by courtesy of Father Dogmas and wants endlessly to play "tug"!
The gulls have been venturing farther afield from the flood and now fly around the village. On Boxing Day morning a group settled on the roof ridge of our "over-the-road" neighbours and like squaddies on parade shuffled their positions in order to ensure equal spacing.
A mixture of weather followed – gloomy days interspersed with bright and sunny ones as the old year approached its end. We sat at the kitchen table one day and saw a flash of brown as the sparrow hawk swooped into the crowd of small birds on the feeders. It must have been the female – much larger than the male. I think she probably dined well.
A day or two later we were visited slightly unexpectedly by S's nephew who lives in a Leicestershire village and who is a keen birdwatcher (of the feathered variety). He was quite excited by the variety of birds visiting our garden. We saw the robin (of course, it being Christmas-time), great tits, blue tits, coal tits, a bullfinch, chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches, a nuthatch, our resident wren, the greater-spotted woodpecker, a dunnock or two and the small armies of sparrows and starlings who live under our neighbour's roof.
Next day started dull, grey, damp and windy. I looked out of the bedroom window and watched a gang of corvids (too far away to tell whether they were rooks, crows or jackdaws) doing aerobatics in the breeze. There were at least twenty of them. They seemed to have two favourite manoeuvres. The first was cartwheels from a height of about sixty feet until the bird was only a few feet above ground level, and then recovery and gliding up on the wind to repeat the exercise. The second was more daring – folding their wings and dropping like a stone, again to only about five or six feet up and then spreading the wings and soaring up on the breeze.
Dot the Dog hopes all her fans will have had a lovely and happy Christmas but we know that for many people it can be a time of sadness – we hope our "odd" observations will have lightened things a little. Happy New Year from
Horrid of Henbury and Dot the Dog!