The New Year dawned (more or less) dark, torrentially wet but mild. Dot the Dog and I made our squelchy way over the fields where she stalked unsuccessfully some gulls. A large group of geese had dropped in on the smaller (but now much more extensive) flood for a rest – perhaps readers as they woke late after the previous evening's fun heard them negotiating with Goose Traffic Control. Eventually a rather watery sun appeared, as did the sheep winter grazing opposite the Mount.
Next day was quite different. Bright but low sun shone through a mist. The forest, Tegg's Nose and Shutlingsloe were hidden by a low bank of cloud and on Sutton Common only the top few feet of the mast were visible. The low sun and haze dazzled me and my photochromic specs made the world darker than it really was. Thus DtD took off apace towards the eastern hedge and she is so powerful I had no choice but to run with her, dragged along by her leash. Only as we nearly crashed into the boundary did I realise she had spotted and was trying to corner a pair of ducks who left loudly quacking. Sheep came to graze on the field opposite the Mount but spent most of their time out of sight.
A rodent corpse lay by our garden hedge in the morning (I hastily led DtD away so that S could dispose of it!). Judging by its appearance it had been the victim of a bird of prey which had taken the tasty bits and since it had shown up overnight we thought an owl was probably responsible. We have seen owl pellets from time to time on Andertons Lane and on the Millennium Green.
The female sparrow hawk has taken to sitting on top of the post from which our bird feeders hang – no small birds come while she's there. However she must have scored one day judging by the feathers scattered beneath. She has become a regular visitor. (Attached photo shows one of her predecessors at work on an unfortunate pigeon in Henbury 10 years ago!)
We had to replace a "squirrel proof" bird feeder because the little beasts had discovered that they could lift the lids and get their paws inside if the feeding tube was full. Then they found that they could nibble off the top of the tube to enable them to reach further down. Dumb animals – or maybe not!
Twelfth night came, dampish but mild. As we walked from Andertons Lane towards the cottages Dot the Dog and I heard lots of geese honking. They were beside the "small" flood behind Williams Way. I hadn't realised previously the variety of honks – there were some high-pitched ones, some baritone ones, some staccato ones and some long ones. Almost like morse code. Although there were fifty or sixty birds they were obviously organised into social groups. First a skein of eight or so took off then silence. The honking began again and a larger skein became airborne. Another pause and honking and another flight. By the time DtD and I reached the big field the final skein had taken off, but for some reason in the opposite direction to the earlier ones. Each group must have had its own way of communicating and probably a leader who decided where to head.
The sheep re-appeared atop the higher field opposite the Mount on Andertons Lane – there for only about ten days and then the field looked grazed out. Perhaps that's why they managed to make their way into the small flood-field and then into the paddock one day – a couple of days later they had gone.
There followed a week of seemingly unremitting rain. The floods extended and the footpath from Henbury rise to the cottages looked as though it would be inundated, as it was last winter. The builders one day appeared to be trying to construct a levee of some sort to lessen the encroachment of the flood on to the Whirley end of their development. Dot the Dog was fascinated to watch a huge digger scooping up mud (with vast fountains of water). The attempt was abandoned after a while as each bucket of mud simply slid back whence it had come, much to my amusement. When we got home Mrs Sparrowhawk perched in the damson tree, rather wet and bedraggled.
Days grew colder and wetter, with an icy wind, but there were some bright afternoons and it was obvious that when the cloud cover had gone there was daylight until nearly five o'clock.
Most encouraging – the flowers on the snowdrops that had been tentatively looking around began to open.
Mid-month it became distinctly more icy. One day it fell to me to do DtD's afternoon walk after a chilly morning with the occasional snowflake. The sky had cleared and Dot the Dog and I set out around half-past three under a clear blue sky. By the time we turned for home the large flood-field was mostly in shadow. What appeared to be water droplets on the longer grass had turned into globules of ice, and the edges of the smaller flood behind Henbury Rise were already freezing over.
Overnight it snowed. Dot the Dog was delighted – and even more so the following morning after yet more snow. An unfortunate driver seemed to have come to grief at the sharp bend between The Mount and Mount Farm. We followed badger prints (larger and more square than a dog's with huge claws) along the drive from Andertons Lane to Moss Cottage and Mossways. In a "normal" year the badgers would be hibernating, but recently the milder winters have meant they can roam more or less all year round and our friend had obviously been digging under the fallen leaves and debris in the hedge bottoms for food – worms and anything else.
We followed the tracks into the big flood-field for a while (DtD's nose occasionally getting stuffed with snow) and then they petered out. However we picked the trail up again on the track back to Henbury Rise and the prints on a front lawn (and a small excavation) suggested the badger had ventured a bit further afield.
As I stood at a front window in the afternoon with the snow clearly having begun to thaw just a little, a flock of around a dozen lapwings flew over under a bright, cold, blue sky. Not long after that the car was frosting up.
Next morning the road was like a skating rink and paradoxically the places where more conscientious neighbours had cleared their frontages were the slipperiest! Dot the Dog again enjoyed the frozen snow, and on our return home found a new game. We have an orange fishing net float (found at Gunwalloe Church Cove, Cornwall, donkeys years ago) and it is one of her favourite outdoor toys – she loves to poke it and roll it back and forth. On trying to roll it back towards herself on the frozen snow on the back lawn she found it just rotated without moving. She was so fascinated she played like that for a good five minutes – thus I didn't have to play at all and went in from the cold to my bacon sandwich...
As the snow melted DtD and I did a late afternoon walk with not much frozen snow remaining although the field-floods were still mostly iced over. A brace of ducks swam in the central hole in the ice on the larger flood. As we walked across the top of the field above the big flood I looked towards the low setting sun when we passed the gate into the smaller top field and saw what must be ancient ridge and furrow cultivation picked out. It's not obvious in full daylight but must be mediaeval or possibly earlier (the ridges are quite narrow compared with the more famous later places marked on OS maps). The village is of course called Henbury, an Anglo-Saxon name denoting a "burgh" – a fortified settlement. S and I once looked at the field alongside Henbury House and thought we could vaguely identify an earthwork and sunken entrance – fanciful perhaps but old maps show a number of springs and pools thereabouts, so there would have been a plentiful supply of water for residents.
So to the wet and foggy month's end. Over the fields the rising water table had obviously driven the worms up towards the surface and overnight appeared a huge number of shallow scrapes where the creatures of the night – presumably the badgers – had been feasting.
The last weekend in January is always the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. We didn't see as many small visitors as are daily usual, but we noticed some feathers on one of the bird feeders. S conjectured that the sparrow hawk might be about. Later she saw goldfinch feathers on top of the compost heap...
Last day before "February Filldyke" (January didn't do too badly!). The low afternoon sun showed up the deciduous trees with a definite greenish tinge – buds beginning to swell. The "sticky-buds" on the horse chestnuts were beginning to show – about the size of a baked bean now but brown and growing.
Dot the Dog has worked out from the direction of my backswing where her ball is to be thrown and takes up position accordingly. Occasionally I have bamboozled her by throwing it sideways but she seems to have worked that out too. She's probably doing an online PhD(og) course in ball trajectories.
Horrid of Henbury