The first half of my day involved dropping my Roomster off in Harlow at 8am for some flashing and non flashing dashboard lights to be investigated (under warranty thankfully) although the car was otherwise behaving just fine. I knew that I would have a wait on my hand and so stuck my boots on, said good morning to a Grey Wagtail and headed off through the industrial estate that is the north side of town to find my way down to the River Stort for a pleasant amble in the cold.
It took about a mile and a half to get to a spot where I could get across and I descended from the noise of the road into a damp piece of woodland called Marshgate Spring and despite the alcoholic detritus of nocturnal visitors, it was obviously looked after and even had boardwalk across the wetter areas. Jackdaws quarrelled and Woodpigeons clattered from the treetop and I very quickly added a selection of normal woodland denizens including a couple of smart Coal Tits in a Larch. Three Song Thrushes sang and were to become the sound of the morning and a Cetti’s Warbler called as it fed furtively along the reed and willow stand by the railway.
I veered a little further west and found the architecturally odd footbridge over the railway which managed to crossover itself twice in the course of its route. It was also standing in water for the most part which gave off some weird reflections.
Anyway, I was soon in the water meadows alongside the river and started to head back east. Song and Mistle Thrushes were belting out in the frosty air and the ground was crunchy with underfoot frost and all the puddles were well frozen. I added a calling Water Rail and five Siskins to the list and three Jays and a Green Woodpecker fed on the main grassy path in front of me. I was surprised at the lack of people and only a single dog walker and a jogger passed me by.
Stock Doves ‘ooo-wa-wooo’d at me from the top of the huge Alders and Poplars and some were already performing lazy display flights while a female Kestrel eyed the ground for breakfast.
Crossing over the Stort gave me the option of a little deviation inland and although it was only a couple of hundred yards of muddy frozen meadow it did add nine Lapwing, seven Meadow Pipits and a pair of Stonechats that were feeding from the frozen tops of last year’s umbilifer heads. I retraced my steps by stayed on a completely frozen path adjacent to the river in the hope of finding a Snipe or Woodcock but to no avail although a pair of Bullfinch were having fun working their way through the seeds on a long dead trail of Hop growing through a Blackthorn hedge and looked especially vibrant in the low winter light.
The field behind this rose up and away from me and I spent some time watching a big fluffy dog Fox stalking small rodents with measured steps, long pauses but no successful pounce. He was watched all the time by several Carrion Crows and Magpies while a dark Buzzard kept look from the wings and made his own hunting sorties. A courting male Pheasant doing the whole spread, fanned tail look-at-me thing seemed oblivious to the close proximity of Reynard as much as the object of his affection seemed equally disinterested in him. Thankfully the Fox was more interested in the invisible rodents.
|A day of reflections
The Stort itself was very quiet but Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker were seen and some fishing pits just to the north held 14 Wigeon, 12 Gadwall and both Little and Great Crested Grebes. I passed two working locks before reaching the road by the old Harlow Mill (now a Beefeater) and ambled about quarter of mile further east from here into the countryside proper where another Buzzard hunted and a Brambling was seen with 25 Meadow Pipits and three Reed Buntings before retracing my steps to the pub after about four miles of yomping to meet up with my parents.
With my car being unlikely to be looked at till mid-afternoon, Dad decided to whisk us off up the M11 to Anglesey Abbey just north east of Cambridge for a wander around the already blooming gardens. I must say that it was actually very pleasant and despite the almost full car park the gardens themselves were relatively quiet allowing you to enjoy the sights and scents on offer.
You are greeted by the heady smell of Sweet Box (quite unlike its cat pee smelling relative) and soon it was the different spicy Wych Hazels with their odd flowers and highly perfumed Mahonias and Vibernums that tickled your nose. The Snowdrops were spread in white mounds amongst the rich green leaves of the already flowered Cyclamens and early Helebores and Winter Aconites added colour.
|Viburnam - Scratch and sniff photos required
With all these scented blooms on offer it was not surprising that there were insects to be seen with many Honey Bees on the move and even entering a nest in the main building. Amongst them I found singles of Eristalis tenax and Episyrphus balteatus ,so two hoverflies for the list already this year and January is not even over! Bluebottles lazed around sunning themselves and a Red Admiral became the first butterfly of the year.
|The Lightening Strike Sequoia
Both Red Kite and Buzzard soared in the blue above and a Grey Squirrel serenaded us from high in a beach tree before we ambled back for a spot of lunch. Meanwhile back in Harlow there had been no progress on my car due to the increasing magnitude of the task at hand – replacing a sensor that has become firmly conjoined with the car - but as it technically is making no difference to the actual performance, I picked it up and drove home with a new appointment for two weeks time... oh well... at least the sun was shining and I made the most of the day.
Apparently I will get a courtesy car for two days next time....I wonder where I shall go?