Waiting For Snow

It has been a terribly long wait since The Priory had snow enough to show and tell: a five-year wait.  The Beast from the East didn’t bring huge amounts of snow to my corner of Sussex; but if we were spared the havoc meted out to parts of the Kingdom, we had sufficient for me to lose several day’s pay.  But on Wednesday morning the skies cleared and keen to see The Priory wearing her rare cloak, Jim and I braved the roads to drive the half hour from our home, left the car on the road and walked down the drive.

Snow over the Priory (1)

A four-by-four might have coped with this icy slope the day before,

Snow over the Priory (2)

but I know from bitter experience that an ordinary car might not.  An hour of side-sliding and back-sliding in my own car, with spinning wheels under a pall of burning rubber, tends to stick in the mind.  As do memories of The Priory owner’s car marooned down below for several days.

Snow over the Priory (3)

Looking back up the drive

At -3.5ºC it was bitterly cold for Sussex,

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but as I emerged from the wood and gazed down over The Priory a lazy, northerly sent the temperature way down further still, to well below my boots.  (In Yorkshire an icy, cut to the bone wind is called a Lazy Wind.  Too lazy to go round you, it passes straight through).

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There was precious little warmth from bright sun above Margaret’s fields.

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In the gardens, the snow wasn’t as deep as I’d hoped for nor the trees as smothered.  But it was exciting to see the place under a decent mantle again; with gusts of wind whipping up flurries to quickly bury footprints.

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Unsurprisingly, the east pond was frozen;

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icicles clung from greenhouse guttering;

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and naked oak branches were picked out beautifully by white dusting;

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their undersides lit up by reflection from the snow.

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I set out on a well trod, anti-clockwise circle of the grounds,

Snow over the Priory (9)

and crossed the footbridge for a good view of the house.  I wondered momentarily whether the ice was thick enough for me to walk across … but nah.  I wasn’t feeling quite brave nor foolish enough to try.

Snow over the Priory (10)

As I stood focusing my camera on some pollarded willow still in need of pollarding, a mandarin duck shot out noisily from under the bridge beneath my feet.  Being of a jumpy disposition, I jumped (and possibly squealed) and only just avoided slipping forward and testing my walking on ice quandary.

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Across the meadow now, with a few sorry-looking daffodils poking through into the sunlight.

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I crossed the second footbridge in the footsteps of a couple of foxes who hadn’t bothered to skirt the vegetable beds.  Lazy foxes, like the wind.  No matter, garlic and onions have yet to emerge.

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And so to the west pond with Despondent upended on the bank.  She’s lain there since a house-guest recently paddled out for an adventure.  He was underwhelmed by the experience, I think, and even more so after needing a hand from a forelock-tugging-gardener to regain the shore.

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February Gold narcissi have let me down again.  Were they renamed March Gold, I need never be disappointed.  But here February Gold always flower in March.  Or rather, once – once! – in nine years have they done what they promise and started their show in the very last days of the second month.  March Gold would be a truer name or Very Occasionally But Let’s Be Honest Hardly Ever Really February Gold.

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I’ve pruned the apple trees already, so that happy task is done for another year – but it irks me that I missed the little twig top right.  Why is the inconsequential so stupidly annoying?  Or is that the stupid are annoyed by the inconsequential?

Long tailed tit

From the trees, I hang five bird-feeders.  I waited for birds to come and feed despite my proximity.  As I could no longer feel my feet, I couldn’t wait long but then one fidgety long-tailed tit did so – before he and his gang bobbed away in that curious, charming, undulating flight.

Robin

Up by the greenhouse is a sixth feeder.  My caged robin has fattened up handsomely and I really ought to fish him out and stick him under a pie crust.   But he will be sweeter yet after another few days.

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Looking back – Margaret’s fenced pond with the greenhouses behind

With little gardening to be done on a day like today, Jim and I set out southwards, uphill to Margaret’s farm.

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We passed a small flock of her sheep … whose interest in us evaporated at our obvious deficiency in hay or sheep-nuts.

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More sheep watched us hopefully as we approached the yard, on our way to coffee in the Aga-warm kitchen.

Kevin

But first we loitered by the barn where, snug under cover, stood Margaret’s new ram.  He’s an imposing, fearless chap and I like him enormously.  He’s wearing a raddle – a huge crayon, if you like, that indelibly paints the back of any ewe he has attended to.  He’s probably rather proud of leaving his mark of love on the flock.  The flock, I imagine, less so.

Margaret’s animals almost always bear fine, resolute names.  There were her rams Digby and the mighty Cyril.  Her bulls – Lawyer, Picton, Envoy, Emblem and Wellington.  (I’ll gloss over poor Petal’s name.  Bless him.).  So what do you think the new ram might be called?

Beowulf would suit.

As would Thor, Maximus, Horatio or Achilles.

Athelstan?

But you’d be wrong.

Hi, Kevin.

The Sparrowhawk

Jim picked me up from work at The Old Forge yesterday and, as I loaded my tools into the car, told me that he’d almost driven over a sparrowhawk crouched on the lane leading up to the house.  Luckily, he had braked in time and the bird flew away, as did an injured pigeon it had caught.

Buzzards circling lazily overhead are now a common sight on the South Downs; but other than those and an almost tame host of wild rabbits eyeing this gardener with ill-concealed contempt, I hadn’t seen any wildlife of interest whilst working and felt a little peeved at missing an up-close bird of prey.

After locking up the outbuildings and casting a satisfied eye over the freshly mown lawns, I climbed into the car, ramped up the air-conditioning, took off my sun-hat and gratefully grabbed the proffered can of cold coke.  It had been a long, hot, tiring day’s mowing.

Sparrowhawk (1)

Pulling away through The Forge’s gate and onto the road, we were both excited to see that the sparrowhawk was back.  With its recaptured prey.

Sparrowhawk (2)

Jim cut the engine and we coasted to a slow halt feet from where the hawk tore at the freshly caught pigeon.

Feverishly, I fished about on the back seat for my camera bag: unzipped it, took out my Nikon, removed its case, unlocked the standard lens, placed it carefully on the dashboard, found my telephoto, took it out of its case, attached it to the camera, took off the lens-cap, turned on the camera, pressed buttons and swivelled dials, looked through the viewfinder, swivelled dials some more – all the while knowing that the hawk would be long gone by the time I was finally ready for my first shot.

Sparrowhawk (3)

But it wasn’t.  As their name suggests, sparrowhawks hunt small birds and it’s a little unusual for them to catch something as large as a pigeon.

Sparrowhawk (4)

This female wasn’t about to abandon her bounty to a couple of gawking bystanders.

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I see sparrowhawks often, close up even, and only once when I had my camera in hand  but usually they’re up and away as soon as I stumble upon the scene.

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Today though, our car served as a perfect bird-hide and this Accipiter nisus, unconcerned by a stationary silver box, continued feeding.  Messily.

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So often when photographing chance wildlife, I have seconds in which to take a shot and  usually in poor light too.

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But yesterday, the soft afternoon sunlight backlit the raptor beautifully and I couldn’t believe my luck – and the unexpected camouflage gifted by our shabby, old car.

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But however thrilled we were by her gorgeous markings, her stature, her presence, her pantaloons; this was a gruesome scene with sharp beak tearing off chunks of flesh.  Especially gruesome because for overly long minutes, the pigeon was still alive.  This was no clean, quick kill.

After a while, and with the pigeon now mercifully dead, she grasped its body with her talons and flew down the lane, landing in front of a farm building.  Jim started the engine and we rolled after her, pulling up alongside.

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It is always exciting to see a terrific wildlife scene worthy of a David Attenborough voice over;

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if only on a quiet, Sussex byway – rather than the Serengeti or the Himalaya.  But watching that hawk eating her still-alive prey was pretty horrid and not a thing I needed to see.

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My close relationship with the natural world is a marvellous bonus to gardening but occasionally it reminds me – vividly, starkly – of how indifferent to suffering that world truly is and just how precarious life is.  The sparrowhawk wasn’t being cruel in eating her quarry alive; she simply wasn’t aware, didn’t care.

The hawk’s feast and the pigeon’s demise was a bit of a conversation dampener on our short drive home.

oooOOOooo

Thursday’s encounter reminded me of two similar wildlife posts on my blog which you may not have seen: The Bedraggled Kestrel – about an even more intimate hawk encounter – and The Stoat and the Pigeon.  In the latter, and as you might guess, I’m afraid there is no happy ending for the pigeon.Save