Mary Tant’s Nature Blog

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January 2016

Friday 1 January 2016

Swans on Helford river

It was raining again as we walked down to the quay on the Helford river. In the dull light as we reached it we saw bright splashes of white on the pewter-coloured water in front of the little pebbly beach. There were eleven swans floating there, in the relative shelter of the quay and the spit of land that screens the beach.

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Saturday 2 January 2016

View from Carn Galver

The exposed rocky slopes and tors above the northern Cornish coastline are coated with bracken and heather. It’s an open, ostensibly bleak, landscape reminiscent of Dartmoor. Like the moor it has its hidden beauties and secrets. Today, the view from the slopes of Carn Galver was of blue sea below headlands and fields patterned with ancient hillforts, field boundaries and homesteads, as well as the relics of more recent mining activity.

View from Carn Galver2

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Sunday 3 January 2016

Beeches in Cornish wood

The copper-coloured beech leaves were sodden but bright in the Cornish woodland. It was very wet underfoot, so we made no sound as we picked our way up the muddy path. The trees were still, there was no wind to move them, and the rain barely got through the upper branches. The musical sound that rose up the slope we were climbing came from the brook below.

Woodland brook

We know it best as a gentle flow of water with a soft tone. Now the water pours down it, creating a continuous heavy purr that occasionally turns into a muted roar.

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Monday 4 January 2016

Cowslip in January

The wild flowers are competing with the cultivated daffodils. Primroses are out under the ilex oaks of the Cornish avenue. Cowslips are opening in a field above Helford village, celandines are bright against a hedge wall. Pink coral-like butterbur flowers are almost invisible above their large circular green leaves, but their scent spreads far and wide.

Primroses Celandines Butterbur

Honeysuckle, cultivated, is in full flower over an archway leading to pub garden, periwinkle casts blue stars over the rampant greenery falling over walls and a redundant water trough.

Periwinkle 1 Periwinkle 2

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Tuesday 5 January 2015

The Dart was in full heavy flow below Ashburton. It raced in heavy torrents southwards to the sea, spreading over the banks, and surging into furious waves over obstacles in its path.

Further east, in Somerset, new lakes had appeared, fed by wide rain-fed streams across the field. In one place, a host of gulls were picking their way industriously though a layer of water, presumably picking up snails and frogs.

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Wednesday 6 January 2016

There was only the occasional plop as a raindrop fell from the trees on the common, landing on the sodden ground I was walking over carefully. In spite of the mud underfoot, spring seems to already be on the way here. A spray of hazel catkins dangled by the entrance to the chestnut coppice where a thicket of honeysuckle was sprouting through the wet brown leaves below the trees. And on the open common golden flowers are covering the gorse, in lower wayside markers and higher billowing waves.

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Thursday 7 January 2016

There was a turquoise flash as a kingfisher flew, straight as an arrow, out of the deep-sided channel where the birds used to nest. Much further along the canal another kingfisher led the way as we walked along the muddy towpath. A pair of robins popped out of the shrubbery, one to fly away, the other to perch on a fence post and watch us. Oblivious to our presence, a pair of tiny pale goldcrests flitted around a line of willows, like gambolling butterflies.

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Friday 8 January 2016

The daphne odora is full of flower in my back garden, and the scent insidiously wafts over to wherever I’m working. Pale pink and scarlet chaenomeles japonica brighten the winter aspects of the garden. These are accustomed and seasonal joys, but the pink roses on the front of the house and the blue ceanothus flowers that drift over still bare bushes in the back garden are definitely ahead of their time.Pink roses in January

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Monday 11 January 2016

Swan familyA single swan, still lightly marked with juvenile mink, drifted lazily on the canal. His family were further up, another youngster on the water, his other three siblings on the bank with their parents. The adults were busily preening their white feathers, but only one of the youngsters was copying them. The other two on land were striding about, curving their long necks downwards so their beaks could probe under the bushes.

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Tuesday 12 January 2016

A pair of mallards flew low past us on the towpath to land with extended legs on the canal just in front of us. Overhead the long black shape of a cormorant cruised on, now a familiar sight here.

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Wednesday 13 January 2016

Fallen hawthorns Hawthorns have marked the ancient route winding down the slope of the hill fort for many years. They grew in a double rank, flanking the path on each side, and were a guide to its start as I walked over the mounds and dips that are all that now shows of the fort. But age has caught up with them, several have fallen, and the avenue-like quality of the route has vanished.

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Thursday 14 January 2016

It was still and quiet on the canal as I walked into town. A stretch of the far bank was occupied by a large group of mallards, sitting among the fluffy white feathers and down that marked the swans’ main preening ground. On the edge of the group two moorhens picked about busily, stalking daintily along the water’s edge on their long thin legs.

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Friday 15 January 2016

A clump of white in front of a hedge marred the bright green of the emerging wheat as we passed a downland field. I glanced at it as we drove by, and saw that it was a buzzard, the speckles on its white breast feathers very clear in the sun as it spread its wings to enjoy the warmth.

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Saturday 16 January 2016

Blue and chestnut flashed against the green gloom of a canal backwater. A kingfisher had darted down from an overhanging branch into the water below. He emerged and sat briefly on his perch, before repeating the performance.

Each time there was a flash of silver, which may have been his wet head or the flip of a captured little fish as it was swallowed.

For a short time he sat again on the branch, facing us across the water, then he flew away into the dimness of the trees sheltering the backwater.

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Saturday 16 January 2016

Blue and chestnut flashed against the green gloom of the canal backwater. A kingfisher had darted down from an overhanging branch into the water below. He emerged and sat briefly on his perch, before repeating the performance.

Each time there was a flash of silver, which may have been his wet head or the flip of a captured little fish as it was swallowed.

For a short time he sat again on the branch, facing us across the water, then he flew away into the dimness of the trees sheltering the backwater.

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Sunday 17 January 2016

Icy still canal waters

A glaze of ice was softening and breaking into shards on the surface of the canal, in the stretches where it was more still, without the undercurrent of water from the nearby Kennet river.

Rain had stopped falling, but raindrops were shaken by the breeze out of the trees and onto the surface of the canal. They created crystalline fountains and ever-widening ripple rings that broke up among the rush stems.

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Monday 18 January 2016

Turquoise streaked the far side of the canal as a kingfisher flew rapidly along it and out of sight.

It was almost as if it had pointed towards the scene ahead, where it looked as though two pale bollards had been planted on the edge of the towpath just beyond a fringe of bleached reeds.

As Bryn, my Border collie, neared the first of these ‘bollards’, it launched itself into the air and beat heavily across the canal, calling harshly as it went. It was a buzzard, the second time in a week that I’ve seen one on the ground.

Beyond, the second ‘bollard’ remained motionless, unbothered by the buzzard’s departure. We were close to it before there was any sign of movement. The heron turned unhurriedly and flew silently away around the corner ahead, its great wings beating with ease.

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Tuesday 19 January 2016

Icy grass

Tiny water droplets sparkled in rainbow colours, dangling from the slender bleached grass stems. Most of the open common lay frosted around us, but the sun shone onto this small clump of grass, melting the icy rim that coated it.


The muddy ruts were frozen too, making walking much easier than slithering over them when they were wet. The sun had warmed a fringe of trees edging the common, and the air was aflutter with birds. Chiefly blackbirds, but a robin and a wren too, flying up from the ground where they had been feeding among the softened leaves.

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Wednesday 20 January 2016

A row of bedraggled crows perched close together, just out of pecking distance, at one end of a telegraph wire. They were a sad sight, their heads huddled down, their backs hunched, and their feathers sticking out crookedly. They clearly didn’t like being so wet.

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Thursday 21 January 2016

Birdsong filled one spot on the edge of the common. As we approached a group of chattering redwings flew up from the ground into the filigreed branches of an oak, joining a charm of singing goldfinches that were already busy in the tree. The moments of song were soon over as the birds flitted away, one by one.

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Friday 22 January 2016


The blackbird sat fatly in the water, almost filling the birdbath. He glared forwards for a while, then had a spurt of energy. Blackbird2He dipped, he shook, he dipped again, he flapped his wings. Blackbird3Eventually he was so engrossed in the business of bathing that he was virtually diving into the water. Blackbird4Occasionally his movements ceased, the spray of water droplets stopped and he sat, staring ahead again, until at last he finally flew away in a final shower of drops.

Blackbird5 Blackbird6

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Saturday 23 January 2016

Ancient parkland

The winter sun threw light and shadow across the ancient parkland, revealing underlying shapes that are hidden at other times of the year.Lines and cirles in the ground We walk here past prehistoric fortified mounds, ancient castle mottes and across the site of a mediaeval village, but there’s no way of telling just what stood above these lines and square and circles that the sun was showing us.

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Sunday 24 January 2016

Water power1

The water level is so high in the canal that there’s an impressive flow out of the weirs where the river water leaves it.

Water power2

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Monday 25 January 2016

A green woodpecker flew up from the ground, dipping and swooping away across the common. Behind us, a greater spotted woodpecker drummed on a tree, the sound booming out over the open spaces around us.

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Tuesday 26 January 2016

A bright white splash betrayed the treecreeper as it flew through the gloom beneath a stand of pine trees. Even when it perched on a silver birch, its white stomach was conspicuous, making the tree’s bark seem quite pink, as the bird worked its way upward, pecking into crevices in its search for insects.

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