The raptor flew down right in front of us, settling among the tussocky grass. He was only visible because he was so close, his grey head conspicuous as he crouched over his prey, presumably a mouse or vole. His fierce eyes stared at me as I stood still watching him, but he didn’t fly off for a few minutes, staying to finish his meal before leaving.
A large pale ungainly figure perched on one of the rails of the field bridge over the winterbourne. On either side of the heron were the smaller black shapes of crows. These smaller birds were more active, shifting around and moving away for a while, only to return to the rail again. But the heron stayed still, staring down at the ground as if to make the water flow down the dry course of the bourne. Perhaps the earth was damp enough after last night’s rain to bring out frogs. But the heron’s absorption in the ground seemed to attract the crows, bringing them back again and again to sit beside the larger bird.
The rookery on Hungerford common is occupied again. For every bird refurbishing a nest high in the bare branches, there is another few birds perched nearby. They seem to be watching and waiting, whether for a returning partner or for the opportunity to grab a nest.
Blue tits are nesting in the box beside one of the Hampshire stables. The birds are constantly in and out, fine tuning their construction with pieces of straw and blades of grass.
The stoat that flashed across the road in front of my car was a piebald creature. Patches of white gleamed on his brown back, making his black tail tuft especially vivid. He seemed to be reflecting the uncertain winter temperatures we were caught out by too.
We crossed the Dartmoor clam bridge and walked up the steep wooded slope. Only the increasingly faint rushing of water broke the silence in the trees. Snowflakes fell heavily and persistently around us, coating the backs of the dogs and highlighting the initials carved into one of the oaks.
Sunlight reflected of the tops of the firs ranked tightly on the far bank of Devon’s Teign gorge. It also lit into brilliance the buzzard that floated below us over the line of the river below, turning it into a feathered golden cross.
After the snow and rain the Dartmoor pools were suddenly full of water. And the frogs had been there, taking advantage of the moment, so large clusters of spawn were glistening in every patch of water. It’s to be hoped that the pools don’t dry out too soon, before the tadpoles have hatched and turned into froglets.
Clusters of snowdrops gleamed like snowy patches in the crumpled bracken fronds above the shallow mill leat. Beneath the clear water, stones gleamed red and green among the more mundane grey Devon granite.
I knew the deer were around because Bryn, my collie, was noticeably alert and scanning the steep Dartmoor slope above us. I followed his gaze and there they were, five or six fallow hinds high up among the trees, looking down at us just as intently as we looked up at them.
It was only just dark as we drove up the Dartmoor drive. But a badger was out already, presumably crossing the field below the cottage to emerge between the hedges in front of us. He contemplated us for a moment, then trotted rapidly ahead of us to find his route under the beeches into the next field. His back rippled grey then white as he moved, with a distinct undulation of his back, occasionally pausing to look back at us. He ignored what I thought was his route and went almost to the house before turning into a gap beside the field gate and disappearing from sight.
A Dartmoor kestrel rested briefly on a fence post, feathers glowing pink in the sunlight. A little later he was back in the air, circling over the ground, perhaps establishing his territory just as much as hunting for prey.
My back garden is heavily scented by the tiny pink daphne odora flowers. Daffodils and snowdrops nod their heads in the slight breeze. A single frog croaks from the pond.
A wood pigeon looks all around before flying onto the platform of leaves half way up the golden fir beside my garden. He disappears into the depths, no doubt building in one of his favourite places.
He was just in time. Shortly after he vanished from sight, a magpie landed on top of one of the cypresses beyond the bottom of my garden. A large twig was firmly clutched in her beak, and she too surveyed the scene quickly before diving into the branches.
Below them both lay the corpse of a collared dove. His neck was broken, how I don’t know. Maybe from a collision with a shed, a fall from the trees or a confrontation with another bird. He may have been an intruder. Certainly, there is still a pair of collared doves in the back garden.
The strong winds that came on the fringes of Storm Doris left a light trail of debris here. The pond in my back garden is coated with a thick layer of pine needles. The woodland is patterned with fallen branches, generally small ones, and lines of fir cones as well as piles of tangled hazel catkins that look like heaps of bright worms.
A tiny brown wood mouse appeared suddenly from beneath my garden shed. She waited, quivering slightly, her rounded ears translucent in the light, before darting out, and then back into cover. Over the next few minutes she emerged again and again for the briefest second, but I couldn’t see what she wanted or where she’d like to go.
A pair of collared doves settled together, wings touching, on the shelf of the birdfeeder in my back garden, so I do still definitely host a breeding pair in spite of the recent casualty.
On the downland ridge a pair of male yellowhammers gleamed brightly as they warned each other off, busily establishing their own territories. A couple of females watched from the shelter of the nearby hedge.
A large flock of fieldfares rose from a downland field. There were more than a hundred of them, perhaps congregating to fly away to their summer haunts in northern Europe and Scandinavia.
If you have any comments, please send them in. They may be published on the site.