Today dawned bright, Robins sang and the blue colour of the sky coupled with a forecast of a dry day ahead, tempted us out for a countryside walk. A short 10 minute drive along winding lanes saw us park up at the start of the walk. This car park must have one of the best views in Shropshire, a view presenting a huge panorama. Snow on the hills and iced water in the furrows of the ploughed fields below reminded us that whatever the day looked like it is still winter.
Beneath our feet the muddy track was frozen solid a few millimetres down and this made for a tense start. We walked slowly along the ridge tempted repeatedly to glance leftward at the hazy view. Thin clouds were building. The hedge to our right was mostly of Hawthorn and Holly over which Brambles clambered. Blackbirds aplenty sought out the last of the hedge’s berries, and a pair of silhouetted Carrion Crow gorged on Ivy berries as black as themselves. They went about their business in silence. Crows are rarely silent.
We enjoyed the view of Yellow Hammers, birds that are sadly declining so rapidly from our hedgerows. A trio flitted amongst the uppermost branches of the taller Hawthorns calling continuously. It was good to see them. Small noisy flocks of Linnets frequently passed over our heads. We were relieved to leave our frozen footway and enter a tiny coppiced area alive with the calls of Great Tits, Bluetits and Longtailed Tits. We attempted the sloping footpath down through the copse and slid our way down a few yards before giving up and were forced to carry on along a rough roadway alongside a few houses. The conifers in their gardens added Coal Tit to the titmice collection and Jays squawked in their topmost branches.
Our cold noses were subjected to the unpleasant odour of male fox which had crossed our path an hour or two before probably as dawn light was announcing the day. The odour hung in our nostrils for several minutes as we walked on.
We were glad that this hard man-made surface lasted such a short while because we were to enter a beautiful coppice of old oaks, dotted with occasional Rowan and Beech. Their under-storey was of Holly and Bramble and here Dunnock, Robin and Wren skulked, given away by their calls. Lichen and algae coloured the trunks of the old once-managed oaks. These would have been cut to the ground every few years to encourage rapid upright growth which could be harvested. But we are enjoying the habitat created after years of neglect, a habitat equally appreciated by wildlife. The oaks are gnarled and eccentrically shaped, covered in lichen, algae and mosses.
Sounds are carried freely through the coppice. The tapping of a Great spotted Woodpecker. The liquid whistlings of Nuthatches. The “chatting” of Wren. And an unidentified “churring” sound – we had no idea what bird might have made that call. Woodpeckers and nuthatches had been busy digging in the softness of rotting wood on dead trees. This chip of bark had been lifted by a Woodpecker’s powerful beak to extract a morsel of food, some beetle or grub which the bird had heard beneath the bark.
New leaves sprouted on the honeysuckles that entwined the lower trunk of the Oaks where there must be a little protection, a little extra warmth.
Little clumps or bunches of Ladybirds have managed to find refuges from the ravages of winter. By looking carefully shining wing cases of orange and red, spotted black could be spied. They looked so precarious but they must have some confidence in the security of their hideouts.
There was so much variety in the colour and texture of the tree trunks. Lichens and mosses clung to the roughness and painted over the brown bark. Silvery blues. Hot flame colours. Gentle greens.
We followed the circular route through the coppice and made our way back down the track, the light weakening and the temperature cooling. We shall return in spring when the summer migrants are back, when the coppice should reverberate to the song of warblers and Swallows accompany us along the ridge.