Two and a half minutes -Alder.

With jumpers already thrown down as goal posts, a single Alder gets picked last when the trees play football; no Spring show; and no pool of gold at its feet.  Awkward by itself, it comes and goes, with no fanfare. The maroon it wears in winter reinforces its isolation, but as a team they are a force of nature.

The ecology of an Alder wood, roots deep in primal ooze, shin deep in winter floods, is one of hope.  Here, even in a mild winter Alder is the boss. At this time, when dusk hits in the middle of the afternoon spirits move.  Picking through the cones on the outer most branches Siskins quietly giggle amongst themselves.  Pointing at the earth bound man sinking deeper as he stands still, Siskin twinkle.  Even when they sell their soul and feed from garden seed dispensers they bring with them the air of untamed wilderness.

Long before I saw my first Siskin I had listened to the words of Native Americans as they responded in 1855 to the advances of the ‘white Chief’ in Washington.  How can one sell the air?.  It contains the first strands of understanding of consumerism and some things that are beyond money.  In this mud and ooze of youth there was a fertile place to bury a seed.  To be followed by the cold rain, summer heat and patience, too much patience.

But money makes the world go round; get a good job with more pay and you’re OK; getting old way to early just to impress you with the money they make.  Then suddenly something reminds you that, ‘ When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money‘.  It is at this point, the seed hidden away for so long begins to grow.

The election in the US is the single biggest ecological disaster in my life time and it will unfold while we bash out a few characters on Twitter.  In January 2016 the Domesday Clock remained at 3 minutes to midnight.  It is a representation of the danger from threats like climate change, weapons technologies, and perhaps most importantly, the potential for nuclear war. The closest the clock has ever come to “midnight” was in 1953 when the Soviet Union conducted its own hydrogen bomb tests following tests by the United States. At that time the Doomsday Clock was two minutes to midnight.  Don’t expect it to still be at three minutes in 2017.

How do I know? Look to North Dakota.  Here Native Americans will be evicted from their land on the anniversary of General Custer’s Birthday -5th December.  They are protecting their water supply from the pollution that will come from the oil access pipeline.  The black snake of ancient mythology that signals the beginning of the end.  This is a few days after Canada’s Trudeau approves pipelines to extract more oil from tar sands. At a time when we need to move away from oil based technologies and meet the Paris climate agreement.  Remember the bad guy has not arrived in the White House yet.

So I return to my small piece of Alder woodland.  In the growing darkness I watch a Woodcock pick along the edge of a small puddle.  This is the only place I have been able to watch this secretive bird feed undisturbed.  Crossing my fingers will not stop them ebbing away, as a tide never destined to return.  Nor will it keep the water fresh or the trees in the ground, but we cannot just let the crime of the century unfold.

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After Henry had gone.

I managed to make the patch just after we lost Henry.  The idea that we now have named winter storms is weird.  Suddenly we have personality traits to watch out for, rather than it just being windy.  Perhaps we will also become a nation of rare cloud watchers and gawp at dying sperm whales.

I could not get parked in the small car park on the patch and from a distance I could see the Paps were out photographing the Short-eared Owls in the lull after the storm.  This included the guy from Chester-Le Street walking the footpath on the east of the grazing fields as though field craft had not been invented.  I was glad to hear that they still had a chance to feed after he had gone.

In 2007 when I found ‘my patch’ I never envisaged too many people was going to be a problem.  Anyway I found another parking space and covered the west end until it got dark.

When I have more time I will do a piece on my views on (re)introducing species, but until then watching a Kite circle its wood is mesmerising.  I remember my first Kite in England in Cambridgeshire in 1986 and I remember later getting one in mid-Wales in 1992 cutting the edge of a reservoir.  Both were distant birds, but seeing one up close as it just delicately turns its tail to steer and slowly moves across the sky is poetry.

Flight, both its metaphors and reality is a key thing about birds for me.  Even when you know the physics of air moving across the wing causes lift it does not ruin this magicians illusion.  There is a great spot on the hillside that looks out across the valley.  Here with a scope you can get up close and personal with this mastery of the air.

Not just Kites but Buzzards put on a show too.  When you watch a Kestrel hunt, its head remains still while its body goes through all types of contortions.  A buzzard though can just hang as if some sky hook holds it in place without the effort.  Mewing, he too is staking claim to his wood.

Behind me a Song Thrush hammered snail against stone.  Small mammals moved as they take their place in the food web of the valley.  A Sparrowhawk not anticipating I would stand up at this point as it travelled along the hedge. Eyes on the prize.  The sound of air through its feathers; close enough to touch.

There was just enough light to see a Woodcock flight out from the Birch wood, but it was dark by the time I reached the car.  Several new patch birds for the year and even got a patch tick;  @ramblingwalker1 is the only other birder who does that side of the hill regularly.

 

Ash