I have mentioned seeing Redwings in the local area this winter and we have seen several flocks quite close to the village recently. At the Badger Wood we disturbed twenty or thirty birds who were sheltering from the easterly wind and there have been lots in the fields near Bramblehurst Farm. I have been looking to see if these flocks also have Fieldfares in them, as the birds are often observed together. For the first time this winter I saw some, searching the ground in amongst fellow Redwings. The numbers of winter migrants varies from year to year and the RSPB has reported that sightings of Fieldfares have been low this year, so it is quite lucky that we have some in the Ewhurst area.
Valentine’s Day and the cold snap is still with us, wind chill is bringing temperatures below zero and the ground is hard with the ice. We set off, well protected with scarves, hats, thick socks and coats and still it feels cold. The woods act as a shield from the wind but when we get to the path to Yard Farm the easterly bites again. Another group of Redwings is disturbed, flying off towards the woods. These birds seem to rotate from one field to another because one day I will see a flock on one field, which will be gone the next day and found on another. I would love to know how many groups we have “holidaying” with us and what the total number of incoming birds is. I think that this would be very difficult to monitor in any scientific way and it is best to enjoy them while they are here.
The large fields in front of North Breache Manor are windswept and their wintry appearance is increased as pockets of ice and snow are still visible. There is, however, an advantage to the cold as the footpaths are much easier to walk along, with the mud now frozen. We make faster progress than we have of late and soon reach Cobbetts Farm. The large pond is frozen over, with the ice several inches thick: it strikes me that it would be possible to skate on it but Jackie is very much against the experiment. It reminds me of my childhood when our village pond regularly became an ice rink and children and adults would spend hours enjoying winter sports on their doorstep. I am afraid that I never mastered the rudiments of these games and spent my time trying to stay upright at the edge of the pond: I have therefore never been tempted to spend money seeking “good snow” at ski resorts abroad. I had sympathy with the forlorn ducks huddled in the far corner of Cobbetts Pond, in the only spot where there was no ice.
Despite the cold weather, there were lots of people out and we met more on this route than in all the rest of the time we’ve been coming here. As we followed the path south through the avenue of trees we both reflected on how lovely this is going to be when the spring comes and the ground is covered in Bluebells and other woodland flowers. Then we saw another flock of Redwings and three Roe Deer in the field.
The country lane where Pond Head Farm lies is pocked with rabbit burrows in the hedgerow; good territory for would be predators. A fox had obviously caught a hapless bunny as soft fur was littered at the entrance of a hole; it looked as if the fox had impatiently tried to dig the inhabitants out of their home as there was a recent spoil heap. As we reached the farm a heron soared over after we disturbed him while he was fishing in the river. In a short while this whole area will look lovely as daffodils have been planted along the banks and verges and are just now appearing; it should be a blaze of yellow.
We cut through the Yellow Brick Road, again part of the woodland floor has been planted with daffodil bulbs. There is clearly somebody who tends this wood and I guess it might be the owners of the house at the beginning of the track, it shows a generosity of spirit and I always like to think if I owned land I would wish to share it with others and provide access to it.
Walking along Lower Breache Road we came across an interesting and rather attractive phenomenon of cold weather: the hedgerow is sprayed in water by passing cars and freezes, forming a wall of icicles. By contrast, a little further along the same road we saw primroses and snowdrops in flower.
It is a wonderful blessing of this country that in one day the weather can make a dramatic change. The next day the temperature hit double figures and a balmy breeze came from the warm west. As we set off towards Holmbury Hill, all the hills were hidden in mist and despite the milder air it was dull. Already the ice had melted and the paths, once again, had turned to bog; it was good, though, not to feel the enervation associated with cold that seems to penetrate to the bones and our spirits were high.
We walked up the hill, across the fields from Radnor Place Farm, instead of our usual route up the path to Hurtwood House. This is a wide, grassy path, with views on a clear day. The Jackdaws were active in the tall oak trees that border the field; winter roosts of Jackdaws are often joined by Carrion Crows and Rooks and can reach large numbers. Certainly these members of the crow family were particularly noisy, perhaps they were also enjoying warmer conditions, which in turn makes their food more abundant.
As we got to the high field at the top of the hill the sun began to break through the cloud cover and patches of blue sky appeared. By the time we reached Hurtwood House the mist that had enveloped the hill was vanishing and the sunlight illuminated the woodland bordering the path. A lot of meltwater was flowing down the hill and the ditch was flooding, the sound of the babbling brook, together with Hazel catkins dancing in the breeze, buds forming on bushes and the sunshine gave us a real sense of spring-time. The dell which the path follows soon opens up and the green of the pasture is contrasted with the ochre and russet of the woods glinting on the hill.