Thursday, 14 February 2013

Emmonsails Heath in winter

Well, Ailsworth Heath, as it now is, this morning. It's part of Castor Hanglands National Nature Reserve. The weather was glorious, but it was relatively quiet, with no sign, surprisingly, of John Clare's "coy bumbarrels" flitting down the hedgerows. No Woodcock or Grey Heron, either, and only one or two Fieldfares and Carrion Crows.

But there are plenty of half-rotten trees, just as Clare described, and that's what makes it a good place for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Marsh Tits, and the like. This morning there were only Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming, plus a couple of Nuthatches noisily explaining their name by hacking away at hazelnuts that they'd wedged in tree crevices.

There are scrubby, messy meadows like the one above, too, making it a haven for warblers in spring, plus otherwise hard to find species such as Nightingale and Cuckoo. Redstarts go through on passage, too, and around the fringes there were a few Yellowhammers present this morning. All of them birds that Clare wrote about again and again, and evidence of at least some continuity.

I got to wondering whether Clare would have seen Buzzards there (one was mewing loudly today), or if their persecution had already driven them out in his day. The Red Kites that are overhead now would certainly have been an unfamiliar sight to him, having long before retreated into upland fastnesses.

And finally, I'm betting he didn't have to deal with these fellas. They were more than a little curious. Handsome, though.


Caroline Gill said...

Thank you for a fascinating post. I am interested in your use of the words 'fastnesses', which I had previously only encountered in relation to islands (especially inland islands on Scottish lochs) - but I see it has a much wider application. I'm wondering if you have read The Poet's Wife? I was introduced to the book in a library-based workshop last week ...

Matt Merritt said...

I haven't read it, no, but I'll certainly seek it out now. I'm not sure where 'fastnesses' came from - possibly I was feeling slightly medieval!