The Low Weald, West Sussex, January 2021
A second wave of Covid has thrown us back into lockdown in England. You can only leave the house for essentials and exercise. It’s much harder now that the night falls early and the window on experiencing daylight has narrowed. But the days are lengthening and spring is building in small ways.
At night the foxes are making their blood-curdling cries and other social calls. They are breeding, probably just outside the back door each night.
On clear nights I sit on the edge of the bed and, with lights out, can see stars. The three lights of Orion’s Belt shine bright, but not more so than Sirius to the south-east. It’s the brightest star in the sky.
Out on my exercise for the day, I stand in a frosty glade of bracken. Silver birches are clustered at the edges, ash branches have collapsed and fallen to the ground. Their twigs reveal leafy lichens, in some places known as oak moss. There are real mosses too, little green pin cushions with their sporophytes poised.
The birds are foraging for life in this time of scarcity. A jay moves between trees and shrubs, flushing white wing-bars as it flies. Nuthatches are dripping from the tree trunks in both number and sound. Further away the hooting of two tawny owls ruffles out of the trees, half-baked. Are these early territorial warning signs? Spring, indeed.
Alarm calls break across the branches and bare blue sky. It is a beautiful day. Knowing these alarm calls mean something is happening, I look up at the patch of sky over the clearing. From the north-west two birds fly close to one another, on passage. To identify them will take a process of elimination:
- Wings too sharp for sparrowhawk
- Too small and direct in flight for buzzard
- Too big for merlin
- Hobbies are holidaying in Africa
- Tail too short for kestrel
They’re peregrine falcons, stars in a different sky. Perhaps they are returning to the South Downs and an early morning hunting pigeons in the towns. Maybe they’re a pair getting to know each other and seeking a place to breed. Wherever they’re going, bit by bit, winter is edging away with them.
5 thoughts on “The Sussex Weald: stars in a different sky”
A beautifully written post. With wonderful images, too.
Let’s hope it’s lockdown that’s edging away as well as winter!
Thank you Emma. Yes let’s hope the next month will be the last locked down.
Lovely post. The way you write conveys a feeling for nature that I imagine resonates in all of us that were born into the ways of this island’s woods and fields.
On Peregrines, the best way to know them is for their flight – excessive flapping in still air compared to all other raptors. If you see them on a stiff breeze, it’s another story – effortless elegance, total manoevrability and incredible speed.
Since January, Spring has veritably sprung and I’d love to ask you a question about the timing pollarding our old oak, which has started to lean precipitously this year…
Hi David, thank you for your lovely comment. I really appreciate it. It’s therapy for me and it means a lot to know that it resonates with other people.
Thank for you for the tips on peregrines. I find them elusive and difficult to identify at times.
You’re welcome to send me some photos or question to firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to hearing from you and helping if I can.