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Wilderness and Wet

5th January 2001, West Yorkshire
crow jackdaws THERE'S a dispute over the clump of tall Sycamores behind the doctors' surgery. A Carrion Crow swoops down on a pair of Jackdaws. The jackdaws go off and perch on the rim of a chimney pot, while the crow keeps watch from the top of the tallest tree.

As I walk along the riverside path behind the old mill, a Wren pops out of the stonework at my feet. I wonder if the hole in the wall might provide goldcrestit with a roosting pocket. The wall faces south, so these stones might act as a storage radiator and keep the nighttime temperature above freezing.

A Goldcrest tags along with a party of Long-tailed Tits. This must be a male; the stripe on his crest is orange-yellow, rather than pale as it is in the female. I always feel uncertain about the differences between goldcrests and their close relative the firecrest, but this is definitely a goldcrest; the firecrest has a conspicuous whitish stripe above its eye.

Water Birds

dabchickdabchick A Little Grebe looks like a miniature version of the Loch Ness Monster as it pauses before diving. It disappears for a minute, re-surfaces and, hardly pausing for breath, goes down-under again. I decide that I'll time its next dive but, despite the fact that from the bridge I've got a view of a broad stretch of the river, I don't see it pop back up again.

How can it see to hunt in the underwater gloom?

wigeons The sun is going down over the rushy field. A party of Wigeon are thrown into silhouette. As they swim along, they leave golden threads of ripples in their wake. At first I take them for mallard but the high forehead prompts me to take a closer look. As they swim over to the rushes I can see that there are 4 brownish ducks (or juveniles?) and a male with dark head, grey body and white and black markings at his tail end.

heron A Heron stalks at the edge of a flooded paddock, its silhouette reflected in the still shallow water.

Two Mute Swans, still in their cygnet grey, dabble amongst the rushes.

A Green Woodpecker flies across the marsh. It's just a silhouette against the darkening sky, so it's not the colour that's gives a clue to its identity; it's the bird's size and shape and its undulating flight. This part of the valley seems to be the best place to see them, or, in the summer, to hear them. next page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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