On Friday last I made use of the bright weather and took some time out in the afternoon for a local walk from home.
I slipped down the wood with the help of many a sapling to grab on to. I could see we have a few squirrels at the top of the wood by prints in the snow. There are no rabbits (though last winter there were a few prints in All Saints graveyard.) It was not till I got to the valley bottom that I could see plenty of rabbit prints by the Calder. I’d had a tip off from an angler about kingfishers and sure enough, there was one fishing, oblivious to me, flying from branch to branch, though I didn’t see it catch anything. Many years ago I found a wintering water rail here, but never since, and not this time, though there was a wren flitting about the spring-fed ditch which never seems to freeze. Tree sparrows hung on into the 90s here. I saw a nest hole in the railway viaduct, after they had quit their colony higher up in rocks in North Dean Wood. (Frank Murgatroyd recorded the ones in North Dean Wood.)
Next point to check was the spring-fed ditch at Heath Rugby Club just after the garden centre on Stainland Road. The water-cress which is established here was still green, but no sign of the water shrew I saw a previously, where it fed manically on the surface of the shallow water, reminiscent of a whirligig beetle.
I tried to follow the banks of the bottom part of the Black Brook to where it joins the Calder, but access is difficult, and no doubt private. There was a dipper here, and a mouse or vole had ventured onto the top of the snow briefly before re-entering the tussocky world below, avoiding the fox which had gone on further down the bank where I would have liked to get.
Coming back to Bankhouse Wood, I saw something move against the snow at the top when I was halfway up. It was a young roe deer, and there was a second. They were gambolling back and forth, unaware of me. I was looking forward to some new prints to see as I neared the top when they nipped across in front of me! I have never before seen any signs of deer on my home patch. Some people tut as if deer are bringers of ecological disaster, but I suggest dogs will discourage them from over-breeding, and their damage to trees is sometimes useful in keeping places open and sunny. The wood here used to be good for warblers in spring, but they are much reduced since the trees closed in. I found four species over the years, but now we are lucky to get a short-staying blackcap or chiff-chaff.
That was Friday’s walk, but today I was coming in at the front of the house when I heard what sounded like a dog running down the road, its claws scratching on the tarmac. It was a fox, which curved round and galloped up my neighbour’s drive opposite.