30 January, 2010

Walking in a woody wonderland

Ah, Yarner Wood....

I remembered today the first time I went there - well, worked it out. October 1985. That's a fair old time ago. Back then the Yarner Ravens were real celebrities - up there with the Pied Flys - now Ravens are everywhere, you barely register them any more. Ok, that's not really true - they're wonderful birds, magnificent; seeing scores of them over Dartmouth of a winter is an amazing sight. Watching them mess around over the Moor, annoy the poor Buzzards [once I saw a dead sheep - in attendance were 27 Ravens and one very nervous-looking Buzzard...], and generally cruise around saying "Wok", is always a pleasure. But they're pretty much everywhere 'round here.

Back to the point [yes, there was a point]. Things change. Often, things actually stay the same, but you've changed, so they seem to have. Yarner's still pretty much the same place it was 20-odd years ago. Oak and Birch, Holly and Beech, Pines and Bracken, Bilberry and Heather. You still have to watch every step, and you're still probably going to get rained on in some form. [Today it was snow - well, teeny li'l snowballs {If snow/rain is sleet, what is snow/hail???}]. You can also, at least on a day like today, still be gloriously alone. Last Sunday, there were moments with just the wind in a grass and the water in the leat. Today there was, while not so pronounced - trees are noisier than grass - a purer silence. When you can hear so very much more. Wind huurshing through twigs, moving limbs creaking and squeaking, touching branches knocking and tapping. The slight crackle of a leaf under your foot as you shift your weight while turning your head. Distant bird calls; Coal Tit and Blue Tit - contact calls, a band of Long-tails and Goldcrests, there! A Blackbird advertising a predator. The sound of a diesel, coarse and throbbing, well to my right - maybe at the farm, a dog barks across the far side of the valley so far and yet so noisy, a leaf comes loose at last and bounces its way downwards...
And to see as well - the snow, glare of reflected light sucks all colour from the bare patches of ground, making the green-grey-brown of the strip of life between land and sky seem to sit on black and white. Yarner lives in layers of colour, in winter as much as spring and autumn [and oh, in autumn sunshine after the rain - golden floor, black walls, blue roof!]. Next time you're there, look. Ground, trees, sky. Maybe ground, bushes, little trees, big trees, sky, even. Have you seen the wet tree trunks so black, the autumn bracken like wrought copper? Have you stood in summer, heard the leaves rustle above, heard the rustle below, found your perspective shift as then you realise this isn't your wood, but that of the ants and they are everywhere. [Have you stopped in the wrong place, then suffered a string of antisocial puns from your amused companions?]

There are still parts of Yarner that are quiet, on all but the busiest of days. Today, the icy roads kept people off, perhaps. Or the threat of snow, maybe? Possibly just the need to shop shop shop? Doesn't really matter, I suppose. It was quieter than I expected, and once I got away from the main route, I didn't meet a soul until I went back to it. Joy. Well, I say not a soul. Not a human soul - there was life all around and about. [[An aside; smilies are useful things, but there aren't enough of them to really convey expression properly - I have a smile on my face right now, remembering what happened today, that a :) or a :D don't come near to conveying properly]]. Do you know how hard it is to walk quietly on crunchy leaves covered in snow? I was standing on one of the tracks that are good for Pied Fly, listening. I've written much of what I heard up there ^. Then, there came the sound of crunching leaves. Odd ones here and there. People? Blackbirds? [Almost any noise you hear in undergrowth is a Blackbird]. Then a sudden start to my right - a Red Deer! A hind leapt away - two bounds to behind a Holly bush. Less than 30 feet - she must have come up behind another piece of cover to not see me until so late. As I looked I realised there were more - a herd was passing over the ridge - all around me. Woah..... A much more sudden start - behind me a surprised grunt! a rustle of bilberry and whoosh! a Woodcock flushed! Close enough to hear the Woodcock's call, the sound of its wingbeats as it went one way the deer the other and I spun around to the aftermath.. I can count the number of times I've seen Red Deer at Yarner, in 23 years, on one hand. Counting the whole Moor, two hands. [More Sika, fewer Roe]. Never had anything like that happen to me. Reminds me a little of a time at Fernworthy - but that's another tale.

There were some great birds, and some great views, as well. Nuthatches, Marsh Tits, point-blank Goldcrests, and one particular Treeeeecreeper [I can't but spell it that way, I'm afraid] were the star performers.

I left sharp, worrying about re-freezing roads. Needn't have bothered, of course, but oh well; better safe than off the bank and into the ditch! Only off note [other than two large women with two ugly dogs off the lead - too far away to harangue, alas] was the emptiness of the feeders at the hide - poor birds came but there was nowt!

Next time I'll have to remember to bring some rations.

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