I am hunched on the sofa. Hat and (fingerless) gloves on. Extra socks, extra jumper and I’m considering putting on my thermals. Outside, the sparrows are bickering on the birdtable as if their lives depend on it. For once, perhaps, they are justified
The temperature struggled up towards freezing yesterday, but won’t make it that far today. The wind chill is delivering a blast of winter that we haven’t experienced for 5 or 6 years. Icicles hang off cars and branches, frog spawn buried beneath ice and even the mistle thrushes have been stunned into silence.
We have got off lightly up to now, but a storm is rolling up from the south and with it comes gale force winds and the promise of blizzards. As I type, the first of the snow billows over the field in front of the cottage like a fog rolling across a leaden sea.
This doesn’t bode well for the final fortnight of the fishing season. Even with milder air coming, the snow melt and flush of road salt will likely keep the fish in torpor. A year ago, we were sitting beside the Kennet annd Avon Canal, catching perch in early spring sunshine with a blackcap singing hard in the hedge behind us. I’ve not made it to the canal at all this season – something that seems unlikely to be rectified.
The cold snap has been with us for ten days or so, and made Martin’s annual trip west a little more challenging than it might have been. We fished, and caught, but it was hard going with plunging water temperatures and bright sunshine.
Chris had been due to join us but opted for the comfort of his bed. He did, however, leave the warmth on Sunday in order to meet us for an afternoon’s bird watching. We headed to the RSPB reserve at Arne, a familiar winter haunt for Martin and I.
Chris and myself had ventured down there in the summer when we were spoiled with a sky full of warm sun and ospreys. Sunday was rather different – the sun remained but the wind was vicious and full of chilled spite.
We braved the cold for as long as we dared, and were treated by curlews, avocet, godwit and dunlin. The wind was relentless but carried with it the whistles of redshank, wigeon, teal and brent geese.
The hoped for raptor was elusive though, save a couple of distant and fleeting ‘maybes’.
The hide overlooking Middlebere offered welcome respite and freshened hope. But an hour passed and although the spoonbills kept us entertained, the lure of the tea-shop was increasing by the moment. Then Martin spotted something over the far side of the reedbed. ‘Harrier…’, he whispered.
And for half an hour our persistence was rewarded. At least three hen harriers (2 ringtails, one grey) put in an appearance, with two following the same path up the channel to within 50 yards of us. We didn’t even need binoculars at that range, and the moment was too intense to bother with the camera. I took a few snaps as each bird drifted off to the east, but the images etched in my memory are worth a thousand photos.