Thursday – Leominster – Hurricane Sandy has caused extensive flooding and much damage to the eastern seaboard of the United States, despite being downgraded to tropical storm before it made landfall. New York and large parts of New Jersey were flooded and billions of dollars of damage caused. Here the pressure is very low, at 973mm of mercury, however, the recent high winds have dropped and it has stopped raining after a very wet night. The new hen is still proving to be something of a Houdini as she escaped yesterday afternoon, although I have no idea how! But she is laying daily.
Bodenham Lakes – A brief visit to the cider orchard to liberate some apples. A few Kingston Blacks have fallen and a large number of Blanc Mollet. I am unsure about the identity of the third tree that has a decent number underneath. The map on the information board is not clear, the identified positions do not match up with the actual trees. They may be a Chisel Jersey or a Reine de Pommes.
Humber – The BTO are undertaking a survey of winter thrushes and I have signed up using my Breeding Bird Survey patch. I am not sure why I did not choose another patch as this one is difficult to cover at best and not exactly prolific with anything other than Jackdaws and Common Pheasant. But nevertheless, here I am and it is still raining slightly. The chack of Jackdaws is noisy around the church. Up the track towards Humber Farm. A Common Pheasant balances precariously on a pole topped fence before jumping off and running in that odd upright manner down the field. There are several other cock pheasants in the field. A pair of Chaffinches flutter across the grass in combat. Across the field that heads towards Steens Bridge (which seems to change from two words to one word on some sign posts). The bird life is, as usual pretty limited; a few Common Pheasants and a passing Common Buzzard. The field is a sea of mud into which both my feet and stick sink. Two Common Buzzards sit on fence posts near the old railway line where it cut through Blackwardine, an Iron Age settlement, neither of which show on the ground. The sheep in the field beside the raptors look disinterested. Onto the road to Steens Bridge. Several Skylarks are singing, not sustained summer songs, but brief snatches as they pass overhead. Near Stoke Prior school is a field of mud with piles of soil containing potatoes. The rest of the field is covered with topped haulms. A grave is being dug at the Humber Woodland cemetery. Back to Humber church with very little to record, although negative results can always be important, if not very satisfying.
Monday – Croft – A bright blue sky and sunshine, although at this time of year that means mist and cold. It is a few degrees above freezing. The leaves are turning golden rapidly now but many have yet to fall. A Nuthatch calls near the car park. A snarling chain saw sounds across the fields. Down in the Fish Pool Valley, a tall spindly trunk, one of more than eight, of Lime has surrendered to gravity and forms a long arch to the ground. Water trickles down the stream that links the pools. A few birds make brief sounds, even Robins seem to have given up singing. A Raven grunts as it passes over. Further up the valley a Wren bursts into song. The area at the end of the valley is populated by mainly Ashes. Many have lost all their leaves and, although they look tatty with a number of dead branches, there is no sign of Ash Dieback, a disease caused by a fungus Chalara fraxinea. The disease has devastated Ash trees on the continent, especially in Denmark and has been identified as a risk in the UK for over three years now, but the authorities have done nothing and have banned imports of potentially infected Ash saplings only last week! Up the track between Bircher Common and Lyngham Vallet. A Nuthatch scurries up an Ash, jinking this way and that, searching for food. Blue Tits also search the branches and a Marsh Tit (I think, the call is not exactly one I recognise, although certainly not the normal Willow Tit call) attacks a seed held on a branch between its feet. A Nuthatch taps loudly on a Beech tree limb. Blackbirds mutter up towards the common. On up to Whiteway Head. A great, pale half moon lies in the western sky. Frost tinges the grass at the top of Leinthall Common. The footpath to Croft Ambrey is a quagmire. Up onto the Iron Age hill-fort. A Coal Tit is searching an Oak for grubs. Logging operations are taking place at the top of Lyngham Vallet. One of the few positives about the wet weather is the presence of water in the pond in the old quarry at the top of the park field. This means Maddy can be persuaded to chase a stick into the water and wash off most of the mud.
Friday – Hergest Ridge – A misty morning, fine drizzle and a breeze. The Beeches glow copper and gold. There are reports of thousands of Waxwings erupting from Scandinavia as there berry crop has failed there. There will be little joy for the visitors here as both Hawthorns and Rowans are devoid of fruit. (Sadly, there have also been many reports of thousands of migrants perishing off the coasts as they get lost in banks of fog and end up landing on the sea in exhaustion and drowning!) The hills of Herefordshire are completely obscured but patches of sunshine glide over the Radnor Forest. A Fieldfare calls as it passes over. A flock of Golden Plover circles and disappears into the low cloud. The weather is strange. To the east, clouds hang low but the Walton Basin is bathed in sunshine. Here towards to top of the ridge, the cloud has lifted and the drizzle stopped. The Golden Plover flock has split and a small group circle and, whistling gently, land in the tussocky grass near the Monkey Puzzle grove. Over on the Radnor Forest, Black Mixen has again vanished in cloud. Three ponies stand in the lee of the Araucarias, the wind is much stronger and bitter here. Sheep have been rounded up and taken down from the hills. Barely anything can be seen beyond the ridge. My resolve to walk on is broken by more drizzle. Back round the race course. Maddy drops her ball in the mud of a water-filled hollow whilst she drinks. The ball disappears into the soft mud causing her great consternation as she looks to and fro for her precious plaything. The weather continues to change by the minute. The ridge is green and brown – grass and dead Bracken, with little gems of yellow dotted everywhere – Gorse flowers.
Sunday – Leominster – Last night a thin, finger-nail moon shone brightly, its shadowed disk blue-grey. Jupiter is a brilliant jewel. This morning there is a heavy frost, the grass white with rime. A Carrion Crow croaks loudly and persistently as Maddy and I pass under the tree it is occupying. The sky starts to turn from black to a deep blue. Blackbirds fly around the churchyard, pinking their alarms continuously. A couple of hours later the sun has risen into a cloudless blue sky. Down by the River Lugg, three Cormorants fly to and fro seeking somewhere to fish, but they will be disappointed around here. A mist hangs over the water and the sun gleams blindingly off the surface. The market is small, the cold drives off many casual traders. More tidying is undertaken in the garden. The runner bean poles are dismantled, many pods of dried beans taken in for shucking, and the rest bagged for composting. I put more netting around the purple-sprouting broccoli and pick a few heads, the first of the season. Also the first are a few parsnips which are, as usual, split, bifurcated and generally deformed but turn out to be delicious. Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits are searching the trees for food. Blackbirds are on the apple tree and Jackdaws in the Ash.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – The rain falls steadily. A woman in the Vinnalls car park has a pair of spaniels. She orders them to sit which one does reluctantly and the other has to be pushed down. I give a been there, done that smile. Maddy trots by with a wary sideways glance. Not a single bird can be heard, just rain pitter-pattering onto the fallen leaves. The path up to Climbing Jack Common from Peeler Pond is in as bad a state as it has ever been. Thick, deep, clinging mud sets my feet slipping and sliding. A cock Pheasant crouches in a hollow below the path but when I stop and observe, it realises it is not hidden and trots off. High Vinnalls is inevitably cloaked in cloud. Down the track where the only bird call so far is heard, a buzzing Willow Tit. The track winds down the north side of the ridge. It has almost stopped raining. Now just trickling water and wind in the tree tops is heard. Past a group of school children being shown the landscape and trees. Mutterings of couldn’t we come here in the summer.
Tuesday – Croft – A grey but mild morning. Down to the Fish Pool Valley and across the valley bottom by the pump house. This is one of the few ways to the Highwood Bank as the others are all closed off for dam wall repairs. Up the Beech wood where both below and above is the colour of fresh copper. A few young trees are still intensely green. Carrion Crows call and tits squeak. As usual at the time of year, the bank sides where the leaves do not lay are emerald green with mosses. A pair of Common Buzzards glide slowly over the wood, calling loudly. A sign has been attached to the notice board at the old quarry showing pictures of the symptoms of Ash Die-back. Logging work is under way in Lyngham Vallet to the south of the ancient Oaks. Great gouges cross the path where machinery has crashed through from the forestry track. The view from the top of the Spanish Chestnut field is magnificent. Merbach Hill, the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons are all clear in the distance.
Thursday – Newent – A market town on the edge of the Forest of Dean about 8 miles north-west of Gloucester. The town has a long history, Mesolithic and Neolithic flints have been found in the district and evidence of Bronze Age meta