Northumberland National Park committee member, David McDiarmid loves nothing more than to explore the Peace Labyrinth at Walltown Country Park. Throughout all four seasons, you can find David there, exploring the flora and fauna, drawing and taking notes for his blog. Here is David’s Winter installment for Springril 2017.
In January I started a project to record the birds I see in the labyrinth and its’ immediate area on a particular day in each month, including those just flying over.I make three visits during these days, early in the morning, at mid-day and late in the afternoon; as the year moves on the afternoon visit will become later and later but at the moment the birds are settling down as the temperature starts to fall.
So far the years’ movement has produced a few changes, bird song particularly has grown, in March I counted twelve different Robins singing in this quite small area. The willow has grown and the catkins on the red willow are beautiful.
Other signs of Spring are there to be seen and heard if you take the time to walk slowly, watch and listen; frogs have been singing from the weedy margins of the larger horse tail pond as they produce small islands of spawn; a pair of Siskins have been foraging in the trees between the ponds and as the year has turned they have remained, actually they could be different birds each time that I’ve seen them but I like to believe they are a pair, remaining faithful to the labyrinth. They are now spending more time in the conifers, hopefully preparing to nest there.
However, these uplands move slowly into Spring so it is as well to be open to the life that is here all year round rather than searching too exclusively for signs of Spring. As on a recent visit when a Raven burst over the top of the crags, noisily chased by half a dozen Jackdaws; the Raven seemed to want to stay around the rocks and used all of its considerable flying skills to try and avoid the smaller birds so it could perch on one of the cliff ledges. In spite of its’ tumbling twisting and upside down flying the Jackdaws would not be denied, eventually it set its’ wings into the wind and soared, up over the labyrinth and towards Green head, vanishing in seconds. The Jackdaws milled around for a while, seeming to wonder what they’d been making a fuss about, then they disappeared as well.
Birds in flight are able to put a smile on my face more easily than most other things, a Raven can do that every time, as can Buzzards. On another day in early February I was sitting on the seat overlooking the labyrinth waiting for a sunset to photograph when Buzzard calls filled the sky above the trees near the lake. Although I searched carefully I could see no birds anywhere, then a call from close by was followed by a Buzzard gliding fast over my head and towards the trees. The calls increased and suddenly there were four of them over the trees, circling, falling, soaring and diving, gliding and spiralling upwards. One soared across the labyrinth and out over the moorland, another side slipped on the wind, away to the east, I tried to follow it with the binoculars and missed the departure of the others. The sky was empty, silent, yet the memory patterns of their flight were etched across it, like the
contrails of vanished aircraft or the slowly fading wakes of ships long over the horizon. The sunset was a smother of grey damp mist, but the evening had been made glorious by those few minutes of bird flight.
During the Winter and early Spring a small flock of Long Tailed Tits were often in the trees around the labyrinth, the flight of these tiny scraps of energy is surely guaranteed to make anyone smile as they bounce on the air between bushes and trees, their contact calls barely audible.If you are fortunate enough to be under a tree in their flight path and stay very still they will fly around you, busying themselves in the branches over your head; it’s like being mobbed by fairies, not that I can make that comparison from my own experience you understand! Just lately the flock has begun to break up, on the recording day in March I saw no sign of them at all; but this too is a sign of Spring as the birds pair off and look for individual territories; and absence that this time has a positive meaning.
To find out more about the Peace Labyrinth, click here.