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 from January 2017.
So far this Winter has been quiet, kind in its treatment of wildlife; here in Northumberland it’s been just cold enough to keep the hibernators asleep but not so cold that the wakeful ones have been any more hard pressed than usual. Even for them though the short days have meant that all their time has been spent searching for food.
Sometimes it can seem that life in the woods and fields is all around; every bush, clump of rushes, gatepost has a tenant actively searching or patiently waiting. At other times in other places nothing stirs, even the sky is empty; my last few visits to the Labyrinth have been like this, one or two Robins and Wrens have scolded the dog walkers, there were occasional half heard whispers of sound from birds flying over, a few Jackdaws were busy on the crags. Apart from these, nothing.
There have been moments however… Early one morning, flying out of the mist shrouds, a Heron, mist coloured. In the half-light it was vast, a cloud just darker than the air beating a course past me and out of sight behind mist hung trees. Almost every time I come to the Labyrinth the first bird I see is a Robin, so my expectations that day were Robin sized and I was unprepared for this, looking for a star I had been confronted by a galaxy.
Another day of drizzle, mist and general greyness was suddenly made memorable when the sun burst through and for a few moments the willow stems were flames.
Then in that blaze of light a Robin sang from an Alder beside the ponds.
I had a small box of seeds and dried mealworms that I emptied onto the seat beside the labyrinth; then sat next to them and pretended to be stone, as still and familiar as the seat, just part of the everyday furniture of the robins’ life. A blur of wings half seen from the corner of an eye almost made me turn to watch, but the small bird was gone
again as soon as the thought of turning started to form. I remained stone. Another lightning visit was followed by another, then suddenly a robin was next to me, watching this strange addition to its world. It pecked at a mealworm, one eye on the food, the other still watched me.
After a few minutes, minutes that seemed to stretch into days, I began slowly to move the camera into position, trying only to move when both eyes were elsewhere. The soft click of the shutter brought the birds attention firmly back to me, but then it began to feed again. Eventually it collected a beakful of mealworms and was gone. I sat and
tried to breath normally again and stretched legs that really did feel turned to stone.
Even the quietest, greyest, empty seeming Winters day can produce something magical.
To find out more about the Peace Labyrinth, click here.