When I looked out this Sunday the sky was dominated by the fat, full moon. Not many stars were showing and the trees and bushes rattled and shook under the fingers of a striking wind. The grass was coated with icy frost and the last remains of snow clinging to frozen existence after a week without fresh reinforcements. The wind was biting and strong but, despite the effect it had of chilling me to the bone, I knew this was a 'warm' wind. The delicate forms of the ice crystals retreated under it's touch, melting away from sharp tracery to soft rounded near drips. The temperature showed as above freezing for the first time in what seemed like months and the wind carried the promise of clearing the marsh of otherwise stubborn and impenetrable mists. Leaves and debris hurried across the road ahead of the car joined by a mouse who looked somewhat overexcited by the turbulent air.
Out on the marsh the sky was lightening to purple, brilliant stripes of orange and magenta bordered a lighter area of greenish blue. The vapour trail of a jet made a single, discordant purple slash running counterpoint. Like a huge celestial painting, the whole glowed with internal fire and abstract energy.
I checked the box where the barn owl roosts and there, on a branch close to the entrance she sat. She tipped forward and hopped up into the box disappearing into relative comfort to snooze the day away while I began the cold walk out to the hides.
As I walked, the sun started to rise above the horizon, bringing golden light to set the tops of the reedbeds glowing and, as it rose further, it caught the ranks of dry, dead grass on the banks of the dykes. The wind rushed through and pushed at the stalks making them wave and shimmer in the sunlight like fur on the back of some giant, golden animal.
A peregrine passed overhead, setting to flight the mallard, wigeon and teal that rested on the open water between the slowly melting ice sheets that covered most of the pools and dykes. A look out over the scrape from the first hide showed no movement, the shallow water totally frozen over making it an unwelcoming proposition for waders and wildfowl. The prospect of watching a near empty and apparently lifeless frozen pond didn't really appeal so the longer walk out to a hide overlooking the Swale began.
Two shapes burst from the grass ahead, unseen until they took flight, two short eared owls floated out over the sea wall towards the river. Their camouflage was so so good that, had they sat tight, I would have passed by within feet of the hidden treasure and never known just how close I'd been. Further on, small groups of brent geese began moving and gathering together into a larger flock. A group of teal moved towards me in a loose formation that morphed seamlessly from one fluid shape to another. As they passed close by I heard the sound of the wind whishing and sooshing through their wings like the surf on a sloping beach of fine sand.
From the hide overlooking the Swale I could see huge numbers of waders and waterfowl feeding out on the mud before the advancing tide and bobbing around madly on the grey, cold water. There were dunlin, curlew, redshank, lapwings, black headed gulls, lesser and greater black backed gulls, common gulls, mallard, wigeon, teal, pintail, shelduck, grey plover and ringed plover all milling around one another feeding in their own specialist ways. The wind tore in through the viewing slots, straight off the water, trying to rip the skin from my face and freezing my fingertips to numbness. After a relatively short stay I had to give in and retreat back outside where the seawall offered some protection and the activity of walking brought tingling, burning warmth to my face and hands.
Crows and gulls played the turbulent winds above the sea wall effortlessly gliding, twisting and turning. Back towards the car park a lone grey plover sat on the blue ice of a frozen scrape, it's head tucked into it's shoulders and one leg hidden amongst warm belly feathers. It seemed ready to sit out the worst of the wind and cold and even managed to seem calm and comfortable. I left him to it.
Once back home I thawed out with coffee and settled to the rest of the day in a warm studio. I have completed another painting from a sketch made on my holiday in the summer. With 'The woodpecker tree' I wanted to show the green woodpecker as part of his environment, blending with the rotten, lichen encrusted tree where he searches for the bugs and grubs that slowly eat away at the wood.
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