Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Coming In From The Cold

An unexpected fall of snow recently caused chaos in the London area, closing many schools and offices and bringing all the traffic in the centre of the city to a standstill. However, the heavy snowfall brought pleasure to hundreds of children who enjoyed several days of extra holidays during which they built snowmen, played on sledges with their friends and lay on their backs making snow angels. Four hundred miles further north, we Scots wondered what all the fuss was about as we cope with snowstorms several times every Winter. Last night was no exception, for, as I drew the curtains before bedtime, a blizzard of snow began swirling outside. As if by magic in a matter of moments, everything in the garden was transformed as a carpet of snowflakes fluttered down. I put out the light wondering if we'd be snowed in today.

This morning, however, a beautiful blue sky greeted me and a song thrush was serenading from the top of my Swedish birch tree. Pulling on a warm sweater and trousers, I grabbed my camera, determined not to miss an opportunity. As I took a photo of the snow on the barn roof, my mind went back to a cold night in January, when an unexpected visitor paid Taz and Cookie a visit.

It was suppertime for the cats, but, instead of running to us for cuddles, Taz and Cookie were out of their cosy nests mewing, and looking more than a little disconcerted. Suddenly, without a sound, a large expanse of wings flew over our heads and crossed from one end of the barn to the other. Looking up, my hubbie and I saw a beautiful Tawny owl. Walking over to the cats, we stroked them to stop them mewing and calm them down. Clearly, they had never seen an owl in the barn before.

Although we have seen a few Tawny owls and Barn owls, and even a Little owl, during the eighteen years we have lived here, they are not seen on a regular basis. We do hear Barn owls screeching during the night. But, mostly we find their pellets scattered around the garden rather than regular sightings of them. Apart from the Little owl, which sometimes flies during the day, they are nocturnal creatures and come out to feed when most of us are indoors for the night. Tawnies are the owls which have the 'twit twoo' calls, the owls in our Nursery Stories - pretty owls with large, beautiful, dark eyes on their faces.

Once the cats had calmed down, I ran indoors for my camera. I hoped the Tawny would stay long enough for me to catch a few pictures without disturbing it too much. I need not have worried. As it turned out, it was reluctant to leave the shelter of the barn and we had to leave the doors open all night to allow it to fly free before morning. It never called out once. Apparently the 'twit twoo' is a duet between the male and female. They bond for life and both share in feeding the brood with the male going solo for the first 21 days. Our visitor simply flew forwards and backwards, across the barn. I knew there would be plenty of mice and shrews to feed on as Taz catches mice and the occasional shrew several times a week.

As I passed the log-pile, I wondered how many insects were snug and dry underneath, for, even the snow can act like a carpet and keep bulbs warm too. Our bulbs are showing above the earth and peeping from the pots and troughs. After the blizzard I thought there would have been a heavier covering of snow, but, the storm had obviously subsided quickly.

Winter sunshine makes for great contrasts between the pristine white of the snow-laden branches against the cerulean blue of the sky. So strong was the sun, that I had to be careful to avoid the constant drip, drip, drip of the melting snow which accompanied me on my walk around the garden under the trees.

At this time of year in spite of the snow, I always feel optimistic, for, it is not the onset of dark December chilling my bones and making me dread a long Winter ahead, but, that of March, instead, with the promise of the coming Spring. The snow on the Dawn rose merely looked pretty and fresh and transient. It would be gone all too soon, so, savour it and enjoy its fleeting visit, I reminded myself.

True to form, Taz accompanied me, even walking across the frozen pond to sniff under stones. His antics reminded me of our third surprise visitor when we had had the snowfall in January. It had been a relatively cold snap with temperatures well below zero, and little sunshine to warm the days. I had been standing looking out of the window, not thinking of anything in particular, when, suddenly, there he was...a beautiful fox.

Not having noticed me at the window, he was heading towards me, quite at peace with the world. I stared, transfixed, at his white chest, his beautiful reddish-auburn coat and his long, bushy brush cocked at an angle. Suddenly, he looked up and caught sight of me looking at him. The moment our eyes met, he turned instinctively, while I grabbed my ever-ready camera...and just managed to catch on shot of him as he trotted back the way he had come. In a flash, he was over the stone-dyke wall quicker than you could say, 'The quick, brown fox jumps over the lazy dog'.

Snowdrops, true to their name, have come through the snow once again to greet the Spring. We have many posies of them, creating little drifts here and there under the birch trees and shrubs in the little area in the garden I refer to as my woodland.

The blue hepaticas are in bloom too, with their dainty little heads. they are winners in my book, though I must say their leaves suffer in the bitter winds and always looked bruised.

In an area which borders the adjacent field at the back of the house, we have a high bank which I have been filling with snowdrops for several years now. They do well here and precede the daffodils which die back in time for the carpet of poppies, cornflower and marigolds to come through. We have a never-ending battle with couch grass in this area, so the wildflowers seem to naturalise everything and compete well with the pernicious grass.

Today, the snow was heavy on the snowdrop heads. But, they will be standing to attention tomorrow again. I always feel something of the miracle of nature in seeing snowdrops surviving the blasts of Winter. In my garden they come out before the daffodils, so they tend to be my favourite Spring bulbs.

Having said that, the yellow aconites are a joy to behold each year. I particularly like to see their little, golden cups of sunshine facing upwards and outwards towards the light and the warmth of the sun's rays.

Hellebores are exciting to have in any garden. I have two different varieties, ones with pale cream petals and green centres and a second variety with deep wine petals. Regardless of snow, they also come up trumps.

We have several colours of crocuses growing under shrubs and trees. The orangey-yellows are the first to appear followed by the purple and blue-striped. Today a cock blackbird was competing with his yellow bill.

Round the front of the house, well away from the piping blackbird, giving out his alarm call to warn the other birds, Taz had jumped onto a favourite window-sill to settle down for a spot of sunbathing.

At the back of the house, in the adjacent field, a cacophony was coming from a murder of crows, no doubt squabbling over grain and insects, and whose turn it was in the pecking order.

The artesian well has filled up over the Winter months, despite the efforts of the farmer to drain it over the years, creating interest for the birds and insects bold enough to be up and about.

I looked across the fields and felt glad to be alive, to be savouring the joys of the coming Spring, relishing the sight of the bulbs which have survived the ravages of Winter, and laughing at the antics of the newborn lambs gambolling in the sunshine and bleating to me from their world across the snow.

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ~Charles Dickens


Sheila said...

This is a beautiful post WG. I loved every word and photograph.
I do envy you seeing the Tawny owl. I have yet to see an owl here. Hubby came in late one night last summer and there was a huge one perched on our garage roof, but he could not identify it. The snowdrops and other Spring flowers are a sight for sore eyes, and remind me that although we have to wait a while longer, our Spring is not far off.

Sally said...

Lovely post (as usual) W.G.

Barbara said...

I liked to read this post as it describes all the beauty and positive of a real winter month! And when snow comes together with sun, it is absolutely magic! Lucky you to be able to see an owl from so near! We also have foxes crossing our garden from time to time. Today it was snowing again here and the first Spring harbingers show up but very timidly. I have learnt to be patient ;-) ...Spring will come in due time!

Cheryl said...

Dear Wildlife Gardener.....what a wonderful sight, to see an owl in your barn....a god given gift.....
I had tears in my eyes when I saw it....owls go very deep with me, I always connect them to my Gramps.....tku for sharing your lovely photographs.....

Indeed the snow crippled us in the south east......I could almost hear the laughter coming from the north, and who could blame you. Local councils did not grit many roads and there were many accidents. We had five in our little lane.....
Still as you so rightly said the children enjoyed it.......

Your spring blooms are beautiful.....the season of hope has life......a time to rejoice.......

G3T Films said...

Ahhhh... well wasn't that a most relaxing tour.

Cheers WildlifeG

Deb said...

Wonderful post. The photo of the Tawny Owl was fantastic - how exciting to spot him in the barn and get a picture.

linda may said...

Beautiful pictures WG. I am surprised to see the bulbs popping up while you are still getting snow. Enjoy your new season's awakening, my favorite time of year.

Jeanne said...

Absolutely gorgeous.
You surely have a piece of paradise.
The flowers are gorgeous and all the postings.
I love you my darling friend.
God bless you and yours real good
today and always
Love Jeanne ^j^

A wildlife gardener said...

A warm welcome to our little corner of paradise, Everyone :)

* We were very lucky to see the Tawny owl, Sheila, as we have only seen them a few times over the years...luckier still that it did not fly off while I ran to fetch my camera.

Spring will come for you very soon now, though I think you have already seen the most beautiful flower in your garden this year...Madison :)

* Thank you for stopping by, Sally. I enjoy all your company and chat :)

* You are right, Barbara. We must savour the joys of each season.

The Tawny owl was magical to see at such close proximity. The eyes held us fast. I felt very priviledged to have the visit :)

* I feel owls are so magestic, Cheryl, with their silent flight and their wonderful faces. It was certainly a wonderful moment in the story of the garden. He wasn't frightened of us, which was good. I spoke to him in a warm tone of voice, hoping to put him at ease.

The snow must have been a shock for all of you in the south. I'm glad it did not cause too much damage. I marvelled at the beautiful photography in the newspapers of families, out and about, enjoying it :)

I understand the official day of Spring in the UK is not until the 20th March this year...but all the signs are already showing in our garden :)

* Lovely to have your company, G3T films...and glad you enjoyed the post :)

* Great to have you visit our garden, Deb. You are correct about seeing the Tawny owl...he was fantastic and a very lucky day for us :)

* Our bulbs survive the ravages of snow every year, Linda May...and it thrills me no end. It's like meeting old friends again. Spring is also my favourite time of year. in fact, each year I feel reborn :)

* I do feel as if I am in paradise when I'm in the garden, Jeanne, as it brings me so much pleasure on a daily basis...and I enjoy sharing it with everyone :)

linda may said...

Re your question/comment on my blog: I knew a bit about acid/alkaline problems and googled it where I found food lists to play around with and lots of info so I made up my own.

Bimbimbie said...

I love the Dickens quote and remember well those March days. Lovely to the wildlife are putting in an appearance and staying around for their photo opportunities. Would be wonderful for the barn owls to nest in your barn this year. We have a family of owls who we think are dinning on the local possums this week judging by their nightly noises *!*

A wildlife gardener said...

Good morning, and welcome to our little corner of paradise :)

* Thanks for replying, Linda :)

* Welcome to you, Bimbimbie, on this snowy/sleety day in March :)

We have always hoped for owls in the barn but with the cats there I think it's unlikely, though, having said that, we have two pairs of swallows who successfully raise two broods each every Summer in spite of the cats climbing on the rafters.

I hope your owls are thriving :)

Libby said...

Always a pleasure visitng your blog. You live in a very beautiful place. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

joey said...

Ah, a day a Barleycorn is a wonderous thing! I love your Tawny owl ... and fox (we have a friendly one at the lake, a bit too friendly, that often creeps near to hear campfire stories or climbs the deck to eavesdrop when we're seated around the chiminea). Your charming voice would certainly be one to draw him in :) As always, a delight to visit. Happy March!

A wildlife gardener said...

Great to have your company, Libby and Joey, in our little corner of paradise :)

* Take care of your self, Libby...and thanks for squeezing a visit into your very busy schedule at the moment :)

* Lovely to see you again, Joey. I'd love to see more of the Tawny owl and the fox in our garden. They are so handsome and exotic in the sense that they are infrequent visitors. The secret, of course, is to enjoy all the wildlife that visits :)

SandyCarlson said...

These are very nice. The owl was a nice surprise as I scrolled along.

farmingfriends said...

How exciting a tawny owl and a fox, snow and beautiful spring flowers. What a wonderful post. Kind regards
Sara from farmingfriends

Anonymous said...

I've just finished blogging my pictures from today and thought I'd drop by!

What a wonderful blog of beautiful things! I've loved reading about your wildlife/gardening experiences-it's good to see there still so much variety despite the neighbouring farmers.

I hope you enjoyed the rest of day in the gardens and arrived home safely.

Kitty (the girl at the Botanic Gardens!)

Naturegirl said...

The snow images are so beautiful to see when one is in a climate of sunshine and blossoms! I see those trembling little Spring flowers braving the snow!
I admit I am a whimp and prefer the sunshine of the Sonoran desert!
Wonderful reminders of what I left behind! sending you sun rays! NG

Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

What an an enchanting post - so many delights, the snow pictures, the owls the hellebores.
I love hearing the owls calling at night - but we never see them - so it was lovely to see pictures of the Tawny Owl in your barn.

Kathleen said...

Hello Wildlife Gardener. I'm glad to read your new post. I feel the same as you about spring snows, not depressed at all but hopeful. I know the snows will melt soon and give everything much needed moisture. What a beauty the Tawny Owl is ~ I've never seen one before. I think any owl is majestic & magnificent tho. We have mostly the Great Horned Owls in our neighborhood but it is rare to see them. Occasionally they land on our roof in the evenings and serenade us with their hooting! That's a lucky night! I did get incredibly lucky recently and snapped a couple shots of a long-eared owl on an overcast winter afternoon. It was an amazing sighting and like you, I felt privileged to have witnessed him. I love all your spring bulbs and perennials ~ they are beautiful even coated with snow. How are the tadpoles doing? Lots of them yet??

Ruth Welter said...

Hi WG, this is a wonderful post. I'm glad spring is spring up by is here for me as well, FINALLY.

My favorite though, was the owl in your barn, what a beautiful little guy he is.


Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Wow, so much to see, with the owl and fox and all! I saw a fox in my garden once (I live next to a natural area), I find them very sleek and beautiful. All your snow and the spring blooms, especially the hepatica and aconite which are personal favorites, look so lovely too!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this very much. You've portrayed the wonders of Spring so well.

A wildlife gardener said...

A warm welcome to One and All on this chilly day in March :)

* Great to see you, Sandy. Glad you liked the Tawny :)

* Lovely to have your company, Sara. We have been lucky to have the fleeting visits of the owl and the fox in the garden. It was a bit like Aesop's Fables... :)

* It was great to meet you, Kitty, at the Botanics in Edinburgh, while we watched the hungry heron gobble frogs in the woodland pond there.

Good luck with your studies :)

* Hey there, Nature Girl! Lovely to have you visiting us even if it makes you feel chilly. Send me some of your lovely sunshine to warm our cold Spring days :)

* We love owls too, Karen, and like you, usually only hear them at the sighting was a welcome bonus :)

* How wonderful it would be to live where the Great Horned Owls live, Kathleen :)

We don't have any tadpoles yet..maybe in a week or so...I'll post about them :)

I'm so glad to find someone else who feels optimistic about the snow in Spring...for it will surely pass :)

* Great to see you, Ruth. I am glad Spring is here too...and the Tawny visit was magical :)

* I almost called the post,'The owl and the fox', Monica, as I knew they would create the most interest. Then i thought I'd weave them into the story of Spring in our garden :)

* A warm welcome to you, byrningbunny...and thank you for the compliments. I enjoy sharing the garden and its delights with everyone who stops by for a visit :)

Sandy said...

Great post, I enjoyed catching up and loved seeing the owl. Those snowdrops are beautiful...!

A wildlife gardener said...

* A warm welcome to you, Sandy :)

The tawny was a right charmer with those enormous eyes of his :)

I love my snowdrops and now have quite a few drifts of them :)

Anonymous said...

~ Oh those snowdrops are a welcome sight!

I think Spring will be here soon~

A wildlife gardener said...

* Wonderful to hear from you, dear Becky :)

Snowdrops are the great harbingers of Spring for me too :)

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