Country Diary: Enjoy the outdoors and forget those winter blues

Spring is in the air! It may be only January and in the bleak mid-winter, but nature moves on.

Sunday, 14th January 2018, 12:30 pm

Already the short hours of daylight are a little longer; the birds are beginning to sing early morning; bulbs are now thrusting green, sword-like leaves through the cold earth, and spring flowers are appearing. Cheer up! Forget winter blues, and get outdoors to inhale fresh air.

Even a lamb, owned by David Ward from East Ayton, was born well before time. Lucy the lamb was not expected to be born until this new year. However, she arrived about two weeks before Christmas at Riverside Farm in Carr Lane.

Our wander around the local mere revealed the spindle tree resplendent in coral pink berries, and opening to show the contrasting orange seeds within.

Nearby, a large colony of winter heliotrope was in full bloom and exuding its delicate aroma of vanilla. It’s a wild flower that faces the sun, as indicated in its name, ‘heliotrope’, from the Latin ‘helios’ meaning ‘sun’ and ‘trope’ – ‘to turn’. Look for its place, pink-purple flowers blooming beside ditches or damp places.

We visited Seamer Road mere mainly to feed the birds. Arriving shortly after midday, it was very quiet. Only a crow and magpie flew by whilst we were there.

Michael filled the peanut container, and placed three ever-popular fat balls in a wire cage to hang on a tree branch. Then we sat in the car to keep warm, and waited. It was 12.20pm and we expected the first arrivals. Not a single bird! We sipped a flask of hot tea and munched chocolate biscuits as we waited and waited. After over an hour, we departed to view the ducks, geese, swans, and gulls on the mere.

Maybe in a few days’ time the food will be discovered. We had anticipated our offerings to be readily accepted.

It’s the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch between January 27-29, so do bear it in mind should you wish to take part.

There were plenty of tufted ducks on the mere, and behind one party, followed of solitary red-breasted merganser. Some remain on fresh water in winter, but most move to coastal waters, occurring right around the eastern and southern coasts of England as well as their western and northern haunts.

Next to attract attention was a cormorant, sitting at the end of an island with wings outstretched to dry in the sun.

Cormorants seem to spend much of their time doing nothing. One we saw at Throxenby Mere sat like a large bottle, quite upright on a fishing pier. They eat a variety of fish, many of no commercial value, but fishermen regard them as competitors. In the Far East their fishing ability has been turned to man’s advantage. Trained birds, fitted with neck collars to prevent swallowing, are sent fishing on a lead.