We’ve had a brilliant week of very cold winter weather. The snow which fell in showers at the start of the week has hung around in temperatures that have struggled to get above freezing by day and really plummeted by night. Last night was our coldest for some years at -10.4C, the night before -9.4C.
Weather this cold inevitably has a big affect on birds. I suspect some will have perished, but others have probably migrated away from the coldest weather. Our garden has seen a very big drop in numbers of finches. As if by magic chaffinches, bramblings and siskins have vanished. Since Wednesday numbers of finches have dwindled to single figures from around the fifty mark. A fieldfare has arrived to feed on the large cooking apples I bought from the green grocers. He has dominated the garden, chasing all blackbirds away any time they try to eat the fruit. Interestingly he has no problem with them eating fat or seed, but if they so much as approach an apple he attacks with tail fanned and raised.
Fieldfares are great favourite of mine and I have relished the opportunity to make some studies of this handsome bird. In a strange way they remind me of swifts; as I gaze on the snow covered lawn and read the temperature at -10C watching this Scandinavian visitor I feel that this is just about the antithesis of sitting outside on a warm summer’s evening enjoying swifts screaming overhead. It also reminds me that every day brings something to enjoy, from the height of summer to the depths of winter I have had something to paint.
I awoke early this morning and leapt out of bed, keen to see how cold it had been overnight, and so, well before dawn I was out on the snow fields close to the village to sketch. I made some studies of a favourite oak tree in a field by the village hall. Rather than face the south east where the sun was rising I made some studies of the western sky. At dawn and sunset I often take the time to look away from the sun to appreciate what can be an equally beautiful but softer sky. The western sky was glowing very subtle crimson and blue. With no breakfast inside me I was really starting to feel the air sting my skin, but what a feeling, I felt so awake, even though I was sound asleep half an hour before!
I had a brisk walk on the water meadow. Normally I would be sinking but it was frozen solid between the tussocks of grass. As I walked I heard great-spotted woodpeckers drumming, green woodpeckers yaffling, marsh and blue tits singing in the woods and the calls of hungry redwings and fieldfares beginning their search for food. I had gained so much inspiration, so time to head home for coffee and porridge while watching the fieldfare. The cold is due to end on Sunday evening, possibly with a last blast of snow. We have a day of intense wind-chill to come tomorrow before the weather gradually turns milder.
My project around Gilling East started last April. I have amassed hundreds of watercolours, some in 17 filled sketchbooks. I can remember at the start of the project wondering what winter would throw at us. I was desperate to see deep cold and snow. I have so enjoyed sketching and writing about January and February’s weather and its effect on birds and landscape. If there is more to come still I will be out painting and enjoying it, but if not my appreciation of the transition to spring will be all the greater for having experienced conditions like this morning’s dawn.