Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Winter Walk 

I could tell the moment I woke up. It had been cold over night. My arms were covered in goose bumps as they poked out of the top of the duvet. 

A quick glance out of the bedroom window confirmed it. Jack Frost had been busy during the night and a thin layer of dusty white had spread out down the valley below me.  The droplets of dew, that had settled on car windows during the night, were now frozen solid, forming bizarre monotone damien hirst dot paintings all down the road. The street's car driving commuters would be slowed down for sure this morning with the task of scraping natures icy works of art of their windcreens . The sky was a deep dark blue and if ever there was a morning for a winter walk - it was this morning.

At the bottom of my road lies a small wooded river valley, a slither of green cutting through the city. It's called Snuff Mills and I walk their as often as I can. It's been a few weeks since my last visit and the valley has changed. Almost all of the leaves have fallen from the trees, probably as a result of the fierce frosts we've been having. The lovely colours of Autumn have gone but that's not all bad news. Fewer leaves on the trees over hanging the river means its much easier to spot the valley's most famous resident - the kingfisher. 

I hadn't even got onto the main path when shining out at me from a low hanging branch, shone the dazzling hues of a kingfisher's azure blue back, as it hunched over, looking intently at the river for its next meal. I had forgotten just what a difference it makes not having the leaves on the trees. The birds just stand out a mile against the dark river bank, unlike in the summer when they stay hidden from view. I didn't have a long lense with me to photograph him, and I think it is a him bacause a male bird seems to have taken up residence on this stretch for the winter, but there will be many more opportunities to show you this little beauty in detail. I watched him sitting statuesque for a minute or so before continuing up the path.

It was a lovely start to my walk but it was another river animal altogether that was on my mind - the otter. I had spent several weeks last winter tracking otters on the river but over the summer all signs of them had disappeared. I was on my way to one of the animals favourite sprainting spots to see if there were any signs the animal/s were back in town. A friend had spotted what looked like a fresh kill on the river bank a mile or so up river so it seemed possible. Sure enough, on the lower end of a tree trunk at the rivers edge, I found the familiar pungent smelling, scale filled feaces that make up an otters calling card. Impossible to say whether it was male or female - although it was quite large and its known males will often do several small spraints and females singular large ones. But if there's one thing with otters I seem to have worked out during my brief time following them, its that there are very few rules! Unless I see the animal in question, I'll be kept guessing. Male or female - its just wonderful news that otters are back again on the Bristol River Frome. Where they've been all summer - who knows.

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