Here Be White Bears or Beware Low Flying Swans

Snow squalls from the north

Regiones Hyperboreae Bertius, Petrus (1616)
National Library of Finland

In the early days of March, I looked out and wondered whether we have been transported northwards and deposited on the coast of ultima Thule or on the mythical island of Hyperborea, beyond the home of the north wind.

The sunshine and blue skies were deceptive, with a strong northerly wind, the early morning temperatures were subzero. The snow could be a fine as spindrift, sparkling diamond dust, or arrive in a hail of icy pellets bouncing off the ground and beating against the windows. On some afternoons large snow flakes would dance in on a breeze and adhere the windows to form an icy frieze.

Once the sheep and cattle had been fed, the ice broken on the water troughs, and the log baskets filled, daily life drifted into a quiet winter regime. The comforting rituals of making hearty soups, interspersed with birdwatching, looking out through the windows onto an unusual snowy landscape.

Fortunately there were no “white bears” patrolling the shoreline, but some of the birds feeding on the grassland had an artic pedigree. Barnacle Geese are infrequent visitors to the croft, but these small delicate black and white geese are always a delight to watch. They are synchronised grazers, moving as an integrated and harmonious machine, they march across the grass in disciplined lines. Then suddenly a head is raised, and the flock lifts. Sometimes they will setttle and resume feeding or move onto a new pasture. Golden Plover often arrive with a flock of Lapwings. Dropping in quietly, their high pitched whistle contrasting with the pee-wit call of the more extrovert compatriots. As spring approaches the plovers are transformed as they adopt their nuptual plumage. Their upper sides dappled with golden flecks, contrasting with jet-black bellies and face masks.

On the fence posts, Ravens sit, hunched, black sentinels, waiting and looking for an opportunity to cause mischief or snatch a meal. The Merlins and the Peregrine Falcons, harry the Starlings and thrushes, panicking the flocks as they stoop to pick out a straggler. Sometimes the geese are edgy, anxious, alert and unsettled, a sure sign that there are White-tailed Eagles on the prowl. They are too wary for these young inexperienced eagles, but hungry predators do not give up easily. One afternoon as dusk approached, I hear the sound of geese and looked up to see six Whooper Swans, fly low across the garden. No sign of the eagles, but I don’t think they were far away. This time the swans escaped, but they are not always so fortunate.

8 thoughts on “Here Be White Bears or Beware Low Flying Swans

  1. Connie kennedy

    What a beautiful post.

    • Thank you. I hope you will visit again when the weather is a little more seasonal.

  2. Your descriptions of the cold and ice are so vivid and real. I hope spring will come your way soon, though your landscape sounds beautiful without it.

    • Although we are a long way north, frost, snow and ice are unusual on the coast because of the Gulf Stream. Hence paroxysms of childish delight when the snow lasts for more than a few hours.

  3. Your descriptions of the cold are so vivid and beautiful. I hope that spring is on its way soon to you, a different kind of beauty.

    • Thank you Tina. It is the spring equinox and it is pouring with rain. However spring will arrive at some stage and hopefully hang around for a while so that I get out into the garden.

  4. Wonderfully descriptive writing, Christine – which we missed over the period when you were lying low. Fascinating to read about the various movements of birdlife around you

    • Thank you Cathy. My grumpy muse is still around and can sometimes be encourage to compose more than a shopping list. We have an unusual garden bird list – not a blue tit or robin in sight.

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