Having had more snow than usual this winter, we have been blessed with a sudden warm spell that makes one appreciate spring’s coming is not far. While winter days are best spent indoors beside the hearth, today’s temperature made some significant flirtations towards 60°, thus requiring a venture outdoors. Bescarved and betweeded, I tromped through the fields, greeted by birds singing an unusual tune, perhaps surprised by the lack of late winter’s usual frigidity. Viewing the leafless trees and the lifeless vegetation there is little doubt winter is still definitely upon us. But at least some of our avian friends remain amongst us.
Over two-hundred species of bird, the enthusiasts tell me, have been sighted in the fields and marshes through which I tromp. Most famously, twenty years ago a Wood Sandpiper — Tringa glareola — found its way to these parts. The Wood Sandpiper breeds in Scandinavia and spends northern winters in southern Africa or Australia (a not disagreeable routine, one would suppose). The 1990 Wood Sandpiper of Westchester whetted the whistles of birdwatchers (themselves a curious species) up and down the Eastern seabord.
Needless to say, I chanced upon no Wood Sandpipers today (not that I would have been able to discern one), the most recent East-Coast siting having taken place two years ago in Delaware. The American Woodcock, plump and currently thriving, generally winters closer to the Gulf of Mexico but has begun to return north by now, more reliably seen around dusk rather than in midday. My favourite, however, are the Wild Turkeys which are found here. They are such charming creatures, utterly lacking in guile and artifice. Were ever an avian species to mount a coup d’etat or engage in espionage, the turkey would be the last to fall under suspicion. I was stalked during part of my promenade today by two females of the species, though they eventually lost interest and wandered off into the woods, leaving me to perambulate the meadow alone.
Down at the end of the meadow and through the shielding woods are the salt marshes and the Neck that juts out into the inlet. Right at the waterline I found a suitable rock, its base encrusted with barnacles, on which to sit and look over Greenhaven Channel to Hen Island, from which the poor old recluse Lou Farnum was unceremoniously removed during the Great War under suspicion of signalling to German U-boats. Nothing was ever proven, and he returned to live in his tent on the island, and ended up saving the lives of a few Boy Scouts who chanced to overnight there on the evening of an almighty storm. Barnacles — while admittedly the vital ingredient to one of Captain Haddock’s favoured oaths — are the sworn enemy of anyone who ever grew up along a coast. Many a child’s shin was scratched or bloodied by barnacles during a careless slip while exploring the shore rocks. Vendettas forged in youth are hard forgotten, and I still fail to see why God has scourged the better parts of this Earth with barnacles, though of course we must rely on the appropriateness of His infinite wisdom.
Whenever I’m on the Neck I have a peek at the ruins of the old cottage. There’s not much left of it beside the stone foundations and chimney, but I always look at it and think what an excellent location for a bolt-hole it is, right by the water, with stunning views in summer and cracking storms in winter. Then again, it’s a good three-quarters of a mile from the nearest road, so stocking up on groceries would be a bit tricky. Perhaps a pack mule could be employed for the weekly trip.
The worrying thing about the Neck is that there is only one narrow strip of land attaching it to the mainland. Perfect site for an ambush, really, and I once found the route blocked by a doe and her fawn — not a pair I had any intention of getting between. Today, upon finally returning to the little spit of land, I saw in the distance some furry creature of indeterminate species scampering away. It looked like the sort of thing that ought to be nocturnal, and immediately I assumed not only that it was rabid, but that it had also lost some money on the horses that morning and was determined to infect the next human being that crossed its path. After pausing a while it seemed there was no option but to press on and hope the critter had continued scampering, rather than lying in wait to block my way home. It was probably running from its bookkeeper, after all.
Returning home and de-shoeing, I noted a satisfactory caking of sand and mud on my boots — the evidence of a morning well spent.
View towards Hen Island, late winter.