Wishing a peaceful Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all!
Wishing a peaceful Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all!
12 – 16th December 2019, Andalucía, Spain
Doñana: art project of the mighty Guadalquivir River, a restless equation of marsh, forest and dune. Hardly an hour south of Seville’s bright streets lies a wilderness with sand that speaks, and slips under your boots, adding you to the register of living things that walked under umbrella pines.
Rabbits, red deer and wild boar. Mongoose, Iberian fox and badger – they all came here before me, loping past rosemary shrubs, fur patted by a wind that teases winter even while cicadas pepper the nights. Something else is here, something wilder and rarer, and its insignia is etched in the sand.
Iberian lynx. They are indivisible from rabbits – I contemplated their relationship in Andújar last year. This lynx is the rarest cat on Earth, a spotted, ear-tufted, sideburned ghost, and Doñana is its other major stronghold. Four times I see their sign on these sandy hikes, but the lynx hide themselves, as is their wont.
Rabbits keep watch, as is theirs. Their population is frail, stitched together by conservationists to keep lynx alive.
It is an ongoing campaign, but there is still hope; there are still lynx in Doñana. Somewhere, beyond the cork oaks and the horses wandering free.
Doñana‘s other master predator takes to the marshes. For sheer grandeur, the Spanish imperial eagle tops the tree – and a kestrel hovers over it, as reckless as a crow.
There are little owls here, too, perched on the ancient stump of a eucalyptus.
And red deer, still watching.
Still leaving hoofprints on those sandy trails that tell so many stories.
Clouds build over the little whitewashed town of El Rocío.
Clouds to wipe clean the sandy canvas, turn a fresh page if you will – but the rain is yet to fall.
It’s a long while since I caught up with WordPress. In fairness, a unusual number of things have happened lately:
It’s selling well with lots of good feedback, which has been lovely.
And although it’s not as fast as a Canon lens, it’s doing fine with nocturnal garden foxes too. I did consider a Canon prime, but having the flexibility of zoom is nearly essential with wild mammals because they are so mobile.
Here’s in hope it won’t be another couple of months until my next post!
…and only plants know how to climb them.
These are the bones of Pickering Castle, a watchman of the north for centuries. Today it rests on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, flanked by a market town also made mostly from stone.
It’s almost symbiotic, the connection between humanity and rock. It shelters and guards us, while we craft it into new purposes. But it does not always need our hands to build walls. There are other, much older edifices, and those watch the North Sea.
The cliffs at Whitby are of Jurassic age, and dinosaurs and crocodiles sleep within them.
Even without fossils, their patterns catch the eye.
An invitation to walk onwards, to learn more lessons of the walls.
I seem to have been away from WordPress for a long time, and the seasons have moved on. Autumn is my favourite time of year – it’s almost like a graduation ceremony for nature, where all the plants get to show the goods that their flowers and leaves have been producing during the summer.
Berries and seeds! Blackberries dot the brambles, at least until they find a higher calling as part of a blackberry and apple crumble.
They’re so abundant that there is plenty for both people and wildlife. Blackberries appeal to anything with a sweet tooth, including foxes, dormice and badgers. The parent plant is fantastically prickly but is actually more complex than it seems; there are about 300 micro-species of bramble in Britain alone.
Not that everything in the hedgerow is edible for mammals. Bryony berries have a sparkle, but are bitter and toxic.
And on high chalky slopes grows the most infamous plant of them all: deadly nightshade or belladonna. Thankfully, its giant berries are unmistakable.
On the other hand, hazelnuts are good for the health, and are readily consumed by nearly everything. Happily for mammal surveyors, the toothmarks on the nut show who has opened it. This one was chewed by a dormouse.
And, there are sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn tree, used for jellies and jam.
It is good to reach autumn. Looking forward to seeing how the season unfolds.
Maybe. Sometimes. It was 38c, and now it’s raining again. But the sun still blazes whether we feel it or not.
We have come to that languid not-quite-anything time, past the moment when the flowers are at their peak, yet some way off – one presumes – the edgy energy of autumn. Many birds are enduring their annual moult and are hiding, while foxes trot through the woods in coats so short, they look as tight as skin suits.
And then there’s the clouds. They cannot decide whether to tower over us or augment the scenery down below.
The North Downs Way is arguably south-east England’s premier hike. This happens to be my local part of it, but the whole 153 miles spans the breadth of Surrey and Kent, following what is reputed to be the traditional route of pilgrims visiting Thomas à Becket’s grave at Canterbury Cathedral. I’ve walked a good distance down it, meandering between meadows and downland, vineyards and forgotten castles.
History is a major theme. People have been travelling here for a long time.
But the hills themselves have a past. You can feel a little bit of it standing on the high Surrey ridges – the view stretches from the Chilterns to Tonbridge and Hampshire on good days. It is the ramparts of something older, the crumbling bones of a giant chalk dome which was forced skyward in the same tectonic movements that built the Alps. If I had walked here in the early days, I would have been at the same altitude as Scafell. But time has lowered it, and scooped out the middle, and all that remains are the steep chalky rims: the North and South Downs.
The hills are old. This summer is not. It still has resting to do before autumn can greet it.
Red fox, close to the North Downs, circa the late Pleistocene, aka the last ice age.
I happened across this drawing on Wikimedia last week, and was immediately struck by the curious thought that Edwardian scientists were drawing Pleistocene red fox bones not so many miles from where I now photograph those foxes’ probable descendants. This particular sketch dates from 1909 and is printed in A monograph of the British Pleistocene Mammalia, but the animal itself knew these hills many millennia ago.
What did it see on its daily travels? Its England was a kind that no living human has known. Spotted hyenas, straight-tusked elephants and cave lions roamed here, and foxes thrived alongside them all. They truly are a marvel of flexible pragmatism.
Today, of course, they live alongside us instead.
This vixen is known as ‘Pretty Face’. She has raised cubs this year, although she has not brought them to the garden. Her daily wanderings involve navigating cars, fences, and potentially dangerous introduced species such as pet cats. Like her ancestors, she survives.
And so does our ‘other’ fox, the glorious fox-and-cubs Pilosella aurantiaca.
And yet, like the conventional fox, it speaks of a hidden story. While flesh-and-blood foxes came to what is now England under their own steam – we were still a peninsula attached to continental Europe at the time – the flower arrived with help. It was brought here by people almost 400 years ago, when the unfortunate Charles I was on the throne. It was thought to be a cure for poor eyesight, but soon escaped into the countryside and has brightened up roadsides ever since.
I wonder if the first gardener who planted it realised that it would long outlast the king.