The long wait
For many of us, much of winter is spent waiting for spring to arrive. The days may be short, but the months seem to drag on. Socialising (even pre-Covid) often comes to an almost standstill, as people burrow within their homes, cosy and warm, away from the harsh and unforgiving elements that comes with this time of year. Winter is a time of rest and of planning possibilities for the seasons to come, be it spring planting in the garden, or the things you’d like to do when summer comes around.
You have a real treat with this week’s guest blog by the talented poetic nature writer, artist and photographer, Chloé Valerie Harmsworth who believes that if we look after nature, it will look after us. Find more from Chloé on instagram.com/chloevalerienatureart/ chloevalerienatureart.wordpress.com/
Going outside isn’t an immediately obvious thing to do in winter. However, no matter what the weather, it is very worthwhile and rewarding to do so. Not only is it good for your physical health, but it’s essential for your mental health too. As well as clearing your mind of heavy thoughts and ridding your body of fatigue, you can get a vital boost of vitamin D and – just as importantly – discover the treasures of this magical and often underrated season. Perhaps surprisingly, this is one of the best times to delight in birds, now that they are no longer hidden by leaves, and also to learn your ash from your alder.
This post provides a short guide on what you can see whatever the weather, with the aim of inspiring you to get your boots and waterproofs on, and get outside!
Foggy, misty days
These are the perfect conditions to go for a contemplative walk in your nearby green space. In these dim light-levels, certain hues seem more vibrant, such as the lichen and mosses that glow green, blue, orange and yellow on the tree bark. Take a tree identification guide or app with you, and get to know the trees at the same time. Notice the stems of the red and yellow dogwood bushes burning against the muted background colours. Moisture in the air softens the edges of the world and lends an air of mystery to far-off views.
To add to the scene, you will notice flocks of birds – noisy magpies, jackdaws and rooks – eerily gathering in the skeletal trees and swarming the grey skies, as corvids seem to favour this deliciously-spooky weather. Watch them fly overhead en masse, cawing away. In the last light of the day, hundreds of spangled starlings murmurate in stunning wave-like formations before roosting for the night. And, if you’re lucky and sharp-eyed, you might spot a kestrel hovering high in the silent fog, especially if you live on the edge of the countryside.
Crisp, sunny days
This is when I like to go for what I call a “crunchy” walk in the morning. Wrapping myself up in many layers, I go out into the fresh and invigorating air, crunching over frosty grass, hardened mud and cracking through frozen puddles. The way the early sunshine lights up the dried seed heads of spent plants is simply stunning, and I now consider it one of the most beautiful sights of the year.
The wildlife also likes this weather, so there is more going on than you’d expect. Birds make the most of the extra warmth from the sun to forage for remaining berries and seeds, and some insects stir themselves from their torpor to search for the nectar of early-flowering plants, becoming an extra food source for the birds in doing so. Amongst the glittering cobwebs, goldfinches swarm the teasels and hang daintily from the skinny stalks which hardly bend under the birds’ barely-there weight. Blackbirds gobble the leftover sloes from the naked blackthorn along park edges and redwings plunder the urban rowan trees for orange berries.
Signs of spring
The more you look at the little details in winter, the more you will realise how many undeniable signs there are that spring is on its way. Particularly noticeable are the vibrant hazel catkins that sway golden in the winter winds. Buds on the trees are preparing to burst open with new flowers and leaves. Primroses, daffodils and snowdrops start to appear, with other flowers soon to follow.
If you live close to a meadow or farmer’s field, you might even hear a skylark singing high in the sky, claiming its territory, despite being associated with much warmer days. Whatever the weather and wherever you are, robins will sing and cheer you with their fluty song, promising that other birds will soon join them to provide the beautiful sounds of the spring concert.
Even if you have to stay at home, nature isn’t shut off from you. Help the birds out by putting food in your garden, and your effort will be rewarded by the joyful sight of these colourful and charming visitors. Look for nearby trees and bushes bearing fruit and you are likely to get a glimpse of birds gorging on them.
Furthermore, nature sightings still benefit us when experienced virtually, in videos and documentaries, so this is a brilliant time to catch up with the wonderful offerings from David Attenborough and the BBC’s Winterwatch. This is also the ideal time to research and expand your knowledge of flora and fauna – especially of those that are local to you – to be recalled on future days when you can take your knowledge further afield and see these sights in the flesh once more.
All photos and artworks © Chloé Valerie Harmsworth
Chloé Valerie Harmsworth is a nature writer, artist and photographer who believes that if we look after nature, it will look after us. She has written and illustrated her own nature diary. See more of her work at instagram.com/chloevalerienatureart/ and chloevalerienatureart.wordpress.com/