We have had so many grey, dull days this winter. These photos were taken on a rare day of cold sunshine, before the snow and east winds came. A silver shine reflected on smooth beech trunks and a haze of young buds tipped twigs with light against the sky.
I caught the sparrow hawk on guard at the top of a horse chestnut. It often watches from this tree, in wait for unsuspecting small birds feeding on grass or at the garden bird table. I have seen it take a blackbird from the lawn in a wild, precise sweep down and across the grass. This week it has taken a wood pigeon in the field. A long stretch of grey feathers on the grass marks their passage and a pigeon`s last airborne fight for life.
Under the oaks and beeches, holly and ivy grow. Ivy flowers are heavy now with seed and provide welcome food for hungry birds, as well as dense, safe shelter in the worst days of winter,
This holly on the heath was the last to lose its berries this year. Sweeter berries in the hedgerow hollies are cleared before Christmas, by blackbirds, the garden song thrushes and travelling flocks of mixed thrushes. Some hollies seem to bear more bitter fruit, which goes untouched until the birds are desperate with hunger. By the last days of our recent snow, this bitter holly had been stripped bare by redwings, fieldfares, mistle thrushes and song thrushes. Within days the berries were gone and the migrant birds had moved on.
The old wilding apple trees survived another winter on the hill slopes, with their dense, gnarled branches showing silver green under years of lichen growth.
Out in the lane, one Forest pony was happy to prune and eat the holly over a garden fence.
Many of our village ponies were born in the gorse bushes on the hill, so we have known them since their earliest days. We are familiar to them as we walk and share the heathland spaces. This mare and her companion came over to me as I walked back from a walk around the hill.
Back in the lane, a chestnut mare finished her drink and came across for a friendly word.
A kind eye.....
In the old boundary hedge, oak and beech twisted and stretched their branches upwards under a cold, late winter sky.