The Christmas robin is out in front of the visitor center, the tree is up and almost the first half of the month has passed signalling a countdown to the last of 2018 with the heavy twinkling of lights on the industrial horizon here holding the tone of the season in their own way. Winter skies fleck with the brightest of stars able to penetrate the light pollution as I walk back late from Neston some nights. Christmas is marked in many ways by our staring at the heavens, wondering and wishing.

That we should choose to bring them to Earth in the form of lights decorating the trees and our fondness for their appeal, albeit artificial, at replicating the stars themselves is perhaps unsurprising. Somewhere in the season of Christmas is a cultural homage to the forces of sky and earth. Christmas, as we are all aware, is a time of carnage too for excess and enthusiastically played relentless Christmas songs yet we always settle for a quiet winter walk sometime during the holiday season. A walk to reflect over the year and take in the peace and quiet during the day or at night when we inevitably, even if briefly, stare up to a winter sky and stop to think.

Beneath the superficial is an encounter on shared terms with the natural world at the one time of year we change our routine where we stop and reflect during these short winter days. Just a spark like a single star in the night sky sparks our consciousness and a recessive memory, where in the moment ‘a door opens’ as John Muir would say. No words are spoken. We brush it off and head into the New Year. The door closes.

Tree in Winter

As I look forward to heading home to Bristol and spending time with friends and family I reflect on volunteering at Burton Mere. Over the last month we have concentrated on infrastructure with repairs to much of the ramp boardwalk. I have enjoyed spending time with the volunteers and heading out onto the reserve to participate in the wetland bird surveys. People sometimes ask what volunteers do with all this free time of an evening in a place far from anywhere. I read, practice guitar, write and cook so in truth there is little time to do much else. The weekly reserve checks that we do to maintain all the infrastructure on site is good fun and an enjoyable part of the placement.

Lapwing flock by Sam Ryley

We’ve started on the ponds again to create more open water and clear out the encroaching vegetation for insects like dragonflies along the fen trail boardwalk. This can be very rewarding considering I didn’t even know there were ponds here when we started. Because the growth of water plants was so great they looked like they weren’t there! Crushing the water plants was unavoidable when working so the sweet smell of aquatic herbs drifted up as we used chromes to open up the pools.

Recently I stood in a car park next to an adjacent sports field (not the most glamorous location I know) listening out for different bird song whilst at an offsite event. I watched the resident sparrowhawk cruise overhead circling for a while before descending into a nearby garden. I am refreshing my knowledge of bird song whilst on the placement. Winter brings with it the simple songs of dunnocks, robins and goldfinch among others to the rather quiet ambiance.

Robin...who knew.

As I continue this placement we have more winter reed cutting ahead and the starlings on the reserve are one of my favorite wildlife highlights. The way that they seem so dark like black ink against heavy winter skies in a strange winter half-light remind me of a shower of falling leaves when you get close enough to them dropping into roost. The reed itself has changed its tone to become a woody pallet of faun textures that burn gold on bright winter days.

I have received positive comments from regular readers of the tweets on twitter for the writing style of recent posts so thank you very much. I enjoy writing and finding just the right word to paint the picture I’m looking to convey. This placement is a great platform to get writing and creative.

Wishing all the regular blog readers happy wildlife spotting between here and the New Year.