Brief Candles

Saturday 23rd December 2000, West Yorkshire
hedgerow ashTHE GLOSSY heart-shaped leaves of Lesser Celandine are now showing in the hedgerows. Like the tightly furled catkins on Hazel bushes and the flower-buds on a Magnolia in the park, they're a surprising premonition of spring in the middle of winter. Autumn hardly seems to have finished but spring seems to be getting underway already.

candle-snuff fungus, Xylaria By the Millbank path, on a blackened old fallen bough, Candle-snuff Fungus grows as ashy white stag's horns, no bigger than a finger nail.

moss on fence post Once I've got my eye in tune with the scale of this miniature world I notice a lush little moss garden on the top of a fence post, growing from a rotted-out hollow in the centre. It resembles a tiny desert island, covered in bright green feathery ferns with a stand of bluey green coconut palms at its centre. This Lilliputian landscape would fit in the palm of your hand.

I guess that the 'coconut palms' are a species of Polytrichum moss. They appear to have fine hairs extending from the end of each leaf.

teal A round pond that formed in a field by the locks after the floods two months ago has lingered. Three Teal fly up from it and circle as they gain height, beating their wings rapidly. In the dull grey light of this late afternoon they appear to be just dark birds with darker heads. Close up and in a good light the male has a red head with green 'goggles' outlined in cream. But in these conditions, a lightning flash of white running along the middle of the upper wing is the best clue to their identity.

broom flower Amongst the dry black spent seedpods on a Broom bush by the towpath, two yellow flowers are in bloom.

wren's nest? There's a mossy nest, the size of a large tennis ball, on a branch overhanging the towpath, probably built by a Wren. Thanks to the damp autumn, the moss is still green, so it looks like a florist's Christmas decoration, artfully arranged on the branch to contrast with the crimson haws.

goldcrest on a dull day We see a wren flit across the canal and, in a nearby tree, a single Goldcrest (left), which in English folklore is known as the goldcrest wren and is said to do battle with its duller rival at the time of the solstice. The bright new year triumphing over the old.

wren In the gloom we can't make out much of the colour, and we're looking up at it so we can't see its striped crest anyway. It appears, if anything, smaller than a wren, and it doesn't have the wren's tail-flicking perkiness.

It's feeding habits are rather different; instead of popping in and out of the undergrowth like the wren it closely investigates twigs and branches, often hanging underneath them - reaching the parts that other, larger, birds would find difficult to reach.

As it flies away, Barbara hears its call, a high-pitched 'peep', which unfortunately is beyond my page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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