In this piece of my nature writing I describe one of my daily doses of nature in the month of May during the COVID-related lockdown period. The nature writing is based on a walk at Lowther, right on the edge of the Lake District, where I encounter a grey heron in the woods.
This piece also features in the sixth issue of NatureVolve magazine, a magazine that unites science and art through a common theme: nature.
The Heron in the Woods
Beneath an empyrean wonderfully awash with blue, between trees now green with vernal growth, across glades embroidered with wildflowers, I wander, the flora and fauna my only companions.
As heavenly as it sounds, this is a place I normally avoid despite it being close to home, for nestled here within this wooded environment is a holiday park containing hundreds of caravans and luxury cabins, a profound attractant for people and their beloved canine pets, which, let us be honest, are two of the biggest banes of the lives of wildlife. But things are different now; the current coronavirus crisis means that the holiday park is as good as empty, no holidaymaker to be seen or heard.
Thanks to this current scarcity of hikers, bikers, joggers and dog-walkers, my relaxing stroll is filled with the most delightful surprises even at the stroke of noon when I would expect most wild animals to have long sought out the quietude of a hidden refuge far from any beaten path.
As I tread noiselessly along a sylvan trail, its green margins dotted with dandelion-yellow and forget-me-not blue, and thronged with the white of wild garlic, a roe deer slips out into the open twenty yards ahead and pauses just long enough for me to whisper, ‘Hello you!’ At that very moment, as if on cue, a shower of fluty notes rains down on me from the canopy, the entrancing source whence the melody pours forth, the aptly-named nightingale of the north, of course.
The blackcap isn’t the only one with something to say on this awfully fine, late-spring day. A chiffchaff’s repetitious choice of words and a chaffinch’s merry roundelay contribute, too, to the tuneful mix of sound that suffuses and supplements the forest’s serenity.
I saunter further along the footpath when, out of nowhere, I become witness to a spectacular sight. What I see in the woodland understorey, halfway between the bottom of the vibrant, sunlit, leafy roof and the carpet crammed with sun-kissed bluebells, is nothing less than a grey heron in flight!
At first, this spirit of water—of rivers, of lakes—appears rather out of place, but it traverses the woodland as though it is business as usual, its angelically-proportioned wings beating unhurriedly but resolutely, gracefully yet purposefully, the heron’s height in the air held beautifully in equipoise.
The bird’s head and neck are tucked in close to its body, so much so that they all seem to melt together causing it to appear as though there is no neck at all. Protruding conspicuously from a black-and-white face is a polished, bright orange, dagger-like beak. At the opposite end of the creature, two, long, murky-orange legs stick out, outstretched, parallel to the ground, and are joined to a pair of giant feet.
Just seconds pass by before this magical moment, like a mysterious apparition, dissolves into the forest as fast as it materialised and I am left in a state of awe about what I just saw. Although the River Lowther is just a stone throw away, this fact fails to take any of the surrealness away.
I meander slowly out of the woodland as my daily dose of nature draws to an end, but prior to my exit, I come across more little creatures that I seldom see: two shrews, one following the other, half a dozen voles frolicking in the leaf litter, and a red squirrel rummaging around on the ground. Could that be why the heron is here in the woods? All these small mammals are potentially on its menu, and now with fewer folk around there seems to be a lot more of them braving the open.