February was named after the ancient Roman festival of purification called Februa. It was pre-spring, the second half of winter, the season of nothing-happening, when it was mostly grey and rainy or cold and wet. But, there was a festival meant to symbolically drive out these frigid conditions celebrated by the Pagans known as Imbolc. It fell on the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Imbolc derived from Old Irish meaning ‘in the belly’ or ‘ewe’s milk’. It was a celebration of fertility, reproduction and the young, overseen by Brigid, the Celtic goddess of fire, fertility, midwifery and the young.
We started February with a bang when our neighbour’s cat, Boots or Puss-in-Boots, triggered the house alarm. He always come into the house whenever he saw the front door open. Babe was tinkering with the car when he came in and went straight upstairs to sleep in the spare bedroom. Babe left him since he was fast asleep when he came to get me from work. I think he woke up and started moving which triggered the alarm. His owner, MA who doesn’t know he was in the house, came out checking our house when the alarm went off. Thanks MA. As soon as we opened the door, Boots casually sauntered out!!! From now on, we always checked the rooms, just in case.
We calmed down by checking out Brandon Marsh where the water level from the River Avon had risen and flooded the foot paths. We still continued on and stopped to admire the clumps of flowering Primroses on the bank opposite Central Marsh Pool. I took a moment to breathe in the sweet scent of these dainty lemon petals with egg-yolk centres among the fresh-green rosette of leaves. I was delighted to see these drops of sunshine dotted along the eroding bank.
We kept on moving because the bare vegetation offered little shelter from the bone-aching north-westerly wind. We checked out Baldwin Hide where a stunning male Great Crested Grebe in his breeding plumage cruised in front of the hide.There were dozens of Tufted ducks with their spectacular dive, diving deeper for food from the bottom of the lake. Two handsome Pochard males were lucky to be in the company of the nondescript brown females.
On the nearly flooded Willow Island, I counted 62 very vocal Lapwings. From a distance, they appeared black above and white below, but actually they have a beautiful iridescent dark green and purple underparts. Also known as the peewit in imitation of their display calls, their proper name described their wavering flight. But I was distracted by this beauty, a female Goosander, swimming close to the hide.
Among the ruckus, a Shelduck was fast asleep. Nearby, another pair was upending in the water, foraging and head-dipping for aquatic invertebrates. Perched on the pole were the reptilian gargoyles in the shape of the Cormorants eyeing the surroundings with murderous disdain. Check their crucifix-like stance, body upright, wings held partly outstretched in an eerie pose.
A rainbow appeared at the further end of the reserve when a group of twitchers entered noisily into the hide with their binoculars, bird guides and note-books. As usual. I must have librarian stamped on my forehead when one of them started asking me questions like ‘what was that? Is that a Shelduck? Have you seen the Golden Eye etc, et, etc…After a while, it got a bit too much and we left.
We didn’t check the rest of the hides because we knew that it was also going to be busy. I was gutted not to check the East Marsh Hide because Babe had seen the very elusive Bittern, the piece de resistance here. It was a keystone wetland species with its owl-like flight, with the head stretched out in short flights and tucked in for the long ones. Birdwatchers, nature lovers and photographers from all over the country would arrive en masse if any sighting was recorded. Hang on…. maybe that was why they were here.
We walked through the forest where Scarlet Elf Cups were appearing on the ground and I spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker scaling the tree trunk. A pity I couldn’t get a better photograph because it was quite dark in the woods. Not long now before the woods will be echoing with their drummings. It then uttered a sharp alarm or flight call and disappeared deeper into the woods. A signal for us to head home.
This month we also welcomed the Year of the Red Fire Monkey on the 8th. Chinese New Year was celebrated with the ringing of bells, the lighting of firecrackers and watching traditional lion dances. We were lucky to have the best seat in the house when we attended a free performance by the world renowned Performing Arts Ensemble Kodo from Sado island.
“How to play music may be known. At the commencement of the piece, all the parts should sound together. As it proceeds, they should be in harmony while severally distinct and flowing without break, and thus on to the conclusion.”
From its ancient origins as military exercises and entertainment in castles and shrines, Taiko drumming had evolved into a new phenomenon of ensemble drumming entertaining audiences across the world. Based on Sado Island in Japan, Kodo made its debut in 1981 at the Berlin Festival.
“The heart jungle drum beat finds its voice in love and matchsticks.”
We sat in the cold outside the Warwick Arts Centre watching these very fit musicians entertaining us with a vibrant exhibition of drumming with drums of various sizes, the fue flutes and a chappo (Japanese hand cymbal). Their precision of their drumming was such a joy to watch. They were so close to where I was sitting that I could feel the vibrations of the drums through my skin. We were so impressed that we wanted to watch them perform live. But unfortunately, Babe wasn’t well enough to attend. Never mind, we will definitely see them again in their next tour.
“Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.”
Then it was the time of the year again where the world was showered in red or pink hearts. Red roses, cute teddy bears, hearts, soppy cards and chocolates were everywhere. Cupid was busy again, using his bow and arrow to strike romance into people’s heart.
“Love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning”
After exchanging cards, we celebrated ours doing the things we loved best. We went for a walk at Draycote Waters to check out whether the natives were in the mood for love. It was freezing but there were still very determined sailors honing their skills on the very choppy water. Dunnocks, Wrens and Pied wagtails were feeding among the rocks, trying their best to not being blown away. Only the Pipit managed to stay long enough to pose.
There were a lot of Little grebes, Great Crested Grebes, Golden Eyes, Tufted ducks, Coots and Mallards feeding and cruising along Farborough and Toft bank. A Cormorant was in its breeding colour with a white patch under its wings. The Coots were beginning to be territorial as a few were spotted chasing each other. We could hear the Little Grebes whirring away and Great Crested Grebes croaking, all calling out for their partners. I was hoping for some action but I guess it was still early.
We continued towards the Hide stopping to check out a flock of Greylags and Canada Geese grazing on the grass. At the Hide, we were entertained by the antics of the squirrel on the bird-feeder. Blue tits, Great tits, Robins and Chaffinches were taking turns to feed while a pair of Mallards were picking on the seeds that had fallen on the ground. An adorable Long-tailed tit pop over to say hello.
To the right of the hide was Toft Shallow where 6 White Fronted Geese were feeding. Woo---hoo. This was our first sighting of the flock which had been wintering here for months. These grey goose were bigger than the mallard and smaller than a mute swan. They have large white patch at the front of the head around the beak and bold black bars on the belly. In North America, they were known as ‘Specklebelly’ due to the salt-and pepper appearance of their underside.
These species don’t breed in the UK. Two races migrated to the UK in winter which were birds that bred in Greenland which had orange bills and birds that bred in Siberia which had pink bills. Both had orange legs and I have no idea where these were from. And I couldn’t care less because it was just lovely to see these birds 3000 km away from their nesting sites. Soon, in mid to late April they will leave their wintering grounds for their breeding grounds.
Something in the undergrowth scared all the waders away and all of them swam to the centre of the lake. The geese were a bit agitated and they flew off to the further end of the reservoir. It was also a cue for us to leave. We scanned the waters for the elusive Great Northern Diver but he was no where to be seen. We waited for the sun to set and it bathed everything in its golden colours. The brilliant red sunset faded into a bruised purple afterglow conjuring up images of tropical paradise and romance. What a lovely day to end our Valentine.
When I admire the wonder of a sunset my soul expands in the worship of the creator.
Finally, CC and I managed to fix a date for our monthly dinner and this time we were joined by another x-colleague, KC. She was here for the weekend and it was a wonderful opportunity to see everyone again. KC chose the Noodle Bar but unfortunately, it was packed and there were about 6 people in front of us waiting to be seated. So our next option was Cosmos which thankfully was able to accommodate us but we have to leave by 7.30 pm.
“Chinese food tries to engage the mind, not just the palate. To provoke the intellect.”
The place was buzzing as it was a Friday and also pay-day. We were seated at the further end which was much quieter. We saved our conversations after the starter. As usual, I went for the Sushi bar and piled them along with prawns and mussels. We’d a lovely time catching up as the 2 of them had left the University.
“My favourite thing is to have dinner with friends and talk about life”.
For my next course, I chose more seafood again. There were salmon, prawns and mussels with braised tofu and Chinese vegetables on top of noodles. Yum—yum. We kept each other up-to-date with what was happening at work and in our life. I’d not seen CC for nearly 5 months and KC for nearly 2 years. Oops… but we do keep in touch via Twitter and e-mails. To end the banquet, I chose the tropical fresh fruits and creme brûlée. Then it was time to waddle back to the bus station. It was lovely seeing the girls again and hopefully we would meet up soon.
“People who love to eat are always the best people”
I was chuffed when Babe photographed this adorable Wren feeding in the garden. When we moved here, there were loads of them creeping along the stone walls calling with their remarkably clear loud trills. But they’d been silence since and I blame the local cats that were always patrolling these walls.
“He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be loved by men”
I was also delirious when I spotted a pair of Blue Tits checking out the bird-box at the bottom of the garden. Woo-hoo. I hoped they liked it and will start a family soon.Two years ago, a pair nested here and had 3 chicks, Unfortunately, their cries attracted a cat and we found them dead in the box a few days before they were supposed to fledge. We reinforced the site with chicken wires to stop the bandits sitting on the box. It was empty last year and I’m pleased to see them back. I’m keeping my toes and fingers double-crossed.
“Never look for birds of this year in the nests of the last”
~Miguel De Cervantes~
We ended the month with a trip to one of our favourite playground, Bradgate Park. It was a lovely drive but unfortunately we came across a dead fox and badger on the M69. When we arrived at the Park, there was a sign stating that it was full. We still drove in and managed to find a parking space. Clumps of Snowdrops were flowering by the banks of the River Lin that flowed through the Park.
We continued walking and noticed that the natives weren’t around. They were high up in the hills and the reason was that quite a few dogs were running freely. The dogs-on-leash ruling didn’t last long. We noticed that Lady Jane ruins were open and headed straight there. The ruins were now open during winter on Sundays from 10-4 pm. We crept slowly towards a herd of the resident fallow deer at the further end of the wall.
Loud laughing calls or yaffle of the Green Woodpeckers echoed around us. We followed the calls and noticed the yellowish yellow rump as they flew away with their bouncing, undulating flights. They landed among the ant and termite hills that were scattered behind the ruin and were busy feeding. This was because their diet consisted mainly of ants and termites- adult, larvae and eggs.
A flock of Redwings were flying around the ruins and it was a challenge to photograph. While I was busy stalking them, Babe found a dead peacock in a ditch. He informed one of the wardens who radioed someone to take it away. Since there was nothing much going on, we made our way home. We made a pit stop at Groby Pool where a few people were feeding the ducks, geese and swans. There was much scrambling in the water but this pair was more interested in each other.
The leap year meant that February combined with the everlasting cold of winter, all the rain of spring, had lasted a whole 24 hours longer!!! Employers had confirmed that nobody got an extra day’s salary, which had been described as ‘the icing on the cake’. February was the month which had everything from perpetual darkness to still paying off the Christmas credit card bill. It also meant that women could ask men to marry them. Surely a gesture of weary despair perfectly attuned to the month it was in. It seemed that the leap day was a women-hating, salary stealing, birthday wrecking, interest –hungry excuse for 24 hours. But hey, the big thaw was on its way and lets shake off the grey skies and bone-chilling winds by celebrating the Imbolc and the return of the crocus.
“February is merely as long as is needed to pass the time until March”
~J. R. Stockton~