Sunday 17 December 2017

By The River

Walking by rivers can be exhilarating, terrifying, tense, soothing. It all depends on the mood of the water and the mood of the walker. A few weeks ago during a big thaw the River Spey was wild and angry, full of surging snowmelt, overflowing its banks, submerging tree roots, crashing over rocks. I walked beside the water overawed by its power. The river seemed out of control, unpredictable, dangerous. 

Yesterday as the big freeze continued the river was in a completely different mood. Dark, sombre, deep, somehow sinister and calm at the same time. Black water swirled slowly against snowy banks. Distant hills shone white in bursts of sunshine. Reflections of trees shimmered in the glassy surface. Beside it I felt calm but also alert and observant. There was a feeling of waiting. For what? Anything, nothing. Whatever would happen next.

The flooding snowmelt river was bereft of bird life. Nothing moved on or above the tumultuous water. The river of the freeze was alive with life. Mallards paddled in the shallows by the banks. A pair of goosanders flew low over the water, long necks and bills outstretched, while a solitary female, her reddish-brown head distinct against the much darker river, bobbed on the slight swell. Another long-necked bird, black and cumbersome, flapped upstream. A cormorant. Rounding a bend I came on six more, floating in midstream. Five took off at my approach, skimming heavily away. The sixth remained, alone, slowly turning in the flow.

Three times I put up herons, watching them slowly and heavily fly along the banks before settling again in the shallows. On some snow-covered ice on the edge of a quiet pool out of the main flow I found the tracks of their large feet.

As I watched the constantly changing almost hypnotic complex patterns of the river a small dark dumpy-looking bird suddenly bobbed up, floated for a few seconds, then disappeared under the water again. A dabchick (as I learnt to call them many years ago, more formally a little grebe), the first I’ve seen on the Spey.

Other than the occasional splash of wings on water these birds were silent. The only sound was the crunch of my shoes in the snow. In the background there was the hum of traffic on the main road that lay not far away but I was able to fade this out, it only impinging on my hearing when a particularly noisy vehicle whined and roared.

Then a harsh cry rang out across the river, repeated again and again. I looked up from the water. A crow sat atop a birch tree, cawing loudly, before flying off to disappear into the woods, still calling.

Returning through the woods via an icy set of steps I admired the delicate tracery of snow, ice and frost on the birches, very temporary beauty that would be gone at the first touch of wind, or sun, or rising temperatures.

1 comment:

  1. Nice photos. Like an open log fire at home, rivers and streams make good company when camping.