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Thursday, 03 December 2020
LOOKING out of the rear window into the garden, I see a crowd of jackdaws descend on the seed that Rosemary has hung outside in a very large feeder.
I had no inkling that they were as opportunistic as this as they proceed to consume Herculean quantities of bird food meant for finches, titmice, robins and blackbirds.
But then these smallish, blue-eyed members of the crow family are notorious for their guile and intelligence and fondness for all things that glitter, as are some of their close cousins, and they brazenly seize on any possible food source with tremendous enthusiasm.
Other relatives of the jackdaw in the Corvidae group that we encounter locally include the carrion crow, magpie, jay and rook.
The latter is famous for its huge nesting colonies or rookeries that will sometimes fill a stand of trees (there is a large one at Tilehurst station). The rook can be terrifically noisy too.
Leaving the Tesco car park at the end of Napier Road in Reading, Rosemary and I walk to the adjacent River Thames. On our way through a gloomy patch of trees, we find some butcher’s-broom bearing striking red berries.
A locally common plant (but very scarce elsewhere), it is an evergreen with stiff stems, miniscule flowers and tiny pointed leaves.
Surprisingly, it is a member of the lily family. I’m always glad to spot it as it is a rather unusual looking plant, sometimes a bit scruffy but always a welcome sight.
It is an overcast day and the scenery looks drab. Of course, January hasn’t played out yet.
Casting my gaze to the opposite bank, where osiers and alders hug the river’s edge, I’ve a feeling that this is exactly how this stretch of the Thames must have looked many thousands of years ago when mankind returned to settle after the last ice age.
We head east towards Kennet Mouth. A row of horse chestnuts lines the path to our right, one appearing to welcome the passer-by with low boughs outstretched.
Small houseboats are moored with the usual bicycle atop. Across the water a large and extremely strange looking boat that appears to have been abandoned a long while back is actually occupied. It would not look out of place in Knoxville, Tennessee, the setting for Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree. To be frank, it gives me the creeps.
Alongside another boat is painted to resemble a hungry shark in attack mode.
We head on towards the old “Horseshoe Bridge” that spans the Kennet’s meeting place with the grand old river.
Before we do, so some mute swans come sailing over in a desperate comical sideways fashion as I’m sure that they’ve seen Rosemary before and assume she has got bread. They are correct, of course, and consume the lot with gusto.
A whole assortment of birds is gathered at the river’s confluence. Mute swans, mallard ducks, a single moorhen, Canada, greylag and Egyptian geese. Oh no, we’ve run out of bread.
A short while after negotiating the bridge, we encounter the entrance to the Thames and Kennet marina. Atop the riparian portal a heron is having a face-off with a cormorant.
We pass the old Dreadnought pub, once part of the Simonds brewery’s stock of hostelries and now owned by Reading University.
A pied wagtail struts its stuff on some moorings. It stares right at us before flitting off with its “Chiswick” call. We shop and go home.
The next day we’re back in Henley. The Thames has dropped so we’re able to pursue our previously doomed walk to Remenham and back.
Henley Reach is glorious, the water transparent. The river is host to mad-eyed tufted ducks. Canada geese honk as they fly in pairs or more.
After a brief walk past St Nicholas Church, we scramble up Remenham Church Lane and take the path across Rosemary’s favourite field that sits high on a hill with its panoramic views.
We enter the woodland above Remenham Court. A green woodpecker yaffles.
Moss creeps up the trunks of ash trees like green socks and spurge laurel bears little yellow flowers. We return to town for refreshment.
The highlight of the day was standing on that hill hearing and seeing the skylark that Rosemary had promised. As it danced in the air and sang, it brought joy to my heart. A herald of the summer to come.
30 January 2020
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