Bright spots in the midst of a gloomy win­ter

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - Countryside -

get to work on time.

But at week­ends and days off we can start a lit­tle later. And over the past few days we have been treated to a mag­nif­i­cent song from a thrush atop a hawthorn bush at the top of the lane. He has found the high­est branch and sits there, singing at the very top of his voice. A har­bin­ger of brighter and warmer weather, if ever there was one.

In the or­chard be­hind the house the wind­falls are still pro­vid­ing a feast for the birds. Each ap­ple that proved too dam­aged to pick up for freez­ing or bag­ging up for the ci­der­maker now bears the beak marks of hun­gry black­birds, pi­geons and a whole host of smaller birds. Most of them make a neat job of tak­ing out the soft flesh from half an ap­ple leav­ing the skin pretty much in­tact. In all we col­lected al­most 300 ki­los of ap­ples for press­ing through Novem­ber and De­cem­ber. And we are al­ready en­joy­ing the cider made from the crop from the year be­fore – the pay­ment for ap­ples de­liv­ered.

The other big “crops” from our lit­tle or­chard are holly berries from the small bank of trees next to the shed. Many boughs ladened with berries were pressed into ser­vice as Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions – but plenty re­main to feed the birds, al­though they seem to be a last re­sort for many.

The oak in the hedge has pro­duced fewer acorns than usual, I’d say, but still enough to bring in the rau­cous jays. The bright plumage of a jay can still be a sur­prise, bright­en­ing up the gloom of win­ter. It looks al­most ex­ot­i­cally out of place in a West­coun­try gar­den, as if it be­longs in the trop­ics. This win­ter I have seen more than ever.

It is months since we picked the black­cur­rants and the bushes need a bit of a prune. They will def­i­nitely ben­e­fit from a bit of hard weather, if it comes. A freeze-up is said to be ben­e­fi­cial for black­cur­rants, giv­ing them a ‘rest’ be­fore they burst into life when spring fi­nally ar­rives.

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