2005 dec 18
It is easy to forget when it is cold that the world - the wild world - carries on. There may be snow and ice on the ground but the never ending hunt for food continues in the hedges and fields, along the riverbanks and in the River Ancholme itself.
A short ride out on my trusty bike found me walking along one of the becks that empty into the River Ancholme - bringing the water from springs on the Lincolnshire Wolds to brighten the turbid, nutrient rich waters of the Ancholme.
The water level was low, revealing much of the bank and what little water remained had a thin layer of ice - crazed with the growth of foot long needle sharp crystals of ice. Here and there you could make out the outline of a leaf through the ice that had fallen onto the beck bed.
Along the centre of the ice ran a straight track - about a metre wide - with neat edges where ice sheets and blocks stood at odd angles, clearly pushed about and up by the passage of a motor boat. Quite what a boat would be doing pushing along through the ice down this shallow and forgotten stream at this time of year is a mystery.
Stepping on the frozen grass, each step crunches as the frosted blades yield - then a louder crunch. Looking down I see a mussel shell - more than 10cm long. And another. All open. Some broken at one end. So it goes the whole way down the dyke to the River Ancholme. I wonder what the Belgians would do with these freshwater mussels: what beer would they add to the sauce? Would it be safe to eat them? Most likely not with the run off from the fields. Nevertheless, some animal has clearly had a meal or two.
Standing at the bridge the only sound is of distant traffic drifting through the still air above the River - the constant hiss of wheels bypassing Brigg on the motorway.
Then comes a call high over a distant frozen field, as an oystercatcher wheels, rises and falls - finally settling further downstream.
Floating moodily in a tiny patch of clearwater at a point where the current of the beck wells into the Ancholme, drifts a group of swans. One is separated from the group and battles through the ice. Pushing hard with his chest, rising up on top - the ice giving way with a metallic crack. Down into the water and once again struggling on through the ice.
Suddenly, a sharp splash. Then another. And a third.
Trying to see what is causing the disturbance is difficult as the splashes burst out randomly in the clearwater. Then a glimpse of a darting brown shape. Then silence - as the ripples die down.
A head pops out of the water, and ducks down quickly. Near the edge of the ice a tiny body bobs up and sits on top of the water. Its beady eye looking straight at me - then dives - feet paddling, body squirming under the ice, around and down then back to the surface. This time bolder.
Two, three, four birds appear and disappear - each time in a different place. The winter, icy River Ancholme is good fishing for the little grebes - as they set the surface boiling in their quest for food. For them the cold waters of the Ancholme are teeming with sluggish fish - ripe for eating.
I walk back to my lunch - and leave them to return to theirs.
Thought ..."First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win" - Mahatma Gandhi