Amanda Thomson shares her experience in the Cairngorms on a bitterly cold and eerie day.
The initial snowfall of the season has been accompanied by subzero temperatures at night, resulting in a delicate layer of frost on the trees and grass. A group of chaffinches have taken shelter in a nearby birch tree, and I search for bramblings, a bird that always brings me joy when spotted. Our bird feeders are bustling with coal, blue, and great tits, as well as goldfinches, woodpeckers, and even a lone crested tit, which is another indication that winter has arrived. Although I can’t help but wonder where the siskins have gone.
Over the last few days, there has been a group of finches consisting of a hundred or more birds. They have been flying back and forth, perching on the highest branches of the birch and pine trees on the opposite side of the field. I am unsure if their constant movement is a natural behavior or due to the presence of a predatory sparrowhawk in our area.
In the afternoon, I take a stroll as the temperature reaches -7C. The sound of my footsteps is amplified and the once soft grass, mud, and leaves now make a crunchy noise under my feet. Puddles also make a crackling sound. When I pause, the surroundings become completely quiet, making it easy to overlook how the snow changes the way light and sound behave. During this early dusk, a gentle mist covers the valley, giving everything a pink-grey hue.
I come across the trails of hares and follow the tracks of mice or voles, which intersect like a complex dance, leading me towards the direction of pinewoods. Even though they may not be visible today, I am aware of their presence and continue towards them. If I were able to climb to a higher vantage point, I would be greeted with sunlight and a view of the low clouds below.
It’s just 3.15pm, but sunset is in about 15 minutes, so I head home. The mist thins just enough to see a hint of blue above. I hear a loud chattering, then see the finches again – redpolls – in a birch just in front of me, skittering and chittering around, hanging upside down on the branches like early Christmas baubles.
As I arrive at the tree where they were, I notice that the ground is sprinkled with birch seeds and I trace their path to another tree. I gaze upwards in wonder at their impressive acrobatics, marveling at how they disturb the quietness of the afternoon with their actions and sounds. I can’t help but smile as they rain down birch seeds and snow on my head.