Now that Spring seems to be just around the corner and the weather is getting better I’ve started to establish a small but well formed camp in one of the corners of the ground. It’s a small timber frame construction with an old style and well rusted corrugated roof. At the entrance two makeshift wooden steps lead onto a planked platform which straddles over the channel of the two sluice gates that feeds the water mill with the powerful flow of the Aude. The platform is around three foot wide by ten feet long- a quite narrow space- and is used so that the gates can be adjusted. However the thing is this. With just about enough room to be able to comfortably put 2/3 chairs, a great view of the river and enough foliage to act as camouflage, it makes a great hide from which to view the natural comings and goings of river life. It also has the amazing benefit of being south(ish) facing and sheltered from wind so, on days sunny days like these, becomes a bit of a sun trap and a great place to write.
Last week, in a bid to establish camp, I had given the place a bit of a spring clean and had sweeped the deck and buffed the two plastic chairs. *The Hide * was now ready.
To give its position a bit more context imagine this. Looking out over the breadth of the Aude the river bends quite sharply to the left and flows round a shallow sloped bank populated by hazel trees. To the immediate right is a steep bank of rock where a mixture of overhanging trees, bush, grass, moss and lichen grow. At regular intervals small outcrops of moss covered rock jut through the surface of the water. Finally at the furthest point there is a small flat sandbank largely populated, again, by hazel but also has enough grass and low lying vegetation to create shelter for birds and other animals. And then you have the backdrop of the Pyrenees foothills behind.
Today’s weather was ideal and gave me the perfect excuse for spending time here. A clear blue sky, light wind and uninterrupted sun meant that conditions were near ideal. The milder temperature caused a burst insects to take flight and small clouds of aerial plankton glowed yellow and danced above the water and amongst the branches. Looking through the binoculars I noticed that a number of different bird species were taking advantage of the opportunity. Firecrests, together with a Robin, hawked from the overhanging branches to the right and returned to another perching spot. A small group of Long-tailed Tits saw the same opportunity but used a slightly different technique. These largely flew from one side of the river to the other, hawking insects as they made the trip. To the left I heard the distinct calls of Nuthatches and watched them as they foraged amongst the branches and trunks of hazel- perhaps looking for the best nesting sites- and below a sharp trill of a Wren cut through the undulating sound that the river made as it flowed by.
It was early in the afternoon when I caught sight of a small dark shape bounding on the edge of the left bank. Being slightly obscured by the vegetation I first thought that it was one of the black squirrels that I have spotted from time to time. Amazingly it proved to be what looked like a either a Polecat or Mink and I watched it as it’s sleek frame took to the water and began powerfully swimming to the other bank. For a moment I lost sight of it as it disappeared amid the dazzling ripples of dancing water and, by trying to trace the likely route it would take, saw it emerge by a mossy rock on the other side. Oblivious to my presence and after shaking the excess water from its fur, it then carried on towards the far sand bank only to disappear amid the vegetation.
I left The Hide feeling excited about what I had saw and can’t wait to spot more amazing things as Spring fully emerges!