Glimmers of hope lighten the gloom

A NEW year, another lockdown – and with mud, floods and flurries of snow in the Chilterns, it hasn’t been an easy month for many.

GARDEN FAVOURITE: a robin poses for the camera PICTURE: Nick Bell

Looking back to this time in 2020 when the first news was emerging of the problems in Wuhan, it would still have been unthinkable for most of us to foresee how everyone’s lives would be changed irrevocably by the coronavirus pandemic.

 WINTER LIGHT: Mill Meadows in Henley on Thames PICTURE: Samantha Evans

In 2021, with the UK death toll passing the 100,000 mark and many families grieving the loss of loved ones, the ongoing sense of separation, isolation and loss has been hard to handle – not to mention the devastating impact successive lockdowns have had on local businesses.

 CHILLY PROSPECT: the snow arrives with a vengeance PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

But those fortunate enough to have the countryside on the doorstep and willing to brave the storms, floods and freezing winds have been rewarded with some spectacular early morning walks, stunning vistas and glorious sunsets.

 BRIGHTER OUTLOOK: evening skies outside Amersham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Even familiar “escapes” have been put under more pressure, though. Welcome as it has been to see more families getting out and about, that influx of extra footsteps has put a strain on the landscape, churning up muddy footpaths, damaging crops and threatening delicate environments like those at Stoke Common and Burnham Beeches, where new parking restrictions come into force in February.

 WATERLOGGED: the landscape takes on a soggy appearance PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

On brighter days those able to avoid the weekend crowds have found plenty to photograph and appreciate, though – especially those small glimpses of light in the darkness promising happier times to come.

SYMBOL OF HOPE: early snowdrops provide a dramatic display PICTURE: Nick Bell

Those obliging early snowdrops, for example, have been a powerful symbol of hope since biblical times, these Candlemas bells which once decorated the windowsills of monasteries, abbeys and churches marking an important Christian holy day when the dark interior of a medieval church would become a sea of flickering candles.

SMALL WONDER: a hungry blue tit on the lookout for tasty treats PICTURE: Keith Chant

Feathered friends in the garden have provided a welcome ray of sunshine too, in the run-up to the RSPB’s Great Garden Birdwatch 2021.

POWERFUL SONG: robins can be heard all year round PICTURE: Keith Chant

This is the month where the dawn chorus really begins to grow in volume, and various Beyonder features have highlighted the chance to catch those first wintry warbles, the growing popularity of feeding the birds and how to recognise the different songs that make up the most spectacular natural orchestra on earth.

NATURE’S LARDER: berries provide a welcome splash of colour PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Photographers prepared to get up with the lark have been treated to some of the most impressive sights, not just gorgeous sunsets but in the array of wildlife they have been able to capture on camera.

STUNNING SUNRISE: dawn at Spade Oak PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Graham Parkinson’s early-morning forays to Spade Oak quarry have provided a wealth of sightings, from bullfinches and kingfishers to a treecreeper and female kestrel.

FIRST LIGHT: dawn in Homefield Wood PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Homefield Wood can be a similarly lively place in those first daylight hours, between the sounds of barking deer and fox mating calls, the thrum of a woodpecker or whistling of the red kites.

OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Homefield Wood comes to life PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The Thames is another popular place for an early-morning escape, providing stunning waterside views and the chance to spot a heron or great white egret.

RIVERSIDE RAMBLE: an early walk beside the Thames PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Graham was one of a trio of local wildlife photographers to feature recently in our Picture of the Week series, and his regular postings in online bird and wildlife groups continue to delight. A selection of his latest pictures will provide the basis for February’s prize picture quiz – a perfect opportunity for bird-lovers to pick up £25 worth of book tokens.

AMERSHAM SUNSET: the sky puts on a dramatic evening display PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Meanwhile the skies over Amersham have provided plenty of dramatic postcard vistas this month, from Lesley Tilson’s stunning sunset (above) to Sue Craigs Erwin’s chilly morning vista (below).

COLD COMFORT: a wintry walk outside Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for February, contact on email or via our Facebook group page.

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