AFTER those drab, dull days of December, the New Year brought us a crisp chill in the air and a sense of new beginnings.
After almost two years of pandemic restrictions and more than 140,000 deaths, could the UK finally envisage an end to most lockdown restrictions?
Against a backdrop of fresh concerns about distant rumblings of war in Ukraine and with many families still trying to heal the scars caused by isolation and loss, the timeless landscape of the Chilterns continues to provide a breathtaking backdrop to our daily lives and a source of solace to many.
Those lucky enough to have the countryside on the doorstep and willing to brave the storms, frost and freezing winds have been rewarded with some spectacular early morning walks, stunning vistas and glorious sunsets.
The bare branches of January make it easier to spot birds in the trees and after the relative silence of winter, the dawn chorus will steadily grow between now and May.
Mosses, lichens and fungi provide splashes of colour and an array of intriguing patterns and shapes amid the soggy leaf litter.
The skeletal vegetation allows new vistas to open up too, however, exposing the earthworks, trails, mileposts and ditches so often hidden amid the undergrowth.
Many footpaths are still muddy and forlorn, and our busier roadsides are still scarred by litter and fly-tipping, all the more visible now that the foliage is stripped bare for all to see the terrible impact of humans on the natural environment.
But if there are days when nature appears to be under siege, there are plenty of small glimpses of light in the darkness promising happier times to come.
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.
Feathered friends in the garden have provided a welcome ray of sunshine too, in the run-up to the RSPB’s Great Garden Birdwatch 2022.
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.
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.
Their early morning forays to local woods and beauty spots provide a vivid reminder of just how much wildlife is around us, even if many animals are still sheltering from the wintry blast or are quick to disappear at the sound of an approaching footstep.
From the sounds of barking deer and fox mating calls in those first daylight hours to the thrum of a woodpecker or whistle of a red kite, there are plenty of audible clues to the wealth of wildlife around us, even if it sometimes requires a sharp eye, zoom lens and early morning start to spot that heron, egret or well camouflaged owl.
If the ancient wings of the heron make the bird look positively Jurassic, the owl has long been a symbol of wisdom in literature and mythology. Their hunting prowess and night vision, in particular, impressed the Ancient Greeks, who believed that this vision was a result of a mystical inner light and associated the owl with the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena.
The late American poet Mary Jane Oliver expressed it in a rather different way in her poem Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard:
His beak could open a bottle,
and his eyes – when he lifts their soft lids –
go on reading something
just beyond your shoulder –
or the Book of Revelation.
The skies have been obliging too, Anne Rixon‘s stunning shot of this month’s Wolf Moon perfectly capturing the timeless wonder of that striking vision when the moon shows its “face” to the earth.
Wolf moons and snow moons, blood moons and strawberry moons, harvest moons and worm moons…long before calendars were invented, ancient societies kept track of the months and seasons by studying the moon.
All year round, our photographers are out and about in all weathers to capture that moment when the sun breaks through the clouds and the rain stops, or a startled animal looks up at the sound of a broken twig.
Our Birds & Beasts page includes a special focus the work of our incredible specialist wildlife photographers.
As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the 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 next calendar entry, contact firstname.lastname@example.org by email or via our Facebook group page.