Country Diary: Shrubs that will brighten a dreary cold winter’s day

Gorse still flowers even in the most severe winters.
Gorse still flowers even in the most severe winters.
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When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of flower.

We all know the saying, and its implication that gorse is never completely devoid of flowers. Even in severe winters, gorse flowers brighten many dreary scenes with vivid splashes of rich, golden yellow blooms. On warm or humid days its fragrance is reminiscent of coconut and oranges!

Another shrub to cheer cold, gloomy days is the dogwood. Arriving at Filey’s Country Park, dogwood’s red stems high-lighted the fringe of woodland and hedgerow. Apparently the bark of dogwood used to be made into ink in the 1880s. Many plants have been used as tying materials, and the thin shoots of dogwood, willow and honeysuckle are included, as well as adding colour to basketry weaving. For massaging gums and teeth, try peeled dogwood shoots which were popular in North America!

Turning seaward, apart from carrion crows, magpie and gulls, only a solitary cormorant crossed our field of vision. Heading in a southerly direction, it flew low and fast over the silvery sea, to disappear into the low mist.

Only as we were leaving Filey’s Country Park, did we see a wader. There was no mistaking its identity, as it probed the muddy areas of grassland beside the car park. Its alert, ever watchful posture, orange dark-tipped bill and long red legs held our attention for some time. It was brown above, and almost pure white on its underparts. Walking almost rhythmically, the bird took regular, steady pecks at the ground with its long bill, feeding on creatures living in the mud. When I used to visit Spurn Bird Observatory, the locals called it, “Sentinel of the Marshes”. When disturbed, it would fly off, yelling a warning to any other birds nearby. Quite a noisy wader.

Excitement is mounting over the arrival of waxwings. It’s a winter visitor that occasionally delights us by dropping in on its migration route from Scandinavian countries.

Feeding almost exclusively on berries such as haws; rosehips; rowan; cotoneaster, and pyracantha, when supplies dwindle, they move further south to Scotland and our east coast. I understand that this year several hundred have been recorded in the West Riding of Yorkshire. They’re observed in gardens and supermarket car parks as well as towns and cities.

There was a major influx in the winter of 1990-1991. Numbers wax and wane, but that year we observed hundreds along Woodland Ravine alone, and they were quite tame. Look out for these almost starling-size birds with a pronounced crest. They have dusky pink plumage and black mask. There are yellow-on-black flashes on the wing and tail. Red tips of the inner wing feathers resemble droplets of red sealing wax, hence the name, waxwing.

The aftermath of waxwing visits is bare bushes and branches devoid of their attractive fruits.