The Debonaire Great Blue Heron

It was a glorious afternoon at the forest lakes by Rouge Cloitre (the Augustinian Priory of Red Cloister, on the outskirts of Brussels). My friend the heron is often there, standing contemplative by the edge of the lake. On this day, he was sporting a nice spikey quiff, giving him a rather debonaire look.

He had positioned himself on a fallen branch, and had been preening himself. Those fluffy feathers at the very tip of his beak give it away.

This is his rather special home, a medieval priory nestled in the woods, surrounded by lakes. Like the medieval monks who once lived here, the heron is rather found of a spot of fishing, as well as some quiet contemplation of course.

Silent Sunday: Cosy

I wonder how many others are sitting in front of their fires on this chilly evening in Northern Europe (or further afield, the blogging community is wonderfully global). Finding the fire mesmerising after another session of leaf clearance in the garden with help from my son, who is eager for more pocket money. There’s nothing like getting cold outdoors, watching the night draw in and then warming up in front of a fire in winter.

Picasso’s Tree

So named because if you can spot the face on this tree, you will find only one eye, a misshapen nose and a turned down mouth. Can you see him? It’s hard to believe that some kids haven’t been carving shapes out with a knife, but I think it’s natural. The light is a bit gloomy, as this was taken just as the sun was going down in the forest this afternoon, but I think it suits the general gloominess of the expression and perhaps the general mood at this time of year, this year in particular.

It was good to get out on my bike, as I’d spent the morning doing tedious admin tasks, and the early afternoon coaching a very tired, run-down student. As usual, the forest was a great tonic, and shared with just a few hurried dog walkers and the odd dedicated jogger. I cycled up Dreve de Bonne Odeur (though I have never smelt anything in particular on this path other than the general foresty leafy odours). Another thing that stood out in the gloom was the silver birch trunks of these young trees, which contrast well I thought with the dark beech and the colours of the undergrowth. I haven’t got the kind of definition I would like on this image, but there are some good bands of colour.

The heron at Red Cloister

Red Cloister (Rouge Cloitre, Rood-Klooster), an Augustinian Priory founded in the Middle Ages, lies on the edge of the Sonian forest and the south-easterly neighbourhoods of Brussels. Founded in 1367, it was apparently one of the most prestigious in the Spanish Netherlands, and among other notables the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V stayed here. More importantly for my purposes, the lakes all around are full of fish and waterfowl, and today in the sparkling sunshine the Great Blue Heron was out, patiently stalking his prey in the reeds edging one of the lakes.

The combination of sunshine, water and a light breeze made everything feel very alive, in a way you don’t expect of the last week of November. New life is already in the making, as the tree buds reveal, highlighted against the water in the image below.

The sounds of the reeds and grasses rustling in the wind is very soothing, despite the background buzz of the nearby motorway. Is one ever very far from a road these days?

The heron was successful in his fishing expedition, and I watched him gobble up his snack (or did he watch me watching him?). Sadly this gastronomic moment was not caught on camera, as my battery had died by then. There’s always next time though…

Swan Lake

Well, more accurately Swan Pond, but they wouldn’t name a ballet like that, would they? This is the same pond as the Heron’s Domain, but the heron was out fishing elsewhere, so instead I spent some time watching this juvenile swan feeding in the water. He (she?) is usually asleep by the edge, head tucked in nice and snug, or just sitting quietly watching.

The heron and his domain

Grooming time

Whilst this is by no means a perfect shot (with an old Nikon S9900 digital camera), I like the framing and those steely blue-grey feathers, and the snake-lie markings on the underside of his neck. This heron is always to be found by the lake in the Tournay-Solvay park, adjoining the Sonian forest and just below a romantic chateau, contrustruced by Alfred Solvay in 1878 (the Solvays are a famous Belgian family who made their fortune as industrialists and founded the Solvay chemical company). It is in the Flemish neo-renaissance style popular at the time, but has since been ravaged by fire and has fallen into ruin.

The former manor house of the Solvays

There’s a lot of wonderful wildlife in this area, a truly stunning potager (classical French-style vegetable garden), an orchard, an unusual rose garden and some sculptures in the parkland, so I’ll be posting some more about this place.

In the forest on a Monday

The Sonian forest, south of Brussels, is Europe’s largest beech forest, and includes the remains of the ancient Silva Carbonaria or Charcoal Forest. Over the centuries, it has played many roles: hunting ground of the Hapsburg nobility, timber supply yard for Napoleon Bonaparte’s shipbuilding efforts as part of a planned invasion of England (he apparently felled 22,000 oak trees for that), retreat for monks and nuns whose chapels and monasteries still stand lonely among the trees, and once home to wolves and neolithic man. Today, it is protected by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

Sadly, there was no way my phone camera was going to catch the shades of russet, copper and tumeric of the last remaining leaves. Instead, I did get up close to some fungi, here on a fallen silver birch trunk (there are a few among the towering beeches).

Further along, I came across some more weird and wonderful fungi, this time on an upright but dead beech, marked for felling by the forestry workers.

The image above reminded me very much of a Smurf’s hat, appropriate for Belgium, where the surreal blue comic book characters were invented. They are called ‘Les Schtroumpfs’ in French. I can easily imagine them schtroumpfing around the forest when nobody is looking.

Today’s outing has made me once again crave a proper camera to better capture this ancient forest that I am lucky enough to have almost on my doorstep. With all this fungi around, I must also get hold of the recently published book ‘Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures’ by Merlin Sheldrake. Sounds interesting!