When the clocks fell back, I spent a day revelling in a gifted hour – and the surprise that I wasn’t late for everything. But it was a brief deceit that soon caught up and overtook me. In this twilight of the year it seems fitting that we go ‘dusking’ in the unspecified hour before dark when the wildlife settles or unsettles itself and the adjustment between diurnal, nocturnal and crepuscular happens. Often preceded by the ‘pink, pink, pinking’ of blackbirds, tonight the time is announced by the resident little owl, flying over the house like a winged rugby ball, calling madly.
It can be a frenetic hour or a serene one, depending on weather and light; hard to judge when we rely on such an abstract as clocked time. A sense of timing seems more important than punctuality. Every dusk is different when the light can shift, retract and then come down with conviction.
On the high, exposed 90-acre field, the evening light dims earlier than expected. Flints, clods of earth or stubble on the horizon seem to move in a mirage of birds, but then we glimpse a shadowy drift of something real, a sudden rain squall falling on the field, seeding birds. Snipe, or golden plover? In the gathering dusk it is hard to tell. Brown hares get up from the relative shelter of the beetle bank, stretching to lope off, disturbing dozens of skylark and meadow pipit out on the stubble. As it begins to spot with rain, 200 or more fieldfare stream across a gap between hedgerows, bowling on like blown leaves in a flickering tumble of just discernible slate, chestnut and white.
We drive on then, to the wood that hides an old, horseshoe-shaped dewpond, still a valuable and scarce source of water up here, where rain quickly percolates permeable chalk and is gone. Goodness knows how old the pond is, but it has not dried up in living memory. We clamber through clasping, tearing brambles and wait by the water under a maple, to watch the wild duck come in.
The tree holds its own amber light in a pool of fallen leaves like a circle of lamplight, bathing us in a warm glow that reflects off our skin. The mallard come in before long,
calling as they come in fives and sixes, landing with loud, water-ski splashes. Their arrival is interspersed with petite teal, whistling and jinking before dropping almost vertically in with the distinct plop of water vole entering water.
We watch and listen until this secret little roost is filled with around 80 ducks. By then, the owls are calling in earnest and it is fully dark.