A Springing of Birds.
In the last week, and in a whirl of birds, the season has shifted subtly, but importantly. At dusk, between Red Hill Woods and Enborne Street, the evening roost of hundreds of thousands of birds is underway, as it has been all winter. A bat fresh out of hibernation flits along the darkening lane, and a woodcock flies in below the radar of the birds amassing above. Rooks and jackdaws swirl above the trees, drawing others from miles around in smaller squadrons. Above the canopy, the birds turn in a great tornado of black rags, their calls a deafening, awe-inspiring roar of a storm-surge sea retreating from shingle. But there are more jackdaws, less rooks, than a week ago, as the latter disperse to breed.
In the morning at Manor Farm, a whickering, rapid, ‘kee, kee, kee, kee’ draws my attention to a bird on a barn roof. A kestrel sits on the apex with a small creature balled in its foot. It has a mate. She emerges from a hole in the big ash outside the farmhouse door in what seems like a fury of chestnut, grey-speckled feathers. They meet in a flurry in the air to exchange the catch in early pair bonding – yet she will not lay eggs until late April.
On the hill, the lapwing flock has amassed to number over 100. I watch them lift in monochrome, flopwing flight and dream that soon, they will be on their breeding grounds in bigger numbers than last spring, performing that quintessentially spring sound of yo-yoing notes and thrumming, buzzing wings.
A kite circles with a knot of orange baler twine dangling from its talons. Did something stir about the nesting season, making it pick it up? It toys with the idea of the string’s usefulness and drops it. Winter holds.
I am watching the hares lollop slowly over the field, picking off shoots, when a rush of
birds sweeps past and I gasp in surprise at this unexpected ‘dread’ of golden plover. They wheel in nervy, tight, brown-gold-and-silver formation, before pouring themselves through a rapid wave to tip upon the earth. Some land out of sight in the relative shelter of the old bomb hole, whilst the remaining 150 or so rise on fast-flickering wingbeats to form a circle that expands in a slow starburst. They reconvene to race past, these 60mph waders, their plaintive, fearful, rain-bringing calls on the wind: ‘pee-ooo, pee-ooo’. A change is coming. Soon, they will be heading for the high moors of northern Britain but for now, they remain, and I feel that winter and spring is held between us. For the birds, these shifts and movements are not about the weather, not the lack of snow, frost or the relentless rain and bluster that have assailed us. The length of days is the thing.