Nature Notes

Full Hawthorn; a Rook’s Wedding.

Full hawthorn, and they are carting silage down the lanes. Against a sky blue-black as swallows, the thorn blossom is late and lovely. I love its strange, washday scent; all sweetness and ammonia – though Nan used to say it smelt of death and cat-piss and wouldn’t have it in the house.IMG_3629

Under the swaying ruckus of the rookery, the lanes are bridal. Great clotted-cream veils of hawthorn plunge into a lacy froth of cow parsley, stitchwort and the blush pink of campion. A rook’s wedding. I love it so much it hurts. Because in places, where the verges, little corners and margins are at their prettiest, most alive and most beneficial to our beleaguered insects and hard-pressed birds – the loveliness is cut down or sprayed, as if we couldn’t bear the joy of it. And, counter-productively, the dying green is left lying as a green manure, to nourish and thicken more of what we don’t want: docks, nettles and grass.  IMG_3635

The pale green fields, shorn of their dark green grass, are open hunting grounds for kites and buzzards.  In a neighbouring field it is raining lambstails. I hear the thump of a soft, woolly snake fall behind me. A pair of kites are circling above. One stalls to adjust a lambstail between hooked bill and claw, its wafer tail overcompensating for balance, like a cyclist riding at walking pace. Ahead, a crow makes a stiff, two-legged canter to pick up another felted, stilled-wriggle of a tail, its slow amputation sealed by a little orange band.

These late spring evenings are intoxicating. We sit, gilded by sunset on the steepest slope, hugging our knees among meadow saxifrage, starry on the down. The chalk scar of the fox earth open like a wound below us.IMG_3630

Walking home on the tipping point of dusk, the dark begins to overwhelm the light. The track is underwatery. Silverweed on the raised chalk camber gives off the faint steely glow of a stream and trembles with movement as the breeze picks up and the white stars of stitchwort masquerade as water crowfoot. A family of tawny owlets keep up a ‘chiseek, chiseek’ for food.

My eyes play tricks. Green alkanet leaves look like fawn’s ears, chipped flints like polecat faces. The last dappled spots of sunlight turn out to be the flowers of yellow archangel. For a dizzying moment, I mistake the thin point of the headland and its flowering rape for the beam of light from a tractor’s headlamps.

Against the evening sky, maybugs zoom around the canopy of the big, hollow oak. My eye is drawn from them, to the roof of the old threshing barn that once doubled as a schoolroom – and the distinct shape of a little owl, perched by the wonky weather vane. From there, what I first take to be a late jackdaw flies across the sky. It is a large bat! A serotine, from its slow flap-and-glide flight, so unlike the rapid flicker of a pipistrelle – or most of our other bats for that matter. As it flies over the oak, it makes a dramatic, vertical dive towards the cockchafer beetles. If I draw a line between all these bright things, they connect and make sense. Like the brilliance of a constellation: far and near, unknowable yet understood.

Wild Diary

Creative Nature Writing: Join me for a Wild Writing Workshop with Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust at Thatcham Nature Discovery Centre on Saturday 18th June. More here


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