Tuesday 17 February 2009

It starts with a trickle

Winter has been reluctant to give up it’s grip this year. We’ve had winds from Siberia bringing enough snow and ice to shut schools and give a bonus day or two away from work for some. Children made snowmen and improvised sledges to speed down any available slope. I walked in the heaviest snow taking a childish delight in being the first to break the smooth white coating. My daughter came with me, released from school for the day, out of the confining classroom to experience the pure joy of a very close encounter with a robin that came within a few feet hoping for a morsel or two. Like a living Christmas card he sat on the snow laden branches and cocked his head to examine her with glittering, bright, black eyes full of charm.

For weeks the cold has made the countryside retreat into itself and huddle in an expectant hush. But now, at last, there are signs that the season of new life is on its way, I haven’t seen a fieldfare or redwing in the last two weeks and the wigeon are gathering in huge flocks on the Swale. Throughout the winter these birds are evident all over the marshes and estuary, their soft, insistent whistles ambient music to accompany every walk. But most wigeon voices in the South of England have Icelandic or Norwegian accents and, come the spring, they will return North to breed and their constant soundtrack will be replaced by the skylarks’ sweeter song. This week I have heard that song and seen a single lark hanging high in the sky, a tentative beginning.

A day spent in the studio this weekend was graced with sunshine that quickly melted the thick overnight frost into droplets and shone through them, creating strings of glistening diamonds that fell from the branches to disappear for ever at the slightest touch of bird or errant, still cold, wind. I haven’t seen a single blue tit in the garden of late, they have been in twos and, I have seen them checking the new nestbox outside the studio window, exploring the possibilities for the coming weeks. Male brown hares are already following the females around the Elmley reserve and soon the boxing will start and I can enjoy the frenetic activity of the mad march hares. In the early morning, just before the dark begins to melt away, blackbirds and song thrushes are singing along with the robins and wrens. On the marsh the oystercatchers are beginning their crazy shouting matches, like bad tempered children on a playground they square up and hurl insults at the top of their voices, egging each other on but reluctant to resort to any real violence.

The signs are subtle, but they’re there, it begins with a trickle and slowly turns into a brook, a stream, a river, and finally a torrent. The season is turning.