As the water‘s have subsided at Cuttenham Farm the ruined fields have stank of salt marsh. The soft mud and silt left by the flood has attracted birdlife, most surprisingly a cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) – bright white – picking away at the edges of the Avon. To see the egret fold up its legs and drag them ruler-straight into the sky was evocative of Africa. Three days later it was gone, and with it the ghastly crocodile and tribe of elephant which had flattened the river bank just downstream from the bridge with all their reckless drinking and wallowing.
Two visiting swan have proved more durable – one a dirty brown. In comparison the egret’s whiteness was startling. Canada geese have stopped by to sift the mud with their bills and warm themselves in the March sunshine, causing the duck to fuss and quack. Roe deer in the misty early mornings, their haunches damp with dew off the scrub and hedges they have squeezed through, hungry and looking for trouble. A rogue male pheasant bursts over the road towards the lopsided timber and ground-knit of our poor drowned wood. Once, cycling home in the darkness after a night at the Seven Stars, a barn owl swept past my nose. It got so close I could hear it breathing. Honest I could.
Spotted in the village’s gritty East End: a blackbird feeding its young at the end of February. Resident dogs, cats, horses, bees … handsome, their coats shining, their tails wagging. Dear cat owners: please consider the songbirds and fix your cat’s collar with a bell.
Heard at midnight by sleepless souls in the green & leafy West End: tawny owls in conversation. Heard almost daily: a green woodpecker, cackling with pride and then seen yo-yo’ing across the lawn and then snatched up high as if by a cord into the high branches of a tree. And – whisper this – a peregrine falcon on long range patrol. I didn’t as much see him as caught the hiss of its engines on the wind, and the smell of aviation fuel. In a heartbeat the garden fell silent. One morning a handful of grey feathers pinned to a mossy lawn, and the sweet absence of one fat pigeon, dive-bombed into puff and red bone by the peregrine’s ugly cousin; its ripped gullet green with buds.
Two over-brimming ponds cloudy with frogspawn. Daffodils open for business everywhere along the grass banks. Wrens, sparrows, tits, hatches, finches, robins, dunnocks, yellow hammers: sing! Spring is here. You are welcome.