I have not neglected the path these past months; but during the winter I allowed my focus to shift, and then to relax and not force writing until my mind was in the right place for it; the slow awakening that comes with the warming earth and the unfurling of bright new leaves. I enjoyed it quietly, privately, for what is was. For what it is.
The birds were there all along of course, chirring and chittering, living their lives wrapped in the cold and damp, welcoming the winter visitors – the redwings and the fieldfare, but not in the numbers seen the year before; and now they welcome their summer migrant neighbours. The first lone swallow was seen, burbling excitedly, on the telegraph wire at the bottom of the lane, two weeks ago. Now the air throngs with their acrobatic swoops and incessant gossip as they wheel and dive for insects, causing me to duck more than once.
The hedgerows, thick with hawthorn blossom, are still full of the chatter of birds; but less from the bolshy great tits with their ‘come and have a go’ alarm calls. Here now are chiff-chaffs, reed buntings among the blackbirds and robins busy at the base of the hedges.
I am learning to recognise birds by song and call; as the dense spring leaves blind you most of their movements now. I realise how much I have taken the bare branches of winter for granted.
It is a long process, but each new song is a new bird to discover, to look and – more importantly – listen out for each time you come. You find yourself beginning to miss familiar calls in well-known places – I have not heard the wren on the nature trail this year; and I missed the angry great tit that greets me from the gate at the village end of the hawthorn path. He was not there this morning but he likely has a new family to feed and that his keeping him from his cantankerous threats to keep out of his garden. If birds had fists, he would be shaking his like an irate grandad.
I record the songs as best I can on my phone. I catch the odd glimpse through my binoculars, memorising markings, beak shape, leg colour, habitat.
I walk the lane between the froth of cow parsley, the stitchwort glimmering in the shadows like stars, the first tufted vetch and germander speedwell taking over from the gently fading bluebells. I step over a dead mouse, there doesn’t seem to be a mark on it. I smell fox. I wonder whether we have cubs here, as we do in the woods. The sun beats down, butterflies sunbathe on dandelions. Tortoiseshell, orange-tipped, peacocks.
In the coolness and darkness of the living room this afternoon I pour over my bird books, check my recordings against YouTube videos.
My new friends are whitethroats and willow warblers. And I am glad that every day continues to be a school day on the hawthorn path.
I could come here every day and it still wouldn’t be enough.