Seen Before Heard

By Rob Rowe (March 2020)

Suddenly my head lifts, ears straining. It is a grey morning but that sound is liquid gold-laced across the sky. The first curlew. Heard before seen. For a moment there is a slight doubt and then there it is again, clear across the valley. One of the years vital signs lifting the heart. Not one, but three birds circle in the distance.

Something exploded silently quite close to my head. The glorious whiteness of a barn owl flying from a half-fallen hawthorn bush. This had been pulled down by the ivy which had hidden the owl. Soaring off, low to the ground and swooping up into an ivy-clad oak, its presence was soon proclaimed by a couple of scolding blackbirds. It has gone four o’clock so only an hour or so before the day shifts go to bed and it can hunt in peace.

There are eight wigeon on the pool that I can see from some distance away but no chance of getting nearer. The pair of Canada geese are always on full alert.

The time of the yellow plants is starting. In flower are dandelions, lesser celandine and a few primrose in the sheltered dingle. In the wet wood, there are a few marsh marigold, not yet in flower but tight buds growing fast.

The rookery along the river is in a small mixed copse. The alder catkins catch the low morning sun, a haze of purple. There are nests in cherry and willow and some hidden in a Scots pine.

A sheltered goat or pussy willow is in full majesty with some of its pollen being collected by some hardy queen bumblebees making the most of the spring warmth.

By the river, on top of the old pipe, is fresh otter spraint. This is otter poo and has a not unpleasant fishy mushroomy odour.

There is an old line of crack willow pollards nearby. Traditionally they would have been cut off at head height and left to regrow and then cropped as straight poles every few years for fencing and hedging stakes.

As they grow older [and it can be centuries] they often develop quite an aerial garden as old leaves accumulate. Where one has split in the recent gales amass of small wild gooseberry plants is revealed. Also, blackberry, dog rose, herb robert, cleavers and various grasses.