Yesterday at Sculthorpe Moor I stood for an hour and talked to Tim Smith who is assistant warden. Tim is a knower of the woods and their ways and always has an observation to share: who is calling, who is nest-building, where tracks, spraints, and splashes are to be found. As we talked, another friend Roger Tidman came grinning along the boardwalk, so he joined our conversation too. I was standing at this corner as, before these friends arrived, I had caught a snatch of sedge warbler subsong; but while we stood and mardled there came no more sound from this tiny streak of muscle and feather, fresh from Africa. Instead a water vole plopped into a ditch right by us and whirred along the water's surface like a bright-eyed wind-up toy.
Tim went off to his work while Roger and I went further, to the reed-bed, to watch marsh harriers in display. Six birds were shrieking through the blue, the males hurling themselves into ribbon-winged tumbles. A female sparrowhawk joined them, a barn owl wafted past, and five buzzards too took to the sky to claim their patch of poplars, their stake of the spring. A second sedge warbler sang briefly here and over the river chiffchaffs cheerily chaffed and chiffed, as they will from now to August. This little reserve, unnoticed and ignored until only a dozen years ago, has been superbly crafted for wild birds and for people and is among Norfolk's finest for watching and understanding hawks. We owe much to the Hawk and Owl Trust and all their local volunteers, through whose work we watch these heaven-rending harriers here.
My two Mediterranean gulls sprang past and, slicing the once-more-wintry sky with his satin wings, a swallow! One may not a summer make but our morning was made. This swallow, a long-tailed male, or a half-dozen of his cousins, came several times to skim the reed-tops and delight us with the gift of spring. I've seen thousands of swallows, of the same species and others, in India this year of course; but the one which counts, which brings that little quiver of spring expectation, is the one at home, in a reed-bed, on a much-loved reserve. Swallow, welcome home.
Swallows returned from
Africa, and flew over the river,
gliding down to dip their breasts in the water, and arise dark-forked of wing
and tail, twittering their joy of azure air and gliding stream.
Salar the Salmon