Sunday 10 May 2009

Too shrewd

I awake to the sound of a Crow on the apex of the roof above our bedroom window. Its raucous call is not the most melodious of rousings. Then, for the first time this year, I hear the screaming cry of a passing Swift. Throwing those curtains wide (see, I do know my Ash from my Elbow), reveals warm sunshine with much less breeze than of late. This has the makings of a good day.

Determined not to waste it indoors, I set out into a calm, quiet morning that is shielded from human interference by late breakfasts and the Sunday papers. As I walk along the old railway line, the church bells mingle intimately with birdsong, recalling a Pink Floyd track on The Division Bell. I take a path that drops down through a small wood, where dappled shade is home to Speckled Wood butterflies and sporadic Bluebells. Whilst the flowers are not in the same league as the abundance at Everdon, they do have a homeopathic relaxing effect in this diluted form. Wrens and Robins sing for all they're worth as I leave the wood to cross a busy road. Once on the other side, I am amazed by the number of Orange Tip butterflies on the verge. They seem to be flirting with the white flowers of the Hawthorn rather than their favoured plant, Lady's Smock (or Cuckoo Flower in these parts). Ah, Hawthorn, the aptly named May flower. At this time of year, why would a pilgrim travel farther?

Leaving the road behind, I enter a glade where there was a report of two cuckoos yesterday. Though it's just out of sight, I do hear one nearby. Approaching the lakes and ponds of the Great Ouse valley, I keep a sharp eye out for dragonflies. There have been precious few so far, though the numbers of damselflies are picking up with a recent mass emergence of Red-eyed Damsels.

Moving quietly, the path leads me between hedges and banks full of joyous warblers, heard but rarely seen. There are also a great many pairs of Long-tailed Tits about this year, little fluffy commas in flight, punctuating from tree to tree.

Suddenly, a frenzied squeaking brings me to an abrupt halt. The high-pitched sounds are coming from the water's edge to my left, but are terminated in a delicate plop, not unlike throwing a small coin into a fountain. Remaining perfectly still, I spot some gentle ripples as a creature moves along the bank a few feet from me, then a little snout surfaces through the duckweed. It's a Water Shrew! I believe, dear reader, that this is the UK's only poisonous mammal. As I watch, it hunts and feeds in the pool in front of me, always returning to the spot where I first heard it, presumably feeding young. Patience is rewarded when I catch sight of two shrews, their black fur and pale ear tufts clearly identifying them. After several more minutes of shrewy squeaking and random "coins being thrown into the fountain", I wish them well and return to my fruitless dragonfly search. However, I do feel that I've had at least one wish granted.

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