Wednesday, 25 July 2007

A perfect summer evening

The air is warm but not quite still and, here on the fen, a male marsh harrier uses this to his advantage as he hangs momentarily above the edge of the reeds. It is a perfect summer evening, with the calm of dusk already beginning to descend upon the scene. A grasshopper warbler whirrs his reeling song, echoed a hundred times over by the softer extended buzzes of calling bush crickets. A few late dragonflies hawk for smaller prey, moving as if controlled by busy electric motors, driving them forward in a rapid mechanical motion. And there, where the reedbed pushes up against the base of the poplar plantation, the dark grey scythe of a hobby drifts past with lazy ease, pitching upwards into a stall that sees it land in one of the trees. The hobby is perched below the reach of the setting sun, in shadow, but such is the strength and colour of the evening light that it remains beautifully lit; it’s rufous ‘trousers’ and black face mask dress it as a smart toreador. Will I get to witness its ballet de mort, as it toys with the sweeping swifts feeding in ever ascending arcs up into the fenland sky?

Out on the water are coot and grebe, all with young in attendance, while closer by a party of swans feeds and utters soft sounds of reassurance. Large carp break surface in the river, their rotund bodies briefly make me think of porpoise, so glossy smooth do they appear in the changing light, with water clinging to them like some wet mucous skin. Along the bank and out into the flooded shallows wade the hefty forms of cattle, with calves in tow, all chewing their way through mouthfuls of luxuriant riverside vegetation. Perhaps disturbed by these bovine interlopers, a grey heron heaves itself up into the air with laboured wingbeats and moves off to find a more peaceful fishing spot.

Smaller birds can be heard, and fleetingly seen, within the reedbeds that sit below the level of this bund, which guides me out and leads me along the sinuous edge of the river, past the great stands of poplars to the expanse of flooded reeds and open ground within which the two pairs of nesting cranes remain so well hidden. The occasional call reveals the continued presence of the orioles, whose young successfully fledged from their high nests over the last two weeks. This is a special place to be on such an evening, highlighting in so many ways why an English summer can be so magical. I feel at one with the creatures around me and know that I have found my true place in this landscape.

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