It is a beautiful spring evening and without doubt my favourite time of the day. In the hour before dusk, and as the sun slips away, so stillness descends onto the landscape. It is as if things are winding down; the songs of birds dwindle and the brown hares stretch stiffly or scratch at troublesome flies. This early in the year the warmth of the day is insufficient to carry far into evening and there is just enough of a chill in the air to make me glad of the fleece that I had sense to bring.
Earlier, the still young evening had felt very different, the sky buzzing with the calls of swallows and house martins, newly arrived and hawking over the lakes. These birds were probably moving through, a steady procession of exuberant groups following the line of the old river as it meanders towards the fens and beyond. Willow warblers and chiffchaffs could be heard singing from scrubby parts of the reserve, together with more blackcaps than were here when I had last ventured out. Not all of these birds would remain to breed and I suspect that many of the willow warblers would depart soon enough to leave us with the dozen pairs that we normally hold. Some of the chiffchaffs have been here for several weeks and are definitely paired and on territory. It will not be long before they have nests for us to find and monitor.
But that was earlier, that was when I was looking hard, scanning for migrants and searching for nests. Now it is late, too late to be visiting nests but a good time to stop and to take in the landscape. I don’t what it is about dusk that resonates so strongly with me. Perhaps it is the sense of transition from day into night, from a world with which I am familiar towards one that is less well known. I never feel unsettled by the darkness, instead finding its embrace comforting, but it does change the balance of one’s senses. Visual cues are replaced by auditory ones and I become more alert to what is going on around me. There is also, I suppose, the sense of satisfaction; a good day’s work is done and I can turn for home.
As the lights fades, the last brief glow of the daytime sky plays shadow puppeteer to the silhouetted trees. Blackbirds chook nervously in the hedgerows and the occasional pheasant rattles off a loose call. A toad shuffles across the sandy track, heading towards the shallow pools where it will gather with others of its kind. Spring is here and I hope this is the first of many such evenings.