Friday, 28 February 2014


As the afternoon slips towards dusk I become aware of increasing numbers of jackdaws in the air. Several flocks, each numbering many hundreds of individuals, can be seen against the spreading smudge of red sky. Many smaller groups are also present, together with the odd single bird playing catch-up, all adding to the growing sense that something is about to happen. Over the coming hour more and more birds begin to appear, draining out of the surrounding farmland and swelling the gathering well into four-figures. Then, just before dusk, this flurry of black bodies piles noisily into a large stand of poplars. This will form their roost for the night, as it has for each night of the winter so far.

So intense is the noise of the calling jackdaws that it becomes impossible to separate out individual birds; it is a wall of noise, like great waves pounding into a million rounded pebbles. In the near darkness I stand at the edge of the plantation, my hands cupped to my ears to focus the sound. The experience is intense and my world becomes the cacophony of these calling birds. Then, as if somewhere in the wood a plug has been pulled, there is silence, a silence that is both abrupt and jarring. The evening performance is over, the birds are at roost.

Taking my hands away from my ears I become aware of other sounds and shapes, most notably of woodcock leaving the shelter of the wood to begin their nocturnal foraging. Had these rather unusual waders set their alarm clocks by the arrival of the jackdaws or had I been so focussed on the jackdaws that I had missed earlier departures? Either way, half a dozen of these birds flick across the track to be silhouetted against the sky.

It is time for me to turn towards home, the clear winter sky affording me enough light to follow the track back towards the parked car without the need for a torch, the use of which would have felt intrusive. Come morning and the jackdaws would depart to begin their day, while the woodcock would return to the safety of the wood, a changing of the guard in this little corner of the fenland landscape.

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