From the far coast of China, across all of Russia and continental Europe and through most of the United States, winter has all held in her tenacious grip. If it were not for the Azores High we should be in the same situation. But we aren’t, and for that we can be glad.
About the middle of last week I was woken early one morning by a cacophony of sound as a flock of whooper swans were gathering out on the lake.
I lay listening to their trumpeting in the half dark, toying with the idea of going out to greet them, even if only to find out how many there were.
A scatter of rain at the window kept me in the warm and dry. When I did get up they were gone. Later, when I drove into town, I paused briefly by another smaller body of water where two or three dozen of the swans had been grazing the adjacent pasture for the past month. About half were left.
The others, I guessed, must have been among those congregating on Carra. They might now be on their way back home to Iceland or to Greenland, although I think it more likely they have moved a short distance to join others of their kind.
One morning they will really have gone. Nobody ever seems to see them go; they are there and then they are not. When they leave, do they do so in large flocks or in dribs and drabs? I should like to know. And then I should like to witness their departure. I bet they wait for a clear morning with a fresh breeze blowing from the south. They take to the sky with a wonderful rush, filling the air with excited cries, round they go in a big loop, higher and higher as they form great long skeins and then, with the sun falling pink upon the breast of each one, away, away to the north and west where the Arctic summer awaits. Yes, I should like to see them go. I would even go with them. They will leave stragglers behind. For some reason there are always a few who appear inclined to stay.
I think that one day they will, and we shall have a second species of swan resident on this island. One year we saw a pair at the end of April. I had thought they might breed. Not that time.
When the whooper swans depart there will be other birds arriving; there is always so much to be looking for! Already the sand martens will be thinking of the long journey across central and northern Africa.
Indeed, some may already be on their way. Yesterday I heard a curlew calling some distance behind the house, not with that long-drawn, lonely, flute-like call we are so familiar with, but with a series of short, clipped notes – different, but unmistakeably curlew.
I went to see, and there was the bird, some 30 feet from the ground in clumsy, half-hovering flight. Could it be a male, and might there be a female on the ground? Wouldn’t it be fine if they were setting up home here, I thought.
The bird lifted away with the wind, climbed to more than a100 feet and flew away to the south, alone. It might have a mate somewhere.
Next week my sleep shall be disturbed by the pair of them as they celebrate the discovery of the perfect place to make their home. One of only 200 pairs of breeding curlew left in the country, in the rough pasture close to home.