At 6am this morning I was sitting on the prow of my narrowboat home and enjoying the sights, the sounds and the touch of the morning. It feels as though spring has crept up on us this year. Traditional displays of the year's flora seem to have sneaked through under cover of the cold, the wind and the rain. This morning, though, was beautiful. I quite forgot to check on the election results.
I recognised some of the voices, even though I couldn't see the choristers. I watched how different birds seemed to favour flying at different levels. The blackbird often finds the highest twig on a tree from which to share his extensive repertoire. The buntings were gently murmuring in the reeds and long grass on the slopes of the bank. The sparrows were trying to out-chirp each other, hidden amongst the growing and increasingly greening elder, while the wren was like a small child, fussing and carrying on in a voice out of all proportion to its size. I think I heard the robin, but I didn't see him. Then I heard a familiar thin "peep" and looked toward the willow roots that are exposed at the river's edge opposite knowing I would see the kingfisher either setting out from, or returning to, the nest. Both kingfishers were flying in single file and at speed, inches from the surface of the river. At the final second they banked in sharp arcs to land on separate perches just outside the nest. Seconds later a pair of ducks quacked their way overhead, while from the field on the opposite side of the river a pheasant klaxoned his good mornings. I heard many other bird sounds too - chirps, chiffs, squawks, caws, whistles and tweets among a few more intricately composed arias. I listened out for the moorhens, but despite their huge repertoire of sounds they seem to prefer to remain more discreet at this time of the year. From above the bank behind me I heard a woodpecker. I knew that amongst the choir would be some of the finches and tits that I have seen returning after their long migrations, but I have yet to acquire the knowledge of the drummer/ornithologist, who identifies many birds through sound alone. I have also seen one or two swallows in the past week. They have not begun to gather in the intimidating numbers that we'll see in the summer when they will see how close they can dive-bomb as they spin and sweep through the air. High above, a single tern flew to wherever might be its destination. Its plaintive voice sounded like a cry for help. Maybe it was lost. Despite the large number resident I was not aware of any wood-pigeons and perhaps it wasn't the right time of day for the skylark, although I know there are some nearby, having seen and heard five of them on the wing, in full song, on a recent trip out along the river.
I looked towards the sun rising beyond the stern of the boat and out of its golden light a single swan appeared. It had swum into view around the bend of the river and was moving fast. It seemed to be using one leg to power forward in surges. Its wings were raised like the sides of a child's cot and the outer feathers stretched into display. I don't know if this style of movement or self-presentation is related to mating imperatives, but I have watched many normally placid and inquisitive swans moving in this fashion several times recently. The swans that pass by in pairs, or some still en famille with last year's late developers, usually break ranks to have a chat with me. I refuse to believe that they are only curious to see if I bear them food. This swan spurned my greetings. It clearly had more pressing business to which to attend.