Down the riverbank a mile or so to start with, as the gaps in the cloudblanket grow larger and there is the promise of a fine, still afternoon. A pair of swans preening under a willow; goldfinches chattering and skipping from tree to tree. The trees have been pushing out leaves and flowers. Horse chestnut leaves in particular look freshly washed, limp and shiny.
In the big open field next to the river, which is still slightly waterlogged, a couple of mute swans and some greylag geese, and above them – oh! a pair of buzzards. They loop and spiral, higher and higher, my binoculars picking out the wings’ pale patterns, until their aerial ballet takes them in front of the sun and I have to look away.
Dunnocks rootling about at the bottom of the hedge ahead of my footsteps, and returning to work as soon as I have passed. A moorhen scolding me from the safety of the water. A blackbird singing from a lookout point. More tinkling bells of goldfinches.
Where the path ends and briefly becomes road, it curves around to bridge the river by the mill and I stop to admire the mirror surface of the millpond. Behind me there is a sudden eruption of high-pitched noise, which abruptly stops – I turn – and a male kestrel darts out from a large ivy-clad tree on the other side of the road, crosses right in front of me at shoulder height barely six feet away, and pauses in a tree opposite before vanishing.
I have barely time to register my delight before a female kestrel emerges, too. I lose her quickly among the branches, but a few minutes later further down the road I catch sight of the male again and watch him making his way back to the same ivy tangle. What a thrill.
In a stand of trees nearby there are cherries to be had in late summer, and here and there the first flowers are just opening. As I lean in to take a picture of one a bee fly (I think) hurries in ahead of me. There are more of them, and a lot more flowers, on the blackthorn around the corner.
On I go, across the railway line, towards the turbines, and there, rising above the engine of the tractor raking over the next field and the distant A road and the trains passing at intervals, above all of this, skylarks. The sound is everywhere. And here they are, climbing above me, that huge fluttering effort, and that glorious sound.
(Title: from “March” by AE Housman)