The windswept winter days are frowned upon with an unappreciative notion of loathing and dislike by many. The sun is gone. The days are dark. The weather is cold. Yet when the morning comes and my eyes awake, I peer into the gloom of the house. Some would say it feels lonely and desolate without the exuberant spring chorus heralding the morning; the absence of the seasonal orchestra of birds leaving a lonely gap. But if you wait with the patience of a nocturnal creature who longs for darkness, through the confines of the house you can hear the robin take centre stage – let his thin wistful solo infiltrate the physical barriers of manmade structures and enter your mind. He or she, as both sexes of this bird will take their moment in the spotlight, stands statuesque on a twiggy throne or urban streetlight, a pretence of daylight that is protruded into the night time world, and gives all the voice this species possesses to the coming day. The winter morning concert is not as extraordinary as the spring prom but it gives you a chance to commit this gentle song to memory. Come spring you will hear this winter friend amongst the blue tit soprano, blackbird base and thrush duet, appreciating it all the more, remembering the joy it brings you in the quietest months.
The mornings are my favourite time, as to be awake to witness this transitioning period, a time when night lingers and day has not yet broken free, is a true privilege. In the man-made, built-up world, a fox’s characteristic tail vanishes down a driveway and although you dash to catch a glimpse of this highly adaptable mammal, it turns to look at you quickly then performs a vanishing act once more. Too swift for you to catch its eye, but more than enough time for it to know of your presence. Inside the house, before you have switched the artificial lights into life, the darkness makes it seem as if you are eternally stuck in night time moments, but don’t be fooled. Enter the outside world before the sun has risen and announced the day’s arrival – these moments are there for you to discover. Without the full light your vision has an unfocused property to it, as if your eyes are the windscreen of a car complete with raindrops that the mechanical wipers have not yet taken away. The gloom does not matter for the glorious whiteness of a barn owl floating in the fields is all the light you need. Its figure is not quite as it would be in daylight, but somewhat like the presumed light at the end of the tunnel you cannot reach, as your eyes will not fully focus on its glory in this changing time. Watching this heaven-like angel on earth is a beautiful experience, and as the minutes continue to go by it floats across the fields that it surveys for mammalian prey, you can take note of its golden upper plumage as the night is shunned by the arising sun – yet all the time there is silence as its wings make no sound.
The colder months of the year are a wonderful time full of wildlife to discover. I found myself standing by a field one fine morning, waiting at dawn. The day was already claiming victory over the night in this reoccurring battle, but still I waited. Then I could hear them, a distant muffling, yet the sounds that drifted across the sky towards my ear instilled in me an excitement for the day that could not be found in the manmade world. Soon they came but were at first just specks in the expanse, dots on the horizon, like a fountain pen that had splattered drops of ink on the paper. From a distance, a minor view but from close up unmanageable to ignore. They came in groups on steady wingbeats, their ‘wink-wink’ impossible to put aside, filling the mind and soul – sounds that can only be associated with the colder months of the year. What were once only specks were soon powerful entrancing birds. The pink-footed geese flew over my head and onwards, the moon watched them go as the sun took note of their arrival. The wildlife takes advantage of these moments when the night has lost its hold and the day has not quite yet begun. A hare dashed across the field in front of me with the apparent speed in this habitat of a cheetah on the African savanna. The breath-taking figure of a red kite in the early morning meant its orange-brown-red colouring was illuminated in the coming sun, this creature too was perhaps injected with the thrill of a new day as it made a fruitless chase at a pink-footed goose as it flew by, an irritation to its awakening. The distance saw a line of deer trot across the vista, taking the role of gazelles in the African comparison. They became smaller in size as the horizon swallowed their figures, somewhat like a comedian walking down non-existent stairs, the fine antlers of the male being the last view I saw of them.
I do not always find myself in the country, like many I lead a predominately urban life – nonetheless I always appreciate the wildlife that finds a way in. When the day is fully established I am swallowed by the urban world. Traffic. Noise. Buildings. The chattering of sparrows often captures my attention, I do not see them but can hear their friendly presence, summing up the morning news – I wish I knew what they were saying. ‘Chis-wik’, a pied wagtail alights on the dreary buildings with its tuxedo like plumage, bobbing a happy dance when it lands, its splendid tail a key indicator of this species. I wait as a reversing monster lorry blocks my path, while tinkling notes like rays of sunshine drop delicately from heaven and touch my ears – a charm of goldfinches are near. I have also seen long-tailed tits in their winter gang frequent a lonely tree just once, they arrived like acrobats in a circus, so quickly and unexpected, taking the attention, as they twirled about on the branches before one after the other taking their leave.
Despite the loathing many have of the autumn and winter months, it holds countless wildlife spectacles that will fill your heart with joy, from crowded geese extravaganzas to old redbreast friends. To be able to see and listen to wildlife is the greatest gift on earth. Nature is always there, I could never imagine a world without it, which is why the one we call home is so special.