Shades Of Grey

Here in Sussex it has been one of those typical grey mid-winter days when it is not really misty nor even terribly gloomy but just quietly still and pale – the pale grey of a Collard Dove’s wing, neither grey nor fawn just a shade somewhere in between.  Against this the trees look etched in with an artists fine nib pen, the only sun to catch on them being a glimmer of lemonade light at around midday, coming to reflect briefly in the  water filled runnels and puddles between the clods of mud along the byway. As the midday glimmer faded back to collard dove I took on a sudden urge to be outside and gathered hat and wellingtons, pulling on a warm tweed and took the shortcut through the John Deer yard dodging tractors and trailers as I went.  Ducking left then right at the old depot cottages and out onto the farm track I stopped, breathed, looked up and listened and had a strange memory of being at London Zoo in the 60’s and seeing the Snowdon Aviary, why, I have no idea, I was small and cannot remember going in but remember my father being interested as he loved all things architectural.  I guess it was something to do with the sound of so many birds, the tree tops today were full of whistling starlings and twittering finches creating that aviary atmosphere.  It is surprising the enormous selection of notes that come from a flock of starlings, the finches turned out to be the most ‘charming’ goldies and the larger more robust ones became greenfinches when the binoculars focused.  In the thick ivy pink breasted wood pigeons dangled, hanging flapping for balance as they picked off the berries then, in their usual silly startled way, fell from the branches flapping away with sharp wing claps at my approach.  New pond was a glass mirror of inverted trees, the only disturbance being a bright, sharp winged black headed gull noisily performing acrobatics and steep dives towards the mirror, pulling up abruptly moments before the mirror cracked.  I scanned the low branches along the bankside for tell-tale signs of azure blue that would herald the visit of a kingfisher, but no, I could not find him, he wasn’t here today, or maybe the light was just not bright enough to bounce from his iridescent feathers. The black head was joined by another and they preceded to scream at each other as they danced over their own reflections, suddenly, as if woken by this cacophony, a songthrush launched forth with a set of loud repeated phrases, leafing through the pages of his songbook too fast only to settle into his favourite tune and continue with less haste.  With this still echoing up the lane I passed hazel catkins which were definitely longer and yellower this week and elder buds that has burst whilst I had not been paying close attention.  Around my boots the tiny, shiny green hearts of celandine leaves and parsley frills were pushing through the loam, I checked under the beech hedge where sometimes you can find earthstar fungi but there was only thick, rich leave litter turned over by the blackbirds tangerine bill.  The northern side of the rough oak bark was mint green with lichen and a row of turkey tail fungi marched up a make-shift gatepost at the allotment entrance.  Taking another left turn, dozens of black faced sheep gazed at me curiously, I stared back then noticed that the dark winter bare tree skeletons behind them where host to chattering jackdaws bouncing around in the branches in that continual half argumentative half playful way that they have.  A single jack peeled off from the group as the wide wingspan of a red kite rose above the trees to flap lazily across the sky space, seemingly unaware or uncaring of the muttering, quarrelsome bird taking ill-aimed stabs at his forked tail.  I watched as l the jack gave chase for a few more wingbeats before it retreated, downcast and disappointed leaving the kite to soar unhindered over the old dairy rooftops towards my home, only a well clogged muddy field of cattle stopped me from following and completing my walk in a circular route. Turning about I back tracked towards the allotments where my attention was caught by a variety of bird alarm calls filling a far tree line, I stood tight against a gatepost and waited for the cause of the unrest to materialise through the undergrowth but the disturbance settled and I found myself surrounded by a delightful gang of twittering pink budgies – long tail tits of course! They bounced and dangled merrily as if set free from the restrictions of a festive Christmas tree, through the branches and twigs around me,  I waited and watched as they moved on in a straggling ‘wait for me’ kind of parade leaving behind them just a tinkling echo of themselves and a tiny single bright eyed firecrest who seemed to have been tagging along for the ride, just for fun.  The collard dove had begun to transform into blue grey of a Merlin.

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