Day 48

There are days when all details of its passing are over-shadowed by a few brilliant seconds, when there is no need to address the minutiae of the other hours.

This morning from the west, following the channel of the drain by the coast road, I spot this year’s first flight of swifts, rising and falling in the face of the north-easterly wind. They are making headway toward the small town of Sheringham, set above the clay cliffs. There are too many of these fine winged birds to count in this group. Their collective flight is reminiscent of watching a loose shoal of fish. “The swifts!” I call to my sister cycling behind, “The swifts!”

I cycle on alone through the village towards the hill, but just before passing the pub, “The Three Swallows” I catch sight of a bulky white bird flying a circle around a small paddock. At first I think that it is a little egret. I had seen one struggling with the windy conditions over the marsh only a few minutes earlier. However, as this bird turned, not twenty feet from me, I recognised the round face and stubby frame of a barn owl. This was just after nine o’clock in a period of full sun.

I have not seen one of these birds since I arrived here. I have watched out for them in vain on my evening walks, so this is a delightful surprise this morning.

I have to use the word luminous to describe the white of the feathers. The barn owl continued its slow patrol of the paddock, before easing its way to the grass for a fraction of a minute and then gently lifting itself on its broad scooping wings to a wooden fence rail behind a willow. I could see the ghostly image resting there, even through the fresh green of willow leaves. I reached for my mobile phone, but the battery faded as I switched to the camera. I stood and watched intently, committing the image to memory.

Happy to move on again, the owl resumed its morning flight. It took a half-turn around the back of the field and departed over the five-bar gate and away behind a tangle of old blackberry brambles, keeping low to the hedge-line for cover.

Later, at the top of the hill, I heard a tawny owl’s hoots. This is a time for hunting. Young owls need feeding, whatever the time of day, or night.

I recharge my phone and find a message from my friend who I used to stand with at the football. He admits that he is using these days in aspic to improve his cooking.


Christopher Perry

4th May 2020