From childhood I remember guidance from Richmal Crompton’s “William” stories! How to track deer. It is dusk and as I make my way up the track into the west wind I see two red deer hinds grazing up to my left in the field just behind the hedge. I have my binoculars, but how close can I get?
With the wind in my favour I am able to get parallel to them, although one is spooked slightly by an alarmed pheasant. I am able to watch these elegant four-legged athletes more closely until something scares them into a run, (perhaps the approaching Hercules military aircraft on its third recent circuit).
Turning off the track towards the sea, I startle a hare that leaps, jumps then disappears through the hawthorn hedge to my right.
Looking down the slope towards the beach I see a dark shape swinging between the sea and the coast road. One of a pair of the marsh harriers working westward, hunting before dark. They travel low to the reeds, only occasionally lifting in the face of the breeze before dropping lower, gathering speed in the swoop to whoosh along, almost brushing the tips of the reeds as they scan for supper.
Pink footed geese lift off the saltmarsh and land just across the road on the nearest field. Fresh shoots are providing good pickings courtesy of the farmer’s winter work. A pair of the geese had settled comfortably as I walked down the hill, but they are now joined by a flight of five others.
I am about to cross back and head toward the house when I see something bounding along on the land-side of the shingle bank. It picks up another runner, as if in a relay race and they continue belting along, kicking up dust in their heels. My initial thought that these are hares is confirmed when I look through the glasses. I have seen more of these than rabbits in the past fortnight or so.
Of course the pub on the corner is closed. I can see right through empty the building to the gravel of the empty carpark. This weekend coming would have been the beginning of the Easter rush. Schools are due to close tomorrow. A large chalk board explaining the food ordering procedures still stands by the back door to the low-walled garden. It is great place to sit and watch the activities on the marshes in early summer, but these weathered garden tables will be unused for some time yet.
The evening passes quietly. Chet Baker’s “White Blues” and Sun Ra’s “Super-Sonic Jazz” provide the sound track. We share a conversation before lights out.
April already! My day is consumed with detailed work, but it is still light enough for me to set out walking just after six in the evening.
Bard Hill is covered in hawthorn bushes glowing with white blossom – it looks as if it’s snowed. I stop halfway up the traffic-free lane to listen to the bees. Bumble bees at every hawthorn. So big that occasionally they disturb a tiny white petal causing it to tumble to the ground.
The bees produce a deep buzz as they power their wings at top speed to defy gravity, but they fall silent when they land and start probing for nectar. The overall buzz I hear is a series of slow waves that coincide with one bee settling to drink, then another lifting off to seek fresh fuel.
Up on the heath I see some lads setting a small fire while they smoke and drink a can or two of beer. There’s been no sustained rainfall for weeks. One is arguing that building a fire is unsafe, the other offers reassurance that it will not spread.
At my intervention from the road they put it out. I bid them a good evening. They apologise and reply in kind. I leave them to their illicit adolescent pleasures.
As dusk forms deer are more confident to come out of hiding and I see them nibbling grass at every turn. I lose count of them and of the hares that are sitting upright in the fields that slope toward the sea. A hare on the road ahead is surprised at my appearance, so it races full pelt down the lane towards the village. It is unable to get off the road because of the steep banks on either side and the pace of its escape. It disappears in a dust cloud around the long bend.
Turning toward the house I wait and listen to a robin in full song. Such a common bird; such a beautiful singer. I walk on and find another exercising its voice with equal subtlety and variation just twenty-five metres further along. No cars come to disturb the performer or audience.
A rumour is confirmed late tonight. A local deliveryman has succumbed to the coronavirus. Contact tracing isn’t part of the government’s plan here.
It is close to a half-moon tonight. We often celebrate the full moon as it was full when we first met. Now any light in the dark is precious.
We are content to message “goodnight” tonight.
Awoken at 04:30 hrs. First dim light of the new day.
A stag bellows from the wood on the hill.
Tree branches, unsteady in the stiffening northerly wind, emit a low, irregular moan.
Behind this lies the slow-motion rush of heavy waves breaking hard on the shingle. Then the long draw as the sea inhales before the next swell rolls in.
I am lulled back to sleep
Stepping through hedges
Stands out in open fields
Bellows for a mate
n.b. A stag calling through the moonlit night can be heard as he roams around the county looking for a hind. His movement can be easily tracked as he calls in one pasture then the next.
Hind steps from bracken
Edges to field centre
Grazes in full view
n.b. Have you noticed that deer do this? They often choose a wide open area to settle down, eating and resting in a place that allows them to be easily seen, but allowing themselves time and space to respond to approaching threats. Safer to be out there and able to breathe fully exposed, than to be living constantly nervous of being caught when confined under cover.