I passed much of the weekend indoors, sheltering from the cold and damp with books and blankets and a game of Scrabble (victory was mine! But I’m still down 54–53, counting back until 2010). The best part of the last two days at work were passed shivering inside. On Monday, the heating was off in much of our building, and colleagues sat huddled together for warmth in the coffee room, swathed in scarves and cradling their tea or cup of soup as hand warmers.
Where was nature in all this? Providing the soothing backdrop to ordinary winter afternoons. It was the wheel of a whistling kite not far from our window, or the play of their silhouettes on the skyline seen through dark laboratory glass. It was the gentle see-saw of unseasonably singing great tits; the static pops and cracks of the starlings that inhabit our cul-de-sac; the vast squadron of gulls passing magisterially over suburban Reading, lit from beneath by the setting sun.
I’m all for spending time outdoors, serious time, but nature is omnipresent. Wildlife rarely abandons us, even when we have abandoned it.
I finally left the confines of concrete yesterday afternoon. The Ricebirder and I set out into the Harris Garden on one of our periodic firecrest checks; so far this year, no joy. I begin to understand that you must wait for the firecrest to find you.
Instead we were charmed by active winter tit flocks wherever we went: long-tailed tits, those animated lollipops, scolding as they scattered from tree to tree, leading the charge (I always interpret their calls to sound like ‘Tut! Hur-ry up! Tut-tut!’); bold-as-brass great tits; pugnacious blue tits; and goldcrests – so small, so bright – hovering on the fringes of the flock, pursuing tiny flies and springtails through the foliage. A single redwing resplendent on the grass, all streaked and shining and wonderful. Are there really any ordinary birds, any ordinary days?