Three or four mornings over the last week, I have lain in bed in the dark, not particularly early hours, listening to a little owl calling somewhere nearby. It is a delightfully eerie sound.
On Monday morning, while making a cup of tea, I looked out of the kitchen window to see a grey squirrel—a rarity in this neck of the non-woods—chasing Philip the pheasant around the lawn.
It was only afterwards that it occurred to me that all three creatures—owl, squirrel, and pheasant—represent non-native species that were introduced to the island of Great Britain by mankind. Just like me—a Wirral lad relocated to Yorkshire—they are off-comed-uns who will never be totally accepted by the natives.
I am remarkably inconsistent when it comes to non-native species. Little owls and pheasants don't bother me in the slightest. In fact, I rather like them, as I like other non-native species, such as rabbits and brown hares. But grey squirrels really wind me up. Grey squirrels and domestic cats.
Domestic cats and grey squirrels will be first and second against the wall respectively, come the Glorious Richard Revolution.
A pair of rabbits were hopping around on the other side of the fence behind the house this afternoon. I watched in amusement as the bolder of the two squeezed through the mesh in the fence and began to graze on the freshly mown grass on our back lawn. It is much tastier than field-grass, by all accounts.
Then the rabbit began to dig in the lawn. I decided to leave him to it.
Wednesday 4th saw a blizzard blow out of nowhere overnight. I struggled to get home from Dad's. The following day, Maundy Thursday, I was supposed to be working, but Jen sent me a text message as she arrived at work: “Fabulous day for a walk. Get on them hills.” What more excuse did I need?
The snow had mostly gone, but there were still thigh-deep drifts in places, especially alongside walls. On the way up to the moor from Nook Cottages, I had a Mexican stand-off with bolshy sheep. Then I saw the lamb lying lifeless at her feet. She was trying to protect it, poor thing. Out of respect I gave her a wide berth.
On the moor itself, the track was under several inches of snow. Somebody else had been up there before me, heading the other way, so I walked in their footprints to make the going easier. Then I got to a deeper bit, the snow gave way, and I was suddenly stuck to the top of my legs in snow. It took me a full minute to struggle out.
Lapwings were tumbling above the fields below me, and a pair of curlews flew overhead.
The snow was more patchy as I headed up the hill and along the edge to the trig point, skylarks in full song. There is something incongruous about hearing skylarks as you wade through snow. Unlike the weather, they certainly realised that it was supposed to be Spring.
There were lots of rabbit and grouse tracks in the snow. I love walking alongside animal tracks: it's almost as if they are accompanying you. Time-shifted companions.
On my way back down through the field, the sheep was still there, suckling her ‘dead’ lamb. It hadn't been lifeless; it had just been born—it was still coated in membrane.
More like summer. Three days of unseasonably hot, sunny weather, with more promised.
I stood for twenty minutes, leaning over the gate near the compost heap, soaking it up. A couple of butterflies, several bumble-bees, lapwings calling, and a pair of rabbits in the back field. I have been seeing quite a few rabbits there in recent months, which is unusual. I think they might have established a new outpost nearby. They have even been digging in the lawn by the compost heap.
The larger of the two rabbits, which I assume was a male, was very active, hopping back and forth, scratching in the soil, and rubbing his chin against spiky, dead nettle stalks, presumably leaving his scent. The sap is rising. He had a sizeable, ginger, Mohican strip at the back of his neck. Do rabbits usually have these? I have not noticed them before.
It's about now that I start looking optimistically for swallows, but the earliest I have seen them up here is on my birthday, 2nd April.