Signs of life
Signs of life
Anyone who has ever taken a dog for a familiar walk will have been forced to realise how we humans have lost a whole interesting world of experience which all other mammals so enjoy – I mean the world of smells. Your companion pauses, sniffing enthusiastically every few yards. He is immediately aware of which animals have passed this way since yesterday, sometimes recognizing individuals – their status, health and sexual state. It’s like reading the daily tabloid.
A fall of snow gives us nose-blind incompetents some slight inkling of what that might be like. I go into the garden and am delighted to read a map of the night’s activities printed in the snow. Here our neighbour’s cat strolled through – along the path and round the edge of the lawn; there a grey squirrel made its undulating way – pausing under each bird-feeder to garner dropped seed; and, along the next-door drive, is the unmistakable track of a fox – a straight line of prints in which occasionally two superimposed footprints can be distinguished where the snow is extra-crisp. It’s years since we saw a fox in our locality, but two successive snowy mornings make it clear that we are regularly visited by at least one during the hours of darkness.
Another seasonal pleasure is the effect of winter sunlight. Driving up towards Askwith from Ilkley on a frosty morning, I spotted two fields crowded with foraging birds and paused to get a closer look. There were lots of black-headed gulls and rooks, and, among them, at least a hundred lapwings. Usually seen silhouetted against the sky, these aerial acrobats appear black and white, but, on the ground and lit by that frosty sunshine, they are dazzling – their plumage glowing with rich shades of purple and green. Further on, a huge flock of starlings rummaged noisily across the frozen grass, the sun glittering on the sandy speckles on their wings and backs. To the edge of this flock were about forty fieldfares, thrushes which spend the winter here, returning north in spring. These handsome birds looked stunning as the light picked out their light grey heads and the warm buff colour of their breasts, suffused towards the centre with apricot.
The birds were both wary and hungry, so the whole flock kept taking off, flying round and then settling again – a kaleidoscope of winter colour.