You could hear them from a long way off. They could not fail to attract attention. A dark cloud of rooks appear high above on the wind swirling and sweeping this way and that. They provide an aerial spectacle second to none with a roller coaster ride of twists and turns and cawing so loud to wake up all the sleepy heads. Then as a single body they land in the field alongside the river Wissey. For the next hour or so they will glean the remains of corn from the last barley crop as harvesting always leaves them a feast behind. As they settle a peace has returned but the day is sadly dull and miserable and the birds in black echo the moment.
The past few weeks have seen Mother Nature at work providing instruction to her little folk. She must make certain they are all prepared for the coming of winter. The leafage is changing colour and temperatures drop fast. The days grow shorter and the nights longer. The hedgerows and trees have already offered nuts and berries to provide store for the months ahead. Thus the many signs make it clear to all our fur and feather friends that they must not delay but answer the call to get ready.
Today the river is in fine form. Generous rainfall has increased both volume and flow. Beneath the surface large and small silver fish are beginning to shoal in readiness. Once gathered they will find the deepest parts for that extra degree of winter warmth. However their safety is far from certain for as a larger number they have more appeal to the sporting pike. The pike himself will slow down but do not be confused for within a blink he will still speed from nought to fast and scatter any shoal. With his smash and grab raids he will never go hungry!
Alongside the river in the margins and beneath the watercress beds the frogs and toads have already sought out refuge. They disappeared within the bottom mud a month or more ago. They read even earlier signs and are now in a state beyond sleep – a state of oblivion so that nothing will stir them until the alarm clock reaches next Spring.
In the sky above the Canadian geese are returning from the Arctic Circle for their annual pilgrimage to our river. After marathon miles large numbers will reclaim their favourite haunts and make themselves known in no uncertain terms. For sure the river has a big appeal for them whereas our more sensitive birds are now flying away to warmer climes. Thus the skies are busy with traffic back and forth depending on the choice of hot or cold for the months ahead.
Next under the ground even more little people get ready for the great escape. The tender hedgehog and frail field mouse are busy seeking out holes and hideaways. Warm bedding must be gathered before they bid us goodnight. However they must choose well for the river will often flood and the cold may be more extreme than they remember. Likewise they must leave no scent or sign for Mister Badger or Master Fox or else their sweet dreams could be disturbed.
Then while they all sleep the world left behind will see many extremes. Some of our own kind would also like to sleep the winter away but we must avoid the temptation. The change of season will bring new pleasures to enjoy and different stories to be told.
But for now we return to the rooks and find them still searching but they have since moved and scavenged yet another field. They move as one from end to end and top to bottom but their day is not yet over. Their leader is impatient to be off again. Any minute now he will make the signal and the flock will follow to where he leads. They will not be going anywhere for a winter break and have no fear we will be seeing them again.
By Ivor Hook