I clutched a freshly brewed mug of tea to my chest and turned down the soothing, Geordie tones of Ruth Archer on the wireless. Then, picking up the phone handset I punched in the numbers to phone my Mum. Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I wanted to make sure that I explained that while I had put a card in the post, a freak and isolated snowstorm in the southwest Cambridgeshire area had delayed its arrival on her doormat.
The 1980s grey phone that we had been lent crackled and resisted connecting, but finally began dialling through and ringing. As I stood there, one hand leaning on the back of the sofa, my eyes were drawn out of the window and over the green fields. The last remnants of white frost were just disappearing, turning liquid and staining the grass and the soil dark.
As my mother answered and I began to utter the words ‘Happy Mother’s Day’, I noticed a bird just the other side of the road. It was dipping up and down, flapping quickly once or twice and then taking long, leisurely glides, pivoting and circling gracefully before flapping quickly once or twice again.
Like any birdwatcher, a hundred thoughts went through my mind in a few seconds.
Was this a buzzard? I had seen a buzzard earlier that morning. But this was low to the ground, flapping and circling. It wasn’t behaving at all like a buzzard and the shape wasn’t quite right. And the colour was… just off. Then I saw it.
A flash of white at the base of the tail.
This was a female hen harrier. And it was about 20 feet away from me. It was circling low to the groud (maybe four feet up) over the corner of the field on the other side of the road. It slowly began drifting along the track between the fields.
I like to think that their scientific name, Circus cyaneus, refers to the way they circle and arc through the air, flapping only briefly.
I’m ashamed to admit it but, ‘I’ll phone you back’ I said to my poor mother, on Mother’s Day itself.
I dashed outside with my binoculars in my hand. By the time I had got round to the front of the house the bird was far away over the other side of the field. I watched as it drifted north-eastwards over the brow of the hill.
It turned into a small outline following the line of the top of the field, until it disappeared away to the east, close to the village.
Given their precarious numbers I was pleased to see this bird. It goes down as the best bird I’ve ever seen from a house where I’ve lived in the UK.
I went back inside, closed the back door and mopped up the tea I had spilt when almost dropping my mug.
Then, sheepishly, I phoned my mother back and tried to excuse my sudden departure.