It stopped being dark at about eight o’clock this morning, but it never got exactly light. A robin flashing its breast and singing its song among the brittle lakeside bines is a lively movement in a requiem mass. Everyone else is in funeral-wear: coot and moorhen, jackdaw and crow, a flock of tweed-grey gadwalls, a cormorant poised with thunderous drama at the top of an electricity pylon. Two other cormorants cruise the waters like snakish grebes, chins uplifted.
A black swan, with its red bill and striking white primaries, has the look of a horse decked out to lead a cortege. It’s not welcome near the mute swans’ island, this feral Anglo-Australian, blown in for the holidays from who knows where; the resident pair see it off pretty sharply. It cuts a bit of a sad figure, a little later, browsing and pawing the grass of the meadow with the Canada geese, neck flexed improbably like a U-bend or a croquet hoop.
The hostility of mute swans is one reason why the black swan – a bird of Western Australia, first brought to the UK in 1791 – has never really found a foothold here; our bad winters can’t have helped (perhaps they should simply wait a few decades for the lower Calder to start to resemble the Swan River Valley). Another reason, suggested by RSR Fitter in 1959, is that people have thought them unlucky, and not let them settle.
Dark smudges in trees, seen in the middle distance, might be blackbirds or wood pigeons or discarded baggies of dogshit, or last spring’s birds’ nests. They put me in mind of Edward Thomas’s description of nests seen in autumn, “some torn, others dislodged, all dark”, obvious in the trees and hedges: “I cannot help a little shame/ That I missed most, even at eye’s level, till/ The leaves blew off and made the seeing no game.”
Something I don’t see sends the Canada geese up in a panic. They flee, honking over our heads, perhaps two dozen or so. My daughter looks up, blinks, laughs and shouts “Rah, rah, rah” at them (or with them) and after them.