31st March, 2010. 6.00 p.m. It’s blowing a cold gale out of the north-west and the sky is full of low, driven cloud. I follow a hunch that I’ll find a buzzard out in the open paddocks to the west of the village where I’ve seen one before. I’m rewarded with two, the first time I’ve seen a pair together in these parts. For ten minutes they engage in what I can only describe as air-play. They’re not hunting, they’re just flying, cavorting, enjoying the wind in their feathers. They stay low, about 40 – 80 feet above the ground, facing the rush, beating their great wings just enough to stay in place, without being blown backwards, occasionally swooping down low, and gliding round in a loop. They look more streamlined, with more pointed wings, than the stiff, heavy, broad-winged birds of the books. In fact they are remarkably agile and buoyant. They don’t stray too far from each other, and twice they make contact in mid-air, one rolling sideways, momentarily touching talons, like two bros bumping knuckles in greeting, before peeling away.
The buzzards drift towards the airfield, and I follow them on foot. When I get there, they are mobbed by a rook and drift lazily back to the paddocks. I think they like the terrain here – it is open, there are no trees, and there are plenty of rabbits… perhaps it reminds them of moorland. I get a good look at both birds, and I’m certain that neither is the gap-tailed buzzard I’ve seen to the south of the village. If there are indeed three birds, or even two pairs, in this small district, and they manage to breed, it indicates a remarkable change in fortune – it was only in 1999 that the first breeding pair in the whole county was recorded, after the toxic disasters of DDT and myxamatosis.
I leave the buzzard grounds and work round the back of the tomato ‘farm’ – in reality a ramshackle, polythene agro-outfit running on imported plants, imported growbags, and imported East European labour. These lithe and cheerful spring migrants have yet to arrive in great numbers, but dozens of broke-down caravans are lined up out back to receive them. Just before sunset, the wind drops, the sun breaks through the cloud, and the land glows briefly. The season has been slow to turn, but everywhere leaf-buds are ready to burst with excitement. A great weeping willow beside the allotment gardens seems, from afar, to be the first and only tree to have come into full leaf, dripping long golden-green tresses almost to the ground, but close-up they turn out to be catkins not leaves, a profusion on every branch and twig. A dusk chorus breaks out, led by the blackbirds. The willow catches the last rays, flares in glory, then merges back into the dusk.