May 13th, 2010. Evening. Coldish, dry, mostly overcast. In the verges, the pastures and the meadows the first blow of dandelions is over. They have been superceded by rich yellow buttercups and constellations of white, star-like daisies. More hawthorn or whitethorn out in the hedges, though not all. Rooklets have left the nest but stay close on nearby branches; they communicate in high-pitched, adolescent screeches rather than caws.
I disturb a Little Egret from the brook… pure white plumage, elegant, with black legs trailing back in flight, and distinctive orange feet. It has brought a bit of the Nile to this part of Cambridgeshire. It moves up the stream, out of sight. It makes me wonder whether it wasn’t two Little Egrets I saw last weekend, rather than the Great White Egrets I thought they were. It is difficult to judge size in some lights and weathers. Things look bigger at dusk. I sit for a while on the grassy nettle-bank above the brook, facing west to catch the last rays of the sun, a field of young green wheat behind, and a field of rape in full flower before. There are a couple of whitethroats about, nest-building still. One returns to the same patch of cow parsley and last years’s dry stems time and time again to select grassy wisps and carry them back into an ivy-clad ash on the edge of the brook. Half a dozen blue-backed swallows flit fast and very low over the rape, twisting and turning and doubling back. They disappear for ten minutes or so, then come back, then disappear again. They seem to be following a cyclical pattern, working the fields methodically. The Little Egret flies across, nonchalantly, to another arm of the brook. It is a lovely sight in the evening to see birds flying home to their roosts. And it is heartening to know, now, that this little Beck Brook, in a stretch of less than half a mile, is home to several families of mallard, to moorhen, heron and egret, possibly eels, a grass snake, and miniscule fish. No doubt a lot more besides. More and more I find myself drawn to the stream. We are all ineluctably led back to water, like children, like mallard.