On Sunday 15th the sun shone and we all headed to Scout Scar, rejoicing to be outdoors at last. There was flooding down in the Lyth Valley with snow on the Lake District fells and on the Howgills.
Few would have ventured onto Scout Scar on days so dark and wet. But how has resident wildlife fared? It's the hungry-gap when food is scarce and relentless rain makes foraging and hunting harder.
In the early hours of the morning I open a bedroom window hoping to hear the cry of tawny owls. I used to hear them on a winter's night and I'm told they're calling. It's comforting to hear owls cry, and strange that it should be so. Like listening to 'The Shipping Forecast' as you lie snug in bed hearing of wild weather all about the British Isles.
Comforting and nostalgic. I try to remember the first time I heard the tawny owl's cry. We were on a family visit, staying with friends at Acaster Malbis, near York. The hooting of owls is all I remember of that time. I must have been about eight and already steeped in owlish culture, songs, folk-lore and drawings in Natural History books. ' To wit to woo, a merry note,' goes the Shakespeare song we sang at school. Merry? Shakespeare makes the call ominous when he writes 'Macbeth.' Here his owl shrieks.
I reflect on close-encounters. A daylight tawny owl staring at us from its tree-hole in the Black Mountains. And once in the early hours I went out onto the balcony of my flat, unable to sleep because I had chicken pox. I wasn't clear-headed and I thought someone was out there hooting like an owl. The call wasn't down in the road but very close in my ear and I turned to look into the eyes of a tawny owl just above me on the flat roof.
Then, if the rains return, I might conjure owl of other species, seen in the company of different friends, different places- my natural history of owls.
On Sunday's Country File a farmer spoke of special nutrition for his pregnant sheep, to ensure the ewe was in optimum condition to give birth to healthy lambs. Wildlife fends for itself. I thought upon all the habitat lost for housing development hereabouts this last year, trees and wildlife corridors felled, shelter and fruit-bearing trees and lost. The owl's cry is atavistic, for thousands of years our ancestors would have been familiar with it. It is a poignant loss that today's children are far less likely to hear it.