Just got back from a nightwalk towards Cotterstock. Light failing, footsteps falling on the hard clay path. The electric fizz of grasshoppers in the long dry grass. A faint breeze in my face.
Tawny owl kewicks to the right in Assiter’s Spinney. I stop – some hooting back and forth. Then the hoarse metronomic bark of a muntjac deer. A dog joins in from a distant farm towards Glapthorn.
Senses focussed in the darkness. I may have two natural advantages here. One, a total lack of imagination as to what might befall a person of a certain age out alone at night. Two, what an optician once described as abnormally large pupils. I guess that might help with night vision, though it’s made life difficult in the past by arousing the suspicion of more than one customs officer.
I slip into the wood near the far end. I’ve found tawny owl feathers and pellets here in the day, but no luck in the dark. I reach the river and lean against an ivy covered tree with a loud rustle.
The riverbank smells of fresh cut hay and horses. There’s the prehistoric craaak of a heron downstream. An evening star dances and sways in the gently moving river. Bats crisscross the river surface taking insects.
I tiptoe back through the tree roots to the path, ducking branches. This is fun! Back along the main path again, more tawny calls, more grasshoppers. I’m almost at the rugby pitch on the edge of town. There’s a commotion in the nettles to my left. I wait, and the black and white face of a badger peers out. He stomps off down the path and heads back into the nettles with a crash.
There are four teenage boys sitting with their backs to me in the perspex shelters reserved for the visiting rugby team bench, too wrapped up in their phones to notice a shape quietly slipping past them in the darkness. On to the tennis courts, where two men are playing in the floodlights. The light dazzles me and I nearly come a cropper walking through rather than over a speed bump. Now that’s what I call a night hazard!
As I write this a tawny starts up in a neighbour’s garden. A great night for owling…