Invisible city

The window in front of my desk looks onto a bank with a hedge of hazel, ash and hawthorn. At this time of year, I hang fat balls and feeders in it, and scatter seeds and peanuts on the ground in front. I like the hedge, which I began laying a few years ago to strengthen it. It’s not very neat, because it’s old, but I enjoy how the light and season changes its living form.. Birds like the hedge too, because it gives them cover when there are no leaves on the trees. I doubt you can see any in this photo, but there are often 30 or more darting in and out of the branches. They’re well hidden. It’s their movement that catches my eye. In recent days, I’ve seen blue tits, starlings and thrushes, a robin or two, jays and doves, blackbirds, meadow pipits, redstarts, blackcaps and chaffinches, sometimes greenfinches too: nature is diverse. My favourite, because he’s shy and glorious, is the woodpecker who comes every day or two, an arrow of black and white and red, quick in, quick out, but I love them all, from the little starlings to the jays who strut about as if they own the place.

The birds move as if playing grandmother’s footsteps, hopping from one twig to another, freezing and looking about them for danger, never staying put for long. When they’re close enough, they swoop to the ground, choose a seed or a nut and lift up again to eat it in the hedge, out of sight and in peace. They’re right to be wary. There are buzzards and hawks who can strike out of nowhere. Here, between the house, hedge and walnut tree, the small birds can feed without becoming food. And this spring, inevitably, they make me think of us, the humans sheltering indoors from an invisible enemy, scurrying out for food, alert for danger. Like the hedge our cities look empty but they contain legions, each one of us waiting for summer when we hope it will be safe to walk in the sunshine again.

Last November, a young woodpecker flew into my window as I was working. I went outside to find it lying on the ground, but I could see it panting. It lay there for a quarter of an hour, recovering its senses. Then it flew away. I hope it’s the one I’ve seen this spring, back again and getting on with its life.