6am. The morning has yet to break, the sky still darkened and unrevealing. A robin has just set up a brave solo from the half-leafed wayfarer tree beyond the bedroom window. Once daylight pulls apart the lingering night the morning will be chilly, and a damp film will cling to any exposed surface. By mid afternoon the temperatures will rally under the golden sun and creep upwards through double figures, but it will take their time to build their courage. A low pressure weather system is loitering across the country bringing a mixture of sunshine and showers, buffered about by winds that send acorns ricocheting to the ground and ruffle the skies.
The season is approaching another transition. There are more chill days than warm, the shortening of daylight hours is more noticeable with every passing morning, and the woodland canopy is thinning. The woods are inverting; on the forest floor the leaf litter is deepening, insulating and feeding the dark soil, whilst above, the leaves that have gathered sunlight to feed the trees since spring are leaving their sky-high kingdom, earth-bound.
I have heard mentions of winter migrants arriving on our shores; redwings from the north. Redwings are a thrush, the northern cousin of our blackbirds, and song and mistle thrushes, characterised by a light eye-stripe, a russet flash under the wing, and a thin ‘seeep’ call. Migrating flocks are often to be heard at night, when their contact calls reveal their path whilst their feathered forms are concealed by the quiet dark post-dusk.
Redwings, and the fieldfares that follow them, come to our fields and hedgerows to raid our crops of berries. Last year a flock took up residence in the hawthorns at the edge of Stedham Woods. I wouldn’t be surprised if they arrived back at this remembered spot by the end of the next week.
Autumn is ageing. Once the winter thrushes descend the frosts wont be far behind. Increasingly we are turning inwards, pulled perhaps by a half-remembered instinct for gathering-in and cozying. The initial glorious flaring of autumn is burning out, snuffed and dampened by the drizzle.