The Chaotic Homestead of the Rook
Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.
The day offered a tantalising glimpse of what spring has to offer. The sun was shining the cold winds had gone and a foray into the countryside was just what a country soul needs after weeks of winters icy grip. Rain had occurred overnight and a million gems sparkled on the grasses as the remaining drops of water caught the rays of the sun. I walked along rutty pathways, with the sun on my back, thinking of what a pleasure it is, to be able to proceed, without the tenacious mud trying to steal the boots of my feet.
Birds were about the hedgerow I observed the agile little acrobats about the hazel catkins that blew in a gentle breeze, as others sang sweet refrains from the inner sanctum of the hedgerow. Primrose leaves were appearing among the dank litter of the hedgerow their crumpled foliage bringing new life that will prove to be the vanguard of spring. Buds on the hawthorn were beginning to swell, indeed some were almost at leaf burst despite the recent hibernal conditions that have prevailed over the last 4 months here in Lancashire. From the distant copse I could hear the welcome, strong, repetitive notes as the song thrush reclaims his territory. All is well with my world! I know this countryside in all its moods the four seasons that make our countryside a delight to share with its inhabitants. I would not like to live in a hot country for I would not appreciate the beauty of a day like this. From now on every day will have something new to offer as the inhabitants wake from their winter slumber and the "summer" visitors begin to arrive from sunnier climes where they have passed the winter months. The very first of these will be the sand martins which will arrive next month displaying aerial skills that never cease to amaze.
Birds of the Corvidae family-the crows, are about the trees that will play host to their home over the coming weeks. The birds I had come to observe were circling above the trees, wings outstretched against the vast blue sky. Rooks are an integral part of our countryside I can not imagine a day without the sound of their throaty caws. These birds have been visiting the trees that hold the rookery more and more over the last few days. Next month they will settle down to the important business of spring cleaning the nests and the breeding season will begin in earnest.
Once this occurs the rookery becomes a chaotic homestead a noisy vibrant place full of quarrelling and argumentative birds. How I would miss this annual display of corvine activity should, God forbid, they ever left this locality, where they have bred since I was a young lad. They have played apart in my pastoral life, which has lasted as long as my memory. I would sooner loose the trees themselves should this occur.
The rook is a large bird with a black plumage but can be easily distinguished from the carrion crow by the grey bare patch at the base of their strong thick bills. The thigh feathers are another distinguishing feature giving the appearance of the bird waring baggy trousers.
Commotion in the tree tops
During this annual renovation much of the commotion issuing from the tree tops is attributed to combats over nesting rights or the right to twigs other birds have used in their construction.Year after year the old nests are used again. Should the owners of a nest did not survive the winter or succumbed to old age other birds will seize them. It is more often than not, that there is more than one couple trying to posses the vacant nest. It is though these birds instinctively know that the old nests are the best and following a spruce up and renovation the nest will last for years.
Instinct will inform the birds that these old nests of their ancestors will have been located in the safest and best position in the tree. In any case the disputes are usually settled before any new nest is constructed. Young inexperienced often choose precarious positions in the upper most wind swept branches as a nest site.
Winter winds bring down many twigs during its season and the birds will utilise these for renovation work. However, new nests that are under construction will be made from live twigs taken from trees. Because of their pliability they helps the birds to weave the twigs around the forked limbs to establish a well secured base for the nest. Rooks are notorious for stealing the twigs from other nests and individual birds need to be on their guard at all times, for while they are away to find another twig the previous one may well be taken by a neighbour. It all adds to the commotion of at this time.
Rooks lay their eggs early in the season and by the end of May the chaos that has ensued will be over for another year. rooks are gregarious at all times of the year as those familiar with farmland will concur. They are often seen in large flocks following the plough or feeding around arable fields.
Early Breeding Birds.
A False Start ?
Beneath the tree of the rookery I have been observing I came upon the foliage of the wood anemone a pretty flower that will display its white sepal like petals during next month when the rookery will be at its most chaotic. These tender looking, yet hardy plants, are another sign that spring is around the corner.
However, during my foray to the rookery clouds had appeared over the horizon and with a surprising rapidity consumed the blue sky. On my way home from this locality I felt the first flurry of snowflakes, reminding me that winter was reluctant to leave. Early spring is notorious for its false starts as this day proved. The old adage "when the daylight gets longer , the cold gets stronger" is certainly apt for the early part of spring. Yet the morning I enjoyed before the advent of the clouds gave promise of longer, much warmer days to come and enjoy.