Country diary: Seven-hundred fieldfare and one ‘mixy’ rabbit | Richard Smyth

This is bruising, buffeting weather, gusting winds, slanting rain, dished out across drenched green farmland under a shifting canopy of silver-lit cloud. It’s not weather that needs any additional shape or texture – I can feel its heft every time the wet westerly slaps me across the chops. But still, that’s what birds do – the hard-flying woodpigeons cutting across the grain of the weather, the crows and jackdaws showboating on the updraughts, the buzzard banking low through the rain – they bring a sort of embodiment to the high tidal currents of climate and weather.

As I make a slow way up toward the moors, a great cloud of fieldfares erupts into the grey from a stand of bent-backed trees. It’s as many as I’ve ever seen in one place – 700-plus, I guess. The flock tilts on the camber of the wind and comes coursing back overhead. I can hear their worried chatter over the weather noise. I watch for a bit, but I don’t want to disturb their berry-picking. It seems to have been a pretty good berry year round here; hopefully that will mean a good year for the winter thrushes (though even thrushes fat on autumn berries will struggle if a hard frost bites).

The view from Bingley Moor.
The view from Bingley Moor. Photograph: Richard Smyth

I pass a dead rabbit in the last field before the moor edge. It’s lying crushed under the capstone of a drystone wall. Someone, I suppose, found it poorly by the path – myxomatosis, “the white blindness” of Watership Down, remains endemic among wild rabbits – and did the hard, kind thing. Then the moor, and the peat, and the burnt-black heather, and the great ribbons of rainwater carving apart the hillside. The black soil is saturated.

I make it up to the stark plateau of Bingley Moor before the rain really comes after me. I’m squelching through a cold stew of streaming water, mud and clammy November air, deeply, profoundly, importantly wet, but happy, even so, as the path becomes less path than puddle, and red grouse – the privileged pets of the Bingley Moor Estate – come leaping out of the wet bents around me.

Eventually, the rising wave of the landscape breaks, and Wharfedale falls away below me.


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