Counting crows at The Clump
I reach the top. It was an icy walk up St Catherine's hill. Each step made a satisfying crunch as frost-crisp oak and beech leaves were crushed underfoot.
I approach the circle of beech trees on the summit. Locally it is known as 'the clump' and it covers a spot once home to a chapel, the remains of which are now buried beneath the trees. I rest a few moments in a grassy dip just outside the clump to refuel in the winter sun.
Up above I see a buzzard, which is only mildly put out by the defensive maneuvers of a mob of crows protecting their patch. In a way they echo the iron age villages known to have used this hill as a refuge from marauders many centuries before.
The urge to investigate the hill takes me on a circumnavigation of its top. As I walk off the path into shrubbery I disturb a ground feeding blackbird. A few more steps and a robin dashes out of a spot I didn't know it was in.
Halfway round now and I turn back to face the low midday sun and wander into the clump.
It is a hive of activity. The jackdaws are restless and vocal - 'cheep, cheep'. They move in chain reactions. No sooner has one wave of apparently aimless reshuffling of positions between the branches ceased than one of them sets off the process again.
I spot one come to perch vertically, looking upwards halfway up one of the central beeches. It is poised as if it were a woodpecker, but this wood has already been pecked.
The jackdaw leans its head in and out as if feeding a nest of young. After long it moves off again, so I take the chance to move a few trees closer. The tall, straight beech trees create long shadows in stripes across the leafy ground. So that the bright sun doesn't affect my sight, I sneak up and lean against the smooth green, lichen covered north side of a trunk.
My jackdaw friend still hasn't returned and in the meantime the rooks call out their distinct coarse and lethargic voice. As if they were the tired adults among the flock of energetic jackdaw youth.
I'm shocked as a jackdaw launches out of that same hole in the tree I was watching - so suddenly that it was as if it had materialised out of thin air! How long had it been in there? I have no idea but I am grinning from ear to ear.
I survey the trees around me and see that many others are punctuated with holes. Each hole appears to be too small for a bird that size (just like the first). But looks can be deceiving.
I watch the movements of these chatty and restless birds for a while. The same cycle repeats a few times before I realise it's cold in the shadows. It is time to leave this avian haven and head on down the hill.