The jackdaws come like clockwork. They don’t come at a given time, it is a clockwork the rhythms of which change with the year because they come at the moment the light is correct; it is just as the prinicpality of the sky is being rubbed at by the sun.
I stand in the long grass of the primrose banks behind the house waiting patiently in the half darkness. I can always look in the same direction because they always come from the north and fly directly south over the roof towards the chalk downs. It starts with the faint ponging of their calls and the straggling scouts appear over the tops of the triangular stand of oaks and scots pine that point south like an arrow head. Then more infantry appear until a flock of thousands is catapulting themselves over my head.
Their pace is urgent and direct. There is no deviation, frolicking, cartwheeling or gamboling chases that typify their species during the height of the day. Their calls are incessant and, it seems, joyous. The sound is defiant of the bucolic dawn chorus that will, as the year draws on, be in full swing by the time the jackdaws come. But they will continue to be the chanting football crowd answering the refined cadenzas of the willow warblers, whitethroats and blackcaps, their sheer numbers being in their favour.
Their appearance is a morning talisman for me now. When they have passed over and the last stragglers have disappeared as smudges against the hillside I can walk back to the house content that the day has started. In the moments that they pass overhead I enjoy that an exchange has been made, that we have somehow shared a greeting and that I have seen them safely across. The birds circumscribe a moment when I know that all is normal and as it should be; the world has made one more turn. Maybe there’ll be one morning when I actually do call out a greeting, of course checking that no-one’s watching. Until then, just as you can be on nodding terms with a person you always see on your journey to work but whose name or circumstances you never learn, the fact they’re there at the right place at the right time is enough.