Tales from the Northern Forests
Includes a short tale about rooks
April is like...
n Old English this month was called Eastermonath after the festival
of Eoster that was celebrated in April and which lent its name to our current Easter. Read more >>
he name 'April' is like all the other names of the calendar months,
a survivor from the Roman Empire. It is very likely to be related to the Greek word 'Aphro' short for Aphrodite. The Greek word 'Aphros' means 'Foam of the Sea'. But already in Classical times the popular belief was that April derived from the Latin word 'aperire', meaning
'to open'. The Ancient Romans considered April a time of unfolding, as the earth openend with new life. Omna aperit (opens all things) they used to say.
here is no doubt that the Northern Forests teem with new life in the month of April. Lambing season either just started or is well under way and the bleating of little lambs can be heard all around the countryside. But also from the trees new voices can be heard. Read more >>
If the evening is grey and the morning red,
the ewe and her lamb will go wet to bed.
Or in other words:
Red sky at night sheperd's delight;
Red sky in the morning, sheperd's warning.
(folkore saying that dates back to antiquity)
Sandwiched between winter and summer April is a fickle month in the Northern Forests. The weather can change from warm sunshine to freezing cold at astonishing speed.
Britain in particular has a tendency to be plagued by cold weather from late April to mid-May when icy winds can blow from the North and the seas around the UK are cold from winter making the coasts especially chilly.
Rooksby Michael Blencowe
The first sound that a new-born rook hears is other rooks. Lots of them. It's a sound that will surround it every day for the rest of its life. Rooks are one of our most sociable birds. They'll live, love, feed and fight together - team players from the rookery to the grave.
There's a rookery near my local train station and in April I often stare up at the community of messy twig nests high above the platform. There's a definite pleasure to be had from watching a rookery - the sort of pleasure you get from pulling up a deckchair and watching your neighbour hard at work. High in the trees the rooks are busy: carrying twigs back to their nests, building their nests, stealing twigs from their neighbour's nest when he's not looking, getting into a fight with the neighbour when they're caught. It's a tree-top soap opera.
It can be easy to dismiss them as unattractive, plain black birds with a croaky call that sounds like someone coughing up a hairball. But look closer and you'll see the rook's plumage contains a hidden beauty - an iridescent sheen which gives the bird a flash of exotic purple and green. Loose feathers hang low to their knees like a pair of baggy shorts.
Sure, that raucous 'KAAH' may not rival the nightingale's song but the communal cacophony gives constant reassurance to every individual rook that it belongs within the team. That call also helps rooks communicate the best local areas for feeding; the discovery of a worm-filled field is noisily shared to ensure that all can join in the feast.
This teamwork is one way to tell them apart from their similar looking but anti-social relative the carrion crow. Any rook on its own is a crow. If you see a group of crows they're rooks. Usually.
Outside the nesting season and away from the rookeries the birds gather each evening to roost. Rooks travel over the landscape and converge to form a super-flock of hundreds or even thousands of birds. Jackdaws, their smaller relatives, join in the party and this black cloud whirls across the sky, a crazy, cackling, cawing celebration of all things crow. As winter draws to an end this nightly ritual dissipates and rooks return to their respective rookeries, start collecting (and stealing) twigs and prepare themselves for the arrival of another generation of comrades in baggy shorts. While I'm watching my local rookery, I look down from the railway bridge to Platform 2 and I see the crowd of commuters awaiting the London train. People all living similar lives but without any interaction whatsoever between them. Sometimes you'll catch them looking up at the wonderful chaos of the rookery above, no doubt wondering what it's like to never feel alone.