The marshy pool in the sheep field across the railway bridge has been silent all winter. After the first freeze even the moorhens abandoned it for more comfortable quarters. I still went there once in a while - not only to see if anything was about but to enjoy the peace, and to admire the sepia-print patterns that the frosted reeds and rushes made, and the swirls of pondweed blown and frozen into contour lines by the icy winds.
Things have changed dramatically over the last few days. Our noisy neighbours have moved back in. The pond now feels less like a place of contemplation and more like a football stadium - with me as an away supporter who's accidentally strayed into the home end. Don't get me wrong - it's great to see the black-headed gulls back here to breed. It's just that the feeling is obviously not mutual. Once they return from their wintering grounds they guard the breeding colony increasingly assertively. For now they just lift off the pool as I approach, yelling mild obscenities and wheeling overhead to keep an eye on my movements. Once they've paired up and made their nests their language will get much worse, and the flypasts closer - despite me being several hundred metres from the actual breeding area. Luckily they're not as aggressive as their bigger cousins the black-backs, and so far they've never made actual contact.
For now it's still safe to approach the pool for a closer look. The gulls are sporting a range of millinery. Some are already wearing the full chocolate-brown cowl of their summer breeding plumage, others simple buffs that encircle their necks. There's even the odd bird still with just its winter head-spots, like two small fascinators perched at a jaunty angle just behind each ear - they won't get into the Royal box at Ascot yet! They're incredibly raucous, and the place now sounds more like a street market than a quiet country field. Surrounded by the hubbub are four mute swans - keeping mute of course. Sitting rigid in the water they look like a well-to-do family forced to sit too close to the hoi-poloi at the seaside. They'll be gone in a few days, but the black-heads are here for the summer now. It's going to be a riot.