The mornings emerge colder now as a matter of course. A week’s worth of sun hoarded in the clouds and transferred down as squalls of wind and rain. It reemerges today, lands on a cold earth and the chill does not shake. I wear jeans, a shirt and a jacket, but walk with a brisk and invigorating step nonetheless. The birds on the branches perch puffed up, thick-necked and huddled into themselves for warmth.
A big load of starlings, around a hundred, and thrumming more like a proper murmuration, fly across to the cherry trees to feed. Both the adults and youngsters are moulting out of their even, spring feathers and have acquired a few of the pale spots of winter. On the wire fence three young chiffchaffs — clean, french bean green, like the flattering pictures they put in field guides — weave in and out of the mesh. Their subtle but striking colour — an oxymoron that may only make sense to a birdwatcher — gives them the feel of some of the far rarer warblers that from time to time get blown over from the east, the imaginatively named, green, greenish and two-barred greenish.
As on the day before yesterday, my traversal of the reservoir bank adjacent the tern and gull raft inspires a cacophony of protest, even across the fifty metre gap between us. The arrival of chicks has made them nervous.
One black-headed gull — dared to by its mates — beelines over to me and trash talks from on high. It’s joined by a tern who kierrrink’s its agreement, like the school bully’s diminutive sidekick. When, a little later, some of the larger gulls parade by, they prove their bite is every bit as bad as their bark in a dramatic, tail-pecking dogfight over the water. The fifty members of their home guard rise into the air as one and create a swirling, bully-baiting mob. Sand martins and swifts — innocent bystanders — are caught in the crossfire, and maneuver their way to calmer skies as if negotiating an aerial version of Donkey Kong.
Someone has seen the hobby over the north reserve but a frantic scan across the road and railway tracks reveals only — only! — a sky a-whorl with a thousand swifts, and I do not mind the hobby’s shyness. A neat couple of linnets and a fine young heron complete my tour of the more open areas and I draw my way home beneath the trackside trees.
And by this point I have nothing to write about. I consider the dainty grebes, young, speckled brown robins and the reed buntings still tweezering for lost seeds on the concrete, but none have lit a candle today. A dunnock sings, lurking in the dense, lower branches of a tree and I wonder if today I will share some memories of this subdued, 1950’s bird. Next to it the young wren, with its prattling song of inconsequence, is beginning to take a little shape, and now occasionally sounds wren-like.
The knapweed next to the coppermill stream attracts a medley of feeding goldfinches. They are tamer than they have been and I watch an adult pole-dancing down a drooping willow stem while other birds — mainly the streaky, brass-rubbing faced youngsters — float down into the open and clamber all over the knapweed’s seed and flower heads.
A number of them dangle from a particularly tall plant. I prepare to take a photo through my binoculars when all of a sudden the birds disappear. I curse at my clumsy, too fast movements but then…
A Sparrowhawk hammers in from my left. Low-lying, dark-backed prowler. Shadow-winged alligator. Great white shark of the woods.
Over so fast. It snatches, turns, wings and tail splayed. Retreats to the dark heart of a tree. I make a wish. The little meadow is quiet. The immediate aftermath of a bomb. Was ever so. No shouts or screams. What difference would they make? A nervous chaffinch jokes pink, pink.
I did not see if it made the kill.
It darts to another tree, a little further away. I see dangling what I think is a spindly yellow talon — a quarryless grasp? The empty hand of a failed hunt?
Jays — four of them today — fly through the scene of the crime, big, noisy and insensitive like disaster tourists. But it rubs off; soon a reed warbler churrs “Life is normal”, a blue tit exhales its long-held breath with a chuckle, and a woodpigeon mansplains to anyone who’ll listen that it’s the system that’s to blame. It’s like they’ve all gotten away with some childish misdemeanour.
The hawk crosses the open clearing again, this time with a more purposeful flight; steady wingbeats and climbing a slight incline. It’s heading for the trees behind the Ferryboat Inn. In its claws, after all, it grasps a sorry bundle of feathers.
It’s heading for home. And bringing a little something for the family.
🦅 First boring bird
Related boring birds: Starling, Chiffchaff, Common tern, Black-headed gull, Sand martin, Swift, Linnet, Grey heron, Great crested grebe, Robin, Reed bunting, Dunnock, Wren, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Jay, Reed warbler, Blue tit, Woodpigeon
🦚 All boring birds