GOB 100 – Birding

GOB 100 Birders

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine February 2018

Like my childhood self I am in awe of the vast blueness of sky over the summer reed-bed. Is this ineffable depth, breadth and beauty God? Unknowable and visceral, my sated awe becomes tranquillity.

But not silence, as Gaia’s breath is ruffling reed-stems and bush leaves, lullaby-like but not soporific. Like a distant melody drawing forth a vague memory of music, an ear-worm that awakens attention. Beneath it a deeper beat of insects buzz.

Momentarily my eyes are drawn to the flutter of a butterfly never settling for inspection. Bombastic bees bounce and drift, bounce and drift, bounce away as my eyes are taken by the pop-up perching of streaked perfection ruined by scatter-brain song. The Sedge Warbler drops down in an instant. My vision is drawn across the straw-yellow sea of reeds. Periodic Reed Buntings punctuate the scene. If it stays up in view it self-identifies punching out song to proclaim its maleness.

The melody is building, but there is a contrapuntal chorus breaking into awareness. Marsh Frogs are making their maleness known too. Like a cough in the concert hall a Moorhen’s unnecessary alarm momentarily distracts, but is forgiven as the musical complexity captivates. As if a contralto’s aria is unexpectedly performed at full volume a Cetti’s Warbler whispers across seven fields. Subtle by their distance Jackdaws chack and jack like an audience murmuring appreciation.

Steady strong flight creeps into the eye corner gliding across the pools and ditches between beds. Sun glints on a golden headdress as she flies in to relieve the calico male from nest duty. He doesn’t harry but soars preferring another hunting ground. Mrs Moorhen skitters again fearing for her clustered brood. Plovers take to their flapping flight as duty calls them to see-off the predator. Obscured before they flew, a lone Greenshank dips and struts elegance, wading majesty. The Sandpiper peaks from behind a bulrush to bob and bow across the mud picking invisible flies where they use a puddle’s meniscus to consider reproduction.

Over their heads a life-long couple hover and dive together. White-wings folded she settles on the mud to receive the silver fish he offers, an hourly tribute to her fertility. Having danced they drift away to couple on a safe islet elsewhere.

Their flight takes my eyes back to the never empty summer singing sky-blue. Hirundines have gathered while I supped on nature’s grounded feast. They throng and turn invisibly high, or water skim and skirl head high each shrill call a thrilling summer proclamation. Massed they suddenly starburst like a rocket as summer’s scimitar winged hunter dives for fast food. Luckless the Hobby peels away to soar again with seven fellows circling and sating their hunger on the midday Odonata hatch.

The high sun’s warmth has hatched thermals and Buzzards circle as they drift across the scene. The kettle slowly steams across the sky until even binocular enhanced views are too dim.

Drawing back again to the high blue I see true summer – Swifts are teaching all others how to fly. There can be nothing more truly sky-borne than Swifts. All else seeks to emulate the mastery they demonstrate. Fledged into the sky they know only air until adulthood forces their too-short feet into cliff crevice or roof space. Is it my soul that soars with them in religious rapture or just ornithological euphoria? They are the crescendo’s end, the peak of perfection, an avian art-form.

Tired eyes may search out the dapper dress of Bearded Reedlings or summer seeking ears my listen for Turtle Dove purrs or Cuckoo calls, but the high ridge has been conquered when the Swift summit was reached.

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