Starlings

Hear that?

The deranged fluting

Of squabbling neighbours

In hedgerows, on bushes

Ceaseless bickering

An endless stream

Of chiding and chipping

Away one moves

The others follow

From pillar to post

To willow to fence

Unable to let rest

Whatever the matter be

Resolved or not

There’s always more to add

Or subtract from what’s already said

Not happy until everyone’s unhappy

Are the anti-sociable

Flocking, mocking starlings

.

CLP 30/05/2020

Day 58

The cowslips have finally given up the ghost. Their yellow petals have faded, vibrancy lost, they wilt. Job done.

In the woodland at the foot of the heath, on the slope of the hill, bracken ferns are beginning to unfurl. Sprouting strong from below the past year’s brown litter, the firm green shoots, follow a curled fist of new leaf, punching upward. 

The broad leaves of foxgloves are also pushing through now among the thinly distributed blue bells. A foxglove’s leaf is soft and its tip curls ground-wards because the midrib is barely strong enough to hold the emerging weight. It will be a few days yet before the fox glove shoots emerge and flower from the centre of the plant.

On the last patch of rough ground before the shore, a grasshopper warbler sits on the apex of looped bramble. Its churring might pass for that of a cicada in Spain, or Greece. A small brown bird with little remarkable about it, except its calling. In the English countryside there is nothing quite like it. As with all small, brown birds it is far easier to hear them than to see them; so it is a treat to see this Little Brown Job (“LBJ”) on song and so easily identifiable.

Further along, sat on the crown of a small bush, is a linnet, with its double patch of pale red across its breast. It basks in the last of the sunshine, without making any noticeable noise.

I pace out the width of the beach, from the low water-line to the peak of the shingle. It is more than 75 paces. I notice a small starfish, its five legs closing up from dehydration, just over 30 paces from the low tide line. It will have been there since the tide began to retreat about seven hours ago, but has yet to be gathered up by a gull, or passing crow.

A crab shell, orange and brown on the outer surface is nearby. It is brilliant white within. I pick it up and although it measures the breadth of my right hand, it weighs just a few grammes. Dried out in the sun and air, the discarded shell is friable. I drop it and watch how easily shards break from the once hard carapace when it hits the stones.

From the arête of shingle bank, I look inland and my eye is caught by the white shadow of a barn owl swinging back and forward over the pasture. When a barn owl turns, it can seem to do so within its own length. It pivots on the broad inner wing of the arc and loops itself quickly into a new direction.

I watch this ghostly hunter sink toward the grass, then rise again, before it suddenly drops deep into the field. It is out of view for a few moments before it reappears. Like the kestrel, the other day near Wiverton, the sign of a successful catch, is the flat, fast, straight flight across the chase to a more sheltered spot, to somewhere captured prey can be dealt with uninterrupted.

By the main road a broad drain runs beside a lay-by which is the preferred sales pitch of an ice-cream van in summer. On the still water a family of seven mute swans trail along, disturbed by human presence. The father makes a threatening sally towards the roadside where I am walking, the mother leads away the train of ugly ducklings, (who are really very cute, grey, fluffy bundles) along the far side of the water. One of the five cygnets is distracted by some random speck floating nearby, before it realises it has to hurry up to rejoin the end of the flotilla speeding behind the imperious mother.

Where the water broadens into a duck pond, a couple of mallards are beak-down, tail-up. exploring the murky water, creating distinct circles of ripples by their dabbling. 

The sunset is spectacular. The flat sea mirrors the deepening blue of the sky. The north-west horizon is marked by a strip of deep orange, under-scored by the dark strip of a fog bank. Due north the clarity of the air gives perfect sight of the 88 wind turbines churning elegantly in the breeze.

Along the beach fishermen have made camp. Their long lines, already cast, loop languidly out into the water.

When this particular set of evening colours is displayed there is the promise of a cold night, but the night sky will be spectacular, with the third-quarter moon and the stars for decoration.

Christopher Perry

14th May, 2020

Day 41

It wasn’t wet, nor cold. Partly sunny. I stepped out the back door. It was warmer out than in. I stepped back into the kitchen. I worked intermittently at my desk for the rest of the day, into mid-evening.

I pause occasionally to watch the clever rat climb the top of the post stretch across to the dangling food. It has to be persuaded to leave the feeder with a broom. Its sibling is a ground feeder.

Long-tailed tits have set up home nearby. They are regular visitors now. Numerous blue tits crowd around too. Chaffinches are happy to find scraps in the grass, working around the doves and a huge pigeon, that may or may not have others to feed. It is hard to tell, there is no urgent visit from a pigeon, no hurried departure and then swift return; not like the tits. The goldfinches pop round too.

The grass is out-pacing the recovering yellow flower-heads of dandelion.  Bluebells are thriving. Their blue is erring toward a hue of lilac. Daisies have reappeared after the recent mowing. Cowslips continue to stay fresh and bright. 

We spoke for two happy hours. Some days that is all we would choose to do, were it not for the mortality of phone batteries.

My eldest is back on night shifts. Radio silence is maintained respectfully.

Christopher Perry

27th April, 2020

Day 38

I go up the lane where I first recognised a horsetail sprouting in a verge many years ago. Then so rare to my eyes and now so common. Are there more of them, or is it my awareness of them that makes them more obvious now? It was a strange plant to my eye then, but now instantly recognisable and commonly found. In Ravenna two Aprils ago the embankment leading to the railway foot tunnel was thick with these primitive plants. I cannot see them now without being reminded of their astonishing profusion there – nor the pleasures enjoyed on that excursion.

At the ford, a footbridge makes crossing simple. The stream is still deep after a month of strong sun and minimal rain. The flow spreads out wide across the width of the road after the confines of the narrow stream, but then backs up as it has to queue itself into the next run. A pair of ducks slalom down through one of the narrow channels there. They use the force of the water to carry themselves effortlessly through the rocks and over the rich-green reeds straggling from the gravel below. The momentum of the water, its rolling and pitching from rock to bank, bobble the birds as they move downstream. When the race smooths out they drift around in a slow, looping circuit before having to start paddling again. They are carried off past the roots of the over-hanging willow, where the water swirls left toward the mill pond.

This morning, along the coast road, a buzzard is moved to retreat to the oaks uphill by two furious lapwings. The two mobbing birds make sharp turns after flitting across the big raptor’s path. They call insistently, drop fast across the flight of their target, return quickly to an attack position, just up and behind slightly behind the broad wings of the buzzard. They persist in their harrassment until the bigger bird adopts a straight lie of flight and heads away from the nesting area on the marsh.

The birds of prey are active now because they too have young to feed. A kestrel hovering near a line of poplars, descends menacingly from parallel to the tree top, to a height just five metres from the pasture grass. For a few moments it adjusts, head still, fixed fully on the movement beneath – then stops its rotary movement of wings and drops rapidly, silently into the grass. It disappears from view for a few moments before it reappears. It flies off low to the ground with claws clasped tight, almost dragging behind its body in the slipstream. Its purposeful exit indicative of the success of the drop.

In the early evening I watch a jet at high altitude churning out a trail of white crystals against the sky. It carves a line that is perfectly set between two other fattening trails. The aircraft continues eastward and the three plumes fatten up, drift and gradually merge moving south on the thin air above.

You have been able to arrange to meet a friend for a coffee by the lake. Everyone keeping their distance as required, but happier for the relaxation of regulation. Coffee from the kiosk, open for take-aways only. You tell me how good it feels to be able to change the pattern of acquaintance; to shake-off the ennui of isolation, if only for an hour.

.

n.b. This and everyday of this diary constitute my response to www.napowrimo.net Day 25 prompt: detailed observational prose poem

Christopher Perry

25th April, 2020