Sunday, 3 August 2014

Bird Talk.

I was watching this year’s fledgling sparrows sitting in a line along the ridge of my greenhouse today. It’s a habit sparrows have; it’s normal to see a flock of forty or fifty sitting in a line along the top of a hedgerow. And you could tell that my little group were fledglings by their body language and plumage. They don’t yet have the urgency or confidence of the adults. Their markings are muffled and their first feathers a little downy.

The sparrow used to be the commonest bird in Britain. Its name was almost a byword for durability and ordinariness, but they suffered badly from changes in agricultural practice and went into serious decline. Happily, they seem to be making a comeback, and the flock in my garden is burgeoning.

Serial bird watchers disparage sparrows and other similarly small, unprepossessing birds. They call them ‘LBJs’ – little brown jobs. Well, I’m not a serial bird watcher and I like them; I like them for their character and their very ordinariness. When you look at a sparrow you see no extravagant appendages, exotic markings or gaudy colours, you see a little brown job. That way, you get to see the bird itself with no distractions, and that’s what I want to see.

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This evening I saw a Tawny Owl sitting on the gatepost of a ripe wheat field. He stared at me as I approached, and then flew away when I stopped to stare back at him.

It’s relatively unusual to see an owl out and about in broad daylight, but it happens occasionally. I remember seeing a Little Owl once, sitting on a wall surrounding a ruined building on a wild part of the Northumberland coast where I was living. It had been used by the Knights Hospitallers during the Middle Ages, and the mournful sound the owl made seemed entirely in keeping with its surroundings. I even used the fact in one of my stories.

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