Years ago I watched our cat, Snuffy, try to catch a magpie. The bird had been pecking at some bacon rinds and toast crusts when the cat pounced. Snuffy was quick but the bird was obviously practiced and zipped into the nearby tree. From there it looked down at the cat, cawked it’s piss taking and seemed to dare the cat to try its luck again. As I watched I noticed the beauty of the bird’s plumage – dazzling white with navy blue and green iridescent tail and wing feathers. And that dark blue eye and cocky bill. They get a bad press, magpies.
My mate’s dad had been raised in the countryside and knew loads about birds and wildlife in general. A magpie in their garden reminded me of my cat and magpie story and B****** took us to the local woods to find jays. Which we did. A close relative of the magpie, their pinkish plumage and more reticent lifestyle gives them a less sinister feeling.
“They’re not humans,” B****** told us, “so don’t expect them to have our characteristics.”
From corvids, we progressed to yellowhammers, chaffinches and wagtails. Once, we were in woodland near Bolton Abbey and B****** sat us behind a shrub to wait for a nuthatch. We sat for quite a while until this little blue and orange bird landed and skittered up a nearby tree. How did he know that would happen? Another time we walked across a field and B****** told us to stay where we were for a moment. He strode away, crouched and lifted a clod of earth. Then he beckoned us. Under the clod was a skylark’s nest.
My interest in birds grew from there. I love watching them, especially the ones we take for granted like blackbirds, sparrows or starlings. One of my favourite summer pastimes is watching and listening to swifts – their speed and screaming fills me with such joy.
When I was out cycling near Aldbourne a summer or two ago, something whacked me on the head. I always wear a helmet so I felt the blow and heard it but it didn’t do much damage. I braked and from the corner of my eye saw a buzzard fly into a field. Of course, it didn’t think I was prey but it did want to warn me that it had fledglings nearby. Just to verify my claim, my mate JP also got attacked in the same place by the same bird a few days later.