Monday, 13 May 2013


They’ve made it again,
Which means the globe’s still working, the Creation’s
Still waking refreshed, our summer’s
Still all to come

I’d heard these words so frequently repeated and unattributed that it was a jolt to finally put them to the poem they came from. Ted Hughes, naturally. Words as fast and details as hard-edged as the birds themselves. A controlled scream is precisely what a Swift is in sound and vision and essence, and I’ll brook no argument about this.

The scream is how they announce themselves, every year, around the second week of May. Pushed ahead of storm clouds, or shooting through a clear blue sky; low over an English lake or roof-height between Scottish tenements; they are the most evocative of the late arriving migrants. The comma between spring and summer. More than being just a sign of season transition, the physical bird is itself extraordinary. Reduced to the most basic elements of ‘bird’, it one of nature’s starkest examples of form following function. A thrilling, Spartan flying machine; all shapely curved wings and not much else. Not much of a voice either, their scream is certainly not a songbird, but it is the sound of lazy summer evenings. The call to look up, to look around you. I remember watching them screaming around the old streets of Bury St Edmunds – houses old enough to still have the nooks needed for nesting – as I walked across town to school. All I needed was a Swift screaming with anthropomorphic joy of life and flight, and I forgot the crowded pavements, the fumes from congested streets, the itchy starchy school uniform…

It was eight o’clock when I left the library into a pale, cool evening. Walking over the loch, I paused to acknowledge the swans drifting in pale-pink water, the gathering crows and the flocks of Hirundines flickering in the dwindling light. I looked back over to the library and see, silently slipping through the sky, a Swift. Just briefly, before it disappeared over the trees, into a worryingly insect free evening. The silence unsettled me.

They’re back again. The globe is still working, just about, and summer is still to come.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Sheriffmuir Stooshie

Time ran away with me for a few weeks. Being suddenly free and working my way through a backlog of post-dissertation tasks meant walking and birding took a frustrating back-seat again. On a rare sunny interval, I managed to fit the Sheriffmuir circuit in: ten miles up the moors, around the historic battle site and down the burn. Just down from the battle site - a bleak, dark place - I found a more modern, natural battle. Two karate-kicking crows having a stooshie with a buzzard that lazily wheeled over the track, as if unbothered by the bullies. Two wide circles overhead and then the buzzard was off and the crows dropped back down to the field having seen the larger bird off their territory. My friend, walking with me, found it surprising. A reminder that if you haven't grown up birding, ordinary behaviour can seem rather illogical.
I'm quite proud of these photos, though I'll confess they were rather lucky. That doesn't mean that the government has any ethical right to allow companies to use them without my permission, or without acknowledgement or payment. But this is what the government has planned, and you can read about it here. Practically, when this becomes law, it will force me to question how I present my images online. Already I compress them to a size where theft and reuse distorts the quality beyond the point of acceptability. Although I have no desire to add a gigantic copyright logo over the subject, and don't see the point in not posting my photos, these are the only options I can currently think of. Until the government shoots itself in the foot (and not with a camera) and signs this legislation into law, please sign Will Nicholls's petition asking them to reconsider.