Sunday, 20 November 2011

one in the eye for the starlings

Four weeks short of the winter solstice, the days are shortening so fast it's hard to keep up with them.
"I'll pick you up at four," I told Mal, when we agreed to pop up to New Passage to watch the starling roost.

But by three o'clock the shadows were already long, and the sun slanting almost horizontal across the chimneys and rooftops.

So we went earlier.

Coming over the ridge at Kingsweston and seeing Avonmouth and the Severn estuary ahead of us, though, we'd obviously already  missed the sunset. As we bounced past the old zinc works, Mal started to tell me about Queen Victoria's last words to Disraeli (she'd asked him to pass a message on the Albert). "Yellow card, Mal", I said - this is the safe word for a story-that-you've-heard-before; in this case, earlier that afternoon at the anti-Costa demo.

And it was twilight by the time we trundled to a halt by the Victorian letterbox at New Passage.

And a great cloud of starlings, circling that very spot.

And Prince Charles, taking his dog for a walk.

"You look just like Prince Charles!" said Mal. "Do you get told that a lot?"

"Fairly often," he said; "If you look in Take A Break next month, I'll be in there with the Queen and Camilla."

It's come to something when royals appear in the sort of magazines that have exclamation marks in their titles, let me tell you.

The starlings passed low overhead, their wingbeats thrumming the air, like a gale in beech leaves, or rushing through close-hauled rigging. Then a gentle splatting as starling poo spattered the road around us in their wake.

"I've got one in the eye," said Mal. "That's a year's good luck!"

Walking down to the sea wall, there was a great chattering of the birds that had already roosted in the conifers by the path. Then the rasp of a bird of prey - a sparrowhawk, perhaps- and the roosting birds exploded into the air, and flew as a cloud to the main flock; the wing noise became a roar as the two formations swung into each other and coalesced. 

And then, after another circuit or two. the cloud of birds bounced up like a swell slopping on a breakwater, and became a whirlpool, sucking itself down into the trees.

And they were gone. Except for the great chattering in the trees. And the starling poo all over the car.