A Pipistrelle, a Peregrine and a Pilgrim in extra time. 


For some of us in humankind birds are quite uplifting. Have you ever wondered how different our ‘development’ might have been if we, the most manipulative creature to evolve upon this planet, had been able to fly rather than to simply run?

Instead of which ‘our’ Earth has suffered most terribly from the hands-on brain approach of an ape whose primary goal is to bend everything to its own sad and limited will.  To “His will”. The will of an ape who worships invisible gods in the heavenly sky – of late an all-seeing, vengeful surveillance God. A god in the man’s own image, who likes to lord it over every other living thing. What a terrible, tragic misreading of the facts!

Frequently, in the course of over fifty-six years of going outside, birds have lifted me heavenward. The that first I remember clearly were some ducks on a pond. They were wintering ‘Soviet’ Tufteds and Baltic Pochards swimming in tight circles, right at my bread- laden fingertips, in Saint James’s Park in central London.

That same year, I think it was, enraged Arctic Terns drew blood from my fourteen year old brother’s scalp. And Dad’s big brown brogues gently lifted an Eider from gorgeous green eggs in a cradle nest of softest down, on Inner Farne, an island nature reserve, one glorious Whitsunday.

Soon I became aware of added-value, of scarcity. A ten year old friend and I stumbled once upon a Firecrest as we stealthily crept like pygmies through a willow thicket at the back of Bruton Park, in Birmingham, one gloomy morning in March ’63. I did not know what kind of bird it was. Some waif from the east I thought, based on my knowledge of our big, old bird book, one by Reverend Lewis Bonhote Birds of Britain. Until I got home to that book I believed it might be asuper rarity. Funnily enough the elders in my family had already tried to string the Firecrest, which this was, out of Goldcrests, when these tiny birds fed among frosted rose bushes at our dining-room window, during the exceptionally hard winter of 62-63 that had just ended.

West Loch Tarbert, Argyll – the house in summer.

Fast forward nearly forty years to the last few months of what I would call “normal time” – in 2001.

A driech and gloomy February afternoon, beside a boggy carr at the edge of a sea-loch near Tarbert in mid-Argyll, Scotland. A shaven-headed and bearded man, in thick brown woollen jumper and baggy cargo pants, is feeding a mixed seeds (yellow millet and black sunflower) to a flock of two or three hundred birds, Chaffinches in the main, at a clearing in the ancient oak wood beside his rented house.

The Chaffinches and several Bramblings have temporarily retired to the nearby birch scrub that almost encircles the glade. A tiny brown pipistrelle bat flutters, flickering-in, and commences dizzy rounds, just above my head. Round and round the glade it goes, capturing winter gnats. Quiet, motionless, with a plastic jug of seed hanging in my left hand, I watch the foraging antics of this diurnal bat. My head indeed is tilted heavenward.

All of a sudden there is a rush of air at my right ear. A brown-backed Peregrine (bird of the year) hurtles past me into the glade. The falcon attempts to grasp the bat, by coming at it from beneath, but misses. The big bird rises out of the glade then turns and stoops. But misses again. Bat and falcon then circle together, they spiral, above me against they soft grey sky, for a time that I can never gauge.

Eventually the bat escapes, finds sanctuary by jinking through a tight mesh curtain of birch twigs. Then the falcon rises and is gone. And I’ll swear to all and anybody’s god that I was hovering there, a centimetre above the ground, my mouth agape no doubt. Hovering Aloft. Transfixed. Beside myself with all Creation.

So you see, that’s owhy I love birds!


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