Friday, 11 April 2008

Early start

I was keen/brave/foolish enough to be up on Beacon Hill at 6am this morning, in search of Ring Ouzels. I bumped into another birder who told me about the three seen there yesterday, along with a male Redstart, but I was out of luck. Still, it was a good way to wake myself up, standing up there taking in the view while low cloud scudded past and I bitterly regretted forgetting to bring any gloves. And there were a handful of good sightings - two Wheatears in the field full of Highland cattle, a single Tree Pipit in more or less exactly the same spot where I found one last year, and, just as I left, two Curlews flying over the lower pastures doing their trembly, liquid spring song, complete with aerial display.

I had a quick look at the Birds Brittanica entry on Curlews when I got in to work. It says that, unlike some other wader calls, the Curlew's trill almost always lifts the spirits (I'd agree), and quotes Ted Hughes:

"Curlews in April/Hang their harps over the misty valleys...A wet-footed god of he horizons".

That's from Remains Of Elmet, one of my favourite Hughes collections. BB also mentions that the Curlew's song features in one of the earliest bird references in English literature, in the Anglo-Saxon poem The Seafarer. In RK Gordon's translation, the lines run:

"I took my gladness in the cry of the gannet
and the sound of the curlew instead of the laughter of men,
in the screaming gull instead of the drink of mead."

In fact the Anglo-Saxon word used, huilpe (from which the modern name whaup, used for the Curlew in Scotland, derives), could be translated as Curlew or Whimbrel, but I don't suppose there was too much discussion of the finer points of wader ID in the mead-hall.

Last night, I finally caught up with the female Scaup at Watermead CP. It's amazingly confiding, hanging around with the Tufted Ducks and joining them in the scrum for bread. Nice bird, though.

PS. If you follow that Birds Britannica link, you'll see that the review mentions JA Baker's The Peregrine. I've just read it, on the recommendation of Tom Bailey, and it really is a fantastic piece of work. I'll post a full review of it in a few weeks.


Jane Holland said...

Someone's doing a paper at the Bone Dreams seminar in Oxford on Saturday April 26th on the influence of Old English and Anglo-Saxonism in the Remains of Elmet.

Just thought I'd mention that, in a nerdy sort of way.

Matt Merritt said...

I'm glad you did, Jane!
It's a book I'm very fond of. It took me years to find a hardback version with all the photographs.