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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Baldpates - Pearl Eyes - Tumbles Well

To sew its nest in place, the reed warbler sometimes collects threads from spiders’ webs.

‘Imagine a whale’s tongue, grey-brown and wet for ever, fifteen miles long and fifteen miles wide – that is the mud of the Wash.’

Starlings on Shetland use sheep as towels.

While living in England, Rimbaud compiles a list of pigeon names, as follows:

homing – working – fantails
pearl-eyed tumbler –
shortfaced – performing tumblers
trumpeters – squeakers
blue, red turbits – Jacobins
baldpates – pearl eyes – tumbles well
high flying performing tumblers
splashed – rough legged
grouse limbed
black buglers
saddle back
over thirty tail feathers

A woodcock arrives ‘with the kerfuffle of a Dickensian clerk, hunched and wheezing and crabbed. He looked more as though he was carrying a heavy ledger up Threadneedle Street. It was hard to think that he was in the thick of a sex dance.’

The bittern was formerly known in England as the myre dromble.

‘Peter took the wooden fish-priest strung on his waist and hit each mullet very hard three of four times on the head. It was bone-crunching, a loud and finite noise amidst the never-ending soughing and blow of wind and water. As he hit them, Peter talked to the fish in a soft voice. “I know, I know”, he said.’

A heron trying to land, according to J.A. Baker, is ‘like a man descending through the trap-door of a loft and feeling for a ladder with his feet.’

All this and more in Tim Dee’s The Running Sky: A Birdwatching Life (Jonathan Cape), a luminous read and surely instant classic. The youtube clip is of his favourite bird, the redstart, subject of John Buxton’s classic 1950 study, called simply The Redstart, to which this book has now sent me scurrying.

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