20 October 2017

On Sunday morning a friend sat with me in the garden and while we entertained each other with benign stories of our daughters and partners (her health issues are way beyond your or my imagination, let's just say, it's a miracle she is alive today), she suddenly jumped up and pointed to the exceptionally clear blue sky. Red kites, look, a flock of red kites. Look at their forked tails.
I struggled to see a few dark dots - the sun was very bright and I was not quite fully awake - while she busily counted, 12, 14, whoaah 17!, and confirmed that these were on a stopover from their journey to Africa for the winter. She is a biologist and I am not. It shows.

Birds have played a big role in my life. I am not afraid of them in that Hitchcock kind of way. Also, it's not that I watch them. I am very bad at identifying any apart from blackbirds and the odd blue/black tit, a robin at a push. Some birds just look at me, they do, I swear, and I look back and I know. That they don't care, that I am nothing to them and that it doesn't matter. And it always feels good.

My mother was a keen bird watcher and on winter mornings when we got on her nerves, she would hand us her illustrated bird books together with paper and pen, move the bird house and the feeding tray on the snowy patio, open the curtains and declare the contest open. Whoever counted the most species won. And you had to be very quiet and concentrate.
She was a clever one, my mother.
Occasionally, she still visits me as bird. Not as much as she used to. I wrote about it here. But she was up there, one of the red kites. I am sure. She never looked down at me and I didn't need to look back at her. It felt good.

If I had a bucket list (I don't), it would include witnessing a murmuration. I have seen small ones but I want the real thing, like this one:

or maybe this one, on a lake in a canoe:


  1. What a show they put on, I hope they do it for the joy of flying and for the love of beauty. I would like to believe in pure joy. I enjoyed reading your older post. I really need to go back in time and get to know you better!

  2. I've never seen a murmuration either, except for small ones and wouldn't it be glorious? I love the birds and their songs and sounds. All I have to do to conjure Mexico is to think of the sharp whistle of the large black birds they have there, roosting in the palms at night. I sometimes wonder if keeping chickens is just a way for me to have birds, albeit semi-domesticated ones, without caging them. Watching them as they go about their daily lives in my yard is one of the joys of my life. Watching the seabirds skim the water and dive for their suppers is one of the best things at the coast. And soon it will be time here to put the birdfeed back out in the feeder so that I can watch them from my porch as they work out their places at the feeder to peck and to crunch and to delicately perch until other birds come and take their places.

  3. We see smallish murmurations out at the marsh pretty often. They are always beautiful. There is a flock of small shorebirds that change gray to air as they go through their murmurations, because the underside of their wings are white. The flash always makes us so happy. When they all land, hundreds of them, the shoreline looks like rippling ponds of birds. Eye contact with birds is the BEST!!!

  4. I've seen small murmurations, but never anything like those. Holy cow. I think a big one might actually terrify me, but I'd still love to see it. Your mom was quite ingenious to keep you occupied that way -- and it's so much more productive than plopping kids down in front of a television or an iPad, which is what a lot of parents do these days.

  5. how you paint a scene. lovely.

  6. I've been fortunate to have seen murmurations. This corner of the Pacific Northwest is Starling country. The one I remember most vividly was on a break at the hospital where I worked for so many years. I started work late in the day, and so the murmuration would have been in the early evening. On my breaks, I liked to run up the stairs to the top floor of the hospital and look out toward the mountains to the east. That day the sky to the east was just like in the second video. Several of us stood there for a long time watching.

    I didn't realize that there were budgie murmurations. Love the sound.

    Yep. Birds and our mothers.

  7. My boyfriend is an extraordinary bird photographer, and he's taught me so much about observation and patience and -- birds. Have you ever read the book by Terry Tempest Williams called "When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice. If not, you should. And the opening will blow your mind.

  8. I didn't know it was called a murmuration. Wow. Incredible. I love birds but only know a few. I'm learning. Stuns me to know I've lived this long and don't know much about the birds that live in my part of the country.