RE­FLEC­TIONS

Tykhee5i­teu5r6til e6d5oievie’s6i‘ipurr’ was once a com­mon sound in the English coun­try­side

Bird Watching (UK) - - Species Hobbies -

LATE MAY, A tran­quil af­ter­noon at Fowlmere in Cam­bridgeshire. Wa­ter lay like silk un­der a clear blue sky, re­flect­ing a cou­ple of male Teal in bright plumage. The res­i­dent Grey Heron was hunched in his usual po­si­tion by the edge of the reedbed, oc­ca­sion­ally mov­ing his head to dis­play long yel­low beak in pro­file. A Reed War­bler flut­tered along the bank, in and out of its invisible nest in the reeds, feed­ing young, bal­anc­ing on the bounc­ing stems be­tween flit­ting and fly­ing around. A pair of Swallows was dash­ing over the sur­face of the mere, drink­ing. The joie de vivre of bird-free­dom. Like a Japanese scroll paint­ing, sharp blades of sedge were re­flected in the sheen of the chalk stream that me­an­ders through the re­serve. Look­ing down into the still wa­ter un­der the still sky was to gaze into the heart of si­lence. Into that si­lence, a Tur­tle Dove purred. Un­mis­tak­able, the ono­matopeic ‘tur­rturr’ of its name, the pulse of sound some­how ex­press­ing the gentle beauty of this dove. The sound of sum­mer. I scanned in­tently, but that day never saw the bird who made it. Strep­topelia tur­tur is an in­creas­ingly scarce visitor to Eng­land these days; Tur­tle Doves have suf­fered a 95% UK pop­u­la­tion de­cline since 1970, and a 74% de­cline across Europe since 1980. They ar­rive (if at all) in late April and May, leav­ing again be­tween July and Septem­ber. I had long wanted to see a Tur­tle Dove, and al­though I didn’t spot the owner of the song at Fowlmere, I was thrilled to hear it. It was on a visit to Mace­do­nia that I got luck­ier. On the last day of a week’s bird­watch­ing in wild places, we were driv­ing back to­wards Skopje for the home­ward jour­ney. Cross­ing open coun­try­side dot­ted with small farms, a pair of Tur­tle Doves were sit­ting on a five-bar gate. We stopped the car to get a good view of them. Seem­ingly un­per­turbed by our pres­ence, they con­tin­ued ru­mi­nat­ing on their tem­po­rary perch. They are in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful: the sky-blue head, the beady am­ber eye, the dark bill, the striped col­lar on the side of the neck – dark lines on pale turquoise – and breast feath­ers that fade into dove-grey with a pink­ish tinge over the belly. The wings are edged in smoke-blue with darker grey pri­maries, mar­bled cin­na­mon and char­coal up­per wings cov­er­ing the blue-grey back. And pink feet. The tail is long, wedge-shaped in flight, brown­ish-black with a pure white scal­loped bor­der. This pair of birds, surely a hap­pily mar­ried cou­ple, had a de­mure pres­ence, dainty birds, smaller and

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