Wenlock Edge, Shropshire
The silent dynamite of morning sunlight blasts a limestone quarry. It’s a moment of illumination as the last yellow fire of sallow leaves burns under a sky roiling with wildness. At the quarry’s far end, its clan of jackdaws takes to the air. There are 50 or so birds, a fraction of a large corvid society that occupies the Wenlock area, roosts communally at dusk but divides into clans shifting between territories during the day.
It doesn’t take much to rile the jackdaws; the concrete-coloured limestone cliffs around the blue quarry pool create a far more existential environment than surrounding softer fields and woods. These birds are tightly wound and when something triggers one or more of them they all burst into the sky like a shovelful of coal. It’s hard to know if they are reacting to something that affects the clan or if a dispute between individuals has sparked a flare-up. The ethologist Konrad Lorenz said that all animals capable of friendship are also aggressive; the stability of units within jackdaw society is correlated with the degree of aggression displayed in the way it’s formed: each bird knows which birds to fear and which show them respect. Perhaps taking flight gives jackdaws a neutral space to become one united body again, running around in the air, electrified by the wind, just like the school playground full of children nearby.
A pair of very united ravens harry a buzzard from woods beyond the quarry; their aggression is ritualised, ceremonial. Then a peregrine falcon materialises from a rock-face ledge to rise stiff-winged into the air as if it wants to attract the ravens’ attention. They oblige and their dance is full of gesture, a graceful pageant of restrained violence. The peregrine leaves a few glass-sharp shrieks behind, vanishing southwards. In the burst of morning sunshine, the quarry is full of theatre: warning signs, hastily mended fences to keep out thrill seekers, wanderers, trespassers, fugitive mallards and rafts of plastic crap in the water. Kaaak … kaak! shouts a jay as it flies from a sallow, avoiding the gaping maw of the excavation as if its explosions may return. There’s a storm brewing.