Coun­try diary

Wen­lock Edge, Shrop­shire

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

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.

Paul Evans

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.