birds

Solway Firth

On the road to Wigtown
(book capital of Scotland)

Black quilled crow
on a dry stone wall in the rain.
Reeds fringing mudflats
stained sepia
creased like an old photo
left in a drawer.

I stop the car
get out and breathe
salt-soaked air
hear the lick and spit of water
through tissue layers of mist
riffling water and sky –

an open book
water-marked
pressed flat
spine cracked
lines of furrowed words
blurred by the press of birds’ feet
by the endless turning of
furled water
curling the edges
of this strange place

traced by a passing glance
bookmarked then
slammed shut.

I drive on.

Behind me
in those wide margins
the Solway story
is written every day
whether I read it
or not.
IMG_2213

Postcard from Scilly

Clouds of butterflies flutter around my head taking me back to childhood. I’m on St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, in June, in a heat wave and in love with the place – an archipelago of granite islands which seem to float in a turquoise sea surrounded by white sand. Thirty miles off the rugged spit of Lands End and with nothing between them and America, the Scillies are unlike anywhere else.

The roads contain sand from the beach glittering with quartz, fragments of sea-glass and pieces of shell. Wildflowers edge the way, attracting insects in the sort of numbers I remember from the sixties, a contrast to the barren fields and verges of the mainland. Small and large tortoiseshell butterflies, red admirals, bees and beetles forage everywhere. Caterpillars gorge on the profusion of plants. We wait while a thrush smashes a snail in the road. The birds have little fear of people and hop around under your feet, and sometimes will even take food from your outstretched palm.

I saw a humming bird hawk moth gathering nectar from a tree echium – a plant which will grow to twenty feet high, smothered in small blue flowers attracting the bees and butterflies. On the margins between land and sand, sea holly and other salt-resistant plants flourish. The beaches are strewn with tiny shells not seen on the mainland – lucky cowrie shells like small clenched hands, swirling pink and silver top shells, yellow hi-vis winkles, fragile fan-shaped tellins, whelks hollowed by the sea to ivory twists … all set in dazzling white sand peppered with quartz crystals. Beachcombing on a sand bar with the turquoise water lapping at your feet is paradise.

Beyond the main islands are uninhabited smaller islands and large rocks which are a perfect environment for seals and seabirds such as the Puffin, Guillemot, Shag, Cormorant, Gannet and various types of gull. Unusual birds are often storm-bound on Scilly and create a great deal of interest. At St Martin’s a blackboard lists recent sightings – whitethroat, bar-tailed godwit, sanderling, golden plover …

I went on a boat trip to the Western Isles by invitation of the Sea Bird Recovery Project and learnt more about the birds of the Isles of Scilly – the subject of my next blog, coming soon.