Thursday, 14 April 2016

Moorland black magic - one and twenty black birds perched in a tree!

I am standing looking in the opposite direction, down across the valley. An unobtrusive rippling call makes me turn and a flock of black birds, starlings I think at first, there were so many of them, are dropping out of the sky, jinking down into the twiggy tops of two trees on the field edge. I lift my binoculars to confirm and it's then that my heart starts beating a bit faster in my chest: these 'starlings' have white collars, white crescent-shaped collars. Another six slink in, flying low this time, a few feet above the track, rising to join the rest of the gang in the branches. They are hardly in the tree a moment when in twos and threes they drop down into thorn bushes and into the field beyond, just out of view. 

In the thorn bushes, two females with white-fringed ghosting on their feathers inspect the branches for any leftover berries, they call chak-chak, indignant almost that there is not more to be had. I sidestep to the left until I can see the rest in the field beyond, doing their saltatory hop-hop-hop-STOP, hop-hop-hop-STOP. One is a cracking male with his white collar gleaming in the sun. Inside I am doing a jig, I think I previously have only ever seen one at a time, and very rarely at that. As fantastic birds of true moorland and mountain ring ouzels they live in wild places and only summer with us, they leave the high ground for the winter and return after the swallows in Spring. 

Soon these birds will fly on further north, to scatter across their summer breeding grounds, to a mountain edge or a rocky gully that they call home for a few months each summer. This then is a special bit of moorland black magic, to have one and twenty black birds in a single tree. A helicopter flies over the valley and they head out across the empty reservoir to another part of the moor. I continue on my rounds. Two hours later I follow the track out. I have to pass under these trees and so I pull out my camera to get a shot of 'the tree where they all sat'. I start to press the shutter, I hear that poourrit call again and four black shapes have appeared in the branches above my head, cocky like, as if to be there for the photo. They stare out at the hill; I stand transfixed, my eyes glued to them, to the spaces between the branches above me, not daring to move, not wanting them to take fright. Minutes or seconds later, I cannot tell, they call and as one fly up to the moor edge, and I remember to breathe.