Scathing subversive script.
Scathing subversive script.
Kettle boiled. Juice poured. Cereal bowled. TV on. Rain in the North. Snow in the East. Athletics in London. Shooting in Gaza. Rail travel up. School investment down. Motorways delayed. Child dead. Health scare. New store opens. TV off. Cold air. Dunnock sings. Car warms. Office cocoons.
Beyond the shopping centre a sky bruised by torment sulked. Winter still had its grip, the first drops fell, cold as ice. It was a usual lunchtime chicken-run from office to sandwich shop and back. Don’t get stopped by a ‘Chugger’. The young fresh faced enthusiasm, tabards colour varying by organisation week-on-week. They had the same intent -get as many people to commit a monthly deposit to the cause. Last week it was multi-faith non-binary whale-pandas against the war. Pigeons swirled in the air. They mirrored the crisp packets and free news-sheets, spiralling before dying in a corner.
‘Have you ever considered helping save the life of a child in Syria?’ The High Street ran at a slight incline giving the clipboard more authority over the sandwich. Always promising to get fitter made this an imbalanced conversation for the sandwich.
‘Surely, as you look at these pictures it must move you.’
‘Not fast enough’ was the exhaled phrase.
‘Knowing, that at any time, flight to a refugee camp, may have been delayed for too long. They don’t want to leave Syria, but what choice do they have?’
‘They don’t have to come here’, blew down the street with the tumble weed.
‘Imagine if this was your children. You do have children, don’t you?’ A reflexive nod betrayed the sandwich to the clipboard. ‘Imagine if they were standing, in freezing rain, not knowing if their home was still standing; their parents alive.’ The dark eyes in a photo were revealed for effect. ‘Imagine that. For only £3 per month, less than the price of a sandwich’ pen tapped on a clipboard, ‘you, can make a difference.’
‘I haven’t got time for this nonsense.’
This response elicited more questions. Food, education and environment became a cocktail of buzz words. The bank account details remained concealed and with one last, ‘Perhaps, tomorrow, you may wish to consider £2 per month?’ The clipboard turned to review messages on a screen. The sandwich felt relieved that tomorrow it would be far away.
The case was full, personal ephemera crammed against personal ephemera. Everything needed to flee; migration driven by the need to escape. Security –documents for inspection; the inquisitorial eye; the suspicion. Not just from the uniforms, but from fellow travellers. Why have they got that? Why them? Why us? What’s that? Bottles of water are taken and confiscated. Marshalling staff funnel, corral and cajole; into one spot, this spot; nervous laughter hiding insecurity. Moving forward in groups controlled the progress. It prevented a stampede, but not the jostling for position. Some people brought their own food. Seating allocated by number restricted contact between groups to distant noises; a child’s scream; and a random smell.
It had been an early start under the cover of darkness and tiredness set in. With eyes closed and thoughts on better places, the journey passed. After about four hours the journey stopped. The travellers became separated into groups -some would travel on; and some who would not. Again lines, queues, marshals and instructions. These instructions were delivered by a foreign tongue with gestures commonly understood. Onward travel of nearly two more hours dragged some down to their lowest ebbs. Gathered belongings. More documents checked. Hot sun beat down on clothes stained with sweat. They had reached Antalya with their first world problems.
People arriving from the North will see Antalya squeezed between the mountains and the sea. It would appear as pomegranate syrup to someone raised on dry crackers. Antalya is both classically beautiful and stylishly modern. At her core is the wonderfully preserved old-city district of Kaleiçi -‘within the castle’. Her visitors would be dazzled by finely restored Ottoman houses on her winding lanes that hide the scent of food cooked behind thick wooden doors. From here she trails her long fingers languidly down to the harbour and dips them in the far east of the Mediterranean. Many from the North circle this jar of distilled sunshine; fearing the exotic they return to the familiar.
Roman-era harbour with clifftop views of hazy-blue mountain silhouettes. However, this does not have to impact on people wishing to just escape to sunshine from Northern Europe.
The tourism investments starting in 1970s and changed the fate of the city considerably. Millions of tourists each year from around the world discover its fabulous mix of great beaches and traditional Turkish culture. Many do not even have to touch the city as they arrive on “all-inclusive” holiday packages. Taken from the airport to the huge resorts lining the coastline there is no need to learn a language or carry lira. It is possible to stay until the end of their holidays without the need to escape via air-conditioned coaches to any of the nearby archaeological sites. However, kids would love the Beach Park -a waterslide-fanatic’s dream. They can also see dolphins, sea lions and white whales from the Arctic.
People do not arrive in Antalya from the East.
More than 2000 miles, the bottle of sun protection cream had travelled so it could lie beside an ultra-marine pool on its ‘linen-fresh’ towel, refreshed every day. From 10am a blue sky contrived to boil the cream. High above the sundeck thousands of white birds, with black wings and long red legs and bills circled on thermals, pushing north.
White Storks, like many large migratory birds, use these thermals of hot air generated over land to drift without active flying. North in the Spring and South in the Autumn, all their genetic material in one proverbial boat floating over land. They have exited Africa through Egypt to keep water crossings to a minimum; no thermals tower there. They pause in the evening as the air cools, but during the day they look down on Sinai sand; Palestine Ghettos; Israeli prosperity; and Lebanese olive oil. Syrian conflict stops where they circumnavigate the Mediterranean and into Turkey over people poolside towards the isthmus. They push on further north to nest and continue their linage. It has always been so; the land beneath them changes.
The White Stork has always been an important element in the European culture.
As a messenger of prosperity, storks are welcome over most of their range. To those sitting quietly poolside without headphones, these storks could have brought with them stories from the people of Aleppo, just over a day’s flight away. They would have spoken of their life, their loves, how they blended their own spices and baked their own bread. More recently they would have told how the world abandoned these people. This may have melted the ice-cream from the all-you-can eat buffet. We will fetch more from the fridge.
White Storks over Turkey.
having recently had this rejected by @Darkmtn I did not know where to file it so thanks for reading.
I am coming to the opinion that Wren’s don’t give a shit. It is this, that makes them adorable. Any other garden bird could have made this an anthropocentric blog about befriending wildlife. Robin tickling; being trained by a Blackbird to drop food and keep pigeons away while he feasts; setting up a Blue Tit nest cam and following the goings on of the family; or any other series of anecdotes. That, as you would contest, is not birding –active searching.
Like most species Wrens don’t need us, even the ‘put out some Niger seeds now’ finches would be better off without humans. They fly off as soon as you open the door to replenish the feeder, but they come back. Not the Wren. It asks for nothing, so why should it do cartwheels of appreciation the moment you find one picking at the bottom of a hedge? They carry on, dancing as if no-one was watching.
So it was last night. The wind was strong and it bitterly resented seeing bare flesh of face and hands being exposed. Sheltering behind a Gorse bush I planned my next move, but could see no less painful way back than into the wind. There was some Wren chatter in the nearby clumps of long grass and sedge; plenty of chatter but nothing to see. Nothing to see until one popped into the Gorse bush next to me. It picked around down to a metre from my face before disappearing. Then a second, and a third, all of which gave me the beady eye stare that underlined the lack of significance of me in their world. They disappeared into the bush and fell silent.
It had been like moths attracted to a flame. None of the birds landed on me, but for a moment I felt like I was part of their world. Really, they did not give a damn one way or the other. It was now 5.30pm and a couple more were silhouetted, singly, against the pale blue sky. They too disappeared and into silence where the twigs were most dense, around head height.
I have traveled miles to see big birds -harriers, cranes and swans coming in to roost. You can see them from half a mile or more. Small birds as well like Starlings in vast numbers they become a single organism. Again they are seen from distance. The Wren roost was small scale and intimate. Something I had never seen before and it was truly staggering for this reason alone.
Having read about roosts of Wrens using bird boxes and caves I had hoped, but not expected to see one in this unusual year. Writing one day on I am still pumped about finding this piece of the puzzle.
Frost crystal flowers grew on my bedroom window during childhood winters. Before central heating and double glazing, you could only see the first snow by scraping frost from exhaled dreams. When it snowed though, our village was abandoned like a ship on an open sea for a couple of days. Schools closed and cream froze in glass bottles preventing the birds pecking through the silver cap. It was severe, but we were kids and did not notice these things slip away.
Once from my window I watched a grey Hen Harrier hunt where now double-glazing vacantly stares. The Ash tree is the only constant after the Elms died. Even then, it was the 1970s superimposed on the countryside; keepers begun to loosen their grip on the woods where now Buzzards fly. Here seeds were sown for the Countryside Alliance to speak for country folk as a thin disguise for keeping poor people in their place; Toffs hunted foxes, others baited badgers. At election time landowners hammered, ‘Vote Tory’ posters into roadside oaks, whilst removing jobs from the land. The language of the countryside disappeared into Standard English.
In ‘Pattern Under the Plough’ George Ewart Evans felt that people born between 1885 and 1895 were the last to live in the old society with folklore in abundance. They did not see it as anything different to themselves; not just believing it, but living it too. People born later became the first generation of the new age. They distanced themselves from lore and diminished our engagement with the natural world. We don’t gather around a central hearth, the stories we relay are being shouted at us from screens we view alone. The ‘other’ that lurked in old stories has been replaced by a fear of ‘other’ that is more like us. Everything else becomes nostalgia.
Elizabeth Atwell Laurence gathered together stories of our relationship with Wren as an explanation of the relationship between man and nature. ‘Hunting the Wren’ is more than just a description of a country tradition involving Wrens. For St Stephen’s Day I intended to relay the story as we watch for the lengthening of the days. However, the more I read, to find the true story, the more I could see the revival of a tradition of poverty, of oppression by the Catholic Church and in these post-Weinstein days, of sexual violence. So using the 66 names Laurence found for Wren here is an opportunity to hunt the Wren in her many guises on St Stephen’s Day.
The names to look for are:
WEE BROWN BUTTON
OUR LADYS HEN
LADY OF HEAVENS HEN
CHICKEN OF THE LORD
Photo Cristen Bruggeman
Light from the kitchen window cut acutely into the morning, disturbing the slow rise of mid-winter. It planned to go from black to dark grey and back to black with minimum effort. The last frost lingered among mossy rocks; Robin tutted disapproval. Car lights of the 9-5 moved beyond the hedge into the globs of sleet. Wind tugged at gold on Silver Birch and Ash’s last leaf hung without expectation.
Shadow moved through shadow. Where logs dripped black on black, a thin probing bill. With many insect-eating birds changing their diet or migrating how do Wrens survive? What do they peck at in the first rays of light? Disappearing into the pile of logs the answer remains screened from view. It appears higher up. Bob, whirr of wings, on the ground it shuffles under Hazel leaves; they move, they are still.
Only one Wren set forth through the leaves where once there had been two. Perhaps this was not the winter to start looking at Wrens. Annual population growth is consistently correlated with the number of frost days. There is local variation showing adaption to colder weather; individual Wrens are heavier in colder regions. However as there are already more frost days this winter than the last two combined there will be more vacant territories next Spring.
Silently arriving together they demanded attention. Each bird took a different route; one picking under the leaves of the geraniums before the first frost flattens them; the second closer and easier to see, until it disappeared under a flower pot and out into the Hazel bush. At this point I claim them as ‘my’ Wrens. Knowing that one garden is not enough for their needs, does not defeat my possesiveness.
Picture by Christopher Mercier
This is a common scene acted out in front of many household windows as Wrens are one of the top 20 most common garden birds. They are found in all other habitats too, with 7.7m territories across Britain the tic-tic of a Wren is never far away. Weighing about the same as a £1 coin (9g), the distribution map could be seen as a thin scattering of £14.4m.
Wren distribution from BTO BBS.
If people know little about birds, they will still know that Wrens are small. The wing length is about that of the long edge of a custard cream with little difference between that of a male and female. The biscuit, for information, is heavier and tends not to move as fast around my garden. The biscuit is also paler in colour; the Hobnob being a better colour match did not have a suitable Wren metric.
Wrens numbers drop after hard winters in Britain and so currently are doing well. This shift in climate is also being seen in its earlier nesting dates each year. The female lays 5-6 eggs which weigh 1.3g. Each egg represents about 14% of her body weight; you may wish to remember that next time you are in the bathroom.
Average laying date
Incubation last 2.5 weeks and there is another 2.5 weeks before the young Wrens fledge. About 26% of fledglings survive into the following year at which point they are able to breed. Many survive into a second breeding year, but these are short lives full of hustle and bustle. The longest lived birds hardly move far from where they were born, the greatest survivor being a 7 years old bird that lived its days on Bardsey Island.
Fledglings per breeding attempt
Some do have wanderlust and a small number of records of birds travelling within Britain up to 490km. Others have crossed the North Sea with a remarkable record of a bird travelling 909km from Falsterbo, Sweden to Northumberland in 13 days. However, the evidence does suggest that this species does have a tendency to stay local. This then, is part of their magic, here in your local birds is a genealogy traceable if one could only read the signs. Or more likely hear, as the song past from father to son that retains the essence of Wrenness through generations. It is this which isolates populations on islands and aids speciation.
Information taken from BTO Bird Facts
Chocolate brown in deep shadow. Hop; poke; twist; whirr of wings; peck; jump-up; bob; peck; twist. Detail is hard to come by in these brief meetings. I need to go back to the books.
Wren, has been an image built up of layers of Wren each adding more detail to the last until we are satiated. Digging down in this avian archaeology the first layer is The Observers Book of Birds. A black and white image on page 152 is Wren shaped. The first sentence reads, ‘The Wren is one of our smallest birds, and is quite unmistakable with its brown plumage, round-about appearance and tilted up tail’. This combined with that work of fiction, known as The Eye Spy Book of Birds; what I didn’t see in my village at the end of the 70s, would have been my first Wren words. Then there was the eight lines in the Observers Book of Bird eggs, which described the nest as being built out of ‘any handy material’.
By the time I saw Richard Richardson’s image of Wren, among the plate of brown warblers and a very small Nightingale, I must have already seen Wren. Words from the Collins Pocket Guide to British Birds were closer to Wren. ‘The smallest warm-brown bird, its barred plumage and cocked-up tail make it almost unmistakable’. Almost seems a bit cautious in this case as it is preceded by ‘Flight Whirring; hops; almost creeps among undergrowth like mouse’. There was no reference at all to the undertail-coverts as shown here by Mark Dobinson’s picture.
By the time the Shell Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland arrived I probably did not notice Wren, sandwich as it was by the exotics of Waxwing and Dipper in 1983. Largely, that’s how it remained its tic-tic-tic, scolding trill or burst of loud warbling song breaking the consciousness neither Collins or Jonsson added anything new. When in 2004 when Birding World highlighted the races living on offshore Scottish Islands I was not really that bothered.
The only new information came in 2010 from Van Duivendijk’s Advanced Bird ID Guide in describing 1w-1s ‘Sometimes moult-limit in greater coverts, juv-type warm-brown without pale tips ad-type slightly greyer and often with pale or white tips’. He alluded to the island forms which Hume et al. illustrated in 2016 and only then did things start to take shape.
There they sat until I added other species of wren in the States -Carolina and Eastern Marsh. At this point I started to take Wren more seriously as two rather than the usual one took our garden as their winter territory. Silently arriving together they demanded attention.