Writing Portfolio


A first-time sighting at the Minack

Wherever I go, I do try to keep an eye out for the birds. You never know what you might see. A case in point was on Dartmoor a few days ago, when a Hobby swooped across the road about twenty yards in front of me. When did I last see a Hobby? Years ago. Incidentally, the Hobby is just about the only bird whose Latin name I know off by heart – falco subbuteo, and yes that has a lot to do with the old table football game.

A couple of days later, I was down at one of my favourite West Country locations, the Minack Theatre.

I reckoned I knew what to expect, bird-wise. Gulls overhead. Jackdaws on the cliffs. Gannets diving out at sea. But then, looking out to sea from the stage, I saw something flying out from the cliff below that I hadn’t bargained for. Black, but a glossier black than you get on a Jackdaw. A little bit bigger than a Jackdaw, but more slender-looking. Red, curved beak. Even though I’d never actually seen one before, I knew at once what it was, from a lifetime of glancing at pictures of it in bird books when flicking through the pages about the crow family. A Chough.

The Chough (it’s pronounced ‘chuff’) is the county bird of Cornwall and has been a Cornish icon for centuries. Legend even has it that King Arthur’s soul entered the body of a Chough after he died (which led to the belief that it’s considered unlucky to kill one), while over in Kent the bird has long been associated with Thomas Becket to the point where three of them can be seen on the Canterbury coat-of-arms. Back in Cornwall, due to loss of habitat they were extinct in the county by the early Seventies. Then in 2001, they were seen again – a few of them had flown over from Ireland and settled on the Lizard Peninsular. Since then, numbers have steadily grown to the point where there were twelve breeding pairs last year. So things are looking up for the Cornish Choughs.

As for my lone sighting, It was gone in a matter of seconds so I didn’t even have time to grab my binoculars, let alone take a photo. Although I kept an eye out at the place where I’d seen it for some time afterwards, this would be one appearance at the Minack with no repeat performance. Maybe next time. For now, I’m very happy to report another ‘lifer’. And I will, of course, continue to keep an eye out for the birds.

No comments: