Tuesday 17 March 2015

Politicians feathering their own nests

As I stood at the front door this morning, listening to an unseen Blackbird singing from amongst the rooftops of the neighbouring farm, I pondered upon the changing avian soundscape as Spring unfolds. Lost in this reverie, I nearly forgot to wave farewell to Our Lass as she left for work. Oops!

Yes, waving off one's significant other is the final scene of the morning play:

Act One: In which our sleepy hero makes a pot of tea, puts the porridge on the hob and then trudges back to bed with a cuppa for both of us;

Act Two: Porridge is served as Radio Orkney begins its morning broadcast;

Act Three: In which our hero, now fully awake, endeavours to stay out of the way whilst the leading lady commandeers all rooms of the house in a spirit of 'getting ready for work'. Much silent and visual comedy ensues;

Act Four: In which the heroine of the piece drives off into the sunset low cloud and a sprightly breeze, whilst the remainder of the cast wave from the front door.

But returning to bird song...

Through the Winter, flocks of Greylag Geese, gulls and Starlings have created the dominant sounds, with the occasional skirling Curlew during the night. But now that Spring is making its presence felt, we're hearing more Blackbirds, as they proclaim territories, and Oystercatchers are moving back into the fields in larger and noisier numbers. But that Blackbird is very gentle on the ear...

Which reminds me that it's time to vote for Britain's National Bird. See also here.

This election is running alongside the General Election and, indeed, closes at midnight on 7th May, shortly after the polling stations close to decide the members of the next Westminster Parliament. With such a political backdrop, the scene is set for a showdown of some of Britain's flightier characters, who should have no problem pushing their bills through or ruffling a few feathers.

Enough terrible puns now?

During the preliminary rounds of voting for Britain's National Bird, 60 contenders have been whittled down to just 10. Early on, I had put my cross against some personal favourites:

Gannet - spectacular bird when seen plummeting into the sea or gliding close by a clifftop;

Snipe - they can drum, they can become invisible;

Yellowhammer -  gorgeous colours and a song that is the soundtrack of my childhood;

Swift - incredible bird, so at one with the air;

Skylark - could you belt out Bohemian Rhapsody whilst simultaneously running up the stairwell from the bottom to the top of a 50 storey building?

Sadly, these species did not make it to the final selection. So who are the ten candidates for Britain's National Bird? Here's the list, annotated with a Tense Towers take on their manifestos and allegiances:

Barn Owl

To stand in a pasture at dusk and watch at close quarters as a Barn Owl silently quarters the field is a pleasure to be savoured. The 'quiet man' of the contest, perhaps? Though any comparisons to Iain Duncan Smith are highly inappropriate, as there's only one of him and the Barn Owl is to be found on every continent bar Antarctica.


It is hard to imagine a more relaxing and fluid sound than the song of the Blackbird. But as beautiful as these flutey tones undoubtedly are, the Blackbird, when alarmed, is also capable of some of the most grating and infuriating calls to assault the ear. The Speaker of the House should intervene!

Blue Tit

Hmmm, blue, yellow and green. Just which party does the Blue Tit follow? But they're politicians in the current vein, used to taking the cream off the top and constantly having petty squabbles. In stark contrast to the human inhabitants of the land, where the provision of social housing has been on the decline, Blue Tits have benefitted greatly from small wooden homes erected in our gardens. It must be noted that the introduction of nest box cameras followed similar experiments carried out in the Commons and the Lords.

Hen Harrier

Class warrior or a victim of an Establishment conspiracy, birds don't come any more political than the Hen Harrier. In England and much of Scotland, it has been persecuted mercilessly for centuries. Even now, a species that has had protection in law since the 1960s is still the victim of much wildlife crime, for which far too few perpetrators are brought to justice. The Hen Harrier is a bird of moorland, so where this habitat coincides with a grouse shooting estate, there are going to be fireworks. Think PMQs but with shotguns and poisoned bait. Of late, the only breeding Hen Harriers in England have been in an area where research was being carried out (2 pairs in 2013), when in actual fact, there is sufficient habitat around the country to support 300 pairs. A current e-petition is proposing to ban driven grouse shooting, as the industry has been remarkably inept at putting its own house in order.


Smartly dressed, seldom seen in person, but with amazing media presence, Kingfishers must employ a really savvy PR guru. But are they the birding equivalent of single issue politics? Expect constant arguments with the EU about fishing quotas. And that red and blue plumage, is there enough clear blue water between Labour and Conservative policies.

Mute Swan

Whilst we often think of the Mute Swan as an emblem of elegance, love and gentleness, it has not always been so. Not that this is the fault of the swan particularly, but sometimes there's just too much baggage. Since at least Saxon times, the Mute Swan has been seen as the property of the Establishment and therefore a jealously guarded symbol of prestige and standing. In these times of austerity, expect a BBC Panorama of Channel 4 Dispatches exposé before the vote closes.


A cute, cuddly comedian of a bird. More Michael McIntyre than Russell Brand. I wonder if it's actually the Boris Johnson of the contest, able to clown around for the cameras, but with a steely nerve and a reticence to come clean about its plans.

Red Kite

Red, huh? Too close to the Labour Party? The Red Kite has certainly had a chequered history. As a scavenger, it was once the bird that kept the streets of London clean, and is mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. However, by the turn of the 20th Century, it was estimated that there were just 5 breeding pairs left in Britain. Their stronghold, if that's a word you can use for such a tiny population, was now wildest Wales. Reintroduction schemes all across Britain have once more brought these impressive raptors back to our skies, though they still suffer from persecution. I wouldn't want to draw too many parallels with Scottish Labour!


The unofficial bird of Britain, as it has been Britain's 'Favourite' Bird since the 1960s. Time to put that support to the test with a legitimate vote, methinks. The Robin is such a part of our Christmas traditions that it's difficult to remember that they're a pugnacious bunch and used to being on their own. The George Galloway of the avian world? That red breast might hold it back, too.


Small bird, big song. Reckoned to be the commonest breeding species of bird in the land. Hard not to love the Wren, unless you have a hangover, perhaps. For several hundred years, they were ritually persecuted on 26th December, though there are nearly as many explanations of this custom as there are Wrens. Its mouse-like behaviour, dull plumage and energetic manner could make this species the bird of the downtrodden mosses masses.

My vote has been cast (sorry, not telling, it's a secret ballot and I wouldn't want to influence you unduly either way). But don't forget to vote for Britain's National Bird, and try not to think too tactically, eh?


Anonymous said...


Imperfect and Tense said...

Thanks for spotting the typo, all sorted now.

You still having bother with that Caps Lock key?