It's a dull, overcast and oppressive Boxing Day. The heavy, dark grey clouds are glowering, pressing down on the land and obliterating all sense of time. The starling flock don't know whether to roost, burble, pre-roost, sleep, chatter, or just generally mill about in confusion. They chose the latter to be going on with. As Our Lass and I wandered out for some fresh air, we passed by a telegraph pole where another couple of dozen birds were congregated. They were doing that massed choir, churring descant thing, some of them unsure of the words, so throwing in plenty of adlibs for good effect. At our approach, they all fell silent, then took to the air in a whir of wings, heading for the warmth of the cow byres nearby.
Other than starling song, only the fluid contact calls from a flock of Curlews disturbed the still air. We've not known such benign Christmas weather in Orkney. Reaching the shore, we gazed out at the foraging waders, dabbling ducks and gently lapping waves. The low clouds seemed to weigh heavy on my limbs, and for a moment I felt as though breathing would be difficult.
Our Lass could hear Long-tailed ducks calling far out in the bay, and as we ambled round the bend by the old kirk, the whistling of Wigeon came to our ears. Pausing again, we listened to a gentle tap... tap, tap... tap, as Turnstones (whose camouflaged plumage made them tricky to spot amongst the piles of seaweed and rocks) were foraging by turning over stones (go figure!).
Although we had rested merry, something was about to dismay us, because near the water's edge, sat atop the tideline seaweed, was a bunch of balloons. Having navigated Christmas Day without an exploding cracker or plastic toy or some other instantly-binnable trinket, this was a sight which brought my mood in sync with the depressing clouds.
Having wombled the offending items from the beach, we set off up the hill to home, also collecting strange glances from folk we encountered on the way. As we neared the farm again, another small flock of Starlings were inhabiting the wires around the top of a telegraph pole. These, too, were happily burbling away, and I was just waiting for that critical moment when they would all fall silent at our presence, before flying off to carry on carolling elsewhere.
However, before that could happen, there was what I can only describe as a starling super nova, when the dozens of birds seemed to go from a single point of Starlingness, to an instantly expanding cloud of wings and squawks. Looking up, we were able to witness, close at hand, the failed stoop of a Peregrine falcon, who had presumably, at the last microsecond, noticed the pillock with the coloured balloons stood just below its intended targets. The Starlings didn't care, they were busy exiting stage, left, right, and any which way, busily trying to be in a bit of airspace that the raptor wasn't. We watched, transfixed as the Peregrine wheeled around and headed off across a field, intent upon finding another unsuspecting bunch of the chattering masses.
With our spirits restored by this amazing wildlife-watching moment, we returned to Tense Towers on lighter feet and with happier hearts.