Sunday 13 December 2015

Barrel riding the black wave

I have been meaning to blog about a phenomenon that I've experienced a few times since moving to Orkney, but I've not found the right moment to commit it to print. It may well happen in other places, at other times, but I have not previously seen it.

The first occasion was earlier this year, as I was driving out of Kirkwall, up the hill just past the Highland Park distillery (probably not directly relevant to the story, but you never know). As I left the 30mph zone, I was aware of a large number of black birds thronging the verges at the roadside, as well as lining the walls either side of the carriageway. There had been recent rain, but this had now ceased, and it appeared that a flock of rooks were investigating the road and the verges for tasty invertebrate morsels which had either been drowned or washed away.

As I was the only car on the road at that time, I was about to be the sole and fortunate recipient of an amazing effect. 

At the approach of my vehicle, firstly the rooks in the road took to the air, then those on the verges, followed by the ones on the walls. None of them flew any higher than was necessary to avoid the car, before settling back down again, to what was obviously an interesting food source.

The experience, from my point of view, felt like driving for about 25 yards through a wave of black wings. It was absolutely astonishing and reason enough to regret not having purchased a dashcam.

The memory lives with me, a wildlife encounter that was, like so many of them, totally unexpected.

Several months later, I was driving to work along a stretch of road with pasture on either side. As I crested a rise, in the distance I could see a flock of rooks in a rough circle on the ground, as is often the case when the birds are foraging. However, in this instance, the circle included the road and verges as well as the part of the fields on either side. It was a 50mph zone, but I knew what was about to happen (or at least I hoped I did), so I slowed down to savour the moment. Checking in either direction, it appeared that, again, I was the only vehicle in sight, which fleetingly made me wonder if I was being singled out for this treatment!

Once again, I had the joy of driving through a tunnel of rooks, a bit like riding a feathery wave of corvidian black, then watching in the rear view mirror as the birds flowed back down to earth as if nothing had happened.

To be fair, I love rooks, they were often my only company when I worked at a re-use yard, watching my recycling endeavours and commenting to each other in a wide range of calls. But I could understand that if you were a little ornithophobic, or more specifically corvidophobic, the experience might not be so fantastic. I suspect that Alfred Hitchcock would've loved to capture the footage too.

At Tense Towers, we don't see many rooks. A pair of Hooded crows are sometimes to be seen, keeping a respectful distance from any humans. Ravens, too, often fly over, their 'cronk, cronk' calls signalling their presence. So, this morning, it was a bit of a treat when a corvid flock appeared in the fields over the road. Mostly rooks, but with a smattering of jackdaws thrown in for good measure. To my shame, I only noticed when the birds settled on some fence posts to preen, a thin black line of feather fluffing activity.

At one point, there was even a row of 'four and twenty black birds'...

1 comment:

Martin said...

The Crow Road? (Not quite the same as a book by Iain Banks)
Fascinating observations though and not something I have ever seen. Given the intelligence of Corvids, the drive to remain in the locality must be only marginally overridden by the self-preservation demand of a motor vehicle. I wonder what would happen if you had been walking.. would they just toddle out of the way live a black river around you?