Watch The Birdie : Poems with something to squawk about.
For The 67 Birds On The R.S.P.B. Red List.
For those of you, like me, who have been gripped by the BBC Wildlife series Dynasties, it’s very difficult to ignore our species’ impact upon the natural world, even here in the UK.
Back in July the ever talented Rhiannon Hooson introduced me to an exciting poetry project from Beautiful Dragons Press; a new anthology highlighting the 67 birds on the R.S.P.B.’s red (endangered) list, the sale of which would raise funds to support the charity.
Not familiar with the Red List’s contents I googled it, expecting to find a peppering of rare-plumed wonders like merlins or corncrakes. But the reality made for some very uncomfortable reading. Birds from my childhood; sparrows, curlews, starlings, even herring gulls all highlighted in red ink, their numbers plummeting by more than 50% in the last 25 years. I couldn’t believe my ignorance.
My moment of reprieve appeared in the guise of an Artic Skua – the bird I was to write my poem about. Combating my nescience I sort information, discovering an exceptional bird possessing an array of unique,but not always the most pleasant of avian attributes.
Also known as the Parasitic Jaeger (from the German meaning hunter) the Arctic Skua was once thought to eat the squirted in-flight excrement of other birds. Even their genus name, Stercorarius is latin for “of dung”. We now know it as a Kleptoparasite. It forces, by way of high pitched vocals and physically close wing-on-wing harassment, birds, usually terns to regurgitate the food they carry in their crop.
Had I seen one? Scanning back through my catalogue of Shetland photographs I came across an image of a dark bird which I’d seen in falcon-like flight skillfully pursuing arctic terns on Scousburgh Sands/Spiggie Beach. It wasn’t the archetypal example of an Arctic Skua, but something even more fascinating – an adult Artic Skua in the rare dark morph plumage. I remember it now – moving like a slim shadow over the waves, creeping up on where the terns were fishing. I’d spotted it, but the terns hadn’t, not until it was too late. Magnificent. A pirate in all but name!
I am sure the other 66 poets who’ve added their emotive words to this extraordinary anthology have their own stories to tell. Like me, I imagine they’ve discovered a new found regard for their endangered subjects and the tireless work conservation groups like the R.S.P.B. do.
Two weeks after the launch of the Watch The Birdie anthology Beautiful Dragons Press are already considering a reprint due to high sales! Well done Rebecca and all the team.
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