Images (c) RSPB
For the first time this year, I saw a huge heron fly over today. Usually I see them hunched by the river or beside a lake. Their watchful stillness is eerie, almost as if they’re not quite a part of this world.
Hunched, still as a wily snake,
You wait below the willow on the shallow bank.
Although alone, you’re doubled
At the water’s edge by your shadow self,
By that ageless grey bird, who, unstirring,
As stoic as you on stilted legs,
Stands just as hunched.
Tireless, you wait & watch
With prehistoric reptilian eyes
For hapless frogs & fish—whatever swims your way—
Since you’re not choosy
But endlessly patient,
Missing not the smallest ripple
And, like running water, tireless.
How ragged you are, old heron!
You’ve stood on the brink so long
That the weeping willow’s turned
From green to grey, from yellow back to green again
While you’re still biding your time, lurking,
Ruffled, muffled in your shaggy cloak
And—like a leafless willow branch—how ragged.
Words © Lizzie Ballagher
These small birds are feeding now on the wing before their long journey south to Africa. You might just see the blurred flash of a swallow in the centre of this recent photo – far quicker than the shutter!
hungry beaks open
fast wings outfly their bodies:
swallows hunting prey
© Words and image Lizzie Ballagher
In all the years of walking beside water, I’ve never managed to capture a swan on camera. Does this poem do the trick?
By Black Waterside (on Romney Marshes)
Clouds lower, doubled in still water. Above,
Beneath, an iron-clad heron leaves its feasting ground,
Flaps skyward, neck retracted, clanking. Fierce
Yellow eyes, yellow beak pierce the predatory wind.
Pattering madly in the mud, its shy white egret
Cousin searches for a fishy morsel then, hearing us,
Takes to immaculate wings. How
Such perfection’s born of river slime, who knows.
Where water brims, grasses stir, rushes skirr
To the ripple of wind’s fingers, to the whisper of wave rings
Flung wildly: marsh and air and water linked—
As wedded as the bride and bridegroom swans.
Swans! Now silkweed parts, and under a lazy sun
Bending to horizontal in stark November light
Great birds sail, murmur and whistle; stretch pale necks
Like candlefire into the dark, inverted arcs
Of gothic lancets formed of sedge and reed.
Just so … swans’ down blows down, snows down.
Curls, swirls of feathers rest, nest and turn on brown silt banks.
By black waterside, swans flex white wings like seraphim.
© Lizzie Ballagher