Conference of the Birds

I actually completed this ride a week ago, but have been so busy that I haven’t had time to blog about it. Last Tuesday, the weather was good. Crisp and bright with very little wind. I took a deep breath and set off on the Lemond Etape for what would be my first proper ride since September. There was a lot of water on the road, throwing up a thin sheet of spray around my feet, the tyres rolled over the surface with a continuous hiss, underlaid with the crunch of tiny stones, dislodged from the banks by the recent flooding. Here and there, they settled in curious drifts in the middle of the road, surrounding a larger pebble or a bank of mud. The roads had become microcosmic estuaries, replete with channels of still and flowing water, miniature eddies and currents over the tarmac.


Over the hedge to the right of me, a flock of crows rose restlessly into the air, the beat of their wings made audible by the sheer numbers of birds. Here and there rooks pecked at the sodden clay, harsh calls filled the air. As I came to the junction crossing the main road, a magpie cackled out it’s warning cry, a sound akin to a box of matches being shaken.

Away from the relentless hum of the A-road, the lanes were peaceful if wet. Through the denuded hedges I could glimpse acres of muddy fields punctuated with the occasional oak tree, it’s stag-horned branches stark against the winter sky.

Once the initial chill had faded, and the thermal top had kicked in, the ride rapidly became hugely enjoyable. It felt fantastic to be moving again, standing on the pedals to provide a burst of speed towards Rudge, I could feel my legs waking up, the muscles protesting a little. Weirdly the knocking in the cranks seemed to have stopped, that removed the fear that the bottom bracket was suddenly going to shear off.

Into Dilton Marsh, I eased off the pedals and pootled through. Passing by the church I heard what seemed to be a buzzard call, very close by. It seemed a little odd, slightly lower that the usual kreeeee. Looking for the distinctive shape of a buzzard in the sky, my eyes rested on a male blackbird at the top of a small fir tree. As I watched, I saw it’s beak gape and the low-pitch buzzard noise came out again. By now I had drifted to the kerb and stopped. With one foot on the pavement I stood and watched the little mimic. I knew that blackbirds could pull off some good impressions, in fact I have a CD with a recording of one mimicking a modem of all things, but I’d never really heard it in the wild before. I continued on, but I hadn’t gone far out of the village when a brilliant flash of white feathers on the right caught my attention. I pulled over again and watched five Little Egrets circling low over a network of ditches by the long straight out of Dilton. They wheeled round gracefully with barely a flap of their wings. My bird book, published in the 1980s has these beautiful birds, part of the heron family, as migrant visitors to our shores, but now there are many breeding pairs and they have moved far inland. I hoped they would circle close to where I stood so I could get a photograph of them, but they drifted further away before settling gently on the ground and out of sight.

Further along the road two cars going in opposite directions were about to converge exactly where I was riding. luckily a handy layby presented itself and I simply steered into it without loss of speed. The car overtaking me gave me that really lovely unofficial thank you sign, by flicking first the left indicator then the right. I have used that signal myself a few times, it’s a nice way of saying thanks to someone who has just let you out of a junction, it’s not easy to say thanks when your headlights are facing the opposite way to the direction of the person you want to express thanks to. Perhaps it was just the fact that I hadn’t been out cycling for a long while, but the little gesture really made my ride for me. By the time I finished, I had managed to eke the ride out to twelve miles or so, every mile saw hedges festooned with birds. They darted out in front of me, shot past me at head height, scattered before my wheels and burst from the undergrowth in an explosion of feathers and noise. I can’t recall ever seeing so many birds on one ride. my guess is that the relentless rain had curtailed their feeding, so now with a bright, clear day, they were making the most of the opportunity to get some food.

There’s a couple more pictures from the ride to be found at the Highway Cycling Group Flickr page, here.

Published in: on January 29, 2008 at 11:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. You paint a beautiful picture.

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