The sea was brighter near the shore – a light turquoise – almost green as the sandy beach filtered through the water.  Further out, over the rocks, it darkened to a regal hue and beyond that, a slate-blue, air-force serge.  Persil-white tumbled duvets of cloud rose layer upon layer, towering over the headland and backlighting a fidgety sea.   Patches of yellow gorse flashed from slopes of dark bracken that resounded with the songs of birds;  the insistent two-tone calls of stonechats and chiffchaffs, the neurotic chatter of the whitethroat, punctuated with emphatic whistles and scolding churrs, the descending notes of the parachuting pipit, and the loud, insistent instruction of the diminutive wren.  Far below, Atlantic Grey Seals had hauled themselves out on the rocks and were stretching and curling into smiles.  Two bright  blue and red lobster boats, tethered to a yellow buoy, rocked on the waves, their occupants lying in the gunnels dreaming of  good beer and wicked girls, while Gannets plunged around them.  A Buzzard, its tail spread, hovered heavily above the ruined engine house.          

 

And then, as incongruous as a barrel organ in church, a sudden gaiety of wicked squeals fractured the afternoon’s reverie. The Choughs had returned. Three of them careered along the slope, banking and tilting, twisting, diving with folded wings and then swooping up, feathers spread wide, fingering the wind for some purchase.  Choughs are the most aerobatic of our crows.  Seen head on, their profile resembles an inverted ogival arch; the upturned wing tips conferring stability where none seems possible.  

 

Choughs are birds of mountains and celtic fringes.  Yellow-billed Alpine Choughs scavenge leftovers in mountain top cafes in Austria and have even been seen at the Everest base camp.  In Cornwall and Pembrokeshire, they thrive around remote farms, stalking the stockyards in their red boots and probing piles of dung for beetles with a  blood-red bill, as curved and sharp as an inverted comma.  They declined in Cornwall after the pit ponies disappeared from the cliff tops. The last pair nested in 1947, but the male lived on for another 26 years and was last seen in 1973.  Then, seven of them turned up here in 2001.  Protected from egg thieves and encouraged by the wild grazing of highland cattle, their population has increased.  Walking from Falmouth to Padstow, I saw them in three different sites.           

 

The Latin name for the Chough is Pyrrocorax, which means fire-crow.  Like other crows, notably the Jackdaw (of Rheims) and the (thieving) Magpie, it is attracted to bright objects, rings, coloured glass, spoons, and in the case of the Chough, firesticks.  In the middle ages, Choughs had the reputation for stealing sticks off the fire and dropping them onto the thatch of the houses, setting them alight.

 

They coveteth firestickes, which they ficlhest and hideth away in the thatch.’         

 

Choughs are birds of misrule and hazard.  They take risks on life.  They have fun. They inspire.  Just to go out on the cliff top on a bright, breezy morning and watch them play tag, twisting and tumbling and squealing with delight is to find joy in life.  Rejoice, but watch out for your thatch!   

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