I’ve never been a big fan of birds. Unpopular opinion, I know. It’s just they’ve always freaked me out with their beady eyes and beaks for mouths. See what I mean? Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate what they can do. Even that stuff though – all that freedom and soaring – it’s seemed a bit suspicious. How come you guys get to do flying and no one else does? And not the Marvel universe either – in the REAL world.
People who are really into birds; they’ve always seemed a bit strange to me too. They’re the true obsessives of the zoological world. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – the RSPB – is one of the richest charities in the UK. Which shows that people who like birds really like them. And the way bird lovers: a.k.a twitchers travel large distances just to see a bird they don’t see often – I’ve never really got that either. It’s like bird stalking.
Still, the times are-a-changing. Looking around for dolphins on my kayak – I’ve spotted a million jellyfish, seabirds, and the one sunfish. I decided to identify the seabird which keeps swooping past on my kayak. I went straight to the RSPB website. Here I got a bit confused. Under the section for British seabirds, all the pictures were illustrations. Granted they were beautifully drawn but it didn’t make identifying them exactly easy. Who can stare at a watercolour and say, ‘Yes, exactly. That’s just the right amount of shading.’? Were they guillemots, auks, some kind of gull or puffin? I couldn’t decide. I promptly forgot.
Still, every time I went out, they kept swooping me. It started to feel they were saying hello. And every day, they were growing in number. With the tops of their bodies dark and their undersides white, I began noticing them more and more. It struck me too that they were completely silent – which increased their sneaking-up effect. Very funny, guys.
They seemed to change too, depending on their angle. Sometimes their wings seemed W-shaped and elegant. Other times they came across blunt and gangly. I noticed they didn’t climb high into the sky but glided close to the water’s surface. And their beaks pointed downwards at the ends at their tips. Made them look a little hook-nosed.
When the lifeboat made a failed attempt to rescue me, the birds seemed entirely unafraid of me. One landed near the kayak, did a little underwater fishing and came back up. It looked entirely cute at that moment. Goofy even.
I went home and googled them again. This time I bypassed the illustrations and went straight for the photos. Okay – now I could tell. I’d spent enough time around them. They are the Manx Shearwater. A cousin of the albatross.
‘Completely silent at sea,’ it said. Yep. ‘Never seen on land.’ That was true too, I realised. A sizeable colony hung out just offshore but you never see one on the beach. The world really is divided into two. Water and land.