Monday, 15 July 2013

Cats With Wings

I was pulling into my favourite parking space one morning last week when I spotted a couple of birds flying strongly but erratically over the campus.  If you're a halfway decent birdwatcher, you'll know the birds you see most frequently by their characteristic size, shape and behaviour, what in twitchers' argot is called a bird's jizz (hey, don't blame me).  The merest glimpse is usually enough to know whether it was, say, a Robin or a Wren that just flew into a nearby bush.  By the same token, you just know when you're seeing something rare or unfamiliar.

These two were distinctly unfamiliar.  Hawk-ish? Yes.  But maybe just a bit pigeon-like?  Yes but no, definitely hawks.  But not Sparrow-Hawks, and not Kestrels.  Well, if it looks like a hawk but makes you think of a pigeon, then by common consent it's a duck Peregrine Falcon.  Surely not...  Without binoculars I couldn't say for sure, but as I watched them sparring, swooping and gliding, the conviction grew.  I have seen Peregrines before, but still retain an idea of them as romantic, rarely-seen aristocrats of the wild places, despite knowing they have taken to nesting on inner-City tower blocks, where the pigeon-pickings are easy.

Later in the morning, I heard an insistent mewling sound through my open office window, and looked out.  There they were again, high up, rolling and tumbling together.  This time I shoved my camera out and took a shot of a lot of sky and two tiny bird-specks somewhere in it.  No doubt about it:  Peregrines, probably youngsters.

It turns out this was old news.  A pair had chosen to nest on a Vodafone mobile phone mast atop the improbable, unoccupied and still-undemolished Faraday Building, disrupting the signal to a large part of northern Southampton, and thereby making themselves very unpopular.  Being protected birds, of course, they cannot be disturbed until their chicks have applied to university.  This may also explain why applications from pigeons to study at Southampton have diminished dramatically in recent times.
A spokespigeon said: 

Yeah, yeah, Lord and Lady Pigeon-Killer set up home, and everyone's like, Oooh, they're so special, leave them alone!  But, a coupla hard-working pigeons try to raise a family and it's, Get the fuck outta here, you scum, you're just rats with wings!  Rats with wings? Listen, from where I'm standing, those things are cats with wings.  And I hate cats! Ooops, sorry about the upholstery...  Come on, it'll brush out...  Shall I stand somewhere else?

The pigeon's Room 101...


Zouk Delors said...

Having read Wiki's twitcher's dictionary (linked on jizz, above) I'm wondering: are you an actual lister yourself, or just a dude?

Mike C. said...

No, I'm not a twitcher, though I've known a few. Back in the days before the internet and mobiles, when I was a postgraduate at UEA, a guy on my corridor was a hardcore twitcher. When the word came through (usually via the corridor payphone) he would club together with his fellow lunatics to hire a helicopter to the Scillies, or wherever. Frank told me all about "megaticks" and "lifers", and sharing a hide with Bill Oddie...

It's very weird, turning up by accident somewhere where a "mega" has shown up -- they'll be everywhere in little clusters with their scopes on tripods. 99% male, of course.