Back in the days before PC's, mobile phones and Leicester City being the best team in England, I was studying poetry as part of 'O' level English Literature (today this is referred to as GCSE). One of the handful of poems that still stands out some 41 years later is an ode written by Gerard Manley Hopkins entitled 'Pied Beauty', which was basically the author thanking God for bestowing upon the world pied patterning and colouring in nature. I can even remember the first line:
"Glory be to God for dappled things"
Not bad memory recall for an ageing atheist...
This came back into my mind today whilst birding at Dungeness. It was a fairly quiet day punctuated by the unfussy migration of waders, mainly those headed for the Arctic Circle (or less fancifully, Scotland). The birding PR machine in this corner of Kent will remind us all ad infinitum that this is the time of the spoon-tailed Pomarine Skua - and it is. But to me, far more importantly, it is when many sea watches are enlivened by the eastwards passage of mixed wader flocks, mainly Bar-tailed Godwits, Whimbrels, Sanderling, Dunlin, Knot, Turnstone and Grey Plovers, a heady mixture of winter sobriety and summer brashness. Hugging low to the water, twinkling in the harsh light, the observer is treated to the spangles of black, white, orange, brick-red, chestnuts and silver-grey. They pass as a display in a high-class jeweller's shop window, unattainable beauty, here now but gone so fast that you want more.
This passage was also carrying on inland, over the RSPB reserve, where unseen migrants called from a pearl-grey sky - Whimbrels, Grey Plovers, Dunlin - either too high or hidden in the glare of a cloaked sun. We're these birds heading truly inland, or were they just taking a short-cut across the shingle peninsula to shave off a couple of minutes of their northern trek?