Whoo’s who?

Outdoor Living

COUNTRY LIVING The wood pigeon is larger and rounder than its townie feral cousin, with distinctive white neck patches and, in spring, a beautiful blush-coloured breast.

Gentle coos, soft chuckles and spring colours


Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

With half an eye on autumn I was tying ash sticks into bundles. At four feet long and a foot through the bundles require a length of baler twine at each end; at that size they are easily carried atop the shoulder and stack neatly into the fuel shed. By October they should be tinder dry and there will be kindling the winter through.
It feels a little perverse to be thinking that far ahead while spring merely flirts with my affections, but by now I know summer’s heat and September’s sudden arrival. Besides, I want to fish when the weather is good, to wander far upstream when the weather is right and ride a high wave over Mask when it’s not.  
So sticks it was. Nor was I the only one looking for them, although those that the wood pigeon wanted were far smaller, of course.
I had to stop and watch and became so intrigued that I sat on the bank with primrose at my feet and the beginning of wood sorrel around me, while the pigeon selected building materials nearby.
We would imagine the pigeon to be the least fastidious bird in this regard, so untidy is the twiggy platform that serves as a nest. Yet it chose each twig with the greatest care, pulling several out from the long grass and examining them from one end to the other before selecting the most appropriate and carrying it away to the thorn hedge.
I would go and see later; for now the sun drew the scent of new grass from the damp ground and shone warm upon me. I closed my eyes to better hear the pigeon’s song and when I opened them again the world was changed. Gone was the overhead blue. Gone that softening breeze; gone the bumblebee clambering so ungainly over moss and last year’s leaves; gone the afternoon.
Wind swung in from the north, bringing with it a scatter of hail to drive me from the garden. That night it rattled at the windows and wailed down the chimney while I slept and woke, slept and woke night long.
In the morning the hills were white and I was glad again to live in the lowlands, in this partial rain shadow cast by the Partry Mountains. Weather systems blowing inland from the open Atlantic are lifted over those hills (they are mountains only in our imagination) where the air is cooled and condensation takes place. Clouds form and rain falls, and by the time they arrive at my door they are stretched and torn, with the worst of their temper worn.
I took coffee in the garden, where beans and asparagus already grow. There was the pigeon again, filled with love of life. See how he soars? He flaps to carry himself high, gives a celebratory clap of wings then glides in a long, downward curve so that he nearly bounces over open ground. He made his circuit then flew back to the sunlit thorn to call.
The sun brings out his spring colours well. Grey-blue all winter long, he is now tinged with violet, his breast softly pink, his feet and yellow-tipped bill more so. His head and neck are opalescent in this new light. He is roundly sleek and plump. What voice would you give a bird like this? Let him give the answer.
‘Whoo who?’ he calls, looking down, round-eyed with mild surprise. ‘Hu Whoo who?’ His kind, woody notes seem well suited to the dawn; eager yet gentle, they fall soft upon the ear. He has a little chuckle as well, and makes another circuit of the field.
I think his building work is done, for he shows no further inclination to continue but only to enjoy the day. I want to search the thorn and the ivy which drapes the greater part of it, but will not, for fear of driving him and his mate away.
While the wood pigeon is welcome here, there are other parts of the country people don’t like to see him. Where grain is grown, flocks of pigeons many hundreds strong gather first to feed on new-sown seed and then to graze the growing crop. Even this pair will find my row of beans before long. I can spare a few.
For now I have ash sticks to gather. I have the pigeon’s song, a trout at the edge of my mind and a broken, windswept sky. Who would ask for more?