29 October 2015

Surrounded By Gems


The world appears to be a miserable place these days, full of horror, institutional irresponsibility, and unstoppable change. At least this is the story the news media likes to tell us.

I’m trying hard to avoid the news. When it comes on the radio I turn it off; the only newsprint I read is the weekend magazines. And then there is Twitter. It is a full time job searching for cheerful or even neutral accounts, and then Unfollowing the angry ones. My most recent Follow is BinkyBear. Little does he know a middle-aged woman looks to him as the saviour of her mental health. (I know, I'm losing it)

Yet while the human world makes itself uglier another world carries on in all its glory as it has done for thousands of years, ignored by the national news. Unreported perhaps because it is not considered relevant to our lives, and because it does not exist in a world where worth is measured in monetary value.

At the moment thousands of birds are flying over the North Sea to spend the winter in Britain. The first Bewick’s swans of the year did make the news, but this was because they dragged with them a warning of severe cold spreading from that old bogey Russia. News of a natural event is not useful if it can’t be used to worry people.

Accompanying the swans are thousands of tinier birds, such as snow buntings, twites, chiffchaffs and siskins. This year a great number of goldcrests have arrived. The little birds, weighting only 6gs, launch themselves across the sea in an act of great bravery and faith. They use the prevailing wind to help them, but arrive exhausted desperate for food and a safe place to sleep.

Twitter is good for some things, and I’ve been enjoying the photos posted by birdwatchers of the plucky little goldcrests as they finally reach our coast.

There is a lovely post by a birdwatcher on his blog ‘Northern Rustic’ about the risks the goldcrests take to get here.

Hence, when such arrivals take place, we get to witness the bittersweet phenomenon of Goldcrests battling towards our shores and pitching down just as soon as they can, in the far from ideal settings of clifftops, coastal slopes and even on the Brigg itself. For a bird that weighs barely more than a twenty pence piece, the impacts of such a journey are impossible to imagine, but then, that's migration in all its harsh reality; it simply wouldn't happen if it wasn't worth it, with migratory strategies constantly evolving as and when - which can be over many thousands of years, or over just a few generations. Magical indeed.

I would like to experience waves of birds landing at my feet. Bird numbers are dwindling in Mancunian suburbs. I’m sure there are fewer sparrows and starlings and assorted little brown ones. I get excited when a troop of blue tits flits across Garden65. For a minute or so the garden comes alive with their twittering conversation and busy movements. But they are only moving through. They are soon gone. It must be magical to see lots of birds, even the little brown ones.

That’s it. I’m putting a trip to the east coast during the autumn migration on my bucket list.

An Independent journalist, Michael McCarthy, went to the North Norfolk coast to witness the goldcrests arriving. Even as a seasoned birdwatcher he was “delight(ed) beyond measure” to see so many.

The goldcrest invasion will stay in my memory. It felt like nature’s version of the Jewel House in the Tower of London: everywhere we went, we were surrounded by gems – but these were not only sparkling, they were full of life.

In my fight to avoid the scary stories national media wants to feed me I ask a question before I reach for the off button, ‘Do I need to know this?’ The answer may be ‘Yes, if you want to know what is going on in the world’. And then I come back, ‘Which world? I don’t need to know about the ugliness of yours. I need to know about the beauty, and hear the stories, of the real world.’ Off.

Note: I haven't contacted the above Twitter accounts to ask permission to use their images because of the extremely small readership of this blog, but, if you are one of them and have stumbled on this blog and do object to their inclusion then please let me know and I'll be happy to delete them.