These dark mornings mean it is no hardship to witness the dawn. In fact, the hardship is perhaps waiting for it to happen. Looking due south this morning, a few minutes past eight am, I wondered what kind of day we are in for. A few early morning duties completed, I warmed to a fresh coffee and looked due south, out the kitchen window. The remains of an Elder tree, a victim of Ophelia, stood stark and misshapen, with two thirds of its trunk and branches on the ground, felled of its elegant outline. A great racket came from overhead, maybe as many as 1000 crows, Rooks and Jackdaws, wheeled around in a dawn wave, chatting and calling out to each other, assessing possibilities in the barley stubble below. A brief and mass landing was followed by a few take offs and repeat landings as the flock sought the most favourable location within a five-acre patch of stubble. No doubt there was also hierarchal squabbling amongst this highly socialised group of birds.
Many garden bird enthusiasts complain about the presence of crows in the garden, frightening off the smaller birds and generally acting the maggot around feeders. Around these parts, Jackdaws and Rooks are characteristic visitors to the open, farmed landscape.
They are no threat to the goings on around the feeders, but other crows do visit: A Jay or two, especially when their favourite food of acorns is exhausted, happy to substitute peanuts from the mesh feeder.
Hooded Crows are more solitary but occasionally gather with their congeners in the stubbles, always ready to take flight and challenge a passing Buzzard or Kite. Which leaves us with Magpies: a bird that polarises opinion. I spent the weekend listening patiently to city folk regaling me with stories of Magpies in great numbers, petrifying song birds: they certainly know how to exploit suburban landscapes and new feeding opportunities. Out in rural Wicklow, it is more likely to be met with in one’s or two’s, on dawn patrol along country roads for signs of overnight road kill. With an eye catching black and white plumage and elegant long tail, they certainly cut a dash, its two tone plumage a perfect metaphor for its hugely ambiguous reputation.