Field Marks

8 December 2012

The bulk of what I retain I learnt through him,
from that trek to Flanders Moss in the hope
of seeing a grey shrike on a blackened tree-fork,
to a pair of hen harriers whose upward glide

made him beam with pleasure. His first
ringing-trap dismantled (it attracted vermin),
he designed and built one that bears his name
on the Isle of May; while in the cottage we shared,


coffee-mugs and cigarette-butts cleared,
and like as not whisky glasses from chess
the night before, he’d set up his carousel
of colour-slides to display the field marks

of various species — pointing out such features
as eye-stripes and wing-bars, nesting habits
and flight-patterns — or draw lightning sketches,
his profile more and more that of a raptor.

One tip I recall: on my return from Blaven
wondering could I be sure I had seen a golden
eagle, he took me benignly to task: ‘You know
it’s an eagle, when you don’t need to ask.’

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