December 30, 2012

Dark days

Back to Tooting Common today to look for the waxwings: no joy. Perhaps they're feeding elsewhere; perhaps they've moved on. We scanned their usual trees by the railway line with the binoculars, but apart from a convocation of gulls on the waterlogged pitch we saw only great tits and starlings and pigeons.

I wish we'd had the binoculars with us two days ago. Walking the dog on one of those strange, blank days between Christmas and New Year it became clear from the screeching that the parakeets in the oaks at the far end of the Common were upset about something. The culprit turned out to be a lone crow, perched on a branch near one of the ex-woodpecker holes the parakeets are currently roosting in.

Hunched and glossy black, the crow glared at them once or twice as they flapped and mobbed and dared one another closer, but for the most part his attention was on a scrap of something he held to the branch with his foot and pecked at, his beak as sharp and dull as flint. At first I thought it was a shred of black bin liner; it looked very thin and almost translucent with the winter sky behind it. Then I saw that it was a bat, and it was the wing he was tearing at.

Nature red in beak and claw. I wondered whether the crow had found where the bat was hibernating, perhaps under the railway bridge, and killed it, or whether he had scavenged it from somewhere. The green parakeets, so vivid and vocal in the bare trees, made a strange contrast with the silent native bird and his pitch-dark trade.