Walking along the bank of the river that runs through my village I am often lucky enough to come across some local wildlife. Usually it’s a bird, and that’s ok with me. The tidal river, the hedgerows along the bank and the broadleaf forest beyond are a brilliant mosaic of habitats that are home to a variety of species.
A few weeks ago, I came across a skeleton. Pale, elongated and alien it seemed out of place. But I realised that’s just my idealised version of nature, because of course it is entirely appropriate that the remains of this animal should exist, out here, where it lived. The cartilaginous sinews in the joints were still holding the calcified bones together, still restricting the range of movement to what would once have been the natural movement of the bird. Yes, this was a bird.
I’m not overly sure what bird, it clearly had a very long neck but stripped of body form, feathers and a beak I am suddenly struck by how unfamiliar it looks. I would bet good money that if it had been alive I would have know it in an instant. It’s rib cage looks quite small, but then maybe it is broken? On closer inspection it isn’t as complete as I first thought. The skull is damaged, missing the tip of the beak I think. Having asked some knowledgeable friends (DWT and RSPB) there wasn’t much consensus on an identity. I feel less bad at not being able to identify it by sight. Grey heron and cormorant seem most probable. If we base it on abundance then it is more likely to be a cormorant – they outnumber herons by about five to one on the river. I have ruled out swan – it looks a bit too slender, too fragile, too insubstantial. A swan, even denuded of it’s flesh and feathers would surely amount to more than this delicate architecture?
It doesn’t smell, at least, it doesn’t smell of anything more than the river bank. There is no swarm of putrid flies, no lingering air of death, it is peaceful. I sit a while and think about the life of the bird in front of me. Idle thoughts for an idle walk. It is good to stop and muse sometimes, to let your thoughts meander loosely. Whether or not you need the curio of a dead bird to prompt them really depends on you and the available resources I suppose, but nature provides a rich variety to prompt the imagination – you just need to give it a chance.