A wood pigeon stars in this piece of nature writing, which is based on the early stages of a short, circular walk. The walk commences at Rosthwaite in Borrowdale and entails a small climb to Dock Tarn.
The Clapping Wood Pigeon
After having just alighted from the bus at the village of Rosthwaite on this late summer’s morning, I immediately notice the dark clouds that loom ominously up above, obviously humming and hawing over whether or not to jettison their loads, as one cold droplet, and then a second, contacts the comparatively warm skin of my exposed face. A third drop, thankfully, is nowhere to be felt.
I cross a grey stone bridge over Stonethwaite Beck. A quick check of the channel over each side of the bridge unveils very little. The extremely vague forms of a few minnows active amidst the current are just about visible, but the evanescence of their presence causes me to think that perhaps they were mere figments of my imagination.
I take a right along a footpath that leads to the village of Stonethwaite. Deciduous trees—mainly hazel and maple, but also oak, ash, birch and beech—decorate the verges, and the waxy cuticles covering the leaves of holly bushes contribute an eye-catching sheen to the shady scene.
I soon find myself ambling through a narrow corridor closed-in on either side by a drystone wall, each heavily clad in a quilt of moss. Over the wall to my left, cattle graze quietly in lush, green fields afront a backdrop of bracken-covered fell-side. Over the wall to my right, vibrant fields and rugged fells similarly dominate the view.
As I continue along the path, the walls become less mossed and increasingly lichened. Particularly striking is the rust-like lick of a luteofulvous-coloured, powdery-looking lichen that thinly coats at least a dozen stones. Further along the footpath, however—where the corridor opens up to a magical place where a wooded fell-side meets and mingles with the meadows of the valley floor—a multi-coloured, trippy-looking boulder, like something that has been hauled right out of Alice in Wonderland, ensorcells me even more wildly.
A vivid mix of yellow-green, orange, and off-white splodges, each speckled and edged with black, laminates large swathes of the grey boulder’s surface so that it looks like an artsy crazy-paving design or the world map of a foreign planet.
The clapping wings of a wood pigeon resound suddenly and sharply from the fringe of the nearby wood. The clatter penetrates to a point deep within the inner core of my inner ears, and in that instant my attention is successfully diverted from Alice’s world of pleasantly lurid lichens to the equally captivating world of British birds.
Despite the somewhat disagreeable noise resulting from the burst of wing activity during take-off, the wood pigeon is, in my opinion, a rather pretty bird. As I watch the feathered animal flying in my direction, I observe how it beats its wings with powerful downstrokes in order to rise smoothly higher and higher into the sky until it feels, I suppose, that it has risen high enough, at which point wing action ceases and its rise transitions fluidly into a descending glide. When it has fallen far enough, its wings are re-engaged and the pattern is repeated so that if one was to trace its trajectory the resultant line would be delightfully reminiscent of the rolling hills that surround it.
As the bird nears, my attention is drawn beyond the superficial greys typically associated with pigeons, towards the soupçon of fancy features that the feathery creature is furnished with.
Situated at the frontal end, the carotene-coloured beak, although small relative to the rest of the body, is simply unmissable. At the rear, a fanned-out tail is marked with conspicuously broad and contrasting bars; a white one sandwiched between two black ones; two colours that have the uncanny capability to perfectly accentuate one another.
Back towards the front of the bird, each side of the slender neck boasts a salient spot as white as snow beneath a subtle smudge of metallic green. The wings, too, on their downward stroke, present me with a glimpse of an equally white but significantly larger patch than those which adorn the neck. To top it all off, the bird is blessed with a bosom steeped bonnily in rose.