Thursday, 11 June 2009


Whenever I go out for a run, it seems, I disturb a curlew. The curlew is perhaps my favourite bird, possibly for the obscure reason that my father once built a Curlew-class sailing dinghy. There was a silhouette of the bird's head on the sail, with it's characteristic long, curved beak.

I once travelled to Knoydart in Scotland, famously promoted for being the only substantial part of the mainland of Britain inaccessible by road. You either take a boat or brace yourself for a ten-mile walk-in, carrying everything you need. I had a wretched time of it. I went for the walk-in to the campsite that exists there -a wild, up-and-down path along the bank of Loch Hourne- and by the time I arrived had aquired a couple of excruciating blisters on my feet. Blisters or no blisters, I decided I was going to climb the highest Munro in the area - Ladhar Beinn (1019m). For a supposedly remote area there were a lot of people about and, to make matters worse, half way up the mountain a film crew were filming take after take of a scene involving a helicopter. However, for a few, brief minutes I did have the summit to myself. You could see for miles. The sky was blue and cloudless and the Hebrides could be seen through a heat-haze, scattered over the sea. I had not sat admiring the view for very long when I heard a slight disturbance on the slope below me, just out of sight. A golden eagle came into view and glided away from me towards the islands.

On the way down I met two men and could not resist telling them of my experience. One was a keen birdwatcher. He was very interested. He said that he, too, had seen a golden eagle. There was, however, one British bird he'd never managed to see. He'd never set eyes on a curlew.


With a beak like that
you'd think he'd have to flap his wings like mad
just to stay in the air but instead
he flies gracefully

Rising from among
the buttercups and dandelions
he describes a circle around me,
warning me: curlew,

My fascination plays no part
in his calculations. I am merely
an invader.
I should not be there.


BarbaraS said...

I love poems about birds, and this is so snappy. Curlews always make me feel dead lonely when I hear them. That's because I usually hear them on my own.

Susan at Stony River said...

I love curlews; I've heard them but never seen one. Three times I've *thought* I saw one, only to look again and see it was a godwit or a sandpiper. Something to look forward to!

Loved the poem.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Great poem ,Dominic,I really like the second stanza.Would dearly love to see a Golden Eagle in flight.we have buzzards and recently re-introduced Red Kites and they always cause me to stop and stare-specially the kites.I'm very old and unfit and built for rolling,wish I could climb like you do ,though preferably without the blisters- OUCH!

John Hayes said...

Nicely done-- we're fortunate to have eagles out in this part of the west (golden & bald, as well as osprey), & they are wonderful to watch in the air. We also have a lot of shorebirds in the rangeland-- always have found that odd, & have wondered if it's a hangover from the ancient inland sea. In fact we have something called a long-billed curlew here-- not that uncommon, but it's different than the European curlew.

Anonymous said...

Good to read in prose and verse of a curlew doing what curlews do as if it knew nothing of its amber status on the RSPB list.

I heard not one but two cuckoos the other day.


The Weaver of Grass said...

\like it - yes I am sure that is exactly what the curlew thinks. Did you read my post last Saturday about rescuing a chick?

Poetikat said...

Lovely poem. I really liked that phrase about "describing circles".
I have never heard or seen a curlew, sadly. Are they over here in North America?

You might like my hawk poem, by the way. It's called, "Highway Robber".

Could they have been filming that episode of "Hamish MacBeth" where they're on a hill-climb and there's an accident, I wonder?


Dominic Rivron said...

Barbara: You've got me thinking they sound lonely now! :)

Susan: Funny how many people say this - living where we do it seems surprising as we're awash with them.

TFE: The blisters were nasty. I've never got on with heavy walking boots.

JH: Long Billed Curlew? Ours have dirty great bills. How long do they get??

patteran: I knew nothing of it either - I'm not much of a twitcher. Living where we do you'd never think the birds were rare.

Not heard any cuckoos yet, though.

Weaver: No I didn't but I will.

Poetikat: I hope not - I liked Hamish MacBeth! From a distance it looked like some sort of shampoo commercial or something like that.

Dave King said...

I am fantastically envious of you and your intimacy with curlews. I also think them my favourite bird, though I have not seen one for yonks. Great poem. It does the curlew justice. What more could I say?

Bwca Brownie said...

Comiseration re your effort to have a high nature moment being thwarted by 'choppers' and Commerce.

The golden eagle was probably browsing for curlew chicks.

I loved Hamish Macbeth and read the M.C.Beaton books on the strength of it, to find a rare instance of the visual version improving on the written version.

Scotland The Brave.

Fiendish said...

"He describes a circle around me" is just gorgeous. Impressive and evocative. I've never seen a curlew that I know of, but I'd like to. I like birds, they're very distracting.

Dominic Rivron said...

DK: I didn't realise curlews were my favourite until I wrote this. (That's an interesting thing about writing generally, I think: it marshalls your thoughts. Sometimes I think I know what I think about something until I start writing about it. Then I realise that what I thought was a considered opinion does not stand up to scrutiny as text!)

Bwca: I looked around for ages for MC Beaton books and couldn't find any (I wasn't into the internet in those days). Sounds like finding one might have been an anti-climax!

Fiendish: Watch out for the distinctive long, curved beak. There's a good picture of one at

Poet in Residence said...

Lovely poem Dominic and it reminds of when I went to Knoydart - at least I think it was Knoydart - we caught the post boat from Mallaig and went down a kind fjord where we dropped off the mail - then we turned and ended up 'at the remotest pub in Britain'. It was after my one and only Ben Nevis Race. We got to Ardnamurchan and Mull before finally heading home.

Ann oDyne said...

Poet-In-residence has me wondering about the potentials of that post boat he took to the remotest pub: did it also take the ales?

Poet in Residence said...

Ann O, I seem to remember seeing a boxed barbecue set plonked atop the heap in the middle of the deck ...:-)

Ann oDyne said...

oh dear P.i.R - remote pub in highland fjords ... no grazing paddocks ... hmmm
They're Barbecueing The Curlews!!!

I hope the ghillie is armed for bear.

BT said...

Rather an old post but we have flocks of curlew going overhead every evening. I have tried in vain to photograph them but my camera has trouble focussing on them (or maybe it's me). I did get a couple of shots a blog post or 3 ago). I love the noise of their cry and the beak is, of course, fantastagorical. I envy your fitness.