Caught by the River

The Bird Effect Diaries

Ceri Levy | 22nd May 2016


An update from Ceri Levy

Saturday April 30th

This has been such a year of change. Having given up the London life for a rural existence, I sit back and wonder at the simple enormity of what we have done by moving. We have just celebrated our anniversary up here by deciding what courgettes to plant this year and who knew the decisions that were possible. Black Beauties, Supremo or Dundoo? In the end we’ve gone for the Venus F1. Sounds kind of sporty. Away from the veg patch, I have been getting into discovering my new birding patch and even with the wonders of Rutland Water on our doorstep there is somewhere even closer to explore. The Eyebrook Reservoir. On a busy day you may see ten or fifteen people bird watching or walking around it.

It is one of the locations used in 1943 by Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s 617 Squadron, a.k.a. The Dambusters, to practise their low-flying skills over water before the famous attacks on the Sorpe Dam. The dam at the Eyebrook, dressed up with scaffolding towers covered with hessian most closely resembled the ultimate target and proved to be a perfect replica with which to perform dry runs and practise bomb-aiming. At the water’s edge there is an information board and pressing a button conjures up the sound of bombers over the water. It is atmospheric and easy to visualise dark shapes thrumming over the calm, glossy lake as the aircraft flew towards their objective.

Other more heavenly shapes appear within the water and I have seen some beautiful birds including Goldeneye, Great White Egret, Black Tern and my favourite of them all, the Smew, a striking looking black and white diving duck, which is a rare winter visitor from Scandinavia and Russia. All these birds I have travelled distances to see when I was in London and now they are seven minutes from my house. There is also a tree, which has a magical aura about it and I have discovered that it is home to Little Owl. I have yet to see one here but I love just parking in front of this tree and waiting. Nothing ever happens but I’m ok with that. It is a developing friendship.


Monday May 1st

I keep wondering when the adults are going to return to claim their house back or if this holiday is nearly over and we will have to return to the reality of London. But neither option happens. It is like living within a dream existence and suits me perfectly. Days go by without seeing anyone and it doesn’t matter. There is so much to see and immerse myself within. Recently, as the winter was trying to draw to a close, the garden was invaded by flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare and for several weeks the air was full of their cacophonous song, raucous, jangling and distinctive. I’m still not used to wildlife being so wild and at the same time being within my garden. Red Kites drift overhead, their forked tails spearing them through the air and I marvel at their size and the close proximity to my life. This is truly The Bird Effect in action. That is what brought us here and I am eternally grateful to everyone who has taken part in the project so far as they are all responsible for this change of life.

Friday May 6th

Today I viewed an exhibition by Sid Burnard, who creates the most inventive driftwood sculptures, mainly of birds, at the Goldmark Gallery in Uppingham. Along with wife Jo and son Louis, Sid beachcombs the coastline around Britain salvaging wood, metal, plastic and odd washed-up objects, which he identifies as potential parts of disconnected creatures that are waiting to be conjured up, assembled and united in his studio. These disparate found fragments may stay in boxes for years waiting for the correct part of their necessary anatomy to appear, but Sid continually searches to complete his particular jigsaws. He doesn’t alter the pieces that he finds and is never tempted to shape or modify his library of detritus. Once he spies a potential and natural formation, he completes the connectivity to create new entities and an endearing life is breathed into his precious flotsam and jetsam. “I’m a cross between a scrap man and a dating agency,” Sid tells me, “ Sometimes the pieces match and sometimes they don’t. They tell you if they want to be together.” Objets trouvées have always played a part in art and these have become his objets connectés, if you will. His pieces are beautiful, engaging and contemplative. These airborne creatures have stumbled from the sea and with Sid’s wit, keen eye and sympathetic sensibilities they have been reborn and taken flight. This is a show that will enthral all those who see it.


Saturday 7th May

Today, Chris Packham’s new book Fingers in the Sparkle Jar arrived. I made a cup of tea, sat in my garden and just before I began to read one of our great naturalists’ words, I listened to my landscape and realised I understood it. The lambs were bleating, ravens gave their prehistoric croaks, greenfinch rasped, kites mewed, the lark song ascended… and I realised that the Bird Effect has taught me well. I have an idea of my place within this world. I am new and I begin to read the first words in the book, “I’m sorry, I haven’t got change of a ladybird.”

This is going to be a perfect day.

Images from Ralph Steadman and Ceri Levy’s fantastic ‘Extinct Boids‘ currently grace the pages of the Port Eliot Festival website.

Sid Burnard is showing at The Goldmark Gallery, Uppingham until May 29th. Details here.

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