“…These birds were daredevilling, taking their flight skills to the edge. I was rooted to the spot. I couldn’t count the birds. There were thirty, forty in front of me, and, when I turned around, just as many behind. They were exalted, falling out of the sky like peregrines, skimming the fields, stooping, spiralling, stalling, their forked tails fine-tuning the wind so effortlessly that it looked as if they were juggling the wind.”
This is a description of Chiltern kites by Richard Mabey in ‘Nature Cure’, but it almost perfectly captures what it’s like to watch Flat Holm’s gulls fill the skies on windy days – their seemingly “wilful, gratuitous relishing of the wind.”
Seeing fluffy gull chicks grow to gawky adolescents, then to successful juveniles is one of the privileges of living here, and it’s hard not to feel some sort of parental pride as, over the summer, the young gulls’ initially clumsy take-offs, landings and mid-air manoeuvrings have become increasingly skilful (though still not without an occasional misjudged, comical near-miss with a less-than impressed adult heading in a different direction).
In the passage quoted and elsewhere in his book, Mabey suggests that some birds seem to enjoy flying for its own sake, and having had front-row seats in a gull colony for over two months, it’s hard not to agree. With most of the gulls now departing Flat Holm and heading to sunnier climes, the island will be quieter without them, but they will be missed on windy days in particular, and we look forward to their return next March.