How the Curlew got its Curl

Long-Billed Curlew by Mike’s Birds

How the Curlew got its Curl

All the Summer, she shelters in her studio,
Under the North-sent light,
As she’s painting a curlew, a bird of the Winter,
That, like her, flees when the Sun gets bright.
She starts in April, starts from the tail-quills,
Nothing but browns and creams –
Slowly works forwards as evenings grow later,
Until she can hear its call in her dreams.

At five-times life-size, her bird is a monster,
A beautiful giant of the fens –
With every barb of every feather,
More real than in any photographer’s lens.
So unlike the shy things they are, them and her,
Avoiding the seaside crowds –
They to their moorland, her to her studio,
Waiting for the safety of the huddle’ing clouds.

By the late of May, she’s mottling the wing,
By June, she’s glinting the eye
By the height of July, she starts on the beak,
As the burning Sun is stoking-up the sky.
Inch-by-centimetre, longer and still longer,
Polished to perfection as she goes,
Longer than a godwit, longer than an avocet –
This beak is magnificent, and still its black arc grows !

All through August, she’s stretching it out
With the windows wide-open from dawn,
Bringing-in the songs of the blackbird and the goldfinch –
But the curlew cannot sing until its bill is fully-drawn.
Till finally, finally, it tapers to infinity,
Just as the September cools the air.
She locks up her studio and heads out to the marshes,
As the North-sent breezes blow the cobwebs from her hair.



A T-Rex guarded the first hole,
As we played a round by the beach –
Over the hump and round the bend
With a club and a scorecard each.
Fibreglass limestone hemmed the links
With fossil ammonites –
Were coccoliths in the little stream
To lay down chalky whites ?
Triceratops was present, of course,
And deinonychus too –
We admired her feathers as we let
Another pair play through.
The rough was an abandoned nest –
The eggs gave a tricky lie.
A pterosaur looked unimpressed
As my ball refused to fly.
The sauropod was on the small size,
Barely bigger than a car,
And the microraptor was suitably dinky,
As I came in over par.
But the twelfth showed the first sign of trouble,
With a draught through the plastic swamp
To shake the early magnolias,
As I teed-off with a whomp.
The fifteenth had a river of lava
Splitting the fairway in half –
I was so busy taking my shot, I forgot
To take a photograph.
The seventeenth was watched by several shrews,
To no concern.
They looked-on patiently as we played,
Content to wait their turn.
And then, crowning the final hole,
Was a crater upon the green –
Only a metre across, but still,
Here comes the Paleogene…
As we finished our round at the end of the world,
It felt like the nick of time –
Then back to the seagulls along the Prom,
And an ice-age ninety-nine.

An Estate of Builder-Birds

House Martin Nests by Mike Prince

An Estate of Builder-Birds

Late on in the Spring,
We’ll see the house-martins come again –
In stylish black-and-white,
And darting back-and-forth about the lane.
They’re patching up their daub-and-wattle nests,
The ones they left behind –
The Winter muck is jettisoned,
The inside cleaned and freshly lined.
Are these the very birds we saw last year,
The self-same mums and dads ?
Or are these now the chicks they hatched at home,
Inheriting their pads ?
Though ev’ry year, I swear,
They build another house beneath the eaves,
And often touching in a terrace,
Neighbours watching out for thieves –
And those would be the sparrows,
Feckless squatters in these high-rise flats –
A better prospect than the hedges,
Safe from cuckoos, frost, and cats.
Hoping to be laid-and-raised
By hanging-out in hanging-domes,
Before the grockles fly in for the season
To their second homes.

Who is the Martin whose house these swallowets build ? The OED postulates that it is a contraction of Martinet, but that that in turn is a diminutive of Martin. Or it may be from a Latin term for a kingfisher. Or a bit of both – never underestimate the power of conflation.

Thunder Thrush

Blackbird & Nest by Harrison Weir

Thunder Thrush

“Cuckoo eggs are able to mimic dozens of other songbird eggs, but each female can only lay one kind.”
                                                                              – The Titchfield Twitcher

The first cuckoo of Spring,
And the war is about to begin agen
For the dunnock and robin, the pipit and wren –
But the blackbird nests at leisure
Knowing her treasured eggs are secure –
They’ve fought and won this battle before.
For cuckoo hens must lay their eggs,
Their undercover powder kegs, to match
The very nest from which they hatched.
So daughters follow mothers and grans
In their taste of prey that spans way back –
A family tradition in attack.

But not the birds in black.
They know an egg that’s out of whack, alright –
Imposters tossed on sight.
As for the parents, lurking still,
They’re pecked and mobbed until they quit –
A tougher host by far than finch or tit.
Thus all the cuckoos with the genes
To burglarise the forest queens have gone,
Wiped out, were rumbled in their con.
So when these gothic thrushes hear
That goading call – no fear, no doubt –
They just sing louder yet to drown it out.

Three Songs for May

Photo by Pixabay on

Three Songs for May

May comes bounding down the year
As eager as a springer spaniel.
Ev’rybody knows she’s here,
A bursting, blooming, early annual.
May comes blowing from the south
As teasing as a cuckoo’s call
She’s closing up old Winter’s mouth
By throwing off her woollen shawl.

A little rain in May
Is sweeter than an April shower –
Though the high Spring skies may glower,
We know they will not last the day.
The clouds are silvery, not grey,
Less thunderheads than fairy towers,
Washing lambs and spritzing flowers,
Dropping by, then on their way.

May – the name says it all.
The month when it might,
When it should –
Ah, but will it ?
The month that may have a squall
Or a heatwave,
Or a dozen other weathers
Come to fill it.
Could be a late gasp of snow up on the hills
While the valleys open windows,
And the breezes spin the mills.
Such is the fortune
In the month of maybe May.
When all of this could happen
In a week,
Or in a day.

The Horticultrix

Sprintime by Pierre-Auguste Cot

The Horticultrix

She worked for the council, she mending their greens,
And their roundabout gardens and motorway screens.
She weeded their paths and she tended their sprays,
And swept up their cherries’ displays.

Her hedges were sprinkled in sloe-blossom white
As I asked if her lanes were a primrose delight.
She plucked me a buttercup, proffered with thanks –
As dog-violets guarded her banks.

We kissed to the hum of the first of the bees,
As the belfries of bluebells all chimed in the breeze –
And daffodils trumpeted Springtime unfurled,
As fiddleheads flexed and uncurled.

The teeth of the lions were under our thighs,
And they ev’rywhere shone from forget-me-not skies.
We trampled their verges, enrapt and entwined –
The daisies, though, seemed not to mind.

She showed me the places the tulips grew wild,
Aloud and ablaze, then eleven months mild.
Their flowering passion so vital, so brief –
And ashwoods were not yet in leaf.

The lords and their ladies unwrapped their white cloaks,
And the crockets were sprouting on beeches and oaks.
Our lessons botanic were daily resumed –
At least, till the mayflower bloomed.

April the 6th


April the 6th

First, stick with a calendar
That clearly isn’t fit for purpose –
Stick with it because, old son,
That’s just the way we’ve always done.
Tradition is a glut of yesterdays,
With wayward dates in surplus –
Till our times are forced to shift
(Yet still two hundred years adrift).
Then hack eleven days off all at once –
A week-and-a-half, just done away –
And then a twelfth is added, see,
For the non-leaping century.
(But next time round – it isn’t,
Cos it isn’t, cos that’s what they say.)
And that is why our pounds and pence
Outweigh our bloody common sense !

Can you imagine having to line your tax year up with your calendar year ? Like much of the world does ? We’ll have no such convenience here !


Rue by Rodney Davis


Now that Winter’s easing,
And the Sun is breaking cover,
Then what could be more pleasing
Than to wake from hibernating with my lover ?
And as the sap is rushing
And the Spring is turning bold,
Then what could be more crushing
Than to hear she wants to clean-out with the old ?
We’d clung to one-another,
While the Winter held us in its thrall,
I thought she was my lover,
But I guess that April makes fools of us all.

Now with the lambs in clover
And the daylight on the rise,
So she wants to be a rover
And she wants to try the Springtime on for size.
She slips out after equinox
With all the world at play,
By the changing of the clocks,
Then I know the cruellest month’s not far away.
With the first song of the skylark
And the golden tulips growing tall,
She’s off to find another mark –
I guess that April makes fools of us all.

Snow Angels

Shepherd Wedding by Jennie Hill

Snow Angels

Strange, how this day of love
Is a day of sneezes and fingers numb.
Why does it fall with a deathly chill
As the hothouse roses succumb ?
Maybe it serves to underscore
How love is often bittersweet –
Whereas, in the height of Summer,
This day would be lost in the endless heat.

Strange, how this day of red
Is a day of snowdrops and Winter mould.
Why does it fall when the days are short
And the nights are bitterly cold ?
Maybe it serves to warm the frost,
And give our torpid hearts a shove –
Whereas, in the height of Summer,
Who needs a reminder to fall in love ?

Plastic Roses

Plastic Roses

February rolls around,
And on comes the propaganda –
Singletons are not allowed,
We put a downer on the crowd.
So February rolls around
And ev’rybody has to pander.
Haven’t we all heard the songs ?
Haven’t we all seen the movies ?
Still we seem to get it wrong,
And still we just won’t play along,
And still we’re far too choosy.

“You there !  You on your own !
Out after curfew !  Come here, sonny !
Where are your papers ?  Where are your cards ?
And your chocolates ?  Oh, so you think this is funny…?
I think you’d better tell me which restaurant you’re booked in,
And the name of the one you’re meeting, too…
You know it’s only lovers who may walk the streets tonight,
All spinsters, slobs and nerds must hide from view.”

Ah, ignore me –
What am I even getting angry for ?
So the world is in love…
Would I rather the world were at war ?
Go – shout it out, have your fun,
And I’ll get on with mine –
Just please, never pity me, never that –
And we’ll get along just fine.