I watch three hoodies strutting about on the road. One picks up a mussel shell, possibly discarded by an impatient seagull, and flies up in front of me to drop it. It cracks open immediately. I’m slightly surprised by their boldness. They usually stay clear of the road and deal with their mussels on the docks so they must be aware of the recent reduction in traffic, even on this relatively quiet harbour road. Yet just as I’m thinking this, the crow picks up the mussel shell and moves it onto the kerb, as if mindful that a vehicle might still drive along. It continues to pick at the mussel, another crow joining it and peering over its shoulder, until they both lift off and fly out over the water, landing on one of the pier ladders to pick more mussels off the wall below the tideline.
About two minutes later, one crow comes back, dropping another mussel in the middle of the road and picking it open in a leisurely manner, this time not flying off until Andy, the engineer, approaches in his big black Touareg. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised how they learn our habits and adapt to us, given how much they interpenetrate our lives. What’s shameful is how much this is usually beneath our conscious notice. Radio Scotland is currently full of people talking about how lovely it is to have time to notice the birds – their song, their bright behaviour – during this enforced slow-down of our lives. Or of their lives, rather. My life is often slow, deliberately so, because it’s important to have time to notice. During the winter when the humans don’t come, the hoodies, the herons and the shags are company on these cold harbour waters. Now it’s spring, and still the humans don’t come, but a pair of eiders have arrived and started poking around and soon the swallows will be here, and sometime after, my favourite birds, the terns. Life will be more sociable again, in this way at least.
Lochinver harbour, Sutherland, Scotland
8th April 2020