The heronry is a couple of hundred yards away, on our neighbour’s land. I had taken on the job of counting the nests this year, because of lockdown: three definite nests in there and one probable.
They were up there, high in the trees, big spreading structures of twigs and small branches. You can almost see the nests from our place in March and April, but once the buds have burst, you’ve no chance at all. You have to listen instead.
You often see the adults flying in, heavy-laden, their crops visibly full. They disappear, swallowed up by the wood – and a few moments later you hear a great welcoming din of wheezing roars and coughs.
Eddie and I were sitting on the benches, noting the occasional sound from the herons. And then, quite clearly, a new sound. Whut-whut-whut!
So we listened for more, heard the growls and hisses. And then again. Whut-whut-whut.
That’s not a voice. It’s the sound of wings: of young wings being tested out. The not-quite-fledged birds are now big enough and bold enough to stand up, in their nests and on the branches all around. Now they can introduce their wings to their air. Wings, air. Air, wings.
It’s an essential process. They need to tone up those muscles before they can put them into action. Herons are big heavy birds with big heavy wings. For them, a maiden flight is not a quick tumbling flutter from a hedge to the ground: it’s a mighty leap from 60 feet. They can’t just parachute, either: they need power and they need control. It’s the fastest flying lesson in the world.
They need all the practice and all the muscle-power they can get. And so, as Eddie and I sat in the chill and damp of early June, we did so to the sound of beating wings.
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