The raised track by this broad is bordered by a sallow thicket that overtops a network of intertidal creeks.
To compensate for the subterranean shadows, you have to cowl your eyes and cup your ears to detect any secret occupant. Usually this is little more than a moorhen but, now and then, it is something finer, such as a feeding woodcock. Fixing the whereabouts of any quiet commotion, which always inserts into the moment a shudder of excitement, is your best hope of seeing it before being seen.
This time, I strained until the gloom hardened into the shape of a bird at the creek edge. It was poised with head tilted down and beak angled at the mud. Every few seconds, the whole body rose as it raked forward and back then swept the bill sideways like a scythe. This intense, signature practice – for it identified it as a blackbird – cleared dripping clouts of muddy moss and leaves, but exposed invisible prey that it then darted to pick out with forensic care.
The scene brought to mind those lines from RS Thomas that there was “a suggestion of dark / Places about” blackbirds, but it also triggered a reflection of how extraordinarily adaptable this species can be. Here this bird was hunting crake-like yet, for months, my Claxton blackbirds have been fruit-pickers: first blackberries, rowan, hawthorn and holly; now apples and, very soon, ivy.
Blackbirds are the standard worm-catchers on our lawn and even follow our garden mole to profit from his excavations. Yet I remember the feeling of a world subverted when, once, in India, out of the forest darkness swept a blue whistling thrush with mouse in its beak like any ravening hawk.
British blackbirds have also been noted with this family taste for blood: eel, shrew, newt, fledgling house sparrow, frog, slow worm, snake. Individuals have even take to piracy, snatching tiddlers from a kingfisher’s sword-point.
Despite this confirmation of Thomas’s “darkness”, we should not forget that this same creature will follow a currant trail all the way to an outstretched hand, or even into the warmth of the kitchen.