Some birds seem to just get us humans, so to speak. There will be individuals, that interact with us on their own terms. They learn our habits, evaluate advantages and assess our risk factor. Before long, us humans give them names and a routine of interaction is established.
One of my family had just such a relationship with a blackbird. He called the bird Blackie. The bird learnt to trust his human and would come to be fed when called. He was quite a character. Every time we visited, we heard more of this blackbird’s antics.
Blackie raised several clutches of little blackbirds, over the years. Always keeping his nests in close proximity to the dwelling of his human friends. Then one day, he didn’t turn up. No-one knows what happened. His adult offspring are still around, but not Blackie.
So I decided to make Blackie. A young version. Why not?
To start, I used pipe cleaners to form the frame. Makes it easier to shape and re-shape, I find. The white is from a Jacob sheep fleece which forms the base. It is springy and felts up to be a firm structure.
I felted the base of the body, tail and the head separately and fitted them into the pipe cleaner frame, then felted more white fleece over the top, until the pipe cleaners were hidden and I had the right shape.
Next the black. I kept the length long, so it covered the whole length of the body. It was at this stage I knew I was getting the shape right. It’s very difficult stabbing a needle into something thats starting to look like a living creature.
The legs are wire, covered in brown fleece. I used silk filaments to give the impression of wings folded back along the body.
The eye is a felted circle of yellow, with an inner brown circle. I added a touch of white, for a sparkle in the young blackbird’s eyes. Giving him character. The beak was a mixture of orange and yellow, that I hand mixed, to avoid a solid block of orange.
I took these photos, to check the shape. Afterwards, I thinned down the tail, added shoulder definition, flattened his back and chin. Totally forgot to take a final photo.
Blackie has now been gifted. I could have played with the shape for longer. I wonder if I would ever be totally happy with it. Probably best that he’s gone to live somewhere else.
“A bird just fell out of the sky. Look. Over there.”
There was nothing to see, by the time I’d followed his outstretched arm. The space was empty, but I knew what he’d witnessed. Even though he’d sighted one before me. Darn! At least I’d been pre-warned.
Earlier that day, I’d seen my husband watching on the harbour side. Intense expression, as if he couldn’t quite believe his eyes.
He told me later he’d spotted what he thought were gannets. Gannets diving for their breakfasts, way out over the sea. Disappearing several meters under the water to reach the shoals of fish.
Soon we had all seen them. It was a sight we saw frequently over the week, once we had our eye in, so to speak. We sat drinking our morning coffee. Watching the gannets dive, as we ate breakfast in our holiday cottage.
As we drove around the coast on the Isle of Arran, all non-drivers would provide their own sound effects for the moment they spotted a bird hit the water. As we walked along a beach, there were more to spot. Even better viewing them from the ferry.
Soon we found we could anticipate which bird would drop from the sky and which would flap on by. We gave them names, although they were too far out to identify one from the other. The commentary was fun.
“Ah, here comes Arthur again. He looks like he will attempt a triple turn. Oh! Shame about the splash. He’ll be disappointed with that one.”
From the start of the dive to the moment the bird hit the surface, took less than a second. By the time you pointed it out, the bird was gone. Under the surface grabbing an unsuspecting fish.
We began to give them marks. Mirroring the methods used in the Olympics for high board divers. Some birds made bigger splashes. The angle made a big difference.
Eventually, we would see them resurface, fish in beak. Flapping their enomorous wings as they escaped the water surface.
It’s funny, I had always assumed that the expression, feeding like gannets referred to feeding the young in the nest. Most mothers of growing children know the feeling, I’m sure. Maybe it does. I can see now that it could equally refer to the very eye catching way they catch their fish. One dropping out of the sky after another.
Now back in Somerset, I miss the gannets. I miss sitting in the morning, with my cup of coffee and watching them dive.
I couldn’t capture them in a photo. Too far away and too fast. So instead I made a few. Needlefelting them instead. With a wee, little fish, that seems to know it’s time is up. Gulp! Each bird twirling slightly in the general eddy of the room. Just as they do when they fall from the sky.
The mobile is hanging up in our kitchen. On the principle, that if I can’t go and see the gannets, then I’ll bring them to see us.
Notes on the needle felting: I felted around a pipecleaner frame for each bird. It allowed me to change their shape, so I could try and capture the twirling movement of the birds. The fish is cut out of a prefelted piece, left over from a previous project.
The mobile works best from a distance, just as they would be at sea. It is more about the movement than a close up study. The central string allows them to move as if twirling downwards.
Jury is still out about whether its the same bird in three moments of time, or three birds after the same fish. Although as a mother of three, my choice of number was no accident! I’ll leave it for you to decide.