The Collector of Lost Things - Birds in Flight

Birds in flight

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"Appearing like some falling spear of masonry, a large bird – its wings folded – had dropped through the fog and pierced the water by our boat. It vanished, almost without a splash. ‘Steady, I say,’ Sykes said, calmly. ‘What was that?’ I tried to see beneath the water, but even while I looked a second bird fell, plunging through the fog, wings closed, diving into the water.

‘Gannets, captain,’ I said.

More followed, perhaps half a dozen, falling like icicles from a church roof and vanishing into the ocean. The two Herlihy brothers became unnerved, crouching on their seats and close to letting go of the oars. One of the birds, quite near the boat, could be seen paddling thickly underwater, its neck straining this way and that, a thin chain of bubbles escaping from the nostrils on its beak, before bringing itself back to the surface with a laboured drag of wings.

‘Smack it!’ Connor urged, trying to smite it with his oar. ‘Devil!’ Freeing itself from the sea it spied us, warily, before climbing into the air with a lizard’s crawl, streams spilling from its wings as it flew away.

‘Don’t forget to ring that bell,’ Sykes uttered, unimpressed, turning his collar up. I rang it, and a second later heard French’s boat in answer. As if summoned, two puffins flew out from the mist, fast as hornets and low to the water, their wings beating so rapidly they were blurred. At the last moment they managed to avoid the prow of the boat, both turning in a precise angle to speed alongside and disappear.

They were so fast I almost disbelieved they had been there, yet after they had gone, an image of an eye remained, large and comical and set amid the coloured flags of its beak, frozen in the air a few feet from where I sat. Soon, as we rowed, more birds appeared, guillemots and razorbills, rafting in groups, bobbing apprehensively as we approached, and it was seeing these birds that made us realise we had all been hearing a noise beyond that of the sea. It was a sound of hundreds or possibly thousands of similar seabirds, high above us."


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