It's amazing how much nature you come by when sailing, as Jonty Pearce discovers this week


As the dusk fell and the gloaming darkened, the shadow swirled and changed as it writhed in what light still remained, framed between the banks of trees on either side of the narrow inlet. It drew nearer, several thousand dots simultaneously turning, ducking and diving as they approached the dense woodland on the shore just beside us.

The simultaneous rush of wings underpinned a thousand calls as the shadow defined itself as a myriad of jackdaws, gathered together by a nightly ritual before settling like a carpet onto the bank-side branches. Starlings have their murmuration; a clattering, the equivalent term for a congregation of jackdaws, was easy to accept as their individual cries merged into a cacophony of sound. Their random yet coordinated acrobatics circled our mast, breaking into groups before reconvening in a constant fluid flight of motion.

The occasional hermit bird broke free to do its own thing, but was soon osmosed back into the group – only those with a desperate need for solitude escaped to quieter skies. The spectacle lasted well over half an hour as several thousand birds soared round the isolated inlet where we had laid our anchor, and the last light of dusk had finally departed by the time successive waves of birds had dropped onto the foliage for the night-time roost. The constant sound faded as they settled for sleep, and the creek returned to its usual peace. We have seen jackdaw roosts before, but the sheer scale of tonight’s display eclipsed any we have been honoured with before. Looking at the trees through light gathering binoculars revealed each and every branch to be clad with feathered brethren; we could not believe that such a multitude could hide in such a small copse.

We had passed over the Neyland Marina upper basin cill as soon as the depth allowed in order to reach this inlet, one of our most favoured hidey-holes, before the dropping tide prevented access. Only on these equinoctial high spring tides is there enough depth to safely enter before the waters escape to reveal a flat sandy bottom. Aurial has rested here many times, and as nature watchers we have never been disappointed. Even the sight of cows pasturing on verdant still-green grass adjacent to earthy brown ploughed fields bearing the promise of early Pembrokeshire potatoes delights. The sound of a curlew sounds out over the early evening peace, while a flock of lapwings dance over the farmland to the east. On the shore, a flock of oystercatchers sound their piping calls before taking off as if on the whistle’s signal at the start of a race, their togetherness another of nature’s treats. A blur of blue, and a kingfisher flashes past, heading upstream to its nest burrow for the night. Two pairs of buzzards mew overhead as a dozen little egrets cluster and settle on their chosen branch.

Further up the creek a group of geese float serenely as if relishing the quiet of the evening before the jackdaw roost gathers volume – but then, in synchrony, they take off and pass in a skein of flight; maybe they have heard the jackdaws one time to many and think ‘Oh no, here they come again – let’s leg it’.

All we now need is the splashing of an otter or the bark of a fox to complete our evening’s variety performance, though they stay quiet and hidden – perhaps the overwhelming visual and auditory spectacle of the jackdaw roost suppressed them too. Instead, Aurial settles gently onto the sand and, as the air develops a damp chill, we head below to pour a libation of gratitude while the cabin is warmed by the heater and the promise of supper.


-Jonty Pearce