There are a few species of crow in Britain: the most familiar around the Turnstones’ home being Jackdaws and Magpies. In Cornwall, Jack is present along the cliffs as well as the quaysides, and is by no means totally dependent on crumbs of human generosity. There is another crow that inhabits the rock faces and narrow ledges, but not the carrion crows that we saw in numbers stalking the fields above the slate cliffs.
It was not wishful thinking. That is a crow, yes, but neither jack nor carrion crow. Mrs T saw its orange bill without prompting from her husband – a chough, no, a pair of choughs! They may be associated with Canterbury, but they do not live here, in fact, I’d not seen one since we sat at the top of the Great Orme, eighteen years ago. To bed with a smile once more!
They were both seeking attention, each in his own way singing for his supper and disturbing the peace. First of all we heard the guitarist, plucking a Spanish concerto from his strings, playing against one of those recordings without the soloist, the over-amplified sound carrying a hundred yards and more across the harbour.
Even he was not loud enough to drown the pathetic cries of a fledgling gull, wheedling crumbs from whoever cared to toss or drop them, though he was not risking getting under the feet of any human or dog wandering the quayside. The whine continued, now from one side, now another, as he chased down anyone rash enough to occupy a bench.
The Jackdaws’ more dignified method was to watch from a vantage point and once the humans had got up and left, to circle down, without fuss, and snap up whatever crumbs and trifles the people had scattered about in their usual messy fashion. A most efficient tactic, and managed without the chatter these birds maintain on our rooftops or, as we saw them today at dusk, returning to St Petroc’s tower.
Just before twilight, as we enjoyed a cream tea, we observed a fourth, silent, species of scavengers, scuttling across the roadway, retreating down the steps onto the harbour pontoon if dogs or children took too close an interest – a troop of our tribal totem, the Turnstones. Cream tea crumbs seemed as tasty to them as the delicacies discovered along the tideline. I hope they are getting all their vitamins, but they looked healthy enough and certainly had their wits about them.