new icn messageflickr-free-ic3d pan white
Kittiwake | by Giles Watson's poetry and prose
Back to photostream



(Words by Giles Watson. Music by Kathryn Wheeler.)


When the Tarrock takes to air

from his western cliff,

he’ll never look at land again –

his cloud-high soul adrift –

until he shrugs his shoulders clean

and shakes his heart awake:

the Tarrock dips his wings in ink,

becomes a Kittiwake,


and on the swell he finds a mate

to please his infant soul;

they scud beneath the firmament,

they fish above a shoal,

the sky itself their waking day,

the sea-swell is their rest,

until the blush of thrift on stone

calls them in to nest,


and by the samphire on a ledge,

the kelp-blotched eggs are laid.

Where there’s scarce a place to perch

the chicks hatch unafraid,

in briny air amid the gales

where seething waters break,

and little Keltie, who is dead,

becomes a Kittiwake.


Lyric by Giles Watson, 2013. Kittiwakes are among the least land-bound of gulls, and only ever nest on cliffs. The young Kittiwake is known as a Tarrock, and has a W-shaped black mark across its wings and shoulders until its first moult. Because of the Kittiwake’s comparatively gentle demeanour and innocent-sounding call, folk belief asserts that infant souls sometimes take residence in the birds. Keltie is a folk-name for the bird in Aberdeen. The picture is adapted from F.O. Morris's Book of British Birds.

7 faves
Taken on January 13, 2013