top of page

22 July 2015 

The Flycatcher and the Fly - an Eternal Dance 

Guardian Country Diary, Wenlock Edge

by Paul Evans, first published in 

The Guardian  22 July 2015



The Flycatcher and the Fly - an Eternal Dance



The spotted flycatcher pauses to consider approaching figures for a second before looping through the air between fence posts. The bird pauses mid-flight to snip an insect also in flight. In that moment, bird and fly are immune to the forces of gravity and exist in a time and space around which everything else spins. Like TS Eliot’s “still point of the turning world” (Burnt Norton), the spotted flycatcher is a blur of brown light: a smudge of wings, striated breast, pencil-point beak and eye shiny beetle black – stilled. The bird is poised, as is the gnat it plucks, dancing in a sunbeam between trees and the open field.



Both creatures were anonymous flecks in the stuff of landscape lush with summer rain, setting seed, warming clammily in a July afternoon, until now. This one moment when bird snatches insect – an act repeated by this and millions of other birds, and a fate that befalls a zillion flies – feels auspicious as the magnitude of it escapes into the surrounding world.



The little bird returns to the post and looks around to check the world is as it left it, before repeating the catch, as if for the first time, every time. Next week, next month, soon, it will do a moonlight flit and vanish, returning to another fence far away.



Spotted flycatchers live at the edges: between woods and fields, streams and lakes, in scrub, glades and gardens, where they can use prominent perches, like this line of fence posts, to launch themselves into the air and catch flies. These edges are vulnerable to change from farming intensification, pesticides and drought throughout Africa and Europe, and birds like the spotted flycatcher have taken a hammering.



In that moment of the dance, when the flycatcher catches the fly, there is the story of epic migrations from the Congo Basin, across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to Wenlock Edge; the turbulent history of lands and people, their cultivating and everything that brings fly and bird together or keeps them apart. The moment of capture is captured. At that still point, as Eliot says, is the dance where past and future are gathered, “Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”




Twitter @DrPaulEvans1







bottom of page