Just went to the compost heap, where I was joined by a wren. It didn't seem at all bothered by my presence, flitting along the wall in search of insects. I was indescribably excited.
Shutting the gate after returning home with the Sunday newspaper this morning, I was treated to a virtuoso solo performance from a wren singing somewhere in the conifer in the back garden. At least, I was pretty sure it was a wren, but it was so loud—almost painfully loud—that I wondered whether it might be something else. But, sure enough, as I listened, transfixed, a tiny bird with an upturned tail flitted out from its hiding place amongst the branches and perched on the topmost twig of the tree. Pound-for-pound, wrens must be one of the loudest animals on Earth—as far as we vertebrates are concerned, at least.
Yesterday afternoon, I spend a most enjoyable hour reading the latest London Review of Books, taking in the sun on the patio. Swallows flopped into and out of view, ducks dabbled invisibly in the still-waterlogged field behind the wall, and a curlew even graced me with its presence.
I can think of worse ways to spend an hour.
The redwings are back. I heard them before I saw them, as I went to open the gate for Jen last weekend: the now-familiar seep! call. A pair of them, heading for the safety of one of our sycamores.
Later in the week, I heard and then spotted my first wren for ages. They had a dreadful time last winter, by all accounts. Now, winter draws on once more. Perhaps that's why it sounded so cross.
I've never been very good at identifying birds by their calls, but I'm working on it. I have a CD of British bird songs, but it's a bit artificial: you really need to learn them in the field to put them in the right context. I learnt the golden plover’s wheezing call this May, as Jen and I walked near Blackstone Edge. For five minutes or so, I was under the misapprehension that the wheezing was coming from my right nostril. Then we spotted the plovers, and it all began to make sense.
I recognised the golden plover's unmistakeable call again this Wednesday, as I was walking on the moor with my friend Mike and his labradoodle, Milly. We had reached the first trig point, and were taking in the view:
“Wow! Do you hear that wheezing call?” I asked, astonished. “That's a golden plover! I wonder what it's doing up here at this time of year.”
“Erm…,” ermed an embarrassed Mike, “that would be Milly whining. She does that all the time.”
Like I said, I'm working on it.
No mistaking the call of the red grouse. Later in the walk, approaching the second trig point, we were treated to the rare sight of an unflushed red grouse standing sedately amongst the dead grasses. I fired off loads of photographs, the best of which (heavily cropped and processed) was this:
You can see more photos from our walk here.