Tuesday, April 16, 2013

 In Pursuit of Spring, chapter V111- WH Hudson and birds.

Lark ascending , Mark Cox, Carmarthenartist.blogspot
(You will need to be into birds for this post.)
 Edward Thomas wrote a long diversion about Hudson, a man he admired. He writes to Frost and others admiringly and affectionately about the older man - his 'unique personality which is very dear to me'. He sent Hudson some of  his poems and said he was glad to receive criticism from him, though he does hold out for 'merry' describing England in Manor Farm.
 In this chapter Thomas praises Hudson on birds - adventures Among Birds had been published that year, 1913.
This extract is from 'Birds in Towns and Villages'
A thrush is making music on a tall tree beyond the garden hedge, and I am more grateful for the distance that divides us than for the song; for, just now, he does not sing so well as sometimes of an evening, when he is most fluent, and a listener, deceived by his sweetness and melody, writes to the papers to say that he has heard the nightingale. Just now his song is scrappy, composed of phrases that follow no order and do not fit or harmonize, and is like a poor imitation of an inferior mocking-bird's song.

Between the scraps of loud thrush-music I listen to catch the thin, somewhat reedy sound of a yellow-hammer singing in the middle of the adjoining grassy field. It comes well from the open expanse of purpling grass, and reminds me of a favourite grasshopper in a distant sunny land. O happy grasshopper! singing all day in the trees and tall herbage, in a country where every village urchin is not sent afield to "study natural history" with green net and a good store of pins, shall I ever again hear thy breezy music, and see thee among the green leaves, beautiful with steel-blue and creamy-white body, and dim purple over and vivid red underwings?

The bird of the pasture-land is singing still, perhaps, but all at once I have ceased to hear him, for something has come to lift me above his low grassy level, something faint and at first only the suspicion of a sound; then a silvery lisping, far off and aerial, touching the sense as lightly as the wind-borne down of dandelion.

It is the lark singing in the blue infinite heaven, at this distance with something ethereal and heavenly in his voice; but now the wide circling wings that brought him for a few moments within hearing, have borne him beyond it again; and missing it, the sunshine looks less brilliant than before, and all other bird-voices seem by comparison dull and of the earth.

Keith Tilley another lark ascending painting

Certainly there is nothing spiritual in the song of the chaffinch. There he sits within sight, motionless, a little bird-shaped automaton, made to go off at intervals of twelve or thirteen seconds; but unfortunately one hears with the song the whirr and buzz of the internal machinery.

 It is not now as in April, when it is sufficient in a song that it shall be joyous; in the leafy month, when roses are in bloom, one grows critical, and asks for sweetness and expression, and a better art than this vigorous garden singer displays in that little double flourish with which he concludes his little hurry-scurry lyric. He has practised that same flourish for five thousand years--to be quite within the mark--and it is still far from perfect, still little better than a kind of musical sneeze. So long is art!

Here follows, from my former Probation colleague, Tim Lee -
at  bird_song_tips.pdf

Hints for recognising bird song

Start close to home – in your garden or around the streets where you live. You see these birds every day but maybe take them for granted. Take more notice of them and try to memorise their songs and calls. Try to link the song to the image of the bird.

 Do the same when you are walking in your local area – Aston’s Eyot is ideal as there is a wide range of resident and migrant birds, as well as water birds.

 Whenever you hear a call or song you don’t recognise, try to track it down to see which bird is making the sound – it’s easier to remember a song or call when you have seen the bird making it.

 Soon you will have a base of knowledge that can be extended as time goes on. This helps with the process of elimination when trying to identify unrecognised songs and calls
– It sounds like a blackbird but ……ie ‘Same same but different’

Once you have built up a basic knowledge of the commonest birds you will find that you recognise a song but can’t remember which bird you should attach it to. It can help to link the song to a group of similar sounding birds and then concentrate on what distinguishes one song from another.

Here are a few pointers to help remind you how to tell similar sounding songs apart, by linking hints to the names of the birds. To understand what the hints are describing it would help to listen to the songs – see the last page for useful websites and resources.

Mnemonics for distinguishing similar bird songs Robin/Wren/Dunnock

To a beginner, these three birds can be confused. To separate them try to remember:

Wistful Wobin
– thin wistful fluting.

Ringing Wren
– a long, powerful trill in the middle of the song.

Diddly-diddly Dunnock
– a very even, level, ‘diddly-diddly’ song, often similar to Wren, but without the harsh trill.

Blackbird/SongThrush/Mistle Thrush

Similarly, these three can easily be confused so…

Beautiful Blackbird
– probably needs no introduction.

Say it Twice Song Thrush
– similar to a Blackbird but higher pitched and repeats phrases.

Mournful Mistle Thrush
– similar to Blackbird but song has a mournful tone, singing for shorter time and ending on an upward, questioning note. Likes the tops of large trees.

Great Tit /Coal Tit/Blue Tit

Great Tit

– its most common call sounds like ‘Great Tit, Great Tit’ or as is often said – ‘Tea-cher,Tea-cher’. But remember that Great Tits have numerous other calls. Bill Oddie says that if you know most woodland birds and hear something you can’t recognise, it’s probably a Great Tit.

Coal Tit
– sounds like the Great Tit ‘Tea-cher’ call but less powerful and a bit wheezy – having spent too much time down the coal mine!

Blue Tee Tee Tee Tit Tit Tit
– common call ‘Tee tee tee, tit tit tit’

Collared Dove/ Wood Pigeon

Collared Dove
– a frequently repeated three note call – Du Doo Du

Wood D D Pigeon
– a five note call similar to a Collared Dove but finishing with an extra two ‘Du Du’ notes.– Du Doo Du, Du Du

Chaffinch/Willow Warbler/Chiffchaff

Cha-Cha-Cha, Cha-Cha-Cha, Cha-Cha-Cha Chaffinch
– a series of descending notes finishing with a flourish of notes. Chaffinches also often make a plaintive ‘chink chink’ call, so also think of the Chink Chink Chaffinch.

Willow Warbler -
also sings a series of descending notes, like a soft Chaffinch song, but slower and with no flourish at the end.

While we’re on Willow Warblers, their plumage is almost identical to the -

Chiffchaff -
but their call is easy to remember as it says its own name – ‘chiff/chaff chiff/chaff chiff/chaff’ and so sounds nothing like a Willow Warbler.

Taken by Pahlini  Keeeping on 20/04/13 at Aston Rowant, Chilterns

The Crow family

Like the Chiffchaff, many of their names are perhaps onomatopoeic -

Carrion Crow
– a harsh and longish ‘crow’

– call very similar to a Crow but with a bit of imagination it could sound like ‘rook’!! However, it’s only likely to be heard in the countryside. If you’re in a town, that very large black bird is likely to be a Crow (even if there are dozens of them). If you are in the countryside, large flocks are more likely to be Rooks (but not always) and isolated birds or pairs/family groups may be Crows. If you get a close look, Rooks have greyish, dull-looking bills whereas Crows have shiny black bills.

– a shorter, higher pitched ‘jack’, often repeated 'jack jack'

– another harsh call – a nasal ‘jaay’ (is there a pattern developing here?) but a little softer than some other members of the Crow family. The call is often made twice and at a distance – Jays are more wary of people than most other Crows.

‘The Chattering Magpie’
– is the name of a famous Irish folk tune and a very apt description of the harsh, staccato nature of the call of the Magpie. This Crow doesn’t say its name but rather the name highlights that it has pied plumage.

Blackcap/Garden Warbler/Whitethroat


– a rich and varied warble, usually starting with a chattering and finishing with a flourish of flute-like notes. Some people say that you when they get into their rhythm you can detect ‘duty day/duty done/duty day/duty done’.

Garden Warbler – ‘Garbled Warbler’
- very similar to the Blackcap but its song is often longer lasting with shorter pauses and is less varied – goes on a bit. They usually sing from a well concealed perch, which adds to the difficulty of identifying the bird.

Whitethroat – ‘I am a Whitethroat’
– song more scratchy than the Blackcap and includes a frequent five/six note phrase which sounds like ‘I am a Whitethroat’. In early spring does prominent ascending/descending song flights. Often seen at the top of bushes.


There are three resident woodpeckers in the UK and their names helpfully describe them.

Green Woodpecker
– usually seen flying away from you from the ground, where it will have been feeding on ants and other invertebrates. Their yellow rump is usually visible as they fly off. Their call, known as a ‘yaffle’, is a descending series of notes, sounding like someone laughing.

Great Spotted Woodpecker
– a black and white bird, rarely seen on the ground. Often seen near the tops of trees, searching the crevices for insects. Their call is a short ‘tchick’ sound and often alerts you to their presence. The Great Spotted are also renowned for their drumming on resonant branches, to declare their territory.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
– How do you tell a Great Spotted from a Lesser Spotted? Easy really – if you see a black and white woodpecker it is almost certainly going to be a Great Spotted. Lesser Spotted are very rare and hardly ever seen, almost never near to urban areas. As their names suggest, their size also tells them apart – Greats are the size of Starlings whereas Lesser are tiny birds, about the size of a Sparrow.

A few other hints….

Green Finch – ‘Green Beret Finch’
– staccato, machine gun like piping notes sometimes followed by whiny ‘peow, peow’ notes – like a little boy playing soldiers

Twittering Goldfinch
– usually seen in small flocks or pairs at the tops of trees or bushes, or feeding on thistles or teasels. A soft, tinkling, twittering song with occasional buzzes and wheezes.

– one of the highest pitched songs of woodland birds. Goldcrests are usually found in coniferous trees and have a soft, reeling ‘diddly diddly’ song lasting for a few seconds, gently rising to finish on a high note.

Treecreeper -
give a high pitched ‘tsee tsee’ call as they fly from tree to tree. Song similar to a Goldcrest and also difficult for some people to hear.

Peeping Bullfinch
– short, thin, single peeping note.

Reed Bunting – ‘Roadie Bunting’ – ‘one two…. one two…. one’.

‘Kee Kee Kee’ Kestrel –
call a high pitched ‘kee kee kee’, higher pitched than a green woodpecker.

Starling -
a mixture of squeaks.
Thanks, Tim.

POEM  - Sedge- Warblers

THIS beauty made me dream there was a time
Long past and irrecoverable, a clime
Where any brook so radiant racing clear
Through buttercup and kingcup bright as brass
But gentle, nourishing the meadow grass
That leans and scurries in the wind, would bear
Another beauty, divine and feminine,
Child to the sun, a nymph whose soul unstained
Could love all day, and never hate or tire,
A lover of mortal or immortal kin.
And yet, rid of this dream, ere I had drained
Its poison, quieted was my desire
So that I only looked into the water,
Clearer than any goddess or man's daughter,
And hearkened while it combed the dark green hair
And shook the millions of the blossoms white
Of water-crowfoot, and curdled to one sheet
The flowers fallen from the chestnuts in the park
Far off. And sedge-warblers, clinging so light
To willow twigs, sang longer than the lark,
Quick, shrill, or grating, a song to match the heat
Of the strong sun, nor less the water's cool,
Gushing through narrows, swirling in the pool.
Their song that lacks all words, all melody,
All sweetness almost, was dearer then to me
Than sweetest voice that sings in tune sweet words.
This was the best of May--the small brown birds
Wisely reiterating endlessly
What no man learnt yet, in or out of school.


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