After a big Christmas meal among a crowd of adults, some of them unknown to him, 18 month-old Abel was getting restless so he went to the back door and found his wellington boots. It was time for some fresh air.
By the corner of the park he stopped. He pointed at the lilac tree and shook his finger – a gesture he uses if he hears a loud noise like a siren – or grandad sneezing. Grandad’s sinuses were not challenged on this occasion; the noise was coming from the tree: Robin playing his part in the dusk chorus.
Abel watched and listened till Robin changed his perch, then said, bye bye. Off he went into the park and straight up onto the old abandoned railway line. At the top he paused again, listening. Singing close by were a thrush and blackbird as well as another robin. After listening for a while, it was bye-bye to these birds too. We were unable to see them.
We did see the gulls flying below the clouds on their way to the coast: bye-bye to them too.
It was dark when we said bye-bye to Abel, but he pointed from his car-seat to our own robin, still singing, still patrolling his boundaries by street-light. Bye-bye Abel, thank you for listening with me!
Imagine working out for the first time that these are individual birds!
Mrs Blackbird with nesting material
Seeing the world through new eyes: what a blessing!
Our grandson is a year old. Twelve months ago he could not focus at a distance, so a great deal of what goes on around us he is seeing for the first time. That index finger is forever pointing at something interesting; today the birds. Sparrows in next-door’s roof, arguing the toss in great excitement; starlings in family parties, descending on our tree, never silent; the cock blackbird, hidden by the leaves, but even louder in his song – or his warning notes – than the others. Louder still, the herring gulls circle, often calling though sometimes silent; magpies and pigeons stalking the playing field, but best of all a jackdaw, who leaves his group and walks beside the buggy for a good few yards, no more than five metres away, bright eye locked onto bright eye. Bird! Bird!
He still makes me look to the back door of the house if I am in the garden: the next cock blackbird up the street, with his imitation of a telephone ring – the same one that we have indoors. As well for my sanity that he is not a song thrush, singing each song twice over! I heard the same notes again this afternoon, from a blackbird near Mrs O’s garden; far enough away not to be the same bird. It’s usually starlings that work mimicry into their songs – or so I thought.
Back in our garden, three of us have seen Mrs Tittlemouse this week, even if Mrs Turnstone was just in time to see a tail whisk behind a brick, she did see her mascot. Smiles all round.
Before the traffic roar started this morning, I was out of bed and making a drink. The gulls, pigeons and collared doves were busy calling, blackbird and robin asserting their territory, but right outside the kitchen window, a scrap of brown feathers expanded to three times its rightful size and proclaimed its love for Jenny.
If she’s Jenny Wren, is he Johnny? She followed him, away across the back gardens.
We buried our friend Mrs O a few days ago. She had a good send-off, the church comfortably full. I was comforted an hour earlier, to see a rainbow, arched over her house as the rain drifted away into the North Sea. A promise that she will not perish! And the thrush and blackbird were singing.
‘Safe’ by Mary Webb.
Under a blossoming tree
Let me lie down,
With one blackbird to sing to me
In the evenings brown.
Safe from the world’s long importunity –
The endless talk, the critical, sly stare,
The trifling social days – and unaware
Of all the bitter thoughts they have of me,
Low in the grass, deep in the daisies,
I shall sleep sound, safe from their blames and praises.
That is one of Mrs Turnstone’s favourite poems.
This particular rainbow over Mrs O’s house occurred a few years ago.
I have been trimming the hedge of ivy that has grown over the top of the garden wall, hoping to bring light to the apple trees and vine. That hedge held at least three birds’ nests: two blackbirds’ and a robins’, the latter dry as a bone and all concealed until the loppers passed by.
Less welcome were the many snails, resting up till the weather favours them again; they’ve been busy all through November and December until this cold spell set in. There were hibernating aphid and other pests, but my companion knew what to do with them. One of last year’s tenants, the robin, was keeping a very close eye on what was uncovered, and snapped up more than a few inconsidered trifles.
We have had rain every day this week, filling the rivers, but giving us many rainbows. A bit of a cheat to show this one which was taken in June in the West of Scotland, where such weather is less remarkable, but I’ve been out without camera or phone. Our rainbows have been as welcome, even with an urban backdrop.