In an era when the television could be retired completely, for all I care, and when Nature provides some of the most joyful and entertaining moments of my experience, the various bird feeders placed within view of the window where I paint~write~relax have to be the most cost-effective and “perpetually giving” accoutrements of my world. In terms of endless “turn out” to the banquet table of my garden, this has to have been a bumper year because its been all-go and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to refill the various food containers that range from those hanging off the “feeding station” to the perspex feeder box stuck to the window where I work. One of the most entertaining floor shows of the year has been the daily determination of our rotund pair of collared doves to get inside said perspex box, even though its hardly big enough to hold them (and no idea how the window suckers stay attached given their weight) yet they have – with a few mishaps aside – perfected a humming-bird type hover that gets them wedged into the door with just enough room to reach the food and then reverse out again once replete!
With one generation of blue tits already fledged from our bird house, we are already onto the second one of the year as the first blew down in a gale and was replaced with a smart blue “beach hut” that is already being eyed up by feathered couples with more nesting in mind.
The piece de resistance is what we re refer to as “the jacuzzi nest” by virtue of the fact that last year’s blackbirds built it in the (thankfully) seldom switched on lion’s head wall fountain behind our wisteria. The dense leaves of this verdant tree provided a sort of modesty screen for the brooding blackbird as the male cut through the endless sea of July butterflies to feed first his “wife” and then the ever more noisy chicks…and we have already seen this year’s bird checking out the nest with a view to its reuse (making me wonder if this is perhaps one of last year’s brood come back to his nostalgic old nursery).
As the light began to fade on Wednesday evening, I realised there was a new addition to our garden – a coal tit in our window box. The very prompt I needed to refill all the bird feeders, which were looking sadly depleted, I wove my way through decorative thistles in the near-dark, with a few “ouches” given bare legs and sandals, to top them all up…but it was worth it for what the morning brought.
The watchful coal tit obviously clocked this because, the following morning, he brought the entire family back with him in a bus load. Both parents and an uncountable number of fledged coal tits took up position on the fence, in the feeder, on the ground, in the pear tree and, generally, all over the place as the parents set to gathering food and stuffing it into their ever open and extremely noisy little mouths.
The same thing occurred the following morning – at more-or-less exactly the same time – so that by this morning I was able to predict when it would all happen again (10 o’ clock) – and it did, providing a morning floor show that lasts about an hour and is then repeated several times throughout the day.
Last year, watching the same rituals play out, I noticed there were particular times of day for particular types of birds and that they seemed to all know their time-slot. What really struck me this week – as I was watching this daily hullabaloo with camera poised – was the new degree of tolerance that seems to exist amongst all the various birds in our garden – everyone from the blue tits, coal tits, black birds, thrushes and sparrows, then the big boys made up of the collared doves, magpies and jackdaws, seems to muddle together side-by-side at the feeder; the only exception being the starlings, for whom all the other birds seem to make way until they are gone again.
That other time of day that it just wouldn’t be the same without the birds that share my living space is, of course, dawn. Never more ethereal, stirring and intense than at this time of the year, the dawn chorus often has me awake in the months between April and June; my body seeming to anticipate it by waking, maybe, ten minutes before the very first sound carries on the stillness as though to ensure that I fully appreciate the break in the silence that this first note signifies. Whoever or whatever that first bird is, he or she seems to know their part and so do the other birds – their solo given ample pause before the chorus joins in and builds to magical crescendo.
The other morning, I had cause to go downstairs in the middle of this performance and passed by the sitting room to find Rudi wide awake in his bed quite obviously listening to the megaphone amplification of bird song that was coming down our chimney and out of the fireplace. It struck me how he must enjoy this amplified performance coming out of his own personal “speaker” most mornings, our chimney-pot perched blackbird’s song so loud and clear that it sounded as though he was in the room with us whilst the whole of the house seemed to reverberate with the bird chorus that encircled it. Stood appreciating the ethereal glow of the white blossom on our neighbour’s tree against the half-light, I was frozen transfixed on the spot until the chorus subsided and went back to my bed with my heart close to bursting with an experience that ‘chance’ circumstance seemed to have shaken me awake with the sole purpose of sharing with me.
All of my life, the soundtrack of birds has been like the very theme music to my experience so that I can be teleported back to a particular moment or place by a particular trill, crescendo or combination of birdsong…the evening blackbird the very song of golden childhood, the screeching and clicking of starlings the sound of a lazy, cloudy afternoon thrown on top of my bedcovers lost in a book as an adolescent. As a child, my father and I used to spend long periods sat side-by-side in our adjacent garden chairs, in all weather, seemingly elsewhere with our eyes closed yet really enjoying the song of blackbird and thrush, the chirping of sparrows and bluetits in the hedgerows. The eerie cry of the swift will always transport me back to my years of student living and some of the town houses I lived in during my twenties, especially one that was so high up that these hyperactively swooping and gliding birds would seem to be on the level with my window as they made the ghostly and relentless sound that began at first light and never seemed to stop until nightfall during the month of June. In those same years, I would often make my way home as the first bird – often the blackbird – started up its song in what was still the dark of night (such a magical experience) and one of the gifts of last autumn was a robin that would sing in the 6 o’ clock dark every evening, just outside my kitchen window as I set about preparing dinner for the returning family – a sound continuum connecting two very different eras of my life.
Such a soundtrack has birdsong been to my life that some of my favourite music incorporates it – a practice that speaks to me of someone else “getting” just how meaningful and woven into the very tapestry of life the sounds of our feathered friends really are, always playing their subliminal messages in the background of our experiences for all some people claim to be oblivious (and as I type this, one of my very favourite sounds, the steady co’ coo coo coo-coo of the wood pigeon, has just started up on my rooftop).
No surprise, Kate Bush is high on that list, the featured blackbird and wood pigeon on the second disk of her album Aerial being amongst my most favourite things – just listen here to A Sky of Honey and the very rhythms of the wood pigeon incorporated into the music to get the idea but this whole album is interwoven with birdsong. In fact, I invite you to explore other extraordinary fanmade videos my MrMarrs, in particular one of my all-time favourites for The Painter’s Link (from the same Kate Bush album) which actually made me cry the first time I saw it, it so matched my own inner-interpretation of its lyrics and why it means such a lot to me as a painter…truly spectacular, it is well worth the watch.
Others bird-song tracks include Ian Anderson’s “The Secret Language of Birds” and a classic piece from growing-up-days, Pink Floyd’s “Cirrus Minor“. The Imagined Village, in their Fresh Handmade Sound venture, use birdsong all the way through this extraordinary multi-CD collection of ambient music that is experimental and playful in a way that matches my own taste in music perfectly. In fact, I once created a whole playlist of eclectic songs featuring actual birdsong, something I painstakingly put together over a period of time, but which was “lost” when I upgraded my iTunes software…one of the shortcomings of Apple software that frustrates the life out of me.
A recently discovered favourite because it sounds exactly like the lapwings that are coupling up and nesting in so many of the fields along my walks lately, their sound one of the most distinct and unusual bird sounds you are ever likely to hear, is Ian Neal’s “Kingdom of the Birds” (featured on one of my favourite compilation albums of all time “A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Explodes in Your Mind) – just make sure you hold out to the end to hear the incredible synthed lapwind-type sound that I’m talking about and then compare with the real thing. Another long-time favourite, without the birdsong but because of the lyrics, is Elton John’s “Skyline Pigeon“…and if I’m going to break the rule about the inclusion of actual bird song, I can’t very well not include Vaughan William’s “The Lark Ascending” and I’m going to slip in Elbow’s “The Birds” because it so amply matches the title of this post (and is about how they witness all our secret moments) and, of course, the Beatles stunning “Blackbird” (singing in the dead of night – back to one of my favourite sounds).
As I finish this post, I am freshly back from my walk, something which nearly always includes the oh-so familiar sight of red kites galore and today was no exception, plus we heard a lapwing, watched three swans glide ethereally along the Black Water and witnessed a sparrowhawk hover long and fixedly over its prey…but it will always be the song of thrush and robin and blackbird, and the relentless chippering of hedgebirds – that make up the long-running soundtrack of my life; one by which I navigate the seasons and to whose sounds I find I so often paint without need for any other music or accompaniment.
Here’s some of the pictures I’ve taken from my window over the past day…click on the first one to scroll through: