‘The Day is Full of Birds’

From Wordsworth’s Prelude to Kate Bush’s Prelude (Sky of Honey, CD2 of her beautiful Aerial album)…

Take a moment to lose yourself in the hypnotic birdsong of an early summer’s day, whilst Kate’s music plays duet with that drowsy, sunshine purr of the woodpigeon, so evocative of lazy days spent in the garden.

The day is full of birds
Sounds like they’re saying words’

Those words spoken by Kate’s son Bertie, along with the whole dreamy calm of Prelude seem to hold, in a capsule of sound, the beautiful day in our garden last Saturday, when blue sky flung itself wide over the whole world, an ice cream van jangled out of hibernation into our street, laughter chased paddling pool splashes across freshly mown lawns…

And I sat reading, surrounded by an amazing ‘birdscape‘…

…The scream of swifts as they swooped and circled, slicing dazzles of sunlight on the underside of their wings. The “Tchi, Tchi, Tchi,” of house sparrows nesting under our roof. The bubbles of notes, bounced and busy-bodied across the sky by charms of goldfinches. The gorgeous, lilting flute of the blackbird – and the ruffle-silent wings of jackdaws as they passed to and fro between the chimney pots, speaking the occasional word to each other like a family in quiet companionship, made drowsy by the sun.

We spent the whole afternoon in the garden – and in between all the conversation, the dash to the ice cream van and the usual to and fro in response to kids, washing machine, things-that-must-be-done (I felt a bit like those restless jackdaws) – I managed, in snatches, to read a couple of short stories from The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith – one of the books I borrowed from the library last week:

Picture of The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith

Written and compiled to raise money for charity, the book’s editorial brief was ‘make somebody up’ – with each story’s title taking the name of its character. The first story I read was Judith Castle by David Mitchell (my introduction to his writing). Judith Castle is a maddening fantasist and control freak – with an over-compensating, desperation-driven ego; larger than life (hopefully!) in the full extent of her tragic-comic awfulness.

In terms of character, all was more or less set out on the story’s plate – and I could pretty much see where it was heading from the beginning – but that was all part of the entertaining cut and thrust of it – and it was a very enjoyable read, which I was eager to return to. In a way, reading it kangaroo fashion in jumpy snatches, kind of suited the story and the prickly, pursuing, impatient, perception-challenged voice of Judith. It was nice too, to have another story partly set on the Lyme Regis Cobb – to join John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman (mentioned in Mitchell’s story), Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures (all bring back memories of the day we spent in Lyme, noses pressed  to fossil shop windows – and the afternoon in neighbouring Charmouth, watching sparrows relay chips from the hand of a delighted elderly gentleman to their (probably rapidly expanding!) chicks under the eaves of the sea front museum).

The second story I read in The Book of Other People, I completely loved. It was J. Johnson, A Writing Life by Nick Hornby, with lovely, warm illustrations by Posy Simmonds – and was told in a series of dust-flap writer’s biogs (you know the sort of thing:- Fred Flump spent his youth as a dust cart operator, deep sea diver and sea lion tamer before taking up his pen to write grisly tales and supernatural thrillers for readers who are far less easy to tame. He lives with his partner, pet sea lion, three ghosts and four goldfish on an island with a dodgy lighthouse and no ferry…)

It’s an ingenious form in which to tell a story – and I loved following Jamie Johnson from his early days as a hip, fresh faced English graduate with high literary leanings to… well… that would be spoiling it…

Meanwhile, back in our garden – time was wearing on, and the afternoon was still full of birds. The swifts had stayed with us all day; a heron had pondered its way across the sky; a bedraggled blue tit (no doubt fresh from a dip in next door’s pond) visited the fat cakes:

Picture of blue tit on bird feeder

Woodpigeons, crowding tetchily on the bird feeder, rattled it with bumbling alarm as they almost fell from perches far too small for them – and a goldfinch parent, harassed by the perpetual call and wing quiver of its insistent fledgling, dodged back and forth with offerings of sunflower seeds. Creeping nearer, I managed to get this very poor photo of them (a bit of a  ‘spot the goldfinch and chick’ exercise, I’m afraid!) 

Picture of a goldfinch and fledgling

The house sparrows had kept us company all day, and it’s so wonderful to have them back.

For too many years, their decline left a sorely felt gap in our street’s birdscape. They disappeared from our garden completely – and so, for me, it’s always cause for daily celebration to know that they are back in our lives.

Later that evening – back in the garden to take in the washing and water the plants – I watch the male of the roof-nesting pair, as he positions himself outside the entrance to his nest, puffs himself up, and declares whatever it is he’s declaring to the world/ other sparrows/ the moon:

Picture of an house sparrow on roof 

The sky is now a hazier wash of blue, and the lowering sun seems to have drawn him out – along with another male sparrow now perched at the very top of our hedge – to perform some ritual to the dusk. I’ve suspected for a while now that there’s another sparrow nest (or two) in the hedge, and the male there now declares his message with earnest bravado.

Picture of a house sparrow

Picture of a house sparrow

Above him, set in that still deep, liquid blue is a pale pearl of a moon…

Picture of the moon in blue sky

…to which the buttercups turn, slowly closing their petals

picture of buttercups

And the sky, though not of honey – casts a honeyed light that glows from the leaves:

picture of summer evening light on leaves

…and sets the ‘candles’ of a neighbouring horse chestnut tree alight with evening fire…

Picture of horse chestnut tree

‘When day declining sheds a milder gleam…
These NATURE’S works, the curious mind employ,
Inspire a soothing melancholy joy’

( – From The Naturalist’s Summer-evening Walk by Gilbert White)


2 thoughts on “‘The Day is Full of Birds’

  1. Lovely pictures! The ones of the sparrow came out rather well. The problem with trying to take pictures of birds is that they never stay in the right position for long enough: you’ve just framed your picture, are about the press the shutter release, when … too late! They’ve turned your back on you!

    We get some exotic visitors to our bird feeder in the garden: wil parakeets. Apparently, a number of years ago, a group of parakeets escaped from an aviary in Ealing, and they have done rather well over th eyears. And so, around western London, you can often see flocks of parakeets flying around. (I have no idea what the colective noun is for parakeets, but “flocks” should be good enough!) And a couple of them have taken to coming to our bird feeder every morning.

    The picture of the buttercups is particularly beautiful, by the way.

    • Thanks, Himadri! Lovely to come back from holiday and find your comment. Ah yes, the challenges of photographing wildlife! I managed to get some pics of wild birds on our travels last week, but found myself wishing time and again for a more powerful zoom on my camera!

      Funnily enough, we saw a ring-necked parakeet in Knole Park in Kent during our holiday. I’ve never seen them there before, and don’t know when they first arrived at Knole (this was my first visit back there for a number of years) – but, it seems the parakeets are spreading across the South East… I remember too seeing them flying free near Exmoor years ago. We’d visited a bird and wildlife centre – and I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised to see them in the fields close by to the aviaries there (from which they’d probably escaped) – but seeing them amongst the Devon hedgerows still felt like a slightly hallucinatory experience!

      Very exotic and colourful seeing them on your feeders every day, Himadri! There’s quite a lot of equally colourful urban myth surrounding them too – one legend connects them to Jimi Hendrix (the story goes that he freed the original breeding pair from his girlfriend’s flat…) Makes me hear Purple Haze in my head, whenever I see a pic of one flying free!

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