Sing on sweet thrush, upon the leafless bough,
Sing on sweet bird, listen to thy strain,
And aged winter, mid his early reign,
At thy blythe carol, clears his furrowed brow.’
The other day (Feb 1st ) I was sitting indoors when I heard a sound for which I am always waiting at this time of year. Opening the window, there it was, loud and clear, crisp and melodious—unmistakably the first Song Thrush—right on cue, singing its heart out claiming a territory for itself. It’s my favourite songbird, especially because it is the first bird to sing. It gives us so much pleasure by its beautiful solo performance – a herald of the dawn chorus to come, causing ‘aged winter to clear his furrowed brow’.
The Thrush is all the more welcome because it loves to sing alone, when other birds are mostly silent—usually in the early morning, or after dusk, when its clear voice echoes unchallenged across the local gardens loud and clear. (sometimes it may be accompanied by a late robin singing in the light of the street lamps.)
‘…… At once a voice arose amongThe bleak twigs overheadIn a full-hearted evensongOf joy illimited;An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,In blast-beruffled plume,Had chosen thus to fling his soulUpon the growing gloom.So little cause for carolingsOf such ecstatic soundWas written on terrestrial thingsAfar or nigh around,That I could think there trembled throughHis happy good-night airSome blessed Hope, whereof he knewAnd I was unaware.’
From ‘The Darkling Thrush’ by Thomas Hardy
I remember one occasion when we were in the local Highdown Gardens in May, four of us visitors stood spellbound under a cherry tree in which a thrush was singing its heart out in full flowing melody. None of us moved for several minutes, captured, in Robert Browning’s words, by the glorious ‘fine careless rapture’.
The Red List of Endangered Species
Sadly, these lovely song birds have been disappearing fast in this country in recent years. Along with 67 other bird species they are on the Red List of endangered species.
However, it was a delight to discover, when we moved to live in Sussex, that these birds are still very much alive and thriving along the South Coast. Later in Spring we sometimes hear the sound of a local thrush smashing open snail shells on our brick paths. (No poisonous metaldehyde slug pellets here please!) Then in the early evening we are serenaded by his beautiful, melodious ‘evensong’.
I do agree with others that conservation is not only about reintroducing a few pairs of Ospreys to a nature reserve in the far North of Scotland. Rather, it is also about ordinary people, walking their dogs in the local park, being able to hear a Song Thrush singing in the trees. Sadly that is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence today, in some parts.
Some time ago I read Rachel Carson’s famous book ‘The Silent Spring’, published in 1962. She describes how the introduction of large scale indiscriminate spraying with chemicals like DDT was causing havoc to wildlife in the late 1950’s and early 60’s., and also endangering human health. Her courageous voice was raised to confront the powerful chemical industry in the USA. In the year following publication of her ground- breaking book, she was called to give testimony before a Senate committee commissioned by President J.F. Kennedy to investigate the issue. Sadly it was only 7 years later, after Rachel’s death, that DDT was banned in the USA. However, shockingly, its indiscriminate use has continued in China until 2007 and India until 2009!
After reading the book Aldous Huxley apparently commented that, with the loss of woodlands, hedgerows, birds and butterflies, we have lost half the subject matter of our traditional English poetry !
Playing our Part
What can we as individuals do about it ? We can turn our gardens into a more wildlife-friendly area, and support the conservation work of bodies like the RSPB. We must also encourage more environmentally-friendly farming, more likely to provide nesting sites for endangered species like the thrush, by leaving wider field margins and properly maintaining the hedgerows where birds like the thrush have traditionally nested.
— Sing on sweet birds. We love to hear you.
|Photo of Song Thrush by Brian Robert Marshall – Creative Commons License|