Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thrush hour

At 5 o’clock this morning a bird somewhere nearby sends
out a single piping call over and over, like radio time pips.
The other day, from my car window I heard a musical
phrase, five evenly spaced notes, the fifth falling away.
What birds these are I don’t know. Frankly I can scarcely
tell one from the other. Sparrow, blackbird, thrush, tui,
fantail…sure; after that, however, my ornithological
awareness rating is low. But I seem to have grown more
sensitized to birdsong, because I hear it clearly and often
now, often above the roar of the traffic. (Then again, if you
train yourself, walking down a city shopping street like
Lambton Quay, you can isolate the clopping, clacking,
shuffling sound of thousands of human footfalls
ceaselessly hitting the pavement; and sometimes,
especially as dusk comes on in winter, the birds make a
tremendous noise in the trees on the Quay as they sort out
their roosts for the night.) Whatever the street, though, I’ll
be walking along and suddenly my attention will be caught
and held by some mighty outpouring of song and I’ll look
up and there’s one of the little fuckers chirping his tiny
heart out on the top of a lamp-post as if the continuance of
the universe depended on it.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

—“The Darkling Thrush,” Thomas Hardy, December 31, 1900


Pdogge said...

Sounds like the naughty but lovely singer, the shining cuckoo. It´s often first heard from early October after returning from it´s OE.

Mary McCallum said...

That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over, lest you should think he never could recapture the first fine careless rapture! [Browning]

I've got more attuned to birdsong and hence birds, too, Denis. Adopting a baby bird that survived and came back demanding food helped with that. Am now reading Esther Woolfson's Corvus (Faber)- her memoir about living with birds which, if your bird fascination grows, you might like too.

Hans Flagon said...

Cornell Ornithology Lab probably has some online birdsong samples you can compare, but sometimes asking a birder (If you describe it well) is the fastest way.

Visit your local bookstore, the birding section probably has a book or two with these sound chips that play back bird songs.

What you quickly discover is, your local birds may have their own dialect. Close but not identical to given recordings.