Thursday 4 April 2024

Exchanging songs

A Great Tit preened in a tree by the bridge.

A Long-Tailed Tit paused for a moment in the same tree.

A pair of Blue Tits came out in a bush in the Flower Walk.

A Wren singing in the woodland by the Henry Moore sculpture was answered by the local Song Thrush in a treetop. This is the same thrush that I filmed having a dialogue with a Chiffchaff a few days ago.

A Chaffinch sang near the Italian Garden. You can hear another Chaffinch answering him from a nearby tree.

A Robin examined cherry blossom near Peter Pan ...

... and a Dunnock perched in a hawthorn.

A Blackbird collected worms for nestlings at Mount Gate.

It's hard to know what's going on in the Grey Herons' nest at the west end of the island. Anyway, it seems to be constantly occupied.

All was quiet in the nest at the other end, where we now know there are chicks. It will be a few days before they start moving around in the nest and we can see them.

The landing stage by the Diana fountain, the territory of the dominant Black-Headed Gull in winter, has now been taken over by a pair of Herring Gulls which stand there most of the time.

But this place on the corner of the Dell restaurant roof is still very much the preserve of Pigeon Eater. He was away, but when he returned he would instantly drive off this pair of preening Herring Gulls.

There's a new Great Crested Grebe nest on the east side of the Long Water at the Vista.

A Coot in the Italian Garden brought a small offering to its mate looking after the chicks. These weren't showing, so I don't know how many there are now.

It's easier for Coots to collect reeds than twigs, so the nest in the reed bed under the parapet is getting more and more enormous.

The female Mute Swan on the nesting island is settled down so completely that I think she must have eggs. She will cover them up every time she leaves the nest, so often you can't tell if there are any.

The nest at the outflow has three eggs now but no swan was in attendance.

The Mandarin drake with no mate was by himself at the Lido. It seems that he's failed in his rivalry with the paired drake and has been driven off. 

The first martenitsa I've seen this year had been hung on a cercis bush in the Rose Garden. Traditionally Bulgarians give these red and white wool ornaments to their loved ones on 1 March, and they are then worn until the recipient finds a blossoming tree to hang them on, or sees a returning swallow or stork. Then he or she makes a wish.


  1. Slavic folklore goes back ages, so I wouldn't be surprised if this went back to indo-european practices. Ancient Greeks had similar (although not identical) customs.
    It's remarkable what an interest the Song Thrush takes in the Wren's song. At one point he's tilting his head to hear it better. Normally songbirds tend to ignore songs from other species.

    1. One account of the custom that I read takes it back to the 7th century, but it wouldn't be in the least surprising if it went back a lot farther than that. The more elaborate martenitsas have little dolls on them, male on the red thread, female on the white one.

      This thrush, which is a particularly voluble singer, really does seem to listen to and reply to the songs of other birds. I don't think it has any aggression towards them as it might to a rival thrush. It seems that the urge to sing is infectious. Preening is also an activity where one species can start another copying it.

    2. And was the Wren glancing toward the thrush after his turn? Maybe the thrush is listening for phrases he could mimic, though I doubt he would find anything suitable in a Wren's frenetic yabber.

      Song Thrush and Chaffinch song: as in Browning's poem, in reverse order. I struggled to persuade one of my English teachers that some of it was meant to be transcription of the actual songs. Jim

    3. I'd never thought of that. Maybe 'While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough' can be read as an actual representation of Chaffinch song, and the unexpectedly early rhyme of 'Lest you should think he never could recapture / The first fine careless rapture!' as a thrush's repetition. Actually I've tried listening to see if thrushes sing phrases twice, and generally if they like one you get it more often than that.

    4. I think "In England-now!" is meant both literally and as Chaffinch song, the ending thereof and possibly some of the first part. "Hark... edge" can also be taken both literally and as Song Thrush song, the rhythm being very like it, though the repetition is a separate observation and not strictly the case (they repeat some things even more as you say), nor to be expected of the transcription. However the choice of words "That's" and "wise" make more sense if the preceding lines are understood thus. Jim

    5. Yes, I see what you mean, though I read the poem differently in search of the same thing as you. At any rate this is a poem in which Browning is unusually careful about sound, when he was often (later?) merely grotesque and oafish: 'Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?'

  2. You're so lucky still to have Chaffinches there. Just none here. Not even a small winter flock this year. After hardly any finches in my garden late last year, they are becoming regular again. Yesterday I had a smart male Siskin, Greenfinch & Goldfinches.

    1. It is surprising. Maybe because no pesticides are used in the park?