March 5th, 2018


A Sweet, Wild Note: What We Hear When the Birds Sing, Richard Smyth

On the moor I saw a plover
And a curlew called her lover
Peewit, peewit,
Spring has surely come again.

We learned that song at junior school. Does a curlew really go peewit? A yellowhammer say, a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese? I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never knowingly heard the call of either bird. Richard Smyth, a birdwatcher since childhood, has trained himself to really listen to the noise the birds make, is happy to use these strange phonetics and can distinguish between a chuck and a chack. Considering the numbers of birds I see in or from my garden, I hear very little of what I would call song. I may hear the overhead mewing of a buzzard or, at night, the call of a tawny owl. I’m all too familiar with the cawing of rooks, the screaming of jays, the descending Mwha-ha-ha-ha-ha (see, I can do it, too), of the woodpecker. Birdsong, for me, is limited to hearing a blackbird sing on an April evening, or the confused twittering of the dawn chorus at four on a summer’s morning, which always lasts just long enough to stop me falling asleep again and then ends abruptly. I’m obviously not listening properly, although I can remember exactly where and when I first heard a cuckoo, or a skylark.
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