'I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out 'til sundown, for going out, I found was really going in.' John Muir

I've seen the top of Everest (from a long way off), smelled the breath of a whale (from way too close) and lived on a boat in Greece (for a few years), but I continue to experience some of my most precious moments right outside my backdoor.

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Wednesday, 13 November 2013


Today I helped North East Wales Wildlife with a winter bird survey.  I used the RSPB website to brush up on some bird songs and calls before I went. I tried to make notes on the sounds so I’d remember them in the field, but how do you write down the sound of a bullfinch?  They whistle softly, a sort of wheeet, wheeet, wheeeeeeeeet.  How many ‘E’s is that?  And how do you spell the sound a goldcrest makes, or a flock of goldfinches?

Kim Atkinson paints birdsong.  She sits and listens for half an hour, makes notes and then paints what she’s heard.  Perhaps little dots for a skylark, short thick strokes for crows.  She’s made an art book with Noelle Griffiths which you can see on Youtube, or in the flesh if you visit the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

I find relating the sounds to things helps me to remember them. Long tailed tits sound like tiny football rattles as they clatter overhead in their family flocks.  I can almost taste the sound of a great tit, 'teacher-teacher,' like a metallic filling in my mouth.  Goldfinches tinkle like the wind chimes on my birch tree.  A great spotted woodpecker sounds like someone has trodden on the edge of a squeaky dog toy.  The nuthatch sounds demented, like it’s forgotten where it’s hidden a nut and trying desperately to find it.

I love Simon Barnes’ description of a blackbird’s song from his book; Birdwatching with your eyes closed: ‘Blackbirds whistle.  They whistle almost like a man, leaning dreamily against the wall with his hands in his pockets, not too stressed about his next appointment.’
We did see a male bullfinch, glowing like an ember in a hawthorn tree but he stayed silent.  The golden-penny-leaves of birch trees trembled when long-tailed tits rattled through. And a movement from the corner of my eye turned out to be a tiny,round goldcrest hanging like a Christmas decoration in a tangle of brambles. We gasped with excitement.  I wonder if birds can identify humans by the sounds they make?  ‘Ah, judging from that sound, they’re obviously a flock of bird watchers.’  

1 comment:

The bike shed said...

I saw Kim Atkinson give a lecture and thought her pictures were marvellous - reminded me of an exercise at art class ' paint the taste of ice cream"