Fifty years ago when my friends Mary and Charles moved into the village, there were bitterns in the reeds below the bridge, and the river was well-known for the wintering ducks that could be seen here. Even when we moved here, twenty years later, you could see flocks of lapwings over the fields in spring-time, and fieldfares and redwings every time you looked out.
The changes haven’t been all bad. We see more goldfinches and yellowhammers than we used to, and buzzards and kestrels are common. There’s even a sparrowhawk, I don’t think the owls have left yet, and there are swallows and housemartins on both sides of the river. But the redwings and fieldfares are an occasional sighting now, curlews are very rare, and the duck populations on the river have dwindled enormously. There are still lapwings and skylarks, but you have to look much more carefully for them, and I haven’t seen a hare for more than five years.
The bird that Mary loved most of all was the song thrush. She used to sit out in the garden listening to thrushes singing in the evenings, and she missed it very much when she became too deaf to hear it. But she wouldn’t have heard thrush-song very often anyway. I have always thought that if you have a lot of blackbirds you won’t have many thrushes because they are in direct competition with each other, and we certainly have a lot of blackbirds. They must be winter migrants, but there are at least eight of them in and around our garden now, bullying the sparrows off the feeders and squabbling amongst themeslves, and even in the nesting season there must be at least two pairs here. I’d pretty much given up hope of hearing a song thrush in full territorial voice.
Until this morning. As I came across the bridge from the supermarket I could hear it from at least fifty yards away, singing and singing in that umistakeable fine careless rapture kind of a way, perched at the top of a sapling ash (not the one in the picture unfortunately, that one’s further up the river), staking his claim to the garden, the riverbank, the park and the whole village. Mary would have been so pleased.