Today, I bring you three birds that can be seen around Wharfedale now.
First – the most spectacular of our summer visitors – a Strid Woods speciality, the redstart. The male has a grey back, black facemask with white spot above the beak and that stunning red tail (steort in Old English). The female is more subdued but she too has a reddish tinge to her long tail, and both birds continually shiver their tails as they perch. They are hole nesters. The male’s white spot attracts the female into the proposed nest-site as it gleams from the darkness within! A pair once nested in a crevice in the coalhouse wall of my cottage in Coverdale. All summer we enjoyed the sight of the male perching on the wire outside the living-room window, shivering his tail as he sang his – rather undistinguished – snatch of a song.
My second nominee is another summer visitor, the whitethroat. We actually have two species of whitethroat, the lesser and the common. Both arrive here from Africa in April and choose nest-sites in scrub or thickets, and the lesser is only a little slimmer and more compact than its cousin, but their habits are significantly different as any birdwatcher knows. The lesser is a shy skulking bird. I once spent half an hour watching a thick stand of bushes from which this scratchy, insistent song persisted. I never even glimpsed the singer! The common whitethroat is much more obliging. The male delivers his song, slightly sweeter but still scratchy, on short song-flights from a bush-top perch. It’s almost as though the exuberance of the notes launched him sky-wards.
My third choice is a common garden bird – a bird of surprising habits and many names. As a child, I knew it as a hedge sparrow, then I learned to call it a dunnock, recently it’s been renamed the hedge accentor. Actually, I prefer my husband’s Cumbrian dialect name for it – the blue dykey. Dykey from a Cumbrian word for hedge where it builds its nest and blue, I guess, from the beautiful deep colour of the eggs it lays there. Usually shy, their behaviour changes during the breeding season when they set up such complex mating combinations that a new word – polygynandry – has been coined for it.
So, this Jubilee week let’s celebrate the REDstart, the WHITEthroat and the BLUE dikey!