A welcome visitor
THERE is just about enough light in the eastern sky at 7.15am for me to walk the terriers before leaving for work and, although it’s still half an hour before sunrise, many birds are now singing. The pigeons burst chaotically from their roosts, smashing into the foliage, having learnt to fear the approach of Man. Meanwhile the old crow bows and caws its disgust at the three of us from the top of a telegraph pole.
Ignoring us, the songbirds are more intent on forming an orchestra than flight and settle on various vantage points to perform. One mournful call was unfamiliar until I spotted the bullfinch. Built like an avian front-row forward with black skullcap and pink jersey, it is, nevertheless, beautiful. Bullfinches can imitate sounds and were often kept as cage birds— in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’urbervilles, the tragic heroine is employed to whistle to the bullfinches for her mistress, Mrs d’urberville.
Until relatively recently, bullfinches were considered serious agricultural pests for eating the flower buds of fruiting trees and many thousands were killed. I’ve seen but a handful in my life and it was a rare privilege to see that they have joined our little parish. MH