NICK ACH­E­SON

The de­light­ful sounds of April bring a bright­ness that makes the heart sing, says NICK ACH­E­SON of Nor­folk Wildlife Trust

EDP Norfolk - - News -

An ex­pert with an enor­mous pas­sion for wildlife, Nick’s lyri­cal col­umn this month lis­tens to the sounds of spring.

APRIL IS the month when sound comes back to the land. Light, warmth and scent come too of course, but of­ten they are meanly taken back by April’s fick­le­ness. Sound, though, stays, grows, crescen­dos and de­mands to be heard.

It be­gins, at the start of the month, with the fat, happy buzz of queen buff-tailed bum­ble­bees, pok­ing at the carmine flow­ers of cur­rants or the ten­der tubes of lung­wort. Col­lared doves be­gan to sing in the gar­den on the first bright days of Fe­bru­ary. By now your lo­cal male’s three-note song, from his perch on the chim­ney-pot, are con­stant. The sci­en­tific name of the col­lared dove is Strep­topelia de­caocto. Its sec­ond part, from the An­cient Greek for eigh­teen, rep­re­sents the dove’s repet­i­tive song.

There are many ver­sions of a myth around this name. In one, as Christ is bear­ing the cross to Golgotha he cries out for wa­ter. Kind peo­ple around him of­fer 17 denarii but the el­derly woman sell­ing wa­ter re­fuses to ac­cept any­thing less than 18. ‘De­caocto,’ she in­sists, ‘de­caocto.’ For her lack of com­pas­sion she is turned into a bird and ever since she has sung the same song, ask­ing al­ways for 18 denarii. Per­haps one day she will re­lent and be re­stored to hu­man form. Our Nor­folk gar­dens would be qui­eter for it, and sad­der.

In the wet meadow down the still win­ter­muddy lane, the fizz of lap­wings is the sound of April. Lap­wings are sound made move­ment. As their breathy, ex­u­ber­ant calls tum­ble from their throats, so too they tum­ble from the sky, black-white-black as they twist and stall, pulling from their dives ex­hil­a­rat­ing mo­ments be­fore hit­ting the ground.

There are cat­tle here too, some dun, some black with curly white faces. Theirs is the sound of leath­ery lips and tongues, grasp­ing and rasp­ing at grass, green anew with the spring. With them is the bright sin­gle note of a sin­gle bright bird. Among April’s but­ter­cups, about the feet of the cows,

trots a but­ter­cup bird: a yel­low wag­tail, fresh from the dusty feet of African cat­tle, bright­en­ing now a damp Nor­folk meadow.

Be­yond, the marsh turns to salt and sand. The salt­marsh sky is cut by the sharp wings of black-headed gulls and by their yelps and shrieks of mer­ri­ment. Like the col­lared doves the gulls’ sci­en­tific name hon­ours the sound they make in April. It re­flects their spring ap­pear­ance too. Chroic­o­cephalus ridi­bun­dus: the coloured-headed one who laughs a lot.

The gulls’ heads are coloured in­deed in April – choco­late-dipped – and their bills a wine-stain red. Their shrill laugher is heard all along the Nor­folk coast this month. A sec­ond sound, fuller, more melo­di­ous, comes from a muddy creek or from atop a lean­ing post in the sil­very marsh. This is the rock­ing song of a red­shank, stak­ing his claim to a square of marsh, on which, in a se­cret tus­sock of sea laven­der or purslane, his fe­male will lay four brown-spat­tered eggs. First one red­shank, then an­other and an­other, tip their tee­ter­ing voices into the April day, to your de­light.

With all this sound about you, an­nounc­ing spring’s com­ing to the land, your senses are drawn out, tast­ing April’s long-for­got­ten warmth, din and bright­ness. But draw them in and you find your own self newly alive, charged again by spring. Lis­ten to your breath­ing as your lungs drink April’s life and joy.

Hear your heart, as wild and happy as the red­shank’s, beat­ing in time with the bird’s rhyth­mic song. Hear the wind play on your lips, still cold with win­ter but weak­en­ing with each gull’s shriek and each bum­ble’s peace­ful buzz. April is the month of sound and the month of life, ir­re­press­ible, joy­ful and strong, stir­ring the sky and the marsh and your heart. Let the birds’ song and the wind’s song sing in your heart this April.

And keep them there al­ways, for you never know when you may need them.

nor­folk­mag.co.uk

Yel­low wag­tail at Hard­ley Marshes

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