On hearing Cetti's warbler for the first time

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

The RSPB says that Cetti's warbler is a small nondescript bird which skulks around, keeping out of sight.  This may be a sound survival strategy.  It has bred here since 1973.  Gary Mantle mentioned it in one of his recent blog posts.  It has a cheery song.

I heard it the other day deep in the Wiltshire countryside.  Needless to say, I did not see it.  I did, however, see a rare bird at the same place.  Well, to be more exact, I saw (through field glasses) what might have been a bundle of beige feathers set against a similarly beige background.  It may (or may not) have moved.  I confess to being rather unmoved.  That is, I was just as happy to know that the bird was there, as I was to see it.  This probably explains why I don't dash round the West Country whenever some exotica flies in; I am as happy to know, as to see.  Anyway, I much prefer my birds to come to me, which is why we garden with birds (butterflies, etc) in mind, and why it is so wonderful when 'our' fieldfares return every year.

I do sometimes momentarily regret that I don't know many different bird calls; and, whilst I can tell a pheasant from a blackbird, differentiating, say, a chiff chaff from a willow warbler is quite beyond me.  But this is the tyranny of naming; the idea that we can only really appreciate something if we can name and categorise it.  I often think about this problem when I come across a wild flower that I admire but cannot identify, and this, in turn, usually reminds me of Henry Reed's second world war poem: Naming of Parts, even though the poem's point is quite another one ...

Today we have naming of parts.  Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning.  And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing.  But today,
Today we have naming of parts.  Japonica
Glistens like coral in all the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel.  And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings.   And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got.  The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb.  And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger.  You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb.  The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt.  The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see.  We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring.  And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have the naming of parts.

Henry Reed



Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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