We’ve been saying it for weeks. Spring is on the way.
Hazel catkins hanging brightly from whippy branches, snowdrops pushing through frosty earth, dunnocks singing, then goldcrests, then song thrushes and blackbirds. Crocuses. Daffs. Buds and blossom and blooming hellebores.
Redwings and fieldfares checking whether they’ll need a visa if they go back to Sweden after March 29th.
The lengthening of daylight hours, the warming, the budding of trees and plants and the reawakening of birdsong – all anticipated as eagerly as the first evening drink after a long day’s work.
Because while there’s much to relish about winter – hearty walks, blazing log fires, huge flocks of geese rising as one from freezing mudflats, you know the routine – spring is where it’s at, the time of rebirth and new growth, hope and anticipation (as long as you don’t read the news); nature busting out all over and shouting, as of one voice, ‘SHAG ME, SHAG ME, SHAG ME NOW’.
And today, for the first time this year, and earlier than I was expecting, I heard a chiffchaff shouting exactly that.
It was a still morning. The sea burbled away to itself in the background, the rooks in the rookery over the road had settled down after their habitual early morning hubbub, and the sun shone warmly on my face. The sky was the wistful blue of the last morning of a half-term mini-break. Into the usual mid-morning sounds – coal tit voluble at the top of an oak, goldfinches poppety-poppety-pea-ing overhead, a lone jackdaw chacking in the hope that the others might join in – barged the chiffchaff.
CHIFF CHAFF CHUFF CHIFF CHUFF CHAFF CHIFF
A double-take. Not yet. Not in February.
CHIFF CHUFF CHAFF
Whether they’re birds that have over-wintered here, or migrants from Africa (AFRICA – how do they do it, the plucky little fluffers?), that first chiffing is one of those milestones you tick off. It no longer feels like late-winter heralding spring; it is spring.
But of course it isn’t. Not quite. Look at the calendar. February isn’t spring; it’s the dregs of winter, the month that drags on and on until you’re convinced it lasts not 28 days but 28 weeks, each one greyer than the last.
Not this year. We all know about the underlying reasons, and I’m not here to talk about that, not when literally everyone else is doing such an excellent job of it.
I’d prefer, for now, to focus on that chiffchaff. It’s a chewy sound, compared to its nearest two-note rival, the relatively thin ‘squeaky wheel’ great tit. And there’s an energy to it, an irresistible punch that grabs the attention. If I were a female chiffchaff, I definitely would.
And it’s just the beginning. These coming weeks the air will be filled with birdy dirty talk: our resident birds waking up to the sap-rising possibilities, but also the migrants, amazingly fresh after a gruelling journey from a far continent and, frankly, bang up for it.
Spring doing the spring thing. Get out there and have a listen.