I could write thousands of words on our new house and the plans we have to make it home. It has been a real pleasure to find my feet on a new piece of ground, which is a rough and ready blend of farmland, moorland, woodland and riverside. I was delighted to find barn owls and kestrels hunting on the moss, and I am constantly tantalised by kingfishers on the burn which snakes its way slowly down into the river. I am particularly engrossed by this lush, riparian world, which is wholly new to me after years of focus on the high hills. I’m learning about spawning fish and am beginning to study the stillness of cormorants and herons. More familiar parts are played by a population of roe deer on the reedy margins where lolling dock fields run into willows and alders. I am already falling in love with one buck who has made his home around banks of yellow flag iris and pink campion.
Perhaps there will be time to do justice to all this new subject matter, but for now it’s simply worth recording my discovery of a wholly new species. Although every bird book I consult informs me that they are “common”, “widespread” and “ubiquitous”, I don’t think I had ever seen or heard a sedge warbler until a month ago. Pausing for a moment by the river bank, a raging clamour came dodging through thickly frosted limbs of may blossom. My first thought was nothing more eloquent than “what the bloody hell is that?”
I sat down to find out more, and soon discovered the culprit – a small, rather uninteresting green bird with an inflatable white throat. The RSPB website allows you to listen to a sedge warbler’s song, but even this chaotic and extraordinarily varied recording is quite subdued compared to the full twenty-five piece orchestra currently residing in the scrub by the burn. On closer inspection with a long-lensed camera, I found that there was more to this little creature than immediately met the eye, and I was strangely captivated by some stunning fine details of plumage and design. Now that my ear is tuned in, I hear sedge warblers almost every day, and I note that the bird I first encountered is now performing elaborate display flights from a section of telegraph wire over the rumbling water. Their song is weaving its way into my routine, and it can even score a mark in the bat-crackling silence of midnight when I’m out to walk the dogs.
I used to live in the hills were the deliciously slurring drawl of willow warblers was the joyous confirmation of April, and I hope that future Mays at the new house will be marked by the song of a similarly thrilling little bird.