Thrush Flesh

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Part of a female blackbird

The landscape is now crowded with thrushes of every shape and size. The invasion began with a few softly spoken phrases on the edge of hearing; flights of redwings against the moon. Matched with a flight or two of wigeon, these were pleasing, gentle signs of progress into autumn. Within a few hours, all subtlety was gone. The brown, nondescript shapes were bolstered by regiments of flaring blue fieldfares which chattered angrily against the naked thorns. It was not long before we were outmanoeuvred and overwhelmed.

All that we held dear in early September has been cast into the wind, and swallows have become little more than a dream. The time has come for woodsmoke, frost and a million scandinavian migrants – I feel the weight of them crowding over the farm as I type these words. Amidst this torrent of birdflesh, there are some odd gems. An immaculate ring ouzel flipped across the road as I drove out to check on the cattle last week – he was tagging along with a crowd of fieldfares, and his migration will soon take him far off to the Mediterranean coast. He was simply trapped in a whirling mess of thrushes, but I’m sure the seasons will soon return him to the job in hand.

The migrants are enjoying the summer’s growth of berries, but there are some benefits for the homegrown wildlife. We found the remains of a female blackbird on the hill this morning – probably one of thousands freshly arrived from Scandinavia. All the signs seemed to suggest that she had been the victim of a merlin, and we were able to reassemble some recognisable parts from three distinct tussocks within a twelve foot radius – here were the back legs and tail – there was the breastbone and guts. Notably, we even found the blackbird’s face, complete with her beak – the skull had been cracked open from behind and the brain slurped out just a few hours before we passed by. How many of these birds suffer the long trip over the North Sea only to become raptor fat? A merlin will often feed several times from the same kill, so we placed the pieces back where we found them and moved on.

In the same breath, we found a jack snipe in the heather – the first of the year. The tubby little fellow fluttered up over the rattling asphodel cases and immediately dipped back in to land again. It was fascinating to think that this little bird might well have flown from the same aapa mires in Finland which we explored earlier in the month, 1,500 miles away in the distant North.

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