As frost seized the land over Christmas, the fieldfares returned. These large, grey-headed thrushes are winter migrants but never spend time with humans unless the cold drives them to it, as it did last year, and this when I saw over 50 of them jumping about and chattering in our trees. They were assertive enough to see off the resident blackbirds and easily won the competition for the remaining windfall apples. There seem few poems about fieldfares although the Lakes poet, Norman Nicholson, writes tellingly about their (and his) Norse origins. However, John Clare, described as England’s most articulate village voice, is as evocative as ever, even if not all his 19th century Northamptonshire dialect is familiar: a bumbarrel, is a long-tailed tit.
Emmonsails Heath in Winter
I love to see the old heath’s withered brake
Mingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling,
While the old heron from the lonely lake
Starts slow and flaps his melancholy wing,
And oddling crow in idle motions swing
On the half rotten ash tree’s topmost twig,
Beside whose trunk the gipsy makes his bed.
Up flies the bouncing woodcock from the brig
Where a black quagmire quakes beneath the tread,
The fieldfares chatter in the whistling thorn
And for the awe round fields and closen rove,
And coy bumbarrels twenty in a drove
Flit down the hedgerows in the frozen plain
And hang on little twigs and start again.