Famous Five

It was high fives in north Essex at the weekend: all five species of thrushes to see in winter, spotted in my garden.

Remarkably, the quintet was on view at the same time: blackbird and mistle thrush to the left of me, redwing and fieldfare to the right and, stuck in the middle with me, a song thrush singing gloriously from atop a spruce.

I love to hear a song thrush sing. Partly it is because it is a sound heard all too infrequently; while still classed as a ‘common’ species, it is far less familiar in our gardens than it used to be and it is a ‘red list’ bird, of highest conservation concern.

Really, however, it is all about the song. This eponymous hero sings with clarity and gusto that few birds can rival. The sound is attractive, too: simple, musical phrases, from a vast repertoire. Despite that variety, the song thrush usually picks a phrase and repeats it. As if it is saying to itself: ‘Oh, that sounds rather good, I think I’ll sing that one again.” Encore, encore.

January is fairly unusual to hear a song thrush on song at length. Perhaps it was a reflection of the mild weather but the birds are known to practise in mid-winter, to fine tune ahead of regular early morning, early spring solos.

Come March, you may find yourself woken by the same song thrush, singing the same song, from the same favoured spot, every morning. There are worse ‘groundhog days’ to be had.

Blackbirds and mistle thrushes have fine voices, too. The latter has been singing for some time and the former, whose melodious, mellow warble is a favourite of many birdwatchers, is, like the song thrush, getting ready for his spring concertos.

At the weekend, however, their harsher calls were on show: a male blackbird rattling in annoyance at being disturbed and a mistle thrush, chirring loudly and aggressively. High in an oak, fieldfares quickly passed through, uttering their characteristic harsh croaks, accompanied by smaller, silent redwings.

So, the stage was left to the song thrush and his soliloquy, singing his heart out from the treetop. Encore, encore.