To coincide with the ‘Big Garden Birdwatch” (25 - 27 Jan), our recent winter walks and the end of what always seems an interminable month; there follows a previously lost 16th century poem (of questionable quality) that is essentially also a bird ID quiz.
Written at a time when spelling was a loose concept, it is easier to understand if read aloud. For information all mention of ‘tawny’ is as a colour only.
See how many of the garden birds that are common or becoming more common you can identify. Answers are at the foot of the page.
To view/book our walks, see: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/winter-wildlife-walk-at-st-aidans-tickets-71372498063
In Wynter when Foode is Speden, Fowls of the Air Descend like Townsmen of the Square By Lady Eleanor Faulcon of York (circa 1540 – 1570)
At first lighte, all in blak, the chorister from his yellow mouth, heralds the morn,
Chattering ‘prentices flock, in grey cappe and tawny-broun tunic, to opyn shoppes and stalles.
Then rushyn scholars, in blew jaket, yello shertt and little blew cap fringed whyte,
Pass agitated tutors, in grene-yelow jerkin with cappe and gowne as glossy black as nyght.
While gray-cheeked chimney swepes, in broun tunic fleked blak and orynge stockings, creepe and shuffel by.
Next, the shoppe marsters arrive:
The blak and whyte pie to the jewellers.
In blak-whyte jaket, pale tawny shertt, scarleit cappe and apron, the joyner swings his hamer.
To the fruit stalles, with spots on their jerkin, the throstles gather.
In gray hatte and jaket, rosy shertt and whyte-grene scarff, waddles the large mumbling vicar.
While the lawyer, with steely blew eye and blak mustach parades in satyn blew-blak sleevs, pail tawny coat and whyte furr hatte flekked blak.
From mornin prayer, the peoples enter the square:
The broun capped and coated constable, with orynge face and jerkin, to keep a watchful eye.
The tiny brown and creem-spotted minstrel, tail cocked, sings loud and proud to the skye.
The blak-masked, whyte-faced pickpocket in grey jaket and pale tawny shertt, flits like a spy,
But his mask cannot hyde the whyte badger-stripe seen from behind.
When descend, like angels from helle, with long-trailing tails of blak smoke and in helmets stripped blak-white-blak, the vandals on motorbikes whose engynes roar “thrumm, thrumm, thrumm.”
Current Regular Sightings Around St Aidan’s:
Winter is a great time to get out and see wildlife; shorter days mean animals have to forage/feed more, foliage is suppressed making them more visible and the sunsets can be spectacular.
Sunset across the reedbeds.
At left: “Legs-a-dangling”. At right: At steely look.
The short-eared owls are on the hillside most evenings with up to five the most seen.
“What a big eye you have!” “All the better to see insects my dear.”
At the foot of the hillside, stonechats are regularly seen.
The kestrel pair are defending their nest site on Oddball (the mining machine) and eating for Britain.
A red kite glides close by the edge of the ridge and furrow to check the contents of folk’s pockets.
Other regular raptors include buzzard, peregrine, marsh harrier and sparrowhawk.
At left: When the wind rubs you up the wrong way.
At right: When your mates alarm call and you haven’t finished your lunch (lowest bird has a worm in its bill).
The ridge and furrow is often frequented by great white egret and 60+ curlew.
Often seen using the predator fence that protects the ridge and furrow/wet grassland.
When you were quite happily getting on with your day and then realise you’ve forgotten something really important.
One of the many hare on the ridge & furrow; if you think you see a brown stone – look twice
In & around Geese Fields are several yellowhammer (left), bullfinch (right) and also plenty of reed buntings, linnet and a goldcrest pair following a long-tailed tit flock.
Across the site, fieldfare (at left) and redwing (at right) can be seen seeking berries.
Also plenty of green woodpecker. Listen for their call that sounds like the maniacal laugh of an over the top Victorian stage villain.
At left; merged shot of one bird in flight. At right; One unsuccessfully hiding behind a branch.
In winter, with their plumage is at its best, wildfowl species and numbers increase.
At left; male goldeneye. At right; male goosander.
Often taken for granted but winter weather can add interest:
From left; carrion crow stretch; “Whoa” magpie hit by a gust; stock dove with spangly cape.
At left; whooper swan ablutions. At right; a pink-footed geese skein crosses overhead.
Although not regular, there are always drop-bys for a day or a few over winter for the above.
A vicious meadow pipit about to take out a marsh harrier.
“There’s all this fence and you have to sit there!”
A short-eared owl with “ear” tufts up & not intimidating the magpie one jot.
The actual ears are on the side of the head and the tufts just feathers thought used for communication and to camouflage when sitting in foliage by breaking up their outline.
Verse 1; blackbird, house sparrow, blue tit, great tit and dunnock.
Verse 2; magpie, great-spotted woodpecker, thrush (song and/or mistle), wood pigeon and jay
Verse 3; robin, wren, coal tit and long-tailed tit.
And just in case you have not realised, the whole thing is made up and if there really was a Lady Eleanor of York in the 16th century, she probably did not coin the phrase “hells’ angels.”
Yours, K Sp-8 (Jan 2020): “Not all pics perfect but tell a story.”
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654