SFN Journal – Autumn Almanac: A Sweet Utterance

I have finally seen the bullfinches. All summer long I have heard their whistles from the long hedge that runs parallel to one of the glasshouses (of the plant nursery where I work) but they have remained elusive and disembodied. Today a movement in the bushes attracted my attention as I headed out on my lunchtime stroll, and I caught sight of the distinctive cherry-pink breast, black cap and white rump that marks out the male bird. The female and juvenile birds are trickier to separate, both being a less dramatic faded-beige on first impression.

I headed out through the woods, across the road to the heathland. I was momentarily surprised to find the heath in colour, its usual greys and browns cloaked in glowing gold, and swathes of purple. But of course, the year is racing ahead; we are already a week deep into August, and the gorse and heathers are in bloom.

A breeze was slanting chilled drizzle and tickling its cold fingers down the back of my neck. The light was grey and muted, not much fun to be had with the camera. The heath struggled to enrapture my attention today, so I returned to the woods, withdrawing to the solid companionship of trees. Despite the greenness of the canopy, and the lush growth brought on by recent alternations of rain and sun, inside the woodland Summer seems only a superficial mask. This year, Autumn has arrived in August.

I hadn’t believed it until now. I had seen the nuts and berries ripening in the hedgerow, and toadstools popping up along the footpath edge, but these were just signs of the approaching seasonal change, finger pointers rather than the complete transformation. A simple moment changed my perception. The robins have broken their summer-moult silence, and begun to sing. It stopped me and held me for a moment when the sound first filtered through; a sweet utterance of notes, quietly muttered from the hedge, and echoed by another a few metres further down the path. This autumn song is different from their triumphant volleys of spring, or the winter-evening duets with the dying sun. Quiet, unhurried, muttered softly from deep inside the hedge rather than flung from a demanding song-perch, it trickles through the mists and drizzle as if each note is suspended in the dewdrops.

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