In the spring, we yearn for the first sight of the returning swallow and the sound of the cuckoo to confirm the end of the long winter, but at this time of year, it’s the arrival of the fieldfare, with its grey head and chestnut back, that excites us in the countryside. It’s the herald of winter and a very pretty one, too. Roughly a million migrate to Britain each year, delighting us with their toughness and purpose. Luckily, a few hundred have taken up residence in our valley, enjoying the open countryside and the windfalls from this year’s huge crop of apples.
Unlike other members of the thrush family, it wouldn’t win any awards for its song, which is both tough and harsh and has something of the magpie in it-in many parts of Britain, it’s known as the screech bird-but their sociability as they stretch across a frozen field searching for food, always facing in the same direction, is utterly beguiling. They help the winter pass. As ever, the poet John Clare sums them up:
Flocking fieldfares, speckled like the thrush
Picking the red haw from the sweeping bush
That come and go on winter’s chilling wing,
And seem to share no sympathy with Spring