By Noel Reynolds (Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Noel Reynolds (Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
I failed completely in January and March but I hit the target in February and April.

On Friday evening I visited Glapthorn Cow Pasture for my annual search for nightingales.  They are pretty reliable, and there had been one reported a couple of days before, so although it was at the early end of arrival times I gave it a go.

A blackcap was singing in the dusk – the first I had heard this year even though there has been a male in the garden for weeks.  There were a few robins singing plaintively too.  Although the blackcap is sometimes called the northern nightingale (things are so much tougher up North), and the robin quite often sings at night, you couldn’t mistake either of them for a nightingale.  And you couldn’t really mistake a song thrush for a nightingale either – although they always get me going at Glapthorn.

Browning thought that thrushes were wise:

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over, lest you should think he never could recapture the first fine careless rapture!

And song thrushes do repeat phrases, and they sing loud and into the darkness for a while, and they have beautiful songs; whistles, buzzes and musical phrases.  Just like nightingales except only in my inadequate words.  When you are listening for nightingales and you hear a distant song thrush you can spend a few moments wondering whether that is a nightingale but, but!, but when you hear a nightingale you never mistake it for a song thrush.

A nightingale in song is to a song thrush like Formula 1 is to the M25, like a golden eagle is to a buzzard, like Messi is to Rooney.

God, Nature, Mother Earth, someone, gave the night to nightingales so that they could sing without lesser songs getting in the way.  Male nightingales put on bravura displays of virtuosity.  The songs are in distinct phrases with pauses (for applause?) in between.  The variety is stupendous.  From the characteristic, and not very tuneful, ‘chug-chug-chug’ to soaring melodic phrases that reach the heights of beauty and power, for nightingales don’t whisper they are full volume songsters.

Three males sang briefly in the dark of the wood at Glapthorn on Friday. I loved hearing them.  I love the fact that they are there, back from Africa and singing their hearts out despite George Osborne, austerity, Boston bombers and footballers biting each other.  The real world is the natural world with its seasons, its beauty and its nightingales.


11 Replies to “Sublime”

  1. A truly wonderful experience that, sadly, fewer and fewer English people will ever get the chance to experience. How utterly depressing that Medway Council is determined to build over the most important site for Nightingales in the country.

  2. There was an article in the Indy the other day with a link to nightingale song. Sadly I have to travel a fair way to hear one. Last heard in a Worcestershire wood; once heard never forgotten!

    As you said the other day, “Value”?
    Frankly, worth a lot more than 1 house, or a 100 thousand houses!

  3. Blimey – I’ve never ‘heard’ Mark waxwing so lyrical – good stuff

    I’ll have a pint of what he’s on!

  4. Not sure who george osborne is but he must have lost the plot. I found some letters written by my dad to my mum during the war. He was in the RAF and stationed somewhere in oxfordshire. He said he couldn,t sleep at night for a nightingale singing outside the hut.

    1. He was fortunate. My grandparents frequently had their sleep interrupted by bombs falling on Camberwell.

  5. Couldn’t agree more, Mark. And don’t nightingales just love mess (tangles of blackthorn and so on) and don’t people just hate it? Save our Scrub!

  6. Continuing the what price nature theme, Nightingales have benefitted in parts of Hants and Sussex from production and sale of charcoal sticks. Usually coppiced hazel – which is also good for spring flowers and hence butterflies

  7. Whilst I say priceless also, I’d also say that if nightingales disappeared, the majority of the UK wouldn’t even know unless they we’re told, let alone miss them.

    1. Doug has a very good point – education. Many kids are growing up in cities, don’t see green fields, sheep, cows, let alone get the chance to hear a nightingale.
      I gather this Government, like all of them, are messing with the curriculum, and surely this whole discussion has to start with getting youngsters educated. ‘Value” which is what we have been talking about, will not come unless enough people actually value the natural world.
      I am unsure – no, make that I haven’t a clue – where to start with that, but schools need nature tables, need outings to woods and fields, need to see what we are on about.
      Only then will the future look somewhat better than it does right now!
      I was lucky! I went to school in the country, watched foxes in the evening, heard a dawn chorus, even had a teacher who put up mist nets to ring birds. We need that to continue, and need to widen the access of that sort of upbringing to all. Only then will others start to understand real “value”.

  8. Can I be controversial and say that to me a Blackbird in full song is to a Nightingale like Formula 1 is to Formula 4. Despite that I like nightingales and am supposed to be leading a Nightingale walk on Sunday. I do hope the Nightingales show up as well.

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