Greenfinches squeak like an unoiled wheelbarrow

Greenfinches song includes an extended wheeze which sounds remarkably like a squeaky wheelbarrow wheel.

Like chaffinches, greenfinches are nesting now, holding onto their territories with a mix of calls and song, the most distinctive of which sounds like the drawn out squeak of an unoiled wheelbarrow wheel. I know as, until recently, each time I set off for the allotment with the wheelbarrow loaded with tools, I would be accompanied by a teeth jarring extended squeal and remember that once again I had forgotten to oil the wheel. Yesterday, I eventually got out the WD40 and a job of seconds was done!

I regularly hear this squeak, or wheeze as I walk round the Castle Mound; greenfinches love the thick hedges adjacent to the fields. While it sounds quiet on the recording above, the sound is really quite loud and distinctive. Greenfinches can also make a sound like a quiet version of a pneumatic drill: a rapid thud, thud, thud. This recording of a bird in Spain combines the wheeze and the thud. While any equivalences of sound require a bit of imagination, I find they help a lot when learning to pick out new bird songs.

Male greenfinch, with chunky bill and yellow wing and tail edges. Photo thanks to pixabay.

I don’t often see the greenfinches themselves, but I am glad to know they are there. Do they come to your bird feeder? Occasionally they come to ours. Look out for their greenish bodies, and yellow wing edges. As with the chaffinch, the females are drabber – more brown than green, with a thinner yellow wing edge. Like the chaffinch they have a thickset bill, designed for cracking seeds.

Greenfinches have had a hard time since 2005, when birds started to be badly affected by the disease trichomonosis, causing a massive drop in their numbers. In winter 2005, greenfinches were seen in three-quarters of gardens, in 2011, in only half of gardens. There has been concern that this disease is passed between birds at bird feeders, so there has been increased reporting of the importance of keeping feeders clean. A message we have become unfortunately familiar with ourselves lately… Their numbers are now on the up, perhaps because of a growth in resistance to the disease combined with increased cleaning of feeders. That is so why I am so glad to hear their unoiled wheelbarrow like squeak when I am out and about…

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For this VE day, in lockdown, wild lilies’ delicate beauty

Wild lilies, known as Ramsons or wild garlic, are flowering in the moist, shady areas of Castle Mound. I would of expected such delicate, extravagant flowers to be the product of generations of cultivation – or belong to a more exotic wilderness. Yet they are on our doorstep.

To find them, start where the spring pours out into a sparkling clear pool. Follow the little stream as it curls round. As the ground becomes squishy underfoot, you will see these brilliant white delicate flowers growing alongside the path. Brush their broad, luscious leaves as you walk and the air fills with the smell of garlic.

This Easter we were not able to have in church the traditional display of Easter lilies, beautifully arranged by Pauline Miller, with a list of names next to them to whose remembrance they are dedicated. I remember my grandmother buying lilies for the Methodist chapel in Southery. Even then they were a £1 each. She paid willingly, in respect of those who had died she had loved.

As I remember all those lost, from my family, from our country, from our world, over the years and most recently, these wonderful wild lilies, bring me comfort. The exuberant beauty of each individual flower, of which there are so many on each plant, tells me that each person is remembered and honoured, for their beauty.

Maybe today we could draw our own lily flower, sparkling with the names of those we love who are alive, or who are alive in our memories. I am going to go and do that now.

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Cowslips, on grassy banks

My daughter sent me a photo yesterday, saying ‘What are these?’ Delighted, I told her ‘Cowslips, and that I had just seen them on my own walk and had thought of making them my blog feature for today.

Cowslips, identified by their wide crinkly leaves and multiple yellow flowers

Once common, ‘cowslip’ is another of the words that has slipped quietly out of our vocabulary. Here in Burwell we are fortunate. When they built the new doctors’ surgery, Dr Patrick Risdill-Smith planted the front with a wild flower meadow. Peek through the hedge as you pass and you will see it is now full of these nodding, spring countryside flowers. Lovers of chalky soil, you can also find cowslips on the grassy banks of Castle Mound. I’d love to know where else they are.

The dots of yellow are Cowslips on the bank at Castle Mound

About twenty years ago my Mum sent me a birthday card of a painting from 1526 of cowslips by Albrecht Durer. My Mum’s comment in the card – aside from my having to wait for my birthday present for when she visited in a week’s time and not to get too excited – was ‘Interesting to see that cowslips stay the same!’

‘A Tuft of Cowslips’ Albrecht Durer, 1526, (as printed on my birthday card)

About this time last year I spent an absorbing day at a watercolour painting workshop organised by the Iceni Botanical Artists I drew and painted a cowslip. Looking carefully at the leaves, flowers and stem gave me a renewed love and understanding of the plant. As a child I painted three flowers. To this day I have an affinity for those flowers I have with no others. As I looked so closely at the plants, somehow they became part of me too. My results are ‘ordinary’; the life they brought me, as a child and last year as an adult, was breathtaking. We all have a pencil and paper to hand. I encourage you in this time of lockdown to open yourself up to this world by giving it a go, whatever your age.