An insistent chirrup gave it away: a just-out-of-the-nest blackbird begging for food under the shelter of an evergreen oak. Its parents were both in close attendance, and if they’re capable of complex thought they were no doubt thinking smugly that their gamble had paid off. The blackbird is usually an early bird, but a fledged chick on February 10th is evidence of an astonishingly early breeding attempt, though by all reports not an isolated one this year. Somehow this pair had snuck around building a nest, feeding and raising a chick almost under our noses, deep in the low hedges that line a well-traversed footpath. I’d seen the male carrying a worm, rather than immediately swallowing it, but not put two and two together. I hadn’t heard him singing, nor seen either parent carrying nest material.
At dusk on that same day a different male blackbird was in full song on the edge of the wood. Perhaps he was singing to share in the joy of his neighbour’s new arrival; more likely he felt a sudden urge to get started on the breeding season himself. Since that evening a week ago the blackbird chorus has continued building, voices of remarkable richness that by the height of spring will blend into a soothing, mellifluous wall of sound.
Elsewhere in Whiteknights Park, this afternoon two goldcrests were in the midst of a ferocious territorial scrap. I tried in vain to follow them with my binoculars as they made rapid laps of an ornamental fir. Eventually the pair ended up in a face-off on an open branch, calling defiantly. One seemed to back down, at which the other raised his crest triumphantly. When a male goldcrest parts the feathers of his thin yellow crown stripe he reveals feathers beneath of the most intense orange, and this one was simply ablaze with colour and heat. It was nothing short of astonishing. This little bird, barely 1/20th the weight of a male blackbird, raged and glowed, exuding power as though nothing in the world could touch him.