Willow Warblings

Gentle, nourishing, and very, very wet: the classic April shower is to the earth as a watering can is to a flower pot. There’s no rain as soft as spring rain. Neither, as it happens, is there anything as hard as spring rain that’s been repeatedly flung up and down through the troposphere until it freezes into projectiles roughly the size and density of Bird’s Eye petis pois. In the last week we’ve had plenty of both sorts of precipitation, deposited by a beautiful range of clouds from sky-covering sheets of off-white to otherworldly cumulonimbus, dark and heavy with undulating mammatus clouds.


Mammatus over east Reading, April 2016

Perhaps not coincidentally, the willow warbler’s voice calls to mind the cascade of a small waterfall, a burbling river, or a cleansing fall of rain. A descending sequence of rich, musical notes, it’s a song that washes warmth and spring cheer into your very skin:  the vocal personification of an April shower on one of the first truly warm days of the year. Not so many years ago most of southern England was bathed in willow warblings; now it’s a more sporadically enjoyed pleasure, replaced by the more prosaic (though still seasonally essential) song of the chiffchaff as the two species play out their climate-driven shift northwards.

Happily, willow warblers seem to enjoy singing as much as I can’t get enough of listening, and they do sing on migration. My first for this year was singing early one morning in our suburban back garden. The second was from low lakeside trees in Whiteknights Park. Willow warblers are unlikely to breed in either location nowadays but their passage through my everyday places of home and work, now all the more unexpected and touched with magic, is for me as swifts were for Ted Hughes*. In other words, they’re a sign that, despite everything, the global ecosystem still functions. Hope lies just around the corner.

Willow Warbler from Chris Foster on Vimeo.

*A contemporary sign of spring that I’ve yet to record this year is nature columnists quoting Ted Hughes on swifts.

3 thoughts on “Willow Warblings

  1. I’ve never heard of mammatus clouds before. The warbler’s song you recorded is indeed lovely.

    Sent from my iPhone


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