Corona Wildlife Diary: Day Six

23 March 2020 | Posted in Michael Blencowe
Corona Wildlife Diary: Day Six
Redwing / Photo by John Hawkins

As the world shuts down around us the uplifting role that wildlife plays in our lives becomes more vital than ever. So, for my own sanity as much as anything, I’m going to keep a daily diary of what I find around my garden. Photograph the wildlife you can see from your window or in your garden and post your pictures on the ‘Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Table’ page.

Day Six

I went for a walk last night, just to the end of the cul-de-sac. I had been on the phone to some friends and reading the news online all evening and the enormity of the situation is starting to sink in. Two friends are worried about their jobs and Bolivia has announced a complete quarantine. The virus is affecting everybody on the planet. Comforting friends and trying to process this ever-changing situation is not easy. And tonight it’s really affecting me.

I pulled on my winter coat, walked down the lane past the recycling bins to the junction with the main road. There were no cars. It’s a cold, clear night and I stood staring up at the stars, the satellites and Venus blazing bright in the western sky. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for up there, maybe a sign? Some reassurance? It was then I that I heard it. Tseep.  A thin, sibilant whistle, transmitting from somewhere up there between Sussex and Alpha Centauri. It’s a sound that I haven’t heard for a few months - the call of the Redwing.

Redwing are small thrushes, like a pale, streaky-breasted Blackbird. Their name comes from the flash of red revealed by the birds in flight – an underwing that looks like it has been rubbed raw from flying.  Their furrowed eyebrows and blonde, drooping moustache give them the appearance of a permanently annoyed Scandinavian – and that’s exactly what they are. Redwing breed across a wide northerly stretch of our planet running from Iceland across Norway, Sweden and Finland and all the way to the Kolyma Basin in eastern Siberia. As our planet spins through space, the bit at the top gets colder and each winter Redwing are forced to begrudgingly flee from the freeze and leave their homes for the relative warmth of England. Once here they are corralled around the county by cold fronts and roam the countryside in nomadic flocks in an anxious search for berries and wild fruits. The scale of the annual Redwing arrival in England is massive – maybe a million birds, but this number changes each year depending on the weather conditions further north.

Redwing Tom Lee

(Redwing photographed by Tom Lee)

Now, during March the Redwing are leaving Sussex, chasing the retreating winter back to their defrosting fjords. They mostly migrate undercover of the night. That Tseep is their contact call, a single thin mercury note, broadcasting out into the darkness and hoping for a reply, a reassurance from their fellow travellers that they’re not alone.

(You can hear the Redwing's flight call here).

And that lonesome whistle, from one little bird lost amongst the stars, was all the reassurance I needed tonight. It reminded me that each year millions of birds - thrushes, ducks, waders, swans, owls - have to take drastic action to escape from a challenging situation. But now, after a few months escaping the freeze, they are heading back north to their familiar homelands to build their nests in the sunshine.  

As the Redwing fly home, it's our turn to change our behaviour to manage a challenging situation. And it may take a few months, but something resembling normality will return. A lone car drives past me, heading home through the night, so I turned and migrated back to my kitchen and put the kettle on.

Redwing Amy Lewis

(Redwing photographed by Amy Lewis)



    23 Mar 2020 08:15:00

    Very thought provoking and positive post. Stay safe.

  • Barbara Jeffers:

    23 Mar 2020 09:40:00

    Great article. The tseep is very high pitched so older persons may not be able to hear it. After about 3 attempts I thought I could just pick it out.

  • Angela:

    23 Mar 2020 09:59:00

    That was a magical moment Michael, thanks for sharing it. Glad it took your worries away. I saw redwings in my garden some weeks ago for the first time (they may have been here before, sight unseen) and they are so handsome.

  • 23 Mar 2020 11:26:00

    Thank you so much Michael. Saw my first Adder at last. Went down Cuckmere valley to Friston Forest and Westdene. Still all flooded.

  • Davina Williams:

    23 Mar 2020 14:09:00

    Thank you for your diary, Michael. It is providing food for thought, consolation and humour. It’s part of my daily health care routine and for friends with whom I have shared it too.

  • Pearl Carter:

    23 Mar 2020 15:48:00

    Very moving account of your thought processes and I’m sure very akin to many others certainly mine. I to have been hanging on to the fact that life goes on and a daily dose of wildlife and nature helps greatly. I’m currently sitting in the last bit of sunshine at the bottom of the garden next to my tortoise catching the rays.

  • Kathy Jones:

    23 Mar 2020 21:40:00

    Thanks Michael. I had a moment like that last week. And then talking to friends and being in nature helped. Laughing out loud at the idea of a Redwing being a permanently annoyed Scandinavian helped a lot today. Thank you 😀

  • Ginny-Vic:

    15 Jun 2020 22:13:00

    It must be really cold in Iceland if they come here for warmth! I didn’t realise ducks migrated. I’m sure it’s always the same ones in the park down the road. I remember this feeling of anticipation and actually what really struck me was that although the whole world seemed to be falling apart, nature seemed to just carry on. I like looking at the sky in the dark. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Redwing though?

Leave a comment