The least they could do is say goodbye. Just a head round the door and “see you in October”. But that’s not the redwing way. They slip off between visits without a murmur, leaving me scanning the trees for one last sighting. Rude.
These sharp little thrushes have been an antidote to this endless winter. Sometimes they’ve disguised themselves as a patch of grass before flurrying up away from me. Sometimes I’ve responded to a mysterious instinct and looked up just in time to see one dashing over my head – and where one dashes, others follow, fleet of wing, hurrying to be somewhere else. They’ve taunted me with their invisibility, the only clue to their presence a chorus of thin tseeps from the canopy. But now they’ve gone, and the new season is truly upon us.
The venue for these encounters is West Norwood cemetery, one of the “magnificent seven” – large, private cemeteries established across London in the 1830s – and the heart of my local patch. WeNoCem (as those in the know never call it) is the perfect length for my daily walk. Here among the grand mausoleums and dramatic statuary are well-established trees, areas allowed to grow over, shady paths inviting a slowing of pace. It’s a pocket of peace in the south London bustle, an advert for the benefits of urban nature. As I walk through the arched entrance, the rumble of traffic recedes and stress falls away.
Spring is here, bursting at the seams. And boy, is it ever welcome. You can almost hear things growing: dense blizzards of blackthorn; magnolia buds, pert pink candles slowly unfurling; slender, droop-headed narcissi, quivering with energy.
The birds are clamouring. Great tits, a two-note repertoire with variations – the Status Quo of birdsong; a wren – tiny shouter – its machine-gun trill bouncing off lopsided gravestones. An invisible goldcrest pipes up – tsee-bada-tsee-bada-tsee-bada-scabba-diddle-oo. Bubble of goldfinch, shriek of jay, plangent screech of angle grinder. Peace is a relative term.
I complete my lap, head for the exit. A tseep catches the ear, so faint I might have imagined it. Up with the binoculars, a scan, and there they are. Four of them. The last redwings. See you in October.