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Enter The Spring
by [?]

“No bottles.
No hawkers,
No greenfinches.”

I should feel really sorry if they took any notice of my notice, but it might convey a hint to them that it would be good policy on their part to cheer up for at least five minutes in the day and that, in any case, there is no need to say the same thing over and over again. Every bird, it is true, says the same thing over and over again–at any rate, more or less the same thing. Birds such as the robin and the thrush vary their song as the chaffinch and the willow-wren do not. But even the robin and the thrush have a recognisable pattern. Fortunately, they are not always, like the greenfinch, thinking of the old ‘un and thinking out loud.

The goldfinches have begun to fly about the garden again with their little sequins of song, as someone has delightfully described their music. They have their eyes, I hope, on the pear-tree–now as white as an Alp–where they built and brought up a large family last year. The cornflowers in the flower border are already in bud, and I am told that this is the temptation to which goldfinches most easily yield. I hope so, at any rate. I should have a garden blue with cornflowers, if I were sure that this would entice the seven colours of the goldfinch to make their home in it. Last Saturday, two lesser spotted woodpeckers invaded the garden. One always imagines a woodpecker as a bird of more substantial size, and it is surprising to see this little creature, patterned on the back like something made in the Omega workshop, no bigger than a sparrow, as it hastily visits apple and fig tree and even wygelia. As it climbed the wygelia, indeed, a sparrow stooped down from an upper branch to study it, and then advanced in the direction of the woodpecker. The woodpecker lay back from the trunk of the tree–lying on its back in the air, as it were, and fluttering its wings while holding on with its claws–and seemed to invite the sparrow to come on. I don’t think the sparrow had ever seen a woodpecker before. Its curiosity rather than its wrath was aroused by the strange spectacle. It did not want to hurt the foreigner, but only to look at him. After having looked its fill, it moved off to a safer tree. Then the woodpecker, whose heart had no doubt been in its boots for the past five minutes, also loosed its hold on the bark and made off over the gate for a less exciting garden.

Outside the garden the spring began on Good Friday. It came in with the chiffchaff. For three years in succession I have heard the first chiffchaff in exactly the same place–a clump of nut-trees on the top of a high bank. At this time of year, too, before the leaves are out, it is easy to see it. And there are few more charming birds to watch. With its little beak as slender as a grass-seed, and its body moving among the branches like a tiny shadow rather than flesh and bones, it pauses again and again in the midst of its eating to take an upward glance and utter its mite of music–as monotonous as a Thibetan’s praying wheel. Still lovelier is the willow-wren that follows it. It is as though the chiffchaff were the first sketch of a willow-wren. The willow-wren is the perfected work of art, with little shades of green added and a voice that, small though its range is, is perhaps the most exquisite that will fill the air till the nightingale arrives. When I went out on Sunday morning, I prophesied that I would hear the first willow-wren, and, though I heard only one in a hill-side copse where the cowslips are just getting their bells ready, the prophecy came true. Not that I am much of a prophet. I don’t know how often I have prophesied the arrival of the swallow. And, indeed, it is the surprises in nature, rather than the things that one foresees, that are the pleasantest–especially if one is easily surprised, as I am. Whoever ceases to be surprised, for instance, by the sight of a goldcrested wren? I heard its tiny pinpoint of voice last Sunday afternoon when I was walking past a plantation where the bullace was in flower, and, on looking into the trees, saw the little thimble-sized creature making free with invisible insects–his beak is hardly big enough to eat a visible one–and performing acrobatics like a tit. One of the charms of the goldcrest is that he does not look on a human being as a wild beast. The blackbird regards a man as a policeman; the greenfinch bolts for it if you so much as look at him, but the goldcrest feels as secure in your presence as if you were behind bars in a cage in the Zoological Gardens. One could probably make him jump if one went up to him and shouted suddenly into his ear, or even by making a violent gesture. But his first instinct is not to run. That, for a bird, is a considerable compliment. There can be nothing more distressing to a man of strictly honourable intentions than to have to creep about hedges furtively like a criminal in order to get a good look at a bird. Why he should want to look at birds at all it is difficult to explain. I suppose it is a sort of disease, like going to the “movies” or doing exercises. All I know is that, if you get it, you get it very badly. You would stop Shakespeare himself, if he were reciting a new sonnet to you, and bid him be quiet and look half-way up the elm where the nuthatch was beating away–up and down, like a blacksmith–at a nut or something in a knob of the tree. St Paul might be reading out to you the first draft of his Epistle to the Romans; you would quite unscrupulously interrupt him with a “Hush, man! There’s a tree-creeper somewhere about. Listen, there he is! If you keep quiet, perhaps we’ll be able to see him.” I assure you, it is as bad as that. As for a man who takes out a noisy dog, or who whacks at loose stones with his stick on the road, you would regard him as a misbehaved and riotous person and would not call him your friend. Everything has to be subordinated to the hope of catching sight of a hypothetical bird–which you have probably seen dozens of times already. Truly, there is no accounting for human vices. There is, however, at least this to be said in favour of bird-watching, that it is the pleasantest of the vices, that it is cheaper than golf, and does not harden the arteries like tea-drinking. And after all, if one is going to get excited at all, one may as well get excited about the colours and songs of birds as about most things.