The Greenfinch memory jogger

This morning whilst sitting outside I became aware of a birdsong. Loud, piercing but beautiful. It started with a staccato-style beat, beat, beat and ended with a twittering trill. Not unlike part of the repertoire of a thrush. But this was no thrush: much smaller and at first I couldn’t recognise the tiny blog sitting on the topmost branch of the still leafless Ash. The binoculars sorted that out. The unmistakeable brilliance of a male greenfinch. How could such a tiny creature throw its voice so far, so distinctively? If he sang to attract a mate, surely success was assured.

My first wife’s dad was a coal-face miner. Like many of his mates, he bred canaries that lived in, and sang from, cages that filled his back garden. A garden of generous size that separated the houses built to attract men from Wales and Durham as well as the East Midlands. At this time of year, he came to the farm to search for a greenfinch’s nest. One egg was placed under his cap to keep warm.

Back on Edward Street, the broody canary obliged by hatching the greenfinch chick. Next season the one-year-old ex-chick bred with a resident canary. That is why the miner’s bird cages housed canaries ranging in colour from bright yellow to sparrow-like brown. That is why the men of coal could discuss canary parentage at the annual autumn canary show. That is why a watery eye viewed the brilliant green finch at the top of my Ash tree. A tall strong man aged 60 died of the dust.

To find out more about my life growing up in post-war Derbyshire take a look at my book Derbyshire boy.

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