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Country diary: the nightingale trills its return after years of hope

The quiet, traffic-free roads are familiar yet somehow unfamiliar this evening, just before dusk. I pass the same fences, walls and driveways, listening for the songs and calls of birds where I’ve heard them in the past: the garden fir tree that held goldcrests, the bushes behind the fencing by the railway line that sheltered bullfinches. But tonight each blackbird, blue tit and song thrush seems louder, their songs more pure, full of meaning. I pass the spot where a lone bramble bush – now tidied away – hid a grasshopper warbler one spring morning, seven years ago. I had listened to its unmistakable metallic reeling song through the noise of the busy traffic whizzing past. It stayed for just one day before it moved on.

Within a few minutes, I’m walking between the houses on the edge of town, built five years ago where nightingales once sang, and into the fields lined on one side by woodland. I’ve walked here each spring since, in the hope the nightingales would return. Today, the hedgerows are ringing with blackcaps and, further away from the town, there are the similar but more flutey songs of garden warblers. I exchange smiles at a respectful distance with a family walking their dog.

Blackcap bird

‘The hedgerows are ringing with blackcaps.’ Photograph: David Whitaker/Alamy

Then, from somewhere over the hedges, I hear a long, repeating note – pure and piercing – getting louder. The nightingale stops, then warbles again, and trills. I follow the footpaths towards the song, until I come to a field of young trees and sprawling clumps of brambles. The white rumps of rabbits bob away from me. The nightingale is singing from within some dense bushes on the other side of the field. I listen for a while before deciding, reluctantly, that it’s time to head back.

Orange lines streak across the darkening blue sky. The leaves of the oak tree in the middle of the field shake in the rising wind, and clouds hustle into view as the sun sets. I pass the fencing by the railway line again. Somewhere, deep in the impenetrable vegetation on the other side, another nightingale is giving its recital. There’s silence, then the long, repeated note grows louder and louder, and the bird moves on to virtuoso flurries. The large, round moon shines above the rooftops.


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