The best place for enjoying Wild June on these flaming days is from a hammock with a hat over your eyes. I have put considerable research into the question before reaching this conclusion.
When you close your eyes the sounds leap into the foreground and hog the stage. The first thing you notice is a gentle buzzing: a sound that is both contented and faintly dangerous at the same time. I heard a cuckoo: perhaps the very last of the year.
There was an occasional shout from Cetti’s warbler, for the hammock is on the edge of the march; and yes, I could hear sedge warbler too. There were mutters and growls from the heronry half a mile off. These contribution from the birds were all laconic phrases and short if energetic bursts. The job of singing is mostly done.
A male bird sings in spring to find a mate and a territory and defend both: after that — right now in most cases — comes the job of feeding the young. By this time of year song is the way you keep what you’ve got. As promise makes its journey towards achievement, so the singing dies down.
But not the chiffchaff. Not the chiffchaff singing high in the ash, a tree I would be able to see stretching skywards if I troubled to move my hat. He was giving it everything. And this was an odd thing. He should be quietening down with everyone else: but not a sign of it. He was singing his heart out.
Unpaired male, I guessed. Perhaps the bird that had failed to find an adequate territory and a female to match, through inexperience or bad luck – though the song sounded vigorous enough to me, as if it belonged to a bird in his prime.
So perhaps the female died: got by a sparrowhawk, or the many other perils that stalk this apparently benign stretch of marsh and garden. Perhaps there was tragedy in the strong insistent syllables that rained down up on me, chiffing and chaffing as I lay dozing and wondering.
What happened? I could name every bird that opened its beak without opening my eyes, but I know little of what was really matters to them.