There are a few bits of essential equipment for wildlifers recommended in my book Rewild Yourself, including the all-essential supermarket carrier bag, and of course a copy of Basho’s haikus. But I forgot the hammock. The keen pursuer of wildlife can’t afford to be without on.
I took to my hammock on the second day of Wild June, and from its depths I listened to a solo recital from a bird in the ash-tree above me. Swaying slightly, hat over my eyes, I was able to give my full attention to the song. And what a rather funky old bird it was.
It was a blackcap, but a blackcap who had chosen to go beyond normal limits of blackcapkind: a blackcap sans frontieres. The voice was strong and marvellously sweet, exceptionally so even by the standards of his rivals. But his song was more complicated than theirs, prone to long, rather rambling explorations of his own music. I would have mistaken him for a garden warbler if it wasn’t for the operatic quality of those big notes.
And then, every now and then, usually after a pause to regroup, he moved into a full reed warbler song, rhythmic, insistent, driving, sounding like the song of the reeds themselves – except that he was 20 foot up in an ash-tree. After a sustained 20-second burst of reed warbler he would then dramatically break free from his own self-elected restraint, bursting into a sweet melody again, like a solo vocalist singing a high melodic response to the summoning drums, as I have often heard in African villages.
This was no automaton, mindlessly spouting a noise he was incapable of understanding, the mere plaything of his genes. Here was an individual, trumpeting his individuality to all who would listen.
I am not a number! I am a free blackcap!