Morning chores: and a sudden burst of song. Not the usual sort of song, that’s why I heard it so clearly. You get used to the everyday singers and a song that breaks the pattern is like a shout.
No great mystery though. It was a lesser whitethroat. A brisk rattle, a bit like a yellowhammer, but without the final cheeeeese. I had heard a lesser whitethroat in the same bit of hedge earlier in the year: hearing it again after a long silence, I hoped it was a signal of successful breeding.
Lesser whitethroat! I remember my indignation at finding such a species in bird books when I was a boy. That whole warbler section was pushing its luck, it seemed to me: so many birds, so many species and all of them looking more or less the same.
A whitethroat, OK, I could just about accept that. But a lesser whitethroat was a bird too far. Biodiversity is all very well (not that the
word had been coined yet) but this was too much. Getting silly.
The answer is in the song, of course, as I was later to learn. I know both species pretty well these days, but I seldom hear a lesser whitethroat without secret pleasure. I now know an impossible bird.
And of course I now see biodiversity as a joy, and that looking at nature is made richer, not more annoying by the unending ranks of species and the eternal problem of telling one from another.
Understanding biodiversity is like trying to get your head around inter-stellar distances. How can there be 1,500 species of micromoths in Britain? How can there be 400,000 species of beetle in the world? How did they even begin to find out? But a flick through the warbler pages of your field guide brings you biodiversity on a scale the human brain can handle.
It’s not enough to have a whitethroat. There must be a lesser whitethroat as well. Hear him sing.