A couple of days ago I was in the bathroom and I heard a sound I haven’t heard for years. Even without looking I knew what it was. No, you low thinking person, not ‘that’. It the unmistakable sound of a snail being pounded against a stony surface. It’s a sound that lifts me on a number of layers – first, a snail is about to be digested. No matter how good or fast you are at developing an immune system it’s damn hard to develop an immunity to being digested. Second, it means finally, after literally years, a thrush has moved in to the neighbourhood, and hopefully with a mate along. And finally, joy of joys, there’s the chance that I’ll again get to hear the wonderful thrush call. They’re not called song thrush for nothing.
Their call is beautiful, and – almost like watching some exceptional dancer or gymnast, and you wonder if they can do it again – thrushes usually sing their song twice. Wonderful. Blackbirds sound similar, but they only call the once. How it works is when the male thrush is concert mood, he settles on some high spot – tree top, roof top, anywhere – and he sends down cool tunes in the finest jazz traditions, not just once, but twice.
Robert Browning wrote in Home Thoughts, from Abroad:
Hark, where my blossom’d pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
I bet, for homesick expats, more than one tear was shed on the harmonies of the thrush. I haven’t seen thrushes around here in the five years I’ve been here, and I’ve missed them. The other cool thing about thrushes, is that they build the most careful, neat, and beautiful mud-lined nests – and they lay exquisitely forget-me-not blue (actually, thrush-egg blue is how we’ve described that tone of blue in our family) eggs, with chinese black spots (mostly towards the larger end). The blue is not unlike that of starling eggs, but with greater depth of colour.
The specific (latin) name for the song thrush is Turdus (yep, same family as the blackbird) philomelos – Greek for ‘song-lover’. There’s a side reference there to Philomela, daughter of Pandion, who was turned into a nightingale – a smaller bird not unlike a thrush, however, to the best of my knowledge, never introduced to New Zealand.
As a boy I used to regularly rescue thrushes from my Dad’s glasshouse – his delectable grapes were just too tempting – and carrying out the heartpounding ball of buff and white feathers, and throwing them high into the bright blue skies, free to eat more grapes, more snails, and sing more songs. I love thrushes and they will definitely be there in my heaven.