A nature writer, whose work I have only recently started reading, Seton Gordon, is now one of my favourites. I discovered Seton Gordon through Jim Crumley (who is my very favourite nature writer), and in many of Jim's books, he references Seton Gordon, and talks about what an inspiration his writing was to him. Seton Gordon was a Scottish naturalist and writer, who was born in 1886, and died in 1977. He wrote somewhere in the region of thirty books between 1907 and 1971, including such classics as The Charm of the Hills, Wanderings of a Naturalist, Hebridean Memories, Days With the Golden Eagle, The Charm of Skye; The Winged Isle, Islands of the West, Highways and Byways in the West Highlands and Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands to name but a few.
I have just finished The Charm of Skye (1929), and in it, Seton Gordon talks about how the old Celtic seers knew each wind by its own mystical colour:
From the East blows the Purple Wind,
From the South the White.
From the North the Black,
From the West the Pale.
Apparently, these colours were not woven out of human fancies, they had an occult, inner meaning. I thought about it for a bit, and I could relate to these colours. Some were more obvious than others, but I couldn't help agreeing with the old Celtic seers, that these colours did represent each wind.
One of my favourite birds (I have a lot of favourite birds) is the Mistle Thrush, in fact I have a soft spot for all the Thrush species, but for some reason the Mistle Thrush, or Stormcock to give it one of its old names, is a favourite in that family of favourites! I think maybe, it is because in the depth of winter you can hear Mistle Thrushes singing, and indeed during the storms of winter it can be heard singing, giving hope that the days will lengthen soon, and spring is just around the corner. Hence, Stormcock!
When I looked up the Mistle Thrush in All the Birds of the Air - The Names, Lore and Literature of British Birds by Francesca Greenoak, I could see that it had many old localised names, in fact there aren't many species with more. In case you are interested, I have listed all the old names that are given for the Mistle Thrush in this lovely, and interesting book; Hollin Cock, Holm Thrush, Holm Cock, Holm Screech, Muzzel Thrush, Mizzly Dick, Screech, Skirlock, Skrike, Skrite, Squawking Thrush (a bit harsh I think), Gawthrush, Jay (interesting), Jay Pie, Jercock, Chercock, Stormcock, Jeremy Joy, Big Mavis (I like that one), Big Felt, Bull Thrush, Horse Thrush (they often forage in horse paddocks), Corney Keever, Crakle, Bunting Thrush, Butcher Bird (I thought that was just shrikes), Felfit, Fulfer, Hillan Piet, Fen Thrush, Marble Thrush (apt), Norman Thrush, Stone Thrush and Wood Thrush. That's 34 different names!
Its scientific name is Turdus viscivorus, coming from viscum for mistletoe, and voro to devour. So, a thrush that devours mistletoe, and that's what they do! They will have a winter feeding territory that they will defend from all comers. And the mistletoe has the solstice connotation that is so apt for this time of the year.
On a cold, frosty morning last week, under beautiful blue skies with a 'white wind', I found myself on a west Lancashire mossland doing a bird survey, where I encountered five of these beautiful birds. I watched one Stormcock singing in the white wind as it alighted on top of a telegraph pole to join two other Stormcocks. When you hear a Stormcock singing in flight, it is magical. They have a very loud, determined, and liquid song, like a slowed down Blackbird on steroids, turned up to number 11! As they approach with that gently, undulating flight, as if on a children's roller-coaster, the song gets louder, and louder until they are there, in front of you, perched up, ready to face off any bird, probably any one, that dares to get too close to their favourite fruiting tree. Marvellous!
Close to where the Stormcocks were, in a sheep grazed paddock, was a flock of 26 Redwings and 48 Fieldfares, all feeding on invertebrates in the short sward. Sometimes, one or two of the Stormcocks would fly down and join their Nordic cousins.
I started my survey at first light, and as a result, picked up on some of the Pink-footed Geese flying from their overnight roost to feeding areas, and I had 266 flying in a general north to east direction. The stubble field in front of my VP held 32 Skylarks and eleven Linnets. Three Grey Wagtails were noteworthy, as was a flock of 354 Woodpigeons and 80 Jackdaws. The best of the rest included 14 Goldfinches, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, five Stock Doves and six Reed Buntings.
But nothing could match the Stormcock singing in the white wind.