Windthrushes

On the winter winds come the Windthrushes. Miraculous faals o them, flachteran doon in their tens o thoosands fae Scandinavia an the northern ocean. Doon fae the Fair Isle Channel an across the North Soond. Owre North Ronaldsay, Sanday, Westray, and doon on tae the sirpan pastures o Tankerness, Deerness, an the Orkney West Mainland.

Ower the last few days, there’s been such rain an wind that peedie lochs hiv formed in ivry depression o the land; it’s no exaggeration tae caal them lochs, for they rise in gurly, frothy waves in the wind at this time o year. And, everywhaur among them, Windthrushes, hardy peedie travellers that hiv braved the North Sea seekan maet.

There’s something heartwarmin aboot seean these plucky peedie Norskies on the stubble on a November morneen. No maitter hou cauld, weet an dark the winter gets, there’s life, colour an resilience there. Gloweran, wae their fierce-like yellowish eye-stripe. Flashan crimson fae their oxters.

I picked een up wan morneen. It haed flown intae the gless o me office window. The stunned craitur seemed unco light, fragile an delicate, afore it burst up oot o me haand an darted awey owre the washed-oot yellow-green o the Kirkpretty fields. William Groundwater noted in Birds and Mammals of Orkney (Kirkwall, 1974) that, on the night o October 18-19th 1966, a hunder an forty migrant Windthrushes were killed at the North Ronaldsay lighthoose.

O aal the winter visitors, I love these Windthrushes the most. Snow Buntings bring a touch o the exotic Alps or Cairngorms tae pastoral Orkney, and Fieldfares hiv a Presbyterian character aal o their own. Harlequin-coloured waterfowl arrive in their tens o thoosands fae Iceland. But there’s notheen quite as upliftin as seean a resplendent fall o Windthrushes, bold in fresh snow, or newly alighted in the low winter sun.

The Rev. G Low recorded the Orkney neem ‘Windthrush’ in the nineteenth century. But in whit distant prior century did an Orkney crofter poet think, as he watched them blowan in off the North Sea, tae christen them ‘Windthrushes’? Ither languages, too, hiv interestin names for the bird. Hooiver cauld it soonds in Latin, the name is no withoot some romance: Turdis iliacus – the ‘Thrush o Troy’. The English is the prosaic ‘Redwing’. But the Orcadian ‘Windthrush’ haes a poetry o weather an observation that’s lackan in these ither tongues.

 Alexander Redwing

 

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