Skulking, drab, inconspicuous and certainly not gregarious; the nightingale’s charm lies not with its looks but in its song. And what a song! Remarkable for its richness, variety and vigor, these Norfolk born and bred holidaymakers are singing to announce their arrival back from over-wintering in warmer, more southern climes. Theirs is a territorial song given loudly and continuously, especially at night, serving as a long distance vocal advertisement, ‘I’m back, come nest with me!’. Simply stand, listen, and marvel at the annual migratory distance travelled, the remarkable in-built GPS system that propels them back annually to these very crossroads, the magic melody.
According to ‘British Birds, their folklore, names and literature’ by Francesca Greenoak, the Norfolk nightingale has historically been referred to as the ‘barley bird’ though she knows not why. Has anyone else heard this and does it refer to the bird returning in conjunction with agricultural events?
Did anyone who’s a fan of Desert Island Disks hear Vikram Seth’s music choice no. 3 and his ‘castaway’s favourite’, ‘Nightingales and Lancaster Bombers’? Taken from a CD of nightingales and recorded in a Surrey wood in 1942 by the BBC, the 20 second or so extract features a nightingale in full song alongside songless birds, bombers, on their way to a bombing raid in Germany. Seth describes the encounter as ‘heartbreaking in its counterpoint, each forming their own kind of music’.
Take New Street or Cley Road, which is opposite the King’s Head Pub in Holt High Street, and follow it out of Holt for about 1.5 miles. Watch for a right turn signposted to Salthouse. Follow this lane till you reach a crossroads – this is The crossroads. In previous years, the birds could be anywhere between this first crossroads and a second which is directly ahead.
PLEASE be quiet, mindful of others and ultimately respectful of the birds. I suggest drop into first gear, wind down the windows, look for a clump of like-minded listeners, and leave the car in one of a few safe places, not obstructing the road. Good luck! If you hear them, it will create a memory that will last a lifetime. Do please send me any recordings and I will post them onto the site so that more of us can listen and smile.