The first fieldfares were heard in Plaxtol from the last weeks of October onwards. Fieldfares come here from Scandinavia and Russia to winter among our pastures, turned fields and orchards and will stay until March. They come at first in ones and twos, later in ever-growing flocks, and while their arrival may be delayed by strong Atlantic winds, a chill north-easterly will speed them here all the sooner.
In common with many British migrant birds, winter or summer, fieldfares are often heard before they are seen. The chatter of a flock of fieldfares roosting in tall trees combines to make a constant musical babbling sound, like the play of water from a fountain, but they are most readily identified by their unmistakable ‘chack chack’ call in flight.
The largest of the British thrushes, fieldfares are similarly unmistakable close-up, with an angry-looking slash of white above the eye, a blue-grey head and rump and a chestnut back, best seen as they forage on the ground, often in mixed flocks with that other winter-visiting thrush, the smaller, subtler redwing. Like our native blackbird and thrushes, they feed on invertebrates and will gorge on hedgerow or ornamental fruits, such as hawthorn or rowan berries. In times of hard frost, the crab apples and windfalls of Plaxtol’s orchards are particularly attractive to them. With their strong beaks, they can hollow-out a fallen apple and leave only the skin, just as we would hollow-out an apple baked in the oven. But they are naturally cautious and only rare visitors to garden bird tables.
The etymology of the fieldfare’s name is doubtful, but may be readily guessed at, as a compound of the Old English words feld (open country) and faran (to travel). Precisely how or when the evocative name for these migrants came into common usage may be unknown, but it is certain that for the Anglo-Saxons and generations since – just as for us today – the arrival of the fieldfares was one of the key heralds of winter’s approach and that their calls and distinctive flight, in morning frost or on a wet and windy afternoon, are landmarks of the season.
© New Moons For Old, 2016