Monthly Archives: November 2014

A Big Birding Year: Part XXV (Mavis the song lover)

Of the 25 most common garden birds, until very recently, two species eluded the click of my Canon shutter as I have sought to photograph as many species as possible this year: Song Thrush and Bullfinch.

While house renovation and one or two other matters have kept me from birding and blogging recently, I did get out a couple of weeks ago and rectified one of those avian omissions.

I don’t think I will get bored of posting early morning shots of the Wanstead Flats…

Wanstead Flats

But instead of walking out onto the flats proper, I took a sharp left and went for a short walk through Bush Wood, the most north-westerly tip of the flats and the most densely wooded part (I have hastily sketched my walk below):

Thanks to Google Maps

Thanks to Google Maps

In the middle of the wood…

Bush Wood

… I finally caught up with my old friend, Mavis, my 99th species of bird photographed this year:

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)

The rather unfashionable girl’s name, Mavis, is actually an ancient word for Thrush:

“I have heard the mavis singing its love-song to the morn” – Charles Jefferys c.1850

The Song Thrush is well named as the male has one of the loudest bird calls for its weight and can sing more than 100 phrases. It is also an expert mimic, able to copy other birds as well as mobile phone rings – basically anything it likes the sound of. The scientific name also reflects this skill; Philomelos means ‘song loving’ in Ancient Greek. [If you want to read a truly harrowing tale of rape, tongue-removal, revenge, cannibalism, and metamorphosis, then read about the ancient greek myth of Philomela captured by Ovid which inspired Shakespeare’s brutal Titus Andronicus]

Mavis had led me on a merry dance this year – a relatively common (although worryingly declining) species that took me 11 months to track her down – but eventually she let me take her photograph (no matter how poorly that came out) only a couple of minutes walk from my home.

I would like to see a resurgence in the popularity of the name Mavis, as it represents one of the most iconic singers in the Eurasian animal kingdom, whilst I believe Philomela is a name so closely related to tragedy that it is best left to antiquity.