A ruffled vibration, like running a thumb across the pages of a book, comes from the open window. I register it, distantly, thinking of the goldfinches who like to peck cobwebs from the lintel. But I don’t look up. The fanning becomes louder, but I’m busy writing and still don’t look. Now, the quiver is inside the room. The air ripples and the stirring grows.
I look up. A chiffchaff in my bedroom whirs its wings, taking no notice. Rapid olive feathers beat. A palette of green and brown, moss and pine, brings the woodland directly into the house. Its pale eye-stripe flashes like a thread of sun. One of the first migrants to arrive in spring, the chiffchaff’s song is often what makes it memorable. The familiar, disyllabic “chiff-chaff” heralds warmer days and a swell of birdsong.
There is, therefore, something dissonant about its voiceless presence in November, with the only song coming from purring, woodwind wings. Inside when it should be out, quiet when it should be loud – these broken patterns shake me out of my routine, as, for around 10 minutes, we build a gentle camaraderie, working side by side in the new normal.
Since an increasing number of these traditional summer migrants are now staying through the UK’s warming winters, it’s not so unusual to find it here. With more of my work taking place in the house, it’s not so surprising to meet different neighbours.
As I write, it explores the room with a series of sorties, interspersed with intervals of treading air. I stretch periodically, as it hangs there, neither of us moving towards cover.
We are getting used to one another. It is only when I reach for a camera that it stirs and flits out of the window. Perhaps this gesture towards surveillance breached an unwritten code. I’m still learning what working by a chiffchaff is like. I hope I did some things right.
When I touch the keyboard and resume, all the air seems to have been let out of the room.
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