Autumn treasure 13: Goldfinches

23/12/2018 It took me months to attract the first goldfinches to the garden with nyger seeds. When they did arrive, I would see one, and then have to wait several weeks to see the next one. Still, I was thrilled with the odd sighting, and wished I could tell my father they were here. Like kingfishers, they look too exotic for England; and also like kingfishers, it only takes a glimpse to know which bird you have seen.

This continued for a year or two, until eventually they began to come regularly. Now I have small flocks of them, twittering somewhere in the ivy on the dead willow tree before descending to the feeder. It took me a while to learn to recognise the sound, but now I don’t need to see them to know they are there. I always thought they were arguing: despite reading such descriptions of their song as ‘liquid’ or ‘melodious’, to me it sounded grumpy and overly loud. But apparently this is just their normal chatter, so now I can enjoy it knowing they are on perfectly good terms with each other. Not that I didn’t enjoy it before, as the sound is nothing if not spirited, and I was always glad to know that my friends had come to visit.

Even when I don’t see or hear them, the gradually emptying of the feeder is evidence of their presence, and refilling it is a happy and hopeful task throughout the autumn and winter months.

michaelmas goldfinchesLast year I found a greeting card in an independent bookshop in Cornwall called ‘Michaelmas goldfinches’. It was part of a woodcut by Robert Greenhalf. Full of movement and colour, it summed up for me the beauty of goldfinches: their comings and goings, their fondness for teasel seed heads (another of my favourites), and their reds and golds, also the colours of autumn. A red admiral butterfly in the corner – and of course the name of the woodcut – remind us that it is not winter yet, though thankfully goldfinches stay with us all year.

I bought two cards, thinking I would have no problem finding out where to buy more once I got home. But there were none to be found anywhere, and I eventually gave up, occasionally reviving my search when I find myself in a shop with unusual and beautiful greetings cards. Just now, over a year later, I have tried again online, and found them. I think I have inadvertently bought the whole stock.

Goldfinches were, I think, the first subject that I thought to write about when I started my weekly seasonal treasures a year ago. Somehow they were displaced time and time again by more pressing – or rather, more time-specific – subjects that presented themselves. So it is only right that I should finish my year’s instalments with this most wonderful of creatures, which I know will give me the gift of colour and energy even on drab days of winter when the sun barely seems to rise.