April has to be one of my favourite months in the Bourgogne. It is when the “beautiful days” start in earnest, when the Nightingales return and when the colsa is flowering. It is when I do things that many people will regard as being rather strange, such as sitting outside at four thirty in the morning, with a tray of tea, listening to a dozen Nightingales singing their predawn territorial chorus from across the river in front of my house.
April has to be one of my favourite months in the Bourgogne.
It is when the “beautiful days” start in earnest, when the Nightingales return and when the colsa is flowering.
It is when I do things that many people will regard as being rather strange, such as sitting outside at four thirty in the morning, with a tray of tea, listening to a dozen Nightingales singing their predawn territorial chorus from across the river in front of my house.
The river overflows its banks occasionally in March, and when it does it creates a huge private lake several kilometres across. The real value of this to me is that nobody is allowed to build any structures across the river with the result that we have a mixture of trees there that nobody has seen any value in chopping down. These trees provide a varied habitat for birds.
A Frenchman with a chain saw is a dangerous animal. He has a compulsion to pollard trees, or cut them down altogether in an ever futile quest for neatness and order. Nature abhors order imposed by man with his fetish for straight lines and regular plant spacing.
Nature enjoys a jumble.
So this little forgotten forest has tall trees for crows, spectacular trees for Orioles, broken trees with holes in their trunks for owls, dead branches for woodpeckers and dense bushes for Nightingales.
During the day the Blackbirds sing their sentences of verse, the Cuckoos call, the pigeons imitate a starter motor powered by a nearly flat battery and the Tits do their best with their “squeaky wheel” imitations.
But before the dawn it is the Nightingales who are on centre stage. Each one has a vast vocabulary and yet each one has a distinctive voice, so I find myself absorbed into their challenges and counter claims for territory and prowess in siring the next generation of international travellers. Occasionally an owl in my tall fir tree calls “Whooo” as though he is adjudicating the performance, but the choristers seem to ignore him.
This year their arrival was later than usual and I was alarmed that something had befallen them, rather like the Blackbird population which for some reason almost vanished a few years ago, but now has returned in force.
I am sad to report that one particular Nightingale had failed to return this year. He used to take up residence in a hedge nearby my house which borders on a deserted property. I have stood and admired his talent and repertoire on many a predawn walk, but this year his distinctive songs are absent.
It must be a sign of instability to mourn the loss of a bird that I have only glimpsed once in the last several years. In the far off days when I used to have a mobile phone, I recorded him and puzzled as to how I could use his song to be a ringing tone, but now that I have discarded that intrusive shackle of life, I have lost my only trace of his existence, apart from my memory of him.
Of course I don’t only spend April in a predawn admiration of the avian population; I also go around and about.
A delightful way to do this is in a sports car, particularly if it is a quiet one. I am fortunate to have a little MG and so yesterday we went on a tour through the French countryside to a picturesque village called Bèze which has developed around a spring of pure and copious water. This village is a photographer’s delight with old stone walls, a central church and notable restaurants, but for me the journey there and back, along good roads with meagre traffic, surrounded by fields of colsa in flower that is so much part of the pleasure of the outing.
Of course, along the way with the top down we could hear the skylarks singing, so we had to stop and admire their aerial performances. These tiny bundles of energy transmit their messages across the vast plains of new wheat germinating and emerging from the soil in that magical rejuvenation of life after winter that we accept as mundane, but without which we would all starve. They dipped and soared above our heads in a non-stop exhibition of love of life because, as each performer tired, so his place was taken by another.
The whole day was a visual and aural overload after the monochrome frosts and snows of winter, and yet made all the more enjoyable because of the contrast from the ice frosted forests of January.
I shall probably do it all again, in a different direction to discover another little paradise. A quiet riverbank, a forest glade, a chapel in the countryside, a walk with a view over the vineyards.
All in the undiscovered month of April.
Don’t tell anyone about Burgundy in April…. I would like to keep it a secret!