… The chiffchaff busy in the garden all morning … (Diary, 11/4/88)

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April 11th, Monday. Ray gave the lawn its first cut this afternoon, without the box on. So now, the fumes of petrol having gone, there’s a nice smell of cut grass. The chiffchaff busy in the garden all morning.

© Anthony Lawton 2012 

Rosemary knew the colouring, shape, flight and song of numerous birds, part of her deep knowledge of the natural world. I, on the other hand am most ignorant. So it is the RSPB site that helps me explain (complete with recording of its song) that a chiffchaff is small olive-brown warbler which actively flits through trees and shrubs, with a distinctive tail-wagging movement. It is readily recognised by its song, from where it gets its name. It picks insects from trees, and flies out to snap them up in flight. All this evoked for her diary  and herself, perhaps, by Rosemary’s reference to the bird being ‘busy’. (An intriguing curiosity is that in her diary she writes chiffchaff, but the copy-editor in the OUP version of Dawn Wind has chiff-chaff!)

One comment

  1. Oxford English Dictionary (online) has chiff-chaff as the head-word, though recording the unhyphenated spelling; so I expect the editor was using house style…

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