I was woken at 4:30 a.m., which was more than a little annoying as I’d only gone to bed at 3 a.m. I’m naturally a night owl rather than a morning person, finding that my brain seems to fizz more with ideas when the stresses of the day have ebbed away. I’d spent a few hours before going to bed beating the bounds of my small garden, making sure that everything which could fly couldn’t. I put a large lump of pink gypsum foraged from South Wales onto the recycling boxes, and tied down the spare fence panel which has been waiting some time for me to put up, ironically to replace one damaged in the last big storm we had. I was as prepared as I could be for the ‘once-in-a-century’ storm, Eunice. Named by the Met Office (apparently the next one will be called “Franklin”), the name is currently ranked 1,773rd most popular in the UK’s baby name lists. Regardless of how it was named, it was Eunice’s early outriders that were blowing strongly over my roof. But it wasn’t Eunice’s winds that had woken me. Incredibly, against the howling winds, I could hear birdsong.
I didn’t need to go outside to identify the singer. I was once driven to distraction by a bird that sang all night long, and took a night-vision camera outside to find the culprit. It turned out to be that Christmas card favourite, the robin. The UK has aits own robins, but their numbers are bolstered in the winter months by birds from Siberia and Eastern Europe. Those birds live in areas where day lengths are shorter and so sing more readily in the darkness. But over the years, some of the Siberian massive have realised that not only winters, but summers too are nicer over here, and learned to stay, bringing their night-singing habits to us year-round. in mild winters like this one, Robins start appealing for mates around now, early February, by singing their hearts out. What prompted this particular robin to think a female was likely to approach him in the middle of the night in the teeth of a gale, I don’t know, but as I lay and listened to flurries chasing each other through the roof tiles, and the cistern overflow pipe playing a high-pitched reedy whistle, I knew which sound I’d rather lie awake to. So let’s hear it for the robin: robust, defiant, determined and ever so slightly mad