Chocolate brown in deep shadow. Hop; poke; twist; whirr of wings; peck; jump-up; bob; peck; twist. Detail is hard to come by in these brief meetings. I need to go back to the books.
Wren, has been an image built up of layers of Wren each adding more detail to the last until we are satiated. Digging down in this avian archaeology the first layer is The Observers Book of Birds. A black and white image on page 152 is Wren shaped. The first sentence reads, ‘The Wren is one of our smallest birds, and is quite unmistakable with its brown plumage, round-about appearance and tilted up tail’. This combined with that work of fiction, known as The Eye Spy Book of Birds; what I didn’t see in my village at the end of the 70s, would have been my first Wren words. Then there was the eight lines in the Observers Book of Bird eggs, which described the nest as being built out of ‘any handy material’.
By the time I saw Richard Richardson’s image of Wren, among the plate of brown warblers and a very small Nightingale, I must have already seen Wren. Words from the Collins Pocket Guide to British Birds were closer to Wren. ‘The smallest warm-brown bird, its barred plumage and cocked-up tail make it almost unmistakable’. Almost seems a bit cautious in this case as it is preceded by ‘Flight Whirring; hops; almost creeps among undergrowth like mouse’. There was no reference at all to the undertail-coverts as shown here by Mark Dobinson’s picture.
By the time the Shell Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland arrived I probably did not notice Wren, sandwich as it was by the exotics of Waxwing and Dipper in 1983. Largely, that’s how it remained its tic-tic-tic, scolding trill or burst of loud warbling song breaking the consciousness neither Collins or Jonsson added anything new. When in 2004 when Birding World highlighted the races living on offshore Scottish Islands I was not really that bothered.
The only new information came in 2010 from Van Duivendijk’s Advanced Bird ID Guide in describing 1w-1s ‘Sometimes moult-limit in greater coverts, juv-type warm-brown without pale tips ad-type slightly greyer and often with pale or white tips’. He alluded to the island forms which Hume et al. illustrated in 2016 and only then did things start to take shape.
There they sat until I added other species of wren in the States -Carolina and Eastern Marsh. At this point I started to take Wren more seriously as two rather than the usual one took our garden as their winter territory. Silently arriving together they demanded attention.