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The robin (1 Viewer)

Olly Buckle

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This is not really a seasonal piece as I wrote it last February but the robin I am talking about is the European robin familiar on English Christmas cards. As Englishmen have travelled throughout the world they have found many birds which have reminded them of home and named them robins, the similarities are mostly superficial.

The Robin

It is still too cold for comfort but the outside is gradually becoming less of a place to hurry in from with coat collar turned up and I linger on sunny days to notice crocuses. When I do I hear the robin singing, as though he too is welcoming the coming spring. Actually he started singing his spring song in December, I just didn’t come out to hear it, and he will carry on until the middle of June when he takes a month’s break before starting on his Autumn song which he will sing through until December again. I say he, but in the Autumn the hen bird will often sing as well, though not always and she nearly always stops as soon as she has a mate in the spring.
So if it is not to welcome spring why does the robin sing? There are two answers, one is the age old male game, let the ladies know that you are there and available, the other is to defend territory, you think it is your garden, the robin knows it is his. This is demonstrated for me at my local railway station where each of three small groups of trees spaced at equal distances around the platforms represents the limit of a robin’s territory. If any one of the three robins which hang out here should choose to sing the other two turn up pronto to let him know that he has come far enough. They are, in their way, more zealous than the railway company in warning off trespassers. The songs the robin sings include notes well above the range humans can hear so that it probably sounds different to him, in fact it probably sounds different to different people as the range we can hear varies quite a bit from one person to the other and gets narrower as we get older, but the robin can still recognise the song we hear, even a fair imitation will bring him running to find the intruder. Less known is the robin’s ability to imitate us, there are a number of quite credible reports of robins that have learnt to repeat words or phrases, perhaps not quite so unbelievable when you realise how easily they are tamed. If you can bring yourself to handle the meal worms anglers use for ground bait you can teach your robin to feed from your hand in a matter of a few days in winter weather, and not much longer in summer, meal worms are caviar or strawberries and cream to a robin. Once he has learnt the trick he will not forget it either and you are likely to find a robin on your shoulder any time you go outdoors. People even report that when they pair up in spring the tame robin will bring his new spouse to meet his benefactor and you soon have two tame robins.
 

The Backward OX

WF Veterans
Olly, your story about the robin is remarkably descriptive and makes me wonder if it’s one of the pieces you wrote for a magazine.

Not being an expert on Australian robins, of which there are five or six varieties, I won’t attempt to discuss their song. What I can tell you, is about some of the other species of birds we’ve tamed.

(Some years ago a visiting English male person commented on our birds and their plumage and their songs, saying that all English birds were grey and only said “Tweet”. As he was only a teen-ager I doubted his words were entirely correct. I’m glad you’ve set the record straight.)

Butcher birds (shrike family) have a melodious song and with lots of patience can be taught to imitate a whistled tune. One of ours “sings” the last line of Pop Goes the Weasel. Some of them are, again with patience, tamed, and I have one presently that perches on my knee to eat from my hand. I’m hopeful of eventually getting it onto my shoulder.

Our two resident magpies are extremely bossy. They have been hand-fed for years and if no-one comes to feed them when they arrive, they march up to the front door and both commence screeching for attention. Actually screeching is a bit unfair, it’s quite a pleasant sound when they sing at normal volume, it’s just when things don’t go their way they become LOUD. Sometimes if the male arrives alone he and I will “talk” together – I attempt to reproduce his quieter notes with low whistling, and he responds.

We're expecting the babies of both species to be brought along on feeding excursions before long. The butcher birds are family-oriented and so the flock increases over the years. Magpies vary; this male is extremely territorial and once their babies are independent they are driven off. Last year I tried thwarting nature by hand-feeding the baby and fighting off the father but eventually he won and nature took its course.

From time to time we have in our garden perhaps twenty-five to thirty different bird species – a legacy of having planted dozens of trees and shrubs. They range from tiny wrens not much larger than a moth through four or five varieties of strikingly-coloured parrots to ugly great crows. Also at the top end of the size scale is a sometimes-seasonal visitor from New Guinea – the Channel-billed Cuckoo. In appearance they’re something like a toucan. They have a common name of either Storm Bird or Rain Bird, and their call is supposed to herald coming incessant and heavy rain. We’ve just had four or five years of really bad drought, it seems to be breaking, and the Storm Birds are back. This call, extremely loud and piercing, is similar to the opening “whoop” of an air-raid siren, so you can imagine how popular they are when they start up at 3.30 or 4.00 a.m. – every f*cking morning.

Yesterday the kitten had his first view of a magpie close-up, through the front screen door. The kitten was fascinated, but Mother magpie, when she saw it, went straight up in the air with an almighty squawk, then came down again about six feet further away. Our last cat was trained to leave birds alone and I’m hopeful we can do the same with this one.
 
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D

Dr. Malone

I love the first sentence. I like the rushed/borderline run on style you use. After that though, the first paragraph falls apart and is either too choppy or too run on, and I like run on stuff when done right. The rest of the piece kind of follows that same pattern. My suggestion would be to work on sentence structuring, maybe reading it aloud and putting extra emphasis on the punctuation, really stopping for periods in an exaggerated way, in the hopes that it will help correct choppy sentences, and kind of the same thing for commas with run ons. Just an idea.

"There are two answers(either period or colon [maybe semicolon?] here) One is the age old male game - let the ladies know that you are there and available. The other is to defend territory. You think it is your garden, the robin knows it is his. This is demonstrated for me at my local railway station, where each of three small groups of trees spaced at equal distances around the platforms represents the limit of a robin’s territory."

That's just my edit of that. Sorry I don't know how to use the fancy color edits, but I hope you'll see what I've done. Again, just an idea.

Good read, good content that interested me throughout. Lots of stuff to work with here, I just think you need to tune it up some.
 

Olly Buckle

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Thankyou Malone, I think there is a lot of truth in what you say about my structure, my first story was one long sentence with commas (Almost). I have just been reading a couple of bits on punctuation in writing 101 and tips and advice and realise I have a way to go in this respect, partly why I started writing up Nelson Garvey as an audio book.http://www.writingforums.com/writers-workshop/90898-nelson-garvey-experience.html
 
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Olly Buckle

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Ox, a good illustration of the point I made At the start about names travelling. We had magpies, butcher birds, wrens and cuckoos before Australia was even discovered and I am willing to bet these only display a casual similarity to ours. Did the kitten get a name yet?
 
It is still too cold for comfort but the outside is gradually becoming less of a place to hurry in from with coat collar turned up and I linger on sunny days to notice crocuses. When I do<,> I hear the robin singing,as though he<,> too<,> is welcoming the coming spring. Actually<,> he started singing his spring song in December<;> (?) I just didn’t come out to hear it<.> He will carry on until the middle of June when he takes a month’s break before starting on his Autumn song which he will sing through until December again I played with this sentence a bit, because it felt kind of long and stumbling, and the flow felt... off. Play around with it, maybe break it up a little, so the flow is smooth. I say he, but in the Autumn the hen bird will often sing as well, though not always and she nearly always stops as soon as she has a mate in the spring. Again, something just isn't working for me here; it feels a little choppy. Maybe make it two sentences, the break after 'though not always'?
So if it is not to welcome spring<,> why does the robin sing? There are two answers<;> one is the age old male game<->let the ladies know that you are there and available<.> The other is to defend territory<;> you think it is your garden, the robin knows it is his. I'm just playing around with punctuation here-it isn't my forte, but this section needed different punctuation to read smoothly. Again, play around with these things.This is demonstrated for me at my local railway station where each of three small groups of trees spaced at equal distances around the platforms represents the limit of a robin’s territory. If any one of the three robins which 'which' or 'who'? hang out here should choose to sing<,> the other two turn up pronto to let him know that he has come far enough. They are, in their way, more zealous than the railway company in warning off trespassers. The songs the robin sings include notes well above the range humans can hear<,> so that it probably sounds different to him this feels like an awkward read for me; is the 'that' necessary? the way I interpret it, it isn't an important word in the sentence and could be cut for better flow<.> In fact<,> it probably sounds different to different people as the range we can hear varies quite a bit from one person to the other and gets narrower as we get older, but the robin can still recognise the song we hear, even a fair imitation will bring him running to find the intruder the length of this takes away from the information we're getting; when sentences get really long, it starts getting tedious and readers begin skimming. Play around with different punctuation and breaking it up differently. Less known is the robin’s ability to imitate us<;> there are a number of quite credible reports of robins that have learnt to repeat words or phrases, perhaps not quite so unbelievable when you realise how easily they are tamed. If you can bring yourself to handle the meal worms anglers use for ground bait you can teach your robin to feed from your hand in a matter of a few days in winter weather, and not much longer in summer<;> meal worms are caviar or strawberries and cream to a robin. Once he has learnt the trick<,> he will not forget it either is 'either' necessary? and you are likely to find a robin on your shoulder any time you go outdoors. People even report that when they pair up in spring the tame robin will bring his new spouse to meet his benefactor and you soon have two tame robins.
I'm tired, so this was just a quick critique; just one read through and making comments on my initial reactions, so it may not be complete and some comments may be me being tired and not getting it. It was good; most of the things I pointed out were just about flow and puntuation (like I said, not my strong point, so I could be totally off in a fair bit of my punctuation comments). It just needs to be played around with a little. Good work.
 
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