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Country diary: the seven-coloured linnets

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Inkpen, West Berkshire: Goldfinches are dextrous feeders, tipping upside down, wings spread for balance

The first autumn mist is ribboning over the dampest runnels of the field like a silk scarf too fine to fall. It has softened and bloomed upon the thistle heads, thickening them to a milk-white glow; they gleam like harbour lights. There is a musical, conversational twittering as I approach; like the tinkling of water under ice, or the chinking of just enough small change. The goldfinches have found them.

I hold back and watch them: the vivid brightness of the birds on the taller thistles in the sun and the muted colours of those below the vapour, as if they have been overlaid with tracing paper. A neighbour of my Northamptonshire nan used to call them “the seven-coloured linnets” and I’ve never forgotten that.

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