A hawthorn tree rises above the straggling hedge separating the row of tight suburban gardens from the open field. Just a hint of green shows on the tangle of branches, agitated by the brisk March wind. Perched on the highest twig, a blackbird calls.

Arrested in my morning walk, I stop to listen. He stands there, silhouette sharp against a sky textured with grey and white stratoculumus, breaking up to show a hint of blue beyond. His song pours out, a rich fluted warble interspersed with sharp chirps and clicks: how can such a small body sustain such sound? And there is the reply: not just one, but two. As my blackbird pauses an answering call comes for the woodland across the busy main road, faint, but quite distinct; then another from the blackthorn scrub at the other side of the field. Three blackbirds singing is sweet assertion of their territory.

Cars and vans pour up and down the road. I imagine the drivers and passengers intent to getting to work or to school, chatting, listening to the radio, wrapped up in their human affairs and oblivious to this natural drama. But I am fortunate. I stepped out for some fresh air and exercise and am treated to this display of beauty and defiance.