Bumbarrel, MumRuffin and Poke Pudding
At the edge of the wood early catkins - lambs tails - tremble and dance, sprinkling yellow gold-dust over the snowy branches. A small party of Long Tailed Tit tinkle through the delicate filigree of branches outlined against the winter sky. I count three, then from nowhere there were five, then seven, then twelve. It was mid-January - still Winter; yet on this rose coloured morning, the pink sun mirrored by their feathers, it was Spring.
It was Clive Bennett who got me traveling down this particular track. He's a real birder and maintains a wonderful blog - Art in Nature - where he writes of his adventures in the hedgerows and fields and where he celebrates birds and the artists who paint them.
In a comment on a post about kennings he listed some wonderful dialect and obscure bird names then quoted from a poem by John Clare about the bumbarrel - the long-tailed titmouse or bushtit.
I love the lost and obscure names of things so I went investigating.
Here's the poem that Clive referenced and where Clare captures the fidgety acrobatics of a drove of these very social birds - bumbarrels - flitting down the winter hedgerow.
Thank you for bringing this poem and these bird words to my attention. There are other unfamiliar words in the poem. Don't let them get in the way of enjoyment.
Emmonsail's Heath In Winter
I love to see the old heath's withered brake
Mingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling,
While the old heron from the lonely lake Starts slow and flaps its melancholy wing,
An oddling crow in idle motion swing
On the half-rotten ash-tree's topmost twig,
Beside whose trunk the gypsy makes his bed.
Up flies the bouncing woodcock from the brig
Where a black quagmire quakes beneath the tread;
The fieldfares chatter in the whistling thorn
And for the haw round fields and closen rove,
And coy bumbarrels, twenty in a drove, Flit down the hedgerows in the frozen plain
And hang on little twigs and start again.
The name bumbarrel comes from the barrel or oval domed shape of their exquisitely constructed nests.
In another poem - "May" - Clare describes how this small bird - "scarse bigger than a bumble bee" builds a pudding shaped nest like a barrel:
Bum-barrels twit on bush and tree
Scarse bigger then a bumble bee
And in a white thorn's leafy rest
It builds its curious pudding-nest
Wi hole beside as if a mouse
Had built the little barrel house.
And again in this poem where he adds yet more detail;
The oddling bush, close sheltered hedge new-plashed,
Of which spring's early liking makes a guest
First with a shade of green though winter-dashed -
There, full as soon, bumbarrels make a nest
Of mosses grey with cobwebs closely tied And warm and rich as feather-bed within, With little hole on its contrary side That pathway peepers may no knowledge win
Of what her little oval nest contains - Ten eggs and often twelve, with dusts of red
Soft frittered – and full soon the little lanes
Screen the young crowd and hear the twitt'ring song
Of the old birds who call them to be fed While down the hedge they hang and hide along.
From Birds Britannica by Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey and other sources I've collected a list of as many vernacular names that I could find. They come tumbling off the tongue like a conversational dip into a long lost rural past.
Bumbarrel, Hedge Mumruffin, Poke Pudding, Huggen-Muffin, Juffit, Fuffit, Jack-in-a-Bottle, Bottle Tom, Bum Towel, Prinpriddle, Feather Poke, Long-tailed Mag, Long-tailed Farmer, Can Bottle, Hedge Jug, Bottle Bird, Barrel Tom, Patiney, Patteny Paley, Ragamuffin, Bellringer, Nimble Tailor, French Pie, Bottle-tit, Billy-featherpoke, Long-tailed Chittering, Puddneypoke, Bottle Builder, Dog Tail, Long Pod, Bush Oven, Oven Bird and Millithrum (Miller's Thumb) - all names for a common English bird of hedgerow and heath - the long-tailed tit.
And a recent addition - Flying lollipop.
Each English and Scottish lowland county seems to have its own dialect word for this bird and in some cases several.
According to naturalist John Lewis-Stempel: Bird names have become standardized, homogenized, conscripted into what is considered proper by scientists for classification. A century ago a birder could have told what county, even what village, he was in by the folk name for a long-tailed tit.
Meadowland: (the Private Life of an English Field, 2014)
And here's the key information via the RSPB: The long-tailed tit is easily recognisable with its distinctive colouring, a tail which is bigger than its body, and undulating flight. Gregarious and noisy residents, long-tailed tits are most usually noticed in small, excitable flocks of about 20 birds. Like most tits, they rove the woods and hedgerows, but are also seen on heaths and commons with suitable bushes.
Originally posted by Josie Holford on her Blog - Rattlebag and Rhubarb (http://www.josieholford.com/bumbarrels) and reblogged here with her permission.