RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Goldfinches enjoy a drink in the hot weather

THREE thirsty goldfinches and a redpoll came to drink out of my old frying pan in one of those brief bursts of heat we had in the late summer.

My photograph, taken through the kitchen window, isn’t even in the foothills of the Everest standards nowadays available to photographers who come close to winning Countryfile calendar placement.

My excuse is that the grainy distortion of the window glass, with smudges made by wandering slugs at night, and a little dash of dust from pollen, not to mention algae that grows so quickly after rain, give the picture that sort of treasured patina that barn-find Bentleys today excite at auctions against all reason.

Well, that’s my excuse for making a bish-shot, as we used to say on the firing range.

After all, Henry Moore or Lowry figures are a bit indistinct as human shapes aren’t they.

What I like about my picture is how it captures the moment this band of troubadours arrived, so suddenly, out of the sky, and which were gone almost in the instant.

Everybody was telling me that they had seen more goldfinches this year than they could ever remember, but hardly any had been in my own garden.

Then all the marsh thistles that grow in the borders of the lane, and in the newly coppiced woodland, changed from purple into white as the seed heads ripened.

The first seeds released their grip on the parent flower, the parachutes dried and spread wide, and at the first puff of wind, sailed gently into the sky.

They streamed above the house like hosts of memorial balloons released at a mass wake.

The goldfinches arrived in dozens to feast on the tiny seeds. Getting them up fairly close ten feet from the kitchen window gave the chance again to notice how well adapted these thistle-seed eaters really are with their camouflage.

They have the purple of the florets as well as the grey of the parachutes in their heads.

Their bright eyes – often a give-away to a predator – are hidden in a darker patch of feathers, while the chequer-work of red, black and white changes each bird’s head into bars of sun and shadow in the forest.

As for those odd little white spots on the wings and tails; well, this is another trick to ensure a long life. This is what speckled wood butterflies and fallow deer do to avoid detection in the forest edges where sunlight makes random filtration of the sunlight.

It all confuses the predator. Out in the open at my old frying pan the birds are easily visible to all, so it’s a quick drink and away to safety, and only just caught by the shutter speed. But it won’t win a prize in a thousand years.