The goldfinches are so numerous down my way this year that they are easily outnumbering the sparrows. Where the clamorous chattering of house sparrows used to be the characteristic sound of the streets and gardens, now it is the unmistakable liquid twittering of the goldfinches - a soft, non-stop babbling conversation, sweet-toned but unmusical. The goldfinches are everywhere, flying busily from tree to tree, never silent - the perfect counterpoint to the lumbering black crows that seem to be the next most numerous birds around here (not that I'll hear a word against them since reading Mark Cocker's Crow Country). This is good going for the goldfinch, a bird that was on the brink of extinction in Britain at the turn of the 20th century.
The goldfinch, as well as being the subject of one of the most beautiful collective nouns in English - a charm of goldfinches (sadly, its etymology refers only to their sound) - also has the distinction of being the subject of perhaps the greatest bird portrait of all: Fabritius's Goldfinch. That's painting.