What I lacked in quantity of finches, though, was made up for in quality because I met one of the finest finches going: the European goldfinch, a beautiful bird with a thrilling, trilling song that's more melodious than the squeaky whistles and sparrowlike chirps of the American goldfinch's song. When I first heard one belting out a tune from atop a TV aerial in Wells, I could understand why this pretty bird was once captured in droves for the caged-bird trade (a practice that is fortunately now banned).
The second finch I encountered was practically posing for greeting cards: He was perched on a lichen-dappled ledge on a wall in the garden of the Bishop's Palace in Wells, happily warbling away. He was quite a cheeky little fellow, too, turning around to face and study me with the same intensity I was directing toward him.
Like their American cousins, European goldfinches are nearly complete vegetarians, living on seeds and berries and displaying a strong preference for thistle seeds.
While researching this species, I found a diagram showing how this little bird was just as clever as a raven when it came to retrieving food on the end of a line. Alaskan ravens wowed people when they demonstrated that they could pull up a fishing line from a hole in the ice by tugging on the line, then stepping on the drawn-up portion to keep it in place before reaching down and pulling up more of the line until it finally landed the fish. European goldfinches in captivity demonstrated that they can use the same technique to pull up a string and retrieve a treat tied to its end.
Later, I learned that one of the many nicknames for the European goldfinch is "Draw-water." Such a puzzling name; I didn't think I'd ever figure out its origin. But then I came across a brief reference that linked it to a trick taught to captive goldfinches: drawing their own water from a cup using a thimble on a chain.
It has many other colorful nicknames, as well. In various places it's known as a goldspink, thistle finch, King Harry, red-cap, proud tailor, fool's coat, sheriff's man, sweet William, and flame-of-the-wood.
As for the other species: a pair of greenfinches appeared conveniently close up, perching on a grill right outside the window, but inconveniently when my camera was not handy, so the only picture I got was of a distant greenfinch on a wire.
While walking to the ancient chapel of St. Peter's-on-the-Wall in Bradwell-on-Sea, along a Roman road that has been trodden by warriors and pilgrims for hundreds of years (and birders in more recent ones), I spotted a chaffinch.
Now it has its own family, one that includes another common English bird of garden and hedgerow, the brambling.
On that same walk, in reverse, this little bird presented itself, and I can only assume it's the female of a finch (true or false) although it could be a sparrow of some sort.
Technically this kind of small, dusky bird is called an LBJ, or "little brown job," in the United States. But I was tired after the walking and exploring and beachcombing in between spotting the chaffinch and this bird, so I decided I was finished with finches (bad birder).