Welcome to Dawn Chorus Day. Yes, it’s a thing. It’s been a thing since the 1980s apparently, Started in Birmingham. Now it’s international. Makes me feel sort of proud and very grateful.
I was talking about birds with my friend Susan last week, We hear them so much more clearly during lockdown. We both bemoaned the fact that they’re yelling their heads off and yet we can’t identify them.
BBC Radio and the Lockdown Effect
Let me say here that I have not handled lockdown well. I’ve been grumpy and scared and my concentration has gone to hell. Probably listened to too many news bulletins.
I finally realised this on Thursday, listening to BBC Radio 4’s World At One (minute 38). With its Wodehousian twitter handle WATO, this is one of the more balanced programmes, I find.
In a slot that aims to give a bit of a lift to the Grumpy and Scared Sector, lovely author Marian Keyes read a hopeful paragraph from her latest book Grown Ups.
She also told presenter Sarah Montague, that she thought it was “not helpful to overdose on news”. Too right, I thought. She’s getting by, reading old favourites and watching them too: like Moonstruck. Gorgeous.
I, too, have been tucking myself into bed with some of my old favourite comfort reads. But by day I’m more of a radio girl. And far too much of that has been Virus-driven. But after talking to Susan I started scouring the archives for the fabulous Tweets of the Day. In what follows all the birdsong links are to BBC Radio’s Tweet of the Day. A little bit of Heaven.
And they may help us, Susan, if we listen often enough.
Dawn Chorus Memories
One of my earliest memories is of my father, a countryman at heart, telling me that the birds sang before dawn to establish their territories. He didn’t mention sex, which also features. But then he wouldn’t. Bit of a Victorian, my father.
I was maybe three, sharing sips of tea which he’d brought my mother in bed. He opened the window so we could hear better. It was lovely.
That was in suburban west London. Even though there was a farm at the top of our road, the birds didn’t really put on the show he longed for. Nothing like the New Forest. The first time I stayed there, the Dawn Chorus was stereophonic. It woke me out of a really deep sleep.
For the first time, I realised what my father meant.
Dawn Chorus Venue, Times
Venue – anywhere. You don’t even have to open a window unless you want to. Depends entirely on where you are and the habitat around you. You get a different combination of birdsong in meadows, wetlands, suburban gardens, moorland or woodland. Usually the first bird onto the stage is either a blackbird or a robin.
Time – well, Mike Dilger, the wildlife expert brought in yesterday by BBC Radio’s farming program mentioned 4.30 a.m. I’d guess you want to be out no later than 5.00 a.m. It is still dark then. There is something magical about going from silence to that first song, in the grey light of pre-dawn. His Shropshire Dawn Chorus walk is 20 minutes in, and the whole slot only lasts 5 brilliant minutes. He identifies the birdsong and talks delightfully about it.
Dawn Chorus Performers
It’s difficult to describe birdsong, especially when it’s tuneful. The blackbird seems to me like silvery soprano, powerful and effortless. Anyway, it makes me think of Margaret Price singing Mozart, say. Whereas the robin, though still soprano is quicker, brisker, a little warmer in tone. Definitely more of a soubrette.
My personal favourite – largely because I hear their flirty, frilly song, with that odd percussive crackle to give it bite, all the time these days – is the goldfinch.
Never mind the dawn, they tweedle away and scoff my sunflower seeds most of the day. Sort of chatty friends and neighbours, really.
Dawn Chorus Walks
I can identify a few birds when they sing alone. Sometimes. But I’ve never really applied myself and I wanted to go out with an expert who would help me sort out a few more.
Well, the lockdown put paid to that scheme. Maybe next year.
But I have enjoyed two virtual walks with bird identifiers, which my readers may find as evocative (and instructive) as I do.
Nick Acheson on 29 April this year, with snippets of identified birdsong. He gives you the bluetit and the chaffinch among others. The latter’s song is said to sound like a fast bowler. Heavy grunting? I ask myself. Acheson has a more romantic, though still athletic, image in mind.
And Tom Hibbert – no soundtrack but lovely writing. You can just feel that early morning thrill.
Dawn Chorus – Birdwatcher’s Choice
The words “rather suburban” may have slipped out. Inadvertently, I’m sure.
Anyway, he put in a special request for a bird seldom seen in South East England (where we both live) but a noted performer in Dorset, where we visit. And, he added, it’s all over the place in Scotland.
It is indeed a lovely song. He describes it as a “beautiful, gently descending trill.”
BBC Radio, birds, dawn, music. Friends. Sod the lockdown, I have much to be grateful for.
Ladies and gentlemen, Susan, I give you, The Willow Warbler