Friday, 4 May 2007

The dawn chorus

Sunday is 'International Dawn Chorus day', apparently. Lots of guided trips into the woods to hear the birds, at ungodly hours such as 4.45 am.

Now the nightingale and the skylark are the gold standard of song according to all the books. But I beg to differ.

The skylark actually sounds to me - a true city girl - like a dial-up modem. (You remember, before we all had broadband.)  Just with the skylark you never get the satisfying silence at the end that means it's connected.

So can I disagree with Keats and Shelley - and propose the blackbird and the thrush as the champion songbirds?

There is nothing as delightful as a blackbird's song. Its full-throated, slightly hollow, fluty tones ; its extension, in free forms, imaginative melodies tumbling over each other; the way it echoes in the stillness of the evening. There's something melancholy about it; not gloomy, nor depressing, but just gently sad, a true evening song bearing with it the same slight sadness as the smell of the wet earth after a rainshower.

Of course we don't always get that. Today I'm listening to a cuckoo. Two notes, two notes, two notes, just repeating them over and over. Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo. It seems to keep going for ever. Does it never get bored?

Other days I can hear the woodpecker in the coppice, drumming away with its beak on the wood of a dead tree. I've never seen him, though I've seen the nuthatches who come out to be fed in winter, and heard their cry, sharp and repetitive like a sopranino version of a pneumatic drill.

Or the woodpigeons murmuring away. They always look plump, their purplish plumage shining - a very different bird from the urban mongrels most of us know.

So whether you can bothered to go on an official guided walk on Sunday, or just stay at home - it's worth waking up early. While the traffic hasn't started, the kids next door aren't squealing, and the TV's still switched off, you can hear the birds instead.

Resource:International Dawn Chorus Day web site

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