Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Wake up to birdsong

David North, Head of People and Wildlife

Song thrush, photo by Alan Price
Do you have difficulty getting out of bed on these cold, dark winter mornings? Well it may be cold and grey but I’m sure you’ve noticed that its getting just a bit lighter each morning and with the lengthening days comes a natural wonder worth celebrating – bird song. I may still be struggling out of bed in the dark but now there’s a song thrush singing when it’s still pretty much night, at least to my sleepy eyes at 6am. The merest hint of a lightening in the eastern sky and the full-throated voice of a male song thrush – the sound of life, pure notes each repeated two or three times, is a clear sign that a new day is dawning. In my rural garden he is the first bird to greet the morning. What a lust for life. What passion. While I’m still half-awake, cleaning my teeth, he is singing his heart out, staking his claim to life, to territory, and reminding me that the dance of a New Year is there to be joined.

In my nearest wood the snowdrops have already pushed their way through leaf litter up into the light. Most are still small, sharp white spikes, unfurled, slowly swelling, but a few are already open, white flowers dangling, each with its inner script of green markings. 

Snowdrops, photo by Neville Yardy
 Above them yellow ‘lambs’ tail’ catkins of hazel are hanging pendulous, swaying in the winter wind and just waiting for a touch of sun to release their individual dust-clouds of yellow pollen. Next time I visit I must look more closely to see if any of the red star-like female hazel flowers, tiny but exquisite, have appeared. In the early morning great tits make voice with piercing disyllabic ‘teacher, teacher, teacher’ calls, though each male has a subtle variation on this theme. Robins are singing their quiet, sweet songs from song perches high in branches above me, a trickle of notes like water running over stones. Dunnocks are also beginning to provide an unassuming background of quiet but rapid warbling from the undergrowth – often singing from ground level and never loud, strident and repetitive like the great tits.

Today in Norwich I heard my first chaffinch of the year sing, hesitant as if not quite sure of its voice yet. On Castle Mound, in the heart of the city, collared doves were ‘coola cooing’. The doves have been at it all year of course but now there’s just a bit more verve and passion about their coos.
Jackdaw, photo by Dave Kilbey
There are other signs of activity to look for in the natural world – rooks are rebuilding nests and busy raucously complaining about stolen twigs and noisy neighbours in their highly social worlds. On my local village green there’s a glint in jackdaws eyes (yes, I know they always glint a bit) but it could be love as they all seem to be in twos and that pair on the chimney pot are attentively grooming each other’s neck feathers. Wood pigeons in my garden are like-wise sidling up along the bare apple tree branches, to end up as pairs, and with apparent affection indulging in a spot of mutual preening.

You don’t have to travel anywhere special to see these signs that the world’s still turning. The season quietly moving forward in the up-thrust of a daffodil here and a woodpecker’s drumming there. In the first crazy chase of a hare in my local fields, now greening with winter sown barley, or the simple fluty voice of a blackbird in your garden.

Open your ears and enjoy the sound of nature waking up to new beginnings in a new year.

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