Of course, an obvious theme for my blogs at this time of year must surely be a ‘looking forward to spring’. But let’s just see, I’d hate just to be a written version of Springwatch. I did however, notice yesterday that the Chaffinch has just started making its bid for a place in the great dawn chorus come April/May time. Admittedly it’s not quite his full flourish of notes but rather more a sub-song.
Sub-songs are not uncommon and even the familiar Blackbird can be heard warbling out some practice notes from the depths of a bush in mid-winter. Like us, a bit of practice seems to be needed before going on stage or out on a limb, so to speak.
While birds always have a variety of calls in addition to their main ‘song’ – scolding and warning notes, flight calls and so on – I’ve always found it interesting that there are also calls linked specifically to a change in season. The most famous of these is perhaps the Cuckoo who even has a rhyme to its name in which, having sung all day in May, come June it ‘changes its tune’ or some would say ‘forgets its tune’.
Last year, at dusk on 13th March at a local reed-bed, I had one of those rare moments to witness another more unusual bird giving its own version of a seasonal call. Three Bitterns, usually perfectly camouflaged amongst the reeds and usually only seen as singles, flew high above the reed-bed heading off east. This was the start of their migration from their winter home to their breeding grounds and as they flew they gave a strange throaty, gull-like call – a migration call.
Previously, I’d only known Bitterns to ‘boom’ from the depths of the reed-bed – strange enough in itself and a sound that you only pick up if you tune your ears into it. But this new call, signalling the start of a seasonal journey was loud and clear and I felt somewhat privileged to witness the moment of departure.
The Robin has sung every night throughout the winter. The Song Thrush has joined in recently from a bare tree top, with its insistent and repetitive whistles.
Over the last few mornings yet another songster has joined in loud and vibrant, as if it can see the light of spring at the end of the wintry tunnel. If you saw this little bird, you’d be amazed at its beautiful song, for the Dunnock is a humble brown and grey bird that loves to hop along the ground, jerking this way and that in search of whatever morsel it may find.
It joins the ranks of LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) that make up much of Britain’s birdlife that, despite their dull plumage, astonish us with their voice. Not just the famous Nightingale but also the Wren and a myriad of warblers spring to mind.
When I was younger, a school boy even, I used to love reading the ‘Nature Notes’ that featured weekly in, I think, the Times newspaper. Such was my love of these little snippets of insight into the natural world that my mother used to post the cut-outs to me at boarding school.
It didn’t really matter how profound or significant the ‘note’ was; they rarely were. Rather it was the recognition of and connection with a shared moment in the great outdoors. The first record of a Blackbird singing in the New Year or the appearance of frogspawn in a local pond all resonated with my own experience.
In a way, Nature Notes was a way of re-living my own moments in the wild: that thrill of nature discovery, of unexpected sightings or the return of familiar birds, such as the Swallow, after a long winter. My enjoyment of reading and thus sharing in these little observations and joys has prompted me to write my own Nature Notes. I hope you too find pleasure in them.