Bird-listening

Photo Credit: Andrew Goldsmith

Take flight, birdwatching; my highlights this week have all stemmed from bird-listening. The difference is subtle – and nor is just about a dash.

Take flight, birdwatching; my highlights this week have all stemmed from bird-listening. The difference is subtle – and nor is just about a dash.

You can even bird-listen from the comfort of your bed. Especially when there is a Nightingale singing his heart out, just a few hundred yards away.

Percussion for a few seconds, high-pitched woodwind the next – the Nightingale is as bold as brass, piercing the darkness with a symphony that no bird can match for variety, clarity and loudness.

Of course, I am very lucky to hear a Nightingale. Essex is an English stronghold for this species but they are still rare, in decline and highly local in their distribution.

There is a copse, with a carpet of thick undergrowth, across the field behind our house, north of Colchester. I knew it looked like good territory for Nightingales but it was still a joyous surprise to hear the distinctive song late one evening two weeks ago. The bird – or possibly two – has sung every night since but will soon fall silent. Whether there is a female to breed with is another matter - but here’s hoping.

Nearby, I have also heard two other summer visitors with a distinctive voice. First, a Cuckoo, its voice of summer floating across the fields.

Then, another ‘Red List’ – conservation priority – species: the Turtle Dove, softly purring or ‘turring’. Like the Cuckoo, the Turtle Dove has suffered an alarming population decline in recent decades, so it is always a delight to hear these birds. They are gentle to look at, too, with a dainty demeanour and attractive mottled, pink, black and chestnut plumage.

At last, at our Abbotts Hall Farm nature reserve, I have also heard my first Swifts. These acrobats have finally arrived from Africa, a week or so later than in most years. Listen for their screams above, look up, and marvel at their aerial prowess.

It is often the way with birds: bird-listen first and then you know where to look to birdwatch.

Charlie Oliver, Media & Marketing Officer, Wednesday 8 May 2013