International dawn chorus day: ministry from the natural world

David Goode rose early to catch the dawn chorus on 3 May. Here’s his description:

I left home at 4.30am in the dark to walk to my selected spot. Tawny owls were still hooting, and robins were singing near the street lights. Gulls that nest on the roof tops of Bath were winging their way out of town, their cries sounding strange in the darkness. By the time I arrived a blackbird was already singing. It was barely 5 o’clock but I could just catch the first glimmer of light in the sky. I was only just in time for the great performance.

Within minutes the blackbird and robins were joined by a song thrush, one or two rather sleepy woodpigeons and a remarkably strident wren which shattered the silence with its powerful voice. Owls still called out of the darkness.

Hear a one-hour extract from the dawn chorus, recorded 3 May 2020 by David Goode.

Where I live these are always the first birds in the performance. It’s a very special few minutes. There is anticipation in the air. Sometimes a solitary song thrush will announce that the time has come. This time it was the turn of the blackbird. At first the chorus is just a few birds, but the songsters quickly gather momentum and within a few minutes there is a veritable cacophony.

By ten minutes past five I noticed that the sky was visibly much lighter. Countless blackbirds were dominating the event with their beautiful songs, among which I could pick out song thrushes with their repeated phrases and a multitude of silvery voices of the robins. Deeper notes were provided by woodpigeons, with an occasional croak from a crow or even the more guttural voice of a raven.

This part of the performance lasted nearly half an hour. Then the soundscape shifted abruptly as great tits joined the party. They dominated with their staccato repetition of high-pitched double notes for the next fifteen minutes. But this was alongside blackbirds, woodpigeons, crows and a raven which were all contributing at full volume. At times coal tits could be heard as a rather wheezy version of the great tit.

Suddenly the great tits stopped and there were about ten minutes when wrens and robins returned to the stage, still accompanied by blackbirds and woodpigeons.

Then came a dramatic change. For nearly twenty minutes the voices of blackbirds and woodpigeons subsided, their place taken by song thrushes and for the first time the melodious phrases of blackcaps, one of our most beautiful songsters. Great tits became vocal again during this period. It ended with a barrage of fluty notes from a nuthatch.

After that blackbirds, wrens and woodpigeons regained dominance for a while, and at one point I heard the high-pitched tinkling song of a goldcrest, often a latecomer to the dawn chorus.  It finished as it had started with robins, blackbirds, woodpigeons, wrens and the occasional honk of a raven, but the chorus suddenly died away to nothing. As I walked back home at about 7am I heard the nasal wheeze of a male greenfinch proclaiming its territory from a high song post, and dunnocks were singing lustily in the gardens.

Photograph of a nightingale published by the RSPB to promote International Dawn Chorus Day 3 May.

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