Long gone are the days of being a naturally early riser and while I’m not one for long lie-ins, waking at 4.45am on a Saturday morning is something I only do for good reason, but yesterday was a good reason.
I joined the Ealing Wildlife facebook group earlier this year. This is a very active group with just under 3,000 members. Back in February, I signed up for a Dawn Chorus walk, but as we all know, since then the whole world has changed.
With lockdown now being in place for 4 weeks, I had naturally expected the walk to be cancelled, however, Sean McCormack who runs the group, decided that he would take us on a virtual tour.
This meant, rather than getting up, getting dressed, travelling to the location and going on the walk to experience the wonderous chorus for ourselves, we simply needed to wake-up, log onto to Facebook and watch Sean on fb live…obviously, attendance was a no brainer.
Sean McCormack, Ealing Wildlife Group
Since childhood, I have always loved birds and birdsong with it being one of the main reasons that Spring is my favourite season. Hearing birds early in the morning and to a lesser extent, throughout the day, has an amazing ability to provide instant calm and joy to me and during this period of such uncertainty, loss, turbulence and lack of normality, the birds are very much a saving grace, something that clearly signposts the season and the time of day.
I am very aware of the difference between sparrows, robins, jays, blue tits and finches from the way they look, but identifying them by their song is a completely different thing. Other than confidently knowing the difference between sparrows, robins and wood pigeons I struggle with the many other birds which fly into or past my garden. This was the first dawn chorus I was going on so I was keen to learn as much as I could.
The first thing to know about the dawn chorus is that it is the male birds that sings as a way of communicating his territory in order to protect his food, resources and nesting sites for the approaching breeding season. They also sing as a way of attracting a mate, in order to display their fitness to females.
As for calls, they are different to songs as they occur throughout the year. Birds call for various reasons including communicating with others in their species groups or alarm calling to notify other birds, of their own or other species, of potential dangers.
The fb live started at 5am and after a brief introduction, Sean left the warmth and comfort of his car and took us on a walk from Hanwell Meadows down to Warren Farm and into Long Wood.
Whilst we were all bleary eyed and no doubt all joining Sean from the comfort of our beds or sofas, he kept the energy and interest so high throughout the entire 1.5 hours of out remote dawn chorus walk.
Sean started off describing how Robins are the earliest in both year and day to sing. As spring progresses, more birds will start to join in. With the fact that robins and blackbirds tend to sound so similar, Sean described the robin as having a more melancholic tune whereas the Blackbirds has a richer, deeper, more flute like in sound.
Birds sing first thing in the morning in order to get enough food to store enough energy reserves to get through the breeding season. As a result, just before dawn is a great way of reaffirming their territory and attracting a mate before going off to eat. In addition, the acoustics are very good due to the clear air enabling their song to travel much further.
Something which always surprises me is how something so small can project it’s song so far. The benefit being that even though I cannot see a bird, I know they are there. In a time when our nature is in rapid decline, this is a wonderful thing to know.
The knowledge I gained over the virtual walk was wonderful, learning about a range of bird songs, from owls, wrens and song thrushes. I do feel that during these times when we are locked in our homes, seeing and hearing nature has become so much more important than ever before.
I know that communities such as the Ealing Wildlife Group is providing me and many others with a great deal joy and positive distraction and I do hope that we can all find new ways of becoming even closer to nature during lockdown so that when we can finally venture out, we perhaps have a new appreciation for things that are around us.
A recording of the walk that Sean took us on can be found here. https://www.facebook.com/sean.mccormack.313/videos/10156846424652484/
You need to be a member of Facebook and the Ealing Wildlife group in order to watch.
Birds heard and seen on the walk:
Robin; Blackbird; Moorhen; Song Thrush; Wren; Great Tit; Herring Gull; Blackcap; Magpie; Canada Goose; Chiffchaff
A summary of the RSPB common garden birds can be found here:
RSPB Bird Song Guide can be found here: