May’s Music – with the Dawn Chorus

May’s Music – with the Dawn Chorus

Why does birdsong so often lift the human spirit? It certainly does mine. Join me as I listen to the wonderful sound of the May Dawn Chorus now in full flow. 

The Dawn Chorus

With light creeping up from the east and a stillness in the air, all is hushed as if waiting for something special to happen. At this lovely time of day when most of our noisy world  has not yet awoken I enjoy the chance to taste again something of lost Eden’s first light. As day breaks ready for a fresh start I find myself once again marvelling at Creation’s beauty in the stillness of untarnished dawn.

 I’m ready to listen to an unforgettable half-hour of sheer heavenly joy and delight with a sense of having this performance all to myself. But of course I’m not alone, but sharing in something much bigger (tomorrow is International Dawn Chorus Day). Millions of others have been hearing this melodious sound as the Dawn Chorus has been moving across the globe following the sun.

Birdsong deserves serious listening and at dawn there’s happily very little else to distract as I try to identify the various songsters. Blackbirds are the lead singers as usual. Our own is singing loudly from tree to house top, then back to another tree clearly marking its territory. It even sings as it flies, something I’ve never noticed before.  I can hear many other blackbirds in the surrounding gardens accompanied by a large chorus of other birds. The glorious sound echoes around this part of the village.

But there are some missing voices….

A garden for Song Thrushes

Song Thrush

Some years ago we were stopped in our tracks in this public garden by a song thrush singing in full flow in one of these cherry trees. The bird seemed oblivious to us for a magical few minutes.

I’ve always loved hearing the thrush, but after a brief song earlier in the year, I’ve heard nothing more so far. If you’ve had thrushes singing do let me know to reassure me that these lovely songsters are still around.

Cuckoos used to call here!

Cuckoo Call – an Elegy

The favoured few may have heard the odd Cuckoo call. Recently a local birder reported hearing one in the Arun valley raising a tantalising glimmer of hope. I must watch this space with interest. If only!  The rest of us have to be content with nostalgic memories of those magical moments when we heard these birds calling repeatedly across the countryside. Our wistful mood is so eloquently expressed in Delius’ hauntingly beautiful ‘On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring’.

Sky for Swallows over the house tops.

Swallows, Swifts and House Martins

  However, many other summer visitors do still arrive to gladden us with their company.  To my delight today I heard the first Willow Warbler in the next garden. It’s such a pleasure to welcome back this tiny visitor all the way from Africa to summer with us. 

Soon, hopefully, high pitched screeches in the sky overhead on sunny days will tell us that the Swallows and House martins are back and that summer is almost at hand. Watching a group of Swifts dash in between the older houses not far from here screaming their delight it’s hard not to share their obvious sense of joy to be alive.

Birdsong is a statement, ‘ I’m here everyone!’  Another local birder reports : ’Swifts have been returning to our house for nearly 40 years at least now. We’re very happy to see them back’ (April 25th).

‘…..‘Look! They’re back! Look!’

….They’ve made it again,
Which means the globe’s still working, the Creation’s
Still waking refreshed, our summer’s
Still all to come —
And here they are, here they are again
Erupting across yard stones..’

From ‘Swifts’ by Ted Hughes

Arun Valley Woods full of May birdsong.
These woods in the Arun valley are full of birdsong this month.

Birdsong has a great power to influence the human spirit and to bring joy even on an international scale. As global travellers, migrant birds don’t observe national boundaries, so we treasure their time spent with us here.

At one point  in June 1910, Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary, invited Theodore Roosevelt (who had previously been US President and who was an enthusiastic bird watcher) to join him for a day of peace listening to the birdsong of his favourite spot in Hampshire. It would do our world much good if alł our political leaders listened to birdsong a little more often. Birds are very effective global peacemakers and bringers of joy.

Yes ‘they’re back‘. These birds are with us again, ‘the  globe’s still working, the Creation’s still waking refreshed’  and  ‘our summer’s still all to come‘!

Thanks for joining me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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28 thoughts on “May’s Music – with the Dawn Chorus

  1. Wonderful post, Richard! I haven’t been able to do much listening for the past couple of weeks so I can’t tell if our song thrushes are still around. They were certainly still singing in mid April and a pair of them came regularly to the garden looking for food. We used to hear cuckoos here but not any more. There are some now at many of the Suffolk Wildlife Reserves and also at Minsmere so I will have to travel to them rather than wait for them to come to me! I saw a couple of early male swallows a fortnight ago but we’ve since had a lot of cold wet weather and they went away again. No swallows, martins or swifts here yet. I love the song of the willow warbler but again it hardly ever comes here any more. We have chiff chaffs, garden warblers and blackcaps and sadly I found a dead firecrest in the garden a couple of days ago.
    Thanks for including the Ted Hughes poem.

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    1. I’m glad you’ve had the thrushes, Clare. Cuckoos at Minsmere and other sites sounds very encouraging. How wonderful to be able to go and hear one again! The one or two swallows won’t make it summer – here’s wishing for many more soon. If you get to Minsmere do report back. Good listening – the’ summer’s still all to come’.

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    1. Yes, we were created to be listeners. Too many people seem to be ‘tone deaf’ to the sounds of nature these days! It’s good to know that President Roosevelt was a good listener like Edward Grey. Birdsong was also a huge comfort to many of the soldiers serving in the terrible conditions of the front line trenches of WW1.

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      1. That makes sense. It must have been a delightful surprise to the WW1 soldiers to hear any nature sounds. I’ve also heard that many of them carried poetry books with them during their deployment, which I found very intriguing.

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      2. John Louis Sempel’s book ‘Where the Poppies Blow , the British Soldier, nature, the Great War’, makes fascinating reading on this WW1 theme. When the guns went silent birds began to sing!

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    2. Oh I couldn’t agree more …

      Olivier Messiaen, described birds as “God’s greatest musicians” … ‘In my hours of gloom … when I am suddenly aware of my own futility – what is left for me but to seek out the true, lost face of music somewhere in the forest, in the fields, in the mountains or on the seashore, among the birds.’

      From earliest times we have sought to emulate birdsong with our own music … a way of deliberately conjuring up a mood or a location – [that] timeless immersion within a ‘spirit of place’ (Jefferies) – an expression of our deep desire to extend and perpetuate their performance … to experience the pure joy and freedom evident in the birds own ‘joy of singing’ (Rothenberg).

      Above all, the song of birds … the setting, performance, variety, and musical quality, awakens in us something from way before long ago – a memory of who we once were.

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  2. A beautiful post, Richard, with some notes of sadness regarding the song thrush and cuckoo. I had no idea that there is an International Dawn Chorus Day – I must participate next year! As I continue to build a bird and pollinator friendly environment here, a more diverse group of birds appears and makes their home here. The wood thrush is back; I take such great pleasure in hearing its fluted song in the mornings – this is the third year that it has appeared in my little woods. Now that the weather has warmed, I sleep with my bedroom window open so that I can hear the birds – what a pleasure!

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    1. So good to hear of your successful efforts to attract birds. Your wood thrush with its fluted song sounds like our own thrush here. Most of your other birds would be new to us in UK. An open window – a great idea. Enjoy that lovely early morning song.

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  3. A beautiful evocation of the dawn chorus Richard, it certainly is one of life’s great pleasures to hear it. I’m not too good at identifying song, other than the blackbirds, robins and tits. I can’t say I’ve heard a thrush but I am pleased to say I have seen one on the park nearby, and I’ve never heard a cuckoo. Our swallows haven’t arrived yet, but I’m sure they’re on their way!

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    1. Thank you Andrea. My bird song identification is limited too, but I find BBC ‘Tweet of the Day’ a helpful way to add songs to the list. I expect you get many seabirds that we don’t have here. When the swallows arrive I’ll send some on up north!

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  4. Lovely post, Richard. I confess, there have been times when I’ve suggested to the participants in the Dawn Chorus that it’s a little too early for that kind of thing, and wouldn’t they rather be tucked up quietly in a nice, cosy, nest. However, of course it is wonderful if you’re awake and conscious – and, actually, quite amazing. You are also right that birdsong is uplifting – one of the wonderful sounds in the world, like children playing (in the distance). On the occasions when I’ve finished my duties as general labourer in the garden, it is a joy to sit, sipping a cuppa or a beer, watching the birds whizz and swoop, and listening to them chirp away. My knowledge of these things is sadly limited, but we definitely have the odd thrush putting in an appearance – and it is magical. Probably a little early for the swifts – but they’ll be there, I know.

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  5. ‘Like children playing in the distance’- a lovely description, Mike. It seems the birds are indeed playing and showing off just like children, not merely claiming territory as we are told. I’m glad to hear you do gardening duties. You deserve your beer and the birds. Enjoy both.

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    1. I couldn’t agree more – there is something special in hearing birds singing:

      black swift screaming jet-like across a cloudless blue sky, the afterburn of their passing an echo in the still air;

      the echoing voice-throwing call of the Cuckoo – from across the fields;

      the ever present song of Yellowhammer, the final soloist in evenings pastoral symphony;

      and the Mistle Thrush from the Churchyard Yew – the piper at the gates of dawn.

      An excerpt from my post on ‘Birds in Music’

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    2. Thank you Cynthia. The thought of experiencing Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ would be unbearable. My own ‘missing’ Song Thrush sang to us every early morning while we were away on holiday. So all is not lost! Enjoy your own birdsong.

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      1. We’ve been having various encounters of the avian kind (the current post on my blog is about one of them). One of the most remarkable: a pair of yellow (“albino”) cardinals visited the garden of our dear friends and hung around for a while too! We couldn’t believe our eyes.

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  6. Such a lovely homage to the dawn chorus and a reminder to me that I am sleeping my way through one of the best parts of the day. The blackbird is the chorus leader, and sometimes the sole vocalist, both morning and evening in my suburban garden in NZ. The song thrush, which you miss, has settled very nicely here, too. I saw the first song thrush in a long while in my garden last week. I expect it’s preparing for nesting.

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    1. Good to hear from you. Yes, the ‘early birds’ are the wisest! Your birds sound similar to ours. With us too, the blackbirds start the chorus. On our mid June holiday in the New Forest we were woken every morning by the song thrushes, A real treat.

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