Just after dawn on Sunday, it was the calls of Jackdaws rather than the a song bird chorus which rang through the village. They favour the dead Elm at the top of the hill, which must stand out to them as a landmark once they have left the roosts at Oxnead. The Jackdaws accompany the slower and more direct flight of Rooks as they stream westwards. The exodus starting as soon as light levels permit, earlier and earlier each morning. As a species the Jackdaw seems to revel in flight, something to be enjoyed rather than just a method of getting there. Their gathering at the Elm being their equivalent of the bikers meeting at a favourite cafe.
Daws at dawn
This morning a bright waning moon illuminated the period just before dawn. The sky was mostly clear with a few shower laden clouds. Not a remarkable winter morning – except for the lack of frost. But, as i walked along the railway line, it was clear that the conditions had led to some confusion. The dawn birdsong was rare mix. A combination of night and day. A pair of Tawny Owls exchanged phrases; the plaintive hoot from the Town Field Ashes was answered by the “Kewick” of it’s mate. The second bird called from an Ivy covered sapling half a furlong further away towards Buxton. Whilst this duet persisted, the village Robins started their song. At least half a dozen Robins threw their song into the moonlit air, each from its garden stronghold. Splashes of sound with the growing confidence of a expected Spring.
Christmas Eve – Gabriel’s Hounds
The musical call of a skein of wild geese heralded the morning of Christmas Eve in Brampton. The wonderful sound of their calls, which evokes the music of a pack of hounds, echoed from the woods at Oxnead. Some call them Gabriel’s Hounds in an effort to sum up the magic of their calls. This is considered in some parts of the country as being the sound of the diabolical wild hunt, but I think our geese were much more benign – and probably off in search of sugar beet tops.
A brief moment of silence this morning, broken only by the gentle contact calls of foraging flocks. Firstly a small flock of Redwings announce their presence by a their gentle sub whistling calls only to be echoed by Bullfinches. Now the time has come for wintering birds to make use of the bounteous supplies of seed or berry before times get tougher. As yet no frost of any significance has softened the sloes, so it is likely to be the hawthorn berries which are popular, for the Thrushes at least.
The Ash trees have dropped their leaves this week – thus joining the Poplars which are always the first to succumb. the Oaks are hanging on but they are looking isolated in a the
bare-branched ash lined railway.
Sunset on Friday coincided with the evening arrival of a congregation of Golden Plover. A circling flock of forty or so birds whistled in their plaintive way. Every year they gather on the parish – I have always assumed that it is a traditional stopping place on their way south, but their stay is often a prolonged one. It is of course impossible to be certain whether we see the same flock for a number of weeks or whether we sit on a migration route and thus see many flocks passing through.
The call is unmistakeable. They often fly by starlight and their contact calls drift down from unseen groups. Surprisingly they do not seem to favour low lying pasture land as a roosting site, instead they select higher (height being entirely relative) arable fields alongside the old roman road. I like to imagine that this location has been favoured for a
long time, perhaps centuries, as it is a site offering good views and resultant protection from predators.
Cuckoos of both colours – there is a grey form and a brown form – are temporarily resident in the village. On Thursday evening a pair, one of each form, flew from Willow to Poplar along the Long Meadow.
The call of a Cuckoo, when heard in close proximity, is far less melodious than when it is heard at distance. It is more of a “Cuck-Coop” than the smoother distance version. When a pair are calling together the call takes on whole new phrase; “whup ..whup..cuck..whup ..whup..koo” is as near as I can get. This does not really do it justice.
At a certain point the balance tips. Early this morning, in spite of the dark and the persistent drizzly rain, a Song Thrush was singing in full voice. It is as if the bird’s determination to express itself would overcome any obstacle even the absence of light itself. To me this seems to show that that the territorial urge has become so strong that nothing will discourage it.
Last night, as I was deep in a book, the dark and silence was broken by the unmistakeable whistling hum which comes from the wings of a Mute Swan in flight. Presumably disorientated by the lack of visibility, I can only hope that it found its way back to the river. Wildfowl do fly by night but in my experience this usually occurs on moonlit nights and not on nights of poor visibility such as last night. Perhaps this one was disturbed from it’s roost by a fox.
Waiting for Spring in February
Strong warm westerly winds bring about changes. Although a few stragglers may remain, it seems that the majority of the winter thrushes (Redwings and Fieldfares) have move back towards their summer quarters. I assume that they are in transit to Scandinavia assisted by a strong tail wind.
The resident thrushes which remain have yet to settle into their breeding territories. I listen out for the first sign – usually a Mistle Thrush adopts the height of dead Elm near Street Farm as the venue for the early spring song. So far it has not arrived, but it cannot be long. The Mistle Thrush has a strong fluting song for which seems to select the windiest days – perhaps is a week or twos time.
The large flocks of finches appear to have broken up. So much of the anticipation of Spring is derived from what is no longer happening. As I always remember, at migration time it is much easier to spot the first arrival than it is to record the last time you saw one.
At daybreak this morning the weather was dull and a shower of cold rain made it feel damper than ever.
Whilst taking the dogs for their morning stroll I counted, in a totally unscientific way, the number of singing Robins within the southern part of the village. This part of the village extends to roughly fifteen houses. I reached a total of seven singing Robin’s within the 75 yard stretch from home to the railway line. This may not on the face of it seem a remarkable number, but no other species sang in these unsuitable weather conditions.
As I walked further on the railway line I only added two more to my tally in a half mile. I have no clearer evidence for the benefit of gardens in rural areas. More fences, hedges and boundaries means more Robins; it is unscientifically proven…
Return of birdsong
If it were possible to pinpoint the time and date that the birds start singing again, then I would say it was last Thursday morning (13th). On looking into the sodden garden before dawn I heard a Robin in full song and again when I parked my car in the centre of Norwich.
I suspect that in reality, bird song does not suddenly start but that after a period of rehearsal or sub-song, it gradually drifts into the real thing. Robins are notoriously territorial and it should come as no surprise that these street fighters are the first to shout.
There is a lifting of spirits which happens when hearing early Spring birdsong that very few other events can match. Music can create a similar feeling but I think it is the spontaneity of bird song which marks it out – bird song at this time of year creates such a contrast with the sheer dull dampness of January.
A couple of Sundays ago a similar thought occurred to me as two large skeins of Pink Footed Geese treated us to a mid-morning fly past. I looked up from my desk and threw open the roof-light to hear their wild hound like calls.