The cock birds, which have survived the shooting season, were staking their territories with a wonderful cacophony which must be a slice of sound from their native Russian Caucasus. Each male has an ambitious plan to gather a harem of hens and the competition is fierce. As the gamekeeper’s feeders are removed the focuses of territories change to the gardens – Pheasants are partial to the area under bird tables.
Russian immigrants stake their claim
A hint of bud burst
In spite of the raw cold which seems to have dominated the past week, the occasional warm spring sunshine has encouraged some activity from trees.
So far, some the Hawthorns along the railway line have tentatively started to open as has the Bird cherry outside Beech Cottage. But then, like someone who has dipped their toe into a cold swimming pool they have stopped. They seem to be pausing and are prepared to wait for the next warm day. This point of near bud-burst always reminds me of that Philip Larkin poem, the Trees; “The trees are coming into leaf, like something almost being said”.
Most of the trees are far more cautious. No hint of green, just that almost imperceptible thickening at the tips of the branches. I swear I can see this subtle transformation through my window as I look out at the Sycamores and Ashs on the railway line, but this may be just wishful thinking.
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.
Caution Mermaid crossing
After some dull February days it came as a relief this morning to feel that Spring is really happening. The intensity of bird song has increased – the Skylarks of the Town field were in full song and a bolshie Yellowhammer was re-establishing his ground on the railway line. The full throated calls of the Song Thrush, with it’s characteristic regular five repeats, rang out over the Common. There was even a sense that the sun may appear.
Down at the Mermaid, river bank repairs are continuing. The sleeper wall which holds the river in place as it passes under the railway line has finally had to be replaced. There is some doubt as to how long the originals had been in place- the uprights had been pointed by hand and hammered in. I suppose it is possible that these could have been put in by the Victorians during the construction of the railway, but it would be interesting if anybody knows? It was with some relief that I learnt that the timbers which form the narrow crossing over this section are going back on.
Dawn on a rainy saturday
In the subdued pre-dawn light, the variety of bird song is gradually increasing. The robins, now well established, defend their bubbles of territory. In the rain a Song Thrush adds to the mix, perhaps for the first time this year, but then stops.
The Blackbirds seem even less sure of themselves. Contact and alarm calls are the norm, as males seek to carve out an area of garden as their own. Any song, if it ever gets going, is fleeting and unsure. In the undergrowth the Dunnocks shout briefly and move on; their song does not really develop any further and reminds me of the sounds from a toddler’s game of hide and seek.
One notable addition is the song of the Great Tit, only really two notes, but strident, clear and as much a sign of spring as a Song Thrush. It is of limited musical quality and is known to us as “the squeaky wheel-barrow bird”, which just about sums it up.
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.
Waiting for Spring
Around dawn this morning dawn, the planet Venus outshone the Moon in the southern sky over Brampton. The skies clouded over rapidly from the west ruining the spectacle.
Rooks set out in a straggling flock from Oxnead, the attendant jackdaws seeming to burst with their usual excessive playfulness and noise. On the railway line Blackbirds loiter, not quite sure if spring is approaching. There is no song from them – only the Robins have the metal to start what they have finished and their challenging song continues.
In the cutting a small resident flock of Bullfinches communicate with wistful low calls. They congregate around the thorns waiting for succulent buds to form.
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.
Clear skies and a starlit night are followed by four degrees of frost. The Bure has returned to a reasonable flow after being starved of supply during the cold snap.
A morning stroll by the river merely serves to emphasise the flocking behaviour of birds at this time of year. Virtually everything we see is clustered in a flock; Woodpigeon, gulls, Starling, Jackdaws and Mallard. Small flights of Teal circle nervously and head off for quieter areas. The only exception being a solitary Great Crested Grebe which was fishing near Burgh Mill; a Grebe in it’s dowdy Winter garb – just passing through. I am happy to note the lack of Cormorants today – in my view an unwelcome guest in the area – their fishing puts such pressure on stocks.
Neil talks of Otter sightings. The signs are there, fishy spraint and what I like to imagine are mud slides into the river, but once again the short day length cuts down the chances of a proper sighting. Clumps of Blackthorn near the river provide ideal cover.