Up at 3.30am this morning. An early start but worth it this time of year. I arrived at Chedworth Roman Villa just before 5.00am to meet James Gomery (National Trust Ranger) and a group of visitors. We were all there to experience one of the joys the British spring has to offer, the dawn chorus.
I had read recently that different species of bird start the day at different times and this morning it was evident to me that this is true. The early birds were song thrush, blackbird, robin and wren. We started by listening to the mellow tone of the blackbird song, followed by the repetitive notes of the song thrush. Both birds loud and proud and although we couldn’t see them it was clear they were perched high in the trees.
Although the wren is one of our smallest breeding birds there is nothing small about the sound a wren makes. A loud warbling song that ends in a trill, often heard lower down in the woodland understorey or in garden shrubs. Further along the path, half way up a tree the sweet melodic warbling notes of the robin’s song could be heard. Behind us in the distance we heard the sounds of a tawny owl probably settling to roost after a night of hunting.
Along the way the sounds of great tit, coal tit and blue tit had chirped in. Great tit a slow simple ‘tii-cha tii-cha tii-cha’ and coal tits similar but faster and higher pitched ‘pitchu-pitchu-pitchu’. The sky was beginning to lighten now as we wandered the path. Having reached an area of coniferous trees I stopped in the hope of hearing goldcrests. Sure enough near the top of the canopy there was a faint but sweet swirling song ending in a flourish. Slightly smaller than the wren and much quieter, it was hard to hear the goldcrest above the chorus of the other birds.
Silently something flew fast through the trees, turned round and flew back on itself. It was just enough time for a few people to catch it with their eye and murmur the name, sparrowhawk. No sound and gone almost before we knew it.
Later to rise in the morning are the warblers and we only heard one during our walk, the chiffchaff. Whether you hear it as ‘chiff-chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff’ or ‘zilt-zilt-zult-zilt-zult’ there is no mistaking the song of this early spring migrant. Further down the slope amongst the canopy of the trees came the distinctive calls of more than one jay. At the end of the track we could hear a distant band of wood pigeons warming up with their five note cooing.
Much brighter now with sunlight reaching the woodland floor in places we turned around and strolled back to the visitor centre stopping briefly to see what was on the bird table and then heading inside for breakfast.
May and June are the best months of the year to hear the dawn chorus and it is a wonderful spectacle to listen to. If you can, I highly recommend you wake up early one morning and listen from the bedroom window or venture out further afield.
Ranger, Heart of the Cotswolds