Like so many of her articles in her wide catalogue of work, ‘A Dawn Chorus’ is so poetically written and expresses Charlotte’s experience and emotions beautifully.
It commands your attention throughout, so read on to find out what Charlotte experienced when she got up at the break of day to embrace the beautiful dawn chorus.
There aren’t many reasons I’d set a 04:30am alarm. Even the promise of the dawn chorus felt like it was going to be a stretch. But as that shrill wailing jerked me awake, I found myself stumbling straight out of bed and into the clothes I’d laid out the night before. A final stock-take before leaving the house – phone, keys, scarf, binoculars – and I was out the door and off into the night.
The dawn chorus has long captivated us humans. It is exhilarating, pure magic entwined with the promise of freedom and escape. It is a reminder of an older time, long before I was born, when life was slower and quieter. For the birds, however, the dawn chorus is about just two things: sex and power.
The first thing that hits you is the sheer volume of each bird, their regular daytime tootling paling in comparison. As I walked up the street and the early morning chill nibbled my cheeks two beautiful songs completely wrapped me up: the blackbird and the robin.
Until that moment I hadn’t realised just how much strength each member of the dawn chorus held in its little lungs. Each species sings desperately to be heard above the noise of other birds and prove its worth to potential mates, as well as local rivals who may be thinking about swooping in to steal territory or females.
I smiled to myself as the blackbirds and robins – always the birds to start the chorus – sung me towards the patch of woodland where I’d decided to listen to the main event. The blackbird is a romantic, its notes all syrupy ripples, while the robin is a dreamer, its tinkling silvery and wistful.
I paused on the woodland edge as another singer joined the choir, insistently vying for attention with each staccato phrase repeated three or four times: “Hello! Hello! It’s me! I’m here! I’m here! I’m here!” Once you learn to recognise it there is no mistaking this distinctive song thrush ditty.
Next, a machine-gun-burst cut through the dark, followed by another – two warring wrens duelling for territory from opposite sides of the wood. I’m always astounded by the power in the tiny wren’s voice. In fact, it’s thought that our second-smallest bird actually vibrates with the power of its own song.
I looked at my watch. It was just past 5am; the choir would soon start building to its crescendo. A little wooden bench where I often stop to sit with my cocker spaniel, Ruby, on our short potters (my golden girl is getting old) was the perfect spot to pause and listen to the ever more powerful avian soundtrack ringing out around me.
As I took my seat I was welcomed by a chiffchaff practising its first hesitant notes of the day: “Chiff, chiff, chiff.” I stared into the depths of a gloomy bush, hoping to see a flicker of movement, when a fluttering something-else caught my eye, up the corridor of trees and then back again. A butterfly? This early in the morning? No, a bat!
As soon as the realisation hit three more staged a high-speed fly-past, then another, then another; some whizzing straight by my seat on their commute while others raced laps after the night’s last insects before continuing to their roost. I smiled and counted, “One bat… two bats…” a la Count Von Count, and by the time the eighth tiny bat had flown past, the chiffchaff had found its voice and proudly proclaimed, “Chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff” to my eager ears.
The sky glew gas blue; pale fire lit by the steadily rising sun. I checked my watch again: 5:35am, time for a slow walk home as the final birds added their melodies to the dawn chorus.
Crows croaked and wood pigeons complained about how much “my toe hurts, Betty.”* A great tit see-sawed overhead like a squeaky wheelbarrow. The house sparrows came last, chirping away from the tops of garden hedges under a morning sun muffled by clouds. There was no-one else around, my heart was full, and my eyes weren’t even stinging with sleep.
That day, I was more productive at work than I’d been for some time. I felt really, genuinely happy. I walked to my polling station in the humid evening to vote in the local election, and as the fat clouds burst I turned my face to the sky and embraced the cooling raindrops. I’m positive that it was the dawn chorus effect. Birdsong is a balm for the soul.
- All credit to BBC 6 Music’s Radcliffe and Maconie for coining this wonderful wood pigeon whinge.
If you have a moment, please check out the amazing work that Lancashire Wildlife Trust do in order to ‘give wildlife a voice, protect wild spaces and enthuse the next generation with nature across Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.’
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