Posted by: Ross Gardner | May 3, 2020

Bird Song

Sylvia atricapilla

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) – male.

The sound of bird song in a spring wood is like drinking a glass of cold water on a hot day, or watching stream-water dance around rocks in its path.

We have been been looking after a dog for the last few months.  This is not a normal state of affairs for us and this is the first time we have ever been anything remotely resembling dog-owners.  We will miss him a great deal when he goes home.  We are lucky enough to have a decent stretch of woodland very close to where we live.  A fair chunk of this I am often inclined to avoid in favour of quieter parts, as it tends to be busy with dog walkers (and, during normal circumstances, with golfers – the wood also encompasses a golf course), but having had a dog to walk I have been seeing a lot more of it, something which has been especially the case during these times of Covid lockdown.

It has revealed a great pleasure to me.  We tend to walk a similar ‘beat’ when exercising the pooch.  Because of this we have watched the spring unfold before our eyes.   We have watched the same place, often along the same paths, its trees and its inhabitants, alter with the building season.  Not quite a fixed-point camera, but more of a fixed-point mind’s eye.  First the faint tinges of green as the leaf buds of the hawthorn and the abundant hornbeam swell and begin to open.  Then the burgeoning flood of that freshest of fresh green spreading through the understorey and surging upwards into the crowns of the oaks, truly obliterating the austere tones of the winter past.  And the bird song.  Initially the rising volume of the woodland residents lifted by the change of season.  Later the growing variety of sound, as summer migrants arrive to add theirs to the chorus.

I love the soundscape of the woods (or anywhere for that matter).  I have grown familiar to its component parts over the years and become almost subconsciously attuned to it, even when not really listening to it.  Hearing it in the course of our now regular visits made me ponder the ownership of the wood.  Not human ownership, but that of the birds, a real ownership that will ultimately outlast ours.  Discerning between the facets of bird song enables one to conceptualise how a place may be divided up between those that make it their home.  Visit somewhere regularly enough and one might even begin to determine the birds as individuals.

This wood, for example, is full of Blackcap, one of the warblers and birds of dense woodland and scrub.  They are a most loquacious bird, with a rich, very varied and quite beautiful warbling song.  On our route I have come to know several.  Let’s start with the ‘Brook Blackcap’ and the ‘Fairway Blackcap’ who often welcome us on the start of our morning walk.  Then there’s the ‘Compound Blackcap’ that sings from the edge of the council yard, and bit further round the ‘Honeysuckle Blackcap’ that I first heard singing from the tresses of a particular luxuriant growth of said plant.  And there’s the ‘Tree Trunks Blackcap’ that sings from his thicket next to where a couple of felled oaks lay; he’s a bold one this one, often easily seen from a more exposed perched that the others.  Then what of the other birds in the wood?  There’s a Song Thrush that vies for the same bit of airspace as the Brook Blackcap.  We often hear a Blackbird on the way to the tree trunks and sometimes the percussive hammering of a Great Spotted Woodpecker just after.  All the while the wood ripples to the liquid notes of Robin, rattles with the manic trilling of Wren and chimes with the ringing calls of Great Tit.

I think the main moral of this particular story is how we are reminded of the limitations of our own particular sensory experiencing of the world.  The singing and territoriality of birds is just one way that we can be made aware that a wood is far more than a place we might like to walk around.  A reminder that ours is not the only agenda and certainly not the most important one.

Erithacus rubecula

A wood wouldn’t be a wood without a Robin in it.


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