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Dawn chorus or daily cacophony?

Outdoor Living

SUN SALUTE A bullfinch greets the dawn.

Country Sights and Sounds

John Shelley

At the tail end of February the first indication of a dawn chorus had been encouraging beyond words. Throughout the month of March the serenading of each new day grew in intensity as more and more birds began to find their voices. By mid-April, dawn had leaped forward in the day and began to occur at a decidedly unsocial hour, and now, with May upon us, it seems we hardly have an hour of proper darkness to mute our charming songsters.
‘Good morning! Good morning!’ scream blackbird and thrush from their respective perches at the first glimmer of light. Lower down in the canopy the mistle thrush trills insistently, endlessly repeating its unanswered telephone ‘song’, if we could properly call it such, in case we missed it the first three hundred times.
Add in a wide variety of tits and finches and a sprinkling of warblers, and we have quite a commotion going on, certainly enough to make an hour of restful early morning slumber no more than a dream.
An obstreperous party of rooks, flighting to feed in faraway fields, are aware of the disturbance and laugh at our predicament. ‘Har har har!’ They voice their approval of the combined efforts of their lesser cousins to deprive us of sleep. Out on the lake, the water rail lets out a series of squeals from its home in the reeds, while a rabble of wildfowl loudly discuss their plans: ‘What shall we do today? Something different? Perhaps not... Hey, how about we swim around a bit, or go for a dabble?’
‘We did that yesterday.’
‘And then we could all spring into the air at once, thrashing at the water with our wings and yelling as loud as we can, like there’s really something amiss – and how about flying low over that house...’
And so they do, rasping at the air with their wings and calling, ‘Quick! Quick quick quick!’, as if there really was some kind of emergency. Round they go, and round again. Then it’s back to the lake where they find themselves at a loss. Mindless ducks. No wonder some folks like to shoot them.
Along the lakeshore sandpipers whistle at the antics of the duck tribe. When the ducks are gone they whistle at the gulls, and when the gulls are gone they whistle at each other, or just because they can. They whistle in excitement, at disappointment, and in amazement at my inability to sleep through all that noise.
This morning, as if the combined voices of half the birds in Mayo weren’t enough to deprive me of sleep, a pretty little blue tit slipped in through the open window and sat on the sill. ‘Cheese,’ it said loudly. ‘Cheese cheese cheese.’
I opened my eyes and gave it a stare. ‘What do you want?’
‘Cheese,’ it repeated.
‘I’ll give you cheese, you little beggar. Go on, get out of here.’
In fairness to the little bird, it wanted to comply, but tried to fly through the closed window rather than the open one through which it had entered. It hit the glass and flew into a panic. ‘Cheese!’ Blat! It hit  a second time, beak first, and knocked the wind out of itself. When I reached out to grab it, it took off around the room in crazy, spiralling circles, which it left only to dash itself against the window pane at repeated intervals.
Each bash at the glass loosened enough feathers to stuff a duvet. How could one small bird possibly hold so many? How could it lose that many and still be able to fly? Why did it want cheese? There was only one thing to do. I had to catch it before it killed itself.
I nearly had it cornered when I heard another familiar sound. ‘P’tit p’tat, P’tit p’tat.’ It was Mrs B from the village, running up an appetite.
I dived at the bird. ‘I’ll catch you in a minute, you just wait,’ I exclaimed, forgetting how sound travels in the still air of morning.
Quite what Mrs B thought of the middle-aged gentleman taking wild swings at the air while uttering threats and bouncing around the bedroom in his boxers I will likely never know. She did, however, take off around the corner like a whippet, and I dare say she set a new record for her jog around the block.
She’s right, though. The only way to enjoy the dawn chorus is to get out in it.  

International Dawn Chorus Day takes place on May 7. For more information, or to organise a registered dawn-chorus event, visit www.idcd.info.

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