Archive for May 19th, 2013

Nature Ramble

To be alone in the dawn chorus reminds us how precious life is

Many of the birds that enchant us in our woodlands and gardens are under threat. We must cherish them

Star of the dawn chorus: the nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos). Photograph: blickwinkel/Alamy

International dawn chorus day is today [4th May]. If that does not light you up, you should perhaps move to the latest coverage of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and other human folly. For here we are going to “clear from the head the masses of impressive rubbish”, as Auden put it, and think about rising at dawn like our ancestors and hearing birdsong spread to the far horizons.

It seems odd to designate an entire day for the dawn chorus because most people only become aware of it after the main event has happened, early on the first Sunday of May. But this morning’s concert (around 4.30am), which you perhaps missed, was one of many in a season that will last until Glyndebourne and possibly even Glastonbury. If you manage to attend just once during the piercing glories of this spring, when the blossom and trees have never seemed more miraculous, you might change yourself for ever or, at the very minimum, experience half an hour that you’ll never forget. To walk alone in the dawn chorus in some woodland or in the park, or simply standing in your back garden, reminds you how precious it is to be alive.

If this is a little too Buddhist or new age for a newspaper column, I make no apologies. Some of the best moments of the past month for me have been to wake at 5am (easily achieved by drinking a lot of water the night before) and fling open the windows to hear – in roughly this order – blackbirds, robins, wrens, chaffinches, pheasants, owls, blackcaps, dunnocks and goldfinches, against the soft pulse of scores of cooing pigeons and, maybe in the distance, a cuckoo.

I am evangelical about this moment, partly because, as my colleague Catherine Bennett reminded me, this is what life was like before the Industrial Revolution and the incessant noise of our world. Dawn is the one time that there is almost no road traffic. Noise from aeroplanes and trains is minimal and the fool across the way, with his bass guitar, is asleep or pharmaceutically coshed. If you rise at dawn at this time of year, you snatch something of our forebears’ experience.

International dawn chorus day is, I discover without much surprise, a British invention. Whatever our self-denigration and decline, you cannot take away from the British a genius for the appreciation of nature, particularly birds, as expressed by writers such as WH Hudson and, more recently, Michael McCarthy, author of the wonderful Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo. Birds fill the imagination of artists from Chaucer to Vaughan Williams, though I don’t sense any great interest in Shakespeare, apart from mention of swans, for obvious reason, and crows making wing to rooky woods, which he uses to create atmosphere.

International dawn chorus day began in 1984 courtesy of the Urban Wildlife Trust, at Moseley Bog in Birmingham, which has since become a nature reserve. To be honest, there’s not a lot that is international about it. I found three events in the US and a handful in Europe. But in Britain, there were 43 scheduled for about 4.30am today…

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Spring *Dawn Chorus* ~ 2 minutes 30 second

Birds UK ~ British Bird Bee Butterfly wildlife videos at You Tube ~:-) ~ My bird website is at


Nightingale ( Luscinia megarhynchos )

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