Sunday, 4 April 2010

Next Term's Wildlife 5: Nightingale

Nightingale - typical view & pose
Nightingale in Repose
Today's bird isn't as spectacular to look at as some of the other birds featured in these previews, but it has a unique charisma all of its own. This is a bird we should encounter on a special Monday trip to those who have booked, plus all Wednesday students who travel to the site to hear & see it (if we are lucky) as part of their course. The Nightingale's song is justly renowned. It will sing an equivalent of an aria, followed by a short pause & then will sing something completely different, and then pause & sing something completely different again, and it can often keep this up for hours at a time. Although the range of song is remarkable, it's probably the volume which is the most incredible aspect. Even during the daylight, when we will be visiting, it easily outclasses and drowns out anything singing nearby. Once you hear a Nightingale sing, it will be an experience you will remember for the rest of your life. The Nightingale has rather unjustly been described as a drab brown species, but is actually a classy bird of subtle distinction. It has a large dark eye for finding insect prey in thick cover with a noticeable pale eye ring. If you catch a good view of the tail it looks decidedly rusty in comparison with the remainder of the warm brown plumage. It will also often cock its tail like a giant Wren, especially when its looking for insects on the ground. Another feature of its plumage, which I haven't seen mentioned in bird ID books, is its pale lower mandible and gape, which almost gives some of these adult birds the look of a recently fledged youngster. I'm afraid the depressing theme appears again as this is another summer visitor in serious and perhaps terminal decline. It is thought the Nightingale originally started to decline because of the phasing out of rotational coppicing, which gave these birds the perfect cover they require. However, another recent additional cause of decline is believed to be the spread of non-native mammal species. Muntjac and other deer are spreading at an alarming rate and consuming the dense low cover Nightingales require. Apparently, only one pair of Nightingales raised young in their previous Yorkshire stronghold last year, so we will be going out of county to enjoy the experience of listening to these stunning songsters. It should be a truly awesome experience.

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