Sunday, 3 January 2016

Birdsong - Countdown - Only 2 Days to Go!

Song Thrush - singing this morning
Winter can be a good time to make inroads into learning birdsong, as early in January there are only a limited number of birds singing. In some Decembers Mistle and Song Thrushes start singing, as do Great and Coal Tits, and Great Spotted Woodpeckers begin drumming and Green Woodpeckers start yaffling. However, the frequency of this aural activities can often be stimulated by the amount of sunshine. As this seems to have been a particularly overcast December and January in East Yorkshire, then the amount of birdsong has been subdued. I heard a Song Thrush singing in Warter on 1st of December, but not since until the last 3 mornings when I have heard them singing in the dark. I didn't hear a single singing Great Tit or drumming woodpecker this December. Unless things change markedly it really will be some time into January before the birdsong really gets under way - unless January is as cloudy as December!
Wren - singing now?
Birds which should be singing now include Wren, Dunnock, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Starlings & on sunny days, Skylarks. By the end of January the chorus will have been swelled by Blackbird, Great, Blue & Coal Tits, plus drumming Woodpeckers. Some common species can have surprising habits. For instance, Blackbirds will sing in the dark, but will become silent once dawn breaks. They probably won't sing in daylight much before 10th of March! 
Blackbird - will you hear one in daylight before 10th March?
Humans find a lot of birdsong pleasant or indeed extremely beautiful, but birds do not sing to benefit humanity. The song of birds has two main functions. Generally speaking it is male birds doing the singing. They sing to show other males that a specific territory has been taken, but unpaired birds are also singing to attract a female.
As the days lengthen in the months ahead more birds will be added to the chorus. For instance, around 14th February the first hesitant Chaffinches should have begun their rollicking song, and in the right habitat the glorious song of the woodlark should have started. 
Chaffinch - singing on Valentine's Day?
Birdsong is something to which we will pay a good deal of attention on the course. Birdsong will be pointed out in the field. Visual contact with the singers will be maintained whenever possible during the classes. A "Hymn Sheet" will be given out, and advice given on the best CDs to purchase, and other useful aide-memoires.  
Great Spotted Woodpecker - member of the percussion section!
Recognising bird songs and calls is a real aid in bird identification. Mastering the skill isn't easy, but it is very rewarding. You don't need a musical ear to conquer the difficulty, but there is a rumour that it does help. I can't guarantee that everyone will pick it up in 2 hours a week, but if you are also able to put in some time at home there's every chance you may get as good as Thursday morning's Maggie! 
After Easter there will be a flood of summer visitors added to the chorus.  Probably the most exceptional performer is the Nightingale, and we will be going on a one-off trip to hear and hopefully see this extraordinary soloist.

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