Saturday, April 4, 2009

Birds singing in the night

I've spent many nights on the moors in all seasons and weathers. But spring is my favourite for listening to birds. Many birds sing or can be heard at night. 'Drumming' Snipe, the sound coming from feathers as the fly, and of the Grasshopper Warbler's lovely 'reeling' sound - which sounds just like the ratchet on a fishing reel slowly being turned are well known bird sounds and can be hear in the dark on the moors. Lapwings are another night time favourite. Nightjars too can be heard in recently felled parts of Dalby and other forests, their songs again sound mechanical, almost like a scooter or small motor bike. These birds too are curious and I've had them hover close over my head several times. Binoculars are handy at night too and I've often watched them sitting on forest tracks. (binoculars should make the scene a little brighter!!).

Fox, Badger and Deer will often approach you at night with much more confidence than during the day. My first encounter with the sound of a Barn Owl was initiated at night by the strange 'Shhhhhhhhhhhhh' sound coming from a barn late on night which I soon discovered coming from their nest in a nearbye building, now turned into holiday cottages at Stainsacre.

Many birds are far easier to identify by their sounds and songs. The Chiff Chaff which I first heard this year on the 17th of March is a migrant from Africa. A 'little brown job' (LBJ), as birders call it and other, similar looking birds. But it's sound - a 'chiff-chaff', is unique and unlike any other LBJ. So you don't even have to look for it in the canopy above. The Chiff Chaff looks similar to a Willow Warbler but the song is totally different and makes them easy to tell apart.

In fact identifying most birds by song is far easier than by sight. In addition once you can identify a few birds by sound it makes birding much more interesting as you identify the bird without seeing it. Something which is often very difficult for many woodland birds once the leaves are out.

There are some birds which are very rarely seen but are easily identified by sound. An obvious one would be the Grasshopper Warbler. Less obvious would be the now rare Corncrake - which calls day and night - and very few birders have ever seen one! Another is the tiny Quail with its 'Wet-my-lips' repeated over and over from grass or crops. Again, easy to hear but almost never seen.

Age takes it toll unfortunately and with each passing year my hearing gets worse. I even have difficulty hearing Skylarks, one of my favourites and Trish, my partner has now become my ears. It looks like a hearing aid is my next purchase.

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