Our annual Dawn Chorus walk today, and the weather could hardly have been better. Well, it could have been a touch warmer, but the clear sky and windless conditions made for easy listening.
As we stepped out of the flat, first birds in the near-pitch-black were Oystercatchers peeping as they flew downriver, followed shortly by a hooting Tawny Owl and a couple of Nightingales from across the river Colne in Fingringhoe.
Our small group assembled under the lights of the station, where Robins had probably been singing all night, but at 0430 their voices were swelling and mixing with the mellifluity of the Blackbirds, perhaps four of each audible close to the car park.
Progressing along the trail towards Colchester, a Cuckoo (actually our first of the year) joined the choir from Ferry Marsh, the first of at least three male Cuckoos in the two-hour walk.
By now Wivenhoe Wood was coming alive with Wrens, Great and Blue Tits and, significantly, three or more Song Thrushes taking centre-stage with the background ululation of Woodpigeons. Five years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to hear one Song Thrush – just goes to show how nature can recover if the human pressures (slug pellets in this case) are removed. These rays of hope are essential at a time when it would be all to easy to sink in the mire of ecoanxiety… Then it was time for the summer visitors to get out of bed, with Chiffchaffs and eventually Blackcaps entering the arena.
Light levels increased, and the mist rolled in, an inversion layer so solid you could almost touch it. A Greenshank called along muddy margins, and as we approached the turning point of the walk, Skylarks from both sides of the river sprinkled the air with their stardust. Sedge Warblers too, if a little less euphoniously, along with Common and Lesser Whitethroats for comparison, and we knew we could do no better when a Nightingale in full Robin-like pose at the top of a tree serenaded us in an apparent duet with Cetti’s Warbler.
The sun rose. The songs continued, but it was time to head back. From Ferry Marsh sea wall, Rowhedge sparkled as if washed clean by the mist, Reed and Sedge Warblers sang side-by-side for comparison, and at least five more Cetti’s Warblers angrily complaining about the state of the world.
And so the walk drew to a close, a lovely bird-filled couple of hours. But not just birds: Muntjac barking and Foxes scenting the air, the saltmarshes starting to bloom with English Scurvy-grass, trees gleaming orange coated in Trentepohlia, and spiders’ webs glistening with their captured droplets of mist…
Finally, best bird for me, and one of the first we heard: twenty past four, still dark, and the air shrilled to the sound of Swifts moving north low over the town. Rarely have I heard them screaming in the dark before. First Swifts of the year always thrill as the start of Summer, and to hear them arriving under cover of the night, pure magic!