One reason I enjoy this time of year is the way bird song gathers pace. It is a long lead in before it might be called the dawn chorus, although when exactly that starts is a moot point. In my mind it is when Blackbirds start singing in numbers. Great tits are one of the earliest to start - often within the first two weeks of the year I will hear the joyous monotony of their song.

Another bird that starts early in the year is the Song thrush, and for the last two years we have had one sing from a tree just beyond our garden during spring. He starts before I get up and I can hear it in the house. I see I made a note of it on the 1st January. I have heard him pretty much every morning since then. Dunnocks, House sparrows and Blue tits have all started singing now, and in a few weeks I’ll be listening out for migrant warblers such as the Blackcap and Common whitethroat.

At the end of last year But She’s A Girl wrote about the fear of losing our bird song. This resonated with me as I had recently watched a video sent by a family member who lives in New South Wales. They had been caught up in the bushfires and the footage showed the trees around where they live. It almost looked like a winter scene in deciduous woodland - no leaves and the white of ash on the ground like snow. What really struck me was the silence.

It’s a sobering fact that most British species are on the decline. I have taken my son on bird surveys in the spring partly so that he can hear the call of Curlews, knowing that it is possible they may not be there to hear when he is an adult. Bird song is the soundtrack to my mornings, and while I don’t think I take it for granted, considering the possibility that we could lose it makes me appreciate it all the more.

In a few weeks time, when the Blackbirds around us are in full song it is a treat to go outside early in the morning and listen to the sheer depth of the soundscape. I don’t pretend to have any real knowledge of poetry but the last verse from Edward Thomas’ ‘Adlestrop’ sums it up perfectly.

And for that minute a blackbird sang Close by, and round him, mistier, Farther and farther, all the birds Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Stephen James

Minding the gaps

© Stephen James 2021

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