At about the time that this blog post is published I will probably be making the first cup of tea of the day – at 6am. That would be normal in my house.
Today it will still be dark, but if I take a step outside the back door, as I often do, then there is likely to be birdsong. A Robin or two, and, of late, a bunch of Song Thrushes and an occasional Blackbird.
I couldn’t tell you the exact date by the sound of the dawn chorus in my garden, but I reckon I’d be pretty close.
Knowing the songs and calls of birds is a blessing. I feel at home because I know those sounds, they are recognised, familiar, and loved.
For me, being in a place where the sounds of birds are unfamilar is disorientating, exciting and frustrating. Mostly frustrating, because it is difficult to learn these songs and calls quickly – there is a lot of variation and it’s difficult to get them straight.
The fact that I can stand outside my kitchen while the kettle boils, or in most places in the UK, and in many places in Western Europe and know that I am at home, ornithologically, is a boon. It is comforting.
And although my knowledge of birdsongs isn’t the greatest, it has been built over a lifetime. There are decades of listening and accumulating recognition of songs that is now ingrained and unbidden. But you could do it too. And the time to start is now.
February is the time to start learning bird songs because there aren’t many bird species singing at this time of year so it’s not too confusing. Start now. Start today.
Take a few moments before breakfast to have a listen. Go for a walk and a listen at lunchtime. ‘See’ what you can hear. Do you hear the same thing tomorrow and the next day? How do you work out what was singing? Well, the first thing is to try and see the songster – that’ll help a lot. But otherwise ask a birder. Or if you don’t know anyone with the knowledge then pick a few common species and listen them up on xenocanto – a brilliant resource for the expert and a useful one for the novice.
I can’t tell you what you can hear outside your house but it’s quite likely to include Robin, Song Thrush and Blackbird, like outside mine, early in the mornings at this time of year. There are also Great Tits (tricky little critters) and Starlings, with Dunnocks (although I haven’t heard one for a while), Collared Doves and Wood Pigeons.
Have a listen. This is the time to start. In March there will be more song and it’ll be more difficult to start if you haven’t got a few nailed down by then. And in April some spring migrants may be adding their voices and that’ll make it all the more fun but also all the more frustrating. If you haven’t learned a few by then you will feel like I do in a foreign land…
Let’s do this together this spring. What can you hear?