Bird song (50, the end)

I’ve enjoyed putting together these 50 blog posts on bird song and I’ve had a great deal of very positive feedback on them (which is obviously very nice). They seem to have hit the mark with many of you.

I’ll finish with two short lists of bird songs: one of species that I have actually heard, and the other of ones that I’d like to hear. The first list is just what popped into my head when I started thinking about it. What strikes me is that the songs that I remember and would like to hear again are those that take me most easily back to a place, and usually to a time, maybe just a few hours, when I felt particularly at peace.

List one – species I have heard

Great Snipe: I haven’t heard this song since the summer of 1978 when I was an undergraduate member of an expedition (ringing wading birds) to the Hardangrvidda plateau in Norway. Great Snipe just look like portly Snipe but they display at leks where males get together at dusk, stand near each other and make this sound while standing upright and flicking out their wings and tails to display white patches in the gloom. If you ever get the chance tosee and hear this behaviour (withoutr disturbing the birds) then take it. I haven’t heard this song for 42 years but it takes me right back to that place.

Storm Petrel: this is another sound that takes me back to a place and a sunner evening, the song of the Storm Petrel, a small seabird which nests in colonies in burrows or in boulder beaches. This recording is from Shetland which is where I first heard this song in a colony of Storm Petrels on the island of Mousa where not only are there lots of the birds nesting out of sight in the rocks of the boulder beach but also in the walls of the iron age broch. Imagine sitting as the light falls, and these dark, small seabirds come to land and the air is full of the songs of hidden birds incubating their single eggs.

Marsh Warbler: I’ve heard this a few times in the UK and abroad. The Marsh Warbler is a famous mimic. The basic song sounds quite like its relatives the Reed and Sedge Warblers but a lot more varied. And the bird throws in snatches of other species’ songs too, including bits of song from species with which it spends our winter in Africa. So you can get a mix of straight Marsh Warbler, European species and African species in the song of an individual bird. And therefore you have to know your birds across two continents to spot and identify the inserts. That’s too much for my knowledge. But there is a philosophical/scientific issue here: how do you know, for sure, what is mimicry and what is simply novel extemporisation in such a song? When I listen to my local Starlings I have the same issue as I often hear them ‘do’ a Red Kite call and I think ‘That sounds just like a Red Kite’ but did the Starling copy it or just come up with a nice noise on its own? I think in that case they are copied because I don’t think my local Starlings ‘did’ Red Kites when there weren’t Red Kites around here to be copied – but is my recollection accurate? Anyway, here’s a Marsh Warbler from Germany and see if you can pick out any species (I think there is a Blackbird in there at least):

Wood Thrush: this is a North American species which looks quite like one of our thrushes, sounds quite like one of our thrushes, lives in woodland like our thrushes but isn’t very closely related at all to our thrushes. But it’s one North American bird species that is quite easy for a Brit (at least this Brit) to learn and remember. And it’s beautiful and sings of spring. This one from Tennessee:

Ovenbird: this isn’t a great song but it is another North American song that I have learned, and I remember hearing it as I went into a diner in Arkansas to have breakfast and then remembering what it was somewhere up the road in Missouri – good breakfast though. And this one was recorded in Arkansas.

So, which species would you have listed and why? Which bird songs do you most like, or which are most redolent of a time, place or feeling?

List 2 – species I’d like to hear:

I’d like to hear lots of birds, but here are just a couple of species that I have a bit of an itch to hear.

Jack Snipe: I don’t have a thing about snipe but they are quite special. I’d love to hear the galloping horses song of the Jack Snipe one day. Here is one from Norway which starts with a drumming Common Snipe and moves on to the Jack Snipe;

Lyrebird: another famous mimic. Poignantly David Attenborough’s Life of Birds included a Superb Lyrebird singing which included it mimicking the sound of a chain saw cutting down the very habitat in which it lived. This recording is from Victoria, Australia and I gather includes mimicry of Eastern Whipbird, Black Cockatoo, Laughing Kookaburra, Red Wattlebird, Blackbird and Currawong:

It’s not a very long list is it? What would be on yours? I might adopt some of them as my own in future.


7 Replies to “Bird song (50, the end)”

  1. There would be three on my list. Turtle dove, Eurasian hoopoe and Golden oriole. All three take me back to happy holidays in France, sitting beside a lake watching wildlife. I’m going in search of the Turtle dove in Dorset, so fingers crossed.

  2. One of the first birds to spring into mind as one I want to hear again I cannot name. It was on the Swedish island of Stora Fjäderägg in spring 2013, we had been there for a fortnight and packed everything up taken down almost all the mist nets and this bird sang, we had no idea what it was. We tried to walk it into a lift net but it wouldn’t go in and nor could you get anything other that a fleeting glimpse of a small brown bird. It would let you very close but always stayed in the thickest darkest conifers ( around head height or just above) about Robin sized. we were back out at first light (02:00 am) and it still sang. All of us were well travelled but it completely baffled us.
    One “song” you haven’t featured and I suppose in one way is not a song and that is the displaying call of a male Hen Harrier.
    What I haven’t heard , well no idea there is so much.

  3. A very enjoyable selection, Song Thrush / Blackbird as beautiful as ever, but it was Snipe,Dunlin,
    and Golden Plover that transported me elsewhere.
    Woodcock should be on any future list.
    I am deeply envious of anybody who has travelled to the far north of Europe for waders.

  4. Thank you for this entertaining and timely series.
    List 1: the Willow Tit’s song – especially the version that includes Nightingale -type notes. Only ever heard it once, back in 2004, on a warm early morning in April, by the side of a chalk stream, with the hum of bees in a large fallen Wild Cherry in full bloom.
    Perhaps it was all a dream. If so this bird needs to go into LIst 2 as well….

  5. I’m surprised there’s not more comments on this blog Mark. I think the series has been wonderful and a great idea. Some of the blogs have prompted nostalgia, others desire. All have been interesting while some have been fascinating. So thank you so much for both the inspiration and effort to put them together. Much appreciated.

    I’d love to hear nightingale again, and I’d love to be somewhere where cranes live, fly about calling, and display.

  6. I’m very partial to the sound of jackdaws. I especially enjoy the cacophony of large flocks as they prepare to roost for the night.

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