Dawn Chorus Walk, 4.45am Sunday 29 April 2018


As I reflect on this year’s dawn chorus, I am reminded that I have experienced the magic of this event every year now for the last ten … still it takes practice and keen ears to identify the many birds from their respective melodies, especially with several in full song at the same time.

I would say that every time is equally magical; for me the dawn chorus – birds marking their territorial claim – is a timeless reminder of the beauty of nature.

The highlight of the morning were three amigos: reed warbler, Cetti’s warbler and sedge warbler, in fairly close proximity, but very different with their unique-sounding songs.

In the trees by the bridge over the Itchen at Chilland, a reed warbler was loud and vocal, having a rather harsh, guttural, ‘churring’ sound, and amongst the reeds were both Cetti’s and sedge warbler.

The song of Cetti’s was the sweetest of the three, penetrating the air with a sudden burst of clear notes lasting several seconds before falling silent again, whereas sedge is a varied song with sweet melodic notes interspersed with more chattering tones.

Other warblers, blackcap and chiffchaff, were surprisingly quiet, each being heard just on a single occasion.

My favourite song has to be the blackcap with its striking, rich melody – quite beautiful; the chiffchaff, with its two-noted “chiff .. chaff” call repeated almost incessantly, is simplicity itself.

Another high point of the morning was the tiny goldcrest, distinguishable by a yellow/orange-centred crown, heard amongst the pine trees at the back of the houses at Easton – a high-pitched sweet-sounding call, quite audible over some distance for such a small bird.

As usual the warble-like melody of the robin marked the beginning of the chorus, on the stroke of 5 o’clock, and also in the darkness, blackbird, the loudest of the song birds with its flute-like call, and song thrush, also having a very musical call, were soon to follow.

As the day dawned and torches were extinguished, the tits, represented by the pinking call of great tit, and the clear, high-pitched tremolo of blue tit, were heard.

The cheerful, musical notes of both chaffinch and goldfinch were duly heard, but notably absent was greenfinch – numbers of which have drastically dwindled in recent years caused by a parasitic disease.

A mute swan was seen on the water, as were a few gadwall ducks, quietly chuntering amongst themselves.

“Quack, quack” said the duck … a mallard, and the loud, explosive cry of a moorhen, echoed over the river.

In the vegetation, a reed bunting was calling, although an rather unmusical song.

In the lime trees on the drive up from Lord Grey’s (who was an avid bird watcher) enclosure were a number of jackdaws – with their unmistakable grey head-backs.

Other notables were green woodpecker, yellow hammer, nuthatch, stock dove, stonechat, and kestrel.

And finally, as we arrived back at our cars, where bacon-baps, coffee and tea were warmly waiting, a mistle thrush was spotted, not so much in song as jumping somewhat joyfully on the green turf of the football pitch.

It had been a long 2.30 hour circular walk, covering some 3.5 miles along the old Watercress Line railway track and through the Itchen valley at Martyr Worthy, with a record 35 species.

The weather was rather dull, with no spectacular sunrise as in previous years, but any rain kindly held off.

The event, organised by The Watercress Way, was well attended by a group of 26 walkers.

A truly enjoyable, invigorating start to the day!

Bruce Graham, Watercress Way trustee

Species list:

Pigeon, Robin, Blackbird, Song thrush, Pheasant, Blackcap, Wren, Great tit, Crow, Blue tit, Gadwell, Mallard, Magpie, Moorhen, Green woodpecker, Goldcrest, Stock dove, House sparrow, Chaffinch, Kestrel, Starling, Goldfinch, Raven, Nuthatch, Peacock, Chiffchaff, Sedge warbler, Cetti’s warbler,Reed warbler, Stonechat, Reed bunting, Yellowhammer, Swan, Jackdaw, Mistle thrush.

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