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Why spring makes me sing

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It might not seem like much fun being woken up at 4.30am to the sounds of birds singing outside your window, but taking the time to listen to the distinct calls of our feathered friends can be a fascinating and rewarding experience – and it could leave you wanting to sing for joy too, insists self-confessed bird nerd Chris Bale...

AS A BIRD photographer I am always keen to share the beauty of the birds I see around me with a wider audience. There are so many species, each adding to a huge array of different, distinguishing features; colours, size, different beaks and bills, long legs, short legs. I’ll never be short of engaging and curious subjects, to share, I hope.

All that being said, it is often something that I cannot demonstrate through the medium of photography that is both most noticeable and overlooked; the various songs, and calls, tuneful or otherwise, that our avian friends make from dawn till dusk.

I’ll appreciate that not everyone was raised with the same nerdy tendencies that I was. When asked, on Facebook, recently what the first record I owned was, the answer I should have given was the complete set of British bird songs, on vinyl, aged four. I actually went with the more embarrassing answer of D.I.S.C.O by Ottawan (which I am now listening to, as I write! Oh dear).

With that in mind, it’s safe to recognise that my ongoing obsession with all things birds started at an early age. Not everyone was as cursed or blessed as I was and I read, often, on social media, folks saying, ‘I was woken up again at 4.30 by that wretched bird singing! What could it possibly have to be so happy about at that time of the morning?’ Well, that’s a loose paraphrase of the actual words, but you get the sentiment.

Whilst I understand that a human’s reasons for joy may well differ from our sunrise-loving friends (especially during the ungodly hours of the morning) and our need for sleep might sometimes contradict their’s, I would implore you all to take an interest in the noises around you and from where they are coming.

The birds around us sing for differing reasons. It is a way to warn off rivals and protect a territory for nest building and raising a brood. It can be used to attract a mate and often complements a physical display of plumage and posturing. A call is the only thing that keeps parents and fledgling birds in contact so that the adults can continue to feed their young. Many birds, also, have a specific call to raise the alarm of imminent danger, like the presence of cats, predatory birds or anything else they see as a potential threat. It’s well worth taking the time to observe, and listen to, all these behaviours. Even gulls have different calls if you listen closely.

Immersing yourself in nature is a great excuse to be still and quiet, either by yourself or with family. Those opportunities seem fewer and farther apart than ever before, yet time and again we hear about the benefits to health and wellbeing that can be associated with spending time in this way.

Trust me when I say it is totally fascinating to learn about the different songs and sounds of different species. Every tree, bush and hedge can become a place of discovery. It can make sitting in traffic a much more interesting and, dare I say it, pleasant experience. Very often a bird can be heard and not seen – it’s pretty neat to know what it is and what you are looking for just by the noise it makes. You can literally do this anywhere in Guernsey, including Town. There is birdsong everywhere, if you listen out for it.

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A family walk or picnic is the prime time to hone your skills. There are apps available to help you listen and identify different birds and compare their songs. It would be remiss of me not to say that playing them back quietly is recommended, so as not to confuse the birds into thinking there is a rival nearby.

This time of year, when birds are displaying to partners and trying to attract a mate, they look as splendid as they will all year and each has its best serenades on the go.

I have found myself at the little car park by Le Creux es Faies ancient burial chamber on Lihou headland several times recently, just sat, simply listening to the birds. So if you are out exploring with children, why not stop there? Check out the dolmen and listen to the cacophony of bird song. I’ve heard robin, blackbird, song thrush, greenfinch, goldfinch, dunnock, firecrest, wren, great tit and blue tit. All from the car park. With that comes the bonus track; distant calls of the seabirds such as gulls, oystercatchers and curlews.

So please, embrace the ‘noise’, be curious and be happy that we share our beautiful island with such wonderful creatures... perhaps that is why they’re singing for joy at 4.30 outside your bedroom window! Who knows?

Helen Hubert

By Helen Hubert
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