A 4.30 am start time for a bird walk always seems unlikely to be attractive to many people, but dawn chorus walks always seem to be popular. This year I was joined by 15 early risers for a walk in the River Lee Country Park.
Nightingales and Robins could be heard singing from the car park while people were getting themselves ready, and they were soon joined by a couple of Blackbirds. This meant that right from the start we were able to listen to the most famous British songbird, as well as the far commoner Blackbird and Robin which I personally think have far nicer songs – if not quite as loud and striking as the song of the Nightingale.
During the morning we were able to listen to and compare the songs of various different species, including those that are often confused with each other, such as Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler, and the very similar Blackcap and Garden Warbler. We also had the opportunity to listen to the songs that readily help to identify species pairs like Chiffchaff & Willow Warbler, and Common Whitethroat & Lesser Whitethroat, species which can otherwise be difficult to separate.
Try listening to the linked recordings below. These have been linked from a website with a large database of songs/calls of European birds (all those linked were recorded in the UK, some from the site where this walk took place - though not during the walk!). Please let us know if you find these links broken.
Sedge Warblers tend to sound 'angry', almost argumentative, with frequent sudden changes in both the speed and strength of delivery. Reed Warblers on the other hand sound almost like they are singing away quietly to themselves.
Blackcap and Garden Warbler song can sometimes be so similar that even experienced observers can find them difficult to tell apart - especially early in the spring when they haven't been heard for a while. Blackcap song tends to be more varied, with frequent changes in pitch, Garden Warbler song is usually flatter and less variable. The real difficulty comes when Blackcaps are singing quietly, especially when they are in sub-song!
Of course we didn’t concentrate only on the birdsong, and took the opportunity to look at other birds and wildlife while we were out, which included brief views of a Sparrowhawk and Muntjac Deer, as well as Shoveler and the now expected Egyptian Geese.
I had already agreed to lead a second walk, this one on behalf of the Lee Valley Regional Park and due to begin at 10.30, so rather than going away and coming back I stayed on site and continued birdwatching – accompanied by one of the participants from the dawn walk and a another lady who we invited to join us.
Most of the time was spent watching over 70 Acres Lake from the viewing platform on the east side, from where we were able to watch the activity without moving from the spot. Recently arrived migrant Hobbies, Swifts, Swallows, and House Martins were hawking for insects over the lake, and Common Terns were actively fishing in the lake and nearby river channel – harassed by the nesting Black-headed Gulls when ever they caught a fish. Nearby two secretive species, Cetti’s Warbler and Nightingale were seen in lakeside willows.
At one point a low pass by a Hobby flushed many of the birds on one of the islands, including two Yellow Wagtails that had previously been feeding unseen amongst low vegetation.
Also seen briefly were two Bar-tailed Godwits, which flew through low over the lake heading north-east. Knowing the area I guessed that they were likely to drop in to feed at the area known as “The Goosefield”, where a number of shallow pools had been created with passage waders in mind. A walk up there proved this to be the case, and we were able to watch them feeding at the edge of one of the pools. One was in near full breeding plumage, the other was in duller non-breeding plumage ('phone-scoped' shots below).
The second walk of the day followed a very similar route to the dawn one, with similar birds seen and heard. The real dawn chorus experience was obviously lacking, but even so there were still some birds singing – and those present on the second walk had the opportunity to see the godwits that had arrived after the earlier walk had finished.