I crept out of the house at 4.30 am on Sunday to get to Coldfall Wood, one of Haringey’s ancient woodlands, for a Dawn Chorus Walk led by birdman David Darrell-Lambert for the Friends of Coldfall Wood. I’ve been on quite a few of these walks over the years – local ones as well as one at Minsmere in Suffolk – but this was quite the best. It was as if David were conducting a choir. ‘There’s a blackbird over here and one answering there. A wren on that bush. And a robin just above us.’ He could hear each bird in the chorus and taught us to focus on screening out the birds we knew so that we could concentrate on learning a new song. Below the fluting of the blackbird and trill of the wren I learned to identify the chiffchaff – an example of onomatopoeia if ever there was one. We heard a great spotted woodpecker drumming and as it became lighter we saw one of the old nesting holes pecked in a tree.
There’s a sequence to the dawn chorus, with the blackbirds, robins and wrens amongst the first to sing, and the song thrush usually coming in slightly later. By 6 am we could hear the tiniest of British birds – the goldcrest, along with the chiffchaff, nuthatch and blue, great and coal tits. Blackcaps sing a bit later. They are a type of warbler and I’ve seen them in my own garden, but I was really impressed when David identified a willow warbler whose habitat is mixed or deciduous woodland. We heard both stock doves and wood pigeons. Nothing remarkable about those but their song reminded me of a ditty taught by a friend: ‘My feet hurt Betty,’ calls the wood pigeon. ‘My feet hurt,’ says the collared dove. Whereas the stock dove just shouts ‘My feet! My feet!’ Just as we were leaving the woods at about 7 am we heard a chaffinch sing. I know the song of the chaffinch, which can be likened to a cricket bowler running up to the crease and letting go of the ball.
Birds sing in the spring to proclaim their territory and/or to find a mate. At this time, most birds are already breeding but some lonely ones will still be looking for a mate. By late June the birds are quieter and the chorus reduced.
David not only identified the songs but also gave us snippets of interesting information. I can’t remember hearing a dunnock on this walk but David told us that it’s just been discovered that it’s the female that sings, rather the male, which I think might be quite unusual amongst birds. We talked about migration. Even wood pigeons, the most common bird in my garden, are known to migrate – possibly short distance within the UK or maybe to France. There’s not been a tracking device attached to a woodie as far as I know. I love stories of bird migration. The longest migration recorded is of the bar-tailed godwit flying nonstop from its summer breeding ground in Alaska to New Zealand, a distance of over 7000 miles, in nine days.
David is leading two more local Dawn Chorus Walks in Queens Wood on Sunday 30th April at 5 am and 9 am. You can book here.
The wonderful bird photos are by my photographer friend Mike Reid.