An unexpected dawn chorus

It’s 9am on the first Sunday in May. Like many others today, international dawn chorus day, I was up at 4am. Unfortunately, this was because my youngest is ill, not because I planned an early start to hear the birds. While groggy and a little under-the-weather myself, once she fell back into a fitful sleep I realised there was no way I would sleep well now that I was up. I went downstairs, opened the back door, put the kettle on.

4.45am. I’m in my garden. Cadences and melody are tumbling down from the wooded hillside behind my home. With my warm cup of tea, dressing gown and slippers, I wander into the glimmering coastal light. My childhood learning kicks in, immediately trying to hone in to individual songs and sounds, identifying birds like you might pick out individual instruments in an orchestra. Blackbird, robin, song thrush, blackcap, blue tit, chaffinch… later, woodpecker drilling through cockerel crow and swallows on the wing, chirruping. Such is the ingrained nature of doing this that for a while I forget to simply sink into the whole, to enfold myself into the rising cacophony.

After I do refocus, the intricate depth of sound means all other worries fade into the background for a while. Each bird has its own niche, its own place in the chorus; the woods ripple and breathe. An image flashes into my mind of sound waves as starling murmurations, banking and twisting, furiously working separately, together.

6.10am. The sun is already has a little warmth. It’s so difficult now to remember how long the winter blankets were out, how we struggled through February and tackled the Beast from the East head on in early March. I wander round the garden. My new viburnum shrub, which had all its new buds destroyed by the 2-foot snowdrift that engulfed it just 8 weeks ago, is thriving. Tulips straight and tall, pear blossoms on my tiny, autumn-planted pear tree, lilac flowers on the rosemary shrub.

My little one, curly haired and suffering from asthma, gives up on her own sleep struggle just after 6.30am. She comes into the garden, tousled and squinting, and smiles. She curls up on the bench and listens, naming the birds that flit to the bird feeders along the garden fence. I tell her about the early-morning bird symphony. Her eyes widen; tomorrow, mummy, can I hear it too?

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