Choruses: dawn and dusk

Coinciding with International Dawn Chorus Day, the weekend just past was a busy one for SongBirdSignBird. On Saturday morning I was involved in the facilitation of the Kilrea Dawn Chorus, at Culmore Farm. Rachel Bain, Biodiversity Officer with the Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council organised the event, which was also facilitated by David Laughlin of Culmore Farm. Sonya, also from the Council, managed to get us all gathered at the correct location for 5:30am, by which stage the songbird chorus, against a backdrop of heckling rooks and a couple of hoodies, was well underway.

David introduced us to his farm, which is a inspirational example of how farming and nature conservation can be combined. His farm is beautiful, with lots of shaggy hedges and a variety of trees, many of them populating small woods and plantations.

The group consisted of 14 or so hardy individuals who had risen at first light or before.




Kilrea Dawn Chorus participants gathered at  Culmore Farm, while SongBirdSignBird ‘birdwatches with her eyes closed’! 




We took stock of what was in surrounds of the yard: a couple of rival wrens, alerting each other to their presence; as well as robin, great tit, chaffinch and blackbird. Then we rambled off down the lane and across the fields and into the woods. On our way we encountered ‘the nightingale of the north, the blackcap; most of our tit species, the only exception being the long-tailed; a very persistent song thrush; several willow warblers, a few more chaffinches, and swallows. Also heard briefly was a dunnock. Once we reached the pines we met a shy goldcrest, and finally, one of our late risers, a chiffchaff singing his onomatopoeic song.



Kilrea Dawn Chorus participants appreciating the song. 




The ramble back back over the fields culminated in a lovely cooked breakfast by Ann, which set me up to give a presentation on ‘Why do birds sing’, and set participants up to sit back and enjoy. It seemed to go down well, as the Feedback page indicates.

The event was very enjoyable and everybody was glad to have avoided the heavy rain that was forecast for much of the Bank Holiday weekend. Thanks to Rachel, Sonya (especially for the photographs), David, Ann and all the participants for making it such a pleasure.


Indeed, with regard to the rain, SongBirdSignBird was very lucky. The following evening I returned to Learmount Forest, near Park, Co. Derry, an old and beloved haunt. The day had been dark with rain most of the day, but we were lucky and it held off for the hour or so that the walk around the forest lasted. This event was organised by Annie Mullan, Community Engagement Office (Faughan Valley Landscape Partnership) of Derry City Council. As always, Caroline, Catriona and the other workers and volunteers put on brilliant refreshments after the walk. In previous Dawn Chorus events, there has been a wonderful cooked breakfast. On Sunday evening we were treated to wine and wonderful local cheese, as well as other non-alcohol beverages and biscuits.

Prior to that, of course, was the Dusk Chorus. This was a new venture for Learmount Forest. This may have contributed to the massive turn-out, over 40 participants. The long day of rain probably contributed to the fairly quiet chorus, but the advantage was that we got to listen to the individual species in relative isolation without the often-confusing medley of voices that can make the Dawn Chorus a rather overwhelming experience for birdsong beginners. Nevertheless, we had a good enough range: robin; blackbird; song thrush; chaffinch; wren; blue tit; treecreeper; goldcrest; and a brief flurry from a blackcap. The river Faughan often affords the opportunity to see a dipper but with the river in spate, that wasn’t to be on this occasion. I was a little disappointed not to hear a willow warbler or a chiffchaff live; the poor weather during the day may have contributed to their reluctance to sing as these insectivores are likely to have had slim pickings all day and therefore have decided to conserve their energy and possibly have an early night.

However, back at Learmount Community Centre, participants had the opportunity to listen to willow warbler and chiffchaff songs that I recorded during my PhD research, in all probability in Learmount Forest itself. So, with a bit of a delay we heard most of the usual suspects, and the Feedback was very good.

Thanks to Annie, Caroline, all volunteers, and the huge number of participants for making it such a great evening.

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