Saturday, 2 June 2007


Although it is not yet five in the morning, it has been light for over an hour. I would say that the morning is still and quiet, save for the chorus of singing birds, but there in the background is the low thumping beat of yet another illegal rave in the distant forest. I am becoming crepuscular in nature, feeling most at ease during the brief hours of dawn and dusk – that period when a certain calm descends over the natural world, as if the animals and birds themselves are unsure about the transition between day and night.

It is at dawn that many creatures seem more approachable and this is certainly the case this morning. Sitting exposed, towards the top of a dead dock, is a grasshopper warbler, reeling out its fly reel song. With head angled up above the horizontal the tiny bird proclaims its ownership of this patch of fen, slowly, almost mechanically, turning its head from side to side. It is a magical sight; later in the day the song will continue but by this time the warbler will have retreated into denser vegetation to remain hidden from view. From across the fen come the dawn songs of other warblers: reed and sedge, with whitethroat chipping in. These birds, each holding their own small territory, are contributing to a cacophony of sound. To me, this chorus is the archetypal sound of spring, revealing how our fens, woodlands and hedgerows are alive with breeding birds.

Today there is a more exotic song, echoing out from the blocks of poplars that sit alongside the fen. Vaguely tropical in nature, this is the beautiful fluting call of a golden oriole, a scarce but annual breeding visitor. Several individuals have arrived since my last visit and I spend much of the next hour engaged in a game of hide and seek, searching out brief glimpses of the yellow and black males as they sing from high in the canopy. Peering in from the track, between the rows of poplars, I am rewarded by all too brief views of several individuals and then, a little later, three in flight between adjacent woodlots. It is a magical time but even this early I do not have the place to myself. Such is the draw of these exotic visitors that others have risen early to see them. Later in the day, many more birdwatchers will arrive, lining up along the banks to get their brief glimpses of the orioles. While they may go away happy with what they have seen, they will have missed so much – all those other birds that have greeted the dawn but are even now beginning to fall silent.

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