The town has its own soundscape. Not always pleasant, and often mechanical in origin, it lacks the fluid, lyrical quality of a piece of rural woodland or southern downland, rich as they are with the many and varied notes of different birds and insects. Nevertheless, this human landscape has its avian songsters: the rich warblings of the Blackbird, the more wistful notes of the Robin and the high-pitched rambling song of the Dunnock. I have come to treasure these songsters; best heard during the relative stillness of evening or the dawn of a fresh day, they are a proclamation that nature is still here, living within earshot and going about its business with little heed to our activities.
Interestingly, the last two weeks have seen a different songster holding court – a Blackcap that has established its breeding territory across the collective piece of green space formed by our row of long and narrow back gardens. I first heard the bird early one morning while laying in the bath, the window open and the bright blue sky visible overhead. After a brief pause of disbelief, ’can it be a Blackcap, here?’, the bird picked up its tune. Rich and melodic, the song stands out above all the other songsters, drawing the attention it deserves. Of course, Blackcaps have been here before in the form of brief visits, presumably made by inexperienced males who’ve dropped down into our patch of green but singularly failed to attract a mate. Most were gone with a day or two.
This bird seems different, more assured and with a clearly defined series of song perches used over many different days. Some of the gardens have changed since our last visitation. The now mature patches of nettle and dead willowherb stems next door could provide the sort of nesting cover favoured by this delightful warbler and I peer at them from time to time. It would be rather special were we to discover the birds breeding. Most of the Blackcaps on the nearby nature reserve are already on eggs, as are the pairs breeding by the river just through town. All of this bodes well for our male.
On some mornings the Blackcap is the first sound that I hear as I wake; its melody punctuating my breaking dreams and I feel that I must be out on the borders of some scrubby woodland edge. It no longer sounds, or for that matter ‘feels’, like an urban existence. That these few notes should transport me elsewhere serves to underline the power of bird song. To the Blackcap these are notes that communicate a message of ownership and suitability as a mate; to me they are so much more.