Monday, 22 April 2013


It has been just over a week since the weather changed and spring uncoiled herself from the grip of winter, a winter uncharacteristically long and reluctant to shift. Since that Sunday morning, when everything suddenly felt different, the countryside has burst into life. The half-light of dawn echoes to a chorus of bird song. Initially dominated by the songs of resident species like robin, dunnock and blackbird, it now carries the added notes of newly arrived chiffchaff, blackcap and willow warbler. Blocks of forest clear-fell, initially silent, now carry the descending notes of woodlark and tree pipit. It is as if everything had been held back and is now rushing into the breeding season headlong.

Even my small urban garden is full of activity. Both dunnock and blackbird have been collecting nesting material; the dunnock is well on and clearly lining the nest, the blackbird a bit further behind and taking mud to form part of the nest’s core structure. The blue tits have been busy adding moss to the nest box on the studio, seemingly a protracted process and sometimes involving the removal of material viewed as unsuitable. A quick check with my endoscope (a tiny camera on a flexible cable) revealed that the tits have got the base of the nest finished but still have some way to go.

Then there are the woodpigeons, comical in their approach to nest construction. The pigeon pair have been rather haphazard in their selection of sticks and other material for the nest that they are building in next door’s apple tree. Oversized sticks are collected with zeal but then dropped as the bird struggles to add them to the nest. One of the pair even tried to remove a long piece of ivy, still attached to a wall; the bird struggled for a dozen minutes before accepting that this was one tug-of-war that it simply was not going to win.

I suspect that over the next few weeks the pace of spring will continue to increase, as birds shift from nest building through to egg-laying and the rearing of chicks. Everything seems to happen so quickly, as the vegetation unfolds, the insects emerge and the nesting season moves into top gear. It is such an exhilarating time of the year and there is a real sense that new life is being created. In fact, so much seems to be going on that it can sometimes be a struggle to keep up with it all. As someone who spends a lot of hours studying birds and their nesting behaviour, it can feel as if everything is happening at once, the days and weeks quickly slipping by towards mid-summer and beyond.

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