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While we collectively remain tucked up safely in our homes, spring is bursting into life all around us. These past couple of weeks, Fiona, Vickii and I would ordinarily have been bursting into a flurry of activity ourselves; through organising, overseeing and delivering aspects of the Ullapool High School S1 Isle Martin residential with various partner groups and individuals. The amended gap in our calendar is another reminder of how we are thoroughly missing exploring the great outdoors with the young residents of the Coigach & Assynt community.

 

So, as we cannot currently connect directly, I am here typing away from my kitchen table to share one of my favourite subjects of the season; that of birds and their singing antics. I hope you enjoy.

 

At this time of year, one of nature’s wonders is the abrupt increase in vocal activity from the resident birds, particularly through their joint orchestration of the dawn chorus as the sun rises on a new day. This music signals the rapid increase of activity in nature’s suddenly busy schedule, and – throughout spring and going into summer – serenades daily life. During outdoor learning engagement, I enjoy pointing out that what sounds like beautiful, harmonious, melodic music to us is actually a cacophony of arguing and swearing at neighbours, as individual birds stake their claim on nesting sites and mates.

 

As you may be aware, each bird species sings their own song (although, interestingly, dialects can differ depending on location). This means that, just as we can learn to identify birds by sight, so too can we tune our ears in and learn to identify them by sound. So, wherever you happen to be, whether in a house or flat, whether you can chill in a garden or throw open a window; take a moment to notice these poetic profanities, and see if you can identify the perpetrators!

(note: clicking on the photos below will link you to each respective bird’s song).

 

The bird song sounds like…

 

…“tea-cher tea-cher tea-cher” repeated:
Great Tit  (© Margaret Holland)
…a squeaky trolley wheeling along:
Dunnock (© Margaret Holland)
…“eeee ee ee ee”:
Blue tit (© Margaret Holland)
…“go go go go teeeaaaammmmmm”
(in a cheery, fast and upbeat way – i.e. their team is winning!):
Chaffinch (© Margaret Holland)
… “go   go    go   teeeaaammmmm”
(in a descending downhearted, slow and sad way – i.e. their team is losing!):
Willow warbler (© Margaret Holland)
…a leaky tap (kind of drip drip drop repeated):
Chiffchaff (© Margaret Holland)
… short bursts of phrase, often repeated three times each:
Song thrush (© Margaret Holland)

…a lyrical song that starts at a high pitch:

Robin (© Margaret Holland)
…a lyrical song, slow and wistful, that starts at a low pitch:
Blackbird (© Margaret Holland)

 

These are just a few species to get you started. The British bird songs website – referred to in the links above – is a great place to explore bird song, and there you can find a variety of additional calls that these species use to communicate with each other too. A recommended app is BirdNET, where you can input a device-recorded song, to be advised on the most likely species singing it.

 

Perhaps see if you can make up your own sound-a-likes of your feathered neighbours to help you remember who is singing what.

 

I hope you enjoy learning the language of the birds, and we look forward to reconnecting with everyone at a time when restrictions have been lifted. In the meantime, please remember to stay safe and follow current Covid-19 guidelines to help protect those most vulnerable within our communities.

 

Photographs for this blog article have been kindly supplied by Margaret Holland.

Katrina Martin

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