The Bird That Was not There.

The rain had stopped about 10 minutes before I parked the car by The Cricketers pub.  If I was going to pick a favorite tetrad it would be w.  You can’t do it all in one go as like some of the others it straddles the river, but both sides feel like real countryside -trees, insects, birds; and for a good part of the time, few people.  Most times I do the Bill Quay side as it is easier to get to.

I drop down to the trees that run north chasing the Tyne downstream.  Its a mix of deciduous and pine trees that give a sense of going somewhere special.  Right from the early days in January this is where I had planned to get ‘my’ rare bird; the one that would put the NZ26 challenge on the map.

Did I say I was an optimist by birth?

The still, Autumn, anticyclonic weather had given way to grey fog and light drizzle by the time I got there, but there were still many Yellow-browed Warblers in the North East.

Green was draining from the leaves and many lay on the ground.  Bathed in a thin film of water no wind blew them away.  Stuck to the pavement forming pools of colour with the light shining up not down.  It reminded me of a painting of the surface of a pool I had once seen, but cannot remember the artist.  As you looked at the shiny surface, you could pick out fish gliding beneath.  And that’s how I saw these leaves.

I think this does justice to the magic of the bird that was not there.

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Birding with your eyes closed.

I am probably going to put together three things that should not really go. Something like a Hawaiian Pizza, but less wrong -noise pollution; light pollution; and listening to bird song.

Its 4 am on a Bank Holiday Monday and I do not need to be awake, but. . .

Outside a Robin is singing whilst it cuts through the double glazing and breaks into my dreams. I really should be outside to hear all the subtleties, but it’s clearly a Robin.  You see I had a misspent childhood which included a couple of cassettes and records of bird songs in particular Eric Simms Woodland and Garden birds.  Without this skill my tetrad totals would be a lot poorer, but I would probably get more sleep.

To me though it is a real privilege to have birds choosing to sing from our garden. I am too young to have been brought up in the era of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, but I came under her spell when I came across her books in second hand shop while doing my A-Levels. The thought that the future could be one where there was no bird song was something I never grew out of.

Carson talked though of the absence of birds.  50 years on they are faced with an increased impact of volume and intensity of background noise.  This noise pollution effects bird’s singing including pushing more birds to sing at quite times of day i.e. after dark.  Though its not dark due to the light pollution caused by street lighting.  So its not their fault if they wake you up.  And its not their fault if noise pollution is making us deaf to nature.

However, if you have read this far I assume you do listen to bird song.  If that’s the case I would search out Donald Kroodsma’s The Singing Life of Birds.  Whilst it is based on American birds you will never listen to bird song the same again.

Go back to the Robin at 4 am.  There is nothing to distract you and you know its a Robin. But while you listen to it sing it changes the way the notes are put together even in this 2 minute Xeno Canto clip.  In a short article in Good Birders Don’t Wear White Kroodsma does not just want to know its a Robin (that’s the easy part).  He wants to know about that individual Robin -‘What’s on his mind?’  ‘Is he reacting to a neighbour? Or is its neighbour responding to him?’

He suggests next time you hear a singing bird that intrigues you, sit down and get comfortable, take out a pencil and paper, and listen, writing down 20 questions that come to mind.  You will realise that answering some of these questions would take a life time, but others you will answer with a little attentive listening’

Make sure they are about the bird singing as ‘Why am I awake at 4 am? Does not count as a question.

And if you find a Robin too complex to start with try a Reed Bunting.  It will surprise you.