Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Top 10 UK bird noises... by my reckoning

A post that has no scientific value at all and is just about pointless opinion and league tables. I love 'em...

Bird song, bird calls and miscellaneous other bird-made noises are as big a part of the birding experience as looking at the blighters. I started to work out what my favourite UK sounds were in this avian cacophany and even put them in order. I'd like to share them with you. However, before I start honorable mention must be made to those species that didn't quite make the top ten but were in the running. A churring Nightjar instantly brings to mind balmy evenings spent on Surrey heaths; Turtle Doves are stunning lookers already, but add to that the drowsy purr of a singing bird and you could drift off into a warm doze; crisp mornings or foggy afternoons during the colder months are always enlivened by the chuckle overhead of a Fieldfare. But none of them made the final cut. The following, in reverse order, did:

10 BRAMBLING
That nasal call coming from a mixed flock of finches migrating overhead always adds spice to the day. It speaks of migration and tells you that there are gems hidden within the flock. The discordant wheeze speaks of the wild.

MEDITERRANEAN GULL
When I was in my late teens I was seawatching at Dungeness when Keith Redshaw looked up in the air and said that he had heard a Med Gull call. I was stunned - how did this man know what one sounded like? They were still a rare bird then. After a few seconds it floated over us, a full adult. It carried on calling as it went westwards and away from us. The muffled, rounded up-and-down 'yawl' gets me every time. If we had to exterminate all gulls bar one species, I'd spare this one on call alone.

GOLDEN ORIOLE
A poplar plantation in Breckland one still June morning is a memory that will stay with me until the day I die, made so memorable by the echoes of fruity whistling throughout the catherdral-like stands of trees. Light, space and sound combined have never been bettered.

GREEN WOODPECKER
Not lessened by its ubiquity, the laughing yaffle of our smartest 'pecker brightens up any occasion. If it were a person it would be Ken Dodd (if you are under 40, ask your parents).

6 SNIPE
The only sound here that is not a call or song, but a vibration of feathers. A drumming Snipe is something that I rarely hear, but one that always excites me. The rhythmic song isn't bad either. Nor, come to think of it, that furtive, annoyed alarm call they give off when you flush the little blighters. An all round audial good egg!

SWALLOW
'Vit, vit...' Simple contact call, which, whenever heard - which is frequently - always grabs my attention to zoom in on its caller as it flits quickly by. Less is sometimes more.

SWIFT
When I hear a Swift scream I know that summer is here. I then sit out in the garden during subsequent summer evenings watching (and listening) to them tearing through the sky like 'ragged black comets' (as described by Richard Mabey).

JACKDAW
I could listen to a tape loop of the yodelling crow. One can sound like a flock! Three can sound like ten!! Do they call for fun?

TAWNY OWL
It has to be at night, and although I enjoy the 'kewik' call it's the tremulous hoot that gets me every time. The hairs DO stand up on the back of my neck. Mystery and awe.

LAPWING
A displaying bird in flight has so much going on in the sounds that it makes. A range of notes wrapped up in rolls and loops, it can sound almost synthesized, but I never, ever tire of it. There is more than a whiff of rose-tinted glasses about this pick as I cut my ornithological teeth on these waders displaying at Beddington during the mid 1970s.

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