In all honesty it started three autumns ago. My fellow birders were picking up Tree Pipit calls and I was failing to do so. This was unusual, as I had quite a good ear and had never had any trouble picking Tree Pipits up before. I began to get a little concerned when, whilst standing next to somebody who picked up a couple of birds calling overhead in quick succession, I hadn’t heard a thing.
Last autumn I partook in a lot of vismigging and was surprised that the Redwing flocks were not calling as they passed through. I was even more surprised when they were not calling at night, even at times when others were reporting heavy nocturnal passage with much calling being heard. I wondered why the skies above my house remained silent, but deep down my suspicions were being aroused.
So far this year I have seen plenty of Swifts, enjoying their flocks racing overhead in numbers that have been up on recent years. Funny thing is, none of them have been calling...
This afternoon we visited our good friends Gordon and Mieko Hay. Whilst having a late lunch in their garden, Gordon leapt up as a flock off Swifts scythed overhead, 50+ strong and some sight in the blue sky. They were silent. I had to ask...
“Gordon, can you hear them?”
Needless to say, yes he could, quite clearly. So could Katrina and Mieko. For the next hour, every time a group of Swifts rushed through, I asked if they were audible. And every time that the answer was in the affirmative, I had to concede that I couldn’t hear a thing.
It was a sad afternoon. My fears had been realised. There are certain bird calls off of my register. I had been clinging to the hope that it wasn’t so. I could (and can) still hear a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, calling and singing crests plus Long-tailed Tits, so assumed that the Tree Pipits, Redwings and Swifts must still be in range. Obviously not.
There are worse things happening to many people right now, but it is hard not to feel despondent at not being able to hear these calls any longer - although I ought to temper that by admitting that if these birds are very close, I still can. A Tree Pipit last autumn ‘wheezed’ its way over, directly above me, at Ranmore; tree-flushed Redwings were audible in the garden this spring; and to round this afternoon off, a small group of Swifts, that chased each-other at roof-top height, were loud and clear to me. So, good news and bad news really. Most of these birds will be inaudible to my ear. When I can hear them, I need to appreciate them all the more. I cannot take them for granted any longer.