Where does the time go? I signed off my previous post by saying ‘more on Willow Warblers shortly’ – and it’s already nearing the end of May!
I always used to think that the rambling sound of the Skylark high overhead was the most dominant sound of spring. But as the Skylark sings for most of the year and not just in spring, you get used to it always in the background (if you’re lucky enough to be away from the noise of traffic). It hovers high above your head, difficult to see against the bright sky, until it parachutes back down to the field and out of sight.
For me though, the sound of the Willow Warbler signifies the real start of spring. I heard my first one of the year singing in the third week of April, and because the blossom was still in its infancy, I was lucky enough to get good enough views to take the picture above. The cascading lament of this warbler dominates the gardens and woodlands around Nairn from spring into early summer. It announces its arrival with gusto; sitting high on a tree and singing its heart out as it competes with other males for the best ground and the best female!
Once you hear the Willow Warbler it is very closely followed by the rich, resonant sound of the Blackcap: a beautiful bubbling sound, akin to water running over rocks. These birds often show themselves well just after arrival, but as the blossom takes over the trees it is difficult to pick them out. Two pairs have made their homes in the woodland across the road from my house, and they can be heard on every visit – but not seen! So I sit with my camera in hand, just in case!
The blossom and leaves on the trees can make birdwatching at this time of year quite frustrating. That’s why I have tried very hard to attune my hearing to the sounds the birds make. So when you hear the omnipresent cascading warble in the air at this time of year and you can’t see where it is coming from, it is likely to be the Willow Warbler.
However, as always, it’s not that easy! Our skies, trees and fields are full of migrants now, and it is nearly impossible to hold onto the recognition of their songs. The Willow Warbler song is very distinct, and once you identify it you will probably remember it forever, but I do not have the skills of the more dedicated birders when it comes to the multitude of sounds created by the migrants. Those lucky few, who started to indulge themselves in this game as children, have the advantage of youth when the sounds stick in the memory a lot easier.
With the benefit of repetition, I can remember the sounds of the resident birds (Blackbird, Thrush, Robin Wren etc.). When the migrants arrive though, I know I have heard a song before, but just can’t place it. For instance, in early spring I always confuse the sounds of the Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Whitethroat. I need to catch sight of the bird in song, so that as spring turns to summer, and the songs have been repeated every day, they start to lodge themselves in my memory; for a short while anyway!
And then we have the sights and sounds of the Martins, Swallows and Swifts: now there’s another story, and hopefully I will talk about that in a later post (but not so long next time!).