The silence of dawn

This morning I woke about half an hour before my alarm and lay in bed cherishing those last few minutes before I had to crawl out from under my duvet. As I lay there, with a cool breeze flowing in through the window and the light starting to seep around the edges of the blinds, I noticed how quiet it was outside. There was near silence, apart from the ever present background rumble of a distant main road.

The peace was momentarily punctuated by a singing wren but he soon stopped. In the far distance there was a carrion crow calling as it flew over the cattle fields and an occasional short argument between jackdaws in the nearby sycamores.

Where has the vibrant and energised dawn chorus gone from the months past? Where is the song thrush starting its calling from the darkness, where is the blackbird slowly joining in and where is the robin backing them up?

It’s a sign that already the breeding season has moved on.

There are several reasons why the dawn chorus stops at this time of year. Some birds have finished breeding so there’s no need sing; they don’t maintain a territory once their fledglings have gone. Others may still have chicks in the nest and don’t sing to avoid attracting predators. Also, once breeding is over, the adult birds moult which makes them more vulnerable to predators; singing would just increase the risk.

It did strike me, lying there in almost silence, almost without bird song, that one day this could be the norm, even at the height of spring. Despite the efforts of conservationists, including amateurs like me, birds populations are continuing to decline. Without greater action, by many more people and organisations, a vibrant and rapturous dawn chorus could be a thing of the past – already it is much diminished.

A conclusion to survey season

Last weekend I did my last bird survey of the breeding season, having had a busy few months of recording since the beginning of March. This year I’ve been doing surveys at two nature reserves for Cheshire Wildlife Trust, I’ve completed a Breeding Bird Survey for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in a grid square near Bulkeley, I’ve taken part in the BTO’s House Martin Survey and I did a bit of surveying for the RSPB when I stayed on Ramsey Island.

The surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust, at its Bagmere and Blakenhall Moss reserves, were done once a month during March, April, May and June, and this year the overall bird lists for the sites increased further. Over the course of the four visits to Bagmere, 39 species were recorded and this was two less than last year. However, I also made a note of species when I spent a day there with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers and that visit brought the total up to 45. It was disappointing not to record willow tits at Bagmere this year, a red-listed species, particularly as some nest boxes have now been put up for them; I haven’t seen them at the site since December last year. However, it was good to hear water rail on each visit and to add some new species including garden warbler and grasshopper warbler. This year I didn’t record any confirmed breeding species at Bagmere but I did record 19 probables and 12 possibles.


At Blakenhall, the transformation from woodland to wetland continues to increase the species seen at the reserve. Up until a couple of years ago there would have only been woodland species but now there is a range of both wintering and breeding wildfowl. In total, 47 species were recorded, up from 35 last year and there were five species confirmed as breeding including blue tit, great tit, Canada goose, greylag goose and treecreeper. In addition, 12 probables and 22 possibles were recorded. There were some new species at Blakenhall too including grasshopper warbler, spotted flycatcher, swallow, shoveler, tufted duck and little owl.


I’ve now completed two years’ of Winter Bird Surveys and Breeding Bird Surveys at Bagmere and Blakenhall, and these have set a baseline for the sites as they were the first surveys of birds done by the Wildlife Trust at the reserves. I’ve now recorded a total of 53 species at Bagmere and 59 at Blakenhall.

The House Martin Survey is being undertaken for one year only, to help to assess the state of the house martin population in the UK. My second visit to my allocated grid square added another nest to the one recorded during the previous visit in June. However, it was only the first one that appeared to being used, with adult birds visiting to feed chicks. Fortunately, there are more house martins in the area, with colonies just outside my grid square. It was also nice to see a good dozen or more floating around in the evening sky last night when I was at a BBQ only a couple of hundred metres from the boundary of my square.

My hopes were raised that the old house martin nest on the side of my house might still be used this year as I saw birds making fleeting visits over a couple of days and I found droppings beneath the nest when I came back from my two weeks on Ramsey Island. However, those hopes have gone as the birds’ interest didn’t last long and it’s now too late for a pair to breed in the nest. Maybe next year!


I really enjoy doing the bird surveys, not only because I’m doing something practical to support conservation efforts, but also because it’s lovely to spend a couple of early hours on spring mornings wandering around nature reserves. However, I have to say that the bird survey I helped with on my first day on Ramsey Island was the most fun and memorable of the year. The seabird survey by jet boat in warm summer sunshine was spectacular and a world away from the freezing cold March morning at Bagmere when I crunched my way around the hushed, snow coated reserve with my fingers, toes and nose being nipped by the frost.

White-winged Black Tern

Last week while working in Lincolnshire I stayed overnight near Boston.  With a spare evening, I decided to take a look around RSPB Frampton Marsh, which is just south of the town.

While there I saw a nice range of wildlife including some I don’t see very often including spoonbills, avocets and little egrets. However, there was one bird that really caught my eye.  I’m not a twitcher, or even a birder, more a general nature enthusiast, but I have to say I was quite excited to see a rarity while wandering around the nature reserve.

A white-winged black tern was flying back and forth over the wetlands enabling those there to get a good view of it. According to the Collins Bird Guide, there are around 40 records of these lovely birds in the UK each year, so I was pretty lucky to see it and even get (a pretty rubbish) photo of it.  It’s a stunning looking bird in its summer plumage with its black body, and white and grey wings.


Wybunbury Moss in High Summer

The next four weeks or so are, on average, the warmest of the year and the summer should be at its peak.  It doesn’t seem like high summer as I write this as the rain is falling and the temperatures are in the teens.  However, yesterday was a bit better and I took a walk around Wybunbury Moss, something I haven’t done for quite a while. IMG_6853 My now regular circular walk through the woodlands and meadows around the outside of the Moss really help to give me a sense of the moving seasons and how this small bit of countryside changes as the year moves on.  I got a good list of 30 birds yesterday (all recorded using the BirdTrack smartphone app, which uploads records to the British Trust Ornithology’s database) but the Moss is much quieter now than previous months.  The great rush to breed is now reducing and there was less bird song to be heard; July is a time when many birds are moulting after their broods have fledged so they tend to sing much less. Whilst the birds are quieter, the wild flowers are much ‘louder’ now and there’s quite a good show at Wybunbury.  Wandering around the area I saw plenty of flowers I knew and plenty I’ve yet to learn the names of but those I could identify included red campion, honeysuckle, rosebay willowherb, foxglove and common spotted orchid. In addition, the brambles aren’t just flowering, they’re starting to show the first signs of a good crop of blackberries. IMG_6857IMG_6855IMG_6859IMG_6854IMG_6852 As well as birds and flowers, there were a few butterflies around to be seen including large white and spotted wood.

There were also some mammals around including rabbits and the little dexter cattle being used to manage the grassland around the outside of the Moss.  They look a bit like Spanish fighting bulls but they’re quite friendly and are more like large pointy-horned dogs.

IMG_6862 On a slightly depressing note, the autumn migration has already started with the swifts starting to make their long return journeys south.  Thankfully, there’s still quite a few weeks of summer left!