Our Patch: Sounds of Spring

By on Tuesday, June 10, 2014

our_patch_sj_jarmanCan there be a lovelier sound than the dawn chorus of spring? Leaving the windows open may result in us getting up earlier, but what a way to be awoken.

fieldsThe Blackbirds’ familiar song is tuneful and seems bursting with joy. Sometimes when I’m walking home from work late, I can hear them along with Robins, in full song, even though it is dark. I think they are fooled by the lights of Glen Dimplex and sing as though it were morning. It is eerie but beautiful.

Spring sees the return of migrants from Southern Europe and Africa, and the familiar sight of Swallows, Swifts and House Martins is wonderful, but it is the song of warblers which fills the air at the moment.

As I know I am fond of mentioning, we really are lucky to have such diverse habitats in our patch, from manicured lawns and gardens to wild scrubland, waterways and lakes. We therefore manage to attract a diverse mixture of warblers although they are notoriously difficult to identify and photograph.


The first one I saw (well, heard) this year was the Chiffchaff. This bird looks very like other warblers, but can easily be distinguished by its call, which says its name – a repeated ‘chiff-chaff,’ although when you listen for a minute or two they often get it wrong and sing ‘chaff-chiff.’

Next, and very commonly found nearby, is the Whitethroat – the song here is a scratchy warbling sound, but very sweet nonetheless. we even occasionally get these in the garden, usually in autumn, foraging for fuel for the long journey back home.

My usual morning walks take me near the ditch in Whiston Woods where, for the first time, I have seen swallows collecting mud to build their nests. I have unfortunately not yet got close enough to get a picture.

warblerNear here I have seen lots of warblers – Reed, Sedge and Willow Warblers – none of which I can easily distinguish from the others, and which send me home to my field guide, scratching my head as to which one had the greenest plumage, the longest tail or the boldest eye-stripe. I am usually left unsure as to which exact species I saw and at which exact point!

One bird I can easily distinguish from this family is the Blackcap; both the male with his glossy black cap, and the female with her rufous chestnut cap cannot be confused with any other species. This is another bird which can be tempted into the garden and is very partial to lining its nest with German Shepherd dog hair.

Whilst all these beautiful sounds blend together to make up the magical sound of spring, the most interesting sounds I heard this week were from the Mistle Thrush. Renowned for singing even in the worst of weather (storm-cock), I have discovered that they are also brilliant mimics.

I could have sworn I heard a house or car alarm in the middle of the woods, but it seemed too close. When I investigated, I came across a thrush singing its heart out and incorporating the alarm sounds in. Don’t get me wrong – it’s no Lyrebird (worth a Google if you’ve never heard one), but it was making a fair impression of the sounds it had obviously heard before.

The sound it made which really made me smile, however, has a back story.

When walking regularly in the same place, particularly when accompanied by a dog, you get talking to people and even sometimes make great friends. One of our walking friends uses a whistle to call his dog, and this bird repeated several times the exact pitch and rhythm that he uses. I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

It’s been nearly a year since I started writing this column, and as the seasons have almost turned full circle, I am reminded just how much I enjoy sharing our patch.


SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.

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