Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Tuning into wildlife can be quite a hoot!

A Dunnock in full song
As far back as I can remember, I have always had an ear sub-consciously tuned into the sounds of wildlife.  It does not seem to matter what I am doing – I might be in a meeting, reading the Sunday papers or in full conversation with someone, when an alarm call or snippet of song will override everything and burst into my conscience!  Some of my friends (so called!) say that this happens to me because my ears stick out at right angles – giving me one of the many nicknames I had at school of “world cup”!!

Alarm calls in particular, are very useful to pick up, as they give me time to turn and glimpse the little male Sparrowhawk as it twists and turns through the trees or the Red Kite gliding over the fields behind me, which I would have undoubtedly missed if the calls had not made me aware.

At this time of year, it is the winter flocks of small birds, usually made up of mixed tit species, with the odd Goldcrest thrown in for good measure, that create a sudden high pitched din of various alarm calls, seemingly well before the predator appears – one of the advantages of being part of a group with numerous eyes all on the lookout for danger.

In the summer months the alarm system seems to be handed over to the Swallows and Martins, who literally have a bird’s eye view of what is lurking in the shadows. I have often thought that predators such as the Sparrowhawk must dread the return of these summer visitors, as one short alarm call from above, sends every small bird below hurtling to the safety of some thick, impenetrable cover.

The nights so far this autumn and the early part of winter, have been filled with the hoots and woos of Tawny owls. They are trying to kick out the youngsters and set up new territories, (I have some sympathy with Tawnies on this front!) but what a racket it has been this year! Although the noise goes on all night, they gather together in the large Oak outside my bedroom window as the very first glimmers of the new day appear, to have one final set to – so there has been no need to set the alarm clock for what seems like months!!

As the hootathon dies down, a little Dunnock, which roosts every night in the honeysuckle directly  beneath the open bedroom window takes over, with a short and at first, rather muted little burst of song, as though it is not quite sure if singing is allowed while it is still so dark. But it soon ups the volume as it is joined by the local Robin and from this morning, the Song thrush.

I had a meeting at the Hampshire Wildlife Trust offices yesterday and as I arrived in their car park and opened the car door, I was greeted by the drifting notes of a distant Mistle thrush, singing from the very top of a Beech tree – such an evocative spring sound. Even though 2013 has a few more weeks to run, already plans are under way for next year’s breeding season. Now that is a comforting thought!       
Tawny owls have been particularly noisy this autumn

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