The Cotswold chorus of birdsong
15:24 22 May 2015
It’s now full speed ahead into summer, with the natural world hitting the fast lane as the warmer weather approaches. Sue Bradley discovers the sounds and sights of summer
Some of the world’s finest musical performers are now taking centre stage at venues near you, but there’s no need to queue for tickets. Instead set the alarm for dawn, open the window and lie back and immerse yourself in the sound of the Cotswolds Chorus. Better still, get up even earlier on a fine, clear day, dress warmly and head for a local woodland to enjoy these virtuoso performances in glorious surround sound.
Nature’s symphony is at its best now that the full complement of avian performers has assembled, with summer visitors such as nightingales, chiffchaffs and blackcaps adding their voices to the songs of home-grown superstars such as blackbirds and robins. Together they produce a rich tapestry of sound, their individual calls building into an intricate counterpoint that is best experienced during the still air of early morning, before its beauty is obscured by the drone of daily life.
Robins, blackbirds and song thrushes are usually the first voices to emerge around an hour before sunrise, producing beautiful solos before the rest of the ensemble join in.
Some species, such as house sparrows, know just one simple melody, while birds such as song thrushes and nightingales have large repertoires. Most of the performers choose a lofty perch from which to perform, while buntings and skylarks are among those that sing on the wing.
Generally the Cotswold Chorus is a male-voice choir, with its members singing their hearts out as the days lengthen in the hope of making females aware of their presence and warning rivals to keep away from their territories.
Experts have found that all birdsong is learned rather than being inherited, with fledglings initially producing ‘subsongs’ that develop as the year progresses. Starlings even go as far as to reproduce man made sounds that they encounter. The source of a bird’s song is its syrinx, which in simple terms is a kind of double voice box at the bottom of their windpipe that contains two sets of membranes and muscles that vibrate at high frequencies as air is exhaled. Some species produce more than one note at a time by alternating the lungs it uses to breathe in and out.
Nature reserves looked after by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, particularly Lower Woods, Siccaridge Woods near Sapperton and Betty Daw’s Wood near Dymock, are among the top spots for securing the best seats for the Cotswolds Chorus.
The song of the nightingale is a sound of early summer that has inspired lines from some of the greatest names in English literature.
John Keats described it as a ‘light-winged Dryad of the trees’, while in a story by Oscar Wilde, a nightingale sings as it sacrifices itself in order to create a perfect rose for a love-struck student. The bird’s name dates back many years and is said to mean ‘night songstress’, even though it’s the males that make the beautiful music.
Known in Latin as Luscinia megarhynchos, the nightingale is a migratory bird belonging to the thrush family. It arrives in the UK in April and sings its melodious combinations of high and low notes during May and early June, both day and night, before returning to Africa to overwinter between July and September.
While its rich song is unmistakable, the nightingale is hard to spot due to its preference for hiding in thick bushes and brambles. It is a little larger than a robin and pale brown in colour with a long chestnut-coloured tail.
Nightingales feed on ground-living insects. They build nests from dead leaves, grass and hair in brambles or nettles that are fairly close to the ground and lay their eggs in May, with their young flying after 11 days.
Walk 4 Wildlife
Runners and joggers will be joining those who prefer to enjoy Gloucestershire’s glorious countryside at a more leisurely pace for this year’s Walk 4 Wildlife, which takes place on Sunday June 28.
The event, one of the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s key fundraisers, is set to cover a 13-mile route taking in no fewer than three peaks.
It starts at Crickley Hill, with its spectacular views of the Cotswold escarpment, before passing through beautiful beech woodlands and limestone grassland to reach Coopers Hill and then crossing farm land to reach Robinswood Hill.
A shorter route covering three miles is also being organised around Robinswood Hill for children and less energetic walkers.
Everybody taking part will be awarded a medal and refreshments will be provided at the half way point of the route. Meanwhile walkers reaching the end of the route will be able to able to take part in activities organised as part of the Trust’s Go Wild event, at which there will be a climbing wall, obstacle course, archery sessions, crafts and Landrover and tractor rides.
GWT Community fundraiser Sara Clark says Walk 4 Wildlife is a great way to exercise the body and the mind.
“The route will especially appeal to people who enjoy trail running as it offers several different terrains,” she says.
“Everybody taking part in Walk 4 Wildlife will be treated to beautiful views; it’s a great way to see Gloucestershire from a different view point and it’s a great day out for families.”