It was the prospect of hearing a unique, polyphonic, surround-sound musical that did it.
In a rash moment I can’t actually remember now, I agreed to get up and listen to the dawn chorus in nearby Dulwich Wood last weekend but, if you have ever risen early for this, you’ll know that Listening to the Dawn Chorus is an example of something that is Easier Said Than Done. That is, if you don’t have a three-month-old child, are an insomniac, or, er, a dairy farmer.
The issue with the dawn chorus is that it begins at least an hour before dawn, which is a problem for me those who suffer a degree of separation anxiety when parted from their beds for too long. So the 4am start last weekend wasn’t without its challenges. In fact the morning’s preliminaries went something like this:
V: Groan. What’s the time?
Fella: [Chirpily] Six thirty!
V: [Looks at clock] It’s fourteen minutes past four!
Since this rude awakening, I have discovered that in The Wonderful Weekend Book, Elspeth Thompson suggested that the hardest part of hearing the dawn chorus is getting up – or staying up all night, perhaps – at an unreasonable hour. It’s gratifying to know she had the same problem.
Fortunately Dulwich Wood – an exquisite, gloriously unpubliscised spot of London I’m almost loath to tell you about – was within walking distance and it wasn’t long before we were in the depths of a near iridescent wonderland, whispering and creeping about as if we were participating in a wildlife documentary.
But amid the green and to our delight we heard wrens – supposed to have taken a knock this year in the absence of winter food - blackbirds, blackcaps, robins and song thrushes. We also stalked a tawny owl for a bit, although I’m sure the joke was on us for that one.
Moving through the wood, it was interesting to pass through various territories and hear the according variances in song. I’ve read that at this time of year birdsong is crucial for establishing this territory – and for attracting a mate. In avian terms, it’s kind of now or never. Knowing that, you can almost hear the desperation in the males’ voices.
I’d hoped to be able to post a recording of the birdsong, with free breathing, footfall and aeroplane noise thrown in, but that hasn’t been possible, unfortunately. A picture of some lime tree leaves will have to suffice.
The RSPB has some useful information on the topic and suggests that birdsong carries up to twenty times further in the early morning, when the air is still and background noise reduced. Reason enough, perhaps, to consider getting out of bed before dawn again. Ha, ha.