I’m suffering from a case of too many early mornings.  I do tend to wake up earlier and earlier as the nights get shorter approaching the summer solstice (only 5 weeks away!), but actually getting up, as opposed to lying in bed listening to the dawn chorus, is somethiing I only do for the Breeding Bird Surveys.  Not this year.

Having got my three early breeding bird surveys out of the way, one on a dull day and the other two on what appeared to be the only clear mornings in April, my thoughts turned to nightingales.  The BTO are running a nightingale survey to identify the distribution of the birds, how it has changed in the last 15-20 years since the last survey, and to test out the theory that birds that sing at night are males still in search of a mate.  That part is still to come but today I finsihed the dawn surveys for the patches I’m doing.  Only a day late after the original deadline, which was extended due to the late arrival of the birds back from their winter quarters.  Wise birds.

I heard my first one on April 29th, which appeared to be one of the first records in Norfolk this year.  I anxiously looked out each morning at 5 am to see if the weather would allow me to make the survey – between surnise and 8.30 am was the requirement.  Most days the answer was no, too wet and cold.  Meanwhile I was still working on marketing my work in the US, so online till midnight many nights!  So this was getting me into a severe lack of sleep, and no surveys to show for it.

Finally I got out, on consecutive days to the two tetrads I was covering for the first visits, hearing one definite and another I was confident of in one place (and two I wasnt confident of), and two on the other tetrad, both obligingly right by the road!  Leaving a week to go by for the second visit didnt seem to stop me waking up at 5 and listening to the nightingale singing outside my front door – he also sings at 9 pm, so I hope he’s found a mate.

The same problem then started again for this week, waking up and checking whether it was dry enough to go out.  More than once I’ve got dressed, stepped outside and the rain has started.  But I got both second visits done in the last three days, cunningly just finishing as the rain started on today’s visit!  Six birds heard on one tetrad and three on today’s.  So nightingales appear to be what they call “locally abundant”.  I just hope they are breeding.

I am now looking forward (not) to the night visits, to see if there are some lonely hearts club nightingales out there.

[nightingale picture John Bridges rspb images]

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