Let Nature Sing

Simon Barnes shares his dawn chorus tips

Simon Barnes is a multi-award-winning environmental writer and has been an RSPB columnist for over 20 years. His favourite birdsong is a Cetti’s warbler. Here he writes exclusively for Nature's Home and the Chorus Hub.

Dawn is another country

They sing things differently there. But you can reach that impossibly lovely place. You already have the visa: your own willpower, your own delight in nature. All you have to do is set the alarm and go to bed.

Now there’s always a good reason for not getting up at 3.30am, but even I can do it, so you most certainly can. Just find a suitable morning as close to 1 May as possible and commit yourself… knowing that your journey will take you to a different world.

Dress for a cold day in winter, because you’ll be sitting or standing about a fair bit. Wear waterproof trousers if you have a pair; if not, put a plastic bag in your pocket. Now you can sit down anywhere; you have taken control. A flask of your favourite morning reviver is a good plan, too – leave the stuff out ready before you go to bed, to avoid crashing about.

Take your binoculars if you have some, but they’re not essential. This is about listening, and it’s more about looking at the big picture than picking out minute details. Don’t forget gloves and a hat.

Perhaps you can’t identify a single bird from the noise it makes. Never mind, you can enjoy a glorious piece of music even if you can’t name a single instrument in the orchestra. But you can do a bit of homework if you like. Here’s a suggestion: just listen for three different songs.

First, listen to the blackbird and enjoy a wonderful, relaxed fluting. Then try song thrush, and hear the loud, urgent repetitions. And after that, great tit – fervent two-syllable shouting: teacher teacher teacher. That’ll do; leave it at that. No need to confuse yourself.

The time for song

You may not need to go anywhere further than the garden, if you have one. Or a short walk or drive to the nearest green space. Then all you have to do is stroll a little, stand still when you find a nice place and have a sit when you find a very nice place.

And that’s it. So why do it? Because it’s when the birds are at their absolute best. This is the urgent time of year, the time for breeding, the time for making more birds – and many of them mark this time in song.

At dawn, as the day begins, they sing their hardest, they sing their loudest, and they sing out together. And you really don’t want to miss that. It’s the start of the day, the best possible time for birds to remind rivals and partners who’s who around summer. The sound carries best in the still air of dawn and besides, human noises are still muted. So they go for it; another spring day, another great performance – and you have your seat in the front row of the stalls.

Stay for as long or as little as you like: what matters is that you capture that moment, before the sun is properly up, when the entire world is singing its head off. It’s the song of life, the song of the earth, the music of the spheres. And you will head home thinking, “there’s more wildlife around than I thought. There’s more wild living available than I thought.”

Suddenly, without receiving a single penny, you are richer than you had ever believed possible. Then go home, go back to bed, and dream of the singing birds.

Let Nature Sing

Let nature Sing, full-throated song

Over half of UK wildlife is in decline and time’s running out to protect what’s left. Don't let nature's music stop - join the Chorus Hub to get exclusive articles on Let Nature Sing and nature’s rock stars.